[nullvalue(Lost Angelies, Kalifornia)]
Katy’s car, a shitty jalopy, didn’t see much action, but today was their chance to change that for both of them. She owed nothing on the car, and today it chugged thirteen miles each direction without complaint down the inevitably congested o’five-one-five  (officially – ‘El Camino Real’ freeway – ironically one of the least ‘royal roads’ she could think of)
(Also; she tended to refer to the o’five-one-five dyslexically – “traffic on the fiftyonefifty” – funny, right?)
Her shitty car rolled slowly adjacent to Escalades and Bentleys that shrunk habitually from all poorly-insured-looking vehicles, and too bad for them; all socioeconomic classes and their cars were inevitably petrified on the 609 (or as literally nobody called it: the ‘Sans Diablo Freeway’) equally.
Katy’s crappy car got her to her freeway exit and its speakers played music pretty well, though the base was blown. This job interview she would surely fail, as it was out of her league in a place like this. Lucerv City, where Japanese Ozyn Studios filmed movies, signed singer souls over to stardom, all while waggling a magic wand of corporate wonder into the hi-rez flatscreen, somehow making video games even more compelling. Ozyn neighbored Apple and Google, towering tech offices where if you were not only a genius but also lucky you could scrap for a position straight into lux. GMG’s (Goldwyn Metro Gaia’s) iconic wolf lived here– who could forget that lupine head howling inside its decorative square cage before the credits rolled and the movie began (not that it happened so much anymore, actually)? GMG made movies in Lucerv City – though they were not to be confused with ‘Wolves Door Productions’ who also made movies but towards Santa Monarcha on the coastline (Twilight Saga? The Hunger Games?).
Lucerv City shone today brightly as ever, penciled in like the smiling black grin on the face of a cartoon sun, right under our star’s super-slick shades. Everybody who lived in Kali unequivocally had a super-cool pair of shades hanging out in the house somewhere. But Lucerv City stood erect like a big happy dick which not just any taste could tickle. The so-called capital of entertainment which held its captive audience across America and the world spellbound with ‘godlike productions’ saddled pyramids of lucrative ownership under the nebulous banner of Hollywood superstardom. If you were a tourist, which Katy was not, you’d be self-conscious about your crappy car in a place like this.
If you weren’t a tourist, you knew the high-rollers couldn’t be damned to come outside their ivory gated Ozyn security towers if not in transit to Eyes Sewn Open sex parties where stars socialites and rich kids bonded while binging on high-quality experimental opioid dopaminergics. Actually, the only people who really know what superstars do at insider-only affairs, closed to paparazzi plebians and the common swinish multitude – were the people that would never tell, because the truth was that behind the curtain the wizard was just an old hunchback with a clever tongue and a background in psychology. Although Katy positively despised celebrities (mostly out of jealousy) she often wondered if they ever felt as big as they looked to their fans.
Gosh, how long had it been since she’d visited Santa Monarcha, despite living within twenty miles of it … ? and the world famous Venus Beach next to the Santa Monarcha pier – in the day time, enjoy the antics of funny painted silver kazoo black dudes and buy all the over-priced marijuana related apparel that would send Texas into cardiac arrest. Buy a man carved painstakingly out of soda bottles by a reggae beatnik who also paints surreal THC-inspired cityscapes in neon pastel when the sun goes down. Also faux-yuppie dress-up dolls in Venus allow you to pretend you’d been somewhere ‘edgy’ while staying far away from the actual edges the city concealed, knives and other implements of cutting, some less straightforward….
