“Where are you going?” you ask the homeless man wandering down San Vicente. “Don’t you know the Taco Bell is that way?”
You enter Taco Bell through the discarded-soda-cup-and-cheesy-vomit garden, faded chalk-lines demarcating parking-spaces for cars hoping to get keyed, the prodigious Beverly Center looming overhead. Your hand cannot properly grip the door handle because the door handle is too oily. No worries, the heavily armed and extremely stoned Security Guard sees you struggling. As he pulls the door open, you catch a glimpse of the Batman logo proudly embossed on his Glock 17. “Uh, cool Batman gun,” you tell him. “I think blind-people jokes are okay as long they’re one-hundred-percent visual,” he replies.
Take your place at the back of the line, behind the miscellaneous hobos, flobos, worm-people, and other creatures of the night; the pre-prandial atmosphere is one of impermanence: soon, most of these people will die of causes both unnatural (e.g. prostitute-related homicide) or subnatural (e.g. Taco-Bell-related cardiac resignation, i.e., the soft language term for cardiac defeat). The line moves slowly because the Taco Bell employees keep arguing with each other: “I think it’s immoral to name hurricanes.”
“I think it’s okay to name the hurricanes that have souls.”
“I think buildings are so tall because the government does not want us to see hurricanes coming.”
You wait. The air is thick with beef-smoke. A colorblind man reorganizes the sauce packets by color. A lush display of aquatic flora cultured in the slurp machine drifts in mountain dew tide. Someone stares vacantly at the non-gendered bathroom, trying to remember what their gender was without the help of a sign. A seascape painter stands at his easel, the drugs pumping through his blood make him think he’s a photographer. A high-chair sits in the corner packed with trash.
Finally, you’re at the register. Now, your eyes are darting from the cashier’s crickety face to the effulgent polychrome menu above. The Taco Bell menu is structured like a fractal — burritos within quesadillas within empanadas within burritos, an infinitely iterating series of Tex-Mex, an edible matryoshka. “Uh, can you describe the grandee fiesta crunch-melt supreme?” you croak. The cashier answers by reciting a series of adjectives you’ve never heard before. Sounds good: you’ll take one. The order comes to $2.75: a great deal considering what Yum Foods pays to smuggle the food-synthesizing-chemicals into your country. You swipe a few credit cards until you find one that works and sign the liability waiver.
Sit and listen for your number to be called. A sunburned man in a raincoat tells his crying daughter her tears are making her eyeliner run. The customers’ wheezings are momentarily drowned out by the woosh of F-16s tearing through the sky, migrating to the warzone. The store’s rice-and-lettuce sweeper finishes his sweeping, unplugs his machine, and retreats back into his office, letting out a coyote who snakes through legs and arrives at the window to contemplate the Lenscrafters across Beverly Blvd.
A customer’s pleas for an enchirito that’s just an enchilada are silenced by the cashier’s ringing phone. He nods, sighs, drags himself to the Employee of the Month board, and moves the grease-stained photo of a smiling man to the adjacent In Memoriam board.
The runny-nosed chef brings your food — a rainbow of dehydrated-mystery-clots swaddled loose in a grey tortilla submerged in cloudy sludge all topped with an impasto of Dorito dust — and hastily proceeds to the emergency eyewash station. “Mama Mi!” you announce sardonically to no one in particular. Sure enough, no one’s listening.
