“It’s getting hotter and hotter and harder each and every year.” She can hear the Sublime song play over the radio as she takes the order of an orange-skinned blonde and her matching Ken doll boyfriend. Era was surprised that someone as twiggish as she would deign to consume a burger, or really any food item that was ostensibly larger than a head that seemed only capacious enough to house a bird brain.
It is the thick of 1996. Bob Dole has just fallen down from a stage in Chico, shrugging off his decrepitude by “quipping” he was trying to do the “Macarena.” The world is a bland place to be in. And all Era can dream about is trading the twentieth century for the twenty-first. Meanwhile, the phrase, “It’s getting hotter and hotter and harder each and every year,” keeps reverberating in her mind. An ominous portent of another summer spent in the fucking Valley. But if she can just save up enough from this shitty menial job, maybe she can finally afford a place in Santa Monica. A room of one’s fucking own–isn’t that what it always comes down to in terms of the sacrifices we make in life? Love and affection will always be secondary to the pleasures of not sharing a domestic space for the sake of squirreling away a few extra alms. The latter objective was Era’s only concern when Mirez walked into the place.
He was undeniably dashing in that way that white men can’t be without putting a lot of time and money into it. He was effortless in his striking handsomeness. Scruffy and unkempt, yet somehow looking as though he had spilled out from the contact sheet of a cologne ad. Still, Era was not shaken out of her heat-induced zombie state as she droned, “Welcome to In-n-Out, what can I get for you today?”
Mirez grinned. “Oh, I’m not sure. I’ve never been here before.”
She was momentarily shaken out of her coma. “What?”
“Yeah. I just moved to California.”
“Bully for you.” She was starting to lose her patience and suddenly realized Mirez was exactly like all other attractive people in that he assumed he was owed more attention and fawning than the average person. “Well, it’s pretty straightforward. Why don’t you get the Double-Double with fries and–”
Era sighed. “Yeah. That work for you?”
“No, but you do. And I’d like to know a little bit more about you before I order. Can you take your break?”
Though Era had been slaving away as a cashier for almost a year now, this was the most unprecedented thing that had happened to her. She didn’t consider herself “hot” enough to be pursued in so blatant a manner, and she had to admit she was intrigued.
“I guess I could have my cigarette…” She turned over to Rita, her matriarchal co-worker who somehow supported a family of three on this wage and said, “Rita, I’ll be back in ten.”
“Make it five, Princess.” Oh the joys of manual labor.
Outside, amid the cluster of dumpsters, Mirez got to his point. “You have a certain look that I think I could use for this film I’m making. What’s your name?”
He blinked. “I’m sorry, what? Hera? Is that like a stage name?”
“No. Era. As in ‘the end of an.'”
“You’ve had that line rehearsed for a while now, haven’t you?”
“Not everyone is trying to be in a movie.” She took a drag. “And what’s your name anyway?”
“What, you don’t believe me?”
“I don’t believe in anything except getting through the rest of this shift without melting into a pile of grease more dense than what comes off of those burgers.”
“You’re lucky you don’t work on commission.”
She glared at him. “In any case, Mirez, I’m not interested in being an actress. Especially if you’re typecasting me as some sort of ‘offbeat’ underdog in the running for a matinee idol’s affections.”
“So you’d rather keep working in a position suited for a trained monkey?”
That was the last straw for Era. She tossed her cigarette on the ground and stubbed it out with her black Ked.
“My five minutes are up.”
The rest of September continued without incident after Dole fell and Mirez essentially accused Era of wasting her life. Every day, like clockwork, it seemed KROQ would play “April 26, 1992” on the hour. Era had to marvel at the fact that Brad Nowell and his bandmates did that white boy thing wherein a massive affront to black people somehow turned into a frivolous story about their own involvement in it (themselves seeing fit to profit off the looting by picking off some music equipment and furniture). Yet she had to admit, as the years passed, and, at long last, that transition into the twenty-first century that she had been yearning for occurred, the words of a since dead Nowell remained increasingly resonant: “It’s getting hotter and hotter and harder each and every year.”
When the song came on twenty-one years later, as Era was driving to her latest thankless profession (she had succumbed to Mirez’s prediction of caving to the film industry by becoming a middling director’s first assistant) on the 405 in the midst of the Skirball Fire’s most iconic rage, she could only laugh as the flames felt like they might engulf her car to the tune of this song. Yes, the world was quite finished with having all these maggots tearing into its very core with their own endless amount of heat. For the human body is a walking furnace in terms of radiation from internal activity. The Earth was just giving back what it had been given, no longer able to support the countless husks feeding off of its ever-shriveling titty. The fires, the earthquakes, the tsunamis, the tornadoes. It was all just Earth’s not so subtle way of shrugging off the unrewarding burden of playing host to humanity.
Stopped momentarily in traffic before what appeared to be the gateway to hell, Era lit a cigarette that she would end up tossing into the kiln as she drove past–the hippie-dippy California cliche of loving ceramics taking a new shape.