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Larry lived in what was probably the roughest neighborhood in San Jose.  


He had driven across town to see a movie with friends.  After the movie, Larry arrived at a Jack In The Box next to the theatre, with the best of intentions.  Specifically, he wasn't going to drink a soft drink or eat any fried shit.


When he walked in, things changed.


A white homeless man, clearly off his meds, was arguing across the front counter with the Indian store manager, who clearly did not understand what the white guy was saying.  There was no intelligible communication going on other than "You get out!" and "Sell me a big mac, shit!"


Larry waited through about half a minute of this at the entrance to the line, behind the retractable belt barriers that were meant to organize the non-existent mob of customers into an s-shaped herd.  When the two belligerents began exchanging slaps, he could see things getting out of control.


Although slapping across the counter with gusto, the store manager was not able to make much progress on the hardened homeless guy.  The homeless guy was an even worse striker, and didn't seem able to slap someone right in front of him.  But it wouldn't be long before someone got hurt.


Larry slipped under the barriers, sidled up to the homeless guy, put an arm up in between the now flailing limbs of the two belligerents, and told them both to stop.


Larry had a way with people like this.  He told the homeless guy, once he caught his eye, "It's o.k! We'll get you a burger!" and told the store manager, "It's o.k. You don't want the cops!  We'll get out of here!" and repeated those phrases a couple times.  They stopped long enough for Larry to give the homeless guy a 10 dollar bill and ask him, "Please don't give this guy your business.  McDonalds is down the street, you can buy a Big Mac there!"  The homeless guy left, still exchanging harsh words with the store manager as he walked out the door.


The manager, once calmed down by Larry, sold Larry a meal.  Larry calmed down himself while he waited for it.  He felt pretty good about breaking that up.  Neither of the two belligerents were really happy with him right at that moment, but Larry knew he had done the right thing.  He got a smile and a thumbs up from one of the patrons that caught his eye as he turned toward the door.




Before stepping out of Jack-In-The-Box on Santa Clara avenue, Larry had zero guns pointed at his head.  He had a bagful of greasy food he was anxious to eat.  The bag contained a sourdough bacon burger covered in white cheese and grease that, in larrys mind, had already soaked through the bun, into the paper, and onto the equally flimsy paper wrapper of the onion rings.  The grease from each product mixed into the paper wrapping of the next, making it imperative to Larry that he array these food products on the seat of his car in short order, before the structural integrity of their individual wrappings completely failed, causing them to fall from the bag or entirely mix into a greasy pile of slew, which he knew he would eat anyway.


He pushed open the creaky brown-anodized aluminum double-door of Jack-in-the-box and out of the corner of his right eye he saw a young white cop pointing a beretta at his head.  The black cop to his slight left raised his glock a fraction of a second later.  Larry slowed quickly to a stop, raising both his bag of grease and his free left hand.  "Whoa!", he said.


The barrel of a gun to your head just seems like a horrible idea.  Most people who experience it can't tell you how it feels, because in that moment they aren't thinking about their feelings.  They're thinking more about how fucked up the situation is, and how they might express some influence on said situation, carefully.  With two guns to his head, Larry was thinking pretty hard about how he might influence the situation in his favor.  He favored not getting shot.


"Don't move!" shouted the cop in front of him.  "Put your hands behind your head!"

"What's going on?" Larry said, trying to seem as genuinely offended as he was, and not as shocked as he was.

"Put your hands behind your back.  Put your hands behind your back!" yelled the white cop, who seemed like a rookie.

Larry was able to comply, but too slowly for the white cop, who was holstering his gun and roughly pulling his hands behind his back.  Larry was vaguely conscious of his Jack-In-The-Box bag dropping somewhere behind him.


Larry was treated roughly, his questions ignored, and stuffed into the back of a squad car.  He kept trying to ask questions, and became more and more pissed off as the situation played out.  Part of him was happy to be alive.  That part of him, however, just encouraged the part that was getting more and more pissed off.


By the time they had brought Larry back out of the car, and the civilian that two more officers had brought from the parking lot to identify Larry had clearly explained that Larry was not the person they were looking for, Larry was yelling at the cops.  They decided to take Larry down to the station.


This all made perfect sense to Larry in the way that beating seals made perfect sense.  It was just part of the system that had always been around.  From grade school through the Marine Corps, this is just how dickheads he knew behaved.


The police kicked his legs, hit him in the back, and slammed him into a cell.  After unsuccessfully scaring him (words just didn't seem scary compared to gun barrels), they moved on to other things.  Basically, they didn't get so nervous they killed him, and instead got distracted by some other shiny object, while Larry was left to think.


