My Online magazine died a sudden and apathetic death so I left San Francisco for Los Angeles and was hired to write investigative pieces for a major weekly. My first assignment was to infiltrate the community of junkies and vagabonds in the gutters of downtown Los Angeles and root out the source of the plague. “Get in there and talk to the drifters, the diseased,” my editor told me. “I want this to be as oblique and sprawling as Los Angeles itself. Dig deep into the sewers, become a part of their world. I want to feel these people come alive, I want to know why their life seems to be a life so depreciated that even death rinses its hands of it.” He was very old and terse and hardened by a long career in news. “I see great things for you, young man,” he told me in his office. “No more wasting energy on this time travel nonsense. This piece you’re about to write, it’s the reason you became a journalist in the first place. Think about it. You’ll be doing a great service to the community, to the world.” He looked out to the newsroom and the flashing digital tickers strung up on the walls, the television monitors feeding in images from all over the globe. “I’ve been in the game a long time, son,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of changes and I certainly don’t have much time left.” He leaned against his desk and fixed me with a firm glare. “I’ve always wanted to win a Pultizer.”
I swallowed hard and looked away from him. “That’s a pretty lofty expectation, sir,” I said.
“You can do it, son,” he said. “I’ve read your stuff, you’re a tremendous writer. You just need some guidance and support. Someone to get you away from this obsession with time travel.”
“And you just want me to get involved with the homeless of Los Angeles, the crack addicts, the lowlifes, the drunks. You want me to record what I see.”
“That’s right,” he said. “Let the story develop itself. This isn’t your first dance, you know what you’re doing. You’re a trained journalist. You’ve been out there writing for a few years now.”
I sighed. Yes sir, I said, and stood.
“It’s gonna be great,” he said, smiling, patting me on the back and leading me out of his office. “You call me at any time, let me know what you need. Just remember,” and he raised one arm and looked up to the fluorescent lights and said, “I see Pulitzer.” I wanted to ask him if he meant the prize for journalistic excellence or if he was actually seeing the ghost of Joseph Pulitzer floating there above us, shaking his head or smiling or pointing a finger, but instead I just said, Yes sir, and walked out into the sunshine.
“Hey honey,” I said. “You know where can I score a little rock around here?”
Get the hell out of here before I call the cops, the woman said, and I walked out of MacArthur Park feeling frustrated and distraught. I’d spent the past three days traveling about the city in my tattered and filthy clothes asking around, trying to get someone to embrace me, to point me in the right direction. I’d almost been arrested twice, once for urinating against the side of a building and once for drinking a brown-bagged bottle of Early Times at the bus stop. Nobody would cooperate, not the bus drivers or the gaunt ghost riders on the MTA, not the scalp and groin scratchers in the public libraries, not the Blacks in the ghettoes of Inglewood or the Mexicans crusted in dust and sweat out in Chavez Ravine. I thought I must be doing it all wrong, I was trying too hard, or maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was beginning to feel desperate and perhaps that was why I got my first lead, because desperation is equally as contagious as it is egregious, and so by dusk on that third day I was sitting against a brick wall in the alley shadows of Sunset next to a homeless man named Dutch watching the tourists and the Hollywood wannabees strut the glittering concrete fantastic.
“We’re in the thick of a massive social reversal,” he said.
I took a hefty sip from my bottle of Schnapps and offered it to him. He shook his head. “What do you mean?” I said.
“I mean there are roughly eighty-two thousand people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles on any given night. Eighty-two thousand. Think about that, man. Did you know that twenty percent of those eighty-two thousand are holding Bachelor’s degrees?”
I looked over at him. He was heavily bearded, late thirties. His eyes were a stark aquamarine but their depth appeared to be concealed behind something, a clarity emerging randomly, infrequently, at inopportune times, leaving whoever was looking at him feeling as though they had just missed him, he was just out of their reach.
“And so the greatest minds of my generation, as Ginsberg would have said, are often relegated to dark alleys and rat-infested tenement basements, sitting in the crusts of their own shit, watching the meat of the world parade inconsequentially about their obsessions, namely materialism and the Image, and this is what propels the machine of American life. Not science or reasoned discussion or careful deliberation, not the classics. Our core system of value judgments has been reversed, it’s been tossed on top of its head.”
Just then another homeless man came stumbling around the corner and sat next to us. He was old and very drunk. Hey Dutchie, he said, trying to focus his eyes on me. It was getting dark in the alley. I cain’t fuckin sleep, he said.
“So what are you, a nihilist?” I asked Dutch.
“I am everything and nothing,” he said. “Did you hear about the architect?”
I shook my head. What architect, I said.
“Some famous architect died here in the city last night. One of the most famous in the world. Rigged up one of his buildings full of explosives and blew it to the stars, him still inside.”
I remembered hearing something like an explosion the night before. “I might have heard it,” I said, looking up at the dark pocket of sky above. The old drunk started snoring.
“That was him, the architect. Leaving this world. Boom.”
“Why’d he do it.”
“Who knows why anyone does anything,” he said, and stood up, his silhouette like a black tongue in the night.
“Where are you going?”
“Let old Charlie sleep it off. I’m gonna take a walk.”
“Hold on, I’ll join you,” I said, and stood. “What do you think about time travel?”
To read the story in its entirety, you’re gonna have to buy the book when it comes out.