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The Elephants

Six Horrible Places

Zack Haber

Whole Foods Market, 230 Bay Pl, Oakland CA 94612

It’s so damn cold. I hate the cold. I’m feeling like raw organic boneless skinless chicken breast is pressing against my skin. It’s so fucked up they’d play The Smiths in the meat section. Light shines on the floor, the products—I can’t not see the bright white lights. They’re white like me. A sign over some produce says “Improving lives with every purchase.” There’s no subject in that statement—I guess it’s implied—it’s my parents—do they help people with their ca$h credit money? Cold things have an extra light on them. Lights and wires hang down from the ceiling. Try something pumpkin. A woman asks an employee where the sparkling non-alcoholic ciders are. He shows her. She sees it. Then he won’t stop talking to her about the sodas and ciders—it’s ok—no that’s fine—I can find what I need now—it’s fine—that’s ok—it’s fine I think she says. I think she’s pretty. I blend in here well. I’m thinking about stealing two slices of vegan pizza since I’m a revolutionary. Guy arranging lemons’s got a meticulous haircut and super round glasses. He looks like a librarian.

When I step back from the rows of products, they look a bit like confetti. This is a party. The cats on the cat food containers look solemn and wise. I hear and see what I assume to be a teenage daughter and her mom walking and arguing fiercely but casually like it happens all the time—no I don’t—yes you do—no I don’t—yes you do and the tone reminds me of me and my mother when we were maybe their ages and my mom slammed on the breaks started sobbing and telling me the way I talked to her made her feel so terrible. I can’t remember exactly what she said.

Some people here look fantastic and frantic. A tall strong red headed woman moves with urgency like she has to go to the bathroom but can’t go till she's done shopping. A baby is screaming. They’re telling the truth.

We satisfy, delight, and nourish our customers. With great courage, integrity and love we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities, and our planet can flourish, all while celebrating the sheer love and joy of food. Whole Foods used to use prison labor to process some of its trout, tilapia, and goat cheeses. They stopped this in April 2016 after protests in September 2015. Since I’m a revolutionary, I did end up stealing two slices of vegan pizza. I even ate them in the store. And in this store, in September 2015, a security guard (whose name was not released) beat up a Black man (whose name was not released), and left him in a puddle of blood riding off to the emergency room. The security guard was fired since Whole Foods stands against violence. As I sit inside Whole Foods, eating stolen vegan pizza, I am happy that they stand against violence.

California Department of Motor Vehicles 5300 Claremont Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

Have a seat. But I’ve already been called. Have a seat. But I’ve already been called. Have a seat. Ok. You still need to fill out an application.

Love is not a thing that is prioritized inside the DMV. What would the DMV look like if love were prioritized? There still might not be a waterslide here but at least there’d be a ping-pong table. Notice: Threatening a state employee is unlawful and may result in a fine and/or imprisonment.

This floor looks smooth like blood would wipe right off of it. The people here look mad but mad with tired. They look enraged but enraged with boredom. I feel like I’ve been up for days, but I’ve only been up for two hours.

Folks look like they got pains in their necks from sleeping inside their tvs the wrong way. They have static trapped inside their bodies. They got hearts with paper cuts from paper work. Folks look like they’re looking for something they’re pretty sure they’ll never find. But they can’t stop looking. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find it?

No part of this room is lighter or darker than any other part of this room. No chair is further in front or further behind any other chair in this room. As far as I know no one took any valium. But everyone looks like they took too much valium.

Now serving G One Zero Zero at window number One says the automated voice that’s as melodic and soothing as it is condescending. This voice is the god of this room. Now the air has a slightly sweet syrupy taste. But the syrup is rotten and I keep tasting other people’s unfresh breath. Now serving G One Zero Six at window number Three.

At Wells Fargo, the bank tellers stood around eye level to the customers. Here, all the workers sit low in a chair behind a desk so we stand and look down on them, like we’re better than them. It’s like the powers that be at the DMV want to indulge us in a (false) sense of power to distract us from the lack of waterslides and ping-pong tables.

