It’s the fourth of July, yet my mind is far away from a holiday. I was out in the city earlier today when a stranger came up to me and said something I’ve heard for the umpteenth time in my life…that I “think too much”.
But a moment later, the same stranger told me that I probably “talk too much” as well. I smiled politely and told him he was right; it turns out that the man was there to tell me my fortune, that is, for just a small donation.
We were in the parking lot of a small store as I waited for mom to get back from her errand. I glanced at the stranger again, and saw a kind face in him more than anything else. Figuring that mom would be just a bit longer, I nodded to the man in affirmation of his wager. He proceeded to ask me a few questions about my life, including questions about my family, whether or not I had a partner, and what my number one wish was at the moment.
It was the last hour of the morning before the afternoon, and as the sun rose above, so did the heat. Still we were both humble in front of one another as the game between us spiraled us away from ourselves, or at least, from too much attention to one another.
The man told me that I’d live a long life, and that while I wouldn’t have much material wealth, I would have much respect in my life. He also told me that I would live a healthy life, and that I just had to let go of a few old habits to assure it.
I laughed and appreciated his words; they were refreshing to hear, and whether or not there was full truth in them didn’t matter, they’d hit just the right notes at an opportune time either way.
After another trick of the hand or so, the fortune teller assured me that he could pray for me in this fortune with the help of just another small donation. I smiled and laughed in kind, but informed him that I’d given him all I had. I was a humble man after all, I reminded him.
The man pressed on with his offer, but without even the slightest about-face, still kindly. I smiled again, this time letting him know that I was out of time to spare, too. The fortune teller finally relented, and we made for our separate ways. But just before completely losing sight of him, I asked the fortune teller for his name. He said his name was Lucky Baba.
Immediately afterwards I thought of how there are people out there who’d pay the fortune teller far more than I ever could for his kind spirit in that moment. All it was was location.
That is, he was just in the parking lot outside the store with humble people like himself rather than in the parking lot of L.A.’s more fortunate patrons, somewhere in Beverly or Hidden Hills. He was really bright, after all, with an ability to tell a story carrying the whole weight of the world in ways that many people out there already pay fortunes to hear on a daily basis.
It also seemed that the fortune teller was a family man, and that he wasn’t in his trade just for himself, but for his loved ones somewhere out there. All he needed was his own fortune from one of these encounters, to strike his own lucky payday for him and all of his dreams.
It also reminded me of that moment at the train station when a stranger can be seen missing a train somehow. Everyone rushes to their train when they can see that it’s just a few steps away given the right hurry, gushing forward to make it through the doorway, at times even slamming their fingers on the door handles to force the slightest opening. Sometimes other passengers help the would-be passengers in their desperation. Other times, they just stare. But everyone has to miss the train at some point. Everyone has to almost get there, before they don’t.
Is it like missing destiny? Are we entitled to our destinations, or do we just believe that we are? After all, maybe the toll of just almost getting there is like missing one version of our destiny for the same fate by another route, the latter of which is closer to home or more down to earth or in touch with reality.
In any case, there’s only so much time to gloss over what’s actually supposed to be. Eventually the next train arrives. If we still want our destiny after all, we’ve got to move towards that next route every day, every time, even through the missteps.
And if Lucky Baba presses on this way, not so much in a hurry but with a warm patience, then so can I, and I’ve got to do it. Here’s to a great payday for him one of these days, and to a lucky strike for all of us rushing madly towards our destinations, even after we just miss them.
With warmth from Los Angeles,
Thank you for being here. Thank you for showing up. If your education now is anything like mine was back in the day, then it’s tough to go to school and do the work sometimes. The toughest thing in the world, even. And truthfully, ‘tough’ only begins to describe it.
Some days –when I was in your shoes– getting up in the morning to face the day felt like the chore from Hades, making me Sisyphus. Even now I can still remember what it felt like when my uniform seemed too worn out for another day of periods one through six, or what it felt like when my hair seemed too off for me to show up alongside my classmates with it. Similarly, I can still recall what it felt like when my stomach was grumbling too loudly for me to hear a teacher instructing me about the day’s lesson, or what it felt like when nothing major was really wrong, but when I just wanted to put on my earphones and listen to some music instead of roll call.
Most of all, I remember how unfair it felt to have to show up anyway, despite these things. And yet every morning, there my mom stood, ready to take me to school before the bell for homeroom rang.
In the same way, as the day went on, there Mrs. Weiss stood, ready to offer her guidance through fractions, divisions, exponents, and more. I didn’t quite get it at the time, but both my mom and Mrs. Weiss had plenty of other things to worry about then too. They may not have been concerned with haircuts or uniforms, but their problems were just as vivid and pulsing as mine, and their lives just as complicated. And somehow, despite these things, they still got up each morning as well. Why?
I’ve found my trade and no matter what line of work I pick up over the next few years, I know what I’ll be doing on the side, while I prepare my platanos fritos for breakfast, as I wait for the train underground at Vermont and Santa Monica, and during the minutes before I go to sleep: I’ll be working on my stories. In fact, I’m already doing this, and I’ve been doing so since the moment I first picked up a pencil to write about the city of L.A., when it was a cruel place for a frustrated teenager such as the one I used to be not all too long ago.
Nearly ten years later, every other moment I don’t spend job hunting is a moment I spend researching the latest arrivals on the scene. Whether it’s a farmer’s market in East Hollywood, a free concert in Downtown L.A., arts and craft in Boyle Heights, food-trucks in Koreatown, weird and wacky meetups at Venice, or anything else in between or beyond, I’ll be there.