This house is renting for $1800 a month. It has four bedrooms and three bathrooms and lots of woods and trees and a whirlpool bath solarium. That’s $650 more than I was paying for a jelly jar-sized studio in Brooklyn with a leaky ceiling. And I know this place isn’t in the city, it’s in Connecticut, which, well, maybe everyone doesn’t want to live there. But it is a little seaside town with vineyards and I bet there are parades along Main Street for July 4 and a cute little library. But it might also be one of those insulated little places that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders, especially ones that look like me, and I might get the side eye a lot as I buy groceries and magazines and beer. And I would wave and smile at my neighbors and try to become a regular at the local watering hole, but I might just get a chilly head nod back, which isn’t totally atypical for Connecticut, or New England in general, but I would be uncomfortable and start to hate leaving the house. And I would hole up that large colonial, albeit one with four bedrooms, but all that room wouldn’t be a comfort, it would give me more space to be paranoid and imagine that the sheriff and a gaggle of townsfolk will march to my door and throw a brick through the solarium window and shatter my dreams and hopes of a life with space outside of the city, far from the subway. Okay, maybe teeny, tiny, dumpy Brooklyn studios aren’t so bad. Not a ton of physical space, but maybe there’s more room for other stuff.
I’ve been back in New York for thirty-seven days. It’s been really great being home (the only exception, the only black spot is my new job; my bosses talk to me like I’m bowl of ratatouille– slow to move and incapable of comprehending English), but there are things, so many things I miss about Los Angeles.
- My little Fiat. It was my last rental car and had my total heart. That little car could’ve kept me in LA, I adored it so much.
- The crunchy french toast at the Standard Hotel.
- Ray. It goes without saying. Me miss you.
- Afternoons at the Beverly Hills library.
- Target in Glendale. Best. Target. Ever.
- Lucky moments: waiting in line for the Stanley Kubrick show at LACMA, not really wanting to spend $20 on a ticket. Someone from behind me shouts out “Anybody want a free ticket?!” Yay, me, I do!
- Listening to audiobooks in my car.
- Driving along 3rd Street.
- Lynn. I miss my buddy like whoa. I miss our food adventures and long, long, long talks.
- No rain. Tony! Toni! Tone! was right. It never rains in Southern California.
- The windy, slopey, scary, make you wonder if you’ll ever see your family alive again right angle roads in Topanga Canyon. But the view. Boy, those views.
- Hanging out with Bridget and Emily and little cutie pie Finley. They made me happy, they made me laugh, they made me feel like I had family close by.
- Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway.
- My route to work– west along 3rd Street, left onto La Cienega, right onto Wilshire Blvd.
- Donuts at SK Donuts. Thanks, Ray! I really needed to gain those extra ten pounds before leaving.
- Walking through Larchmont Village early evening– the kids would play in the streets, the smell of jasmine was everywhere, it made me want a house with a tire swing in the yard.
- Happy hour margaritas at Tortilla Republic. Thanks for the heads up, Ray!
- Book Soup and Skylight Books were my favorite book stores.
- Late night toasted plain bagels with cream cheese and tomato at Fred 62.
- Veggie Grill— missing the Caesar salad with buffalo “chicken.” Thanks for the suggestion, Lynn!
- My coworkers. The customers were ten tons to deal with, but I loved everyone I worked with. When I get sad at my new crappy job, I just hear “Mister, mister, sir” and “Thank you for your cooperation and support,” and I get happy again.
- The Landmark movie theater.
- Buying one bottle of Perrier at a time at the 7-11 on 3rd and S Vista.
- Going to the Grove right before closing time.
- Getting lost.
- Listening to KROQ 106.7.
- Hunting down the cheapest gas prices.
- Randomly catching the smell of the ocean. Once I was on Fairfax just east of 6th and smelled salt water for no reason, because it’s not near the beach, but I got goosebumps and nostalgia.
- Discovering new old places. Casey took me to the Dresden (a restaurant that’s been in Los Feliz for damn near sixty years) and we listened to Marty and Elayne (lounge singers who have been playing and singing there since the Civil Rights movement probably) and Casey requested “Cheek to Cheek” for me and I swayed on my bar stool and drank tequila and club soda.
