Autistic

Novel Hooshang Danesh

Copyrights 2010 by Hooshang Danesh
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Although all stories have are inspired by some real events-all characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real people is coincidental.

First Edition

Table Of Contents

First Chapter: Bye People.

I drove. She would push her head out of the passenger sides' window and shout: "Bye People.' Then recollect herself inside the car, giggle to herself, and say: "shit" wearily, slightly as though she had been up to no good, and punishment might have been fore coming. The people she shouted at were mostly the bus riders at bus stations. Hispanics who would look at her puzzled, and in wonderment, for her flashing head of red hair and her unrehearsed language- cause almost no one spoke English on these streets. From time to time, she would shout: "Hi people," in a different tone, this one more friendly, conciliatory, and still leave the look of confusion on the foreheads of the bus riders who saw the big sweeping Cadillac, and the shouting head as just another strange break in their daily ennui. I would drive the big ship-like Cadillac, grayish-colored and with good -1-

measures of dust and dirt on it, looking neglected as an untamed horse, shooting straight on the road, for my apartment, ripping through the air like a minor storm, leaving behind a constant vacuum, that sucked the dirty, smoggy air in, encouraging the car onward. And I would laugh uncontrollably, and consider her shouting: bye people a funny departure from every days routines: A distinct feature of her Autism. Or a sign of enthusiasm for me. Apart from this and a few more eccentricities -she had no other signs of "developmental disability" or "retardation"—“schizophrenia”-or half other labels she could have been called by. The group home she lived at was a two-story stucco building in the middle of practically no where, in an industrial suburb of Los Angeles. There were semi-trucks parked parallel and neat, around dusty old hotels with signs that must have been inviting to truck drivers. Signs like: Adult Cable, Jacuzzi, privacy. -2-

These tall signs littered the view of the mountains in the north of the city. Where you could still see some white caps of snow, thumbing their dirtied noses at the rag city spread below. There was a large shopping mall hidden from the main road, like a bruise, minutes away from the group home, where the 100 or so residents of the group home could go for walks or windowshopping. There was a Payless shoes, a Walmart, a Ross and a few more generic stores. There wasn't much real shopping done by those residents , cause they were all on Social Security Disability, and almost all of their benefits were directly deposited in the pockets of the group home owners. An amount around 900 dollars or so, each, for a bed in a two-beds to a room hotel-like room, and three meals a day; meals which tasted like hospital food, dry, stale, and as though produced in some cardboard kitchen – tastes each and everyone knew. For almost every one of them had been in a mental hospital at some point in their lives. -3-

They were Bipolars, Schizophrenics, or on rare occasions, high-functioning Autistics like my girl, Claudine. Her housemates were all restless, shrill, and by turns languid or hyper-active, and they argued over cigarettes and change for soda, candy, in colorful dispensing machines which occupied shrine-like postures in the dinning room area. According to Claudine, there were all sorts of drama going on all the time, dramas, she claimed being far above of, in a diva-like posture. Something that wasn’t exactly true. But at the time she really looked forwards to times when I picked her up. She longed to get away from the group home, she was the only Autistic there, she said, which was true, and no- one really understood her, which was true enough then as now. But there weren't much else she could have had in terms of living arrangements. Apartments are too expensive, for people on disability, making group-homes the only viable, affordable form of shelter. And these are all run by shady characters who make money out of the ill and disabled. And out of the general, national disregard, over how to best take care of the needy.

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Government seems to pay the disabled no mind, but give them a meager check every month, which barely paid for shelter and meals, and washed its hands off them, like they were lepers, or FDR had tricked the entire country into taking care of them by some sorcery. Perhaps that explains Claudine’s fits of: "Bye People" out of the cars' windows. May be I was right to think of them as a sort of exuberance for a temporary release from some mental prison or injury. She had been introduced by a friend of mine, who liked to fix me up with her friends for no good reason, but to arrange or control things. She liked to project a sort of normalcy around her, as though this portrayal of normalcy could save her from this generalized panic everyone seemed to feel. And my aloneness was a thorn in her world that spelled normalcy with a curious must, yearning: for pairing and matching of all sort of things: silk blouses to the color of one’s car, and her friends and acquaintances fit together, assorted in a vase. It was as though I couldn't convince her of my adequacy, -5-

