Chapter 6 -Stargazing

They'd wandered aimlessly through the waning hours of the afternoon. The wind eventually blew Chuck and Rubby north, away from the concrete and toward the sparse greenery of the hills. They needed to get away from the harshness of their Hollywood home for awhile.

"Don't ya' think we shoulda' done somethin' for that poor little baby, Chuck?" It was the first thing either man had said all afternoon.

"Come on Rub, she was already dead. Nobody could have brought her back to life. Are you gonna reach into your pocket and pay for a nice decent burial? Come on, there's not a damned thing we could do."

"Well, what you say is mostly true. But there's one thing we can do." Rubby stopped at the pay phone next to the street and called 911. It's one of the few calls you don't have to pay for, but under the wrong circumstances it can be the most expensive call you ever make.

"Yeah, I wanna report a dead baby. No, I'm not gonna tell you my name 'cause I didn't have nothin' to do with it. Yes, I know I'm at a pay phone. No, I won't stay here till the officer arrives. The baby's in a big orange dumpster in the alley behind the Vine Theater. Make sure somebody takes care of her; Lord knows her mama didn't." Then he put the phone receiver back onto its battle scarred cradle.

As Rubby hung up, Chuck grabbed the old man's telephone arm and they broke into a trot down the sidewalk, away from the booth. They both knew nothing good would come of any kind of dealings with the police.

It doesn't pay to be a good citizen in LA. You'll get entangled in all kinds of unpleasant investigations you won't like. Especially if you're from the bad side of No Fixed Address like Rubby and Chuck.

"You realize how dumb what you just did is, don't you?" Chuck wheezed. "You're gonna get us both arrested."

"Maybe so," Rubby gasped, "But I just can't live with myself thinkin' of that little girl bein' smashed up and dumped into a garbage truck with all that trash. It just ain't right."

"Yeah, so maybe you did the right thing. But for god's sake be careful from now on, okay?"

A siren approached, so the men slowed to their normal shuffle before the police car's blue and white strobe lights appeared around the curve. The cops roared past, straight for the phone Rubby had just used.

The black and white lurched to a halt and two officers bounced out. After a cursory survey of the abandoned scene, they jumped back in their car, fired up the siren and headed toward the dead baby.

"Look at those bastards," Chuck snarled. "They're more interested in catching the person who reported the poor kid than they are in finding her. Rub, you're soft in the head, that's what you are; and you know what else?"

"No, what else?" asked the old man softly.

"I'm proud to know you. At least one of us had the balls to do the right thing, even if it was risky. Hell, those cops could have kicked the shit out of us to get us to tell them who killed that baby. And who's gonna stop them, our lawyer? But you did good."

Rubby's weathered black face sneaked a tiny grin through its hard lines as Chuck's harsh approval continued.

"Now let's get the hell out of here before those goons figure out it was us who made the phone call."

They turned up the next sidewalk and headed for the Hollywood Bowl. The sky was filling with summer darkness as they shuffled up Odin Street. The Bowl swarmed with cars and pedestrians.

"Hey, this is our lucky day, Rub. Let's work the crowd for some lunch money."

After the afternoon's discovery, Rubby wasn't sure just how lucky the day was, but maybe things were looking up. The Bowl was hosting an oldies reunion benefit concert for the homeless. Some of the surviving members of the more socially conscious West Coast bands of the 60's had put the event together. It was mostly the same folk-rock types who had annoyed The Establishment about the Viet Nam war.

Chuck's heart jumped when he read the marquee. "Perfect, this is gonna be perfect. Listen Rub, these people are coming here to help us. If we can't make some money tonight, we might as well pack it in permanently. Let's split up and work the crowd. When they're all inside, you meet me at the big sign over there that says Hollywood Bowl. Good luck!"

It felt uneasily familiar to Rubby, like an old boil on a cab driver's butt. He'd seen this crowd before. Many of these people had been together for concerts over two decades earlier. Only then, he wasn't in the parking lot begging for food money; he was backstage getting ready to perform. This crowd might have been here to see him too, except for the evil whims of circumstance. Now he was the beneficiary of a benefit concert, instead of a headline performer.

Rubby twisted the knobs on his mind's time machine and took himself back to 1966, under Frank Lloyd Wright's ribbed, half moon acoustic shell that looms over the Bowl's stage.

He was on stage and ready to sing, but had to wait for the introduction by a top LA disc jockey that nobody remembers anymore. The station was taking a risk. Live soul music concerts were still unproven in the home of surfer bands and folk rock. It wasn't quite like back east, where soul artists were demi-gods.

