The Saturday Morning Post #14, Part 1

Last week brought us to the last first-person short story. Now comes the closing novella, told in third-person, in which everyone comes together. Since a lot of us are still locked up, I think I’m going to share a bit more of this one in a few installments, since this part is 20,000 words or so. You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here.

TAKING HOPE

September 23, 2029, was the high point of the Los Angeles social calendar of the year, possibly even the decade, and it all began early on that Sunday morning at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, at Grand and Temple downtown or, as locals knew it, DTLA. The wedding was going to be presided over by Archbishop Cacciapuoti, successor to Archbishop Gomez, with the actual celebrant being Father O’Malley, who had been the bride’s first confessor.

Apparently, it had taken some finagling on the part of the bride’s parents to make it happen, since the groom was the son of a Lutheran mother and a father of no particular faith, but since his father was a prominent real estate developer in the county, enough wheels were greased that it was not a problem at all at all and he didn’t need to go through the motions of converting, and that the ceremony would still be a full Mass, which was very unusual in the case of “mixed” marriages. But, nowadays, the Church really needed the money, and the cathedral did need some repairs after the earthquake, the groom’s father knew people, and the work was agreed to be donated by the middle of August, ahead of the wedding.

There were half a dozen media vans parked outside the Cathedral, antennas extended and reporters deployed to harass arrivals by six a.m., although the arrivals for the pre-ceremony luncheon weren’t set to start until ten a.m. Say what you want, but only in L.A. would you find a green carpet and a step and repeat in front of a place of worship early on a Sunday morning. (Yes, the green carpet was in keeping with the chosen wedding theme.)

The schedule of events had gone out in advance to all of the invited guests who had RSVP’d, as well as to the media, planned out to the minute as follows:

11:00........Arrivals Begin, 2 North Grand Avenue
11:00 to 13:00.....Pre-Luncheon, The Plaza at CTG
13:30......Ceremony, Our Lady of Angels Cathedral
15:00.................Reception, Upper Grand Park
18:00 to 20:00.............................Dinner
20:00 to 23:00;............Cake, Dancing, Karaoke
23:01....... Departures from 2 North Grand Avenue

The luncheon and dinner menus were elaborately detailed, with guests instructed to choose up to three entrees per meal, with options to pick the same for both meals or different ones for each meal. There were ten choices here, covering all the bases through the five most common meat food groups (beef, chicken, pork, fish, lamb) and specialized options (vegetarian, pescatarian, keto, ovo-lacto vegan, and vegan). Any or all of these could also be requested as gluten- or lactose-free, kosher, or halal.

The mayor’s planning team had missed nothing, so there were also heart-healthy/low-sodium options and diets catered to diabetics, with an email and link on the wedding website set up to take even more specific requests, and there were going to be multiple wedding cakes to cover all possible options — yes, even a vegan, gluten-, dairy- and nut-free version that was both kosher and halal. It was also sugar-free and made without salt, baking soda, or baking powder.

The entertainment during the reception included a bunch of A-listers, mostly local talent: music from Tudor, The Valet, and Tom Goss, with comedy from Lauren Pritchard, Bill Chott, and the dynamic duo of Rebekah Kochan and Ryan Kelly, better known to fans of “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” as Ryko Rebkel. Rounding out the bill were Gandalf the Magician, some aerial work from Kennedy Kabasares, and a ComedySportz improv show with eight performers and a referee who were well-known from the hit Amazon Prime interactive series that was now in its fifth season.

Of course, none of the people who stayed inside the “snooty party,” as Alejandra had taken to calling it in private, would probably ever figure out to wander down to what was being billed — quite separately and in channels the rich would never see — as The People’s Concert in the Park. She had planned it that way intentionally, and the County was footing the bill for that one.

She could plan it that way, after all, since she was Alejandra Peréz, the mayor of Los Angeles, and mother of the bride. To her, there was something symbolic about Grand Park anyway that she didn’t think a lot of people picked up on. The bottom end of it — literally. Since it was the lowest elevation — faced the steps of City Hall. The second division, the same size as the first, was flanked by the L.A. County Hall of Records and the Law Library. The L.A. Metro Station was located at the top end of the second division — rather appropriate in the scheme of things, as will become apparent shortly.

The upper level, which was as big as the other two combined and much higher up, was flanked by the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration Building and the L.A. County Sheriff’s headquarters. Opposite the top end of that part of the park was the L.A. Music Center. It was also the part with the huge fountain and elevators.

Alejandra always thought of it as a very subtle topological representation of the politics of failed capitalism. City Hall was a reminder that all government should derive its power from the People, and no one else. It stood at the lowest end of the park as a reminder that even the lowest citizen had equal rights and standing in the eyes of the government — and the steps leading up to its portico across Spring Street were a visual reminder and invitation: Anyone in our system is welcome to climb. Well, in a true Democracy, sure. In capitalism? Not so much.

The second level represented citizens who were a bit more well-off, but still in view of City Hall, with two public resources of information on either side. These were the folk who benefited (or should) from society’s most successful implementations of socialism: public education, and public libraries. Alejandra wondered whether the placement of the Metro station at the top of the hill above this part of the park was intentional or not. In reality, the station long pre-dated the creation of the park, but really turned out as a fitting marker, because the L.A. Metro station had turned out to be a great equalizer and method for helping the poor to have greater access to their own city, in effect, pulling them up the metaphorical hill of Grand Park.