unless I hooked up with one of her friends. And so she bullied me, as though aloneness bred sedition and rowdiness. She'd tried to introduce some of her suspect young yuppies, but I had found flaws from just her reports on every one of them. These were women I’d heard about from stories and films, women said to live lives dedicated to greed or cruelty, women: “who stole love from you, when all you had was love.” This line was actually from a movie I’d seen. But when she called me on her cell phone, I detected a sense of triumph in her voice, like she’d been to a spa or just walked out of spring sales at Macy’s. “You can never say no to this one.” “No.” I snapped jokingly. It was a good idea to never take her seriously. It also encouraged, and pleased her to no ends. Just the idea of having to re-assert herself over and over again! "But she is a high functioning Autistic." With clear emphasis on the word Autistic. She’d probably just looked it up, and was delighted with her mental notes on it. " Do you even know what Autism is?" I wanted to irritate her. "Listen: she has finished high school, and some college, but has been raised in group

homes all her life." And then she added, remembering her mental notes: -6-

“Isn’t that like completely unique for Autistics?” " Since when you're an authority on Autism?" I asked a bit annoyingly. "Don't get prissy on me, you know what I mean." She snapped back. "She is a loner like you, doesn't that whet your appetite." “A high-functioning Autistic?” I thought to myself. That would be a rare bird. “High-functioning enough to date?” “Yes, she has had long-term relationships—very attractive. She is really one of the best-dressed girls I’ve come across.” “Really!” I said in disbelief. “Yes really—you don’t believe me?” “Its just that I don’t know?-look: how do you know she wants to go out with me?” I showed her the pictures we took together- she liked them-and that you’re a shrink-she thinks perhaps you’d be able to understand her!” “You see?” “So, this all, makes sense to her, on some level? “Yes.” “How do you know her?” -7-

“I work with her brother-their entire family are computer nerds, she is very good with computers too-in fact she is the one who looked you up.” “Vow-that’s impressive!” “And in the profile says you’re an expert in Autism, I didn’t even know that-she read that herself.” “I only worked with Autistic children as an undergraduate—the kids I worked with weren’t even verbal!!” “Well Claudine is –we just got back from shopping-and she wants to meet you.” “When?” “Wait, let me ask her.” She cupped the phone and almost instantly came back and said: “today.” I looked at my watch –it was already 1 in the afternoon and on a Saturday. “She doesn’t drive, and I can drive her to a meeting place today-that’s the thing , she doesn’t drive at all.” “That’s not unusual-you have to be mad to drive in this city.” -8-

By the time we hung up-we had a date to meet at a restaurant called Spires, about 20 minutes drive from my apartment. I had a few hours to waste. This wasn’t at all a disagreeable turn of events! I’d been sitting around trying to think of something to do, something clever and personal, like writing a song or a story. But there hadn’t been anything deep to be sounded. No wideopened eyelids. No run away train. It seemed that always something in between feelings and lips went dying. The heat had been pressing its wings across the city. It’s been this way for long. Each year seems warmer than the previous, and the suffering makes you ineffectual. Melancholic. The afternoons are worst. The heat rises up from the ground as if a furnace has been hidden down there. Something nefarious and alien. I live on the second floor of a Spanish style building. The apartment is surrounded by windows. From the east windows I have a view of downtowns’ spirals. And the southern windows look on the house next door. Outside that window, the neighbor was busy -9-

pouring cement, over the back yard. He had dug the brownish, starved lawn out, and hauled it out in violent bursts of activity. Now standing over this scene, and with DIY gadgets in his hands, he looked like he was contemplating a crime. He was a cable- guy by the look of the large van he parked inside the garage. Two ladders of different height sat on top of the van, like stretched out corpses, and various wires and what not were stuffed in the back. And he had a flock of kids, all ages, at least seven of them. The grassy back yard used to look lush and the kids would run all over it, yelling in both Spanish and English. Self-confidence in two languages, brought something louder out of them. But the draught had made water more and more expensive- and he was making the best of it- with the swiftness of a big western city dweller, an immigrant- he’d dug the lawn out within hours, and was standing over the scarred ground, with a look of inspired determination. I knew before sunset—the concrete would cover the old landscape like a new shell. And nothing will matter to anyone. The draught-inflamed grass had become like a picture no one notices on the wall anymore.

