For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
Quick Chapter Menu
Nothing like a sipping good cup of coffee or latte to put off whatever it is you don’t want to deal with. Scott woke up with a dread of the day to come that needed a caffeinated outlook to be dealt with. Coffee-as-Vocation had become legitimized for a vast majority of Gen-Xers and Millennials in Los Angeles and Scott was no different from his Brothers and Sisters in Brew. A fifteen-minute break could be easily stretched to an hour or more and the epidemic that was merely a way of life in places like Paris or Italy was spreading across the country. Putting America back to work just might mean putting a prohibition on coffee houses.
“Yeah, Starbucks would go for that,” Scott thought.
He had liked the feel of CookieSheet’s Cafe, so he ventured back there at an early 7:30am on his second morning in Los Alamos. Maybe he’d catch Todd, now that he knew him by sight and really, how could you ever miss him?
The winter mesa air and physical exertion served to work up a Todd-sized appetite in Scott. After using his workout stretchy bands in the small motel room in between the door and over the bed almost into the bathroom as he stretched and pulled his muscles the best he could in that space, he was hungry. There was not enough room for sit-ups or pushups and Scott didn’t want to think what might be in the mangy carpet. Would have to do that fully clothed at Betty’s house later.
Scott had gotten a voicemail from Betty just before he left his room at the Turd, which he paid up for one more night. She was wondering how it was going and did he need anything. Scott didn’t call her back and he really didn’t like talking on the phone in general. It just felt too vulnerable and made him too available for conversations that might rope him into something he couldn’t say no to. It was quite a dichotomy for him, to be naturally craving opportunities to be of help to people, the inescapable knowledge that he was garnering brownie points in the process, and the need to avoid unnecessary contact and commitments that might limit his life options, real or imagined.
A table in the far corner at CookieSheets had miraculously been empty, so Scott placed his gloves and his green, sweat-worn John Deere farm machinery ball cap on the table to claim it. The hat was something Scott threw into his pack at the last minute as local costume he thought might ingratiate him with a construction guy like Todd. Manual labor, Everyman, Salt of the Earth kind of thing. It had held up all the way from his high school summer days in Wisconsin detasseling corn and had become quite nasty. This would be part of his uniform for the duration. Scott still needed to get some Carhart pants and flannel shirts from a Kmart or someplace like that. His hiking boots were already trashed, so he’d keep wearing them.
Scott wound his way through the occupied tables to the counter. Once he put his coffee and breakfast order in, Scott listened to the voicemail again and it really needed to be washed down by something hot and strong so he could forget about it for a while. He waited for his coffee before heading back to his table.
After nursing his latte for a few minutes, Asian Lady called out his order and he made his way back up to the counter. Asian Lady must have been in her forties or so. Scott could never tell how old an Asian woman was as they weathered quite well, in his uneducated opinion. He’d had a relationship with a Chinese girl that didn’t go well at all and was short-lived. Asian Lady was just about five-feet tall, petite, but with a big top underneath her cats apron. She sported nerd glasses, large on a pretty, rounded face. Her shoulder length black hair had begun to show silver and was scrunchied up in a pony tail.
“Thank you,” he said, picking up his styrofoam container of breakfast that had a surprising twist.
“You are welcome!” Asian Lady said, smiling a big smile at him. “Are you be a customer regular?”
“Maybe,” Scott replied, guessing what she meant. “For at least a week or so.”
Asian Lady bobbed her head down and then up, placing her hands together like a prayer and saying, “Sawasdee Kah! You call me ‘CookieSheet’. No one know my true name around Lo Alamo. I remember your order, Ka?”
“Yes, thank you!”, Scott said, her smile having infected him as well. “Where are you from?”
CookieSheet looked puzzled. “I in Los Aramos, same as you.”
“No, sorry. I mean what country did you come here from?” Scott asked apologetically.
“Oh! Thailand. Twenty-fye year ago,” CookieSheet replied, V’s and S’s missing and some of her L’s turned to R’s and vice versa. She turned to go to the back. “Eat!” she commanded.