As for the upper part — it was a bigger piece of the pie, had the better stuff, and was surrounded by the halls of power. If you started at City Hall and walked up, it took real effort, and if you were handicapped or unable to walk uphill in any way, forget it. You weren’t making that journey. But if you did wind up in that rarefied atmosphere of those on top, you would emerge from the park to find yourself at the bottom of a set of steps that almost seemed designed to say, “Stay out,” because you really couldn’t see what was at the top of them.

What was at the top was one of the premier theater companies in the city — the two thirds on the right for the people — and the snooty, old-money ballet and opera company on the left for the old and rich. It was sort of a microcosm of Grand Park repeated and turned on its side, with the plaza between an analog of the Metro Station — the place for all wedged between the place for common folk and the place for the overlords.

Kind of ironic that from the POV coming up from Grand Park, the former was on the right and the latter on the left, but that was probably something way out of the hands of city planners. After all, the Music Center complex up top had been built in the 1960s, while Grand Park didn’t open until 2012. (What Alejandra had no way of knowing was that the Music Center was one of the reasons that Cindy’s mom had convinced her father to relocate the family to Los Angeles, even if Cindy’s mom did wind up at Universal instead of Center Theater Group.)

Still… because Alejandra had always had this take on Grand Park, she had requested of the wedding planner that the wedding party start there, and basically follow the route of Los Pobladores, who were the (mythical) original 44 settlers who founded Los Angeles in 1781, when it was known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula. This was another reason that she had insisted that her daughter made as much as possible in the wedding green, because everything else that didn’t involve the couples’ clothes was either red or white, and la alcaldesa, Alejandra, had also arranged for there to be live eagles trained to snatch (but not kill) non-venomous snakes from among the crowd outside and then tow them to conveniently placed rocks around the area, one of the largest in the middle of the Grand Park fountain.

Those who needed to get it would. Those who didn’t, well… they would probably inadvertently wind up donating a ton of money to the city because of all of the souvenir stands that appeared to be set up by locals, but which, again, were all the mayor’s doing. That, and stuff that would be happening here later, during the reception.

To be honest, Alejandra was tired of this shit, but since she had found an actual non-corrupt way to soak the hell out of the rich upper classes in this city of vast income inequality, she was going to milk it for all it was worth, and then let it actually trickle down.

Every single person on the work staff was going to split at least 10% of the total sales take in tips, which would probably be enormous, and there were going to be at least five opportunities during the reception for the stupidly wealthy to get into a dick-measuring contest over who could donate the most or bid the most or whatever, all of which would (unbeknownst to them) be divided up equally among the reception serving staff. All they would hear is that they were donating to a worthy cause, so they could feel good about themselves, never suspecting that the people they were helping were actually the people around them that they ignored or insulted or patronized every single day. If anybody pressed her or her staff on it, they would only respond, “Your donation is going towards fighting poverty in the city.”

Well, it wasn’t a lie, was it?

Alejandra really didn’t care about the mechanics. She only cared that the really big bucks sucked out of rich assholes in this way would get divided among all of the non-management workers and would probably cover all those stupid things like oh, who knew… rent, food, insurance, utilities, student loan debt? Possibly for several months. You know… those “luxury” items the rich don’t think that the working class need.

It was her version of backdoor socialism, or an arrogance tax. Make the superrich feel like they were stroking their egos by wasting money on shit, then smile and say thanks while that money actually did some good.

She had been open and transparent about her plans within the government itself, and while not made public, the plan was vetted and approved by her own legal counsel, the City Attorney, the City Council, and the County Commissioner and Board of Supervisors for good measure. If word ever did leak out, the paper trail — well, electron trail — would be incontrovertible proof of her honorable motives and, if anything, it would really boost her popularity. Who knew what she could accomplish in similar fashion as Governor?

The best part, though, was that not a peep about it leaked to the entire wedding staff, and she would have word sent out about halfway through the reception that there was a mandatory meeting at the end of the event, with her direct staff instructed to act like it was a bad thing, but say nothing. Then, when they’d gathered everybody into the lobby of the Mosk Courthouse, which was serving as a staging area, she was going to come in looking royally pissed, let them all shake for a moment, and then break into a broad smile and say, “I bet none of you expected that this job came with a nice bonus,” and then explain what had happened and end it all with the per-dollar figure per person.

Hey, she had been a stand-up comic back in college, which is what led to her becoming an inspirational speaker, which is what led to her becoming mayor in the first place. And she loved nothing more than making people happy but knew the power of hills and valleys when it came to emotions. (She’d spent some time as an actress, too.) Make them feel bad for a moment, then give them amazing good news, and they’ll shoot even higher into sheer joy, and that was the emotion she wanted them to feel.

Meanwhile, the people who had helped make the whole thing happen got the VIP express transport to and preferred seating in the Cathedral long before any of the celebs or politicos who thought that they were special did.

