The outside world is no longer the stage.
I wrote this story in mid-November of 2019. I didn’t predict a future pandemic and I didn’t want one to occur. Fast forward to 2020 and "going outside" isn't an option for me. As I, after all, have asthma and take the "shelter-in-place" order a little too seriously. Needless to say, a lot can change in a year...
Once per week as per all of my weeks for the past year and a half, I’ll walk to the grocery store. I have a car but I don’t drive. So my 2007 Audi collects dust (and dick drawings, AKA “dick figures”) in the parking garage because I haven’t moved it since moving to Los Angeles.
This is because I hate driving.
It’s also because I’m starting to hate going outside.
Because going outside in Los Angeles has become insufferable…
On my walk to the grocery store, just like my walk to everywhere else, people are glued to their phones. Taken captive by their glowing rectangles, to the point where they don’t even pick up their heads when crossing the road. These behaviors of the possessed blow my mind given the Mad Max style-of-driving that pervades LA: an otherwise great city if it weren’t for its recklessly loud Maseratis and brightly colored BMWs, all speeding to see how many red lights they can run and how many pedestrians they can nearly run over.
Yet the threat of death takes silver as pedestrians and drivers alike put their phones first.
I try not to let this get to me, even as another phone-addled person drifts my way, head down, their full head of hair coming into focus as it rams toward me. If I don’t move, they’ll run into me. And somehow, that’ll be my problem. So instead, the more civil option is to just move aside and accommodate space for them.
Then there are the scooters to compete with — you know, the ones that appeared overnight as if we’re all really just living in an absurd episode of South Park. Every morning they arrive in perfect lines, and every evening they’re scattered across the streets and sidewalks as if left behind by some growing faction of undead shitpeople.
As I weave through a pretzel of expired scooters, a live one nearly takes me out. The rider coasting by with his AirPods nestled in, and I’m not even sure he saw me — and if he did, I’m not sure he cared. That’s scary, but whatever, the grocery store is only a block away.
As I finally approach triggering distance of those automatic doors, an organization charity-shames me into donating to their cause. Posted up right outside those automatic doors, where they solicit in front of a sign that says No Soliciting.
I politely say no thank you, and try to get to that door pad.
But the solicitor gets mad at me. And presses me further about “raising awareness.” Are they aware that I constantly worry about bills, or that I’ll add up my grocery basket pre-receipt to make sure that my card goes through? This person, of course, doesn’t know I’m drowning in debt, and so I have to wave them off before I become the subject of a YouTube freakout video.
I fill my basket with groceries, adding up the balance as I go along. Trying to keep my self-diagnosed anxiety in check, as I head to the self-checkout.
I bag my groceries and leave the opposite way I came in, only this time my headphones are on and the music is blaring, the outside world put on mute for the return leg.
As I walk home, I see what I can only imagine is an Instagram influencer.
This person is dressed for a night out at two in the afternoon, doing unnatural poses from unnatural angles, as they take advantage of the royalty-free backgrounds of Los Angeles. I think back to last week when a couple of “Influencers” went to my apartment’s pool just to take photos in the hot tub and leave. Leaving me with the sensation that this world is fucked as it becomes purely disposable.
I make it to my apartment, ultimately unfazed by everything I encountered because, frankly, all of this is now becoming normal to me. Like everything else, I’m becoming numb to it.
We no longer interact, let alone smile at others as they pass by. And this is because it’s the world we asked for, a world in which people are too self-involved to say hi to a stranger. A world where going outside has become irrelevant. The outside world is no longer a stage. It’s just the background.