At the Axis of the Grid

Like most cities in the American west, this downtown is sickly during the day and moribund at night, its orange-lit, 1950s-era architecture only appreciated by a few homeless people. Two of these people stand in front of a modern blue ATM embedded in the side of an old building. If the building makes the ATM look incongruous, the ATM has a similar effect on the people. The woman in front of the machine is barely clothed, her thick body wrapped in a fuzzy cyan blanket. She wobbles from one leg to another and looks over her shoulder suspiciously. Her face is flat and deeply sunburned, eyelids fighting to push back puffy cheeks. She could be anywhere between thirty and sixty. A ziploc bag full of crumpled ATM receipts sits on the ledge of the machine in front of her. She inspects one and then, with a jerky motion, runs her drivers license through the card-swipe. The machine displays an error message and she jabs at the keypad until it spits out another receipt, which she puts in the bag. She looks over her shoulder again and scowls. Behind her, a man in tattered jeans, a dirty black t-shirt, and a crumpled trucker hat is folded over the top-tube of his mountain bike. He is either asleep or seeking nirvana in sidewalk stains. The woman runs the drivers license again and the machine coughs up another receipt. She stares at it expressionlessly and puts it in the bag. This process repeats itself for several minutes as the man on the bicycle sways gently back and forth, his face coming disturbingly close to the ground.

Then, suddenly, the woman is finished. The ziploc bag snaps quietly shut under the fierce pressure of her calloused hands, then she pivots awkwardly on her heel. As she walks past the man doubled over the bicycle, he raises himself and says: "here." A small wad of fifties changes hands but the woman's puffy face remains impassive. With the heavy footsteps of loose platform shoes, she stumps down the empty street.

When the man approaches the ATM, his movements are fast and efficient: swiping a card, hammering a pin, and withdrawing a monstrous stack of twenties. $400? $600? He does not print a receipt. His trucker hat casts a long shadow over his face as he jumps on the squeaky mountain bike and weaves down the road.