And people are sighing. But what does a sigh do? Not much. It’s better than nothing. There’s a kid, looking about ten, looking all around at everything suspicious, like this is all an elaborate joke. There’s a different kid, looking about two, smiling and cheering everyone up. What’s that kid thinking?

Coliseum Lexus of Oakland, 7273 Oakport St., Oakland, CA 94621

I think it’s important that people know two things: 1. There’s a Lexus covenant, and 2. There’s a Lexus flag.

Since the smooth shiny floor of the Lexus dealership reflects all that the light bounces on I can see me in the floor. And I can see myself in the surface of all of these cars and there are even three clean mirrors in the bathroom. The mirrors are bigger than my body. It’s like the powers that be at the Lexus dealership want me constantly thinking about myself my whole body self. The basin in the sink is gold and has ridges. It makes me think about money.

It disturbs me how comfortable I am in this place. It’s hot outside so this air-conditioning’s refreshing. There’s a large supply of eight ounce bottles of Alhambra brand purified water that we’re all allowed to access. Dear lord there is so much free plastic! I feel ok here and I’m not ok with that. I feel like I keep taking tiny sips of bleach. And the bleach is delicious. I feel like I love it. I don’t. It’ll kill me.

Since the walls are made out of glass I can see inside the rooms where customers talk to car sellers about buying cars but I can’t hear what anyone’s saying no not anything at all. I guess the plants out front must be exhaust resistant. I guess this door must always remain closed—that’s what the sign says. One thing’s for sure though, the men that work here can wear some pretty wild shit if they wrap it around their necks. Things get pretty wild here. There’s one guy wearing a florescent green tie.

Does this Lexus dealership love Black people? There are five paintings here and there are Black people in all of them. Does this Lexus dealership respect all people? There’s a trophy here that says “Elite of Lexus.” It’s got six people in it, four who look like men to me and two who look like women to me. These six people are holding up a globe: end of trophy.

Apple Store, 300 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94108

There’s a tyranny of symmetry. There’s a tyranny of uniformity. There’s twelve tables here in rows of three; they’re evenly spaced from each other and the wall. There’s silver doors at least ten feet tall that only people wearing green t-shirts walk through. I only count sixty two workers here (they’re the ones wearing green colored Apple t-shirts (is that because they want to go green?)) but there’s many more folks walking round and shopping who look like they can’t quite fit inside their bodies. They’re almost there but they can’t quite make it. They look like they’re holding their breath.

Then there’s a whole nother crew of people who seem unsettled like they got rocks in their shoes and even though they’re breathing they’re breathing quite shallow. These folks, unsettled, just stand there and look at partners, or siblings, or friends, or parents, or someone else doing their Apple stuff.

What we need to do is to get them ice cream. But are they allowed to eat it in here? No, no they can’t eat it in here. Ok. Let’s go.

There’s a pale blond kid with an NYC t-shirt and a backpack with pictures of postcards of California all over it. We need to get them ice cream. There’s a woman here sitting with an SF shirt with the golden gate bridge on it just looking at everyone with her arms crossed, not moving. It’s been a long time and she hasn't uncrossed them.

A short woman is showing a tall man a watch that costs three hundred dollars. His face looks tight as he looks at the watch like he’s trying and trying and failing to thread a needle. But a little bit later I see a guy upstairs who looks dirty and pale and who had twenty three different metal tops of lighters embedded into one of his dreadlocks. He’s wearing a Detroit Pistons baseball cap that’s flipped slightly to the right. He’s on a computer using facebook and he seems pretty serious about it.

PIER 39, Beach Street & The Embarcadero, San Francisco CA 94133

God damn do I want some ice cream. The water here is green and opaque and thick just like green pepto-bismol. There are folks here with ice cream cones that are bigger than their faces. There’s a guy here who’s wearing a hat that’s an american flag and a peace sign at the same time. So today’s a bad day. It’s been an honor to show you something new and fun and different says the guy on the stage who just bashed his feet against (what looked like) broken glass and was loud for a while. Now’s your chance to be part of the show. Come to the front. Drop what you can in the bucket. I feel like it’s worth at least the price of a movie, right?! I don’t even think that it was real glass though says a kid who still drops money into the bucket. Thank you, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I am very appreciative.