You’ve probably heard that tourists only see Lost Angelies with her nightgown on – what they don’t tell you, is that the natives don’t like her naked either. Nobody likes to spend time with the Los Angelies lazy eye- the one crusted over with drug-addled caricatures of wouldbe fame; tube tops and caked makeup eyeliner zigzagging with shaky palms where bulletproof gas stations protect the gainfully employed from hoodlum gangsters who run across the tops of buildings and staple wooden beams to the trees and paint the dour underbelly of the city in primary colors that trigger danger like the curling tail of the rattlesnake, and that’s why nobody goes hiking in the urban jungle, past the broken flickering neon of the nightlife where the streetlights fade into rusty shopping carts stacked next to a pile of old blankets on the sidewalk of an abandoned toy district. The sprawling and abandoned faces of wasted dreams as hope sinks for some optimists into the hopelessly polluted western pacific sea of psychosis and wishes dry up on the sidewalk in the ever-baking Kalifornia sun, listlessly becoming raisins alongside the oil stains and the paranoid schizophrenics.
Mutually, Lost Angelies agreed tactfully not to comment upon the ugly immediacy of its dirty laundry; no amount of butthole bleach and Brazilian waxing could quite shave away where the city’s hair, grown into dreadlocks, hid away the reminder that larger-than-life people, their larger-than-life accomplishment and their larger-than-life jewels, left larger-than-life footprints behind – and larger-than-life shadows behind larger-than-life glories.
Luverc City – Eastwood – Santa Monalisa and Heavenly Hills – tourists from the interstate, the airport, or the valley – behaved predictably when forced in their automobiles to pass by the haunted house of misfortune, here or elsewhere. It is easier than ever in America’s treasure trove of illusions to play pretend – but Lost Angelies forgot her credit limit somewhere in a loophole on the dotted line. Or maybe the signature pen got lost in the ferris wheel of lawyers or the languid musing of privileged hipsters at late-night coffee bars where Katy had once been the same fickle teenage creature she now snubbed – tripping acid like a deadhead, exploring sexuality with feelings of revolutionary awe – but always with the safety net sprawled out among the suburbs where it was okay to fail and be one of those stoners living off borrowed money with a useless liberal arts degree (at least they’d gotten through school, she reminded herself).
Los Angelies and the frill of her skirt had to be loved and forgiven for, she was – like the cellular system of a giant organism – merely the sum of her parts, capillaries swerving into the fast line honking madly on their way to the next big ‘event’ – the one that promised to deliver the zeitgeist to the prayers of the cult of cool: the bonfire at the beach with rave lights or the black tie dinner party in the penthouse. It was all the appendage of the same itchy squid. The city and her arms were all over, ever-groping for that moment of ecstasy that stopped at nothing to self-reveal until it burns itself into ash, the blazing wildfire of Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana, ending always with the same silence and cold, fading into death’s sweet forget.
An empty needle – a loaded gun – a dead hooker – a bad batch of whatever stupid shit you got sold by your friend’s asshole drug runner cousin. Who probably, Katy figures, blew his savings on a bunk batch of experimental failure dust which causes brain aneurysm and hallucinations of oompa-loompas… ones that sing in harmonized baritones about how junkies end up on the street after pawning off somebody’s wedding ring, or in hell with Kurt Cobain and all the white lighters cursed by his legacy. Now they, too, are drying like raisins on the sidewalk remembering how Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory originally was a book written for children about how the keys to the kingdom were handed off only to the worthy. It seemed unfair that instead of receiving a golden ticket, Charlie grew up and realized that the chocolate factory had never been anything more than a fable he dreamed up and published, probably chasing that same fantasy high as corporate executives with their Jaguars and alienated offspring and failing marriage….no different really from all the pornstars telling themselves that the money makes it all worthwhile, in the end – and truly maybe some of them like it. Maybe the whole world is happy and Katy is peculiar breed of contemplative cynic.
Ho-hum. And after all that thinking, with or without the music on, she saw that she had long ago arrived in the parking lot designated by her GPS, and tried to snap herself out of the philosophical cloud and remember that people were just people in the end. She needed to tell herself that anyway or she’d never get off her quaking ass and get out of the car and she’d be another raisin on the sidewalk forgotten like all the rest.
Katy was applying for a job at a strange and obscure occult bookstore. “Sept Umbra” – the only one of its kind. They dealt in rare books, from what she could gather, although there wasn’t such a big market for them.
