The automat is beautiful. There is a long glass wall that faces the street. Through it, you can see crystal-clear the expanse of pink and white tables stretching to the fenced-off line of customers before a giant grid. Walking into the adjusted air of the automat is glorious. The cool breeze manages to make the sunlight pleasant and friendly. But one step back outside and the real sun beats down on you, hot and blinding. It used to keep me inside for hours. I wonder if the glass has a pleasantness filter. It doesn't look a different color. If anything, it looks more clear than the dusty air outside. And inside, it's a magical pink and white sanctuary from the city. It's still busy, especially during the lunch time. But most of the voices get sucked up into the high ceiling. All their anxieties about work and family spill out of them and float up into the huge fans turning above our heads. They zoom through the vents and outside into the rest of the garbage air of LA. More exhaust to breathe when we all head back out there, and we all have to head back out there eventually.
But for now, I can enjoy my little bit of heaven. I grab a hot pink tray and get in line. The floor is slick and shiny, and I can slide my skates back and forth in place without moving. The person ahead of me is performing a blood test on their handheld. Two more people get in line behind me. I smile at them and they grin politely back. I turn in a circle with my empty tray pressed against my chest and look up at the ceiling. White metal beams cross the room, holding the giant spinning fans. I let my eyes fall out of focus for a moment and swear I see something glitter up there. I stop spinning and grab the tray bar to steady myself. My dizziness settles, and I search the beams for movement.
"Ahem," breathes someone behind me.
"Sorry!" I yelp and slide forward in the line.
I glide my tray along the counter. The wall is gridded with plastic doors with lights behind them, illuminating a delicious baked treasure. Each door has its own card reader and a price display.
The first row of doors have roasted vegetables. The person ahead of me checks their handheld for their mineral and vitamin requirements for the afternoon. They slide their card three times and gather their small feast of glittering vegetables. For my money, what's the point? I can make those at home. But you know what I can't make at home? A crispy delicious cheeseburger on a freshly steamed bun.
The sandwich section is crammed with bread options- croissant, bagel, rice bun, seed loaf. I locate my box—a cheeseburger on a mineralized grain bun. I slide my registered card and the door clicks open. I grab the plate, place it on my tray, and close the door. A new sandwich slides forward into place.
I step forward and see a door with 2 croissants stuffed on one plate. I check the price. Looks like the price for 1 croissant. Nice! Double croissants. This is a good omen. I slide my card and dump them onto the tray. The replacement single croissant comes down. At the end of the wall, there is a machine where you can buy various goos and creams and dusts to put on your lunch. I slide my card and poke the small bubble buttons. One poke for the orange goo, and two pokes for the butters. I can hear Lime's voice in my head as I sit down at a table.
"Before they made synthetic butter, people used to eat a primitive synthetic butter from plant oil. Supposed to be healthy alternative to the original animal product. Then it got stigmatized kuz it was causing the heart disease that it was supposed to be preventing. Everyone went back to the old style. The dairy style. It took another 100 years before people got their shit together and made a good synthetic butter." She must have told me every time we came here and I got butter from that machine. I can still remember the third time she told me, because it was the first time I ever bothered to say "you told me before." Her hair was still green back then. Sometimes I wonder what a croissant with cow butter would have tasted like back when that's all anyone made. It's hard to imagine it could have tasted better that this stuff. The first bite of the cheeseburger is wonderful. The edge of the meat is crispy and covered in creamy yellow cheese and tangy sweet orange goo. The rest of it disappears before I can can think about the second bite. As I wipe the goo off my mouth, I hear the person sitting at the table next to mine speaking quietly into headphones. They are recounting a story from work. They can't believe what their boss is making them do. They are threatening to threaten to quit. But they are laughing as they say it, as if they couldn't care any less about having their job or not, and that their boss's behavior was an absurd comedy.
I haven't had a human boss before. The closest thing was when I went to elementary school and had a human teacher. They didn't really act like my parents. More professional. I imagined that's how human bosses are. But the more I hear people talk about their human boss, the less professional they seem to be. I swing my water bottle over my elbow and wash out my mouth with a gulp.
My next pickup isn't too far away. I might as well stick around for a bit. I look through my backpack for something to do. I spot the yellow page books I got from Daicy. One of them is facing up and I can see the cover illustration. A white woman with short yellow hair holds a sheet over her naked body while another white woman with shorter dark hair looks at her from behind. The second woman wears a red dress that matches the red wall behind her. Back then, red referred to passion, sin, and power. And the pale blue referred to the virginity of the Madonna, or the innocence of an infant boy. STRANGE SISTERS is printed in capital white letters. I reach in and flip the book over. The back reads, "No other way was normal- to her." I lift the book higher up so that I can read it more clearly without completely removing it from my backpack. "And so Kathy strayed the dark and twisted path among the twilight women, doing the strange things her body urged her to do until... until one night she committed the most violent act of her life... and then waited in sick horror while the swift watchdogs of society hunted her down." There is another block of text but it is illegible from wear under the plastic laminations.
Are they actually sisters? It's covered in plastic so I can't just flip through it. I reach deeper into my bag and pull out my notepad. I write down the titles of the books to look up later. I wonder where the hell I'm going to take them to. I can tell she wants me to pass it off to someone in the Valley but I don't really know anyone over there. Most of my work stays on this side of the hills, and I like it that way. People in the Valley are creepy. They are all either creepy children's media peddlers or descendants of the former pornography industry that was there before it got cheaper to make it in the Southeast. I sit here for hours trying to remember everyone I have met in the Valley. Everyone I know at the flea market. Do any of them work out of the Valley ever? Any of them talk about having to take the NuLA Freeway to Glendale? I stow the croissants for later. I hope they don't melt too much out there today.
I guess I should probably head over to that footbridge. I push myself out of the little chair and it tips over behind me. "Sorry..." I mumble to the person sitting behind me. Suddenly I feel like a horrible monster, my heavy legs heaving around the tables and chairs. I feel like I'm taking up so much space and everyone is looking at my big legs thundering past. I finally make it to the revolving door and head back out into the unfiltered sun. The air is heavy and hot, but at least there is lots of space for my body to exist without bothering someone. And no one is looking at me, probably. I skate slowly down Wilshire and try to relax. It might be a bit early still for a #3 pick up, but there isn't a lot to do in this part of town anyway, so I figure I might as well head over to The Skywalker bridge.