The sulfuric smell awakens your olfaction, which the doctor presumed dead after your last Tacobell encounter. Your index finger probes the Grande Fiesta, pierces through the Crunch Melt, and scours the depths of the lumpish Supreme, looking for a point of edibility. You traverse the spice gradient — a gustatory Ahab in virulent tides. Eventually, amidst the grain and gristle, a masticable pulp emerges. Fight instinct’s protest; allow it entry into your salivary chamber where it’s all systems go… glands springing into action, tongue writhing, tastebuds calibrating and recalibrating to interpret the Daedalian codices inscribed on San Bernardino concrete by Swiss nutritionist Glen William Bell Jr. Your mouth is the aether through which an acrid Taco galaxy forms, cosmic fast food inflation, space-time: a sodium rhythm, subdivided chloride integers. It is an inhospitable place. Palate aglow, uvula swaying in pungent winds, glutamate rivulets cascading down oropharynx, a peppery conquest expediting esophageal senescence,intestines shuttering with anticipatory fear (i.e. dread). One bite in and you can already feel your digestive system accordionizing, anal discharge agglomerating, arteries constricting, blood gelatinizing. As your body’s Flavour Levels soar, the resulting hypoxia brings a prophetic hallucination: Red Sands 2: Mummies Undercover loses Best Picture to the film adaptation of Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach. You blink and are back in your chair, back under industrial fluorescent-lights and mottled ceiling panels. Catch your breath. You good? Now take a second bite.
“This Tacobell menu causeth my head to ache” chess prodigy Mangus Carlsen announces to the restaurant, before a corps of G-Men smash through the windows, wrestle Carlsen to the ground, zip tie his fingers to his hands, his hands to his wrists, and his wrists to his wrists, and drag him into a van sitting out front. Little do they know they’ve got the wrong guy — they didn’t see Mangus castle with the homeless man to his left.
Time is real hazy. There’re three clocks about the place, but all of them move at different speeds and the ticking sound is not coming from any of them. The sun might be rising or there might be a helicopter searchlight fixed on the restaurant. As you gnaw at more of the GFCMS, some cold liquid runs down your leg. Your chair must be leaking.
“Um, does anyone have an estra wheelchair?” you ask the three guys sitting at the adjacent handicapped table.
“Take mine,” offers the chunky guy with the chalk handprint on his blazer. “I have to leave anyway. My family does Tacobell franchising and this location is their enemy.”
When you rise from your seat, the angle of HVAC vent aligns perfectly with your vision. Notice the two eyes staring back at you from behind those grates. Quickly they deflect your gaze, pupils running bashful saccades about the room.
In the time it takes you to switch out the chair, your questionably nutritive comestible has transmogrified into a lumpy paste that’s too hot to eat and getting hotter. It’s also begun to radiate light. It’s brightening — it’s like a guided missile. The chef slides over the counter and vaults several tables to get to you. He jabs at the moory clump with his knife, frenzied, fear in his eyes. The dish screams as pressure and mucus escape its lacerated integument, its wails resonating in perfect diatonic harmony (you have perfect pitch, remember?). “Phew” sighs the chef, wrests his knife from the stubborn bleb’s stubborn grip, and waddles back to the kitchen to continue cutting up yearbook photos for fake IDs.
The icecaps melt a little more. Mercury reverses its direction of orbit: there will be no retrograde this cycle. The average wait-time to use the coin-operated EKG lengthens as more corpulent blobs queue up. Oof — suddenly, you are panicking: some apparition has announced its presence, a turbulent susurrus slipping through the laminar flow of reality, vortices of ruin, gloom, shame, grief, loneliness, anguish, misting through the mexican-inspired eatery, coalescing and diverging, churning every fiber of your being, you deliquesce in its charnel whirl. And it’s not just you: a metachronous shudder billows over the clientele and employees alike, their eyes throb, pupils quiver in horrified rictus, minds unwind to comprehend the vast vacuity confronting them, wrapping them in its invisible tendrils. You know this unwelcome obtrusion is Evil itself, a specter of imminent doom, the Gnostic aura lurking at the depths of all suffering. Then, upon colliding with the PepsiCo effluvium, the tenebrous blur reverses direction, and gingerly withdraws back into the abyss before you’ve even had the chance to say goodbye.
Murmurs fill the vacancy: “I like regular fries but my baby likes sweet potato fries so now I have to get two types of fries and it’s starting to get expensive” a pregnant woman chirps to her bewhiskered friend; “If you come home with me, you can try on some of my mom’s pants” a stringy-limbed man propositions a woman lathered in cosmetics; “What’m I supposed to do with this grenade I found?” the world’s tallest midget asks the cashier who wastes no time retrieving a box from below the counter with “Lost and Found” majusculed on the front, filled mostly with needles (used).
