28: Kyra Droll

Kyra’s got a face like a friendly handbag: loose, tough leather with a lopsided smile that can zip closed if needbe. Doesn’t usually need to be. She’s been doing electrical long enough that her tar-stained overalls and smoker’s laugh are a kind of calling card. They echo in the walls of a thousand houses around here. Maybe not a thousand, but it feels like that sometimes. Skin doesn’t get loose and tough in a hurry, but it seems to Kyra like she’s always in a hurry. Not that anyone else would see it. She laughs easy, and decades of cigarettes have dropped her voice into a register that renders ball jokes with perfect fidelity. She never shows up at the job ’til ten and she never stays past six. She knows a little bit of everything – she can thread pipe and plane boards and throw plaster on the drywall. And she always has time to step away from the conduit she’s laying and make any of those things happen. It’s why she’s a journeyman now, or a journeywoman, as some of her guys joke. It’s why she works with the same guys year after year.

Winter, she hibernates in her apartment building up Central. Smokes spliffs and drinks from 24-packs in a ratty La-Z-Boy too comfortable to replace, even if she’s got the money. Slowly exudes the dirt and oil from beneath her calloused fingernails as she listens to records. Summer hits the ground running, right around the point her hands look clean again, her crew snaps together like magnetic beads from whatever holes they’ve been hiding in and she’s embedded in a sauna of huge steel-roofed garages and brand new condos with no air conditioning yet. She bleeds sweat at those times, even as fast as she runs conduit. She can calculate resistances in her head and they say she’s got some kind of truce with electricity – where other electricians flip the breaker and pray, she flips it and smiles. Domesticated lightning is a funky thing, she says, but it’s just that: domesticated. She coaxes it through circuits like a showdog.

Kyra is the only woman she knows, really, other than her Mother (God rest her soul) and her brother’s wife, and her brother’s wife’s friends. Figures it’s better that way, though she wonders. Wonders if maybe the constant “tool” puns and the “that’s-what-she-saids” and the apocalyptic beer runs are eroding some part of her brain she was once gifted with. No one’s made a move on her in god knows how long, and is it because she’s built like a farmhouse or because she kicked the last guy who tried straight up the crotch and into the hospital? Or is it some kind of aura of testosterone that floats about her? She’s never had trouble getting what she wants, she’d just like it to come to her every now and again without her asking. Still, one of the advantages of being a woman in this sea of masculinity: she can wear overalls, and spit, and smoke and talk balls and boners, and still have the power to drop an anvil on the conversation at any time with a well-placed period.

27: Anaximander Smith

The hair of Anaximander Smith is a threadbare gray cap, worn down to greasy strands by years of hard use. His wrinkles have become etched and jagged with years of single-mindedness, so that his face has become a caricature of itself. His cheeks are almost diamond-shaped now, his nose hooked and cragged like a hag’s. His eyes have the milky blueness of cataracts, but they follow every motion of the world outside the bus with rapt attention. His cracked lips work ceaselessly, forming silent incantations.

Anaximander is a wizard, as anyone can see. In his right hand he holds his staff, made from the neon refuse of the city – what would in a different time have been the legbone of an ostrich is instead a CB Radio antannae, what might have been a shaft of strong, wild Elm is instead a greyed and fallen branch found in the grass of Humboldt Park. A score of many-colored rods make up the staff; K’Nex, conduit, antennae of a half-dozen other types, silly straws and surgical tubing. The bundle is held together at intervals by rubber bands, twist ties, bits of twine. His wand, half as long as his staff and as big around as a summer sausage, protrudes from his disintegrating backpack. He carries a handful of others, works in progress, strapped to his backpack or stuffed inside. Each one bristles with feathers and dried flowers.

The bus stops, and Anaximander lurches suddenly to his feet, dashing out the door as if summoned by a secret force. Anaximander is a wizard, yes, but this is no world for wizards, and he has yet to find a young apprentice to carry his bundle of wands.

26: Marcus Fipps

Marcus Fipps is a mountain of nervous speed sweating into a brand new Xtra Large black t-shirt. His brand new blue baseball cap is soaked, too, and a black plastic bag bulges and bounces off his back as he cooks on the Chicago sidewalk. He waits for the bus, pacing.

He eagerly feeds his fare into the bus driver’s machine and slips on board before the driver can get a good look at his face. Not that the driver cares, but Marcus feels safer pretending that he does. He pushes his way towards the back and takes up position in front of the exit door, saying almost without seeming to speak:

“T-shirts for sale I got t-shirts.”

