E SAT AROUND, ABOUT 11 OF US, IN COLD BROWN METAL FOLD-OUT CHAIRS on the third floor of a shitty building in a shitty part of town—all of us with drunk-driving offenses (most of us multiple offenders) and/or in drug and alcohol recovery programs. We sat facing each other in a small, stuffy room in Westlake, near McArthur Park. After last week’s video showing of The Secret, with the if-you-think-it—it-will-happen bullshit still fresh in our pickled brains, the counselor asked us what we wanted from life. If we had less than 30 days to live, what, then, would we do?
Instantly, I had an answer.
We started going counter-clockwise. After a deep moment of silence and thought-searching, the first person said that he’d mediate and exercise more. No one believed it but we didn’t call him on his bullshit. The next person said that they’d want to be with their loved ones and family—to spend and savor each precious moment for its near-instant finality. Other people spoke on this, resonating the need to spend fleeting moments, passing minutes with people they loved. Fine, we thought. Precious moments, obviously. Nothing crazy. Makes sense.
Another person spoke.
“I’d get fucked up,” he said.
Everyone nodded, yup, goes without saying but needed to be said—especially considering the context of the meeting. Most of us have been in jail, some of us were going back to jail momentarily, and another portion of us were probably going to die in the very-near future from alcoholism or stupidity, or a combination of the two.
Someone else said that they’d want to impregnate as many women as possible so as to ensure future generations walk upon the earth carrying his blood. Someone else said that they’d travel, visit Europe, Africa, max out their credit cards, spend recklessly, not use protection during sex. Finally, it was my turn. I was the last.
“I would acquire two semi-automatic hand guns, a rifle or shotgun—preferably the USAS-12 South Korean automatic shotgun. Next, I’d visit my old boss up in Santa Clarita. After carefully monitoring his lavish home, I would break in, tie him up and his wife. I’d steal all the money from his home safe. Now, secondary scenario goes as follows: if I cannot get access to the safe, the break-in would turn into a kidnapping. I’d take the husband—my old boss—blindfold him, gag his small, fat, cheating mouth, sneak in a couple of much-needed punches, maybe snap off a finger or two and hold him ransom for $500,000. They would have to be in non-sequential $20 bills, of course. They would have to be in black trash bags. Now, naturally, the wife and family would refuse but I can’t lose. Either I get the money or I get to kill him. If I get the money, I’d pay back all the ex-employees that were unjustly terminated, pressured to quit in the past seven years. I would give each worker $20 to 25,000 in compensation.”
Eventually, someone chuckled and coughed.
Our answers were written on the dry erase board on the wall. The counselor looked at all of our answers, studied our responses and concluded that none of us knew what happiness was, that we only do things that bring us instant gratification or to occupy our times. But when it comes to doing things that bring us true happiness, none of our answers met that level. We didn’t know how to be happy. No one really argued against him, not because we necessarily disagreed but because there’s no point. If he’s wrong, let him think he’s right. Anything to get us out on time or early.
But he was right. We don’t know happiness the way he defines or implies it—it’s a temporary thing, always fleeting; you can’t hold it like a material thing.
After two hours, class ends and we are dismissed. The majority of us rush downstairs to our bicycles and ride home. Some of us have someone coming to pick us up, usually a boyfriend or girlfriend. The ones with bikes usually have neither.
I am underground waiting for the redline subway. A tall, skinny barefoot homeless man with blond stringy hair, meth-wide blue eyes with pinpoint pupils, bike shorts and fishnet stockings walks around with a heavy blanket covering him. At the end of the tunnel there is a soft yellow light beginning to form and take shape, its edges sharpening and defining, a gust of wind rushes through the tunnel and escapes throughout the underground station. It gets noisier. The train is getting closer. For a moment, I think about jumping—which is unusual because I haven’t thought about doing something like that for almost 10 years. I’m not terribly depressed, not as much as the average person. It’s just an impulse. Life is made up of impulses. I think back to the Secret video, remember how the speakers talked about the power of attraction; if I think it hard enough, it will happen.
Instead of myself jumping in front of the train, I look at the homeless man with the fishnets and blanket. I stare at his skinny, long veiny legs, the black striped pattern of the fishnets, his dirty, blacken feet, his flat stomach, exposed ribs, his chapped lips.
He stops and turns around to look at me. Our eyes meet. I do not turn away. He starts walking backward. He looks scared. I continue to stare. A Latina lady shouts, “Aye, aye, gua happen?!” The man keeps walking, a look on his face as if he is unaware that he’s even walking. The train is getting louder. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer. The homeless man does not turn around as he steps off and falls into the rail platform bellow. The Latina lady’s screams are drowned out instantly by the arrival of the train. No one else is around. I begin to think there might be something to that movie.
The Blooming Bead Trees of New Orleans:
by Kristin Fouquet