Two weeks had slipped by and Harris had taken the opportunity to recover somewhat like a house plant from the strain of his trans planting to a new pot. He found that transportation by LA Metro was adequate. Nearby jaunts for a buck seventy-five and 2 A.M. availability for the long rides down Wilshire to Santa Monica or to sign up at what they called in true Hollywood bombastic fashion, the “VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System!” The gauntlet of traipsing through a maze of buildings was the usual government bureaucratic guessing game. But he found much to his surprise that he was set up to go to the Los Angeles Ambulatory Care Center which ironically was located exactly in front of where he had started out across from Union Station. “What did it matter?“, as long as he could get his pain killers to ease the process of taking a crap. It had taken him almost two weeks of getting right in that department. Thank God he had found a bunch of cheap eats places and small ethnic markets to lay in a stock of cereal and beans. There were also some local resale shops on Seventh where he found a cheap little clock radio for five bucks.
On a grimmer note, the bureaucrats at the hospital had made him fill out some forms for burial services and set him up with hospice including a DNR provision. It was the governments way of reminding you just where you stood as far as the larger picture of six to twelve months to live. The big plus was finding ‘water wells‘ nearby for buying reasonably cheap package goods at places like the Esquire on Olive or Jason’s just down the block. A trip to Sunset Boulevard to nose around and be underwhelmed. A long day burning in the sun out by Ocean Park and Venice beach to check out what ‘hip‘ was all about. The garish color on main street reminded him of some of the worse parts of Saigon. Everything cost an arm and a leg due to the tourists until you hiked a little farther inland. The drug of choice there was the cult of one’s self with a bunch of ‘show off’s‘ of every category and description furiously engaged in showing off their personal wares in the most diffident ways possible. The Santa Monica Pier was fun but the crush of tourists made it murder to just sit and relax and enjoy the day. He figured that his sightseeing would be better tackled while he was still solidly on his feet before things started breaking down. He managed to bring along his oldest ‘toy’ broken down in four parts ferreted within the bottom lining of his suitcase. This was one of the reasons that he had opted for rail rather than air travel. When the time came he would snap a magazine in and take it some place nice to check out with that day’s sunset. If worse came to worse and he couldn’t get out of bed anymore the maids could come at the end of the week to wrap up what was left of him in the dirty sheets.
He returned to the hotel exhausted to find what seemed to be a shouting match in the lobby between one of the front desk mandarins and a small but tough looking Hispanic kid with tats, sunglasses and a bandana. “No such persons, no one by that name, go go!“, the irate Asian kept repeating. The young Hispanic tough held his ground and snapped back between curses, “I told you, you hijoputa asiático, she is five-foot four inches, black hair and nineteen years old!” “She knows that young blond chick that lives here upstairs, you chingas cabrón!” A squad car pulled up outside and the young man abruptly turned and walked towards the main exit bumping shoulders with Harris halfway down the entrance way cursing in Spanish as he passed. The cops gave the tough a passing glance as they walked by him preferring to give a deeper stare at Harris who was now by the elevators. The front desk clerk shook his head as the patrolmen glanced in that direction for a cue to begin their usual routine. “No, no, they gone!“, the aggravated clerk spat out shaking his head furiously,”He nobody! . . Just a guest.” The cops summoned their own best angry grimace and turned around and walked out. “Always the same goddamn shit here at this dump!“, one of the cops said loudly to the other before departing through the front entrance to the flashing patrol car. A miffed Harris shot a reproving glance towards the man at the front desk. But the clerk had already spun about and was indifferently arranging items on the back counter in his usual way of substituting this form of simulated activity for any real work.
Harris considered going over to the Tiki for a nightcap but his own ‘war chest‘ was just about belly up and it was at least another day until his checks came and he could raid the new bank account that he had set up when he had first got here. Besides, he thought, there was a couple aircraft-sized bottle of Dickel waiting for him upstairs. He pushed the elevator button again but the response after another few minutes was nil. “Hey Wong!“, he called out at the counter, “How come this elevator is always ‘on the Fritz’ at this time every other night?” “Just wait, it come on!“, the bristled night clerk snapped back. Harris was just about to reverse his decision when the doors opened up to an empty cabin. Though he was ‘half-tanked‘ by this point at the end of a long day, his ‘smeller‘ noted a strange sweet alcohol medical odor pervading the inside of the elevator. And, as usual, the inside of it’s stainless steel clad interior was all marked up with smeared finger marks and the usual collection of discards of a redoubtable nature strewn around the floor tile at one’s feet. The hotel staff would never clean the elevators until a half an hour before the next group of foreign tourists would show up from LAX International flights in the early morning. He pushed the button marked sixteen and leaned back against the steel railing shaking out each of his aching limbs in turn. The doors opened unexpectedly on fourteen and he saw two of the younger Asians who worked as Maintenance stacking some suitcases on a small trolley down the hall. Something fell out from the stack that caught he corner of his eye as the doors were just closing. It looked like a little brightly colored crochet hand bag.
