Field Trip: “The Bathroom Attendant” on Harry’s Five O’Clock Magazine

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The following is an excerpt from the recent column in our regularly recurring column, “The Bathroom Attendant,” as featured on Harry’s Five O’Clock Magazine.

While the guest quarters of Los Angeles’ most iconic hotel adhere to a strict “less is more” policy, the same cannot be said of their lobby bathrooms. They forgo the miminal charm you’ll find upstairs for decor that’s slick as a pair of leather pants. (It’s a rockstar-friendly spot, after all). Done up in French country style, the bathroom features Rococo wallpaper, a hanging chandelier, and white lacquer doors so shiny you won’t need a mirror. Did we mention the fancy hand towels? They have very fancy hand towels. 

Click here to read more.

 

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2012, In Songs

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Foster the People “Helena Beat”

It’s noon or one or two. Sometime on January 1st, 2012. We woke up late, had breakfast, said goodbye. Me, back to Brooklyn. Jake, back to Los Angeles. I’m standing on the subway platform in a party dress and heeled boots, the painted ceiling of the station blistered and puckering, reaching away like trapped butterflies, brown and blue. The train pushes a frigid wind towards me, lights up the tunnel. For the first time in forever, I feel good.

Sleigh Bells “Born to Lose”

That good feeling lasts about a week.

Elliott Smith “No Name #2”

And so I lay in bed at night, feeling quite sorry for myself.

Rebecca & Fiona “Bullets”

It’s been a year since I slipped Daniel my phone number while working in a showroom, two weeks from a year since that trip to Paris, four weeks from me sobbing into my coat on Great Jones Street. And here we are again, in the same white room, less than strangers. The dressers put me in tight, beautiful things. I walk around the room with my hair down. I rely on Xanax to get me through hour after hour until its effects begin to wane. He stays for seven hours – seven hours of parading silently around a room of tables and chairs and $4,200 cocktail dresses. When he leaves without saying goodbye I feel as though I have just run an emotional marathon and never made it to the finish line. Nikki and I are the only models left. It’s dark outside. We dance in the tiny closet with the filthy floors, hopping around like exhausted lunatics, waiting for someone to come in and say they’re done with us.

Father John Misty “Hollywood Forever Cemetery”

I contemplate the merits of becoming a human tragedy.

Porcelain Raft “Unless You Speak from Your Heart”

But think the better of it.

Races “Big Broom”

Aliona and I are in Paris. It’s freezing cold, gray as concrete. We have a two-bedroom apartment on a cul-de-sac in the Marais. It has high ceilings and crown molding, wooden floors and a tiny mural of a French bulldog at the end of the hallway, near the floor. Every morning, at the same time, we get up and shuffle down the carpeted staircase, passing the shiny blue lacquer doors of unseen neighbors. Every evening, after the sun has gone down, we return. Aliona sits at the table in the living room, eating yogurt with a spoon while I sit on the sofa watching dubbed-over reruns of Beverly Hills 90210: The New Class and Dawson’s Creek.

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Lotus Plaza “Strangers”

Jason and Karen are getting married in the Maldives. I don’t have a date so I fly alone to London, where I am hosted by my good friend Barnaby for 20 hours before the next leg of my journey. He lives in a modern house at the top of a hill, across from a park with green grass. Have a shower. Take a nap. Drink this. Barnaby is my custodian and I listen to him. We go to a pub. We go to another pub. Barnaby and I eat falafels on the street at 3 a.m. while someone punches his friend on the sidewalk. A drunk redhead wipes the blood away with a wool scarf. I wake up the next morning wearing my clothes from the night before, the girl next to me muttering in her sleep. Barnaby is nowhere to be found.

NazcarNation “Beeswax (Star Sling-er Remix)”

I turn one year older while back in London after six days in watercolor paradise, snorkeling in wetsuits holding the hands of friends.

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Purity Ring “Fineshrine”

The perfume was a gift I had been given and then avoided. I throw the bottle away in a garbage can filled with banana peels and coffee grounds, plastic cups from the restaurant down the street. I inhale deeply one last time. I haven’t worn it in over a year; it’s been sitting behind a mountain of half-empty shampoo bottles and Swiffer refills. I look at it – really look at it – for the first time. Now it looks cheap and silly in a way I never bothered to see before… just a purple bottle with Parfum Sacre written on a cheap, gold-plated charm. I throw it in, push it beneath other garbage, bury a year and a half of feelings.