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But it made me want to grief-for each day of reduced existence. I thought, I could wither, if I stood there silent and still. That something funereal would take over my dreams that nightand he passing of greenery everywhere had a secret cost. And that you can’t really fill emptiness with emptiness. Void with void. I thought: it was great I had somewhere to go-an escape was made available like empty carriages-on deserted railroad tracks inside the city. I wore whatever I wore. Clothes have become uniforms, indifferent things to me, I have ten exact copies of same, same. I ran downstairs, out into the open. The air outside was warmer than in. The rays of the sun fell on you like yellow rain. You felt like taking your t-shirt off , and twisting the rays out of it with force. But this heat will be endless for some time. The car was parked just across the street. I ran to it-the air-condition still worked back then. I felt lucky. It started like a charm-- It pushed itself down the street- more like a ship setting sail. Its ancient velocity passing wired fences, a tobacco shop on the left, a taco stand, two police cars, the

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fast foods. And the Hispanic music blasting out of almost every car before the light, and onto the freeway then. The instant hum of velocity on the freewayamuses you-and something leaves you, in its depth. Something mixed with consciousness-its like a bleeding net. And you wonder off depleted of yourself, taken over-out of time and space-and suddenly find yourself at a juncture you don’t recognize. Its like the phone-ring in the middle of a dream. Who and what force been driving the car here? Its almost like the freeway has a collective consciousness, things become autocratic, empty of your willfulness. “Is this the exit?” Its me calling back to me. “I have to awaken!” I find the conspicuous address right away. And the restaurant is really not one. It’s a shortorder-cook round space. Surrounded by a halfmoon-shaped parking lot. Its windows are large are tainted dark and everything about the parking space directs you to the entrance walk. The parked cars are mostly trucks, and olddinosaurs like mine—I know everything inside

too will murmur of nostalgia: the universal language of: ”awful-things-ahead.” -12-

They girls can’t possibly be here yet-I’m an hour early- spinning the day. Inside, the place looks like a polished pit. Smooth shiny surfaces smile with a menace. And the air is packed with scents of saturated fats. The atmosphere has a nakedness to it. You have to fill it with your own substance. There are framed posters of someone’s art-work though. I don’t remember his name. But he is the chief of nostalgia. Everyone is supple and blue in the pictures. Standing erect by barnyards. Ice cream parlors that don’t exist. I drop myself on a booth that looks out on the parking lot. The heat outside the window bends the light- elongated and oblique, like its been hammered. Still, there is a geometric beauty to all this unfolded movement. There are no shades anywhere--and the light gives the impression: It can move forever in frozen threads. The waitress comes by almost instantly—she is very agile for all her weight.

“I’ll just have coffee-I’m expecting friends.” I’m fond of saying: I’m expecting friends, like I -13-

belong to someone or something. She smiles agreeably-I know that’s probably why I don’t appreciate overweight people. Their cheerfulness reminds me of encroachment, and immense inner sadness. She pours the coffee with the steadiest hands. They are soft and chubby, like a child’s. Full of restrained mischief. “Well, holler at me if you need anything!” “Will do!” With the same cheerfulness. The hour flies-and mainly through: my examining everything over and over again—I’m like an archeologist. Digging in the dirt. The Formica walls, the invariable patrons, the posters on the walls, the flat-bed trucks in the distance. And then I see them coming. -13-

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Chapter Two: Invisible Wealth.

I see my friend first--the way she struts-waves in and out of her own fragmented shadows. She is in a floral dress, summery and light-its reflection is like a ray of water at a distance. Her shoes are strappy white, with three inches heels-still she moves in them well. And she must have seen my car in the parking lot-because her face moves in the thin silence of that consciousness. She knows she is being watched. She draws the attention to her left, its like she’s sensed approval of her own appearance, and wants the same for her friend. Claudine: is in a pair of black flat shoes, and skinny jeans. And a simple pretty top that matches everything at once. Her head is bowed

in abstracted attention, a short mop of reddish hair. Beautiful. And she looks -14-

