VINDICATION by: Joey Barrus

May 5th. It was 10:45pm at Paladino’s and the jazz trio had just started another set. It was a cool night in L.A., not freezing, -L.A. does not freeze – just cool enough to chase people off the streets to find comfort in warming drink and tête-à-tête. I was engaged in such conversation with the table next to me when you came and sat down at it. After a moment of confusion caused by the interruption and my inability to bring things into focus, I turned my attention from the sympathetic wooden pallet to its newest occupant. Staring blankly at you, I pieced together your response to my last discourse and slowly I felt the shock of actually being spoken too. The rest of the evening was somehow lost, but I do remember struggling with an irresistible feeling that I should leave this place. Unfortunately, my point on intoxication had left all decision making out of my hands, so instead I enjoyed a couple more drinks and awoke the next morning to the smell of shampoo and fancy lotion. I untangled myself from you and let myself out without a sound.
I believe that life sometimes runs by us too quickly. I started taking pictures when I was 22; I guess that’s when I first started to realize it. I was in school and working full time and most days the world that I was a part of seemed to pass by me unnoticed. I remember a few times when I got home at night and I couldn’t remember a single detail from that day. I knew what I had done, but it was all shrouded in mist and darkness like I hadn’t really been there. It then occurred to me that life is very vibrant and very quick. There is something happening at every second, and if you don’t keep your eyes open you will miss it. Take Los Angeles for example. The idea struck me that if I froze one second in L.A., I would capture the meaning of life in the petrified drama before me. With one heartbeat, I could unlock the world’s mysteries and display them to everyone. No secrets, no censorship, just beautiful truth reaching into your soul. Would you dare look? It has been my experience since, that most people don’t want truth. They need a stable reality, one that does not infringe upon the so-called facts that they have already embraced. However, some do look; and what they see opens the door of true opportunity. Are the praised people of the world really that much more intelligent that the rest, or are they simply willing to look? Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Pollock. Were they geniuses or just open-minded? This is why I am an artist. I capture instants that people might otherwise miss. I’ve always thought there was nothing better than the truth, but lately I wonder if ignorance really is bliss.
The sun was rising over the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. as I left your place that day. The air smelled a bit fresher than usual, and the deep blue sky was full of cumulonimbus clouds lying haphazardly like God had spilled a bad of giant cotton balls. I stopped and closed my eyes as I took in the sun and fresh spring air. In other words, I broke every rule that I had established for myself. Never stop, never close your eyes, or life may send a curve ball flying at you.
I should have known better than to let my guard down, especially with a woman like you. You had reeked trouble that night, but I had been too drunk to care. I didn’t know about your double cross until I arrived home and turned on the morning news.
Click. “…young, local college student was brutally murdered last night in her Santa Monica apartment. Police say she was beaten and choked until she died. We have been told that they young girl’s friends had last seen her leaving a club in the valley with an unidentified man at approximately 1:00 am. The two are seen here on this club security tape, but so far there are no leads on whom this mystery man is. If you have any information regarding….” Click.
I had always been an avid news viewer; it provided me with a dependable source of paranoia. It had been a little over an hour since I had left your place in Santa Monica, and the news had done its job for me today. I was beginning to sweat and my breaths came quickly. I sat and watched my hands begin to shake as the ticking clock on my television pulled my ear into a rhythm with the passing of each second. The hands were motionless. 6:31am. That moment felt like forever…a realization. An instant frozen in time.
My name is Jake Hampton. I love sipping wine on the beach during the summer at dusk while the gulls fight over the remnants of lunched left by families long gone. I enjoy friends, painting and poetry. I love to dance. I used to dance for hours at various jazz clubs in the L.A. area. The music helped me forget about life while I enjoyed the pounding rhythms and the sweet smells of women. I remember my mother waiting up for hours until I arrived home that night. “People are crazy out there,” she would tell me. She was right. This world was much too brutal for me. Like I said, I wasn’t afraid to stare into the eyes of truth. Its burning gaze found me daily in my exploits, and every time I had my camera ready. I did not discriminate. My lens caught the beautiful and the ugly, and one by one they went onto my wall. That much honesty can wear on a man. Lately I feel stretched thin. It seems like there’s always more evil than good.

Ring. Ring. “Hello?” I mumbled, pushing the thin covers off and sitting up. “Jake! Where the fuck have you been?” I had been depressed. “What time is it?” I asked. The numbers were running together on the clock I keep on top of my television. “It’s eight a fucking clock, we were supposed to meet Chuck and Danno at Paladino’s at seven! Now get your lazy ass over here and pick me up! Cinco de Mayo, baby!” Click. Standing slowly, I pulled a fresh shirt over my head. I don’t feel like going out tonight, I’m not well.
I knew this would be a night like so many others. Shallow people having deep conversations about “the issues”, while never committing themselves to anything that might expose their ignorance. The game used to amuse me, but now I typically just drown myself in whisky until the night ends. I still wonder what made you sit down in front of me that night.
You seemed so different, but you were just another mess of flesh, fear and ignorance. Didn’t you realize what the truth is? You didn’t, but I had seen it staring at me in-between the grains of every developed print. So many lost had found their way to me through a shuddering lens. There empty eyes bore into mine above deadly daily uniforms – neckties, collared shirts and business suits that duplicate themselves down long empty hallways. They unconsciously blame me for their loss. Dreams and ability wasted on security.
That’s where you had been headed. A business major. A mother fucking business major. Anyone who has spent any time in business can tell you that it doesn’t require a degree. Starting your education in business is like admitting defeat and settling for a life of boredom and mediocrity. Allow me to escort you to your average sized home in the suburbs. You will have 2 cars, 1.8 children, and a pet. You will cheat on your spouse by age 40, you will break down by age 50 and you will spend your later years wondering why you never learned to paint. Your life will be spent in $20 increments. Your life – your bullshit life - will be spent in $20 increments. What a fucking waste.
Your eyes pleaded that night above that deceptive smile. You knew where you were headed and you knew you couldn’t stop. I heard your telepathy quite audibly as I made love to you for your last time. Then I listened to your breath slow, felt your breast heave, and watched the tears of gratitude slide away from your pleading eyes.