The band looked out from the stage at row after horseshoe-shaped row of seats full of excited young faces. Teens mostly, dressed in tie-dyes and paisleys. Girls and boys alike, wearing blue jeans, a new sight at the time. The smells of patchuli oil and marijuana snaked out from the crowd.

These kids were on a high from the experimental psychedelic warm up act, but they had the musical munchies for Robby's band. They truly were a generation together in one place. Each kid shared the dream of world peace and harmony that they vainly vowed to create when they ran the world.

After a few minutes of bad jokes and gratuitous comments about the show in that puking style used only by DJs, the jock delivered the payoff. "Kids, here's the group you're all here to hear tonight...Boss Radio 93, KHJ, proudly presents the first Hollywood Bowl appearance of America's hottest new rhythm and blues band, Robby Johnson and the Imprints."

The crowd's roar turned into screams as impatience ripped away their thin veneer of civilization. That's the part Robby liked the most. It was his cue when the crowd went insane. As he nodded, the bass man and drummer cut loose with their patented beat/backbeat blend.

Yeah, they were hot. This was going to be a high energy show. He felt the music inside him, even though the lyrics were old. He'd sung even the newest songs dozens of times; but this time, they really spoke to him in a new way, and the crowd could feel it. These Southern California kids hadn't felt this kind of energy on stage before, and they went nuts.

Every time he moved, the rest of the guys moved with him in unison, even though they'd never actually choreographed any of it in advance. Some kind of magic wove them together that night. The end of every song had the kids screaming for more, and the band obliged, again and again.

By the end of the show, everybody off stage and on was hoarse, dehydrated and bone-weary. No gig before or after that night could ever quite match the rush of excitement that filled Robby's soul. He looked up and saw the stars overhead. For just a moment, he convinced himself he'd blown the roof off the building, but he couldn't quite forget that it was an amphitheater in the first place.

At the end of this two hour adrenaline rush, the Imprints dragged themselves off stage with the last strands of energy left in their bodies. The fans staggered back to their cars and buses, stoned and spent. The road crew noisily tore apart the stage, lights, and sound equipment they'd spent the entire day setting up.

When Robby got back to the dressing room, a shy young man was hanging around, pretending not to wait. The kid was white, slender and maybe eighteen. His acne scars made him look like he'd placed third in an ice pick fight. He sported the standard mop of log greasy hair that had become an informal requirement for membership in the LA musicians union.

Robby recognized the kid. It was Virgil Payne, part of the warm up act, and a pretty good guitarist too. He seemed like a nice enough kid, as kids went at the time, so Rob decided to talk to him.

"How's it hangin' Virgil? You guys really got 'em jumpin' for us tonight. Thanks."

"Far out! You really mean it?"

"Hell yes. I haven't heard much of your kind of music before, but you guys really play smooth. Got any good gigs lined up after this?"

"Well no, not really Mr. Johnson. We're just lucky that our manager handles the band that was supposed to open for you tonight. They got busted today, so he called us up and told us to get over here and start rehearsing for this show. I guess this is our lucky break."

"Yeah, I know all about lucky breaks. With a lucky break and a nickel you can buy a candy bar. But keep pluggin' at it. Your band's good; especially you. Keep workin' on that axe and you're goin' places."

"Don't count on it. This isn't my guitar, man. I borrowed it from one of the guys in the band that got busted. Mine's in the pawn shop. It's the only thing I own and I hocked it to pay my rent. It bums me out, but the landlord said he'd throw my ass out on the street if I didn't give him cash. You can't live in this town without an apartment. A guy'd have to be crazy to sleep outside, even here in Hollywood. I'd try it if I thought I could get away with it."

"I'm truly sorry to hear that, Virge. How much would it take to get your guitar back from the man?"

"Fifty bucks. It's a Gibson and it's worth a lot more, but that's all the pig would give me. Beggars can't be choosers you know."

"Son, maybe ol' Uncle Robby can help ya," he said, reaching back for his wallet. He thumbed through some cash and came up with a single U.S. Grant. "Here, take this and get your instrument back from that Philistine."

The kid's jaw dropped open like a worn out zipper. "Far out Robby, I mean Mr. Johnson. Thanks. But how can I pay you back, man? I don't even have a job right now."

"Take your time, Virgil. It's a loan from a friend. You'll pay me back when you start workin' regular. I'll have a word with my lowlife manager about bookin you guys as our openin act for the rest of this tour. It's only up the coast from 'Frisco to Canada. Five more towns, then you're on your own again. Can you make it?"