Scott laughed at her brusque manner and took his food back to his coffee, opening up the container, the mix of aromatic flavors confusing and delighting his taste buds at the same time. While CookieSheet’s Cafe offered standard breakfast and lunch fare, the menu was unique in that it featured a number of Thai-Mexican fusion comfort dishes. Scott had ordered the Thai Breakfast Burrito which had a Tom Yum mixture of scrambled eggs, cheese, green pepper, spicy northern Thailand pork sausage, and topped with a coconut-sriracha salsa that was out of this world.
To be so sated, so full from a delicious breakfast, and then have to walk into the wreck of the cold house was an affront to Scott’s morning. The now familiar click of the upside down door lock became his entrance cue to futility.
But there he was. He went into his routine. “What to do first?” was how he would start almost every day there and it would take at least ten minutes to make it through that. At the end of the day, it was “What didn’t I get done today?” and “What should I do first thing in the morning?”
“Gotta get the gas and juice back on,” he said out loud, rubbing his raw and dry hands together. He looked down at them and fretted because they’d soon be no good for playing keys at this rate. He wished he would have brought one of his keyboards with him to play now that it looked like he’d be there for a little longer.
Scott pulled his phone out and brought up his ToDo list. Getting the utilities back on was not first on the list. Should have been, but he still had to wait for Todd to do it because he knew all the particulars. First on the list was to fix and finish the drywall but since he hated drywall, he moved that down the list.
“Cabinets,” he spoke, because they had gotten the supplies for the task. Then, remembering that, he chuckled, “Bobbie. Yeah. Not.”
Scott started the work and stopped several times because in truth, he didn’t really know how to do it. Where the paneling inside was broken and pushed in because of some impact to the outside, should he pull the pieces off completely and fill the hole in? Or should he try to press and screw the pieces back in with wood glue, then patch and sand it? Either way it was going to show. No way could he hide the damage completely.
The cabinets, like so much of the work already done should just be reinstalled. It bugged Scott quite a bit to have to repair rather than replace. He wanted to do a good job and the thought of it looking like Mickey Mouse had done it or worse, Goofy, really grated on him. But he plowed on.
As he moved on to the last section of damage, he was sweating in his old Green Bay sweatshirt that was a lost cause for any other use. He was using a putty knife to spread the spackle when the front door burst open and Mikey came bounding in and right up to Scott who had turned around against the cabinets, holding the steel putty knife in front of him like a machete. Mikey growled and his ears were back.
“Mikey! Cool it!” came Todd’s customary rebuke as he clumped heavily into the kitchen, holding a large shop vac in one arm and a beat-up circular saw in his other hand. Once in, he kicked the door shut, Scott observing Todd’s muddy boot leaving a clump on the door bottom.
“Hey Todd. Can you come hold on to Mikey’s collar for a moment? I have something for him.”
Todd swung around to his left and set both the vac and the saw on the plywood floor. Then he went over to Mikey and grabbed his collar.
“Oooo. Pobresito Mikey. Hold on a minute. Then I’ll let you eat the gringo,” Todd said to the dog in baby talk. “What up?”
Scott slid sideways to his left along the counter to the refrigerator. He pulled the white package out and then the item inside. It was the hamburger, once frozen in the snow but now thawed and dangerously close to becoming rancid in the un-electrified fridge.
Mikey’s nose started jumping up, down, and sideways, trying to sniff the meat out of Scott’s hand.
“Dude, you are speaking his language,” Todd said to Scott. He rubbed Mikey’s ears as the dog’s eyes tracked the movement of Scott’s hands as he took the plastic wrap off of the meat.
“How much should I give him?” Scott asked.
Todd just laughed and shook his head. “All of it. You think, Gringo?”
Scott crept forward toward the dog, extending his arms toward the floor in front of Mikey. The plastic wrap covering his hand, Scott scooped a third of the five pounds of beef and tossed it onto the dirty floor tiles. Todd let go of the big dog’s collar and even though the dog was only a step from the meat, he leapt there anyway, startling Scott.
“Todd! Hold on to him!”
But Mikey did not have eyes or teeth for Scott. He took that large clump of ground beef in one bite, his teeth a gleaming yellow. As soon as he secured the meat in his mouth, his yellow eyes came immediately back to Scott, who had backed away.
“Don’t go nowhere. Come back and get down on the floor like me,” Todd said.
“You’re kidding,” Scott replied.
