Stacy then grabbed her keys, some cash and her cell phone, lingering on the cell phone with a warning instilled in her brain from years of her Mother’s conditioning, that should she need to use her cell phone anytime in the next 15 minutes, it would only be because of a dire emergency and this should probably be cause for staying in, but she never did.
Walking out the door with the slightest disapproving glances from her dog, Stacy joined the wildly and surprisingly vacant outside world of Hollywood, CA. Stacy had moved to Los Angeles two years prior after studying acting in New York City. She had lived in Manhattan, where the streets where a buzz with a heavy flow of people at all hours of the day and night. It was so heavily populated that she hadn’t even bothered with lying to her Mother about having to walk home from her closing shift at Borders on the East end of 34th Street to her apartment on the West end of 34th Street. The police were always patrolling on alert, as both upper-class and broke-ass theater-goers, music aficionados, students, immigrants, tourists and more than a slew of celebrities wandered, partied, danced and shopped for miscellaneous drug store items in the dead of night at Duane Reade.
Hollywood was a different beast entirely; clustered at all hours with traffic that could turn a Zen Buddhist Monk into a road ranging lunatic, while the sidewalks remained almost apocalyptic- with the exception of a few main Tourist attractions, which huddled naïve mid-western sight-seers and their innocent children next to the most mentally insane and likely criminals they’d ever had the privilege of giving money to willingly- otherwise known as Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Stacy lived a few blocks north of there, nestled on a quaint little hill that peaked and then depressed before going up again to lead into the famed Hollywood sign. At the bottom of the hill she lived on was a mysteriously gated grey building that didn’t have an address on it, but merely said ZLOZ in metal letters above a door that never opened. Stacy often wondered about this mysterious building while passing it during the day, but consistently, by the time she reached home, it was all but forgot. That was until she started seeking out the comfort of food in bed on her sleepless nights, and being someone with an incredible lack of fridge-stocking ability, this always required a late-night trip to the 7-11.
It was on one of these very nights that she started hearing it as she walked toward the bottom of the hill, nearing the land of ZLOZ. Music. Rock and Roll and Heavy Metal. Sometimes, when she was still far off, she would notice quick flashes of light emanating from the top of the building, so quickly that she would wonder if she had only imagined it… until it would flash again. Being an Actress, Stacy’s mind was wild with imaginary circumstances; foremost of all was a scenario that involved hostages, a secret Swedish underground society, and zombies. Stacy vowed, at last, to Google this enigmatic building the moment she returned home, but then forgot. There was something about the chaos of her dog and her roommates and her roommate’s dog upon her entrance that distracted her, or maybe it was that her homepage online was Facebook and it’s evil, time-stealing, guilt-tripping power kept her memory from returning to it’s mystery hunt until she left the house again.
Tonight, as Stacy neared the ZLOZ, she noticed something that she thought must have been just her sleep-deprived mind playing tricks on her, or was it? Could she really have seen the locked gate closing? As she reached the gate herself, she gave pause and would have attempted to pear in, if there were anything to pear into besides solid matter. She grasped hold of the gate and gave it a little shake; it rattled slightly but did not give. Stacy heard a small, mechanical whirring and looked up as a small, black security camera blinked a little red light down on her. Sheepishly, she backed away and looked around, as usual seeing no one but a homeless man shivering on his cardboard box, cuddling the bottom of a fence that peaked at the top with jarring barb-wire, though it merely surrounded an unassuming apartment complex. Curious. Curious indeed was this town, but Stacy gave up on the mystery for the night and proceeded in her journey to the always brightly shinning Mecca of 7-11.
Past the ZLOZ, past the Village Pizzeria (which made the most comparable Pizza to New York’s and sold a cheap slice), past a random, privately owned electronics repair store, a recently closed hair salon, and a student housing unit for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, there stood, on a black cement lot shared with Launder Land, the green, orange, red and white stripped building. It was a wonderfully inventive idea. A gas station without gas! Open every day at every hour! Location and Convenience were its founding pillars and they were sturdy enough to build upon it a large fortune. Did you know they also sell pizza? Chicken? Donuts? Dog food? DVD’s? It’s a bank! It’s a grocery store! It’s a liquor store! It’s a 7-11, and at 2AM on a Tuesday night in Hollywood, it’s empty.
