North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Summer 2013.
¿Cambio, por favor? ¿No?… ¿Cambio, por favor? ¡Muchas gracias!… ¿Cambio, por favor?
I shook my head at the little boy with his palm stretched out towards me and he continued on down the queue. The cacophonous North Hollywood lavandería was bustling with gurgling washing machines, Spanish housewife gossip and Sabado Gigante’s Don Francisco, all competing for attention. I sat impatiently, flipping through a sticky copy of People en Español’s “Los 50 más bellos” issue and googling ‘Sebastián Rulli gay’ on my iPhone, to my disappointment. Dimitri was about six inches taller than me, so his yellowed Ecko t-shirt and 2XL basketball shorts comically drooped off of my bones like a hanger. Time is seemingly out of joint and I can’t seem to make sense of anything that’s going on in my life. I tossed the magazine aside and stared at the bikini-clad, Colombian woman on the TV screen singing as my vomit-soaked clothes danced in the spin cycle, trying to place words that I’ve heard before but can’t figure out.
¿Canción? I asked myself, trying to reel my mind through the THC cobwebs back to Señora Garcia’s Espanol I class freshman year of high school. Everything was confusing to me nowadays.
Dimitri woke me up that morning by slapping me with a wet rag and yelling at me in Russian. I was hanging halfway off of his pleather couch with a blaring headache, laying in a pool of my own sick. The entire right side of my face was throbbing with every pulse and my eyes burned and ached to the filtered sunlight coming through the blinds, cutting through smoke and dust particles floating around in the air. I put my hands up to block his swipes and tried pleading for him to stop, but I could barely speak. Every syllable weighed more than the next. He finally ran off behind the bathroom door and I could hear him shuffling around in the cabinet under the sink. I could tell he had already taken an upper because I can damn near hear him grinding through his enamel.
Despite the fact that I was already covered in it, I cautiously took my shirt off, trying to avoid touching my face with any vomit. I fished in my pockets for any palliative that could quickly numb me to this situation, but the only thing I had on me was two dollars, a few receipts and somebody else’s pink Bic lighter.
Dimitri was an immigrant who had come and became so entrenched in American culture, he felt like he knew it better than Americans. He was an ex-basketball player, but current amphetamine addict, benzodiazepines addict, opiate addict, etc. He was practically addicted to anything that was worth being addicted to; casually watching porn while chopping lines of cocaine and taking pulls from a can of High Life. He listens exclusively to hip-hop made by white people and constantly scolded me and my choice in rap music while preaching about the prison industrial complex and the illuminati. Over-the-top is the first thing that comes to mind when describing his personality. Perpetually one-upping and overreacting and vying for attention. Extremely annoying. We only became friends because whenever he was around, the drugs were free. I have absolutely no idea what he’s like when he’s sober.
The night before, we ended up getting kicked out of some shitty bar downtown.
“Just fucking unruly, man,” Dimitri said to me. “You’re lucky I was there, bro. You could’ve gotten yourself seriously hurt.”
I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror in my underwear, stroking at the throbbing contusion peeking from behind my patchy beard. My jaw clicked whenever I moved it.
“I am seriously hurt,” I said. He popped into the doorframe with a change of clothes and hands me a Percocet.
“No, I mean,” — he turned his fingers into a gun and pointed it at his head — “hurt, hurt.”
Dimitri relayed this to me because on Wednesday night I had downed 3 mgs of Xanax while gulping from a bottle of Evan. I didn’t have any recollection of Thursday and Friday at all.
“He was fucking huge, man. Some aggressively-cologned Armenian. Bro had the steroid built of one of those 90’s wrestlers. Hair everywhere.”
I tried to reel my memory into a proper picture, but everything was fractured. The last thing I remembered at that point was sitting in the passenger seat of his Infinity talking up my grand ideas. I had just gotten fired from a job I hated a few days prior so I was still on a freedom high — that kick you get before the onslaught of reality and past due statements begins inundating.
“Cauliflowered ears. Nose cartilage completely smashed in. He was wearing a fedora and Tapout shirt for Christ’s sake.” Dimitri shaked his head. “You really picked the right person to fuck with.”
I was wiping the vomit off of his couch with a pair of yellow rubber gloves on and the same rag he was abusing me with earlier.
“His girlfriend was so fucking sexy, man.” He bit his lip and tugged at his basketball shorts. “You shouldn’t have said that to her, man. Completely unnecessary.”
“Said what?” I asked.
“All she did was ask you to calm down.”
“I don’t even want to repeat it.” He turned on the TV that was always anchored on ESPN. Dwight Howard had just left the Lakers for Houston after an atrocious season.
“Fucking bitch,” Dimitri muttered.
“I called her a bitch?”
“Not you… I mean, yeah, you did, but that’s not all,” he said absently, glued to the screen. “And make sure you get between the piping. I can still smell it from here.”
“Dimitri, what the fuck happened last night?” I asked impatiently.
