Idiocracy Alive & Well Around Beverly Hills Rooftop Pool or, Pray for Me I Don’t Want to Die with These People
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
From my vantage point, I could only see the young woman’s butt, sweating under the laser beam Southern California sun. I sat in a rooftop gazebo at a particularly upscale hotel in Los Angeles. There was nothing special about the place, other than the price, but I’d been invited to sit near their rooftop pool, so I chose a spot in the shade and looked at the pathetic houses, which looked like tiny models with chipped paint, scattered in the hills.
The owner of that sweaty butt had a milk-white friend. She was in full view. Both women were lying in sun chairs next to the pool. The butt I could see was deeply browned and belonged to a black woman. This was obvious. But the rest of her body was blocked by the gazebo wall.
Her cheeks, plump, melonous, and wet, reflected the sun as sharply as a mirror. I was not interested in that butt, nor the friend. Instead, I couldn’t stop noticing how the girls, who’d been chatting ever since I’d arrived, spoke only in cliches. Phrases heard on television, the radio, in songs, or wherever else they’d formed and been dropped into heavy public usage.
Or, even more modern phrases originating or amplified by Twitter. Banal clips of language lacking specificity or clarity. Like dangerously simplistic, dismissive expressions, such as “You’re a hater” used to marginalize someone’s criticism. It’s a vestige of a once-full language so stripped bare of higher consciousness that unimaginable multitudes of alternative thoughts and ideas never even register in the minds of those who use and rely on it.
What I mean is that there was nothing unique about the fifteen minute conversation the two women had. Nothing specific to them as human beings. There wasn’t one hint of a regional accent, either. I had no idea what they were talking about. I became spooked. Even a housefly nearing the end of its average two week lifespan could communicate more devotion for life by buzzing around on a drying dog turd than these two young women with all their twenty-something years could muster while sitting around that pool.
At the other end of the pool two gay men were stretched out on abutted chairs. Their legs were entwined. The sun destroyed their brown leather skin one second at a time. They were not listening to the girls. Their lips, from time to time, touched and pulled apart gently.
The girls, meanwhile, continued. “Mind you,” the black girl said, “I’m riding the fast train with this one.”
“It’s the real deal,” the white girl said.
“And it’s no joke,” the white girl said again.
“Either way, I’m down,” the black girl said.
“If I’m a hater, that’s fine.”
“Why you trippin’? You’re not a hater.”
“No joke,” the black girl said, “but if there’s shit, I call it.”
“Rumor has it,” the white girl said.
“Just me, myself, and my hate,” the black girl said. “I’m not even going to lie.”
“Right?” the white girl exclaimed, “right?”
“It’s like nothing personal, but it’s now or never.”
“You can’t keep your kid gloves on forever with that shit,” the white girl said.
“Not if I want to be top of the line.”
“We have every reason to believe the pool’s been infected…”
While the girls went on and on like that, I noticed a middle-aged man had dipped into the pool. He slow-walked through the water. He looked like Frasier Crane from 1993. A woman, his wife I assumed, stood near the edge and waved a towel at him.
“That’s going to upset your stomach, Harvey. That water’s going to upset your stomach.”
Harvey waved a hand at her. He waded further in.
“I’m not taking care of you again tonight. Am I supposed to sit outside the bathroom the entire time and call down for more toilet paper like I’m your maid?” She scratched her bare shoulder with four long, glittering fingernails.
One of the gay men perked up from his chair. The other one removed his leg from their limb entanglement. “Excuse me,” he said, “nobody with stomach troubles should be in the pool.”
“That’s gross,” his partner said.
“It’s unsanitary,” the gay man said.
“That is so, so gross,” his partner said.
Everybody watched Harvey, who stood in the middle of the pool. Little ripples in the water splashed against his hairy chest. “That’s not a rule,” he said, finally. “And I don’t have stomach troubles.”
The gay man pointed straight above his head. “No one who has suffered from diarrhea or symptoms of diarrhea within the last 48 hours shall enter the pool,” the gay man read from a dark blue sign.
“Get out of the pool!” Harvey’s wife said.
“I didn’t have diarrhea,” Harvey said.
“Oh you didn’t?” she asked. “What would you call it, then? A little runny episode? The squirts?
“Eww,” the gay man’s partner said. He jumped up from his spot. His feet smacked the dry tiles as he ran to the door. He stepped inside and lifted a phone to his ear.
Harvey’s wife glared at her husband and shook her towel at him. “You’re going to infect the pool. You wanna infect the pool?”
Harvey wiped his hand over his face.
“Get out of the pool,” his wife bawled.
A few seconds later two hotel employees entered the rooftop lounge area. One held a spool of yellow CAUTION tape. Behind them, the gay man’s partner stood, his arms folded across his chest.
“Sir,” the employee with the tape said, “we’ve been notified that you’re breaking one or more of the pool’s rules. Please remove yourself from the water or we’ll be forced to call security.”
Harvey’s wife again shook the towel at him. Come and get it, big boy! she seemed to be saying.
“We’ve got ample reason to believe this pool’s been infected,” called the second employee. He glanced around at the rest of us. “Please do not come in contact with the water until the yellow tape has been cleared.”
The two girls had been silent and watching the scene unfold. They both watched the disgraced middle-aged man climb out of the water.
“He’s been hung by his own petard,” the white girl said.
Everybody looked at her. Even me.
“Right?” the black girl said. “Right? That’s no lie.”
Pray for me, I don’t want to die with these people
As the hotel employees escorted the man and his wife into the building, I felt a tremor beneath my feet. Ever so slightly. Possibly an earthquake far off. The pool’s water remained placid, unaffected. The girls had started chatting again. The gay man returned to his lover’s side in the sun.
A breeze flipped the pages of an abandoned newspaper. I imagined the building shaking so forcefully the roof gave way and we five, along with the water, fell inward. Cut and crushed by shards and chunks of broken building materials sharper and heavier than us.
I can’t perish with these people, I thought. I cannot even risk the chance of choking down my final breath in this situation, with this company.
I hurried into the building, down the stairwell, and out the door. I walked along La Cienega until I was to Wilshire. It was there I rode the bus East, toward home, and feeling a little more at ease because the man who plopped into the seat next to me wore thermal underwear and a billowing stained white jacket. Around his head was a band of black construction paper. On its front was a hardened cross that had been made by squirting two lines, one longer than the other, from a tube filled with glittering golden paste.
It was the work of a child, but worn by an old man with overgrown gray hair. “Will you pray for me?” he asked, as he’d sat down. His worn brown boots had no laces, and, like two beaten hounds in desperate need of water, their limp tongues hung out to the side. “Here’s a letter with my name on it, so you’ll know,” he said, and handed me a white envelope with an illegible scrawl across the center.
I’ll remember it, I said. Just tell me your name. I handed him back the envelope with its greasy speckled fingerprints.
“Walter Sorinbockle,” he said. “Will you mention me the next time you pray?”
Does he have a specific health issue? I wondered to myself. Is he homeless? He certainly looked homeless. Does he need money, food, or shelter? A prayer is most effective, I imagine, if it is specific. Language is the most obvious key to salvation.
What should I pray for you? I asked.
“All good things!” he said, and smiled. “All good things for Walter Sorinbockle.”