LOS ANGELES—”I’m broke!” I wailed at my friends. “I spent all my money in one place! I don’t know what I’m going to do! The word will spread like wildfire. My reputation is ruined!”
“Uh…Rosana,” they say. “You’ve been broke before.”
“Yeah. I think it’s happened like around 100 times by now.”
“Yeah, you’re more broke than my carburetor.”
“And my Internet connection.”
“And the 10 Commandments.”
“Hmmmm…you’re right,” I say, forcing myself to reminisce over those former high school days I spent getting my butt kicked in “Terminator II,” at the Arcade, using more bullets in the game’s simulated machine gun than quarters.
“Additionally,” my buddies add, “if you had a nickel for every time you said you were broke, you would certainly have plenty of nickels.” And they all slap high-fives at each other.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” I say, imagining that they are the robot clones I used to hit, (or fail to), as a teen.
So I think of a way to alleviate my broke status. Like any woman living alone in a poor Los Angeles community, I’ve discovered ways to make ends meet, such as collecting recyclables, something just about everyone in my neighborhood does. Since I don’t have a vehicle at the moment, I’ve invested $20 in a fold-up cart, which holds items as effectively as any car.
Before I knew it, I was overloading the cart with items other than cans and bottles, such groceries, laundry and other cool things to tote around. Others often gave me compliments in my resourcefulness. “I think I’ll get one myself,” one lady told me.
“Thanks,” I said, just as the basket went, CREEAAAK, and appeared to fairly fold over. “Uh…just a second,” I said, grinning uneasily, stepping away, and shouting, “You stupid wheel! Come back here!” chasing after it as it rolled away, broken from under the weight of my usual impulsive overspending.
I chased it down the sidewalk, onlookers watching, bored, as I made a heroic dive and caught the wheel before it managed to roll into a gutter and out of sight.
“Hurray! Hurray!” I shouted, as pedestrians stood around, watching me. “Oh, and if I didn’t make it clear enough, hurray!” I continued, as cars honked and motorists cursed at me, and I thanked them for being so nice, bringing my newly three-legged cart home.
“Your wheel is broken,” one of the workers at the recycling center told me the next day, when I turned in my recyclables in my cart.
“Of course my wheel is broken,” I said, collecting my money at the clerk’s window.
“But I thought you decided to fix it after you rescued your wheel and triumphantly waved it around.”
“I just got lazy…busy! Busy, busy,” I said. “And besides, I’ve a bit broke.”
“Like your wheel?” one of my fellow patrons asked.
“Yup,” I said, “I’m a true American.” I hurried out to head for the store.
“Maybe you should work out a budget,” the lady at the check-out counter said.
“And you really should do something about that wheel,” the man in line in front of me said.
“Yes,” I said. “This is the third time someone has told me this.”
“Uh, actually the fourth the little kid in line behind you mentioned it too,” someone else said, and I turned to see a little boy giving me a pumpkin teeth grin.
After my new nickname in the neighborhood became, “Broke-a-hontas,” I decided to perform my recycling endeavors at night, and brought my idea to the attention of a counselor.
“Are you kidding?” he asked. “It’s too dangerous for a young woman like you to be out on these streets at night. Don’t be a fool, girl. Just discipline yourself to stop overspending so much and stick to your budget.”
Of course, I didn’t listen to him, and began my nightly escapades, waiting until the community was dark and cool and quiet to collect recyclables, feeling that I had come closest I ever had to achieving my childhood dream: acquiring superhuman invisible powers to do whatever I wanted.
“Look what I can d-oooo!” I sang, to the tune of “Janie’s Got a Gun,” by Aerosmith, (the “It’s Janie’s last I.O.U.” part), while attempting to ride my cart like a skateboard. “I am braver than y-oouuuu—YIKES!” I shouted, as a random guy dressed in black ran up to me from behind.
“Are you a cop or something?” he asked, his hands stuffed in his jacket pockets. “What are you doin’ walkin’ around like this?”
“I’m not a cop,” I said. For some reason, I get asked that a lot. But I’m not sure if that’s good or bad in my case.
“Come with me or I’ll blow your head off,” he said.
“You wanna get your head blown off?”
I didn’t see a gun, and figured he might be bluffing. But I left my cart and followed him, not wanting to take any chances.
He led me into a secluded alley at an apartment complex. I couldn’t think of any legitimate reason he wanted to shoot me other than the fact that he might be offended by my singing. A couple of times he gave me a chance to run, and a clear shot to the back of his head. But I decided it was wiser not to do anything stupid. I did manage, however, to mentally aim my handy-dandy lazer gun at his rear end and fire.
Still keeping his hands in his jacket pockets, the guy asked me for a favor I was certain he would ask for. I told him it was probably best he didn’t.
“I have syphillus,” I lied.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s a disease.” I just blinked at him. “It’s very painful.”
He still looked confused, and I wondered if I should tell him it was the same disease Al Capone died from. Then I thought that would seem too cool so changed my mind.
“‘Bye,” the guy said, and I thought this is the part where he blows my head off for real. Then I realized he literally meant it. “Go on, get your basket,” he said. “Ain’t nobody gonna do nothin’ to you.”
After I left the apartment buildings, I called the police, who classified the case as kidnapping. I didn’t think the guy was very bright but didn’t mention that to the officers.
After I told the police what happened and gave the guy’s description, the officers drove around to attempt to locate the man, but as I expected were not able to.
The police then advised me to do my recycling during the day, and to be especially careful around some people who were also recycling and might see I was competing with them. “Some of the guys in this area also carry guns,” the officers warned. I decided the incident was a huge wake-up call. So after I received my next check, I decided to listen to the officers’ advice.
“This time,” I declared, while walking into a store with my cart, “I am REALLY going to stick to my budget,” I said, while others watched. “I am going to develop the willpower I need to live within my means so I can move out of this crummy neighborhood,” I shouted, shaking my fist at the sky as a guy blinked. “I am going to shop at only at dollar stores, purchase only generic brands, stop blowing all my money in one place at the Arcade and the movies and carnival rides and—AUUUGGGHHHHH!” I shrieked, realizing that I’d already walked out of the store with my cart piled high with clothing from GAP, video games, and novelty items, including a Little Mermaid Barbie. “Oh well,” I said, munching on a Snickers bar and thinking of the Oxy pads I would need to purchase later. “Maybe next time.”