A wall full of colorful cups full of colorful candy with first names printed on the cups A through Z alphabetically. I do know a Chuck but I’ve never met anyone who goes by Dick, or Ed. I see a double shot glass with the pride flag on it. There’s a left-handed store with a poster out front listing “left-handed heroes” like Obama, Oprah, Bill Gates, and Bieber. The plants are real here and planted in planters. A sign says they're maintained by The Pier 39 Landscape Department. Thankfully Animal Country’s having a clearance sale so you can stuff your bear there. I don’t see a single piece of dirt there still that place smells like a stomach ache.

Outside in the courtyard of Pier 39 kids are hitting each other while I sit down to eat some candy on a bench outside a restaurant near where some of the workers are smoking cigarettes and I hear one worker who must have been a waiter say you should have seen this customer I had yesterday. I mean he was a white guy but he was big. When he paid the bill he wouldn’t even give the money to me. He walked to the front and gave the money to the manager. He was like you’re latino. I don’t trust you with the money. He left a tip though.

This watch costs three hundred dollars but I’m all about how it fits and feels. I’m not the kind of guy that will save up for like a month just to get one outfit at Versace but you can get part of a sequoia tree wrapped in plastic for nine bucks and ninety nine cents here where many of the stores start with the word the. Like The San Francisco Key Chain Store. The San Francisco Sock Market. I wonder why they keep using the. The Perfect Purse. The Spice & Tea Exchange. The Cable Car Store. The Crystal Shop. The Fudgery. The Flavor of Mexico. That guy’s wearing a red shirt that says America Power.

National Firearms Museum, NRA Headquarters, 11250 Waples Mill Rd,
Fairfax, Va 22030

Stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks of guns—well lit, behind glass. Loud air condition. Barely audible music. Christmas music. Creepy grandpa den vibes. Soft yellow light. Dull browns, dull greens, dull reds; and blacks. No windows here. There’s no bright colors. A man with a smile through a long grey beard holds a cane with an american flag printed on it, wears a santa hat that’s military camouflaged and a shirt that says The Man. The Myth. The Legend. Pops—He says Katheryn Bigelow’s a leftist and her and her cronies need to die. I say I wish the NRA would give guns to the homeless.

There’s a guy walking around this museum with a gun clipped to his hip just in case he needs to kill someone. I feel nervous to go to the bathroom again because I just went a little bit ago. There’s statues of fierce boars, bears, and rhinos (they’re real mean looking like maybe they’re the enemy) surrounded by two elephant tusks. Four sets of six guns pointing at each other and arranged into the shape of stars behind a lush red background. The NRA Flag. Painting of a pretty woman wearing bright red lipstick standing in snow reloading her rifle. Painting of two men in a canoe about to shoot a tiger.

This gun wasn’t good enough. You had to shoot the Indians and the Mexicans three times just to kill them. So they made this gun. They needed something better. It’s interesting to like look at a lot of guns over history because they like follow the same trend as people. Only the best survive. It’s like Darwin.

The Charleston Heston Room. Guns stacked up in display cases over gravel. Portraits of confederate men staring with tired red eyes clenched mouths holding knives and guns. Guns in front of a Christmas wreath. Guns in front of presidents. Guns in front of a model child’s room covered and filled with Cowboy and Indian decorations. Room of movie posters (with people holding guns) over a velvet red background and the actual guns from the movie placed over the poster where the guns are. Outlaw Josie Wales. The Usual Suspects. Reservoir Dogs. The Hurt Locker. Katheryn Bigelow is a leftist and her and her cronies need to die.

Zack Haber is an organizer of poetics. Some of his work can be found in Datableed Zine, Armed Cell, The Capilino Review, 580 Split, Eleven Eleven, Sierra Nevada Review and other places. His little book, if you want to be one of them playing in the streets…, was published in 2014 by Quiet Lightning and Tiny Splendor. He’s hosted poetry readings and performances through The Other Fabulous Reading Series and other projects in the Bay Area since 2012. He works at Martin Luther King Elementary School in West Oakland. He just self-published a chapbook called Winning Office Politics Quickly, and he’s currently writing a book called Horrible Places.

This originally appeared on September 10, 2017