Stacy walks in and goes straight to the quarter of an aisle that is filled with a strange selection of chips: Regular, Regular with Ruffles, Barbeque, and Lemon (that’s “Lemon” with an accent mark over the “o”.) Stacy chooses the Lemon (accent mark) and then hits the wall of refrigerated beverages for a diet coke, because she’s already decided she’s not getting any sleep tonight, so she may as well enjoy herself. As she walks back up toward the front, she steals a glance in the donut cage. Usually they have been picked over thoroughly by this time, but you never know, and like a heavenly light shinning down on an answered prayer, she spots it: An Eu Clair! Those custard filled bastards were really the best part of her lonely childhood in Northern Minnesota and still provided mass amounts of glorious ecstasy and comfort in her sleepless quasi-adulthood. She grabbed one and dropped it delicately in its long, skinny bag.
At the register, the ethnically ambiguous employee- Male, middle-aged, tan skin, black hair, slightly Chubby, a large mole on his face which produced more than a few hairs- sighed as he scanned her items and then looked up to meet Stacy’s eyes. He smiled.
“How are you doing tonight?”
Stacy wondered where this man had come from. She was usually good at accents, but his escaped her.
She didn’t know why she told him she was tired when she wasn’t, she thought maybe her subconscious had reasoned it would make the interaction shorter and she could get back home to the comfort of her bed, the comfort of her newly acquired junk food, and the comfort of in-home entertainment via Netflix.
If that had been her subconscious’ effort, it wasn’t working.
“Did you work all day?” He asked, taking as long as possible to find the correct donut code on his scanner sheet.
“Yeah.” She said.
She had worked all day, from 9-6 anyway, at her strange but comfortable data-entry job for an online fashion company called Fashionbook. She worked in the photo studio and uploaded the pictures and entered style number data and made work schedules. Though it got boring, she knew she had it good. She knew this because she had a lot of work experience in customer service and any job that wasn’t customer service was not a bad job to have. So, she took the boredom of it, the monotony, and tried to busy herself with blogs, and doodling, and sometimes, if she was feeling especially ambitious, short story writing- all while keeping pace with her work load.
“Where do you work?” He asked, having finally reached the correct donut scanner code.
“Uhhhh…” Stacy searched. No one knew about Fashionbook, or anyway he definitely didn’t and she didn’t feel like having to explain to him what it was.
“You wouldn’t know it.” She said, and suddenly felt embarrassed, as she fished out the cash to pay.
Though she knew it was a stretch, she couldn’t shake the feeling that in his mind she’d just implied she worked in the sex industry in one way or another, either stripping, dancing, selling, or performing. She knew this wasn’t the most likely assumption, most likely he would think she was rude or just impatient, but still, this persistent thought lingered as he looked up at her smiling again.
“Where are you from?” He asked, with a glint in his eye as if he thought he already knew the answer.
“Uh, the Mid-West.” She said.
She never knew quiet how to answer that question, because though she spent years 0-11 in Minnesota, she’d spend the following 11-17 in Missouri and at her current point in life, she felt equally disconnected from both places. The Mid-West felt like a solid generalization of where she was from. She wasn’t a coastal girl; she was definitely raised with Mid-Western ideals.
“Oh!” He exclaimed, “Where?”
She repeated, “The Mid-West,” thinking he hadn’t heard and wanting to leave now that the transaction was completed, but felt compelled to resolve this conversation of personal origin.
“Yes, yes. Where?” He said.
Eenie, meenie, minie, moo Minnesota or Missouri? She always surprised herself when she was forced to pick.
“Missouri,” she finally said.
Huh, Missouri, she thought.
He looked confused as he stared at her.
“In the Middle East?” He asked.
Finally, she understood the problem.
“No, the Mid-West. America. This country. The middle of this country.” She said, perhaps a bit too redundant. Perhaps even a bit patronizing, but she just wanted to crack open those chips, that soda, and that soft, custard filled bastard and laugh at some comedian’s take on life. Enough was enough.
He handed her the receipt she didn’t know she was missing and walked out the door the security guard was holding open for her. He was smiling at her too, his golden tooth shinning in the florescent lights as his hand touched her arm while she passed and she shivered from his skeeviness.
