The Weather

Vandalism of Yore: Early Civilizations on the LA River, Part Two

To read part one of Devon’s series about unemployed dudes engaged in a neo-archaeological dig on the West Coast, click here.

Eppersly slept poorly that night and got out of bed at dawn. He was surprised to find the others already at the river. Farnsworth had removed his t-shirt and tied it around his head like a nomad. His body was alarmingly pale and offered what you might call muffin-hard abs. Landry was throwing a shovel into the riverbed. They’d found a few items already and laid them out on the bank to dry. No one else was around. No kids, no bums, just a rising haze and the early morning sun.

“How long have you guys been here?” Eppersly asked.

“Couple hours.” Farnsworth nodded at the items. “Couple things.”

They’d excavated a wad of old newspaper, a pair of toy cars, and what appeared to be a mossy baseball cleat.

“You’re just in time,” declared Landry.

“He thinks he’s got something big,” said Farnsworth.

“It’s got an antenna, I can see an antenna.”

Eppersly stepped down into the water and helped him free a small space into which he could reach his hand. Landry grimaced as he nudged the item loose from the riverbed. “I’ve heard about these things,” he said. “A guy I used to work with said he had one at home, one of the older guys. It’s a phone, look, it flips open and shut.”

“If only there were some way to activate it. Think of all those old text messages.”

“But would we even be able to read them?”

“Doubtful, that’s Second Decade at best. A few common root words, mother and father, stuff like that.”

The three of them were so absorbed in this new treasure, and in the sense of loss its mystery inspired, that they failed to take note of their visitor: an urban youth. The urban youth stood with a backpack and an expression of smug amusement.

“What are you retards doing?”

“We believe we’ve found an early telephone,” announced Farnsworth.

The urban youth shrugged. “If you say so. Check this out.” He pulled out a butterfly knife and flipped it open and shut in rapid succession. He knew his way around the blade.

“Hey, that’s pretty neat,” said Landry.

“Yeah, well, I gotta go to school. And I can’t take it with me. So I’m gonna leave it under that rock, and if you fuck with it, I’ll kill you.”

Deal, the archaeologists agreed.

They worked quietly for another hour or so and came up with an action figure of a Mexican Luchador. The paint of the spandex outfit had been washed away so that the entire figure was flesh colored, making him appear nude. The lack of figurine genitalia had never looked so odd, thought Eppersly.

“It’s funny, that would just be a children’s toy today. God only knows what they used it for.”

“It could have been some kind of icon,” said Landry.

“Makes sense,” Farnsworth concurred. “You instill belief in a child at an early age. It’s only natural it would evolve into a toy.”

The three grew hungry and agreed to break for lunch. While Eppersly hadn’t thought to pack anything, Farnsworth had brought part of an apple he’d been eating for a few days. The thing was brown and sad. Landry produced his own lunch: a sandwich of bread.

“You ought to get some peanut butter for that,” Farnsworth pointed out.

Landry shrugged and took a bite. When he saw Eppersly had nothing to eat, he offered up a half.

“No thanks,” said Eppersly. “I’m going to go get something.”

“Ohh, fancy,” said Farnsworth. “It’s cool, man, we understand.”

“No, I just didn’t bring anything.”

But it was true: Eppersly desired something better. And such was his right. He was the only one employed and therefore the wealthiest of the three. So he walked over to a Chinese takeout on Glendale Boulevard and purchased an eggroll with twelve dimes. This he ate at a bus stop where he was nearly roasted by the furnace of an idling bus. He watched the people come and go from the little shops. He watched the parking lot of the post office jam up with traffic, clear out, and jam up again. He might have sat even longer if a woman hadn’t crashed a stroller into his knee in what he took to be a request for his seat.

Back at the dig, it wasn’t long before the three of them noticed an odd figure downriver. A man dressed in rags stood staring in their direction. He was remarkably old, perhaps even a little deceased. His beard was in wild tangles, his face wrinkled by the sun. He raised a palm in greeting, and the three of them waved dumbly in response. Then just as abruptly he retreated. He followed the water’s edge and hobbled up the riverbank to a row of graffiti-worn columns, and disappeared.

“Jesus, how old was that guy?”

“That was the oldest person I’ve ever seen.”

“Forty, you think?”

“He could have been forty.”

“Sleeping outside can do that, but yeah, thirty-five easy.”

The archeologists felt they had no choice but to follow him. And so they headed downriver and wandered up to the columns where he’d disappeared. They emerged into a kind of alcove occupied by shopping carts and a big metal drum that appeared to foster periodic fires. The old man was nowhere to be seen, and Eppersly couldn’t help but wonder if they’d imagined him, what with the heat, what with their fatigue.

The sensation that a jewel had slipped through their fingers was undeniable. It was a real bummer, this feeling, a real day-ender. They agreed to pack it up and return the next day. Perhaps they would see the old man again. Somehow, they felt, he must be part of the puzzle.

“God dammit,” said Eppersly, remembering then.

“What is it?”

“I have to work tomorrow. Tomorrow’s Monday, right?”

Farnsworth only shrugged, but Landry offered: “I think today’s Monday. That kid was going to school, wasn’t he?”

Eppersly dropped his face into his palm. “Great. Perfect. Fantastic.”

“Hey man, don’t worry about it,” said Farnsworth. “If you get fired, we can meet in the morning. If not, we can meet when you get off.”

“Really? You guys are cool with that?”

“Of course, man.”

“Of course.”

And so they agreed to meet either first thing in the morning or first thing in the evening. “I’ll buy dinner,” Eppersly vowed.

Read the next installment in Vandalism of Yore.

Devon Bixler was raised in Blacksburg, Virginia and studied at NYU. He lives in Los Angeles.