He thought about boot camp and Frank Zappa.




When he arrived at boot camp, he got off the bus with maybe thirty other recruits.  He didn't see anything unusual for a while, except a whole lot of nervous fear from recruits that were not mentally prepared.  Fortunately, it was a pretty ethnically diverse group.  There were a lot of black guys, white guys, asians, mexicans, a couple unidentifiables, and even an American indian.  They were just stripping down, getting yelled at, and standing in lines.  Then he saw something that he would remember.


Sitting in a line of a half-dozen barber chairs, carrying half his clothes in his hands, getting his head shaved, he faced a mirror.  The mirror stretched across the barbers room, a good twenty-five feet, in front of the chairs.  This way, everyone could see their transformation, as well as the line of recruits with shaved heads behind the barbers chairs.


He realized he couldn't tell the difference between recruits.  Even skin color, you just didn't notice at that time.  You weren't looking at it.  Even if you were, it got a whole lot harder to identify ethnicity.  Even if you did, you didn't care.  Point is, everyone genuinely looked the same to him at that moment.


That feeling he had in that mirror didn't last long.  Larry learned no one was color blind.  Still, the Marines in the first unit he ended up in were still way cooler about race than 90% of Americans Larry had met.  Larry could approach and be part of any one of their groups, but they definitely gravitated toward their own ethnicities given no other encouragement.  He learned to handle that on a case by case basis and got along with everyone who wasn't a total douche, ass-kisser, or way-out violent nut-job.  He even got along with most of those guys most of the time.


Frank Zappa knew a lot about identity, Larry thought.  He was a long-time favorite of non-conformists.  What Larry remembered was his music.  His music told Larry that Frank knew individuals did not profess to be groups.  They lost their minds when they did that.




The cops gave Larry a lecture about how they were looking for someone that fit his description seen going into the Jack-In-The-Box, and even though the eyewitness had clearly stated they had the wrong man, they had arrested him for his own good.  After a half-hour of waiting in cuffs, and another lecture about how he had attacked them outside his cell, rather than the other way around, they let him go.  It was 3AM.


They didn't even strip-search him.  Maybe they were out of gloves.  He still had his black cowhide jacket, jeans, running shoes, shirt, underwear, wallet, cash, unmolested asshole, car keys, and socks.  God bless America.


He walked the three hours back to his car across San Jose.  The Mexican guys at the park on 13th street were all smiles, although he didn't want any.  Larry knew they were always friendly to zombie-like white guys with long hair, a beard, and a leather jacket at 4AM on a Saturday morning.  Larry just looked like business to them.  That was part of the reason Larry kept his hair the way he did.  Gang-bangers preferred people who did not look like cops.  Larry had looked like a cop when he got out of the corps.  Cops loved him then.  His neighbors wouldn't talk to him.  As his look changed, so did the people who could be comfortable around him.  At this point in his life, he had a great relationship with his neighbors, but cops and even a few of his ex-marine buddies were a little wary around him.


He reasoned about that as he walked.  


The fact is, ANY look is a great asshole detector.  The only difference between looks being that different looks detect different assholes.  Assholes usually behave as such to the people that don't look like them.  Makes it easy to pick them out.


The only thing that pissed him off about his current look was that every serial killer on the news these days had a beard.  He decided to chop the beard off when he got home.


When he arrived at the Jack-in-the-box, he was relieved to find that his beat-up 72 Mustang had not yet been towed.  He was hungry, tired, and desperate for coffee, but just couldn't bring himself to eat from the place.  He drove home and managed to drink a glass of water before he crashed out on his bed with his clothes on.




At 11:24AM, his green plastic AT&T phone rang.  After seven rings, Larry sat up in his bunkbed and wished it silent.  It kept ringing.  He had a headache, backache, sore legs, and couldn't find his way out of a paper bag at that moment if his life had depended on it.  But he was just barely able to reach that fucking phone and knock it off the dresser before passing out again.  An hour later he unplugged it to silence the offhook tone, and reluctantly got his day started.


When it came time to shave his beard, he paused in front of the mirror with the scissors in his hand.  "Was this what he really wanted?", he thought.


He knew he wanted to be a good person and stay capable of associating with diverse groups of people.  But he was tired of thinking about asshole detection.  He didn't need that.  He knew he shouldn't worry about being associated with serial killers, either.  But killing the beard might allow him to associate with cops again, maybe.  And besides, he was bored of the beard.  He cut it off and shaved.