Big Black Delta “Huggin’ and Kissin’”

I’m back in Paris for the third time this year, this time with a girl named Monika. Our apartment is on the edges of the Marais. We hate it. The guy who owns it is strange and bumbling. There are gnats floating around the kitchen every time we come home and blister packets for French Propecia on his bookshelves, along with stacks of Ray Bans and books about Middle Eastern music. My room is a dusty lofted office with ceilings only 3 feet high. My mattress rests on the floor, next to two desks covered in crap and a tiny little window. I have to lie on my back to get dressed in the morning. Still, on our day off, we walk along the Seine and sit in the Tuilieries, talking about ex-boyfriends and feeling extremely fortunate.

A$AP Rocky “Wassup”

Jonas picks me up from the airport. He points at buildings and statues, Berlin talking points. We meet his hung-over friends and eat bowls full of hummus at a place called City Chicken, then walk over to a grocery store to buy food for the week I’ll be staying with him. Coffee, peaches, German bread as heavy as a brick. Rain starts pouring down outside, rivers of water running north to south. Jonas runs to get the car. Our twenty-foot sprint to meet him out front leaves us drenched as though we’ve dived headlong into a pool. Every time I get into a car, this song is playing through blown-out speakers. I love Berlin, unequivocally.

Fiona Apple “Werewolf”

I go to Hamburg. It is, by all accounts, the worst trip of my life, some sort of karmic punishment.

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Talking Heads “Born Under Punches”

There is some sort of turning point that happens, though I couldn’t tell you exactly when. It is a build-up that has taken nearly a year and a half to get to — to start feeling regularly normal. This is after another brutal winter, after vowing to give up writing and then crying in a car on my way to the beach, after knowing that was impossible and starting writing again after only three days off, after giving up on being sad and dedicating myself to being good – if not dryly – humored.

Clams Casino “I’m God (Instrumental)”

It’s September. Everyone is going to Paris. I’m going to South Africa. The flight takes 14 some-odd hours. Africa, as it turns out, is fucking far. I eat more meat than I have all year. Biltong, beef tongue, venison in berry sauce. I drink booze and socialize with rowdy winemakers. I walk through townships filled with little children and bored-looking parents. I get back on a plane and go back home.

Mo – “Maiden”

I meet some guy on Halloween. He matters for five minutes.

Calvin Harris – “Sweet Nothing”

The trees thin out and the temperature drops. I spend more times indoors, writing on my bed, writing on my couch, writing on a beanbag, sometimes writing at my desk. I finish projects, start new ones. I think I’m getting a hang of all this finally… this wonderfully horrible being-an-adult thing.

 

(Photos: Uncredited)

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12 Days of Christmas: Day 2

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Creature of bad habit that I am, I text Jake : “What are you doing?” “Sitting at home, watching the news,” he writes. “Depressed.” Thinking it’s the normal bout of self-consuming sad-story narcissism, I tell him I won’t open the blinds or try to cheer him up. That’s our deal: Just be there. Until he finds something or someone worth occupying his time – a blockbuster movie or a drug-addled B-rate model who barely got her GED – everything and everyone serves as knowing placeholders for the Bigger Better Deal, myself included.

“I’ve got time to kill,” I write, also a prerequisite for our hanging out – me having to be somewhere else. The expectation of having to entertain me for an undefined period of time would be unfathomable to suggest, although I did just the other week, stupidly, when I said maybe, if we weren’t doing anything else, we could go on some tropical vacation. Traveling with the devil you know instead of the devil you don’t (I’ve done that before, trust me). This suggestion was not enthusiastically embraced. More often than not I feel like one of those emotionally challenged kids wearing a helmet and banging my head against a wall like a metronome.

Back to depressed TV sesh.

“Haven’t you been watching the news?” he asks, and then he tells me that some whackjob just shot up an elementary school in Connecticut. Twenty some-odd kids, most of them around six years old.

“No, I’m working. We don’t have TVs.”

“Okay, come over.”

It takes me an hour to get there. When he opens the door he is out of breath, a jump rope in his hands. “I didn’t have time to go the gym,” he says. I still have a vision of him doing handstand pushups in the corner of his hotel room last December, back when I thought he was something else.

“I haven’t done coke since New York!” he says, expecting my praise, which he both respects and resents.