Strangers, people unfamiliar with Marcus or the neighborhood or just how poor someone can be ignore him. They hear him, each word perfectly enunciated, but they can’t believe this big black man has just stormed onto the bus to sell them t-shirts. He must be talking to himself, they think.

But a few are wise to Marcus. Maybe he’s lucky, and one of them is sitting right there next to him, and in hushed tones negotiates the purchase of two undershirts and a pair of shoes. The undershirts come out of the sack hermetically sealed in plastic bags, then one shoe. The customer pays in crisp twenties from his wallet and struggles through Marcus’s incessant, nervous, subaudible sales pitch to inquire after the second shoe. Marcus digs the shoe and a black plastic bag out of his sack. The two of them get off the bus together. That’s the best case scenario.

Where the clothes come from is variable, almost an afterthought. Sometimes they are stolen. Sometimes they are traded; for work or drugs or other merchandise the traders feel more competent to sell. Sometimes they come from Marcus’s brother, who owns a T-shirt shop in the neighborhood just south of here. It’s easier for Marcus’s brother to give him T-shirts when he shows up shuffling and sweating at his door than it is to talk to him. Marcus only ever speaks in that quick, quiet monotone that makes his words slip right through the brain. He’s been selling shirts on the bus for too long. He’s been doing a lot of things for too long, and Marcus’s brother would like to tell him that, but it’s easier to just give him the shirts.

25: Pam Getter

She has bedsores, but no bed. She sits with the door of her ’95 Dodge Neon open, her torso spilling over the sides of the driver’s seat. Her hair is fanned out over the back of the seat and the headrest. It’s strawlike, blonde, and tinged a little red as if someone ran bloody fingers through it. Her pale lips hang slightly open, and she stares into her rearview mirror at the wall of clothes and blankets and fast food wrappers that fill her backseat.

On the back windshield of the car, the words “MAKE LOVE” are barely legible in half-scratched-out red nailpolish. The window of her drivers’ side door is a patchwork of plexiglass frames, and towards the top the guy who fixed it ran out of plexiglass and used two metal grates from the back of an old refrigerator. When it rains, the water comes in through the slits. Thankfully, it doesn’t rain much in Los Angeles. Her eyes fall from the rearview mirror to the main entrance of the storage facility across the street. She needs to use their bathroom, but if she leaves the car for even a second a police officer might come along and give her a ticket for the thirty-six days she’s spent parked in a one-hour parking zone. She’ll just have to wait for her daughter to get back with lunch. She doesn’t know quite where her daughter gets the money for the food she brings. She doesn’t quite know her daughter’s age. All she knows is that someone has to stay with the car so that they can keep it near the rest of their possessions in the storage facility. And Pam has selflessly volunteered to be the one who stays. Not as if they can afford gas anyway.

Pam’s daughter has been bugging her to sell one of the televisions they keep in the storage space on the second floor. She says they need the money to keep the storage space. But Pam is so tired all the time, she can never get herself out of the car to go get the TV. And Televisions are heavy, and she’s not sure she could carry one, and she doesn’t trust her daughter with the combination to the storage room anyway. Or maybe she doesn’t remember the combination. She thinks she remembers it, but she hasn’t gone inside to make sure yet. She will soon.

After years of getting slower and slower, this curb across the street from this storage space is the place where inertia has finally caught up with Pam Getter. She thought she might vanquish it by leaving her poisonous bog of a husband, but the burst of energy it took to break free of his terrible gravity left her more tired than ever. It left her tired, and homeless, and destitute. She rushed out of the house in a rage. She took everything she could fit into the back the moving truck, and packed even more into her Dodge. The storage space was supposed to be temporary, a stop-gap to allow her to collect her thoughts. But she’s so tired. All the boxes they carried, all the forms and the yelling and the heat… well, after all that, Pam Getter stumbled back to her car and she fell asleep in the driver’s seat.

24: Tyler Brinks

Tyler Binks wears aviator sunglasses in the shade and would sport a bluetooth headset to his mother’s funeral. He wears skintight Henley shirts and drainpipe jeans that leave nothing to the imagination. He drives a Mini Cooper through the suicidal streetmaze of the Hollywood hills and he’s had plastic surgery to make his smirk permanent. He gets laid ceaselessly.

