The Breath of Los Angeles
Glenda began to cry. “You don’t throw a burrito at someone who loves you.”
Liberty lies in the wake of a blue house ghost. Christmas glass shines like ass. A ruby red orb like a planet at dusk, in the dust of the Old West. Cowboys cling to the hard backs of horses, sunsets spill, tequila dreams drop like rockets from the moon into the sea. We see. Martians of nuclear clouds. We see. Buildings blowing like bubbles on days of infamy.
Felipe Flauta drags a 39-gallon gray plastic trash can from the kitchen to the back alleyway. It’s full of food waste and he cries as he turns it up and over the lip of the Dumpster. The lip of the Dumpster.
He recalls the clothing store chick in the mall who laughed at him when he brought her a rose and fast-food Mexican from the food court. “I wrote you a love poem,” he told her. He pulled the crinkled notebook paper from his pocket and handed it to her.
Her name was Glenda. Glenda? Was she a good witch? She was embarrassed as she took it. “I’m at work. I’ll read it later.”
“Would you like to eat food with me?” Felipe asked. He brushed the dark hair from his eyes with his fingers. “Do you like burritos?”
That made Glenda laugh as she stood behind the counter. “No. I hate burritos.” She had tossed up blonde hair and she wagged it behind her with a shake of her head. She was overly perfumed. “Don’t you know I’m out of your league? Because I am.”
“You don’t have to be so cruel,” Felipe said. He was meek. He was humble. He was shy. He was small. “I was just trying to be nice. I like you.”
“But I don’t like you. You are pursuing something that is bound to crush you. I really have to get back to work now.”
She walked away from the counter to help a dingy customer with some crappy, overpriced clothes. Felipe sighed. He held the bag of Mexican food tighter in his hand. He went back out to the food court and found a lonely table away from everyone else. He sat down and pulled a burrito out of the bag. He released it from the warm paper. It looked delicious, but he suddenly wasn’t hungry.
He sat stone still and thought of how Glenda had hurt his small heart. Small heart? Then he cried out. “My heart is large and full of foolish love!” People in the food court turned to look. Some pointed and laughed.
Felipe stood up. He reached down and took the burrito into his hand and walked back to the clothing store where Glenda worked. He marched straight to the counter where she was now leaning over and flipping through a dirty magazine. “Hey!” Felipe yelled.
Glenda looked up. She made a face. “You again? What do you want now?”
“It’s feeding time for all the animals,” Felipe said, and he threw the burrito at her face as hard as he could.
She made an ohhh ughhh sound of some sort and it forced her face to contort and shift. The burrito burst open, and its contents covered her heavily made-up face. She screamed as she pawed away the mess. “What the hell!”
Felipe grinned because he knew he had done well in the art of revenge, trickery, whatever it was. “I’m not a fan of food waste. I had to use that burrito for something. Have a nice day.” He walked out as she wept.
Felipe Flauta leaned against a wall in the alleyway and smoked a Spanish cigarette. He was wearing a soiled white apron. The kitchen at Thunder Taco was a hard, messy place to work. He smelled of food and sweat. He always seemed to smell like food and sweat. Food and sweat or dirty dishwasher. He did all the dirty jobs. He figured that was because he was meek and shy and lonely and unsure and wasn’t always able to speak up for himself.
Felipe lived with his Aunt Grasella in a stucco hacienda on the wrong side of the tracks on the wrong side of the city. His parents had died in a hot air balloon crash over the Grand Canyon. His siblings were all older and had moved on. Felipe had a small bedroom with one window that looked out on an alley. His bed was made for one. His existence was so completely singular. He had a stereo and liked to listen to old Rush albums. He would sometimes smoke marijuana and exhale the smoke into his pillow so his aunt wouldn’t smell it. One day she did and she got angry and made him get a job. And that’s why he was a dishwasher at Thunder Taco.
Someone called his name from the kitchen. “Felipe!” He tossed his smoke to the ground and went back inside. A cook by the name of Bryan told him there was someone out front who wanted to see him. Bryan was pretty much an asshole, Felipe thought. He never let him bum smokes. He was saltier than soy sauce. “Who is it?” Felipe wanted to know.
“I don’t know… But she’s a fox.”
Felipe wasn’t familiar with the term. “A fox?”
“She’s hot. She’s got a great body.”
“Yeah, man. Get out there before she takes off… Hey wait, come here,” Bryan said to him. “Let me give you a little advice. Chicks like her dig a guy who sweet talks them. You know, poetry and junk like that.”
