I’ve Got My Problems by Max DeVoe Talley

I’ve lived in this coastal town north of Los Angeles for years, because everything moves slow. I can be lazy as shit and still stay ahead of the game. Decades kind of blur into each other here. Half the people are either retired or not working, so it’s easy for a gig economy guy like me to fit right in. 

Five years ago an ex-girlfriend asked me, “What’s your five year plan?” I didn’t know then and am still wondering now. I don’t relate to the type of question that requires an answer. Yeah, I’ve got my problems, but friends will tell you I’m solid and dependable. Always around when they’re flush, but scarce as hell when they’re in trouble. I mean, who needs someone else to remind them, Wow, you’re so fucked? No one does.

I’m heading home to my sweet little cottage and I spot a good buddy hanging outside. Warms the cockles of my heart. We are so tight, despite him being much older and us having nothing in common. Guess I consider him like family. You know, a stepfather or a cousin twice removed. I would so love to speak to this ultra-solid dude, except he’s my landlord and I get a funny feeling he’s waiting because I’m four weeks late on rent. So I duck into some bushes across the street to meditate and do deep yoga breathing. Part of my practice. It’s purely out of consideration though. If he sees me, it means bullshitting him with a story that isn’t true and then him issuing an ultimatum. Amigos don’t pull that crap on each other. Not cool. That stuff can put wear and tear on a friendship. I don’t want to lie to this awesome major bro, what’s-his-name. It feels wrong. Better we pass like sheep in the night. A state of unspoken uncertainty is a much healthier place for us to be in our relationship. And life is really all about the unanswered questions.

Landlord finally leaves at sunset and, just for shits and giggles, I enter through my back window. He’s got some paper taped up on the front door but I don’t read so well without my glasses. Seriously need a replacement set. Has it been four years already? Time really flies when you’re flying blind. Thoughtful of him to attach a padlock to keep neighborhood thieves away. The power’s off inside and I’m not sure why. A huge stack of unopened mail sits on my table and the answer might be buried somewhere in there, but I’m not that curious. Instead, I make a quick sandwich. It tastes soggy and warm and actually pretty awful. Hard to identify food from my dark fridge anymore. The bread feels really fuzzy and dimensional on my tongue though.

Still, I can sing and play my broken acoustic guitar in the darkness until the neighbors complain. But I also enjoy recreational activity, you know, watching TV and surfing the internet. So I wash my face and say, “Hallelujah,” because the water is running today, then I amble outside to visit a girlfriend with wi-fi. I don’t have a ton of energy when my stomach is struggling to digest moldy food, so I head for Charlene’s place. Char is like the love of my life. Our deal is so fucking magical it’s hard to describe to people how we’re soul mates and complete each other. Though it’s been complicated ever since she put the restraining order on me and began dating that local cop.

I check the entire block but his car is nowhere in sight, so I study her sitting on the couch awhile through the window before tapping on the door.

“Get the hell out of here, Randy,” she says, obviously joking, after she opens up. When you share a deep love, you talk this way. Verbal foreplay. It’s like being for real and in the moment.

“Baby,” I say, “I just want to check my emails and watch a horror flick. You still have Netflix and HBO?”

“Victor will be off work in a half-hour. Do you really want him finding you here after last time?”

I feel the space where a tooth used to live in my mouth, where the wind whistles through on stormy nights, and think maybe she’s making sense. I want to tell her she’s the girl of my dreams, except I don’t dream—ever. Just eleven hours of blank fucking black space. 

“Sure, Char, that’s cool. Listen, could I just use your can? I ate something funky before and it’s flaming through my system like a meteor.”

“Are you serious?”

“Fifteen minutes tops,” I reply, pushing past her toward the throne.

I don’t know how these tender moments between us always end with Charlene screaming, me running and sirens blaring, but the ways of love are mysterious.

Seven blocks away on Anacapa Street is where Tricia lives. Our bond is special, a fiery passion that churns in your chest like heartburn. She has an open house policy so I try the door, but it’s locked. Chained. Bolted. Weird, man. That must be Tricia’s secret signal for me to use the kitchen window, which I do. Once inside, I hear all this loud thumping and groaning. I tiptoe toward the back bedroom to see this big, overweight guy banging her. His hairy back kind of freaks me out. Like the bro is turning into a werewolf.

I chuckle to myself and prepare a quality sandwich out of ham, turkey and cheese from the fridge. If you’re wondering why I’m not jealous, it’s because Tricia and I are evolved, exist on a higher plane. We work hard on our open relationship. Neither of us owns each other. Total freedom. The other reason is the large dude—I happened to see his pimpled ass, and will need serious alcohol to remove that memory—is also Tricia’s husband. Yeah, life is complicated, but I’m all about simplicity. I can predict from previous experience that they’ll be back there for at least another twenty minutes, meaning I have just enough time to check my emails.

Jesus fucking Christ! It’s bills, complaints, notices, summons, threats. I can’t handle the stress so I mark it all as spam. Which makes me hungry—sandwich time. I want good news: sweepstakes prizes I won but need to collect, some generous stranger from another country who wants to put money in my bank account, horny women in prison desperate to meet me. Guess I’m talking out loud. That shit happens when your hearing goes. No connection to my time working as a roadie for Tool.

“Hey, who’s there?” the husband shouts from the hallway.

I dash out the door, because I don’t want to see a naked dude rushing me. Been there, done that.

“Randy,” a righteous friend yells to me from across the street. He’s like my brother-in-law from another mother-in-law.

I get a bad vibe and dart around the house through an alleyway. I mean we all need to work in these hard times, but being a parole officer seems below my good buddy’s abilities. We respect each other’s life choices, but he finds it hard to separate business from pleasure. I do him a solid by bolting. Naturally I’m out of breath, so I find a little water in a bowl sitting on a nearby porch and slurp it down. When some unfortunate barking ensues, I’m sprinting like an Olympic runner on crystal meth. 

Really need a to-do list. Most nights I make some serious distances, so I should score one of those mileage gizmo things people use. For my health and well-being. There’s an old girlfriend I remember who would definitely loan me hers. Trouble is, Fiona lives in a fancy gated place high in the hills. I won’t really have time to ask, using words. More of a get in, get out operation. But when I return it she’ll understand I was just borrowing it and be super grateful. Life has its ups and downs. We lose one superficial possession and gain something more profound—knowledge. 

Yeah, I’ve got my problems, but I’m a work in progress. Kind of like that song “Unforgettable.” So many people are bland and interchangeable. Let me tell you, when my friends encounter me, their faces show it. They go pale, stricken with excitement. 

Up ahead, flashing red and blue lights just outside my place, which reminds me how much I love sleeping on the beach. You know, the smell of the sea and all that rotting dead shit covered in buzzing flies. I have insomnia bad, but if I drink enough NyQuil, the mermaids and mermen come ashore and tell me bedtime stories. It’s late February 2020 and this upcoming year looks to be truly magical. I know; I’m an empath and shit. Hope I run into you soon. Bound to happen in a small town. Hey, gotta bounce. Now!

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