“Ah, I don’t give a shit what you do,” I say, waving my hands and looking away. “Everyone gets fucked up. Who cares?”

Who cares? I care. I care and he knows it. Immediately after it comes out of my mouth, and then more later on, I regret it – the trying to be the cool girl who doesn’t give a shit if he dies or not. But I do care. I do care if he dies.

I sit on the sofa, knees tucked into my chest. We watch the news until it becomes too depressing and repetitive. Too many speculations and images of young children standing outside of the school, hands pressed to their eyes. Aerial shots from helicopters hovering over police cars, SWAT teams, single story buildings, cracks in cement. Jake changes the channel. Puts on a comedy. Some movie I haven’t seen in awhile.

He talks about God knows what for awhile, his voice booming around the room at a volume more appropriate for a cocktail party. He blames this habit on being alone all the time, as though coming out from a coma and no longer being aware of social cues.

Pat shows up. He pulls out a box of Margiela sneakers and says “Look what I got.” Jake’s wearing the same ones. Now they’ve got matching shoes. We talk about holidays and what everyone is doing. Jake’s leaving Tuesday, which is good because whenever we’re in the same city I end up getting depressed in the way that made me pack up my things three years ago and move 3,000 miles away from Poinsettia Street and my ex-boyfriend.

“I’m going to head out,” I say, already feeling as though I’ve overspent my welcome by five minutes. “Wait for Adam to get here,” he says. “I want you to meet Adam.” The only reason I can think he wants me to stay is so that Adam can see me, so he can put a face to a story. Jenny, that decent-looking girl I’ve kept in my back pocket for a whole year. There’s a difference between approval and bragging, and the difference is that it doesn’t matter if Adam likes me as a person or not; Jake already made that clear last January. Jake and I are on different pages, but too often in the same room.

(Photo: Courtesy of Image Spark)

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Home for the Holidays

We pass wet roofs and flying birds.  Construction workers wait for trains in big boots while an Armageddon sunrise, blue and pink, washes over JFK.  I’m going home for Christmas.  Going home to what, I don’t know.  My brother just told me he’s staying in Colorado with his friend’s family.  My dad is going to camp in Death Valley with Carl, his friend from the 2nd grade.  My nice grandparents died out a long time ago and the last one who didn’t matter that much anyway died three Christmases ago.

This is Christmas now.

The airport is filled with parents herding children.  Teenagers drag their feet against marble floors reflecting morning light, their faces marred with that appropriately sullen and irritated look that will blight them until the hormones balance out when they graduate high school.

There are holiday wreaths and plastic garlands, a token menorah plugged into an electrical outlet and hidden behind a Christmas tree for good measure.  Some Taylor Swift rip-off sings “Merry Christmas” while I try to find a bag of salted pistachios.  My dad used to eat pistachios.  The floor of his diesel F150 was littered with shells, next to lost Jujubes and strings of chewing tobacco.

The stupid things you remember.

“Jennifer Bahn.”

I’m sitting in the familiar discomfort of a black vinyl chair.  They mispronounce my name.  “Bahn” like ban.  “Bahn” like book ban or smoking ban.  I look up at the screen where half of my name is listed under the cleared list.  I feel myself primed to make a small scene.  Cleared?  I already have a ticket.  Why would I need to be cleared?  I brace myself for the worst: an oversold flight, some dry-toothed American Airlines agent asking me if I would like to forfeit my ticket for a $5 in-flight drink coupon.

“I’m Jennifer Bahn,” I say.  “I already have a ticket.”  And I pass her my carbon-copy-thin piece of paper.

“Well, we’ve changed your seating assignment.”

I stand at the ready.  She passes me a business class hardcopy on blue paper with black letters.

“Merry Christmas.”

There is a God.

I board the plane and organize my things.  A flight attendant takes my coat right as I’m about to cram it above my luggage in the overhead compartment.  “Would you like me to hang this up for you?” she asks.  I’m used to sleeping it over my head, creating a wheezing-cough-free-bubble from the masses crammed around me in steerage.

The disgusting things you’d rather forget.

I am handed a menu for Business Class Brunch.  I didn’t even know they served brunch on planes.  I can choose from a selection of corned beef hash with cream cheese and chives, a seasonal fruit appetizer, or cereal with fruit and berries.  Later on in my in-flight service, I am to be offered a light refreshment paired with freshly baked on-board cookies.  Oh, that’s what that torturous delicious smell is that wafts back towards row 27 right after my ill thought out snacks have been all but depleted.