Its owner, a wizened man of short-stature, rarely had time to come into the store, according to the ad he’d posted on craigslist. It was unclear how many applicants the elderly fellow had. She entered the brown maple doors, which led into a room between the outside and the inside, as the latter was locked. You had to buzz for entry. What constituted a good reason for coming to an occult bookstore? Katy was mystified.
He’d received her with considerable haste, considering his age and his cane. He ushered her into the crowded backroom, which had no tables or chairs to speak of and was cloistered with the spines of crowding books. The old man leaned on his cane, saying nothing but peering with one big open eye at her with great scrutiny it seemed. As he was elderly, her instinct was to offer him a seat, which was aforementioned impossible. This social irregularity left her fumbling awkwardly – not a great start for an interview, traditionally.
“Please don’t be overly concerned with formalities,” the old man started speaking. He spoke slowly and decisively, giving his thoughts time to steam. But he had a comforting voice, strangely. It made Katy want to open up (even more than her psychologist did).
“It can be hard to know what to say when you don’t know what’s expected of you,” the man observed, perhaps exhibiting the wisdom and age of his dusty book collection. Hunched over with that cane, he seemed awfully tortoise-like to Katy – a Chinese world tortoise, with smiling eyes.
“I’ll begin; my name is Eckhart Zahini. I hate doing this sort of thing.”
“Do you mean…interviews, sir?” She asked, tentatively.
“Interviews, yes. Horrible things, interviews. But here we are.” Interviews; horrible things? What did he mean by that? It was on odd question.
Eckhart reached for a notepad on a clipboard, which had probably been waiting in the back for this appointment all morning and was roughly eyelevel with him so he didn’t have to reach down. From what she could tell…was that her name? She tried to peep inobviously.
“Katy, was it? I took the liberty of printing a hard copy,” he adjusted his spectacles. “Reading on a screen disagrees with me. I never did take to technology,” he admitted.
His resigned sense of humor made Katy return a genuine smile, despite her apprehension.
“And this is the point where I am supposed to ask you, what qualifies you for this job?” Asked Mr. Zahini, his brow becoming bushy as it furrowed.
“I suppose it would be. I, uhm…”
She didn’t know what came over her then. At this point, the interviewee generally attempted to inspire confidence in her overwhelming ability. But she didn’t feel up to it. It was like all the carefully prepared speeches she’d rehearsed the night before vanished from the archive of her long term memory on some kind of union strike. Generally, she could have come up with something, but it was almost like the ringing quiet of the truly occult bookstore and the gentle kindness and sincerity of the old man made her artificial sales pitch turn to vapor.
Somehow, like a socially inept idiot, she fell back on honesty.
“Well, sir, I am not really that well-qualified. I don’t have much management experience, and I’ve certainly never managed a whole store by myself. I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree. I dropped out of UCLA in my senior year.”
“Dropped out? And why is that?” Eckhart Zahini’s face was a portrait of true empathy. Empathy that truly negates ego, an effort to listen for the voice of the heart. It was utterly unlike the prescribed behavioral script between an employer and potential employee. He had not been kidding when he’d said he hated interviews.
“Oh, well I lost my mind, in all honesty. I…begun researching, obsessively. Checking out books from their library. They had a magnificent library but…I couldn’t get myself to actually pay attention to my studies anymore. And I couldn’t stop trying to put the pieces together…strange things begun to happen to me. Missing time. I woke up on campus sometimes, with no idea what I’d done or how I’d gotten there. After a while…” she trailed off. After a while, what? What had happened? Well…she’d just dropped out, because she didn’t have the motivation to do it anymore. Yeah; she’d gotten tired of it.
“And what were those books that you found so enticing, they led you to neglect your scholastic obligations?” Mr. Zahini had both palms on his cane, his eyes half-closed like some kind of wizard. She almost desired to put a tobacco pipe in his mouth so she could take a better look at whether or not he’d pass for Gandalf, minus the robes and beard and flowing hair. Somehow, though, the countenance was the same. A wizardly bearing.