older, as her face is mature, womanly. When they enter, I turn around so they can see me, and instantly Claudine’s eyes fall on me, and mine search for something definitive in hers. And we smile unhesitant, and I’m content! They walk to the booth and sit down. “I knew we find you, I saw your dinosaur parked outside!” Our friend is excited. “Now, I can tell from both your smiles that you are happy, right!” Claudine takes something out of her skinny jeans’ pockets and lays them on the table. It’s a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, Menthol, and a red lighter. She is bashful about them, and protective-like sharing a deep secret right away. “How long you’ve been here.” “About an hour!” “Vow, you hear that Claudine, he’s been waiting for us for an hour, what do you think of that?” Claudine flips the menu, but she clearly thinks it A complement. She blushes! Everything is -15-

transparent on her face, like its been polished by a secret wind. I look at her hands, they are small, and pale. Quick and sharp. They crimp the warm airand stay close to the pack of cigarettes, caressing their space. She is tanned. A light brown, layered on freckles and paleness. The space around her is goldbrown. And up close her hair is more auburn than red, it’s really a color I haven’t seen on anyone, I know they sell colors like this in drugstores, but never seen them occur naturally. There is something unique about her Look: like something from an entirely different river. Still, she is beautiful-and unaware of it. Down to the inward stare of her dark round brown eyes. And the far-away look in them-detachable, as if she can absent herself at willand a subtle rebellion in the corners. “What are you thinking about?” -16-

Its Claudine who asks me that. “What?” I’m caught off-guard. “You’ve been looking out the window, like you are staring at something!” Absent, I don’t recall the past few moments! “Yeah, you have that far away look!” My friend says. “What do you like to do Claudine?” I ignore their remarks. I’m too cautious now. I want to record everything, everything, like a suitor, a teaser- a new student. “Yes, what do you like to do for a date?” My friend asks punctual, obedient. Claudine smiles her heart shape smile. “I like to go to the beach?” Is she asking me to take her out to the waters! “You have a nice tan!” “I walk a lot, I walk to Walmart, Payless!” She utters their names like they are holy places, and seems reflected, absent again. “One day I walked all the way downtown-I just -17-

couldn’t stop walking!” She drifts out like an echo. And stares at a mysterious point above us. I like to say: “Why?” “Where do you live?” I really mean: “how far did you have to walk?!” “I live in Pico -in a group home!” There is nothing sad about the way she utters this. Its flat as a desert, no affect. “I’m only half-an-hour away from Pico!” What I really mean is: “ I will come far for you, in a boat with no sail.” I only say: “ I have a car that’s like a boat.” “She showed it to me, its nice, can we go to the beach tomorrow?” She asks me amazingly directly. She is impressed by a Cadillac? “Yes, of course-which beach do you want to go?” “Manhattan beach, or Newport!” I’m not sure where they are. But my head is filled with acquiescence. “Pick you up at 11?” “No, at 10!” her legs shakes the table with excitement.

I write her address down as she methodically -18-

orders: pancakes, with butter on top, side order of sausages, and cheese- omelet. And vaguely explains: ”Its my ‘food’!” It’s meaningful for her. She means to say she’ll share its meaning later. When the food arrives, she pushes the large pancake plate in front of our friend-it’s a gesture they both understand, because she begins to cut the pancakes for her in tiny little slices. It doesn’t seem unusual. My friend murmurs an explanation: “Its really hard for her to cut these into little pieces!” “Yeah-I can’t cut them myself.” Claudine explains, and watches our friend as though observing a surgeon. Why I’m not surprised? I’d sensed her coordination was off by seconds and millimeters. I’m not sure how I know this. Its how her eyes follow every little movement—velocity has a certain mystery for her. Singular, maidenly events. She follows them, with little bursts of surprise--they tilt her head to the leftlike she is

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made both curious, and frightened by them. I know, I have seen this look of surprise before-its the silent language of the kids I worked with years ago. Back then, it’d felt like being made to sit under a tree whose leaves fell like flowers around you like gesturescarrying secret proportions of humanity, from a distance of unexplainable beauty. She eats only a third of what she’s ordered, its nearly as if she is quickly bored with them. The uneaten food look buried in their dishes. They are like broken plastic things, something rubbery and flexible about them all: Pink, yellow, red colors-food that resembles toys. They can’t be what we (were) but (are)-serious confusions of splendor? I think, only children can be amused by these plates, but I’m wrong because there are adults sitting everywhere, looking ravenous for them. I don’t know why I don’t lament all the waste— perhaps its because I wouldn’t eat them myself? I used to call them:”heart-attack-specials”suddenly it doesn’t seem funny anymore. -20-