Alejandra moved her tailor and all of his staff and guests and SOs front of line, so that Jackson and his date Cindy, and Finley and his dates Tycho and James, just get to waltz right in and take up the pews to the left of the altar, closest to the action. In gratitude and at the bride’s request, Alejandra also lets the vendors and contractors in, so that Jackson was able to bring Fumiko Miyade, Jackon’s fabric provider, and Haru Toyama, her nephew and assistant. Jackson even finagled it so that Adam and Tony got to sit with Finley and company, since they all apparently had some sort of complicated multiple relationship going on.

As for Toby Arnot, he bought his way in, because of course he did, but after his ridiculous donation, he’s allowed to bring in his assistant, Adrian, to the latter’s extreme gratitude. They both also, although it’s not clear at whose behest, bring along an older Chinese woman, Wei-Tso Yung, and an even older American woman, Edna Ferris, and only a few of the much older conservatives in attendance recognize her from her film work, but ashamedly say nothing. Toby is also able to grease the wheels to be able to bring along all of Wei-Tso’s tenants, of which there are 44 at the time.

Thanks to some advance notice via Alejandra to Jackson (and her largesse), all of the early seated, non-wedding party VIP guests to the left of the altar got their own matching wedding garb — nothing as fancy as the wedding party, but the men got tailored evening suits in corresponding colors, and the women got gowns and shoes. She had also personally paid Jackson to outfit every last server, usher, cook, bartender, and bar-back in similar fashion and, just for shits and giggles, she had him outfit the photographer, videographer, and planner to boot. Again, they were all outfits that could be worn at places that weren’t weddings.

She had paid for all of the non-wedding party outfits herself although, ironically, while she could have easily afforded it, Toby’s little admission “bribe” (which wasn’t really one) more than reimbursed her the expense. Luckily, in her mind, there was no way in hell she would approve any of the crazy gentrifying projects of his that had been in the pipeline to date.

Eventually all of the guests were seated, with the press awkwardly stationed on top of the part of the narthex that technically jutted into the nave at the back of the sanctuary. Well, okay, technically not the narthex, because the layout of this cathedral was very non-traditional, but it served that purpose, being the atrium outside of the entrance down the center of the nave. Above it, they were on a platform about thirty feet up, with a perfect view of everything from here to the back of the ambulatory and the bema and altar dead center.

Just before things began, Alejandra looked around and thought, “I wonder how many people in this room realize that this part means absolutely nothing, and that my daughter and son-in-law are already married because they signed the paper in my office yesterday afternoon?” Maybe it was just because she’d been involved in the law for so long but, despite having grown up Catholic and still appreciating the trappings, Alejandra also knew that a church ceremony didn’t mean squat when it came to actually, you know… marrying two people. For that, only a license from the government and two witnesses were required. She’d known this for years, and it was one of the things that most frustrated her as she’d fought against Prop 8 in what seemed like the dark ages. No matter how many times she’d told the religiously recalcitrant, “No, nothing about this will force your church to perform gay weddings,” they turned a deaf ear.

Then again, as an elected official, Alejandra had learned what everyone else in a skilled and trained profession also knew: Everybody who doesn’t do what you do thinks that they know everything about it and could do it better, and every one of them is dead wrong.

Something something Dunning–Kruger effect… but then she heard the opening notes of the procession from the back of the nave.

What nobody expected, but which Alejandra and the groom’s mother, Brenda, had planned for months, was how much of a pageant this would be and, for a lot of people, probably a mind-bender because it would account for the background of both partners.

To be continued…

The Saturday Morning Post #8

Continuing excerpts from my novel of L.A. in Short Stories plus one Novela, here is part of Chapter 8. If you want to catch up, check out the first one here and the previous one is here. The one thing to remember is that each of the 13 short stories is narrated by a new character, and the novella is told from an omniscient point of view tying it all together. 

Last week, we met Tycho, an assistant to a local government official who got a quick promotion due to a family emergency his former boss suffered. Along the way, he met a tailor’s assistant, Finley, and they proceeded to get friendly. Finley picks up the thread from here.

Warning: Graphic content ahead. That’s true of most of the novel, but I think this is the first chapter where it comes at the top. So to speak. So strap in. But keep in mind that this chapter in particular, as is the finale novella, is one gigantic political satire. If you’ve been reading along all the way, though, you’ve probably gotten enough hints to have figured that out by now. Enjoy!

INTO THE MATTRESS

I haven’t been plowed face down so hard for at least six months, and never in such a nice hotel by such a hot guy. And certainly not by someone so young — in fact, about three years younger than me — and never someone in such a powerful position but, to be honest, it wasn’t his money or his power that first caught my eye or kept my interest.

The first thing I notice (after that whole “God, he’s cute as fuck” thing) is that despite me being merely a tailor’s assistant while he’s getting the royal treatment — such as is given to new government employees on a certain level — whenever my boss and this guy’s assistant aren’t around, he talks to me like I’m a real person. And, besides the aforementioned cuteness, he’s also got a sort of goofy but endearing manner about him. So, what the hell. I flirt. Because I’ve got good gaydar, and he’s setting it off.

And… score. I figure out that I was right in a few sentences, and he soon tells me what hotel and room number he’s in, and I am so there.

And all of this less than a week after the city and county of Los Angeles get ripped a new one by a gigantic quake out in and named for Riverside.

