I’m a mutt. My father was half Mexican, half African. My mother is white. He spoke fluent English and Spanish, and he served in the U.S. military as a Marine. My mother was a nurse. They served together in Afghanistan. They got married in ’08, and she got pregnant. Then he got himself blown up in an attack from the Taliban. His truck hit a mine or some shit, and it upset my mother so much she went into labor and had me two weeks early.
She lived on a base then. I couldn’t tell you which ‘cuz I don’t remember and I never thought to ask. They shipped us to some place in Saudi Arabia where she worked as a nurse for some engineers building roads or something. And that’s where she met Mike Tittle or Bittle or whatever the fuck his name is – her Blackwater guy.
I close my eyes and I can still remember that brown haze hanging in the desert air, with the blue just above it. I hear the rumbling and cranking of machines pushing dirt around, the voices of the men, and the smell of tar – that horrible smell. What kind of world do I live in, I remember asking myself on some unconscious level. I remember the heat. It stuck to the walls – and the light shining through the windows… so bright…
I remember he put the shell, the 50 caliber one, on the table next to me. And he took me by the hand and led me down the dark hallway. I could hear the tar machine making that hollow breathing sound. The air was so full of the smell, so dry and so dusty, I thought I would choke. I think I was three. As he shut the door all I remember is sitting on the bed with my bare feet dangling down. And all I heard were those machines humming and squeaking outside, and one of those big hammers making that loud clanging sound. My mind wandered out there and I became one with the dirt, getting pushed around by all that big heavy metal.
“لقد وصلنا الى المكان الصحيح؟”
I open my eyes, and the cab’s decorations come at me; dirty felt and fuzzballs, gold embroidery and noise. My cabby wants to know if this is the right place, like he doesn’t know what every cabby in the city of Los Angeles knows. We have been riding for over an hour through heavy traffic congestion and I must have dozed. The L.A. heat is all over me. No wonder I’m dreaming of Saudi Arabia, wamchaka. No wonder I remember so much now.
I look around me. Outside I see people milling around on broken pavement and dusty yards. We’ve just come off the 103, and the hydro electric Toyota is rocking over broken asphalt, Hanjin Way, right near Old Pier A – what used to be the center of the Port of Los Angeles. Broken down elevators look over the waterway, and street after street of storage containers make up the homes and businesses of all the batos living in Angel City.
This camp zone is where they put you. It’s where those who don’t have a job, or are derelict, crazy, or an addict, wind up. The lifers here all dress like bedou – desert people. Most of the people are over 50 years old. Most will die before they reach 60. There are few kids. If you’re new, or have to keep up appearances, like me, you have regular clothes. Everybody trades, this thing for that. The shop owners do their thing. But drugs and my line of work are about the only way for regular people to make money. Other than that it’s the Trog techs, and everybody knows what they do is not safe but people come here anyay and spend a lotta damn money. Those city folk who come in, people struggling just to stay current with their jobs looking for the latest mod, often don’t leave either because they get dead or realize there’s no going back. I’m arriving in a cab – a special day for me. Nobody comes into Angel City in a car unless they’ve got money. So everyone assumes I’m Ritchie Rich. An old man in crusty old slacks and a damaged white shirt is the first with his hand out.
“Nada, nada..” He starts grabbin at me through the windows. “Fuck off!” I tell him.
The cabbie stops. The cabby’s brown leathery hand and skinny fingers fly up at me, money for the working man – money for a wild-eyed junkie wearing a turbin.
“Okay, okay…” I tell him as I put my thumb on his little pad and punch in 300 dollars for a 15 mile car ride. I grab my bag, scowling, and climb out. I’m mobbed. Not 2 seconds and some kid is making off with my bag. I grab his arm and twist it back like I did Guy, and the next minute he’s on his knees.
“You wanna play with me, wamchaka?”
The kid smiles with twinkling brown eyes. He’s missing a few teeth.
“Maybe later?” he says.
“Fuck off.” And I kick him face down in the dirt. The crowd is howling gibberish. Everybody has their hand out.
“Anybody want some more?”
“What about my tip?” The cabby wants to know. I look at him – like 300 dollars isn’t enough – like I could kill him. But this old man’s not the slightest bit afraid of me. He has the look of a mujahadeen; eyes sharp and steady, chewing, chewing… All the Arabs chew khat. I know what he wants. So I reach my head through the window and plant one deep and all tongue on his lips. His eyes get more twinkly.
“Allah Akbar!” He says, then drives away wheels crunching over gravel raising dust.
Wiping an arm across my lips to get the taste of the cabby’s khat off of me, I turn to face the crowd and give them all a dirty look. “What do you want?” I say, a warning not an invitation.
A cloud of dust kicks off the pavement as a hard wind pushes it through the crowd. Everybody grabs a scarf. You always keep a scarf for such occasions. Each one drapes it over their nose and mouth and squints. The wind and the dust disburse them, and I hear the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire a block over. A unmanned police helicopter changes direction from across town and groups up with another one over the gunfire. As the dust clears I look up and I see the sign hanging on a rusty billboard with lights that don’t work, big and huge so the whole fucking town knows it’s there – SEX = STERILIZATION. I’m home.