Harris closed the door to his room and lay down on his cot with his legs propped up on the edge of his empty suitcase for a few moments. The day had probably been a bit more than he could handle physically. It took a few minutes before he had the presence of mind to reach over to the small plastic bag that held the premium whiskey samples that he had picked up several days later having been saving them till the end of the week. He downed half of one in a single protracted sip. He had dug a few of his old family photos that he had managed to save of his parents and his younger brother in a small pocket sized photo album. Some had become bent and dog-eared from hanging out the sides. He sorted through the like a deck of cards, his mothers family to one end, and his father’s to the other. His entire life’s history in terms of what he wanted to become, and perhaps what he ended up being was all right there.
His dad on the couch half laying on the Sunday paper and he sleeping with him head to head on the other section pretending to emulate the old man while his little brother was running around behind. The two kids dressed up like little soldiers with the Remco plastic play gun set unequally divided between them a look of discontent on little brother Jimmie because he got the cap pistol instead of the Tommy Gun. Then there was his mother ever stoic and on the edge of brewing an argument because of Dad’s bad habit of being unavailable after work for reasons that defied conventional family logic. Messed up as it was family was the only thing that anyone could count on. And that for a time that was so short that you weren’t aware of what you were missing until too late. His eyes were getting heavy now and the day’s physical exhaustion was taking hold. He wondered about that purse? So the pretty girl with the oranges was on to greener pastures with hopefully better produce. God bless her! With that he drifted into the foggy realm of dreams.
It must have been past two AM and the screaming from down the hall had hailed him from a two seat Saigon motorbike taxi back to his unreal world. A male and female voice were taking turns making petty accusations back and forth in kind. If the past few nights were indication, this would go on for at least another twenty minutes before a big door slam. The elongated lilt of Ebonics counter-posed against a decidedly Vally Girl upper nasal twang suggested that these modern star crossed companions soon to fall to the frustration of a Capulet was quickly falling afoul of the mounting ire of the Montague. This place seemed to be a magnet for the bottom of the barrel or those heading there. He didn’t want to down the second tiny Dickel bottle but he had finished the second single gulp portion of the first before he dozed off. He turned on the radio to listen to some all night talk show sports program harping on the negative performance of the home team and verbally chastising the teams management by wanting to stay rich instead of ceding over their loot to prima dona rising baseball stars in the draft. Between the verbal pyrotechnics and the chicken shed cackle of the two radio jocks, he hoped that he could cancel out the nagging pain from his abdomen and lower limbs. Thank God the checks were due the day after tomorrow and he could get some more large economy priced fifths instead of these stinking airline ampules.
He decided that an ice pack on his swollen ankles might help and he limp waddled over to the towel hanging on the inside of his open closet bathroom door and then headed for the hallway. If he got going the pain wouldn’t be too bad so he could probably get away with making it to the ice machine on the end of the floor below. He slammed the door shut behind him and hobbled around the corner to the elevator doors and pushed the button. His ankles were killing him an the elevator seemed be to be dead for the night as after waiting some five minutes or so, there was absolutely no sound coming from the shaft. “Fuck it!”, he said as it dawned on him that the elevator was busted or something again for yet another night. The prospect of descending a stairwell right now was not something he relished but he was already halfway home if he could just get a towel full of ice and slap it on his aching limbs. He painfully waddled down the darkened hallway’s end to the descending stairwell’s entry door and pushed it open. The space within was lit only by the exit sign and a weak incandescent bare bulb flickering its last on the landing below. He grabbed a hold of the heavy iron tubular railing and hoisted himself carefully down, step by step. He had to rest a bit at the connecting landing before continuing on. Each impact on a stair step a mini-agony all its own. “Fuck those cheap Asian bastards!“, he mouthed to himself under his breath. He yanked open the door open hard and thankfully caught sight of the cubicle with the ice machine just opposite. Stretching forward with his one foot back to keep the stairwell door open, he slid the machine’s metal door open and back and began to scoop handfuls of ice into the middle of the towel cradled by the other arm.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up on end and he instinctively jerked his head around down the long hallway towards the elevator. “Wha th fuck!“, he heard his mouth reciting spontaneously. The was a pint-sized figure all in gray with a ridiculously gigantic cartoon-sized head his back to him who was waving two other guys dressed in fatigues who were carrying a stretcher into the elevator doors. There was something insanely frightening about this unexpected vision that had him instantly retreat back into the stairwell. His animal intuition was dragging at him to run up the stairs and make himself scarce but the ingrained combat training so long latent snapped into gear and he stood back to the wall next to the door ready to ‘hang one on‘ the next thing that might be coming through it. There he stood body appropriately tensed arms configured and at the ready controlling his breath as he had been taught. Minutes seemed to past and nothing. The towel must still be out there hung half under the open door of the machine. He decided that his best bet was to leave it and get back up to his room as stealthily as he could. The adrenaline rush mitigated the ankle pain and he sidled up step by step and very slowly opened the stairwell door on his floor making sure to close it equally as quiet as he slowly padded gingerly down the hall to his room. Now back in his own space with the three doors all locked he grabbed for the other Dickel bottle and just about crawled hunched over to the bathtub where he ran the slightly rusty looking cold water over his legs after sliding in its cold enamel. The Dickel disappeared in a single gulp and he sat back trying to figure it out. Just, what in the Hell was going on!