- The Marie Callender’s salad bar.
- Anything and everything involving Damon’s Steakhouse. Ray, you changed my life. I’m having my wedding reception at Damon’s.
- Late night trips to Von’s. Any trips to Von’s, really. I liked that grocery store. The one on Melrose had a little table with books for a dollar. You took a book and put a buck in a huge, empty water jug.
- Beer and fish and chips at the Reel Inn.
- The weather– mid 70’s, constant sunshine, no humidity.
- Recognizing parts of the city from movies I’ve seen. You get that with New York, too, but it’s different and more novel to me in LA.
- Wonderful long lunches with Luanne.
- The feeling you get that California really is a majestic place, as beautiful and historic as you expect it to be. The past feels actualized somehow in the weather, the architecture, the landscape, you feel rooted in something that feels simultaneously very right now and very back then. Which of course is true for most places, but there’s something about the space, the odd circus people, and the range from ocean to mountain that makes it feel singular. It makes me feel like I can’t wait to go back.
One of my little sisters is getting married next July, and yesterday was a great time of florist consultations and bridesmaid dressing shopping. I went up to New Haven and we met Luigi the florist (who is so sweet and cute and has a little potbelly that he rests his hands on and he’s from Italy, but his accent makes him sound like Rene the Cajun from the first season of True Blood). Then we went to the Olive Garden (yippee for unlimited salad and breadsticks!), then we got Barbara from David’s Bridal to help us decide between chiffon and satin, and then we got scoops of strawberry and sweet cream in freshly baked waffle cones! Of course we were all snoring and sound asleep by 9pm (but not me, really, because I was sneaking peeks at Eat, Pray, Love on TBS). Mucho fun, I say!
Yesterday afternoon, I was killing time at the Strand and came across Here and Now— a collection of published letters between Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee. When I finish reading Blue Plate Special, I will purchase Here and Now (with the four remaining dollars in my checking account, God, I think I will have a job by next week, please don’t let the repo man come and take away my books). Apparently Coetzee and Auster were familiar with each others’ work, but weren’t closely acquainted until their correspondence began. Shortly after meeting, Coetzee wrote Auster and suggested that an epistolary exchange would be a way to “strike sparks off each other,” and so began a three year relationship of letters.
When I was twenty, I went to visit a friend in London. On the last night of our trip, we went out dancing (for the eighth night in a row, I’m sure. Even if I tried to do that now, I’d be too haggard and sleepy to be allowed entry into any decent nightclub. But back then, boy, I had that brio of youth that made me bounce like a ponytail into every bar night after night after night) and I met a guy named Jonathan. The details are hazy, but he and I danced for the first half of the night (I do remember him telling me that I danced like I was on a pole, which, well, yeah, I’m not sure if that makes him seem gross and sleazy or me seem young and stupid, but upon hearing his observation, I’m sure I bucked my hips and threw my hands in the air), and we kissed and kissed and kissed for the second half of the night. We made out as though we’d been dating for years and he was off to war and we’d never see each other again. At some point between kisses and gasps and pants, we exchanged addresses and vowed to keep in touch. After three hours, some alleged erotic dancing, and a bunch of Marlboro Lights, I now had a pen pal. He lived in Essex, I lived in the Bronx, and I was sure that I loved him.
We did write to each other. For about a year, we wrote back and forth, sending pictures and scribbling jokes onto the envelopes, we kept in touch. The lag between sending and receiving a letter was around two weeks, and I felt hair-rippingly wild by the time the weeks had passed and I finally received a note from him in the mail. I came to recognize his long, slanted handwriting, and I would read each letter over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. I carried them in my purse. I felt alive. I don’t remember us writing anything overtly sexual or even romantic (nothing of the “you look like a pole dancer” variety), but I do remember expressing our good fortune to have found each other. We wrote that a lot. How lucky I am to have danced that night with you. He wrote me from Tanzania and Zimbabwe where he was working as a chef at hotel restaurants. He sent me pictures from his culinary school graduation. I wrote to him about auditions and books I was reading and how much I wanted to travel. We wrote about trying to see each other. I imagined a life for us between the letters, on the same continent, dancing together one more time.