It’s a week after the quake when I wake up early Tuesday morning in his (government provided) hotel room out in NoHo, his arms wrapped around me, his morning wood sandwiched in my ass-crack, and I’m trying hard as hell to remember his name, because the last thing I want is for him to think that I’m just some shallow gold-digger, because I’m not. Hey, I work for a clothing shop that does a lot of contracting for local governments, so I am really used to dealing with bureaucratic assholes, and this guy is not one of them. Not to mention that my boss is generous, our clients tip, and I’ really not hurting for money.

But, honestly, this guy is a breath of fresh air. Again, because he treated me like a human. And when I asked him if I could stay the whole night after he rocked my world and he said yes, I kind of shivered in joy, because it made me feel like he wasn’t looking at me like I was just a whore.

But Jesus Christ, what the fuck is his name? I’d give anything to remember that right now. All I can remember is that it starts with a “T,” but so many names do. Tae? Taj? Taki? Tamal? Tanner? Taylor? Ted? Terrance? Thad? Thadeus? Thagrador? Theo? Theodore? Thomas? Tim? Timothy? Titus? Tobias? Tobuscus? Toby? Tom? Tomás? Torrance? Travis? Trent? Trenton? Trey? Tripp? Tristan? Troy? Truman? Tucker? Turner? Tyler? Tyrion? Tyrone? Tyson?

Fuck!

This was as hard as I was. Still, at least he was wrapped around me at the moment, so I might have a chance to organically ask the question if I was patient. At least when I’d asked him if I could stay the night he’d said “Yes.”

Ultimately, he let me and so I just stayed there all night as I felt him gently breathing on the back of my neck — which also made me really horny before and after I slept — and then his alarm went off and he suddenly jerked and spasmed.

“Whoa, hey. Wait, hi!” he sputtered as he woke up, and I swore he got harder. “Um… stupid question time again, and sorry for this, but… what’s your name?” he asks even as we’re both trying to nonchalantly get the cork in the hole without it looking like either one of us is trying to make it happen.

“Finley Potter,” I reply, grateful that he’s given me an opening — or is close to giving it to my opening, shut up. So I ask, “And you are…?”

Thank god he doesn’t bat an eyelash at that one, or try to flaunt his degrees, and simply says, “Tycho Ford. Well, Tyty. And… I seem to be about to accidentally shove my cock up your asshole for some reason?”

This makes me laugh and remember why I like him so much, and I just reply, “Why, yes, sir. Yes it seems so. And why isn’t it up there already?”

“Because, I’m just wondering one thing…”

“Whether it’s your money that I’m into, right?”

I can feel him hesitate behind me and sigh a little before he whispers in my ear. “So… is it?”

“Fuck no, you silly insecure douche. It’s all you,” I reply, and with that he proceeds to eagerly ram it home and fuck me into the mattress again, over which I have no complaints, and when he’s made another delivery via the back door and I can’t help but mess the hotel sheets because of it, we cuddle for a while until the alarm goes off again and he apologizes.

“Sorry. Last snooze. But… same time tomorrow night?” he asks and I lean back and say, “Oh, fuck yeah.”

And we both hop on the Metro together, riding until the point when he gets off two stops before I do, and we part with a kiss, but I can’t help but think about him all day long.

Although a lot of those thoughts come back to things I don’t want to think about, like the quake. When I get to work, the OLEDs in the lobby blare the news, and it’s all Tycho, the youngest county department director ever, even if they do keep calling him “acting.” Damn if he doesn’t look sexy as hell in the footage of him leaving the county building. We sure did a good job of dressing him well — although I can’t help but think, “That hot dude’s been in me several times.”

He doesn’t comment to the reporters and I know he hasn’t done a presser yet. I have sensed a touch of anger in him about this whole thing, so I’m wondering — as his responsibilities increase, are the fucks he throws in me going to get harder and angrier?

The thought that it might makes my hands tremble as I cut fabric to patterns, although it’s a good tremble. I mean, if he wants to take out all of the tension and anger on me… I would so be there for that. Note to self: when we get home tonight, point that out. Sure, he’s younger than me, but I’ve got nothing against role-playing an Angry Daddy scenario where I’m not the daddy.

But… it’s a long day, because, apparently the big quake has also created a big government shake-up, and I don’t know whether that’s reality or a bad pun. All I do know is that we’re suddenly winding up with a lot of “acting” folk for various positions, and every single one of them who deals with the media is getting a ridiculous new wardrobe. At least we only actually tailor the clothes here, except for the rare custom job, but those are special-ordered ahead.

It’s the first time in months I’ve worked O.T., actually, so I don’t get out of there until nine p.m. — not a problem at all because more money — but I text Tycho as soon as I’m leaving.

“On my way,” I say.

“What kept you, honey?” he replies.

“Too many people needed new clothes,” I text back.

“I’m not wearing any and need you likewise soon,” he answers.

“Gonna ride the train down then I’m gonna ride you all night long,” I reply.

“As you should,” he texts back just as I’m taking my seat on the Metro.

