Chapter Four: Reseda
I got up at six because I knew Carlos would be at the gas station at seven. I cut across the parking lot to get to the station. All the while, I prayed no one else was in the bathroom or Carlos didn’t come in early.
I was lucky on both counts. Reza gestured to the door.
I turned on the water in the sink to get it warm. I pissed. Then I took off my t-shirt. I washed my face, armpits, chest, and hands. If I had enough time, I’d wet a paper towel and washed my ass and that nasty-ass cheesy shit under my nut sack. I used the paper towels to dry myself.
I knew I had to be quick. I didn’t know who else would be waiting for the bathroom or if Carlos would come. I also had to be neat so Reza wouldn’t get busted. I didn’t know what if I would do if I couldn’t use this bathroom. I couldn’t go to work all gross. Or piss in the corner of the parking lot. I grabbed another paper towel and wiped off the sink and floor and shoved the paper towels deep in the trash container by the door.
I opened the door and looked around quickly. Fortunately, Reza was still there alone, reading a Persian-language newspaper.
“Later, dude,” I said.
He smiled back. “Have a good day!”
I still didn’t understand while every Middle Easterner I met was so happy. Maybe that’s why whites like Mom and Steven and my ex’s parents didn’t trust them. They’re weren’t as miserable as they are.
I finished the rest of my morning routine back at the Explorer. I shaved using the selfie camera on my iPhone as a mirror. I tried growing a goatee when I got out of military school, but it never grew in right. I figured if I shaved, I wouldn’t look like a homeless bum.
Then I brushed my teeth. Even though I slept in a car, I still had to take care of my teeth, especially after all the money Dad spent at the orthodontist for me.
That was how I got my job at Buck & Awesome. I went in there to buy more toothpaste, even though I was down to my last dollar. That’s when I saw the “Help Wanted/Se Necesita Ayuda” sign. Ngoc said I had clean teeth and good breath. He said that he gave up smoking when he came to the United States because he didn’t like what it did to his teeth and breath. He said Americans have good teeth, and they took pride in taking care of them. So, he wanted to be a real American too by taking care of his teeth.
When I couldn’t take care of my teeth anymore, that’s the day I’d step in front of a car or an Orange Line bus.
It took me about five minutes to walk along Sherman Way from the Explorer to work. But I had to allow for extra time because I was passing Mamá Frieda. And Magdalena.
Magdalena spoke with a heavy slur. She had a stroke a few years ago. She has trouble speaking at times, and she walked with a cane. But she still had plenty of energy for a woman in her fifties, and she always had a broad, though slightly crooked smile. She seemed to know when I was coming. She stepped out of the front door of her restaurant holding a bag of fresh pan dulces.
“You should eat.”
She once told me she came from a Jewish family in Mexico City. The Mexican part of her made the most amazing pan dulces. The Jewish part of her insisted that I eat them. She handed the bag to me without me even asking.
“Thank you, Magdalena.”
She gently patted me on the cheek. “You are a good boy. Don’t forget that.”
The first time she told me that, I nearly cried. I never had anyone tell me that I was good. And hearing her say it that morning, it brightened me up more than a double espresso.
“Thank you.” I nodded.
“Have a good day at work.”
I smiled. She smiled back. And with a smile like hers, I thought nothing would ruin my day.
That was until I saw the lifted black pickup truck in the corner of the parking lot. They always hung around the donut shop next to CVS.
I knew their type. We had them in Dana Point too. They sat in the back of the Dana Hills High School parking lot in the same type of black lifted pickup truck with the skull trailer hitch cover with the eyes that glowed red when they hit the brakes. They always took up two parking spaces. They wore muscle tees that showed off their badly drawn tats. They didn’t make the football team because they didn’t have the grades. So they spent their time yelling at gays, blacks, and Hispanics. They tell girls they’d give them the best sex they ever had, even though the ’roids kept them from getting boners. They’d bump twangy country music or some shit.
And these guys in front of the donut shop had bumped their twangy country music really loud.
I just walked past their truck and ignored them. We couldn’t ignore the music. We could hear the muffled thumps inside the store. Ngoc stood by the front windows staring at them. Kishana, our assistant manager, stood next to him.
“Stupid trailer trash,” Ngoc grumbled. “They have nothing better to do but sit around and disturb everyone with their hillbilly music.”
Kishana said softly, “You remember what the police told you.”
He folded her arms and gave a hard sigh. “It’s ridiculous. Stupid people have the right to be stupid, and hard-working people have to shut up and let them.”
Fortunately, the shitkickers in the lifted black pickup didn’t start shit. They fired up their loud growling engine and drove off, trailing their equally loud obnoxious music off with them.