I can’t remember how we fell out of touch. I started dating someone who used up all my energy in the worst possible way, he continued to travel through Africa for work. I got an email (not a letter) from him after September 11th asking if I was okay. I remember responding, but I don’t remember what I said.
A few months ago, I sent a friend an email about a memorable encounter I’d had with a coworker. A few days later, my friend sent me a text message saying he’d enjoyed my email, but wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I texted back, telling him it was no problem, no need to respond. And I wasn’t really lying, I don’t think. Because I suppose if you have to ask for a response or tell someone how to reply, some of the beauty of the exchange gets lost. What was so remarkable about my correspondence with Jonathan was that we weren’t really asking for anything at all. We were just paying attention to that little need in both of us that kept wanting to connect, that kept asking for more. A letter contains someone’s DNA; it carries a piece of the writer wherever it goes. Jonathan and I, for just a short little while, agreed to keep sending and receiving pieces of ourselves. We were still kissing even though we were miles away from each other.
There are a few things that could have kept me in Los Angeles, and my coworkers are definitely one of them. On my second to last night in La La Land, we met for what was supposed to be a quick post-work drink at the Surly Goat in West Hollywood. Five hours later, we left behind the karaoke and drunk screaming girls in flip flops. I laughed all night! I knew I was going to be hungover and I didn’t care! I sang along to “Shout” and “Jumping Jack Flash”! But I also cursed the gods– one of my reasons for coming back to New York was missing my friends and feeling socially isolated in LA. But then I go and have the best frigging time with Ray and Olya and Kristen and and John and Juston and Diego and Mark and Brian and Ian and Diego’s brothers and that girl who kept bumping into me on the bathroom line, and I’m just like “Drats! Of course this happens as I’m leaving.”
Oh well. Just means I’ll have to go back sooner than I expected.
I have a one-way ticket leaving LAX and arriving at JFK on July 5th, and I can’t help thinking that somewhere between Elmwood and Wilshire, somewhere along Third Street, somewhere on Emily’s couch, somewhere in line for Veggie Grill, somewhere in the aisles of the Beverly Hills library, somewhere at the counter of Fred 62, somewhere near that little pocket of La Cienega that smells like a campfire (I don’t know what it is or where it comes from, but I roll down my windows and I could eat that smell), somewhere there is a part of me that doesn’t want to go.
But I’m not sure I want to stay either, and these constant in-betweeny, life-so-meany feelings have typified my time out here. I like being alone, but I’m lonely. I’m grateful for the free time, but I spend most of it asleep. I was glad to get a break from “real life,” but I feel disconnected. And it’s been hard, really hard, to fess up and own all of my expectations and raging disappointments. I figured I could come out to Los Angeles and be on my walkabout and live in a freer and richer way. I thought I would ignite a desire that I often find myself wanting to tamp down. I came out here to chase life and wound up sleeping too much and making soy, decaf lattes with extra sides of steamed milk.
Or so it feels. It’s much more involved, I know. There’s been the good, there’s been the not so good, and there’s been the holy shit, I came to Los Angeles and lost my righteous mind and I’m staring into the abyss and it’s black just like they say and good God, how does anybody find the energy to love or write or drink soda or get dressed or pump gas or care about a neighbor when the world feels this small and dismal? Yeah, there’s been some of that, too.
But I can say this. I believe that I’m looking for something (someone? myself?), and that quest won’t end when I get off the plane. There is a search here, I have questions about how to live, about how I live, and as utterly lost as I’ve felt, there is a part of me that feels firmly guided by this curiosity. And there are moments. Small seconds when I feel like I’m brushing against something important, there is something that’s calling out. When I was in Austin a while back, we went to a brewery and afterwards we walked to our cars. The Texas air was solid with humidity, I was two beer giggly, the grass was freshly cut, you could smell everything. My friends were there with me, the night was in front of us, there was a breeze that caught the hem of my shorts. I felt young, but mature. I felt like I belonged to something, to other people. I was caught in that moment that seems to exist only in musicals– that pre-song minute when words fail, and the only thing that can express your wildness is a showtune, I felt ready to snap my fingers and yell “hit it, boys!” and cha-cha-cha my way back to the rental car. But mostly I felt like my life was cracking open and offering me the very great gift of possibility. Anything could happen. Anything could have happened out here in LA. Anything could happen in New York. I’m just hoping that I’m paying close enough attention to notice.