"You know it, man. I really appreciate this. I owe you big. I'll never forget this, I promise."

"Listen son, if you guys can get the crowd half as excited for the rest of these shows as you did tonight, you're doin' us a big favor. Now get out of here so I can set things up with Beauregard."

It was a good tour. Virgil and his friends were great, and the tour got them noticed by a promoter in San Francisco. Their band eventually broke up over "creative differences," but Virgil was always busy with other groups and session work. He never did pay back Robby's fifty dollars, though.

A bus horn brought Rubby back to the present. He lumbered out of the space the bus wanted and into the crowd. After a quick survey, he staked out a spot that looked perfect for business. It obstructed the flow of traffic, and had a perch where he could sit and sing. His pipes weren't what they'd been the last time he sang the Bowl, but then again nobody had to pay him for the privilege this time.

Rubby cut loose with some Sam Cooke and they loved it. He belted out a little Jackie Wilson, but an octave lower than he or Jackie used to do it. The crowd ate it up. A few of them even put money into Rub's shabby old handkerchief.

His forte was that great repertoire of Imprints classics. He couldn't remember the last time he'd sounded so good. But then, he also couldn't remember last week too clearly. Rubby had to stop for a few minutes to catch his breath after each song.

At the end of a number he'd helped write, he looked up at a middle aged man. It was one of those show-biz types doing his best to hold back the ravages of entropy on what might once have been a young, slender body. The man had just gotten out of his Porsche when he heard the old man's voice and came over to check it out.

This fortyish fellow with the hair weave looked familiar to Rubby. It took a moment, then he recognized the moonscaped face that showed every crater from terminal teen acne. It was Virgil Payne.

"Hey, Virgil, my man. How have you been?"

Payne was puzzled by the old man's familiar tone, but a lot of people treated him as if he was still famous.

"Uh, yeah, fine," he dumped. "I just wanted you to know you're fucking up some great music. The Imprints were special. They never got the kind of credit they deserved, and they sure as hell deserve to have their stuff treated better than you're treating it. Here, here's a buck. Now why don't you sing something else, or better yet, stop making these people listen to your lame excuse for music."

Virgil would have been kinder just to jam a shiv into Rubby's heart. The old man quietly picked up his handkerchief and money and started to stumble off.

Before either man had gone far, Rubby shouted back, "Hey Virgil, that's only one dollar. What about the other 49 bucks you borrowed to get your Gibson out of hock?"

Virgil's eyes were suddenly like two CDs as he twirled on one foot to face the old ghost again, but Rubby was gone in the crowd.

Across the parking lot and down to the base of the Hollywood Bowl sign, the old man trudged, dragging a mortally wounded memory behind him. He decided just to sit quietly and wait for Chuck to return. Perhaps he'd get lucky and die first.

The crowd was still pretty thick, but Rubby just couldn't sing anymore tonight, or maybe ever again. He muttered to himself as he counted the money in his handkerchief. "I owe you big. I'll never forget this, Mr. Johnson. God bless you Mr. Johnson. Dear Sweet Jesus, why do you let me suffer like this. I'm just an old man, tryin' to get by in his remainin' days. That's what a man gets when he tries to get above his raisins."

He finished counting the evening's box office. "Well, twenty two bucks for tonight's humiliation. I guess inflation's gone and made the price of a man's soul cheaper than it used to be." He slipped the change into one pocket and slipped the bills into his underwear. Then the old man settled into the grass for an unhappy nap to kill time until Chuck showed up.

It was going to be while before Chuck found Rubby. The younger man had to get his act ready for the audience. He dusted off and straightened the old VFW hat he kept in the jacket pocket of his army uniform. He'd earned the uniform and the three stripes on the shoulder, but the hat was a fifty cent thrift store treasure.

He looked like a quasi-official representative of the homeless with the cap of honor atop his long matted hair. He headed toward the slowly filling parking lot, intent on making sure these folks were able to help the homeless in a direct and personally satisfying way.

A man and his lady approached. They were well dressed and Chuck saw yuppy guilt written on them from their blow-dries down to their Nikes.

"Excuse me sir, ma'am. I've been asked to talk to you about Agent Orange and the poor treatment of America's former soldiers by the Veteran's Administration. Could you give me just sixty seconds of your time before you go in. The concert won't start for quite awhile yet, and I know you're concerned people or you wouldn't be here."

