I turned into the parking lot of the 7-11 on Lincoln Boulevard. I’d been living in Venice Beach for a month and had made a lot of progress on my new novel but had not made any headway on new friends. I knew how to get dates online, but I had no idea how anyone made new friends. Especially anyone past fifty.
When I first arrived, I tried coffee shops, but no one talked in Venice coffee shops. They just worked away on laptops. I kept going to coffee shops to write by myself in the company of the silent. But at night I hit the boardwalk where I eavesdropped on conversations just to hear people talk.
I wore my ear pods and nodded my head, so it looked like I was listening to music and not being creepy. If someone said something interesting, I pretended that I was part of the exchange, part of their story, and I added my words in my head. I imagined that the nice people were my friends.
I’d spent the earlier part of the evening on my favorite benches along the boardwalk. My best listen that night was the woman who told her date that to be genuinely from Venice one had to stay AWOL. Always West Of Lincoln. I’d been AWOL without knowing it.
There were three homeless guys sitting on the pavement in front of the 7-eleven as I pulled into a parking spot. My plan was to get snacks and sit in my car in the parking lot and eavesdrop on people entered and left the store. I hit the jackpot with a spot in front of the Red Box. I liked listening in on conversations about what movie to rent.
I shut the engine and this guy, a small guy in his twenties, tapped on my window. I hadn’t noticed him coming over. He almost fell onto my window. He was clearly wasted. I got out of my car slowly, backing him away with the door.
He asked me for a cigarette. I told him I didn’t smoke. That made him angry. Maybe he thought I was lying.
I knew him. Or kids like him. He looked like one of my students from when I taught at community college back before I decided to leave the classroom and Boston and head west. They never got older. But I did. I looked at the kid and wondered if I wanted to be a teacher again. I did not. He was twisted and irritated and that made him dangerous. Besides, I had no advice for him.
I locked the car and headed inside without saying anything. He started to follow me into the store. Inside, I grabbed some cashews and a coffee. When I went to pay, the kid was mouthing off to the young woman behind the counter. Funny, she looked his age and she didn’t.
I felt bad for her. I didn’t need to. She kicked him out of the store with ease and grace. As I was paying, she told me that he was looking to either get the shit kicked out of him or get shot. Or maybe, she added, he just wanted to get arrested so that he’d have a nice place to sleep for the night.
I was too sad to stay and listen to the couple in front of the Red Box trying to pick out a romantic comedy. Who even had a DVD player anymore?
I gave the cashews to one of the homeless guys and got in my car and drove home.
Elan Barnehama’s debut novel, “Finding Bluefield” explores what happens when society’s invisible become visible. His writing has appeared in Boston Accent, Drunk Monkeys, Jewish Fiction, Runing Wild Books, NY Journal of Books, HuffPost, Public Radio, and elsewhere. Elan has been a presenter at the BostonBookFest, an editor at Forth Magazine, and a Writer-In-Residence at Wildacres Retreat, and the Fairhope Center For The Writing Arts. “Listening In” is excerpted from his latest novel-in-progress, “Undoing Things.” More at elanbarnehama.com or @elanbarnehama