I love Mondays. I like how they have their own slow kind of rhythm, how the world feels like it takes the entire Monday to wake up after the weekend. I didn’t always love them– when I was still in school, when I had an office job, Mondays would make me want to torch myself. But now, even if I have to work on a Monday, I never dread it. Monday no longer seems crummy and gross, it just feels like a little cub of a day. Nothing to take too seriously– a day you know you’ll finish the crossword and make a post office stop.
It’s 7:39 am in Los Angeles on this Monday morning. I’m going to try to make this smoothie for breakfast. In an hour, I’m going to swing by Lynn’s to pick her up for our morning walk. I will go to the restaurant later and pour one billion iced teas, I think I need to get my eyebrows threaded this afternoon, and I’m going to a casting workshop this evening (sigh, that frigging thing actually feels like the bad part of Monday– a bunch of actors auditioning for a casting director always feels like a bad first date skit on SNL– lots and lots of nervous laughter), and tonight I’ll…well, I don’t know what I’ll do. And what could be better than that?
Last week I:
- Realized that even though I try to branch out, the only bags that make me truly happy are L.L. Bean totes. Any size, any color, any monogram. I think even if I hit the jackpot one day and splurge on a monogrammed Goyard suitcase, I’ll still tug around my tote bag.
- Made this cookie dough last night at ten pm. Apparently the secret to cookie happiness is the chill factor– the dough has to sit in the fridge for 36 hours.
- Drove down to Costa Mesa on Saturday evening to see Smokefall at South Coast Repertory. The theater was beautiful, the drive was lovely, before the show I walked over to Scott’s Seafood and had a glass of champagne and read Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro and chatted with a woman sitting next to me at the bar. She was in her fifties and had a short, little hair-sprayed helmet of curls and she was wearing a purple pants suit and had French manicured nails and she told me she was dragging her husband to see Billy Elliot and he was sitting next to her and looked a little like Santa Claus and he didn’t say much, didn’t even look her way as she talked and talked and talked, and I wondered if she ever got a little lonely, but when they were leaving, he put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed them in the most loving, we’ve been married for thirty years kind of way, and he said “Ready?” and I thought maybe she didn’t feel terribly lonesome after all.
- Woke up early Thursday morning so I could drive over to the touristy part of Hollywood Boulevard before work. I went to a souvenir shop and bought a California ashtray and some Hollywood postcards. I tried to find an “Eboni” key chain, but alas, that name doesn’t seem popular enough to get its own star-shaped trinket.
- Finally got back to reading Anna Karenina. I had put it down for about a month. I love it, but with 200 pages to go, I started to get a little weary. But I picked it up this weekend, and I think I will be able to finish soon.
- Rewatched Sex, Lies, and Videotape. I love that movie. I hadn’t seen it in ages and forgot how great it is.
- Had lunch with Luanne at Ivy on the Shore in Santa Monica. It was heaven. I was bare-legged and had dessert and a mojito with my lunch and Luanne and I talked for hours and hours about books and Los Angeles and New York and trying to make it. She has very, very, very quickly become one of my favorite people.
- Traded in my rental car. I have to swap it out every thirty days. I got rid of the Ford Escort (which I didn’t like driving that much) and got a Mazda 2 (which I frigging love, who knew Mazdas were the cutest little things with a bunch of power?)
- While trading in said rental car, I took public transportation in LA for the first time since I’ve been here. I had to get from the airport to the Enterprise office in Korea Town and I took a shuttle to a bus and it wasn’t bad at all and the bus driver was really helpful and friendly! I was hungover and slept for a lot of the trip, but look at how comfy the buses are! Thumbs up!
- Reminded myself over and over and over again that I won’t wait tables forever. I’ve been doing it for 12 years and even though my two (yes, I have two waitressing jobs) places are fun, there were a few moments this week when I felt buried underneath a mountain of cappuccinos and nicoise salads and I wanted to cry in front of customers and slap their faces and steal their wallets.