The divide between rich and poor was always palpable, of course–try as American capitalists might to ignore it. It was constantly there. Looming on street corners where disheveled homeless men absently pushed their carts forward, occasionally jolting backward with a bout of delirium tremens. Popping out at teachers when certain children had an overtly dirtier, cruder appearance than the others. Manifest in the dazed out grocery store clerk who never dreamed he’d still be working this job past high school, damned to forever checkout tampons and then, later, when they became fashionable, bleeding cups for the rich bitches he had once tutored in English.
As the years passed, he watched each of them transcend from cuntrag cheerleaders to trophy wives of Pacific Palisades (he worked at the Gelson’s on Sunset, which for some reason, possessed a vague 60s-inspired art deco aesthetic–by California standards–on its facade). It took much less time than that for them to forget about who he was. It was as though, one day, a Rohypnol-like fairy dust was sprinkled upon each of them and they could no longer “quite place” his face. He became as indistinct to them as any other “service” worker. White noise to their colorful (read: expensive) existence. Of course, some might ask, if they were so rich, why didn’t they get someone else to do their grocery shopping for them? Well, the answer, as any Stepford wife will tell you, is that the grocery store is the place to see and be seen. The milieu where one can “casually” dredge out their “subtlest” couture in Dolce and Gabbana and Louis Vuitton. Where even something as “dressed down” as a track suit surely cost a bare minimum of three thousand dollars. And all in the sport of upstaging another housewife who assumed she was “better.” No, the grocery store wasn’t a place for maids or other assorted servants. It was a battleground for the fiercest of swans posing as tranquil peace-lovers to ruffle some feathers. Naturally, no wife would ever let on that she was irked by any of her rivals, instead offering overly honeyed words (driving home the point of disingenuousness) and passive aggressive compliments before shuffling along to the next aisle, plopping some overpriced organic item into her cart for good measure so as to keep up appearances about her (husband’s) finances and lifestyle to Mrs. So and So.
Devon watched it all unfold from afar, daily disgusted by their underhandedness. Their “poised” presentation acting as the veneer for their hen-pecking propensities just waiting for a reason to be unleashed. That reason, as it were, came in the early spring, when panic swept the nation. Whispers of the word “pandemic” thought but not said (more specifically, not said by the World Health Organization), bubbling just to the surface enough to make all the housewives come out in droves daily to add to their stockpile (particularly if the maids would no longer be allowed to travel from South and East LA to get there).
The aisles were picked clean of everything, save for any of the non gluten-free pasta. Funny how even in times of crisis, people still find a way to have standards. Correction: rich people still find a way to have standards. Soon, they were showing up in surgical masks and gloves (designer and leather, to be sure, for this might be the apocalypse, but that’s never an excuse to wear latex) for their daily shopping routine. One of the more enterprising housewives had even started to market her own line of “personalized” surgi masks for those who still wanted to make a fashion statement (because, it used to be that plastic surgery was part of that statement, but now, with so much of one’s face being covered up, what was it all for?). It helped that her husband was a neurosurgeon and had access to such otherwise too-in-demand-to-be-found accoutrements.
With the surgical mask runway show now taking place, the wives showed up in larger hordes than ever to showcase their looks, daily switching their masks to prove to the others their continued relevance in this time of disaster. Gelson’s became the hottest spot in the area not just because of having a platform to parade pomposity and in poor taste ostentation (more in poor taste than usual, even by a rich bitch’s measure), but because every other form of business–deemed nonessential–had been shut down. This meant that Gelson’s was the only watering hole these harridans could gather in to sustain some semblance of their so-called social order. And it vexed Devon to no end, who himself was in desperate need of a mask to protect his own well-being but had yet to find one anywhere; and no, his employer nor his own government could be counted on to protect him. He was almost tempted to ask Lara, a woman he had tutored back in the day and was certain had only been pretending to “forget” who he was in order to comply with the rest of her flock, if she could provide him with a mask. He was sure that in this period of catastrophe, she would allow herself to break down the wall. To dismantle the strata of “class.”
Doing his best to feel out the situation as she checked out a number of expensive, antioxidant-enriched moisturizers (after all, elective surgery had been dispensed with and at-home skin care products were more essential to these people than ever), he offered, “Hi Lara.”
She looked at him in a Halcyon daze. “Uh, hello…” She briefly tried to focus on his name tag but then started blinking repeatedly to the point of getting a watery eye. She must have been forced to skimp on her waterproof mascara of late because a line of black quickly followed after the tear.
“Goddammit,” she snapped. “This is what happens when one condescends to acknowledge the help.”
“I’m not ‘the help,’ Lara. I’m someone you’ve known since high school. Not to mention your fucking lifeline to sustenance right now. Which none of you even needs since it’s apparent by your frames that eating remains a cardinal sin.”
She shrugs. “I don’t remember you. You must have a good memory.”
“Maybe I have hypermnesia. Or maybe you’re just a self-involved fucking cunt.” With that, he heaved a package of toilet paper right at her nose job, causing it to curve slightly to the left like the botched operation it was. He then ripped her lilac print surgical mask off her face, snatched her purse and ran to the parking lot. Scanning the nearest row of cars, he immediately pegged Lara as the silver Mercedes-Benz as he clicked the automatic unlock button on the set of keys he had removed from her Hermès.
Sliding into the driver’s seat like he had been made for this car his entire life, he burned rubber as he skidded in reverse and sped out of that godforsaken lot. He knew the inevitable uprising from the other workers would come, too. They knew not so deep within themselves that they were the ones who would survive when the pandemic continued to spread its ravages. Strangely enough, Die Antwoord’s “Rich Bitch” flickered in and out of what was left of the radio airwaves as Devon sped past his old high school, where so many ineffectual beings had been nurtured.