Chapter Twenty-Two: Reseda
“God takes us where we need to go and teaches us the lessons we need to learn. Whenever I tell people this in speeches or in ministries, they begin to feel peace about the circumstances. They stop looking for people to blame and stop feeling like victims in their own lives. God is in control at all times and in all situations. When you think He is bringing trials and suffering in your life, He offers His grace to get you through them.”
I set Face Time with Jesus down on the sleeping bag. It was still daylight, so I parted the black plastic tarp to let in enough light for reading.
I laid back on the sleeping bag and thought about what Steven wrote. So what was God doing when he brought cancer into the lives of Pearl and her mom? Or Dad and his mom? Where was God’s grace when He let Grandma Josephine die? Or a couple weeks later when Dad learned Steven was fucking Mom?
That was why I had such a hard time taking in what Steven wrote. As I tried to read those supposedly uplifting words, the words that Mrs. Cimino said saved her life, I can’t erase my image of the man who wrote them. He had sex with my mom while Dad was grieving for his. He made fun of that pastor whose son committed suicide. He beat me with a belt, told me how worthless I was, and threw me out of the house. Those were the reasons I had a hard time reading those words. They may be words from the mouth of God, but they were written by the hands of an asshole.
But there was one time I had seen him do something genuinely kind. We were about to leave the mall, and there was a homeless man holding a cardboard sign. I expected us to drive by him as we always did. But this time, Steven stopped.
The homeless man’s eyes opened wide. “Steven, is that you?”
Steven seemed strangely pleased, but I felt increasingly uncomfortable. Especially with all those cars behind us in the driveway. But Steven persisted.
“You’ve always sung so beautifully. Sing ‘Che gelida manina’ from La Bohème, like you did in the barracks.”
I looked away in embarrassment. Not only was Steven holding up traffic, he was humiliating this poor homeless man by making him sing in public.
But the man complied without hesitation. And Steven was right. He sung beautifully. I didn’t understand a word he sang, but it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. And instead of honking their horns and cursing them out, everyone behind us leaned out their car windows and applauded. Someone even caught it on video and posted it. And this homeless man gave the biggest smile, like he had this beautiful gift that he had to keep locked up for so long, and he finally let it be free.
Steven’s smile broadened too. “Get in!”
It seemed ironic as I sat homeless in my SUV, but at the time, I felt unnerved about letting some homeless guy in our car. But Steven was cool with him, and he did sing like an angel. He also didn’t seem all smelly and gross like I thought a homeless person would be. Or what I wound up being. Steven let his friend hang out at our house for a bit. He then gave him money and sent him on his way. I thought it was cool that Steven went out of his way for an old friend who needed help.
But why wouldn’t he help me when I needed it? Perhaps I should have learned how to sing opera.
TAP TAP TAP.
What the fuck was that!? My whole body stiffened.
TAP TAP TAP.
I reached under my pile of clothes for the folding knife. But what if it were a cop? If I came out holding anything that looked like a weapon, I’d be dead. But what if it wasn’t a cop, but that drug dealer I saw the other night? Or a thief?
I parted the black plastic tarp to look. I couldn’t see anything, so I parted it further. I slowly opened the rear passenger door and jumped out.
“What are you doing here?”
I must have startled Pearl because she stood there stiff and nervous. Or maybe she was stunned by the funk that came out of the car. She clasped her hands behind her back, the same way they made us stand at the military academy when we’re about to get our asses chewed out. I didn’t notice her outfit earlier, but she wore a short dark blue skirt and a light blue button-down dress blouse.
I relaxed my shoulders, hoping it would put her at ease. She did unclasp her arms and let them fall to her sides.
She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to thank you.”
I smiled. “That’s OK.”
She stared at the Explorer. “You really sleep in that?”
“Can I look?”
I nodded again. I already been in her bedroom. Why not show her mine?
I opened the lift gate. She stepped to the bumper and looked around. She didn’t seem grossed out or turned off. But something caught her attention.
“So, do you believe in God the Celestial Concierge who answers all your prayers if you donate generously to the TV ministry of your choice?”
I blinked a few times until I realized she was looking at my copy of Face Time with Jesus.
“Oh, that.” I felt a lot of things towards Steven, but I never felt embarrassed until then. It felt worse when Pearl turned to me, expecting some sort of answer. I answered, “Mrs. Cimino gave it to me.”
“You know. Short, thin, curled gray hair. One of our regulars.”