The man, annoyed but intrigued, challenged Chuck. "I thought you guys won a big cash settlement a while back. What did you do with that money?"

"Well, to be quite honest sir, mine all went to legal expenses to pay the lawyers that won us the settlement. That's why I'm still out here, living on the streets. I didn't want to go to 'Nam, but they drafted me right out of college. Said my grades weren't good enough, so I had to go. But when I got back, nobody wanted to hire me. Some people called me Baby Killer. I even had a kid spit on my uniform at the airport when I came home. I'm not asking for this money for myself, but to help keep the work going for others like me. If you can spare five or ten dollars, you'll help a lot of people. And besides, it's tax deductible."

The woman seemed genuinely affected by Chuck's words. She nudged her man and made the gestures of a positive vote without saying a word. Out popped an eelskin wallet. Two pictures of Abe Lincoln appeared and Chuck stuck them into the fold of his VFW cap.

"Thank you'am. This will make it possible to keep the good work going on, despite heavy resistance by the bureaucracy. Bless you both."

Like a weasel in a hatchery, Chuck worked through the crowd with only slight variations on his theme. The fact was, he'd been in community college at the end of the Viet Nam mess, and hadn't actually joined the army until the fighting was nearly over.

Nevertheless, many people felt various shades of guilt, anger or pity for this sad image of a veteran and thousands of others his presence represented. Only a few were actually rude, mostly shouting undead anti Viet Nam platitudes at him as they marched toward the benefit concert. The guy who said money doesn't grow on trees should have been with Chuck in that crowd.

As the mob dwindled, he wound his way back to the rendezvous point. "Yo, Rub. Wake it up there. We've got to celebrate our good luck. It was great for me, how about you?"

Rubby slowly roused with a heavy, deep chested cough. He rubbed his watery eyes as they tried to focus. "Well, I came up pretty short, considerin'. I saw an old friend though. I guess he's doin' okay. He even paid me back some of the money he owed me." Rubby hacked again and asked, "So if you did so great, can you retire on it?"

"Damn near. The Agent Orange story works every time. I'm just glad it's not the truth; I've got enough problems without that one too. It's not counted up yet, but it I think I made over a hundred bucks. Maybe we should wait until the crowd comes back out. I never even got to talk to most of them."

"It's not smart to hit 'em twice in one day with the same story. Let's just get out of here and go someplace quiet. I've had enough of people for quite some time, thank you very much."

"You're right, Rub. But first, let's celebrate. What do you want on your pizza?"

"I'm a little worn out. You go get a pizza if you want, I'll just stay here."

"We're not going anywhere. They're going to bring it right here to us. Whatta you say we get a large one with the works?"

With that, Chuck took control of a nearby pay phone. "Yeah, I want everything on it, and extra cheese. Oh, and bring us a six pack of coke. We're workin' our butts off at this concert, and we've gotta buy our own food, can you believe it? Yeah, bring it to the front entrance at the Hollywood Bowl. We'll have someone meet you with the money. My number?" Chuck thought fast and gave the pay phone number. No reason you can't order a pizza from a pay phone, he reasoned.

As soon as he hung up, the phone rang. It was a confirmation from the pizza guy. "Yes, this is Chuck. Yeah, that sounds like our order. Bring it out right away, okay? We're hungry and we're thirsty. Thanks man." As he slid the handset back onto the hook, the smell of the garlic and oregano in a tomato sauce already teased his nose.

"Alright Mr. Johnson, I promised you a meal and I'm about to make good on it. This time it's fresh, it's paid for, and it's all ours. It's been a tough day, but it's gonna be a great night."

"Did you order something to drink too?"

"I tried to, but they only deliver soda pop," Chuck lied. He didn't really want alcohol, and Rubby's iffy health wouldn't improve from it anyway. Besides, it cost too much extra to get the pizza boy to bring beer or wine, since it wasn't exactly legal to do it that way.

"Dam it. I could use some nice wine, or even a good bottle of the strong stuff." Somehow, Rubby had convinced himself that he liked the flavor of isopropyl. It's definitely an acquired taste.

"Don't worry, my friend. Tonight we eat well. Those Cokes will taste like a rich man's wine when we drink them with a fresh, warm pizza with all the good stuff on it."

"I'll take it. Seein' as how we missed out on lunch today, I think I'm startin' to get kinda hungry," Rubby wheezed. He let out another deep cough and spat out an evil gob of blood.

"Rubby, I'm worried about that cough of yours. You've had it a long time, and it just keeps getting worse. Maybe you should see a doctor about it."

