In the dry desert heat, I ambled across the street toward a 24 hour café near the old Greyhound station. I found the neon lit, brown brick restaurant relatively empty. I entered the diner dizzy with heat and loss and despair and made my way to the counter. The café was small, offering four worn leather booths running along a set of large plate glass windows dirty streaked with soot that looked out into dark and empty streets. Along the counter were beige faux leather stools (the leather cracked and peeling) bolted to the checkered tiled floor. Along the walls were tacked hundreds of amateurishly designed garage band flyers and invitations to local art shows. The café was occupied by a middle-aged and obese couple who were poured into a booth and a tall, read headed guy who sat at the counter staring perplexingly at the television set mounted to the wall over the cash register.
I sat at the counter and ordered a cup of coffee from a sullen, green-haired waitress with a nose ring. Following a news clip of four police officers violently beating a Latino homeless man with batons, the image switched to an arthritis medication ad.
“If you think Arbitol is right for you, consult your physician.” The images displayed smiling elderly frolicking in a pastoral park as a calm voice rapidly stated, “People who have used Arbitol have noticed the swelling of legs, hands and feet; capillary leak syndrome; fever; muscle pain; unusual bruising; dizziness, blurry vision; rash; hives; blisters; nervous system and blood disorders; lymphoma; swollen tongue; dry mouth; weight gain; inability to fight infections; nausea, diarrhea; constipation; depression; dehydration; suicidal thoughts, and death.”
“Gawddamn! After all that shit, who the fuck would wanna take any?” Spat the red haired man sitting next to me. In his late thirties, dressed in Levi’s and a plaid shirt, he sported a dull orange mullet and his face and arms were covered in freckles.
“Old people with arthritis problems, I assume.” I mumbled as I tore open a sugar packet and emptied it into my coffee.
“Buncha bullshit.” The man snarled as he scrapped his fork in the sloppy remains of egg yolk. “Everything in this fucking country is designed to snatch up what little money you got.”
I took a sip of my coffee and chided, “It’s fear. Fear is the most valuable commodity on this planet. Look on the TV. What do you see? People selling only products? Nope. They’re selling the fear of having to live without their products. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, of poverty...of failure. Fear is the single most basic emotion we have. And most importantly, fear sells.”
The man slowly glanced over at me, ticking particles of food from his teeth with a serpentine tongue. His stare was both predatory and ominous. Gray eyes of a dead animal. Frowning puzzledly, he sighed, “What are you? Some kinda fucking intellectual?”
“Me? Nah…I’m nobody.”