“Oh, weird stuff,” she mumbled – and recognized this was not very good behavior when trying to impress capability onto somebody. So she tried to speak up, but it was hard to get a good volume somewhere so quiet and still.
“The Golden Bough, Jung’s Red Book, there were some mystical works about the kabalistic properties of the Hebrew alphabet, The Shining Ones, Campbell’s works – The Hero With A Thousand Faces of course…some Blatvasky, I read a lot of her stuff… Isis Unveiled? The Secret Doctrine too. Crowley – that guy really had problems, but his work was intriguing. Oh, there were so many. Do you want to know some of the others?”
“I have a good picture what you call your obsession now, Katy. I think I could make a good guess at what you were reading.”
Almost as an afterthought he added, “I asked what qualifies you to work here, do you remember? This is a store that deals in esoteric works, specifically.”
“I have a lot of familiarity with esoteric works,” she piped. I mean, it was an understand of a sort, if you counted her mind into the matter – it was esoteric all the time.
“Now, that is a good qualification,” Mr. Zahini chortled, almost as if he was laughing at her private thought too, were such a thing possible.
“I guess it is a good qualification,” Katy smiled shyly, feeling doltish.
“Very few are interested in matters of the occult. In your university, it seems likely that those books rarely saw the light of day outside that dusty old library. But, in my store, none would be considered rare or obscure. The books we sell here are very unique. I don’t think you would know of them. I can tell you are a wise girl, but here we deal in things which even a discerning and well-connected collector would likely never get a hold of. While they are very expensive books, we are very selective of our clientele. You’d have to be very special to read any of the books we have here. Do you think you are special, Katy?”
“No, sir. I am not special at all,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I’m mostly a failure. All I really have is an abundance of curiosity and unanswerable questions. Who knows what use society could have for me. I wanted to change the world, but I am nearly a homeless person now, and a college dropout. I used to think I was special, but I think I was sort of innocent back then. Now things have happened to me that made me realize I am nobody at all, and I can’t remember who I thought I was to begin with.”
“Hmm,” Mr. Zahini pondered. “You know over half of all people think they’re better than your average person. Most statistics are made up on the spot of course, but this one seems to be true; I’ve talked to a lot of people. Most think they are something very special. In our own way, we all are of course. But you seem to mean what you say; you don’t think you’re special. Yet you don’t hate yourself. It strikes me as a profoundly dissociated attitude. Have you ever wondered where it comes from?”
Katy remembered what she’d thought about earlier – if maybe the wizard behind the curtain of the emerald city was a psychologist after all. Yes, a wizard. Maybe people didn’t understand magic the way they did. Could it be that wizards realized everything was in the mind, and so was magic? Still, she couldn’t figure out what he was angling at. There was nothing in this for him, that she could tell. He was not charging her for a therapy session. They were supposed to be vetting each other for a business relationship, and she’d been totally inappropriate – but then again, weren’t his questions out of left field too?
“I don’t generally ask myself questions like that,” she said slowly. “Why did I alienate myself? Because I can’t be trusted I suppose. And if I don’t trust who I am, why should anybody else? Yet I don’t believe in trying to be another person either. So whatever remains of me, here I am. A great big nothing.”
she trailed off. There was the flicker of something playing in the canvas of her memory, but she wasn’t sure what it was. Like a pinprick, which jabs sharply just for a moment but takes some time before blood bubbles at the tip of the skin where the tiny wound opens. It’s targeted, like a bullseye, honed for a specific target – this was the way her anxiety stabbed her when Mr. Zahini asked her to think about those kinds of questions. What could be lurking beneath that? But it wasn’t that she was just afraid to go there – it was like there was literally just a blank void beyond which nothing was written. When she tried to touch it, or pull it off like a cover, it turned into skin, and didn’t peel. It was just the silence of a shrug. And that was irritating, too. Some time had petered out between them as that realization spoke to her conscious awareness, and she discovered it like a new appendage, growing alongside the others – she wasn’t sure if she was gladdened now that it appeared, or if she wished she could just unsee it.
