Monday, February 23, 2009

The Loser Goes to Town

How amazing is travel? You can sit in a giant metal tube that flies through the air and a few hours later be in an entirely different place, where the weather is different and you'll be surrounded by human beings who don't understand a word you're saying and vice versa. We think nothing of this, yet in the time of the Complete and Total Loser's grandfather if you had said "I'm going to fly to England tomorrow," they would have locked you in a room with soft walls and drilled holes in your head until you were better.
Today the Loser went by train from the suburbs, where he's housesitting this month, to the second-rate city he lives in. This train ride took under an hour and cost only five dollars, yet it took him to a place where things are in some ways as different as they'd be in another country.
In the suburb he's in, none of the houses touch each other. People could go in their houses and just holler at the walls and no one would know. When they want to go anywhere, they get into cars, even if it's just to get one doughnut. Walking would be dangerous; there are no sidewalks, and many of the people drive SUVs and talk on cell phones.
Their mailboxes don't have locks on them, and when they leave mail in them to be picked up, they raise cheerful little metal flags attached to the boxes, alerting anyone who might be driving by that there is mail in there that might be full of money or personal information that could lead to stealing money somehow.
Even though the people drive everywhere, they are thin. Almost all of them are white or Asian. Blacks and Hispanics in this suburb are nearly always driving service trucks of some kind or their in white people's cars on the way to the train station. In grocery stores, the people are polite to each other if they bump or cut off someone accidentally with their carts. They are demanding and fussy sometimes with the store clerks, but the clerks are only occasionally one of them and when they are they're usually fresh-faced high school students who are eager to please.
It's different in the city. There are many cars in the streets there, of course, but they're just passing through en route to other parts of the city, where they usually live in rowhouses. If they live in the residential areas downtown, they have the means to park inside indoor garages. Cars are mostly moving, dangerous obstacles in the city or, when parked, barriers between pedestrians and cars in the street. You seldom make eye contact with their drivers. But that's O.K. There are plenty of people to look at as you walk.
If you're not out around lunch time, most of the people you see will be black or Hispanic. They are poor, and fat, yet they wear new clothes and large pieces of jewelry. Where the Loser shopped today was an indoor mall that has seen better times and may soon be demolished for another structure. Most of the stores there sell high-calorie prepared foods or clothes. If the stores sold anything that could be stolen, they had a uniformed security guard on duty and security cameras. This was true even in small stores. Carts sold imitation designer clothes and accessories, jewelry and cell phones. People shopped for necessities in dollar stores.
The people were in groups, and had rules they followed amongst themselves about who could bump into whom without apologizing. When they spoke to each other they spoke very loud, even if they were standing just twenty inches away. They swore openly while talking on their cell phones, something they do for hours at a time. The batteries these days cell phones have must be great!
There were a large number of teenagers in the mall. This is not a surprise as the Loser's city has a very high dropout rate, and kids in school are known for cutting classes and getting in fistfights with other school kids.
Around four, the Loser caught his train home. He took out his pass, careful not to wedge it into the little pass holder on the seat until the first few stops had gone by, knowing to wait until the rough trade has disembarked. They're known for stealing passes. The farther the train got from the city, the larger the trees got and the bigger the houses, those which you could see near the tracks. He walked the half mile to the house, closed the door, deactivated the burglar alarm and spent the rest of the evening in quiet isolation.

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