NBC pays for Tyler’s criminally overpriced mixed drinks and his designer cigarettes. He makes his money by sculpting other peoples’ lives. Mister Binks is an Associate Producer for Homeless Mansion, the next big thing in reality television. His job is to prowl the “set” – some expendable Beverly hills condo with more than its fair share of hooker skeletons embedded in the drywall – holding a microphone and looking for trouble. And when he doesn’t find trouble, he makes it. Executive producers in Big-Brother style booth whisper into Tyler’s bluetooth headset: “Mike looks upset. Go ask him how he feels.” “Tyra seems about ready to break down. Ask her another couple questions.” He is in the business of weaving a compelling narrative out of the relatively uninteresting lives of the everyman figureheads the network has seen fit to bring on television. He loves the job, because he believes it to be a well-paid stepping stone to real production work.

But beneath the rounded sunglasses and the permanent smirk and the tinted windows of the mini cooper, Tyler is a fairly average-looking guy. Scrawny, with short-cropped dark hair and a nose that points at the ground accusatorily. And he knows what he looks like. He knows that when he squeezes past a minivan on those suicidally ridiculous Hollywood streets, the drivers of those other cars are thinking, “boy, what a douchebag.” But to him, envy is the only authentic kind of appreciation. He got into reality TV because he envied the stars, and now he knows they’re not worthy of that. Now he envies serious producers and editors. And he knows that soon, he won’t even need to envy those people. All he can do in the meantime is make sure most people hate him at first sight. Because that’s how he’ll know they love him.

23: Annalise Crowley

Annalise’s fingers have been known to cut people. Not intentionally, either. Her nails cut like paper; the damage remains unnoticed for a few moments before the blood appears, and then the wound stings inordinately for weeks. That’s putting a bad spin on it, though. Annalise Crowley has the most perfect, delicate fingernails of any woman alive. And she’s held that title for a long, long time.

Annalise never paints her fingernails, but she paints her face. Even at eighty-five years old, her morning routine monopolizes the hours between five and eight AM. She applies blush, eyeliner, eyeshadow, the works, in a manner so skillful that she appears to be a much younger woman who applies no makeup at all. Her hair is dyed platinum blonde and she wears reading glasses as a pendant around her neck. And once she has taken care of everything else, once her makeup is applied and her clothes selected and her breakfast prepared, Annalise sits down and buffs her fingernails

Her fingernails are her pride, and her joy, and her legacy. They are the reason anyone even knows her name. Nowadays Annalise is retired, officially. She doesn’t need to work, but she visits the hair salon she founded fifty-six years ago on an almost daily basis. Her visits are never unwelcome. With her magic fingers, Annalise can shape hair according to her every whim. Her fingers are more deft than the finest comb, and what her bony digits can’t accomplish, her fingernails invariably can. She manipulates hair like a scupltor manipulates clay; she ignores the individual strands and shapes the hair as a cohesive body. When she is finished her creations are almost architectural in scope. Old ladies totter out of her salon beneath flying buttresses of improbable hair. With just a spray bottle and her fingers Annalise can work wonders. With hair gel she is a public menace.

Her own hair is nothing to write home about. She keeps it close-cropped and dyed. The most she does to it is a quick finger-coming in the morning. She long ago cycled through every possible style. It’s not quite as interesting to her when she’s experimenting on herself. Michelangelo never walked around with his paintings strapped to his own chest, and Frank Lloyd Wright would be a madman if he ever agreed to live in a house that he designed. And so it is with Annalise. She’s teased a thousand scalps to greatness, but her own is finally off-limits.

22: Antonio Arbuzide

Antonio is a man whose face is in retirement. Skin that once contorted in pain, that grew dark as real chocolate and thickened under the relentless Mexican sun, now spends summers beneath the brim of fedora. He has lines etched so deep into his face you could climb them, but he keeps his cheeks smooth with a straightrazor he’s had since he was thirteen. He doesn’t shave for the ladies, and he never really did. Antonio’s whole body is a callus, but with the stubble gone, he can feel just a little bit more of the breeze that blows through the train station where he spends his days.

Antonio wears old clothes with no holes in them. His eldest son, the professor, bought him a new wardrobe ten years ago because he used to wear nothing but his old farmhand clothes. They hung in tatters around him, and he didn’t much care, because in the company of the men he spends his days with, tattered clothes are a kind of badge of honor. But he was embarrassing his son at social functions, and so he got new clothes. Flannel shirts and jeans, just like he’s used to, but without the telltale signs of real wear.