"Yeah, right, I'll just lay down my Blue Cross card and get me the finest doctor in Beverly Hills. Son, I can't even afford a roof over my head most of the time. Besides, I don't trust doctors. My daddy only went to a doctor once in his whole life, and that was on the day he died. I'm not ready to die yet, so I don't plan on seein' no doctor."

There was a certain logic to the old man's rationalization, so Chuck let it lie. They sat quietly until a multicolored Pinto screeched into view. The color of the front fender didn't match the door, which clashed violently with the rear fender. None of which went with what remained of the body paint. The pizza restaurant's magnetic signs clung tenuously to the Bondo that filled each crushed door.

A small but sturdy young Armenian man with a sincere attempt at a moustache hopped out of the car as it rolled into the curb. He held a pizza wrapped in swaddling clothes.

"You Chuck?" he yelled.

"That's me. How much do I owe ya?"

The driver fumbled with the bill as he pulled the pizza from its wrap, as if it were a magician's rabbit in a top hat. "That's $15.93 with the drinks. Shit, the drinks! Here, take your pizza while I get your cokes."

Chuck thought about a light fingered dash for the bushes with the pizza, but decided to stay put. What the hell, he was rich tonight. Might as well play it straight.

The kid returned with the six-pack and held out his hand for the cash. Chuck generously handed over seventeen dollars and said, "Keep the change, I appreciate how fast you got it here."

"Thanks, now I can buy a new car."

Maybe life on the streets had altered Chuck's idea of a good tip. Or then again, maybe he'd always been cheap.

The box of pizza was eagerly parceled out. It seemed that Rubby wasn't quite the same hearty eater as Chuck. In all their time together, the old man never had much of an appetite. Perhaps that's why he was so skinny and frail looking. But Chuck easily took up the slack. After he finished his half, he diligently made sure none of Rubby's share went to waste.

"Come on Rubby, let's head up to the park and pull up a chunk of grass. I don't want to go back to Hollywood tonight, and besides, it's too hot to sleep on the pavement."

The two pulled themselves upright and Chuck grabbed the remaining three colas for easy carrying. He tossed the spent pizza box and empty cans through the open roof of an expensive convertible, giggling like a teenager. His friend didn't seem to notice or care about this juvenile act of civil disobedience.

"What's buggin' you tonight," Chuck asked as he walked. "You're usually the one who's in a good mood with a story to tell. But right now, you act like somebody stole your little red wagon."

"Well, maybe they did, son. I just don't understand folks, that's all. It seems the older I get, the stranger they get. I really wish I was your age again, so I could do things different. Maybe I wouldn't end up livin' each day with nothin', just waitin' for the Lord to come get me so I can stop strugglin'."

The words cut through the younger man's pizza-induced euphoria. Just what was Chuck doing on the streets? He still had hopes, and he trembled as he thought of himself at Rubby's age, living alone in the alleys and parking lots of Los Angeles. He kept moodily quiet until they reached the park.

"I know it's a little noisy here, Rub, but look at those stars. You can't see this view from down in Hollywood."

The little park wasn't strictly a park. It was a flat spot that was too narrow to build on when CalTrans finished the Hollywood freeway. So the city levelled it, planted some trees and bushes, rolled in some grass, and started to act like it was a park. Since it was in the neck of the Cahuenga Pass, there weren't any nearby structures to block the horizon or fill the sky with the glare of their lights. The two staked out a dry spot near the bushes.

A passing patrol car tried to catch them in its spotlight, but the layout of the flora made them undetectable. The cruiser grouched off down the road, unfulfilled. Chuck had tried to lie quietly so that his breathing wouldn't give away their location. But it was a time waster, since the thick ribbon of cars and trucks on the freeway provided a deep layer of background noise.

As they lay back, Chuck asked Rubby, "Did you ever just sit down at night and look at the stars? You know, maybe when you were just a kid, or even older?"

"Not really, son. Never had a chance to. When I was a boy on the farm, I wasn't up after dark much 'cause we all got up before sunrise to tend the stock. When I was singin, I was indoors workin' all night, so I just never had the chance."

"Well then, you're in for something special tonight. I used to sit up half the night as a kid, just looking up at that big piece of black velvet with the sparkly lights, wondering about all the secrets of the universe. It took my breath away when I realized just how big the sky is, and just how small I was compared to it. Sometimes I'd lie there, wondering if somebody was lyin' on their own planet out there somewhere, just lookin' back this way wondering the same thing."

