Onward my daily chores, I am unconscious of most passing salutations strangers offer me. I also forget those I more often first exchange with them. We may never see each other again; such is the life of the rare pedestrian in Los Angeles. That brief moment we do acknowledge each others presence, we stay civil, sometimes vocalize then go both our ways.
The truncated encounters are a mercy this September heatwave. Here in the hills atop San Fernando Valley, the temperature reached one hundred and three a second day in a row. It was hot the week before this miserable blight exacerbated a more terrible drought. And the forecast predicts the weather will only be more bearable the rest of the month. The weather-people make no promises so Californians conserve their water. Human-wise, we people stink.
My laundry needs to be done, so what little two-day-worn clothing I wear is usually soaked with sweat. This morning, every article I selected had been waved through the air until all the moisture evaporated and nothing smelled worst than anything dirtier I might wear.
“I don’t care what I wear,” I tell myself. I have yet to do laundry but my excuse has been, “It’s too hot.”
Understand, the washing machines the tenants of my apartment building use to do laundry are in a separate structure, one that looks like an adobe shed accommodated with electricity, water and no doors. Doing laundry involves lingering outdoors.
My point is, “It’s been and still is hot.”
At six-thirty this morning, the temperature was already seventy-three. The “Real Feel” common on websites reporting the weather (a reading that indicates how warm the air and its humidity feels against bare skin), that one suggested eighty degrees. That wasn’t right, but those “Real Feel” approximations were always wrong.
The morning feels like a griddle that has just been placed upon a burning gas stove. Whereas the metal is not hot, the surface was getting undeniably warmer by the moment. If one stood outside in place until noon, the soles of his or her shoes would certainly melt against the concrete or asphalt – as this town is, again, LA, and its parks are paved.
Knowing because of my residency and middle-age about the broiling heat that was to come, I cope and I still exercise everyday. I am at that age when men no longer pay attention to fashion, but I do exercise. I don’t want a heart attack or stroke. ‘Me’ is where I draw the line before I decide, “I don’t care.”
My clothes might be sweaty and unclean, and I am often late to shave, but I am healthier than most of you. I pretty well guarantee that. Mine is the plight of a man who is not married and will never have children.
I preserve my youth and refuse the refuges of obesity and substance abuse. Yes, I have smoked marijuana and drank beers and wines, downed hard alcohol and carbonated coolers. I will again, but these do not lift me from the remorse of raising a hopeless child to a wasted world. These sins exist purely for their own joy.
Instead of passing a horrible legacy onto another generation, I decide I will die with the vigor of the young. I will truly be ravaged before I die exhausted; probably of yet another accident or a filthy disease. Until then, I dream I will suffer none of those pangs, not while I am full of energy and I am strong.
Exercise is a foundation of such health. Diet is a second firmament. Motion and what one eats keep the machinery of people perpetually alive. So, I start my cardiovascular activity before the sun rises too high. I put a dark baseball cap on my unwashed head, hiding the whiskers on my chin in shadows even when I face east, and go outside.
The printed black T-shirt I have looks foolish on a man my age. The bankrupt business its white print advertises is not a consideration taken into account by any fashion panelist; printed T-shirts on middle-aged men are just ridiculous. This one with all it’s moth-made holes is especially stupid.
“I don’t care,” I tell myself. “It doesn’t smell.”
The black dress slacks I hacked off above the knees don’t stink, either. I suppose the pair never needed to be punished and amputated, but I did want ‘shorts.’ I yet needed to do my laundry, and it was, “Hot.”
Dressed in these black tatters, I stroll a memorized course through the neighborhood. There is only me walking outside, everyone else travels to work with the windows of their vehicles rolled up. They horde their own personal cool air conditioning. I cook in my own skin near the roads.
I stay under shadows where I find them. Truly, I planned my route because I knew where the dark spots fall this time of day. My path was optimized for darkness.
I rarely encounter anyone when I hike. When I do, they are usually standing over their dogs and near neighbors’ yards. The weather this week helps to keep even these people indoors so the past couple days had been markedly lonesome.
When I do see someone, I am surprised.
A woman comes outside.
The old lady leaves her house wearing a clean white T-shirt and pale polyester slacks. The lady goes the same way I go. Although she started down the sidewalk fifty feet ahead of me, I overtake the woman sooner than I expect. Noon also approaches more quickly than I anticipated, rapidly shortening the shade available to hapless pedestrians like us. The ancient lady and I are cramped nearer each other so we might avoid the scorching daylight. We are not touching, but when I glance at her, I see she holds her nose.
My thought, “It’s probably me,” is immediately replaced with, “It’s probably both of us.”
I don’t smell the woman but I do hold my breath – my age and experience had taught me a lesson I am too often reminded about. This time of year, the people in LA smell bad.
My own odor is a better musk. I think to myself, “I exercise and I try and eat wholesome food.”
“You, poor woman, probably eat frozen dinners and drink soda pop.”
I feel sympathetic and I imagine I say to her, “Oh, look at you who lost her youth. You’ve had children, more than one or two. That’s obvious.”
Instead, I tell her from beneath the rim of my baseball cap, “We can share the shadow.”
She gasps at me then falls back and into her home.
– Mr. Binger