This was yesterday or maybe the day before. Late morning and hot already. I was standing at the corner of Wilshire and Alvarado, waiting to cross the street. A busy spot most hours of the day. The sort of place that if you’re at all like me makes you happy to be human. Proud even. People selling hot dogs and Jesus and most things in between: all the usual contraband, plus tamales, raw clams still dark with mud, hand lotion, peanuts roasted in their shells, hats and sunglasses, cell phone chargers, bronze giraffes. Beside me stood a dead-eyed young man I had seen around before. Head shaved, a little heavy, a lingerer on sidewalks and corners and the platform of the Metro, far too lost to effect any conventional hustle. They were really something his eyes. Unblinking, almost droopy, neither warm nor cold, far away. He said he had a question for me. The light was still red.
What’s up? I said.
He wanted to know, he said, why so many people went to college but there were still so many dumbasses.
That’s a problem, I said.
Yeah, he said. It is a problem.
I suggested that it was not the kind of problem that could be fixed.
There’s no solution, he said.
He added another layer to the conundrum: Some of the dumbasses, he said, thought they could be smartasses.
I don’t know what I said to that.
But the thing is, he said, you can try. You can try to fix yourself.
I agreed. You could try.
Sometimes, he admitted, even he could be a dumbass. But he tried.
Me too, I said. I tried too.
Then the light changed.
Take care, I said, and that was that.