There was no room at my mother’s place. She was in a one bedroom and only had a recliner. No couch. She was living off of disability. Barely. She shopped at the dollar stores and thought a package of ground beef was too expensive. Besides, she lived at least thirty minutes from Los Angeles. That left my sister. She lived closer to Los Angeles and had a couch. She was living in a three bedroom apartment with her jerk of a husband, a niece I hated (we were only three years apart), and two nephews who were boring because all they liked was baseball and video games. But she had a couch.
I was fresh from college. I left Philadelphia with a degree in art history and theater. I wasn’t marketable but I figured if I went to LA I could find something. Something that didn’t exist in Philadelphia. I arrived from the airport and my sister folded her arms.
“You can only stay here temporarily.”
“Right,” I said. “I will get a job.”
Back then it was mostly ads in papers. Craigslist wasn’t born yet. Job websites were all in incubator status. So I went through the pile of newspapers my sister had. There was something in Torrance. Fifteen dollars an hour. But I had to read Tarot to callers. I didn’t know shit about Tarot. But for fifteen dollars I could fake it. That’s what all the Tarot readers do anyhow.
So I had to take a bus to downtown LA to get the connecting bus to Torrance. When I got off the bus I saw him. He was wild and dirty. Talking to himself. Flinging his arms around. He was staggering down the street. I had to pass him to get to the crosswalk that would take me to the bus stop. Torrance all the way. I clenched my bag and kept my head down. I could hear him.
“The aliens dig into your brain. Mexicans want to kill you. Make this United States of Mexico. The aliens send waves. It gets in your brain. I hate blue. I want to scratch out my eyes.”
As I passed him his arm shot out and hit me. Hard. I yelped. He kept going on. I gripped my arm and got to the bus stop. A middle-aged black, overweight woman was looking at me. She was both visible and invisible. Funny how that works. You’re both not noticed and then hated for your age, skin color, and weight.
“Should have crossed the street than pass him. Your arm okay?” she had a calm voice.
“Yeah.” I took off my sunglasses and wiped my brow. It was summer and LA was showering the heat.
“Shame about that man. I’ve been seeing him for years. Used to ride a bus with him. He worked at a movie theater in Torrance and wanted to be an actor. Then he lost his job, girlfriend, apartment…well, it all went downhill. Now he roams downtown LA and lives on Skid Row. I don’t think he’s schizophrenic. I think he just lost his dream. Man, that can drive you crazy. That’s why I never had a dream. I’m a secretary. Steady and sure. That’s all I need.”
I looked back at the man and started crying. What if I lose my dream? Is that my future? Roaming LA like a crazy person? Getting kicked off my sister’s couch? I wanted to be an artist, a writer, a theater director. I couldn’t stop crying. I watched my future turn the corner and my bus came. The black woman took her seat and opened a romance novel. I didn’t notice a ring on her finger. More tears came. Was my dream of love also unrealistic? I spent the bus trip in a deep funk and allowed the crazy man to get etched in my memory. He was the danger. Dreams set on fire.