It’s nice and quiet outside, which, in hindsight, should have been quite alarming, but as I traipse down the street to Mike’s Deli, I don’t mind not getting accosted by myriads of assholes right away. It’s quiet for L.A., which means I can still hear people laughing and shouting in the distance, with cars rushing by and the odd ambulance hurtling across an intersection further down the street. I see a dog lurking at the opening to the alley behind the Chinese restaurant that always has reeking, overflowing dumpsters, but he slinks away before I come close enough to talk to him.
I like dogs. Who doesn’t? I like them way more than I like most people. I’ve thought about volunteering at a shelter a time or two, but that doesn’t go well with my general life philosophy of, well, not having anyone or anything depend on me that’s not a highly transient deadline project. It’s not like I’m not dependable; I just hate letting people down, and it’s easier not to set myself up for failure, I guess. There’s a strict no-pets-allowed policy in my apartment complex, and for a good reason. Except for cockroaches, there’s really no space. Kelly—my perky neighbor—has been trying to feed some stray cats out on the fire escape stairs for years, but the furry assholes are too smart to let themselves get lured in and trapped. Way smarter than us humans, that’s for sure.
The “Deli” is really a crappy, small supermarket, but that suits me just fine. During rush hour, it’s often crowded. When I enter, I see less than twenty people browsing the aisles, including Mike’s two employees. The man himself must be behind the sandwich station. I ignore it for now in my quest for the Holy Ice-Cold Coke. There’s a small fridge by the check-out counter, but only amateurs grab their drinks from there. They are, at best, cool. What I want is in the industrial-strength fridge at the back of the store, cold enough that the liquid hurts my teeth on the first sip. I feel myself start to salivate in anticipation already.
Ah, highly-carbonated Ambrosia.
I step out of the aisle and aim for the back corner with the fridge when I become aware of the junkie hovering close by the frozen meals section. Like all good people in the city, I don’t stare at him directly, but it’s hard to miss what’s going on. I can also smell him, I realize with disgust, as I’m zeroing in on my Holy Grail. He’s definitely not a pot head, or else he would be hanging out by the sandwich station or the hotdogs. As I slowly inch my way forward—as not to attract attention—I can see him shudder twice with what looks like nasty withdrawal shivers.
Man, I can relate, although on a much more manageable level.
I really gotta get that coke.
I’m less than five feet away from the freezer when the junkie suddenly lurches forward and goes down—right in front of where the door of my fridge opens to.
I don’t want to stare, but of course the motion draws my attention right to where he ends up lying on his stomach, convulsing all over. Is that bloody foam that’s coming from his mouth and nostrils?
I look around. The two of us have the back of the deli to ourselves. I don’t know what I’m doing—looking for an employee to drag him away so I can get to my delicious soda? Or trying to gauge whether anyone will see if I simply push him away far enough so I can open the door?
Suddenly, the junkie rears up and propels himself toward me, blood-shot eyes staring nowhere, dirty hands reaching. He lets out a blood-curdling scream.