I was depressed Monday night. First, Jenny’s queen bee hegemony was challenged in “Gossip Girl.” Then, five minutes later, in a moment of deepest thought and introspection, I meditated that my shielded Upper West Side upbringing had completely blinded me to many of the austere realities of the intricate set of decisions, obligations, and narratives that, when spun together tightly like the strands of a heated liquid polymer which amalgamate to form neon green spandex shorts, constitute human life in its purest form.
There is an enormous part of the world that I’m never going to see. In 19 years of life (or 23.1 percent of my expected 82 years. Thanks, Facebook apps), my passport has kissed the stamps of a mere three foreign nations (2.05 percent of all 194, or 1.03 percent if you don’t count my trip to Canada). Despite a sexy French accent and an accompanying third grade francais vocabulary that allows me very dubiously to consider myself bilingual, I can still only converse with about 550 million people (8.23 percent of tout le monde)—Yikes!
But even without fluency in Swahili or Ojibwe (spoken by 15,000 Algonquins in the Great Lakes region), it’s still not all that difficult to expand horizons or meet people from radically different backgrounds, if you know where to look. Campus is definitely not a good place to start, since a large majority of students, in spite of the vast array of diversity statistics advertised to our parents by Bruce J. Poch, come from eerily similar circumstances. We sort of had to, since just to get here you needed a decent education, and most of us had very very good teenage educations. Like, the best in the world.
The 20 percent of adults who can’t read at a fifth-grade level are not sipping natty in Dom’s Lounge, nor did they ever. Workers who never graduated high school earn an average of $452 each month. Pomona room and board alone, without tuition, costs $395.34 a week.
How could we ever meet these people who, despite all the hard work in the world, aren’t anywhere near capable of affording the cramped rooms, bland food, and frequent ant infestations that mark the absolute height of domestic frugality in our lives?
I’m not trying to label Pomona students as a bunch of rich snobs. We won the genetic lottery and were taught how to read, and our friends can read, too. It’s not terribly profound to suggest that, with very few exceptions, students here don’t really bro-out with high school dropouts or befriend illiterate 58-year-olds.
I didn’t either, until Fortuna brought about an eventful afternoon in a Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum parking lot that introduced me to a fine fellow, laconically named Security. That was his full and only name: Security. Not quite the one-worded elegance of “Ronaldo” or “Aristotle,” but certainly nicer than “Hatshepsut.”
He wasn’t really a security guard, and I wasn’t in a real parking lot. But that’s the way life goes in the quarter of University Park that isn’t covered by the University of Spoiled Children, just minutes from Compton.
I’ll explain. I was parking the car near the Los Angeles Coliseum and looking for a secluded spot to get hammered before the USC-Oregon State kickoff. The main parking lot charges a mind numbing, college fund-emptying $60. No, there wasn’t valet service or a happy-ending massage included. Even by New York City standards, that price is truly appalling.
I was infuriated to the point where I quite nearly screamed my most odious grievance at the nearest lot attendant before remembering that he probably made minimum wage, if that, and was likely not in a position to give a 90 percent discount. Capitalism just sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?
With a pipe dream of cheaper parking, I drove further down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and, astonishingly, noticed an apparently vacant section on a side street—free parking? I imagined my forthcoming heroic status: The Guy Who Parked Free in LA.
Of course, it cost money; hero I was not. A family of people best described as hustlers had commandeered the street. Despite an apparent lack of business license or any sort of legal recognition, they were charging $20 to park on the side of a street. An empty street. The kind you park on for free, every other day. Twenty dollars, which can buy four pounds of Yogurtland or a year’s subscription to Hustler Magazine, was the price to park on an empty street. And I was thrilled to see it. It’s only inside of a terribly strange world that I could have been overjoyed to drop a Hamilton and two Lincolns to park for a few hours. Love you, LA—you officially own my soul.
As I jumped out of the unzipped, plastic, passenger-side window of the very used Jeep Wrangler that had saved me from the heart-stopping terror of public transportation, my traveling companion began to mix the Soco we had delicately frozen in an improvised backseat cooler, a cardboard box filled with bagged ice from a coin-operated machine, with lime juice.
Minutes later, with kickoff quickly approaching and my world view gradually disorienting, I was ready to walk into the familiar sea of cardinal red jerseys and scream profanities at all unsuspecting Oregonians. And then Security rode up to the Jeep on his dainty little bicycle.
He wore latex gloves (still no idea why) and a shirt that displayed a blunt-smoking Tupac. Security asked for three dollars in return for “ah-toe-moh-beeel protection.” Maybe I’ve watched The Godfather a few times too many, but if Vito Corleone asks for extortion money, you give it to him. Security didn’t have Marlon Brando’s legendary face or vengeful ferocity, but I still wanted to pay him off.Problem: The remaining sum of my traveling companion’s wallet and mine was two dollars.
Solution: Hand Security a chilled drink, and hang out with him for a bit.
Fifteen minutes went by and we almost missed the first quarter, but looking back on it, that talk with Security was the highlight of my USC weekend, ahead of the best football game I’ve ever seen live and an endless army of stunningly beautiful drunk girls. It’s just so rare to get to know somebody so otherworldly; he rides a one speed around LA collecting protection money for Christ’s sake! Security was sincere, hilarious, and simply a really good guy. I wish I knew more people like that.
Think about it honestly. Do you ever really talk to anybody immeasurably different from yourself? Not smiling or saying a brief “hello,” but really engaging them. Maybe you do, but probably not. There’s a whole lot of life out there. Find it.