“I seek a human being.”
“That’s correct. What do you think he meant when he said that?”
“The historians say he sought an honest and evolved man, worthy of being called something greater than an animal.”
“This isn’t a test question Katy. I just want to know, what do you think? Not what the historians thought about it. What does it mean to meet a real human being?”
Interesting, she’d just been mulling that over in the car. “I think we are pulled from need to need, without ever asking ourselves whether we are living at all. Or whether we’ll have regrets when we die. Most of our interactions never address the human behind the façade. We don’t talk to each other; we only talk to the mask on the surface. It’s just a script. Maybe Diogenes sought a true interaction, something sincere between people.”
“An interesting interpretation.” The clipboard with her name had been set down on a stray stack of books somewhere along the way. He unclipped the papers and crumbled them up. “Useless crap us humans do to keep ourselves in line, don’t you think?” He was probably speaking of the job application paper, which was now a crumpled ball. He aimed for the trash with his spare hand, the left, creaking with age, but his aim didn’t falter a bit. “I think I’m capable of making up my mind on who I want to hire without putting it in ink first.” He looked at Katy, propping his head to the side. He had a beige shepherd’s hat over his thinning locks of white hair, she observed as he scratched his head under the hat.
“Katy, this job is pretty simple. I think you’ll do fine,” he said, after the scratch settled down. “Close the store, open the store. I tend to work out the money with clients in advance. I just need somebody physically present in the store, giving the right books to the right people. Not letting someone in if their name isn’t on the list. Do you have any questions?”
“If you hire me, am I allowed to read the books here?”
“Yes,” he said, seeming amused, as if he’d been expecting this question. “I implore you do if you have nothing else going on actually,” he scratched his chin. “You see, our clients here have a lot of knowledge and they are going to expect you to know a thing or too. Nobody knows everything of course – I think merely given your interests and sentimentality you’ll probably satisfy their customer service needs. But I still expect that you read, although I cannot ever allow you to take anything from the store home. I cannot stress that enough. I believe you are trustworthy, but if I ever find out you have stolen a book,” his eyes narrowed, “you will wish I’d arrested you. Sound fair?”
“More than fair,” Katy shook her head in disbelief. “I mean are you actually saying you want to hire me? I felt that was an absolute disaster.”
Eckhart Zahini guffawed, arching his neck back briefly and at the ceiling for a moment. He then stretched out over his cane, like a cat resting on haunches. “I don’t blame you for seeing this as strange. It’s really not what you’ve been conditioned for, is it?”
“Good. Well, that’s what I hope to achieve. I like to see people recognizing the way people are conditioned, so they can take ownership of their own conditioning, rather than being like most of us, lost labrats in a zoo of brain juice, compulsion and utter dismay. I seek a human Katy. I don’t want to alarm you, but I had already decided to hire you before you walked in. I don’t make my decisions like other humans, convincing themselves they are rational and they have good reasons for the way they behave when in fact they utterly contrived, deceiving even themselves to their own intentions. Most people make numerous mistakes in judgement every day.”
“But Katy, I’m old. I don’t make mistakes in judgement anymore. I know what I consider a good decision and what I consider a bad one. It is only possible to make a mistake in judgement when you aren’t sure what you’re looking for. Don’t feel too bad about it, it’s what being young is all about. Learning. You’ll learn too. Perhaps you’ll find that the quiet here will help you think more easily about those difficult questions. I think you will find the books quite interesting, too.”
“I don’t even know what to say.” Katy answered after a moment. “I really am more grateful than I can tell you in words. I know it’s not tactful, but I really needed this job.”
“My dear, the job needed you. Welcome to the Sept Umbra family. Careful on the drive home. I know it’s dangerous to use your mobile phone while you drive, but daydreaming can be just as lethal if you aren’t familiar with the roads here.”
It was an odd comment to exit on. But as Katy left, her relief glowed too brightly for anything to interfere.