Gumshoe

When you thought about it, it really didn’t make sense. Who were all these people still actually chewing gum? Do you know anyone who chews gum? And even if they did, are you friends with the type of person who would actually spit it out on the ground? Maybe you are and you don’t even know it. Or maybe you yourself are just such a person. If you are, then perhaps this tale of woe will be beneficial to your understanding of why your behavior should be deemed a crime. For no one deserves the fate you invoke with your carelessness. Lydia Bain certainly did not. What did she ever do to deserve the day that one person’s piece of freshly-spit-out gum would create for her? 

It all started, as many things do, in The Mission. Like most pockets of the city, there are moments when one can tap into some kind of portal into the past, during San Francisco’s proverbial 60s “heyday” (complete with all the drugged-out paranoia and psychosis that caused people to do things like, say, serial kill). The tie-dye still abounds, for one thing, and the music being arbitrarily played by some guerilla DJ on a street corner tends to have a decidedly generic sunshine pop sound. One that seems designed to transport you back to an era in the city when gentrification wasn’t such a continued hot topic and source of contention, despite the ship having already sailed right into the Bay on trying to “stop” it. 

Lydia had walked in from the east, and immediately noticed the change in climate in this part of town, San Francisco being home to an array of different weather systems in each neighborhood based on proximity to the water and/or certain “blockages” (e.g. Twin Peaks) from the wind blowing in. Perhaps the hot temperature of The Mission is part of what made this gum so especially sticky…so overly moist. The very gum that she stepped in almost immediately upon entering this particular nexus. Crossing the threshold of Potrero onto 17th, there were scarcely a few blocks walked before she felt the familiar sensation one gets when they step into shit. And honestly, she wasn’t entirely sure if gum was the preferred “substance” to step in over a pile of excrement. Because one tends to have an easier time removing the latter. But gum, with its instant glue-like attachment, is all but impossible to get rid of once it decides to affix to your shoe. In this case, a mod-style black boot with a mid-heel and side zipper. 

Having realized her accursed fate quite quickly, Lydia urgently “pulled over,” so to speak, and tried to remove the gum by rubbing the heel of the boot back and forth against the sidewalk. Some of it came off in fits and starts, bits and pieces—but most of it did not. If anything, she was simply cementing it more firmly into her heel. One that she couldn’t help but notice, in this light rife for scrutiny, was much more worn down than her right heel. Strange, she thought, that she should lean more left when walking, clearly putting greater onus on that side to carry her weight as she mucked about on the streets. But she didn’t account for actually stepping into some form of muck in her excitement to flit around from one place to the other like a free bird. For you see, she had just quit her job at a certain soul-sucking tech company, and was relishing the chance to actually enjoy the city for once. And for as long as she possibly could before either 1) being forced to find another one or 2) being forced out of San Francisco because she couldn’t get one. Whatever happened next, her new motto was, Enjoy it while you can. Because, for too many years, she had sacrificed the hours of her youth to a company that only wanted to bleed her emotionally dry until she was just as much of an automaton as the rest of the employees and the various “users” of the company’s service. 

Lydia had very nearly succumbed to that fate until, one day, she happened to be getting off at the 16th and Mission station when she saw a homeless man she was, as usual, going to try to avoid. She was already aware of all the tricks in the book to try to stop her and get her attention long enough to shake down some cash. Including the arcane ability the “unhoused” had to sound like prophets, doling out visions of the future or assessments of your character that seemed to warrant payment. But, for the first time, what this man said actually struck a chord with her, as he kept walking next to Lydia while she scuttled up the street trying to dissuade him from keeping up with her rapid pace. But he would not be deterred, warning, “You have to quit. Quit what you’re doing now. Before you become one of them.” With that, he shrunk back, saying nothing else, and expecting nothing from her in return for his fortune-telling. 

She didn’t know why, but the words kept echoing back to her as she tried to fall asleep that night. Unable to find a comfortable position in her three-thousand-dollar bed, she suddenly felt utterly disgusted by her life and all the choices she had actively made to get here. And she made the decision right then and there that she would give her notice the following day, a resolution that brought enough peace to her mind so that she might finally get some rest. 

That was two weeks ago now, and this was her first “big day out” as an unemployed civilian with absolutely no plan or prospects. The gum was suddenly starting to seem like an unwanted auspice. Shouldn’t her first day be free of such cumbrances? That is, if she were to make “a thing” about reading into “the signs” of the city. The ones that were constantly there if only you paid attention. If this were, in fact, to be taken as a sign, it could be inferred that Lydia was more stuck than ever.

And then, the ultimate “sign” came. Clearly, she had only been meant to step in that gum so that she would pause long enough to catch sight of that same homeless man who had altered the course of her life. She took in his erratic movements, his guttural muttering. He subsequently zeroed in on a man wearing slacks and a button-front shirt and skittered over to him to say the very same phrase he had said to Lydia just two weeks ago. 

Turned out, there was nothing tailored about the message she received. The homeless community was merely a network of people who fucked with yuppies’ heads whenever they could get them to pull their heads out of their own asses long enough to receive a false prophecy. 

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