“She must think you need saving.”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
I smiled. Pearl smiled back.
She then looked into the Explorer. “May I come in?”
I nodded. How was I going to say no? She crawled in on her hands and knees. Her skirt was rather short. Did I see her panties?
I was getting that vibe from her, a vibe I felt with Zoey and other girls before. If I got too close to her, we were going to start fucking. It was something neither one of us could stop or control. It was just going to happen. And as Pearl turned around and sat on my sleeping bag, that vibe was starting to overpower me.
But I didn’t have a condom. And I wasn’t going to run to the gas station to get one because Carlos was there, and I didn’t trust the condoms they sold there anyway. More than that, I still didn’t know how I felt about Pearl. Yes, she had been kind to let me shower at her house, and I felt bad about her and her mother. But she was still someone I worked with. And having sex with someone you work with is super awkward. And she already made it clear that if I wanted to have sex with her, I couldn’t. And I wasn’t completely sure I even wanted to.
She stared at me from inside my SUV. “Aren’t you coming in?”
As I climbed inside the Explorer, I couldn’t help but brush against her. Her legs, so soft and smooth. She still had defined muscles from what must have been years of playing sports. I turned to my side, propping myself up with my arm. She turned towards me and reclined as well. As she did, she bent her leg, her hitched-up skirt showed more of her thigh. She settled onto my sleeping bag, resting on her back.
I just watched her chest rise and fall with each deepening breath. The buttons on her blouse climbed up a neat line across her good-sized breasts, and they seem to puff out a little where she had tucked her blouse into skirt. Oh, how I wanted to pull out her shirt tails and unbutton every one of those buttons. How I wanted to caress those soft thighs. But I knew her body was a trap. I’d get stuck in those soft thighs, never to escape.
She turned her head. Even her neck muscles looked sexy as they shifted under her skin.
“Ever feel uncomfortable here?”
I did at that moment. Our breath and body heat made the back of the Explorer warm. I was grateful I left the lift gate open, or we might have suffocated. Or started fucking like crazy.
“Not really.” I wiped my forehead. It really was getting warm. “I guess it can get uncomfortable when it starts getting hotter. It gets hot in the Valley, doesn’t it?”
She gave a small nod. She didn’t wear any makeup. Working minimum wage, how could any woman afford makeup? But Pearl’s lips were full and smooth, and hard not to kiss.
Then those lips parted. “Why did you come here?”
“I got kicked out of the house.”
She gave a small smile. “How’d you fuck up?”
I exhaled hard. My breath felt warmer with her there.
“Come on,” she encouraged, “You can tell me everything. I already know you’re circumcised.”
My voice got caught in my throat. It sounded like a deep, soft gurgle. I realized I had no choice to let it all come out. She already knew I was homeless. What more could I say that would turn her off?
“I partied, you know. Did all that party stuff. Drinking, drugs...”
I nodded. Why was she so fucking interested in that part of me? If it’s because she really wanted to fuck me, why did she say I couldn’t?
She turned to her side, facing me. The way her skirt hitched up. The muscles flexing beneath her skin. Then those deep set pale blue eyes locking on to mine. I wanted her so bad, but I knew I couldn’t have her.
She fluttered her eyelids. “Where’d you come from?”
“Dana Point. You know where that is?”
“Orange County, right?”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “So, what are you doing here? You could be living by the beach.”
“I’ve already lived by the beach. I wanted to be somewhere different.”
“Behind an old movie theater?”
“So, what’s the OC like? Hot blonds in tiny bikinis? Daily trips to Disneyland? Retail therapy at South Coast Plaza?”
“It’s nothing like TV.”
“Same with Reseda. No one’s going to teach you karate by washing his car.”
I smiled. They once showed us that movie in the military academy. The instructor talked about karate moves, and muscle memory, and adapting to pain. I didn’t think that was all that movie was about.
She shifted closer to me. I could feel her breath warm the car.
“So, what are you looking for?”
Pearl asked me some tough and embarrassing questions. But this was the first one I couldn’t answer.
“I don’t know.” I turned and rested on my back. At first, the felt headliner seemed the most comfortable thing to look at. But its blankness, the seams, the small patches of worn cloth, made me more uncomfortable.
“It’s OK if you don’t know,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re looking for until we find it.”
I turned my head to her. “What are you looking for?”
She stared directly into my eyes. “Something I know I can’t have.”