Claudine begins to stare out the window. She grabs her cigarettes, they’re intimate objects to her: “I’m going outside fore a smoke!” “But I’ll be right back.” Though, there’s no reassurance in that. You feel as though she might disappear into the traffic! “Ok, darling.” Says my friend and gets out of the booth so Claudine can slide out.” Within seconds she is outside, we can both see her-she looks like a distracted statue, staring still at something mobile. “Well, what do you think!” “I think she is lovely!” “Well? What else” “Her colors! Do the rest of the family come in colors like that?” “No- you know, most women would die to have a hair-color like hers!” “And she is bright-not in the conventional ways, but very sensitive!” “I know, I get that too!” “What else?” She wants to pick brain. Its not just curiosity. She wants something more!

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Insight, insight. I annoys me. “Everyone wants instant insight—it really ought to be the most expensive currency in the world.” “Fine!” “She is lovely though!” “You already said that-what’s wrong with you?” “I don’t know what to tell you-I feel like Darwin on his island!” “What does that mean?” I’ve exasperated her. “I mean she is like something rare, and undiscovered!” “Oh, shut-up, here she comes back- she is adorable!” She really likes her. “I agree!!” And hush my voice. “I saw two bikes!” “Claudine loves bikes!” My friend explains, with fondness. I think she understands there is something interesting and, infrequent about her, she just can’t put her head around it. And neither can I. “What kind of bikes?” I am not sure what they are talking about.

“Street bikes, not off road. I saw a Honda -22-

1000-it took off down the street, like crazywoosh.” She makes the sound, and laughs. It’s clearly made her happy. Our waitress comes by, she is shocked by the uneaten mess on the table: “You don’t want anymore? You want me to box it for you?” She is helpful- but like a soldier, she should have stayed and guarded the food! None of us wants to say anything. We all feel guilty, in a distracted way. Claudine seems a bit annoyed. “I can’t eat anymore!” offers as an explanation. The waitress is nonplussed: “Oh, don’t worry about it honey.” She doesn’t mean it-and begins to clear the table-it probably looks like a shipwreck to her. She wants it all restored to some God-given order. Outside the heat is an immobile stature--as if it can resist all ruptures and change. “But there are always one more ice-age ahead.” I think to myself. There’s really no reason to alarm anyone!

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I put my sunglasses on, they make me feel different. It’s a lot like putting a curtain up. The opposite of opening your arms. Claudine walks side by my side, she walks quick and, self-assured. I think: she means to say: “we’re together.” We walk over dead brown grass onto the pavement. The ocean surges in the distance-I can smell its scents. We are only half-an-hour away from the Pacific. I can clearly hear its wind calling. It reminds me of a landlord’s knock on the door-- something alarming and ominous. Later on I think: there is something keener in Claudine though-something subterranean like a root, something that sends my books to their shelves—and senses the world with an invisible wealth.

She tilts her head up in the air. It reminds me of my long-gone Terrier, some perfume in the air -24-

has shaken her. Something unjustly forgotten? Because I’m unmoved !! I have a deaf science of ravines and peaks-and persist as if in a ruined tunnel, at another limit! I wait for them to get in the car-and watch them drive away. Claudine waves her hand, and smiles while looking ahead, I know she is thinking of tomorrow, and of waters, waters.

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Chapter Three: In The Box.

It wasn’t easy to fall sleep that night. And once sleep the dreams were intractable, impossible to budge. I seem to go in –and- out of doors, through pure territories that are joined by some sovereign intelligence, something unknowable, and unfailing.. There are events that have existed, forming events that must form. I can see the source of my destiny I think! But it’s a feeling more than thoughts. -26-