“But I’m not a poet. I’m just a dishwasher.”
“Anybody can be a poet, man. Tell you what. I’ve got a line you can lay on her that is guaranteed to get you some action.”
“Action?” Felipe wondered.
“Dude. I’m talking about the ol’ in-out, in-out.” Bryan the asshole cook took his right pointer finger and inserted it into a hole created by his left pointer finger and thumb. He imitated the action of intercourse and grinned.
Felipe was puzzled.
“Sex, man! Sex! I’m talking about man on woman WrestleMania, dude. What’s your problem? Are you afraid of girls or something? Geez.”
Felipe looked down to the ground. He didn’t like the way Bryan the asshole cook talked. Someone put in an order at the window. Bryan looked at him and just shook his head. “I’ll keep the line to myself. I got to get back to work, but take some sort of action, man. Or you will always be just a dishwasher.”
Felipe washed his hands and looked at himself in a clouded mirror above a sink. He took a deep breath and walked out to the front of the restaurant. Glenda from the clothing store at the mall was sitting at a table by the window and looking out at the world. He walked over to her. She turned to look at him. “Hey,” she said.
Felipe sat down across from her. “What are you doing here? I didn’t think you liked Mexican food.”
“I’m not here for the food.” She licked at her Disney Channel mouth and acted nervous. “I came to see you.”
“Me? Why? I thought you hated me.”
“Hate is such an ugly word.”
“What is going on with you?” Felipe wanted to know. He was feeling distrust. “Do you have emotional problems?”
“No… I’m sorry I made fun of you,” she said. “I act like that when I’m nervous. I know it’s terrible, but I can’t help it. I always regret it after.”
Felipe looked around as if there might be someone else behind the scenes pulling her strings. He thought it was all an act. “Are you a puppet?” he asked her. “Puppets creep me out.”
“A puppet? No, I’m not a puppet. What a strange thing to say.”
“Is that all you want?”
“Don’t you have something to say to me?”
Felipe leaned back and strummed his fingers against the window. “No. What would I have to say to you?”
“You threw a burrito in my face. It was mortifying. I was hoping you’d at least apologize, and we could move on from this. Maybe be friends.”
Felipe looked up and toward the kitchen. Bryan was hovering in the shadows and watching them. He was doing his ol’ in-out, in-out routine with his fingers again. Felipe cleared his throat. “Do you want to have sex with me?”
Glenda’s sweet-as-rhubarb-pie face morphed into a sour snarl. “What!?”
Felipe leaned forward and put his elbows on the table and looked right into her eyes. “I asked you if you wanted to have sex with me.”
Glenda fumed. “Are you being serious right now?”
“Yes. What’s the problem? Geez.” He looked across the restaurant at Bryan who was shaking his head in the positive and grinning triumphantly.
“Do you know anything!? Have you any clue what romance is? What love is?”
Felipe was more than surprised by her words. “Love?”
Glenda began to cry. “You don’t throw a burrito at someone who loves you.”
Glenda suddenly stood up. “I love you, Felipe! I’ve loved you since tenth grade.” She covered her face with her hands and cried harder.
Felipe jumped up in shock. “This is hot and fresh and a jiggled mystery to me.”
She pulled her hands away from her face and looked at him. “You’re a senseless fool, Felipe Flauta. A god damn senseless fool.” Glenda dashed from the love ruins of Thunder Taco. She paused outside on the other side of the window and looked through at him one last time before running away.
Felipe slumped back down in his seat at the table and withdrew into his deeper self. Bryan the asshole cook sauntered over. He slapped a white towel over his shoulder and clamped a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “That was rough, man,” he said. “Real rough.”
“She could have been my person,” Felipe said softly. “The one person who could love me forever… And I threw a burrito at her.”
Bryan took the seat across from him, folded his arms, and sighed. “And you straight up asked her to have sex. Damn, man. That takes guts.”
“And what good did it do me? She ran straight out of my life.”
“Do you love her?”
Felipe was shocked that Bryan the asshole cook would even utter those words. “I think so.”
“Then go after her. Go find out for sure.” Bryan got up and started to walk away.
“But I’ve got a pile of dishes back there that need attention,” Felipe called out after him.
The words floated across the waves of dying light as the whole of reality stood still. “Fuck the dishes… Love is everything and more now.”
Felipe looked around at his present-tense broken future. He got up and went to the door. He pushed it open and stepped out. The breath of Los Angeles struck his face, and he went into it and after her, his royal soul on indelible fire.
Check out the latest post at my companion site, Blowtorch Pastoral: The Baker.