I didn’t know what she meant. Was it her mom to get well? Probably. My heart broke seeing how sick she was. How it made her look so old, even though -- who knows how old she is?
Did she mean that she couldn’t go to college? She clearly couldn’t afford the time or money to go with her mom being sick.
But what if it was me she wanted and couldn’t have? If she wanted me, she could. Was something holding her back?
I couldn’t come right out and ask her though. I had to prod.
“I’m surprised you don’t find me disgusting. Sleeping in an SUV like this.”
“Why should I? You fucked up. We all do.”
“Not you. I saw your high school diploma. And those trophies.”
She looked away.
“I mean, you were a superstar at -- what was the name of your high school?”
Pearl sat up quickly. “I got to go.”
She got out of the back of the Explorer, straightened out her skirt, and flattened the front of her blouse. I followed her to her Hyundai, which she had parked next to my car. The taillights flashed as she unlocked the car with her remote. She looked back at me.
“Let me know whenever you need to take a shower.” She opened her car door. “And thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said with a soft smile. “See you tomorrow.”
She nodded. “See you.”
She was about to enter her car, but stopped. She leaned against the roof of her car and stared at me. A serious stare.
“It’s Reseda High School. And my fuck-up? Trying to be too good.”
She got in the car quickly and shut the door.
I stood and watched the reverse lights glow white as she backed out of the parking space. She put the car into drive and pulled away.
That heavy sadness returned as a headed slowly back to the Explorer. I lowered myself on the bumper and stared at the cracked and faded gray asphalt of an abandoned parking lot.
Cold and wet. Something cold and wet on the back of my arm. My eyes flew open. It was still dark outside, and the inside of the Explorer was pitch black. I fumbled for my iPhone. When I could feel the hard rectangle, my thumb poked around for the Home button. My eyes focused on the glowing screen. I unlocked the phone. The time was 2:17 a.m. I turned on the flashlight on my phone. First, I shined it on the back of my arm. It was wet there, but how? Then I shined the light on the black plastic tarps against the windows. They were all dripping wet. It must have been condensation. Was it because both Pearl and I were in the back?
That was when I noticed something damp and sticky somewhere else.
I scrambled out of the sleeping bag and shined the light on my boxers. I lifted up the waistband and looked inside.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!”
Blowing a load in my boxers was bad enough at home. The first time Mom and Steven caught me, I got the belt. They should have gotten a visit from Child Protective Services. Still, I knew better than to spank it. And if it happened by accident, I had to take a shower right away and throw the boxers away on my way to school. Mom would just figure our maid Lucinda lost them, and she would give her a scolding. It didn’t bother Lucinda because Mom would bitch at her in English, and Lucinda only spoke Spanish. I learned the best Spanish swear words listening to Lucinda.
But I had no spare boxers to throw away. Mom and Steven only gave me three. Two of them got so crusty and stunk so badly after several weeks I couldn’t wear them anymore. I blew my load in the pair Pearl washed for me. I guess I ruined my perfect “no cum stains” record.
And how was I going to wash myself off? Pearl offered me the use of her shower, but she was the reason I shot my wad in the first place! And how was I going to get to her house before work? Walk down Reseda Boulevard at 2:17 in the morning in my sticky boxers with the stench of cum? I’d attract psychos like flies to shit!
There was only one thing I could do.
Reza lowered his Persian language newspaper. “What are you doing here so...”
“Is it open?”
I ducked in as fast I could and made sure that door was completely locked. I even jiggled the handle to be sure. I had to get completely naked. Jeans, sticky boxers, t-shirt, everything off my body as fast as I could. I turned on the water. Not too hot, not too cold.
Then, I had to get my dick under the water. The sink was just a little higher than I needed it to be, so I had to get on my tiptoes until I could flop my balls over the edge of the sink.
But I couldn’t reach the water. I wasn’t Boogie Nights material.
I had to cup the streaming water in my palm and splash it on my circumcision. I felt horrible for whoever was going to use this bathroom next. With enough water and soap, I was finally clean. I pulled my dick out of the sink and sighed quietly. I patted it down with paper towels. I then did a quick wash of my face, hands, and the back of my arm that I got wet just so I didn’t have to bother Reza again in the morning. Another patting with paper towels, and I threw on my clothes as fast as possible. Not the boxers. I couldn’t wear those again. But I couldn’t throw them in Reza’s trash can. He’d never let me use his bathroom again if he knew what I did. I carefully folded them with the jizz in the middle and stuffed them in my pocket.
