photo of grave marker inscribed with the name "Chalupa"

Tenderloin Blues by Kevin Ridgeway

The rain is slamming the one window of my thirteen-dollar a night hostel room as I gaze over the scum-ridden street watching all of the homeless people I naïvely gave all of my spending money to. My final meal left with forty-eight hours to go is staring at me from the dresser: a deflated chalupa I bought the night before at Taco Bell; the sour cream of the two-thirds that are left drowns out the room temperature beef as I scoop a bite of it into my mouth, wincing at the stale flavor of the Fire Sauce from packets I liberally applied to it as though it were an open wound. I haven’t slept. I have four roommates:  the German Double-Mint gum twins and their L.L. Bean gear that makes a horrible sound as they dump it onto the concrete floor in the wee small hours of the night. I am terrified of the angry French guy who looks like Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and doesn’t speak a lick of English. And of course, Damien, who sleeps on the top bunk above our Pink Panther doppelgänger. Damien wears trash bags for shoes and hails from the back roads of Oregon. He screams in his sleep and violently kicks the ceiling. The Frenchman consulted his French-English dictionary for hours last night with the light on. He finally got up and screamed at Damien “You…sleep…noisy!” about three times in a row. There was a lot of heavy breathing after that and before I knew it the sun rose behind the ashen mashed potato clouds. My Juilliard audition, my reason for being in the Bay Area, was a colossal bomb as I slept-walked through a soliloquy from Shakespeare while soaking wet from the rains—the rest of my fellow would-be actors slipped in the mud of my footprints across the wooden floor, remnants of my sloppy adolescent failure. And so I suckle on a spent packet of Taco Bell hot sauce, forty hours until the Super Shuttle will show up to take me to the airport where I will fly on a puddle-jumper home to Los Angeles, my mind completely duct-taped by street urchin memories and soured by the lack of wisdom a sixteen-year-old who can’t survive one fucking weekend in San Francisco tends to embody. All of the tourist spots were hidden from my self-imposed poverty and I saw nothing of that city other than its vermin and shuttered windows. I continue with my tragically condensed meal. The beef of the chalupa is tender; you cannot tell the difference between its juices and my own tears dripping off my razor burnt chin, forming a blood-tinged pool next to my loafers on the unswept floor below.

Kevin Ridgeway is from Southern California, where he resides in a shady bungalow with his girlfriend and their one-eyed cat. Recent work has appeared in Zygote in my Coffee, Red Fez, The Idiom, and Bop Dead City. He is the author of the chapbooks Burn Through Today (Flutter Press, 2012) and All the Rage (Electric Windmill Press, 2013).

Lead image“Chalupa” (via Flickr user JB)