He shushed me. He was ignoring me for the Talking Points now. I started feeling domesticated. Like Bree Van de Kamp. I sprayed a few more wisps of 409 and continued cleaning until my phone buzzes and somebody I have marked as ‘Do Not Answer’ texts me: “r u alive?”. I ignored it.
“You just started tourette’ing ‘fuck you’s’ to everybody within earshot,” he continued when a commercial came on. “Individually pointing out physical flaws and clashing purples in their outfits. Just really asinine shit.” He disappears down the hallway and his voice trails behind him. “She had a pretty strong face, but she really didn’t look like a man, Shado.”
I sighed and sat down on the other side of the couch. Dimitri mentioning the obscene Tourettes actually clicked.
“Fuck you, pussy,” I said to a nondescript nobody in a dim setting. It tasted good floating from my lips. I said it again, slower, just to savor it. I said it again, just to bring a plate of leftovers home. I don’t remember how I got there or who I was talking to, but I do know that Pfizer created these pills to disinhibit you, so my filter was shot to hell. “Fuck you and fuck anybody who’s ever smiled in your direction or held a door open for you.”
And then I draw another blank.
“That was the Armenian,” Dimitri filled me in, coming back into the room with a green medicine bottle. He sat down on the floor next to me and started splitting a cigarillo down the middle, dumping the tobacco viscera into an empty cup.
My jaw clicked with pain when I moved it, but the oxycodone was beginning to turn on.
“I’m guessing he was a southpaw,” I muttered.
“When you finally came to three minutes later, you looked like an infant staring up into the new world for the first time,” he said through chuckles. “First thing you did was ask if we could get a Happy Meal.”
I stared at the back of his head as he sprinkled marijuana inside the blunt.
“What the fuck were you doing during all of this?” I asked.
I leaned back on the couch and took the gloves off, angrily tossing them on the floor.
“I told you about mixing that shit, man,” he said, sensing my irritability.
“No you didn’t. You suggested it.”
“Hey, bro. Don’t blame me because your jaw is made out of fine china. I’m the one that had to carry your pathetic ass back to the car while everybody else was recording you on their phone.”
I closed my eyes and groaned.
“Plus, look at my Italian leather couch, man. Look at this shit.”
“Well then, Italian pleather, faggot. Point is, I’ll never get the original luster back. I took the biggest lost in this. Don’t you dare sass me, bitch.” His Russian temper was beginning to flare, so I backed off.
I felt him sit next to me on the couch.
“Here, bro, take this. You need it.”
I opened my eyes to see him waving a half-empty cup of Russian Standard in my face. The solvent stench made me retch.
“I think I’m gonna take a break from souring my liver for a while.” I said, my jaw popping on the last word. “I gotta budget some of this pain for old age.”
“You’re pretty tragic without it,” he reminded me before draining the cup.
The sports anchor started back up so we sat in silence as he sparked the blunt. I was beginning to lose too many days. Weeks were starting to vanish from my memories. It felt surreal, trying to piece together my life from other people’s anecdotes. Detailing how amazing or stupid I could be when I’m completely outside of myself. Trying to solve these riddles of who I am. How quick I let myself spiral out of control. How abruptly a few bad turns had become a way of life. Maybe this was a revelation that I needed to get my act together before I do some serious damage with myself that I have no recollection of. Or maybe this is just more of the standard bullshit people kick when they’re hungover or coming down, trying to make sense of their lives as best as they can. I had just lost my job and knew I was on the cusp of months-long frustrations trying to get on track and I wasn’t sure how I would pay my rent past August.
It wasn’t until Dimitri slowly reached over and pulled the blunt out of my hand that I realized I’d been thinking out loud. He looked at me strangely for letting my feelings and unfettered thought fly in front of him. Our relationship didn’t consist of that type of honesty. The awkwardness in the room was palpable.
“So, umm…” he started up nervously. “Some of my Yugoslavian friends are having a hip-hop showcase at six. Very rare vibes. Do you wanna go?”
“I’d rather pop a roofie and cuddle with Jeffrey Dahmer.”
“Well…I have to start getting ready…So…”
I knew he was kicking me out. He knew I’d decline the offer of an anemic rap outing; off-beat, off-kilter rhymes, everybody grooving a-rhythmically, clapping on the 1’s and 3’s. I was still in a hungover state of indolence, so I didn’t want to exactly get up and deal with the insanity of the Metro red and orange line on a Saturday morning.
“It’s only four,” I said, prolonging the inevitable souring conversation. “Is it going to take you that long to put on another pair basketball shorts and shower in Armani Code?”
“Alright bro, I’ve had enough of your shit today.” He grabbed the plastic Ralph’s bag my spew-soaked clothes were in and flung it at me, picking me up by an arm and leading me towards the door. His Russian temper again. Either that, or the drugs. Same thing.
“Cut down on the soy, take some zinc supplements and stop drinking out of plastic or whatever the fuck you’re doing that’s upping the estrogen in your body,” he offered before shoving me out the door. “Either get your shit together or learn how to handle your drugs. One of the two.”
The door slammed in my face.