Funny place, that 7-11, you never knew what kind of interactions you would have there. Once, a man, high on drugs, alcohol, religion, or life (?) had come in, spotted Stacy in her knitted bear-hat, which had been a gift from her roommate Kirsten and came right up to her and said, “Ohhhh, you are so cute! I just want to hold you!!” and then he did until Stacy pushed him away with a laugh. That’s enough.
Another time, around 1 in the morning, Stacy had a sudden craving for toast and took to the 7-11 for a loaf, while a group of young college-aged boys buying beer snickered as one pointed to her and said to his friend, “Look at her… she’s fuckin’ cute… buyin’ bread.” And his friend said, “You should bang her.” And he blushed as he met Stacy’s eyes and they both pretended he hadn’t.
She walked back passed the AMDA student housing, the closed hair salon, the misc. electric’s repair shop, the Village Pizzeria, and ZLOZ. She stopped at the gate and looked up at the security camera, she wondered if anyone was looking back out at her. The music was still playing. They were on the Rolling Stones now. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” She thought, I’ve gotta Google this place when I get home, and homeward she headed.
She began up the hill. The homeless man to her right was now snoring. She passed a gated area that belonged to the apartment building behind ZLOZ and often held inside it’s gates Mexican families that tended to hang out outside and talk and drink, giving the impression they were locked in behind this gate, making them seem somehow dangerous. On this night, as she passed, two men stood smoking behind the gates, and one man was on the other side, on her side, on the sidewalk. He sat hunched over on a pot? A stool? A trunk? He was on his cell phone speaking indiscernibly quiet.
Facts from forwarded e-mails her Mother sent her waned in her head: Most rapes occur between the hours of 2-6AM. Most victims are taken near their homes.
Stacy grabbed her keys with her free hand and managed them so they were a key between each finger. That was her weapon and whenever she was feeling vulnerable she would prepare it, knowing full-well that in reality, a knuckle punch with keys would likely hurt her more than anyone she was aiming it at, but never-the-less, it was something to appease her mind. She walked briskly, picking up the pace after she passed the stray Mexican on her side of their fence. The music of ZLOZ getting softer and softer in the distance. Again she reminded herself to Google ZLOZ!
Reaching her front door, she fiddled to fit the key in the door. Recently it had been giving her problems, taking longer and longer to open. Finally it opened and she quickly pushed it behind her, but noticed as she walked down the flower-carpeted hall, that she had not heard the clanking sound of the door closing. She upped the pace of her steps and as she reached the top of the stairs which lead down to her basement apartment, she snuck a backward glance, but saw nothing, though there were another set of stairs leading up that could have obscured her view. Still, she thought nothing more of it as she reached her door and walked in. She hadn’t bothered to lock it on the way out. With two dogs, hers a Chow with a strong dislike for strangers, she didn’t often worry about intruders once inside her home. She locked the door behind her anyway, and the bolt lock, too.
The Chow, normally a jump-up-and-greeter, was mildly more subdued at night, though still excited to have Stacy back and curious as to what treats she’d brought. The dog stuffed her nose right into the bag, only to have Stacy slap it back out with a scold.
“No, Olive!” She said, then patted her head as they walked into her room.
Plopping on the bed, at long last, she set her phone back on the nightstand and noted the time in the upper right against the time in the lower left corner which was when her alarm would be going off. Five more hours of freedom before another nine hours of monotonous data-entry. She took her boots off with her heels (just like her Mother had told her not to, for fear of wear.) She ripped into her Lemon (with an accent) Chips and licked her fingers before navigating her way to Comedy Central on her Netflix account. Olive, tongue salivating, sat wedged up next to Stacy, hoping for an accident or miracle.
Stacy clicked Demetri Martin and the window went black, preparing for the show. She shoved her dog slightly away to get comfortable and then remembered her ecstasy! The Eu Clair! She pulled it out, unaware of the outside sounds that she was now conditioned to tune out after two years of mariachi bands, polka weddings, children screaming, domestic abuse, and opera singing neighbors.
The show started and Stacy opened her mouth and bit into the glorious donut as custard spilled out onto her tongue. Mmmmm, So good. Demetri’s audience applauded as he took the stage, brown hair swept across his forehead. Stacy relaxed into her evening as visions of ZLOZ hostages, secret Swedish underground societies, zombies, rapists and Middle-Eastern 7-11 employees evaporated into the black-hole abyss of forgotten things.