By now, you’ve pretty much assimilated your GFCMS. Hear your intestines howl (a noise akin to the carving of wood beams with a hacksaw), feel them twist and constrict, sludge peristalsing to steatorrheic goop which fills your anus’s antechamber. Clench your butt-muscles; ullage is waning. Move fast; the toilets here can’t be trusted. As you make for the exit, a Tacobell employee stops you, sniffles for you to call the number on the bottom of your receipt and take a customer satisfaction survey. What you can’t tell from this interaction is that, alone in his Lincoln-Heights Apartment, this man is a piano virtuoso of the highest order, a regular Chris Kyle on the keys — soaring nocturnes escape his trash-bag-curtained windows to relume the pallid South Central evenings, melodies and harmonies woven into glittering aural tapestries that hang in the air, drawing the usual LA cretins out of their gutters to congregate in the street and bask in acoustic reverie.
Clutching your chemically-ravaged stomach, you slither to your vehicle (1996 Toyota Yaris, Banana Brown finish) and start up the engine. Make sure to wipe the ash off the windshield before you get going. As you pull out, the radio sputters on: Emblem3’s Chloe (You’re The One I Want) comes crackling through the speakers, the soulful vocals occasionally dimmed by interference from an encrypted U-Boat broadcast swimming in the airwaves. Curve along the neon kilometers of Beverly Boulevard, careful to avoid the barnacle-covered man lying in the middle of the road outside Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His squeals, “Help!” and “Help me!” resound for several blocks, then stop abruptly. You drive on.
Turning onto N. Santa Monica Boulevard causes spacetime to shrivel in the miasma of Beverly-Hills-luxury. Fun fact: it was in this boutique-necropolis that Julia Roberts bought her outfits in the film Pretty Woman. The glamour is putrid and burns your eyes — oh, how badly you want to speed up. And that’s not to mention the massive poop demanding emancipation from your body-sewer (you’re still weighing whether relieving the enormous pain of severe bowel congestion would be worth having to finish the drive sitting in your own purged liquid, the molten defecation seeping into and through your $85 ironic lighthouse pants). But if the rusty Honda Integra in your mirror is tailing you like you suspect, you don’t wanna risk it losing track of you.
Soon, you’re driving up The Flats. A block south of Sunset, you arrive at a ✺-junction at the same time as 15 other cars. It’s an automotive standoff: who’ll be the first one through the intersection? You wait. Five suspense-hemorrhaging minutes. Or maybe ten — you honestly aren’t keeping track. Someone’s gotta make a move though, and there’s no reason why that someone can’t be you. So go ahead, assume the right of way: be the Howard Roark of the intersection. You give the Yaris some gas. Wait, no, stop. Everyone, all 16 cars hit their gas at once, the geometric relation between them shrinks isometrically. Seeing 15 other cars converge on the same point occasions you — and, as it so happens, every other driver implicated in this impromptu vehicular hivemind — to brake. But now everyone else is stopping in unison, too; they all must be pausing so you can go… is the conclusion each driver reaches separately, simultaneously. And you all accelerate again. Hmm. This perfectly synchronized dance of gas pedals and brake lights continues until the hood of every car is inches from the hood of every other car. If anyone comes any closer, the logistics of the crash could be enough to drive your insurance agent to suicide (pun intended, maybe). This dilemma could be more Nietzschean than Randian, and it’s up to the Ubermenschiest guy/gal here to rise above these all-too-human normies and bestow upon them a new Rule Of The Road so the whole species of man can get to where it’s going. This responsibility falls to you (duh): it is you who’s crossed the hardshell bridge of suffering and emerged like radiant baja blast from its opaque container, you are the one brave enough to live on the precipice of fecal explosion, again and again you self-overcome. Speak thus and your disciples will listen. The clunk of your car door opening is accompanied by the clunk of 15 additional car doors opening. You and the other drivers form a tight circle in the middle of the street. Maybe speak louder so your roadside sermon will be heard over the cacophony of mass pontification? It’s no use. Now, you’re all just looking at each other; in this portentous silence, impatience mutates to anger. Brows furrow, fists clench, adrenaline spikes, tension thickens. Either your heartbeat is accelerating or time is decelerating and your brain’s projectionist is overcranking your thoughts so that you can feel each frame of life as it occurs. There are too many variables to track. A few aggressives are closing in on the circle’s center while others hold their position, poised for anything. Next thing you know, penises come bounding out, vaginas unfurl, naked bodies worm around in a seizing respiring heap, headlights from all angles bleach the passionate tumble to abstraction, watery moans of ecstasy refract off flesh, the smell of secretions perfumes the air, pubic hair flurries up like snow. As much as you’d like to join in, your sexual inhibition (you basically missed every stage of normal sexual development, whoops!) and pre-ruptured anus nag at you to be on your way. Throw your car in reverse: you’ll have to reroute — take Santa Monica to Wilshire to Beverly Glenn and that’ll get you to Mulholland.