The plane boards and the people sit down and I am not nervous about crashing because when I am in business class, I feel important and invincible.  Nothing bad happens to people in business class – we get brunch and cookies and fresh hot towels.  Planes don’t crash when I am in business class.  Oh, no, not today they don’t.

Over the course of five hours, I eat food that isn’t that good and movies that are equally unappealing but my legs can stretch into the generous abyss in front of me.  I have a thick blanket made of something other than old red felt and access to a bathroom used by only 5% of the plane’s in-flight population.  And in that space and time of relative comfort, I forget that I wish I had a real family with drunk uncles and cousins I may or may not like, I forget about wanting to marry into a gigantic family with 25-person dinners and weird histories and bad recipes, I forget that Christmas is just going to be me and my mom at a dinner table, eating by ourselves.  I look over at the mother next to me with her well behaved child and think, I can’t wait for my brother to accidentally have one of those, just so we can have Christmas again.

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HLS: Pam

Pam drove and a song came on the radio, some pop song sung by a man begging a woman to let him love her.  She laughed, cynical and rude, and turned the song up loud on crackling speakers of a car that was nearly as old as she was, singing along because she knew the lyrics.  Pop songs, no matter how much Pam did not care for them, were endlessly memorable, tapping into her subconscious with their easy lyrics and grade school rhymes.  This had something to do with music theory or how all people were similarly simple to manipulate.

A warm wind whipped through the open windows of her car but she did not feel free.  She hated that about Los Angeles – its in ability to cooperate or compliment her most miserable moods.  Some days you just needed a rainy fucking day, sitting in your window and bemoaning your fate like the ugliest, most unwanted puppy in the pet shop.  But no, LA, with its trees that were green year-round and its skies that were blue 90% of the time, made you feel like the depressed freak at the Happy Circus, the introverted, gothic sister of the homecoming queen.

The song continued, the singer humming and hawing in a smooth R & B way.  He was trying to pry this woman away from her bad boyfriend, promising her love and protection and material things that girls supposedly care about.  These were things Pam had heard before, nearly verbatim, and she laughed again, amazed at man’s collective ability to feel conviction in love.  She had learned not to trust these convictions, instead seeing them as intense, fleeting things that meant nothing down the line.  There was no use reciprocating in the lies in order to create a grounded reality in emotions, a false sense of permanence.  Change was inevitable in life.  Love was as unstable as anything else.

Pam hated that pop culture immortalized these passing phases, making it appear as though love was as permanent as this very unchangeable song, burned onto CDs and MP3s, fated to exist in this song-state forever.  It would always be 4:07 minutes long and the lyrics would never change.  A finished product.  Pam thought about the man who wrote this song and who he wrote it about and she could bet a million dollars that they were already over, that he was already bored with this girl.  Still, the song lived on as this constant thing, conning listeners that this love was equally definite.  And so love’s lie is propagated like a sourceless rumor.

You should let me love you

Give you everything you want and need

“I need a whole lot more than love,” Pam thought.  Firstly, she had student loans – massive, nasty, Ivy League loans in a degree that got her a job that paid nothing and would likely continue to pay her nothing.  Paying those off would have a tangible, lasting impact on her life in terms of real interest.  A boy, however, with his love and promises, was temporary, despite any professions of the contrary.  Pam felt bad for the poor sucker she dated next and the one after that and the one after that and that and that, each one getting less and less of the real her because the previous ones had taken away her ability to give, the desire to expose herself.  Despite what people said, behind walls could be a quite comfortable place to live.

She felt herself hardening, turning more doubtful of men as she got older.  Pam had stopped believing the things that boys told her, no matter how enthusiastic they were about her or how genuine they seemed.  They were all salesmen, feeding you the right lines to sell you the last lemon on the lot.  They were bankers, taking your money with promises of great returns and buying yachts in the Caribbean for themselves.  They were professional, hammer-wielding destroyers of things.