The other old men at the train station still laugh at him about the new clothes sometimes, but they laugh at everything. That’s why they all get together, is to laugh. Three old men, two with white mustaches and Antonio with his cleanshaven face, their backs broken by a lifetime of labor and their faces lined with laughter. Every day they meet in the train station at 3:15 PM, when the tourists get off the train from Mexicali to stretch their legs. The sightseers and the punks and the hippies file off the train to get tamales and paletas and souvenirs, and as soon as they’re all off, right on cue, the train starts to move. All the gringos on the platform turn in unison. Some try to chase down the train, some start to cry. The train pulls ahead just enough to back onto another track leading to the next platform over. And the old men laugh and laugh.

They take bets on who’s going to melt down. They speculate on whether anyone is going to get run over this time. But mostly, they just laugh. And eventually the gringos see them laughing, and some of them laugh too. It’s at those moments, with everyone laughing, that Antonio runs a rough hand over his face and knows that every line is exactly where he wants it to be.

21: Giles

Giles is a brown and silver smudge somewhere at the edge of sight. He is the thing you think you saw, only it turns out it was just a shadow or a stack of rusty buckets. It is not actually either of those things, though. It’s Giles, doing something unsavory. He’s got streaks of white in his reddish-brown fur, so he looks like someone painted racing stripes on him, and his black paws and forearms look like little tailor-made boots on the ends of his nimble little legs. His eyes manage to be beady and wide open at the same time, as innocent as a dead tree, and about as intelligent. He’s neither.

Giles is the errand-boy of Arkus Fitch, professional housebreaker, pickpocket, cardsharper and amateur gardener. Only he’s not actually an errand-boy. He’s an errand-weasel, but that doesn’t sound quite right. And really he doesn’t so much run errands as he adds a certain thematically appropriate touch to Arkus’s ensemble. Giles loves Arkus’s ensemble. All the leather straps, and hidden pockets, and dangling sacks of such and such a thing are great fun to climb on. Since he spends most of his time riding on his owner’s shoulder, Giles never really has to walk anywhere, and so he has the luxury of using his feet entirely for sport. He will sometimes spend hours exploring the network of tunnels and compartments implicit in Arkus’s outfit.

Arkus doesn’t even feed Giles, he just hides food in one of his many pockets and lets the weasel find it himself. This has made Giles very good at the only thing Arkus ever actually expects him to do. When it comes time to break into a house, Arkus will send Giles through some tiny crevice so that Giles can climb up and undo the latch from the inside. Then the weasel’s work is done, and he’s free to plunder the larder of whatever house they’re in. He doesn’t understand where his master goes while he is eating, nor does he understand the profusion of bags Arkus always comes out of the house with. All he’s been able to figure out is that more bags means better food hidden in the pouches, and more and fancier pockets to find the food in. That information is enough to keep Giles unlocking latches, night after night, so that he can continue to play hide and seek in an ever-changing sea of pouches.

20: Miles Pendish

The kid has hands like water striders. They never stay still and the nails grow long and they get into everything like the creeping rot in this goddamn swamp. He wears mens’ shirts because there aren’t any kids in this town, and even with the cuffs rolled up to his elbows he looks like he might at any moment try and turn someone into a frog. His head is an earthquake hazard, balanced as it is on his toothpick neck. He hides his mismatched proportions under a blue trucker’s cap, and is saving his breath for after his voice changes. Miles Pendish is the unintentional mascot of the Blue Tip Bar.

No one can give a satisfactory account of where he came from, but that’s hardly surprising given the Blue Tip’s affinity for attracting blackout drunks. All anyone can say is that he walked in two years ago with a laundry bag slung over his shoulder, and when Big Tim the Bouncer jokingly asked for his ID, he dropped to his knees and started scrubbing the floor. The Blue Tip is not the kind of place where the floor gets scrubbed often, and when Miles managed it in one night, they decided to keep him.

Sure, he steals from the tip jar. Sure, he drinks gin like an old pro and carries a sailor’s knife and when Loose Lily comes in for a drink he rubs charcoal on his chin like a five o’clock shadow and polishes glasses meaningfully at her. But he keeps the place clean and he takes all his fights outside, and for some stupid reason the patrons like him. Clem Kelso, the barkeep, likes him too, owing to the little piece of herself his dead wife left inside him. So Miles stays, and Clem feeds him on pulled pork and macaroni and cheese, and they both wait for the day when the boy will disappear again.