And its almost as if it’s too painful to know so much, so I don’t. I wake up not remembering anything, just a vague unhappiness, in a faint place inside me, where nocturnal weights throbs. I know it can all be made of a wellspring: of light like bright spindles--but the details are worn, divided like tears. Onward. Its almost 5:00 AM, when I wake up- at the Edges of dawn-I have to stare out patiently through the curtains, until everything is silverplated with landing light, then I can go on to run. To start running any earlier than 6:30 is to leave oneself vulnerable to so many who see the light as a breach, as a finger down their throats. They range from stray

dogs, to mad men and women, who think knives can be wielded against anyone in the absence of light, though they naturally can’t run -27-

well. To the an occasional crack-head on a bicycle, who is too high to distinguish value from worthlessness. Who grabs anything that fits in his hooded sweat shirt. Keys, crumbled napkins, old cell-phones: “ yeah give me that too.” I think its just the general idea of taking things in, t must be a malfunction of consumption or corpulence. Even garbage earns something around here. The garbage collectors are Hispanics, older Chinese couples, and the homeless, they tow their super market carts across pavements with such vigor. Sometimes I thin they’ll live to be in their hundreds. The first time I was mugged.. I was leaving for a swim at 5:30. There is a covered pool that opens at 4:30 AM. The thief was hooded, riding a dirt bike. The

hand-gun he pulled out was a terrifying looking object, it looked to weigh a ton. He asked to come up to the apartment. I had just walked out toward my car. -28-

I naturally nodded, my head. He was a thinly smallish fellow. Obviously Wasting slowly away from crack. But they must have designed the semi-automatic to stir sharp irreversible fear. It had a crocodile face, a twisted shiny serpent. And had he really polished the thing? In the down’s darkness, the silver object shone its own light. Like it’d been dipped into candle wax, and now was lit on fire. And it had its own phosphorescent tail of light as the man/boy waved it around, Once we were upstairs my apartment, he Quickly went about picking up anything small enough to fit in his bottomless pockets. Pens, wallet, keys, lighter, cell-phone, etc. In an undistracted way, almost like he’d forgotten I existed. On his way out at the bottom of the stairs, I quarreled with him over my wallet, all my ID’s were in it, but he hit me with the butt of his gun. And that quickly ended the pulling match. They never found him. The second time I was mugged I was just running near the park, the man in the car

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stopped ahead, walked over, pulled another semi-automatic (what’s with these semi’s?)out of his jacket, ordered me against the wall, and went through my pockets, not having found a damn thing, he left me standing there bewildered. It made me think: why would he assume a jogging man carries anything but his keys? But the light was barely out, the light on the verges of occurring, inevitable, impending, obligatory, sad? It occurred to me that the dawn can bring a man to its red kneesdealing out its threads of possibilities. Which automatically means tragedies as well! The light with its nimble swords, its warrior Restlessness. It all made me want to mourn for the nearattacking wild dogs, the knife-wielding mad men, and the bandits. I thought I ought to understand the dark side of quantum moves, the unmoving frozenness better.

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The mad glow of all broken things. The yellowing pigeons. The shine of fat on our faces. The outworn clothes. The submissive heads. And everything wrapped in the pale resistance of exhausted shoulders. It took me 10 minutes to take a shower. Five minutes to dress. 4 minutes to find the address on mapquest. And half-an-hour to drive through the deadest-looking LA neighborhoods on a Sunday. Industrial little town after town, only seconds away from one another, but all with different fancy Spanish names, all looking exactly alike-like someone’s bad joke and mockery of diversity. A million traffic lights along, railroad tracks crossing in odd strange spaces. A large bread factory, machine shops, more than dozens fast foods, pharmacies, outlet retails clothes, a spice factory, diners, and Mexican young girls in skinny jeans and bare shoulders, searching out of the corner of their

keenest eyes for supped up cars, who really ought to stop for them on any Sunday. -31-

The group home was exactly where it was suppose to be. On a fast four-lane dusty road. Where cars and bikes were made to feel reckless, free, if for mere moments. When I parked in front of the entrance walk. Three men and two women approached the car and eyed me suspiciously. Once I was out of the car, all five of them asked if I had any smoke. One of them wanted to know who was I there to pick up. I had no cigarettes, but I would have given them a few each. It would have made their Sunday, The space in front of the sliding door was littered with smoked-to-the-end butts. “Someone ought to sweep this mess once in a while.” I told one of them. Inhabiting authority roles is apparently natural for me. “They do, every once in a while, but you can’t smoke in the lobby, everyone must come out here.” The tallest of them said. And just to confirm himself, he muddled. “yes sir, they do sweep this spot, yes sir.”