“He’s fine! He’ll like you. Trust me,” Todd said to Scott, that smile coming back.
Scott went to his knees, anxious, but the desire to get Mikey off his case was stronger. Mikey strained to get to the remaining meat in Scott’s hands.
“Just hold it out in your hand so he knows it’s from you,” Todd instructed.
Scott looked at Todd like he was nuts. But he bent over, stretching his hand with the possibly-bad meat in his palm. Mikey looked back at Todd briefly before sniffing, then opening wide and snatching the mound up into his mouth, openly chewing it while glancing at Scott. Scott pulled away his hand, whole and intact, to find that Mikey had left a dollop of saliva in the meat’s place.
In the end, it took all of about a minute for the big dog to finish devouring all the meat, which can be an awfully long time when you’re waiting to see if you’ll still have a hand attached or not. Mikey relaxed his snarl toward Scott for the time and when he saw there was no more meat coming, the big dog went to the door and laid down against it.
“Huh,” he said, then looked at Scott with eyebrows raised. “Was I correct or not?”
Scott nodded. “Yeah. I guess you were.”
Todd gets up to go. “Mikey, come on!”
“Hold it!”, Scott said.
“What?” Todd said, in a hurry to go.
“What about getting the electricity and gas on?”
“Oh yeah. Just go to the Los Alamos Power and Light. Ask for Berta. I set it up with her so it can be under your name.” Todd continued out the door.
“My name,” Scott called. “Why my name? I’m only ...” But Todd was out the door.
“Got to go!” Todd yelled back
“When are you coming back?!” Todd called, to no avail as Todd and Mikey jumped into his idling truck.
“What do you expect me to do with the saw?” he continued to himself. Scott looked at the vacuum. He could really use that later on to clean up the room he was planning to sleep in. He hoped it was powerful enough to pick up all the crap in the living room and all the other floors. It would get a workout, no doubt.
The saw, though. He loved power tools. Very red-blooded American, he thought.
“Well, I have to put it in someone’s name,” Berta said. “Since you’re paying the outstanding balance, it should be your name. Wouldn’t you think?”
Berta was unmistakable when Scott had walked in through the double glass doors to the customer service department of the LADWP. She reminded him of the ladies Gary Larson illustrated in his Far Side cartoons. They always wore big, print dresses, had big glasses, big wavy hair with a clip, and stood with their hands on their hips, their fleshy upper arms quivering as they spoke.
The big woman was delivering some sort of directive to a customer as the knower of all things water and power. The customer was suitably cowering. It could only have been the Berta Todd had told him to talk to.
Of course, Scott had assumed everything would be in order. Not in the least. There were arrears. To the tune of three hundred and forty-four dollars. Plus late fees.
The real kicker was that Scott could not get the gas on. That was another company, contrary to what Todd told him. His credit card should be quite bulked up with the workout it was getting.
Scott went to the Gas Company, aptly named LA Gas Service Company, the same name as in Los Angeles. What was it with this parallel universe?
There, he met the bureaucratic equivalent of its California twin.
Why couldn’t Scott get the gas back on?
Payment had to be made by the account holder directly if it was being paid by credit card, which in this case was Betty. Scott was surprised to find out that Betty’s name had still been on the account. He could always pay by cash, but as with the electricity, the account was owing back payments.
Also, the Gas company had to come out and inspect the appliances and furnace that the gas lines went to, so he had to schedule that as soon as he could work that out with Betty.
Since there would be no gas on, which meant no heat from the furnace, Scott stopped at the hardware store to pick up a space heater.
He had forgotten about Bobbie, but she remembered Scott quite well.
“Hey, Scott!” she called to him from the corner of the store opposite the entrance. The few customers that were shopping stopped and looked. Older Blonde looked up from rearranging the bills in the cash drawer at her checkout. She chuckled.
Scott looked to Bobbie and automatically waved to her. Then he realized where he was and tried to make himself smaller, hunching down in his coat, and slinked away to the back.
As he was contemplating which heater would keep him warm in that back room and what worked for the money-to-comfort equation, Bobbie came around the aisle end.
“Hi, Babe!” she said.