Of course, our conversations were much more abbreviated, but I’m not one to share that in the ridiculous TXT/m o g speak, because I’m kind of owskoo, as they call it now, or “hipster” in the disdainful words of our parents. All I know is that I’m gonna get some, so I am elated for the entire B Line ride back up to the Lexen. And by “elated,” I mean hard as a fucking rock.

When I get to the hotel, the desk clerk just hands me the keycard without asking my name and gives me a wink and nod. “Go on in,” he says, and so I go up to 23 and key my way into the door to find Tycho lying face up on the bed, legs spread, arms crossed over his face, butt-ass naked, and his gorgeous golden dick standing at full attention above his more than adequate balls. I don’t have to ask. I strip on my way to the bed, kneel between his legs, and have at it.

I start bobbing up and down on it and he starts moaning and squirming, and then suddenly says, “Oh my god, Darren, that is so hot.”

I pull my mouth off his dick and look as he uncovers his face, looks down, and then smiles. “Hi, Fin,” he says. “I knew it was you. Just joking. And can I call you Fin?”

“Um, sure… But what can I call you?”

“Tyty,” he replies.

“Okay,” I tell him, “But for the moment, can I just call you ‘daddy?’”

“Ha!” He replies. “That’s not normally my thing, but whatever floats your boat.”

“Wait,” I ask. “Are you a bottom for daddies?”

He laughs. “No, dude. I’m into topping the hell out of them. And you’d be surprised how often that works out.”

“Really?” I reply. “Whoa… Then again, I am older than you. Technically, a baby daddy, so…” I give the tip of his dick a lick, but I think what I’d said had already raised the sails a bit higher.

“I think I told you, I thought you were younger than me,” he finally says, “But since you’re older…well, then… shit. you’re going to be coming on over a lot more often. Meanwhile… you seem to have stopped — ”

He coughs and gestures, and I don’t need another word, so dive back down and continue slurping. He’s bucking and moaning until he suddenly grabs my hair to pull me off.

“Bottoms  up,” he commands, and I don’t hesitate. I throw myself down on the bed, does a little prep work, then whispers in my ear. “Ready?”

“Oh, fuck yeah, daddy,” I reply, and then he rams it home. He seriously pounds me into the mattress. Hell, if this one is memory foam, it’s going to have stories to tell for centuries. Although it’s not. It’s just a hotel mattress, but something about lying face down and taking a really hard dicking from a really hot guy just… rustles my jimmys. Well, my prostate.

As usual, right as Tyty announces what he’s about to do, I clench up tighter than a landlord on deposit refund day and quiver like the city did during the quake and then we’re both grunting and moaning incoherently until we collapse into a silent, sweaty heap.

And… scene…

Image Source: Hotel Lexen, NoHo, CA © 2020 Jon Bastian

The Saturday Morning Post #1

Now for a slight change of pace and a bit of creative writing, because that’s what I do when I’m not being less fictional here. The following is the first half of the first chapter of what became a 90,000 word novel set in Los Angeles and comprising 13 short stories capped by a short novella that brings all of the characters and story threads together in a massive wedding celebration at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and in Grand Park in downtown L.A.. And, as it worked out, each successive short story was taken over by the point of view of someone introduced or referenced in the previous story.

This whole thing happened because of a late-night shopping trip to a chain drug store near my house that’s open 24 hours. I don’t even remember what I needed to pick up, but I found myself in line behind a middle-aged man who was buying two twenty-four packs of TP at that hour, and nothing else, and he seemed to be in a bit of a rush, so of course the line took forever.

Originally, I was only going to write the short story because the whole concept popped into my head as a whole before I even finished my transaction, but once I had written it, I had to ask myself, “Okay. Where does this character go next?” I found the answer to that question in another character starting their day in the next story, and so that set the structural pattern

None of the bad things in the first story happened in real life, but that’s why we write stories. The parameters I set for myself were that it took place in very identifiable locations in Los Angeles and happened a decade in the future. And, slight spoiler, an earthquake does figure into things because, L.A., of course — but only a few days after I finished the first draft, we had an earthquake in Southern California of exactly the magnitude and in the approximate location as my fictional one. You’re welcome! Now on with Chapter One.

* * *

THE ROCKY ROAD FROM WALGREENS

I can’t believe how crowded it is at four in the morning in the 24-hour Walgreens on 7th in the Jewelry district. It’s your typical urban storefront business, taking up the entire ground floor of a 12-story building erected in 1923. Once upon a time, its footprint probably comprised multiple stores. Then again, in those days, specialization was everything, so that the bakery, butcher, deli, dry goods, grocer, liquor, newsstand, pet, pharmacy, stationary, and toy departments were their own individual businesses.

There’s a reason they call them supermarkets, superstores, big boxes and… face it, those terms are retro. I really mean Amazon Alphabet. Same idea. Everything available under one big metaphorical roof, delivered by the same drone army. Except for those of us, rich and poor, who buy local. Like me, this very morning.

Above the store are tons of apartments. I’d read somewhere one time that this building has the equivalent of just over five acres of living space in it. For some reason, most likely the lack of proximity to schools, there are also several hundred registered sex offenders living in it. This might explain why this particular Walgreens has adult magazines, although they come wrapped in discreet black plastic with only the title logo, date, price, and UPC code printed on the outside in stark white. Well, UPC in black bars in a white box, but there’s nary a VQR or AQR code showing, for reasons that should be obvious.

