Single White Nerd: California Dreamin’
a blogumn by Michael Kass
4 AM. Unable to sleep, I hoof it around the corner to Ghetto Ralphs, aka Silver Lake Ralphs. During daylight hours, the parking lot would be bustling with cars vying for a parking spot. The drivers would be a mix of the gentrifiers and the gentrifi-ees, those on the verge of being pushed out of their own neighborhood. These two parties would glare at each other across the parking lot before scurrying into Ghetto Ralph’s to keep up the glaring across piles of not-too-fresh looking produce. But that’s during daylight hours.
At 4 AM, there are two cars in the parking lot. A delivery truck has wedged itself in front of the store. The cargo door is open and a man grunts as he unloads sacks and boxes, his rolled-up sleeves showcase tatted arms, his long gray hair is pulled back into a pony tail to reveal a weather-beaten face. He could be 25 or 50. Can’t tell. As I walk by, he gives me a salute.
“How’s it goin’, brother?” he grunts.
“4 AM, man. You?”
“Livin’ the dream,” he says. “Livin’ the dream, man.”
I almost ask him at what point his dream involved unloading food from a Ralph’s delivery truck, but decide that it might be too early in the day to bring the snark.
The inside of the store has been overrun by cardboard boxes. They lean up against the aisles, litter the floors, stack against walls. In my imagination, they form into military regiments and attack me while screaming “This land is ours until 7 AM, dipshit, go back to sleep!”
But that’s just my imagination.
My shopping goes quickly. The list is short. A bag of spinach, two onions, a bulb of garlic, swiss chard, two bell peppers, a dozen eggs and Canadian bacon. Boom. Done. I do not see a single shopper until I make my way to the check out stands.
There are no cashiers at the front. Two fellow shoppers wait at the one open check out lane. You can tell a lot about someone from what they buy at the supermarket. It’s a fun game. You play:
Shopper 1 (male): Six boxes assorted toaster streudel, 8 assorted Lean Cuisine, one roll paper towels, 24 pack diet coke, an US Magazine.
Shopper 2 (male): Vodka. Wine. Entemann’s Cinnamon Crumb Cake.
As I approach, these two fellows are engaged in conversation.
Streudel: –left me for her boss. So fuck her, right? Anyway I moved out and where’s the damned cashier?
Vodka: Rough one. That’s why you got to not hook up with a woman. Stay focused on your dream. Women just distract from that. You have to save your money and focus. Otherwise, you know. Things’re hard enough.
Streudel: I know. I loved her though. She could cook. Damn. I never ate so well. And she’d smile—had all her teeth. They were real, too.
Vodka: That’s how they get you.
Streudel: Tell you what, though, I’m done with women.
Vodka: Right on.
Streudel: Seriously. You’re right. I just let myself get distracted from what matters. Which is what I want to do, right? And I let her get in the way of that. I mean, we picked out curtains, man. I don’t give a shit about curtains. Which is what I said when I was leaving. “You can keep the curtains because I don’t give a care about them.” That’s what I said. She doesn’t like cursing.
Vodka: Who gives a shit?
Streudel: Shit. Right? Do you give a shit?
Streudel has turned to me. I am “Spinach:”
Streudel: You cook?
Vodka: He cooks. Look at that. Spinach.
Streudel: You have to find a woman to do that for you! My ex could cook, whooo.
The cashier finally arrives and conversation pauses. My shopping companions pay for their goods, I pay for mine. By the time I leave Ralph’s, they’ve both driven off. The delivery truck remains. My pony-tailed friend sits with his legs dangling off the edge of the truck. He’s on his cell phone:
“I’ll see you soon baby. Love you. Give Junior a kiss for me.” He hangs up and salutes me as I walk by. “Livin’ the dream,” he calls out, a blissed out smile on his face, “Livin’ the dream, brother.”