Vultures and men disguised as vultures perch shoulder-to-wing on the telephone line that runs along Wilshire. Sparks pour continuously from street lights onto Beverly Glenn like tears (or vomit). You make it safely through the East Bel Air Gate; unfortunately, the you of an alternate timeline gets swallowed up by a fissure in the Sunset blacktop and is abandoned by history, never to be thought about again.
Ascend up the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains and into the sheet of anthropogenic smog that spills over LA’s lower atmosphere. This smothering haze divests sound and light of all clarity. Let traffic’s current carry you from one color gradient to the next while unearthly pitches flutter around you — the siren song of a thousand lonely suicides.
Finally, you’ve arrived home. Your garage-door-clicker-thing seems to be malfunctioning so you park your car on the street overlooking the chromatic aberrations of the San Fernando Valley. Your keys won’t fit in the lock either, and, as you trudge around back to smash a window, you don’t recognize any of the furniture you glimpse inside. A gasp from above: a beautiful blond stranger is gazing at you from your bedroom window, her expression inscrutable, her cheekbones level with her eyes. She disappears and reappears at your rear door, swinging it open to let you in. “Oh my gosh, Haskell, my love, I was so worried you wouldn’t make it back,” her pouty lips quaver, eyes filling with tears. Once you’re inside, she bolts the door, frantically nails wooden boards into the doorframe. “I can’t believe what’s happening. Surely you’ve heard the news?” She seems nice, but there’s no time to reciprocate the tight hug she’s giving you or to quote Airplane! — your gastrointestinal distress demands attention. You shove past her, sprinting up and down the narrow corridors of your house, sliding back the secret bookcases, crawling through the hidden passageways, trying to remember which tunnel leads to the toilet. After much trial and error, you eventually dive down the right chute and wind up in a palatial bathroom stall.
Don’t bother aligning your rear with the toilet — there isn’t time. Just perch at a slight angle, spread them cheeks, and let spray the hot fluid apocalypse, cold water sploshing back atcha. Poseidon must be squirming through these pipes, laughing at you pathetically hunched over the toilet, blood vessels bursting in your eyes and brain. Welp, stink’s entered your nostrils and GFCMS-stink is the olfactory equivalent of staring into the sun. Looks like you’re sense-of-smell’s gone again. It won’t be missed.
Bowels vacant, now’s the part you look forward to: getting to see whatever nonsense your body produced. Turn around and take it in, for science and your own infantile curiosity. The steam clears to reveal discrete threads of insoluble ink-black ooze floating in the blood-stained water. It doesn’t take long for the waves to subside and the ooze to settle into a final configuration: a sequence of letter-ish shapes that read:
This goes on for a while, but you’re already bored and the whole diarrhetic-arrangement seems way too long and pleonastic for any reasonable person to finish (like, you get that it’s supposed to be long, or only works if it’s long, but it’s still toooooo long). So you flush. Wipe and flush. And wipe.
When the groan of your last flush fades, you can, for a moment, pick up on a distant polyphonic arrangement coming through the silence. An evening drunk screaming himself awake and then back to sleep, a chef sneezing Ebola into an open quesadilla and then closing it, the sound of dripping in reverse: the music of Taco Bell carried by the wind, it sings for the entire city.