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Have It Your Way by:
Don Dunham

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Barfly Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien

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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

Walking down 3rd Street Promenade, on my way to buy something; I've been unleashed! No longer working at home, I am now exposed to all the "goodies" I so easily went without for two years; you really don't have to dress well when you commute from your bedroom to your "home office." But now, looking good, feeling cool, stylin', has become important again. It helps that I'm at my thinnest right now, which makes looking in dressing room mirrors an almost pleasant experience, certainly much less disturbing than when I'm feeling, well, bloated.

And what a trip the Promenade is. Lined with shop after trendy shop, overflowing with pinks, reds, yellows, greens…big splashy colors this year. Slinky pants, gauzy dresses, sexy shoes, high platforms providing that extra three inches I crave…swirls, dots, patterns, flowers. I'm like a tourist trying hard to look blasé, but the façade crumbles as I turn to stare at first one store, then another as though I'd never been out of Kansas. When the fact is, I've never been in Kansas.

Next to every store, of course, is a restaurant (eatery, bistro, café, food stand) with the smells of French fries and teriyaki sauce and big juicy cheeseburgers and sushi and cinnamon buns and burritos all blending into one tantalizing smorgasbord that makes my mouth water and my stomach grumble. But I'm on a quest for a bathing suit and eating would not be a good idea right now.

The thing is, it's not really the shops and the restaurants that intrigue me most; it's the people. It's the wild, crazy, totally improbable juxtaposition of people on the Promenade that literally blows my mind. Sitting over there, under that canopy, perhaps fifty outdoor "lunchers:" some doing deals, some flirting, some putting on lipstick, some telling lies. Most are pretty, tan, well-dressed, well-fed by the looks of their plates. And right there, not more than 30 yards away, a homeless man with a stench that forces me to avert my face, begging for money to buy food. I know, it's probably to buy alcohol or drugs, but maybe he is hungry. The food left on the plates of just those fifty lunchers from just that single restaurant could feed him and the dozens like him dotting the Promenade. But it doesn't work that way.

And beyond him, street performers, what appears to be a mother and daughter team, dressed alike in worn jeans and tan boots. The child is tops, eleven, and she plays that fiddle really well as her mother strums along on her guitar. They never make eye contact with the crowd or with each other; this is not "Music From the Heart." It's a job and they are routinely performing it much as one might perform on an assembly line, even as the child's vacant stare and exploited talent clutch at my heart. Child labor laws are clearly not enforced on 3rd Street.

Suddenly I hear the sound of someone talking and look over at a bench; a funky looking wild-eyed guy lecturing someone who isn't there, lecturing the air. No one seems to notice. But he is not the only person talking to himself. There is someone who should obviously be on meds or receiving serious medical attention on almost every corner or bench, talking, preaching, cursing at ghosts that only they can see. We have turned our schizophrenics into "the homeless." What a country.

One strange thing is that the weirdest looking people on the Promenade are often the most sane. Not always, but certainly bright purple hair, multiple piercings, tattoos, and a Slip Knot t-shirt do not make someone crazy; they might even be brilliant. Likewise, of course, the beautiful people (and they too are everywhere) could have combined IQs of 100 but who'd know; most of the people I hang with just treat them like eye-candy and enjoy the parade.

I've almost reached my destination but there is still no shortage of wonders on the street. How can that guy create those beautiful paintings in three minutes? How can that couple make a living selling Chinese jackets that no one is buying? Why is that incredibly obese woman eating an ice cream cone? Maybe she's the happiest woman on the Promenade, the most secure. Or maybe she's dying inside but no one can help her. Who knows. I do know that I'm going to have to pet that adorable puppy I see up ahead on the leash attached to the arm of a girl on a bike. I look up at her, and she's magnificent. A long blonde braid and a perfect face, and she smiles at me, and I at her, and she tells me, in broken Swedish, that I have something on my front tooth. A perfect (and I mean perfect) stranger, who very kindly helps me locate the offending piece of lettuce. I would die of embarrassment, but she has actually helped me; who else has helped me today.

I love the 3rd Street Promenade. It is a non-stop melting pot of every age, race, ethnicity, culture. It's rampant consumerism and hopeless poverty rubbing elbows. It's shining beauty and horrifying ugliness. It's squeaky clean and drenched in filth. It is a microcosm of all that's right and all that's wrong with this society.

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