When the song ended another one came on – this one sad and depressingly and not as easily mocked.  She flipped through immediately before it could drag her down.  Fuck sad songs.  When she Pam was sad, she wanted to listen to Britney Spears.  Pop.  Garbage.  Tasteless and easily swallowed.  She wanted to listen to songs that appealed to the part of her brain that longed to remain in third grade, when the most trying part of her day was realizing that her mother accidentally gave her her brother’s lunch.  Turkey sandwich on white bread and not ham sandwich on wheat.  Back when boys had cooties and she still loved her parents without question because she hadn’t found out they were just people yet.

She stopped at a classic rock station, holding it on a song she recognized.  She held it there until she was sad all over again.  Bob Dylan, you mother fucker.  The man had an uncanny ability to con you into thinking his songs were upbeat and lifting with his squirrely harmonica and a quick guitar, but his lyrics hit your sad button with an creeping force.  Pam didn’t change the song.  She didn’t slam on the shuffle button or sing along.  The song sat next to her in the car and she would travel with it for a time until it was over.  The sun beat down through Pam’s window, bouncing off of her pale thighs and her smudged Ray Ban’s, exposing the dent on the hood of her car along with other damaged things.

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When the Grass is Greener on the Other Side…Literally

JFK —> LAX

Getting There

“So no one flies on Super Bowl Sunday?” I ask the FAA employee shining a blue light over the scowling face on my California driver’s license.  “What?” she asks, head still down and inspecting the younger, shorter-haired version of myself who still lived on Poinsettia Place.  The one-worded question is delivered with a grating edge – her voice filled with the understandably perpetual irritation of someone who works at an airport for a living.  “No one flies on Super Bowl Sunday.  I’ve never seen this place so empty,” I repeat, gesturing to the open lanes snaking around nobody.  She looks up and laughs, mildly entertained until she reaches for the passport of the person behind me.

Like the airport, the airplane is similarly empty.  A flight attendant announces that as a “precaution” the use of electrical outlets on this plane has been discontinued.  The engine revs up and I wonder what “precaution” means as I exercise some latent anxiety about every flight I’ve been on filled with people charging their cell phones and laptops willy-nilly while my life hung in some unknown balance.

We fly over suburbs and away from cities and I think of how many of these lives below I do not want – the meat and potatoes lives, 9-to-5-til-death-do-us-part lives.  Bad marriages pretending to be good and houses with four bedrooms.  Hulking wood furniture from Costco and fifty rolls of toilet paper.  Children who grow up to be not their parent’s children but adults with their own agendas.  The dreams that die and the realities that take their place.  I do not ever want to acquiesce to the normal.  That much I have decided I want out of my life.  This is my resolve.

Tired from doing a week of mostly nothings and some somethings, I sleep on the flight, bent like an oversized protractor on two seats on the right hand side of the plane.  27 J.  I’m always on the wing, I don’t know why.  Someone once told me that the plane is strongest around the wings because of the necessary structural adjustments required to keep them in place, but that if something were to happen to the plane, it was the spot where it would likely break in half.  So basically, in an earthquake, you’d want to be exactly where I am.  In a plane crash, you’d likely want to be anywhere else.

The plane lands without me having to worry about my decision to be in aisle 27 and my mom picks me up in her black car with black leather seats, even though it’s midnight and she should be in pajamas, sleeping in a four-post bed she’s had since I was an infant.  She brings me bottled water like I asked her to and I drink it while we drive down streets that feel too clean and empty.  “Has this area always been so nice?” I ask, watching the sidewalks of Westminster drip by.  Trader Joes, a CVS, Koo Koo Roo.  “This area isn’t nice; you’ve just been in New York too long,” she says, a half-serious quip that makes me realize that my status quo has shifted.  I have been gone from Los Angeles one year, nearly to the day, and I feel remarkably different.  I walk differently, I see differently.  My life feels like what it’s supposed to be, where it’s supposed to be.

We turn into a driveway with a gate and pull into the garage and my mom’s dogs come out through a sodden doggy door.  They sniff and lick and wag their tails because they’re dogs and that’s what they do.  They don’t like me because I’m that great of a person; they like me because their brains are small.  They’re cute and stupid like girls in a club, drunk off the possibility of companionship.

Next Day: Being There

I walk through the house in my New York boots that feel too substantial for these floors.  They clatter on tile and echo against the walls.  My mom tells me they look like hell and when I see them in this environment – a California February free of snow and frozen dog shit and cigarette butts and spilled coffee and black trash bags and blue trash bags and discarded MetroCards – they do look rather downtrodden.  In New York they feel appropriately worn, scarred to a fashionable point, leather bleeding with salt stains and cut by unremembered barbs.  Here, in my mother’s bleached floor kitchen with birch cabinets, I feel like an impoverished character from Oliver Twist.