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Once inside, the lobby looked empty, large. There were the usual calendars from the artclass. “Week’s Activities.” Were panted on one in large orange cardboard letters. There was nothing written under it. The empty space under might have said: “ What activities?” There was a pay phone to the left, and doors of 3, 4 offices, shut on both sides. Only one was open. And I walked to it, there was a Mexican woman, short and fat, sitting behind a desk, half to hide her weight, half to rest her knees. And she was loud, like she was used to yelling at people: “Can I help you?” “I am here to pick-up Claudine West.” I paused. “Is she expecting you?” Trying to appear suspicious. “Yes.’

I decided not to give her anything more to help her make up her mind about me. She probably divided things into good and bad, black or brown. Sugar -33-

or no sugar. Carne or not. She picked up the phone, dialed the intercom and shouted: “Claudine West, you have a visitor in the lobby.” It sounded more like: “you have a problem here.” She let the loud echo of her voice soothe her like a sip of milkshake. “She’ll be right down.” She said acting bossy. I start circling the lobby, and within seconds of the call, strange looking women appear, like buzzing flies, looking around, sizing me up and down, probably to see who’s come courting for Claudine? The usual pecking orders. A very young black girl asks for a cigarette. She is dressed in the most outrageously sexual way. She has to unloosen two strings and she’d be entirely nude. She can’t be much older than 18. And there is this other woman, she is pretty in a mid-western way. Dressed in Walmart . She looks at me to see if I find her attractive. The

sort of stare that is never evaluating you, but wants to read your reaction to herself. And the cautiousness in that stare. Half-scared to find -34-

something unlovely reflected back !! But not really expecting it. Just the fear exists though.. I make sure I smile approvingly. I have learned how to do this throughout years of experience. The look-back must always say: confirm, confirm. Or it creates problems. Never mind that now. Claudine takes a good 10 minutes to appear. She is out of the elevator, with what looks like an entourage. She nods her head to me, and she is talking to these obese older men. They are carrying her purse, cell-phone, and her beach towel. Now I see why the lobby got crowded with women after it was announced she has a visitor. She is clearly their queen. Their feminine point of reference. She calls the fat Mexican woman: Bertha. Introduces me as her “friend”and says matter of factly: “ Are you ready?” I look at the largely obese and older men -35-

standing at attention around her, she notices them, and start introducing them like they are both her best friends and attendants. The one holding her cell-phone, has his hair parted in the middle with the most current hair gel. He looks like a scrubbed bear. Claire looks at him and says: “can I have tinker bell?” “ Tinker bell?” I say trying to be convivial. “See there is a tinker bell on it.” It’s a black all-purpose purse/bag with colorful stitching of tinker bell. The bear wants to know where we’re going. “We are going to Manhattan beach—I’ll be back soon, we won’t be late.” “Right?” She asks me. “Right. Evening.” I’m internally loving every glance, exchange and gesture. Its like being allowed inside a building, you’ve always looked at from the street. -36-

“I am inside the box!” I unintentionally exclaim. “What box?” Claudine asks.-but doesn’t wait for an answer, we better get going, and starts toward the door. The entourage follows her . They have circled her like a wagon. One of the girls ask: “Where you’re going Claudine?” She doesn’t pause to answer her, In fact I learn they always ask her the same question, and she always answers the same: “Just out and about.” She is very fond of repeating this. “They are always asking me where I’m going, and I say: “out and about’.” She chuckles and looks at a point on the road. Absent. Selfpossessed- lights a cigarette. -37-

Chapter Four: The Unnoticeable Ocean!

The way to the Manhattan beach from her place is a puzzle, I have to fit it together by myself alone. I am accustomed to women who have a perfect sense of direction: “Just turn here.” “Here?” “Yes, right there.” “Then what?” “I’ll tell you when we get there.”