As I wait in line, I glance out the windows, not missing the irony that this Walgreens is directly across the street from a similarly-situated Rite Aid — they’re direct competitors — although it’s only the Walgreens that is open 24 hours a day.

I can’t believe that anything down here is open all night long, but a few years back, right when they finished the Purple Line extension, the city started paying pharmacies in certain areas to stay open, providing them with armed, on-duty LAPD officers, two per storefront.

The real razón de ser for the extended hours is that the city also subsidizes them to keep a good-sized supply of naloxone auto-injectors on hand to be administered for free by the rotating staff of ever-present nurses (these subsidized by the county) in order to prevent yet another needless opioid death. Yes, this sort of defeats the whole “auto” part of “injector,” but by the time most of these people make it in the door, they’re on the edge of not being able to do anything ever again.

Before the program, it wasn’t uncommon to walk down certain city blocks in the morning and have to step over the bodies. They were as prolific as those e–rental scooters had once been, and just as annoying. At least the scooter companies had all folded after the perfect triple disaster. First, pissed-off residents had started vandalizing and trashing the things almost from the beginning, one annoyed citizen becoming an infamous folk hero for tossing them into the Venice canals. Certain cities banned them outright, starting with Beverly Hills, then extending to Burbank, Glendale, Malibu, and West Hollywood. Next, an endless parade of hackers kept pumping out what they called “Scoot Free” apps that would fool the system into not charging riders, and they would defeat every new patch as soon as it came out in the longest known run of continuous Zero Day Exploits ever perpetrated.

This was just about the point that the original scooters that had survived started to hit 5,000 miles of use, at which point a terrible flaw suddenly revealed itself. Because some manufacturers had gone cheap, the batteries in the things would explode with enough force to launch the entire handlebar assembly into the air at least a hundred feet — or about thirty-two if the average hapless rider didn’t think to let go. Ironically, this was one of the few times that obesity saved lives by reducing the launch altitude to a survivable height (yay, physics?), although dislocated shoulders were very common.

Those companies had all either gone bankrupt or moved to other endeavors before the summer of 2025. But that really has nothing at all to do with why this Walgreens is so crowded at four in the  morning on a Tuesday in April. I’m thirteenth in line with two checkers on duty behind the dozen registers and, it being four in the morning, everyone looks extra bad — especially more so under the fluorescent lights. I’m trying to imagine what circle of hell this resembles through the 16K HD cameras that are watching us all from every direction when I notice the customer in front of me.

He’s twelfth in line, and he has only two items — both of them family-size twelve-packs of toilet paper that I can see are labeled “triple-ply” and “ultra-absorbent.” (Ah, “ultra” — that super meaningless advertising buzzword!) I look at his face, general demeanor, and hollow desperation in his eyes, and put it together quickly. Junky. Up until probably this morning, when for some reason he couldn’t score, and the inevitable end result of suddenly going off of a powerful constipating agent is probably just starting to kick in and he knows it.

Well, isn’t this going to be fun?

I shift the pint of Häagen-Dazs rocky road from my right hand to my left to warm up my fingers and wonder how long this is going to take. My ice cream run is an occasional indulgence, although it’s usually just in and out. I have no idea why tonight is so different. Still, I know I have time, since they keep the freezers cold enough here that the ice cream stays at brick consistency for ages.

On the other hand, the glacial pace of the line isn’t giving me any confidence. I have to wonder what the hell all these people are doing up at this hour. In my case, it’s simple. I had business to conduct online in real-time with Hong Kong, Melbourne, and London simultaneously, and the only time that synced them up was a window that had started two hours ago, even if it meant that Melbourne had to stay a bit past office hours. I’m used to it, everything turned out very well, and so my ice cream run was a bit of a celebration of a job well done.

As for the rest of these people, though? It’s doubtful that any of them have just completed a multi-billion dollar deal. Most of them seem to have come here desperately seeking relief from some great physical malady. I can see that a lot of them clutch small cardboard boxes that are strapped to security devices three times their size.

Small enough to steal easily, expensive enough to care about — ergo, cures for the torments that steal the sleep of humankind. You never see those security devices on playing cards or Scotch tape, either of which can vanish into a pocket in a second. And the customers’ distresses were etched deeply into their faces and even distorted their bodies. Hell, if I were a casting director, half of these people would make it onscreen for the next Zombie or Medieval Plague thing to be shot. The other half would probably land on the exciting new reality show Poor Life Choices!

Meanwhile, the flat screens are everywhere around us, scrolling through a series of happy images of stock-photo people of all possible demographic combinations as they enjoy freedom from acne, allergies, arthritis, athlete’s foot, bloating, constipation, cramps, depression, diarrhea, ED, hemorrhoids, migraines, social anxiety, and more. (Name your malady, it’s up there.) All of these seem to involve exuberant poses on stark white backgrounds or frolicking somewhere in nature with an implied loved one or family. The predominant color palette outside of white and various tones of human flesh involves “serious medicine” blue and “snap out of it” red, both of which happen to be Walgreens logo colors.