She takes me through the backyard covered in foliage that isn’t brown and tress that seem to never shed leaves.  She points her lettuce, arugula, new pear trees, and a fading garden gnome.  I walk past a swimming pool holding cold water and a cherry red Radio Flyer filled with lavender in plastic containers.  Wearing black jeans and black boots and a black leather jacket, I turn my head towards the sun and literally bask in it.  I let it fall on my cheeks and sink into my skin.  Vitamin D…a healthy glow…freckles…how I’ve missed thee.  I stare at the light through the red of my eyelids.  It’s only 8 in the morning and it’s already forty-degrees warmer than the last two months of my life.

I get in my car, still covered in gum wrappers from my last trip, and put on music that for some reasons makes sense for walking on Brooklyn sidewalks but not for driving on Woodland Hills highways.  Even my comparatively happy and energetic tunes feel too dense, too forceful, too affected.  I turn on the radio, flipping through pop, country, Spanish, Spanish, religious, pop, bad rock, classic rock, Spanish, pop, pop.  I end up alternating between KIIS FM and KCRW, a combination that should, in my estimation, make little sense at all.

Topanga Canyon looks like some Guam-inspired paradise and bad drivers snake along the highway, braking at idiotic places and speeding up in the others.  I take pictures to send to someone living somewhere cold but my shitty phone does not do the scenery justice.  You cannot feel the warmth, the heat, the sunshine.  You can’t smell the ocean or feel the accelerator underfoot.  It wasn’t until this year that I understood the California mysticism…that I appreciated this Los Angeles winter fairy tale.

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Los Angeles: The Vortex

I sit in a coffee shop on Beverly Boulevard where I used to write, back when I used to live with someone and didn’t take my life seriously.  For two hours a day I worked on something I enjoyed, which was never quite enough.  They serve the best eggs here – poached and covered with parmesan cheese and chili flakes, served next to the best roasted potatoes you’ll ever have.

I drink my iced coffee, burnt and strong, listening to two women in their fifties talk about Casey Affleck in a way that makes you think they know who he is, but of course they do not.  Soon, they move onto another entertainment topic: some train wreck of a film called How Do You Know?  It’s like getting the channel stuck on Siskel and fucking Ebert the day after their double lobotomy.

 

That Legally Blonde girl.  Wither… Reese Witherspoon.  And you know who directed it?  A big comedy TV guy.

What’s it called?

You Think You Can Know…or How Do You Know?

 

I don’t miss this about Los Angeles.  Intense conversations about the industry (and its often lackluster products) by laypeople are a hazard of living in an industry town.  Everyone here works in film.  Once, at my weekly yoga class I took at my friend’s house in the Hollywood hills – usually held at 10 a.m. on a Monday – I looked around a spacious room with a beautiful room filled with beautiful people doing things Normal People would consider silly.  Model.  Model.  Actress.  Actor-turned-photographer.  Director.  Writer.  Actress. I laughed at myself for living this (very blessed) cliché, but such clichés are an inevitability of living in the city.  I never met anyone who worked in finance or medicine or the non-profit sector.  Those people live in New York or San Francisco.

The pair move quickly and at the hurried pace that accompanies superficial knowledge derived from tabloids and movie previews in TV advertisements.  “Zach Gafahfalakis or whatever his name is…” the older woman in the pink sweatpants muses.  I suck in my coffee through its straw suddenly, hoping it might freeze my brain and hinder its ability make my hearing function.  It does not.

Behind me, a young man writes a screenplay using Final Draft Pro.  Normally, there’s at least four others doing the same.  Los Angeles has this uncanny ability to make your extraordinary dreams seem ordinary.  Everyone is doing what you want to do and your passion inevitably seems misguided and silly.  “I’m a writer,” you’d say and you’d feel like you just told someone you were the janitor at a local elementary school.  “I’m an actress,” you’d say as you served someone their coffee and you’d feel ashamed.

The girls sitting out front drink Diet Cokes and smoke cigarettes, wear baseball caps and too much makeup.  Their sweat suits match and they carry bedazzled cell phones.  It’s January and it’s 76 degrees outside.  This shit is real.