Rubby objected. "The only thing lookin' back down on us from up there is the Good Lord himself, and maybe an angel or two. He's just keepin' an eye on all of us, to see if we're runnin' our lives so we'll be proud of how we lived when we get up there with him."

"And, are you gonna be proud?"

"Damned right son! Oh, I know I don't get to church no more, but I carry His love with me. Besides, there ain't no church around these parts that wants me comin by on Sundays anyhow. And those mission churches, well there's just somethin' wrong with the way they do things. Anyway, I've lived my life fearin' God, and I know He's savin' me a spot up there in that big ol' sky. You know, I never knew I could get a good feelin' about how big Heaven is until right now, lyin' here lookin' at it. I sure hope I can find all my kinfolk when I get up there."

"Yeah, Heaven's big all right," Chuck went along, "But what if there's no God up there. What if it's just a big empty piece of space with lots of stars and planets in it? What if this life is the only life we get to live in all of the ages that have gone on before or will go on after us?"

"Son, at my age, I can't afford that kind of thinkin'. There's just gotta be a better reward after this. It's just plain wrong for me to have to live a life like this, then have nothin' else to look forward to when it's over. You'll see it more clear when you get to be my age."

Chuck rather doubted Rubby's earnest words, but didn't see any gain from a philosophical duel, so he changed course. "They say you used to be able to see the Milky Way all across the sky from here back in the 40's. Can you imagine seeing a big, thick band of stars up there? That was before all the air pollution, and before these new street lights. It must have been beautiful then."

"Wherever a man is can be beautiful. It depends more on what's inside him than what's around him. I reckon I've seen a lotta' beauty in my time, in a lotta' places other folks wouldn't have looked for it. Hell, even the street can be beautiful if you've got enough food, a good friend, and enough alky to help dim out the rest of it. You just gotta go...get much...try be..." Rubby's conscious mind crawled into a warm hole and went to sleep for the night.

The black velvet of the night sky hypnotized Chuck as he stared into its depth. The stars stood out like grains of broken glass illuminated by headlights on new blacktop. As he counted the thousand or so stars that were visible that night, his thoughts drifted off to another reality; the more pleasant reality of sleep.

However, tonight Chuck's slumber was punctuated by visions of dead babies. Dead babies in dumpsters, dead babies in garbage bags, dead babies being bulldozed into pits with their dead mothers and brothers and sisters. A grinning Uncle Sam sat astride a saddle on a big, khaki colored cat. The cat loped up to a big pit, then turned around and kicked dirt into the hole until it was full. When it was done, the cat and Uncle Sam wandered proudly away. Dreams made Chuck twitch and squirm all night.

On the other hand, Rubby's sleep was somewhat less agitated. It fact, he slept like a baby. When he woke up, he was wet. But then, so was Chuck. Mr. Sun's bald, shiny head had just popped up near downtown when the park's automatic lawn sprinklers roused both men.

"Holy shit," Chuck screamed, jumping to his feet. "You comin' with me or you stayin' here to get soaked?" Chuck ranted as he ran off in all directions to escape the omnipresent spray of cold water.

"Relax son, it's only water. It's a little cool, but it gets your blood flowin'. Besides, it'll make you smell a lot better. When's the last time you washed that uniform a' yours anyway?"

By now, Chuck was on the sidewalk yelling. "It's no damn business of the Parks Board how often I take a bath or wash my clothes. I thought we had a water shortage, so why are they wasting it as an alarm clock? Dammit, I'm gonna freeze to death out here."

The old man laughed until he coughed. As he spat out a little blood, he spoke again. "Son, you're just soft. You had it soft too long and it's high time you get tougher. It's chilly this morning, but it's summer. Dry off and you'll be fresh as new. You gotta leam to laugh at Old Lady Life. She's a mean trickster, but she can't do you no harm if you can face her with a smile. Otherwise, you're gonna end up old and bitter. You gotta live your life anyway, so you might just as well grin and enjoy it."

"Rubby, sometimes I just don't get you. You've worked all your life, and now your Social Security checks don't even pay enough to keep you off the streets. If anybody has the right to be bitter, it's you!"

"But what does it get me? Would you spend time around me if I was always whinin' and complainin' about how I been so hard done by? Does it get me some special, more holy place in Heaven? Son, it just doesn't pay well enough for me to spend my time on it, so I don't. Now let's start walkin' back home so we can dry off."

Chuck shivered in the morning air as he followed his friend back to the streets of Hollywood. A few soggy dollars got them breakfast in a nice, warm burger joint, the local equivalent of heaven.

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