Larry was happy with his new, clean-shaven look.  He had a strong, classical look, he reasoned.  Anyway, the darker it got the prettier he would get.  He began to get excited about asking Deena out at work that evening.  She had told him before that she hated beards, but flirted with him at work all the same.


Thinking about Deena, he was practically running down the stairs of his second floor 70s-style apartment complex when he left.  He was wearing his waiters uniform - a white shirt, black slacks.  He had the white jacket and black tie in-hand.  His shift at the W didn't start until 3PM, but he would be there by 2PM, just in case Deena was early.  Besides, it was a wedding reception, and he did not want to be late, get replaced, and miss the tips he knew were coming.




At the bottom of the stairs, which were of minimalist metal frame and concrete-step construction, he saw a dark object below the steps themselves, where his roommate used to park his bicycles before he learned that they would get stolen every time he did that.  He almost ran to his car, parked directly in front of the complex, but something about the shape of the object stopped him.  He turned his head over his shoulder to get a better look.


A small pool of blood leaked from a dark blanket.  His pulse picked up.  He froze for a moment.  Then he slowly moved to the side of the staircase, and asked "Anyone home?"


No answer.  His heart was racing now.  "Hey, wake up!" he said.

Still no answer.

Larry rubbed his forehead with the hand that held his car keys, then put his keys in his pocket.

Slowly, he approached the blanket.  "Hello?" he said.

He lifted one corner, slowly, near the blood pool.  Light shone on the head of a homeless hispanic man, about 60 years old, who was apparently bleeding from the mouth.

Larry shook what he deduced was the mans shoulder gently.  His hand came away from the blanket bloody.

This situation being clearly beyond Larrys medical capabilities, he left the mans head uncovered, and ran upstairs to call 911.


Thirty minutes later he was on the road to work, having stayed to answer questions for the paramedic.  The man was unconscious, but alive, and that's all Larry learned from the conversation.  He arrived at 2:45PM and jogged to the wait-staff break room.


Deena was already there, sitting with Nancy, sipping coffee, and waiting for their manager, Navid, to start the shift with assignments.  Larry immediately sat down with them, and inserted himself in the conversation.  Nancy, getting a clue, got up for another cup of coffee.  Larry felt bold.  He had made it through the last 24 hours alive and to work on time, and he had quite a story to tell for it. 


Larry immediately asked Deena out to the All show the next Saturday.  


Deena looked like she was about to answer, when Navid appeared out of nowhere to take roll in the break room and give assignments.  Navid was the quickest wait staff manager Larry could imagine.  He moved fast, thought fast, spoke fast, and got things done.  He was dressed impeccably in a black tuxedo.


The first thing Navid did when he saw Larry was say, "We don't have any extra white Jackets.  They are in the wash."

Navid then continued to hand out assignments to everyone else.

Larry looked at his jacket.  He had blood stains on the lapel from handling it after touching the injured homeless guy.

As Navid began to walk to the door, instructing others as to their tasks, Larry asked, "Can I go to laundry and get one dried special?"

Navid pulled up his watch, only slightly slowing his pace, "No time.  You will have to skip this shift."

"Can I just work the bar without the jacket?" Larry asked.

Navid stopped for a second, stared at Larrys uniform, then said, "No." and disappeared.

Larry would have to miss the most lucrative shift of the week.  


Well, he was still sitting with Deena.  That was something.


Larry considered the blood stain on his jacket.  "No matter what I do I look like an asshole.", Larry said.

"Yeah, you're right Larry.", said Deena with a smile.

Larry's jaw was stuck open.  Not the sympathetic reaction he had hoped for, and not tounge-in-cheek, by the look on her face.

She saw Larrys look, changed hers to consoling, and raised her palm to his shoulder, hurrying to add, "It's not how you look, though.  Like you said, it's what you do."

Larry stared at her in even more confused disbelief than before.  Was he *acting* like an asshole?  He didn't get it.

Deena examined Larrys face, and added, "It's what you *do* that makes you *look* like an asshole.  You aren't an asshole.  You're a nice guy, Larry."

Larry realized he had been holding his breath.  He let it all out.

"Thanks, I think.", Larry said, and leaned back a bit, recovering.

Deena looked down.  A bit sheepishly, Larry thought.  She said, "I have to go.  I can't go to the show, I'm dating Bruce."


Larry knew that Bruce was someone people regularly called an asshole, and he had to agree with them.


He watched Deena walk out the door, striking up conversation with Nancy again.  


Soon Larry was the only person left in the room, and his fingers began to tap out a Frank Zappa beat.


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