What? I’m in the psychology of marketing. I know how this shit works: All too well, especially on those who haven’t been vaccinated against it. But as I stand here waiting for the line to take one more Sisyphean step on its way up to the summit of catastrophe, I realize that I’m standing in a pile of anti-vaxxers, to use the quaint term from my college days before we got real and called them what they really are: pro-diseasers. Except that these people don’t avoid vaccinations against the diseases we finally did kill (again) like measles and polio. They embrace the ones we still can’t kill, like capitalism, commercialism, and corporatism, all of which are ultimately fatal.

Well, fatal unless you’re actively spreading them, in which case they confer a weird immunity on you which is called wealth. But that’s neither here nor there. And, anyway — ooh. Look at all the shiny hope they’re advertising on those screens!

And as the people in line distract themselves with the magic totems of HEALTH and HAPPINESS and SATISFACTION and LOVE and SEX and POWER being projected at them, I start to distract myself with the people in line and, sure enough, it’s a parade of all of the typical personas we create and manipulate in the lab before we take them into the field.

Oh. Pardon my jargon. A “persona” is a profile created by marketing people to describe a segment of the target audience for a particular brand, product, or industry. Generally, a company will have three or four, ranked in order from most loyal customer down to “not loyal, but still buys our shit.” And yes, thank the Lords Zuckerberg and Brin, because creating personae became so much easier once social media exploded and everyone became all the more willing to unknowingly complete marketing surveys with every single click. What? You think those free personality quizzes are there just out of the kindness of someone’s heart? Nope.

Remember these important words: “If a company is willing to give you something for free, then you are the product.” If you’re fine with selling yourself for nothing, then great. It makes my job much, much easier.

A consequence of this, though, is that I’m always hunting personas in the wild and, like I said, this place is full of them.

Look right now — there’s a “Karen.” She’s with checker number two. Well, Karen is the general industry term. In my shop, we refer to her as “Expired Yoga Pants.” I watch as she wastes a good ten minutes predictably bringing up the “Nordstrom Argument,” as in, “You should give me what I want because Nordstrom will refund anything without a receipt!” I wonder if she knows that a policy like that would drive a company out of business fast.

TL;DR: Nordstrom was infamous for allegedly actually giving refunds for anything, whether they sold it or not, with the classic example being a tire, or tires, or snow tire, or snow tires, returned for a cash refund from either an experienced clerk, a new and confused clerk, or the founder of the store himself, in either Nome, Fairbanks, or Seattle. In other words, the story is complete bullshit, even though you’ll hear it in business classes to this day as an example of “The customer is always right.”

By the way, “the customer is always right” is also bullshit. The correct version is “you should always make the customer feel like they’re right.” A huge difference, because you maintain goodwill either way, although the correct version is generally impossible to achieve with a Karen.

Now, while I’m watching Expired Yoga Pants go into high dudgeon at the young woman behind the counter, I realize that the guy in front of me has started nodding up and down, and I can hear him saying the rosary under his breath in Spanish, picking up the words “Santa Maria, madre de Dios ruega por nosotros los pecadores…”

“Perdóneme, señor,” I ask him, “¿Usted está enferma?”

He glances at me with a mixture of surprise and suspicion — white guy speaks Spanish? — then replies quickly, “No, no señor. Estoy bien. Sólo es que está muy temprano.”

Before I can reply, our conversation is ended when the customer at the counter pulls the ultimate “Karen” and screams, “I want to talk to your manager,” I can almost hear some of the other people around me shrug in glee when the tiny transwoman behind the counter, who can’t be more than 19, quietly replies, “I am the manager. I won’t be talked to like that. Get the fuck out of my store. And don’t come back. Bitch.”

So much for the customer always being right. Sometimes, the business is so much more right.

Expired Yoga Pants huffs out without her goodies and, I suppose, if everyone in this line at four in the morning on a Tuesday in April weren’t so desperate to check out and get relief, there might have been some kind of applause. Or at least smiles.

All the time that “Karen” was taking up the manager’s time, the other checker is being monopolized by… well, there’s no marketing persona for this one in my industry because, frankly, we don’t care, so we don’t even spend time collecting their data. At least my shop came up with a creative name for them — “Bathtubs.” As in… they’re usually white, mostly empty, going out of style, and circling the drain.

Yeah, cruel maybe, but they’re not a victim of marketing, they’re a victim of capitalism and time — although not quite a victim in the sense you’d think. My grandfather told me that what I’d heard about his father was true: When people back then retired, they could afford to do all kinds of shit. Travel. Maybe go back to school and learn new things. This bathtub’s generation wasn’t victimized by capitalism and time by having too little of either. Rather, he was victimized by having too much of both.

People like him are also victims of themselves. They grow old and die because they refuse to stay young and think.

Casinos, cruise lines, hotels, manufacturers of all kinds of assistant devices, pharmaceutical companies, and resorts market to these people hand over fist. Why? Because the good times of three quarters of a century ago meant that they actually retired with lots of money and pensions they could live on and they probably owned real estate that they bought for a few thousand dollars that is now worth a few million. I don’t deal with those industries, although I’d guess that they probably call their versions of their personas Thurston and Lovey — either that or Rich Uncle Pennybags.