I straightened myself up and opened the door. And there were two LAPD police officers right outside the door.
I could have thrown up on myself right there. That would have made a bigger mess, but at least I could have showered in jail. Instead, I smiled.
“Good morning, officers.”
I walked by them like I was supposed to be there. The officers just glanced at me and let me go by.
Once I got past the door, I looked back at the gas station. Through the windows, I saw one of the officers go into the bathroom.
I took the long way back to the Explorer. I didn’t want the officers to know I slept there.
I stopped by a trash can in front of the abandoned theater. I pulled the stained boxers out of my pocket. I exhaled and continued walking, the boxers still in my hands. I could have thrown my boxers away at home, but I no longer had spare boxers to throw away.
And I didn’t have any boxers to wear. I couldn’t wear the other ones without itching like crazy, and those shitkickers could have smelled them from the donut shop. I could go to the laundromat. There’s one across the street from work. I had the money, and I could buy laundry detergent at Buck & Awesome.
Or I could ask Pearl to -- No. I spent my whole life having others do things for me. Mom and Steven even paid people to do things for me. It was time for me to do things for myself.
But when I walked across the street, the laundromat was closed. It didn’t open until 7:00 a.m. And I didn’t know how long it took to wash clothes. They might not even be done by the time I had to get to work.
My last resort was to go commando until I could do my laundry after work.
Which turned out to be a horrible idea.
The day before, I had walked all over Reseda in my jeans. They felt gritty and had a nasty sweaty funk. My balls felt like they were bouncing against sandpaper. My dick would wind up a chaffed raw stump by end of the day. But it would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about blowing my load in my boxers anymore.
I glanced at the cars driving past on Sherman Way. But I didn’t feel like stepping in front of them, even though it was the only way to stop the discomfort. I thought back to when I freeballed it in Pearl’s sweats, how soft and fluffy the insides were. Even that made me think about my discomfort, how I now had to dangle in my nasty jeans, and I how I wished there was something that could distract me from this pain.
Thank God for Magdalena. I was surprised to see her working on a Saturday morning. I thought Jews were supposed to take off Saturdays. Dad told me that, but he worked Saturdays anyway. I was grateful Magdalena worked that morning.
I smiled at her, but she could tell something was wrong.
“Are you OK?”
I couldn’t tell her, “No, because my nut sack is getting sanded off layer by layer.” I had to change the subject.
“I’m curious. How did you recover from your stroke?”
I wished I hadn’t chosen that. She wasn’t mad, though. She let out a small “Hm” and thought for a moment.
“I stopped being angry about it.”
“Angry?” I couldn’t imagine such a kind woman like Magdalena being angry at anything.
“All my life, I’ve done things for myself. When Mamá died, I ran this restaurant by myself. When my husband left, I raised my children by myself. I worked all day and night. I could cook everything on the menu, clean the dishes, greet the customers, manage the finances, and still be home in time to kiss my children good night.”
She looked away for a moment and then stared right at me.
“I had just turned 50. That may seem old to you, but I still felt young. I had more energy than some half my age. My oldest was in college. My youngest was about to graduate high school. How was I going to take care of them? Would they have to give up their lives to take care of me? What will happen to the restaurant? Would it have to close after Mamá and I ran it for 40 years?”
“You must have been scared.”
“And angry.” Her face tightened in a way I had never seen it before. “What did I do to get sick? I did everything right. I never smoked. I never overate. I worked on my feet all day. Why did I get sick? How could God do this to me?”
“How did you get over it?”
Her face loosened up. “I remembered Mamá. How she suffered so much more than I did. How she suffered in Auschwitz. How hard it was for her to come to America to start a new life. I did everything the doctors and therapists told me. I had to relearn everything. How to speak. How to write. How to walk. How to cook. I couldn’t get back everything.” She jiggled her cane a little. “But I was able to get back to living.”
“And that’s what stopped you from being angry?”
She gave me one of her crooked smiles.
“I realized God brought this stroke to me, just as He brought suffering to Mamá’s and my life. I had to learn to appreciate life and remember to be kind, just as Mamá taught me.”
She nodded at me. I nodded back. She smiled.
“Now, are you OK?”
I thought for a moment. As I listened to Magdalena, I had forgotten about how uncomfortable my jeans felt. I couldn’t complain about anything when I heard what she had been through.
So, I said, “Yes, Magdalena.”
“Good.” She handed me a bag of pan dulces.