“Fine.” -38-

“Where do you get that sense of direction from?” “Mind the road honey. Not from my father.” I prefer sarcasm to getting lost any day. “Claire, do you know the best way to get there?” “No, I don’t.” “Didn’t you look it up?” “I id, but I can’t understand my own handwriting!” “You should have printed it out, you do have a printer?” “Yes, I do. I just don’t go out to the beach that often.” I sound as though I’m nagging already. “We’ll be fine. We’ll ask someone, at a gas station.” “Ok.” We make it there, by following the largest river of cars. And by the scents of ocean. By how cloudier it gets as we near. And by a certain feeling I either can’t recall or explain. She gets

keen too as we follow the cars. I know I really should follow how her head tilts, and the way her eyes round up, she really seems to know the way, but can’t explain it. I neither know my senses, nor can I explain. I am out of two faculties, while I bet she could walk there all by herself following scents and the currents in the air.. -39-

The car caravan’s direction is quite clear. They are a self-possessed crowd. The road is thick with shiny, sporty new things that all look as though they are loved by their occupants, and are all being mysteriously pulled by the force of ocean.. Everyone looks confident, wealthy, young, tanned-brownish like Claire, and every other one a dyed blondes. I seem to remember hearing: Manhattan beach is the most expensive one in Los Angeles. Or am I imagining this because how poor my dusty old car looks in their midst? “I hate rich people.” “What.” “I said I don’t like rich people.” She looks confused. “But you are rich, you aren’t?” “Not really.”

She looks away, not disappointed. But indifferent: “You are richer than me.” “How is that?” -40-

“All my money goes to the group home, I barely have enough for cigarettes.” “But you wear all these nice things?” “They’re presents. My mom buys them for me. And Joe does.” “Who is Joe?” “ He is my best friend. “ pause. “And he is like my older brother, you know?” She is animated talking about this. Her attention is shifted back inside the car. I close the windows, cut the outside noise, though my senses are about to get accustomed to the scents of so much water-and what it holds. It really must be all the marine life in there. The vibes are clear, directional, vibrant, existing I am beginning to feel something? More alive? No, its not that, perhaps just keen. “What do you mean he is like your brother, I thought you already had a brother?”

“I do, Christopher. But we never got along, he never understood my condition growing up. He was always ashamed of me.” “So, you invented a brother for yourself?” -41-

“Kind of.” “That’s clever. I like to invent a whole new family for myself.” “Hmm?” “How did you guys meet?” “He was over the group home to visit a housemate. Crystal. They had been friends. And I walked in her room, Joe and I met, we hit it off. I picked him to be my friend- Just like that, and we were off.” “You were off? What does that mean?” “I left with him, for their house, and spent the weekend with them.” “Who is them?” I’m not sure if I understand the barrenness of everything here. “Joe lives with his mom, in their house in studio city. They have an extra bedroom, so I stayed as a guest there.” -42-

“How long did you say you knew each other? Before all this happened?” “About an hour, why?” “Nothing I’m just curious.” “Where is this Joe now?” “At home probably, fixing his car. Mom said, that’s his mom, I call her mom now. She said I can stay over every other weekend. Joe picks me up next Friday.” “How old is Joe?” “He is 54 –years-old, I am not sure!” “Oh, how old is your real brother?” “Christopher is two years older than I, he is 35.” “Oh.” I wish I could just keep saying Oh, oh, throughout life.

It has a decent, non-commit ant, non-judgmental sound. And its not curious. Curiosity always scares people off. But then I have an ailment: I have to know, for some odd evolutionary reason, I ought to know, which requires a bigger investment than oh, oh, oh. -43-

“What does Joe do for a living, and why does he live with his mom?” “He’s got MS. He is on disability too. But he works under the table for a machine shop, he used to own his own garage.” For some odd reason, nothing becomes clearer. We are nearer the ocean though, the cars divide into many smaller streets, that by the scent and the look of white sand must lead to the ocean itself. All sorts of people in flip-flops walk that way like there’s a concert.

Anyways, I’m tired of knowing. “Things pretty much clear themselves up.” So they say. I don’t quite believe in it myself. They say Hitler went around repeating: “Isn’t it great that men don’t think!” -44-

“He just stole what he liked from Nietzsche.” I think as I follow a bunch of cars that look more touristy, they have out-of-state plates, or nonblondes inside. I’ve done well so far, following the herd. Sure enough, by intuition, or miracle they land at the gates of a big parking lot. There’s a sign that says: 8 Dollars. Park All Day. “You’d think I could park for the whole week for 8 Dollars.” I exclaim, still believing I’m alone in the car and can say anything I like. She looks sideways at me. But is too excited about the ocean. Its right there to our right.

Beyond the concrete marks of the parking space. Beyond other cars. Beyond mounds of sand, you can clearly hear it. I am awe-struck. Surprised that it exists at all?

CONTINUED

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