But those people must have been a total fantasy, right? I’ve heard rumors that they existed, but I think they all finally died out around the turn of the century. The ones that survive now, the bathtubs, are their kids more likely. And it’s really sad to see how being forgotten by society grinds them down to… stubs, really. Or… no, there’s probably a better word (note to self: pitch this idea tomorrow, although we’ll never market to it) Yo-yos. An alleged toy from their youth that describes what they do — they keep coming back to what they know.

Which is why I watch this old man pause for at least twenty seconds between every step of this fucking transaction, and it makes me want to throw things at him.

Clerk: “That will $55.23.”

(Take your time to view a streamer on your dev here.)

Yo-Yo: “Fifty… fif… uh?”

(Loop that vid about four times, we’ll get back to you.)

Clerk: (heroically) “Yes. Yes. How do you want to pay?”

Yo-Yo: “Oh… kay…”

And then begins the epic drawing of the sword. No, sorry… the wallet. The ancient wallet full of actual money that is laboriously pulled Excalibur-like from one of the pockets of the ill-fitting and ridiculously colored shorts that this Yo-yo wears over black socks and sandals. Yes, it’s on a chain. Yes, it has too many snaps and zippers, and yes, it’s as much a mystery to him today as it was the day that his granddaughter gave it to him ten years ago because she had no other ideas and found it when she stopped to get FroYo in a strip mall on the way to his 75th birthday party.

This is about the point where I resist the urge to ask him how he even got here or if he knows what year it is. Hell, what century? And if you think that’s being snarky, sorry. But by the time I’m that old, I’m pretty sure we’ll have cured it, and migrated off of the planet anyway.

Or we’ll all be dead. Did I mention that, a week ago, it snowed here? And today it was 110. Four in the fucking morning and it’s still 85 degrees out. In April. A week after it snowed.

Between the time that “Karen” has come and gone and Yo-Yo is halfway to counting out two dollars, some kid who’s probably about fifteen hits the other counter. He’s riding a one-wheel, busily dictating a text into the headphone/mic dangling from his left ear, and has about fifteen items in his basket. Damn if he doesn’t get them all out to be scanned in something like ten seconds, is swiping the pring on his left hand over the paypoint even before the checker announces the total and has bagged everything before she smiles and says, “Have an okay day!”

He was in and done in less than half a minute. God, I love this generation, whatever they decide to call it, although one commentator, I forget who, suggested Generation Yuzz, because that was the first letter “Beyond Z” in the Dr. Seuss book of the same name. I suppose it would also work as Generation Yass, because these kids get shit done fast.

Oh yeah — kids his age fall under a persona we call “Jacobella,” named for the two most common baby names of the decade they were born in, and nicely also delineating the idea that they really don’t believe in any kind of binary designation, whether it comes to gender, race, sex, sexual orientation, political belief, religion, or… anything. They are definitely not generation “Either/Or.” They are generation “Yes, and more.” And they are the first generation which we have not broken down by gender or sexual orientation because, honestly, that would be impossible and pointless.

They’re a tricksey bunch for marketers because they’d rather spend their money on experiences, preferably ones they can share with their friends, or spend it on loved ones or give it away to charity. Of course, the oldest of them are only just about to graduate high school, so they’re living at home, and the youngest of them haven’t been born yet, but they’ve been monetizing their lives since at least fourth grade and will probably either live at home until well into their 30s or move into group homes with at least twenty people sharing an open loft or warehouse space in the seedier parts of the edges of the centers of town, like DTLA.

In other words, in five years, about six blocks south of here, between Pico and the 10 and Hope and Lebanon, is going to be full of Yuzzes, but that will only last for about five years before the Millennials smell money and gentrify the hell out of that place, too.

But I do digress… The end result of a Jacobella following up the “Karen” and beating out the Yo‑Yo is two customers down, eleven to go, and I could continue to tick off the marketing personas all night long, except I won’t, because when we got to ten to go (another Yuzz, only buying one thing, in and out, five seconds), something I should have predicted happened.

Remember the guy in front of me? The one buying bulk TP and nothing else at that hour? The one with the wild eyes and desperate look? I pegged it — a junky who’d suddenly been knocked out of the saddle, and was soon going to face one really, really major need.

See, when you’re on any variation of the opiates that don’t kill you, a very interesting thing happens. Your intestines nope out, your asshole shuts up for the week, and everything in your digestive system turns into cement. Boom. Locked. Your anus treats your shit like it’s the gold in Fort Knox.

All well and good, until somebody lets the Night Watch go, at which point it doesn’t take long before the dragon melts the walls, the castle gates open up and the troops all flee. (Sorry about the old streamy metaphors, but I had a nostalgic rewatch of that classic HBO tits and dragons series a couple of weeks ago. )

The tub of ice cream in my hand has just barely started to soften, but I can tell by El Vaquero’s expression that his stool has gotten a lot softer, and he’s not going to make it through the gauntlet of remaining personas, which include such gems as All the Things, Chatty, Coupons, another Karen, Price Check, Sloth, and “What?”

When he’s about eighth in line, I hear the quiet but unmistakable, “¡Chingadas!” so I calmly step back…

If you’d like more from the rest of the book, let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: City Hall, DTLA, taken by the author, © 2017 Jon Bastian