When the Guillotine Misses

sterna-angle“How good’s this stuff, anyways?” the AM/PM guy asks as he examines the cold-brew I’m purchasing. He has a floppy way of talking, which I like. I confess ‘I dunno’, but coffee seems a good choice.

“I’ll let you know, Friend,” as I glance out the window. “Doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere soon.” The brake lights are red on three sides of the building; there are three freeway exchanges that all look like bad choices.

“Shit—you’ll be sitting here fuh an hour at least. It’s a muthafucking parking lot out there.”

So I sit on the stucco wall outside the AM/PM, kicking my legs. Orion is to the southeast; I remember when it was brighter. I don’t see well at night and it’s easier to let the brake lights lessen in their glaring volume rather than attempt the freeway home. I have better patience these days, so sitting on a stucco wall in a gas station is no big deal really, and there’s another gentleman waiting out the traffic, too, hands crossed behind his back and muttering in a black coat. I’m nonplussed; I just sat through six hours of orientation at the Del Mar Whole Foods, and the AC there was broken. The Del Mar Whole Foods is located just north of San Diego’s worst traffic convergence as well, so frustration was in the cards and—not being a gambler—I folded my hand early, not wanting surprise at a loss.

I had some tempura in the store before leaving, wandered a bit and keep reciting Ginsy’s ‘Supermarket in California’ in my head while watching patrons hover over the produce. ‘Where are you tonight, Walt Whitman?’ ‘Was that Garcia Lorca by the melons?’ These are happy thoughts to me; I buy a grip of cheese and some olives.

“Sir: do you know that blueberries and honey go well with purple asparagus?”

“Ma’am: I’d try that labne with watercress, maple syrup, and apples.”

“You’ll want to soak that pork loin in plain milk. That’s what the Romans did.”

These are my thoughts, the stupid knowledge that takes up coils of my brain, that insists on being primary in my head while instead I should be better fiduciary, or at least be able to balance a checkbook without aid of a trapezist pole. But—no—it’s all peaches and penumbras, wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes.

I endure the brake lights, many many minutes of ‘stop and go’, so many that I arrive home at bedtime. Having been trapped in a car, I take a walk while everyone else retires to their sheets; take an unexpected left through busy crosswalks and wander into an establishment where music is playing loud and unheard.

The singer plays a guitarrón; his supporting players pass a tallboy back and forth as well a melodica that’s been done up in Oaxacan paint. One guy plays the percussion box, and they jam out some Mexi-reggae. The restaurant’s empty, save for me and a bowl of chips, and this is like something that’s been granted me alone, the guitarist noodling a nylon-string solo while the percussion rises in intensity, the sound filling the hall as the barback clears a woefully small number of spent glasses. Really, it is all for me, and this feels like special reward for things having been endured: the glaring streams of brake lights, the meanwhile deadening Orion; these past six months and having been fired at forty, the HR door clicking shut like a well-hewn guillotine blade on a twenty-year career. All these things, but the guillotine blade missing its mark, the Angle of Louis, which is the scientifically determined line where the blade is meant to pass easiest through the neck.

The music plays and I bob my head happily, which still has swivel on its shoulders and this is all for me, all for me, all for me.

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