Having the term “Babe” applied to him was not something that was endearing to him. He tried to see beyond her size and to the person that had addressed him so cheerily, but he was conditioned to the Coppertone Girls of the beach and just couldn’t see a possible attraction. To Scott, attraction was everything. He was either in a relationship or looking for one. Not that he could admit that to himself or was even aware of it, but he could have seen it as the When Harry Met Sally thing.
“Hi,” Scott managed, along with a fake smile.
“Are you finding everything you’re lookin’ for?” she asked.
“Yep!” Scott answered definitively. He wondered why she wasn’t at the cash register.
“Are you liking your stay here?” Bobbie twined her hands together in front of her. She made herself sound relaxed, but there was a nervousness to her energy.
“Yep!” Scott answered again. He used one word answers whenever he wanted to discourage further communication. Otherwise, he could be quite verbose in his answers.
She had pretty eyes, Scott thought, charitably. But he couldn’t decide if her friendliness was sincere or manipulative.
“Okay, well. I just wanted to check. I know where everything is in this store. I can tell you where the wall anchors are, the roof flashing, plumbing parts, and pretty much anything. Just ask me, okay?"
Bobbie noticed the section Scott was standing in front of.
“The Vornado there will heat a big room. It’s popular with Wirecutter reviews.”
Scott looked at it and noticed the price tag.
“Hmm, a little pricey for me. I should have the gas on in the place soon,” Scott said. Bobbie looked at Scott skeptically, as though the fact that he was from California automatically put him in a much higher tax bracket. It did, but not in income.
She ended up suggesting the Lasko ceramic heater to Scott and when he picked it up off the shelf, Bobbie waited for him to begin walking so she would walk with him.
Walking behind her, he couldn’t help watching her large butt and thighs stuffed into her jeans, the rolls just above them shifting with her short-legged steps. But when she would glance back at him, she had a happy and proud smile from being of assistance to him, and he had to inwardly laugh at himself for being such a judgmental prick.
After a stop at CookieSheets for another burrito, Scott made it back to the house in time to meet the power company linesman just closing the utility box at the corner. Scott let the Jeep roll up to him and brought down the passenger window. He leaned across the console.
“We’re back on?” he asked.
The skinny Power Man was still squatted down and was about to lock the box. He looked inward toward Scott and put a hand above his brow to shield his eyes.
“What’s the address?”
“Uh... 4439, I think,” Scott replied.
Power Man got up stiffly, his knees cracking from having been down for so long and lifted his sunglasses from his shirt pocket underneath his brown, opened Carhart jacket and put them on. He turned to the Jeep and rested his hands on the windowsill and looked down into the window.
Power Man’s face was tanned and lined and leathery. The fingertips on the right hand that had a hold on the window were stained yellow, the nails beat up and grooved. Scott noticed that his bushy eyebrows were furrowed underneath the bridge of the sunglasses, so he knew the man was frowning.
“That’s Todd’s old place,” he stated.
“Yeah, I’m working on it,” Scott said as he squinted in the sun to try and figure out where the Power Man was coming from.
Power Man chuckled, releasing the tightness of his expression. “Well, I don’t mean to put you down, or nothin’...” Power Man looked around before continuing. “... but I don’t get that you’d be up to it.”
“Well,” he laughed again. “Don’t get me wrong or nothin’, Todd’s a buddy’a mine and he’s known to be quite the handful, ya know?”
Scott was getting pissed off with everyone insinuating that he wasn’t in Todd’s league or couldn’t handle him or something. He put the Jeep in gear to get Power Man to step away and said, “Thanks for getting it back on so fast.”
Power Man couldn’t understand what was up with Scott, so he just said, “Sure thing. S’what we do,” as Scott pulled away from the curb, did a u-turn in the street and drove up to the curb in front of the house.
He got out and looked back down the street in the bright sunlight. Power Man was still looking down the curb toward Scott, but was talking into his cell phone. Scott couldn’t make out anything that he said even though the midday was pretty quiet, with residents off at work and the garbage pickup had already been made that morning.
It was still chilly, even though the sun burned through the clear, thin atmosphere. But Scott felt like an ant in the beam of a magnifying glass. It was as though he was being seared by the looks of the people of Los Alamos and every move he made was enlarged for all to see the minuscule details of his business there in New Mexico. It would only get worse.