A pickup truck passes, carrying stacks of unseasonably green sheets of sod.  Another passes with the tall prop walls from a set.  Living here, you see the mechanism and the mechanism is as boring and real as anything else.  Brad Pitt is just a man with good bone structure and the house in your favorite sitcom is made of collapsible cardboard.

The older woman in front of me reads an independent movie review from her iPod and I wonder if these women moved here to be actresses and stayed thirty years too long.  “He’s a mental hospital mentor,” she says, and I allow my attention to be diverted by the hangnail on my thumb until she starts on The Fighter.  “To me, the movie is just another version of…The Town.  I’m done with it.  Irish Catholic.  Ben Affleck.  Mark Wahlberg.  Martin Scorsese.  All that.  I don’t know…is there too many, too soon?”  Her pink manicured hand with its sad silver wedding band flicks up and down on its place on the back of a chair in emphasis.

It’s three in the afternoon on a Tuesday and all these women have to do is meet in a coffee shop in their gym clothes to talk about how they think Christian Bale’s performance is “beyond.”  There aren’t enough people in this city actually doing things.  There’s plenty of people wanting them.

 

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Good Company and Expensive Red Wine

We sit down in the corner of the covered garden, facing outwards towards patrons talking quietly.  I will forever love the seemingly dignified pretention of the Chateau Marmont.  V orders a glass of wine and so do I.  Red.  Our friend works there and we catch up while he stands above us wearing a double-breasted pea coat and dirty blonde hair.  He looks British and suited for some sort of trip through the countryside in a German car wearing leather gloves.  M arrives, not as late as either of us anticipated, her hair appropriately disheveled and her hands covered in gold jewelry.

A famous musician who is currently trying to look like Johnny Depp is sitting at the table across from us and I laugh into my wine glass because he has a big head.  My friend used to be convinced that he had undergone massive amounts of plastic surgery after he got rich and famous.  “No way,” she would say in her under-educated, midwestern accent, “This guy was so fucking ugly in 2004.  There’s no way that is his real face.”  And so I catch glimpses of him over the course of the evening, talking and not talking to his friend, both occasionally taking social breaks to sit next to each other in silence while they type away on their Blackberries.  Friendships in the wireless age.  If I stupid, I could tell him that I used bar-b-que to his album in my mother’s backyard after I dropped out of college, but that would mean I’d have to admit to have occasionally listened to his KIIS FM friendly jams.

V and M and myself give each other the two-hour abridged version of our lives – work, Los Angeles, New York, boys who suck and boys who suck less.  V’s in love and that makes me happy.  M’s getting over love and finding more boys who look like Jesus.  I’m out of love and easily getting introduced to every asshole in New York.

An older woman in a black shawl approaches our table and bends down low to ask me if I’m Julia Stiles.  I laugh and try to play off the fact that my skin is crawling; I hate this comparison, though I get it on occasion, along with Kate Hudson, Kate Moss, Keira Knightley, and Joan Allen.  Most of these don’t make sense, with the exception of Joan Allen.  I’ll take Joan Allen; she’s a hot babe.

The woman looks back over at her table filled with three men, one of whom is an older Swedish actor whom I have a crush on like I have a crush on Colin Firth or Liam Neeson – the fifty-plus, dignified-gentleman category of dudes I’d like to make out with, but if push came to shove, probably couldn’t get the balls to do it.  “She’s not Julia Stiles,” the woman says to a man who leans forward in response.  “I used to represent her,” he tells me, and I think either I look like the spitting image of this girl who I absolutely don’t want to look like the spitting image of or this guy never knew his client very well.  After I laugh awkwardly a bit more and try to avoid eye contact with the Swede, we return to our respective discussions.

Dinner comes.  M gets her overpriced kale and quinoa: a fifty-dollar meal you could probably get at the hot bar at Whole Foods.  I’ve got some beet salad with cheese I push to the side of the plate and a pumpkin soup that’s a nice shade of orange.  V gets something; I can’t remember what.  Everyone orders another drink.

The wind is fierce and it bumps wildly against the clear plastic tent covering the garden for winter.  The walls lurch and push and pull with the whims of a California winter, mild by all of my recent east coast comparisons.  Red lanterns sway subtly with the motion of the tent and we continue to talk and eat and drink while our lives change slowly, greatly, and without due notice.

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