don't mention Irvine
Wednesday, November 20 2013
location: room 515, Piero Condo complex, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, California
Michelle V. had invited us to visit her up at her place off Laurel Canyon Blvd. in the Hollywood Hills, so this morning (before she set off to work at a private high school in North Hollywood) we drove up there. Luckily, traffic at the time was only congested in the south-bound lane. I've probably remarked on this before, but it was amazing to see so many buildings perched so precariously on such steep, seemingly-arid terrain. It's great to see such a riot of human construction, but one has to wonder why environmentalists didn't succeed in better protecting such marginal land.
The place Michelle shares with Ryan is a cottage to the side of their landlord's multi-million-dollar structure, all of it perched on an impossibly-steep slope into which terraces have been constructed. Michelle greeted us at the gate of her lovely piece of the hill, covered as it was with flowering vines and a chaotic (though environmentally soothing) mix of herbs, bushes, and grasses. Fat little hummingbirds could be seen visiting the larger flowers. Over their heads we could see the HOLLYWOOD sign edge-on further north up the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains, revealing that the D is slightly out of the plane defined by the other letters. On this particular day, we couldn't see more than a hint of them through the haze, but Michelle told us that sometimes the distant San Gabriel Mountains are also in view, occasionally even capped with snow. Ryan works as part of the production team for a television show called The Big Bang Theory, which gives him access to both schwag and science celebrities (who consult for the show). Michelle made us coffee on a fancy coffee machine that had been given to the show as corporate schwag, and then she related a story about meeting Buzz Aldrin, who (it turns out) is something of a dirty old man. He touched her ass not once but twice. "But that's a hand that also touched the moon!" I enthused. Michelle also made us oatmeal, which I politely ate even though I don't normally eat it. It was just as bad as I remembered it, reminding me of wet shredded newspaper. After regaling us with the horrors of leading the yearbook production team at the private school, Michelle somehow turned the conversation to children and the joys of not having them. She couldn't understand why anyone would ever make the choice to have kids given the paucity of upsides. This all came as something of a relief to us; we hadn't been entirely sure that Michelle was maintaining her anti-reproductive stance into this new marriage of hers. (Strange as this might seem, to us every birth among our circle of friends is a little like a death in that it's a difficult thing to maintain a friendship through.) Gretchen mentioned her particular dislike for a phrase that has been bothering her on this trip: "starting a family" in the sense of "having a child." Who's to say what a family is? It could be just two adults living together, or it could be an adult human and twelve cats. A human baby is not a requirement.
Michelle headed off to work at the private school, leaving us behind in her cottage, where we killed a little time and took advantage of her bathroom. Then we headed down the mountain into Hollywood, navigated to a post office, and Gretchen prepared a number of copies of Kind to be mailed while I waited in line. I got to the front of the line well before she was ready, so then my job was to keep an eye out and direct people behind me to the next postal employee as they became available until the time arrived when Gretchen was ready to go.
The comic artist Dan P. claimed to have slept through Gretchen's reading in Venice, and that was why he hadn't been there. He said he felt terrible about it and, to make up for it, wanted to meet us again for lunch. So we arranged to meet him at a vegan comfort food restaurant in Hollywood called Doomie's Home Cookin'. Gretchen and I got to Doomie's a little before it opened, so we went on a walk down Vine through a crappy part of Hollywood, past dollar stores, pawn shops, homeless guys, and payday loan businesses. Out in front of a coffee shop there were a number of men hanging out, one of whom had an electric bass. They all appeared to be messed up in various ways. One, for example, walked with a pronounced limp and another had an eye that was effortlessly closed at all times.
Me outside Michelle & Ryan's cottage, with the Hollywood sign in the background (it's only a few pixels of white in this photo).
Doomie's serves burgers & fries, mac & "cheese," Philly "steak" sandwiches, pulled "pork" sandwiches, and other vaguely-repulsive American classics, all of them in vegan forms. We ordered an appetizer sampler and so was able to try their jalapeño poppers, "chicken" fingers, fried "shrimp," mac & "cheese," and chili fries. When Dan showed up, we all ordered our main courses, which were various kinds of burgers or sandwiches. Despite being warned by the menu about its messiness, I ordered the chili cheeseburger. The food was all very realistic simulations of these things, complete with the little hard bits in the burger that happen when meat salvaging equipment cuts too close to bones. Our waitress, Emily, was a friendly red-head who recognized Dan from his having eaten here in the past. When Gretchen offered to tell her what Dan did for a living, he got all embarrassed and said, "Don't do this!" But in fairness, Dan had just told Emily what Gretchen's claim to fame (as it currently stands) happens to be. Most of the meal was spent talking about a certain increasingly-nutty former spouse and the co-op in Manhattan that she refuses to move out of, causing certain people to have to live converted garages in nice Hollywood neighborhoods.
Gretchen needed to print out our boarding passes, so after lunch we went back to the garage where Dan lives and took care of that business. We also got to see Jemima again, as well as two neighbor dogs who threw an impromptu dog party (the main feature of which was running around like crazy). Dan's landlord, a wry British woman, made an appearance as well, and we all fussed over Dan's new vintage BMW motorcycle. Out in the small backyard behind the garage, Gretchen pointed out Dan's ash tray, a five-gallon metal bucket that was about 60% full of cigar butts. I'd never seen such a sight in my life.
Back at our Airbnb apartment, we had a lazy afternoon featuring lots of reading for Gretchen and a two-phase nap for me (first on the couch, then in the "beyad").
We had plans to meet up with Gretchen's second cousin and his boyfriend at a tiny vegan restaurant in Echo Park called Elf Café, but that place is popular and tiny, and so our reservation was for 8:30pm. Gretchen and I decided it would be best to have an earlier meal, and since she loves Mohawk Bend, we changed our plans to eat there at 7:30pm instead. This was great for me, because it would mean I would be able to drink a Sculpin IPA.
Dinner was a fairly dull affair and I didn't find many opportunities to contribute to the conversation (and neither did Gretchen's second cousin's mustache-sporting boyfriend). My mushroom pizza was delicious, and I wound up drinking two Sculpins. At some point the meal came to an end and Gretchen's second cousin was going our way, so the conversation kept happening as we went down the street. I really wanted it all to be over with, and I had to fight to contain my exasperation when Gretchen and the second cousin lingered at an intersection and failed to cross when the light turned green, thereby getting to converse through a whole extra traffic light cycle. And then another one, and then...we crossed. But then this continued on the other side of the street only feet from our car. A cold uncomfortable drizzle was falling and still the conversation continued. Gretchen had mentioned in passing that her brother was thinking of moving from Pittsburgh to Irvine, California, and Gretchen's second cousin had, it turned out, a particular loathing for Irvine that he felt the need to fully articulate. His points were all good ones (Irvine is artificial and infuriatingly conformist), but again, I wanted the night to be over, and standing in the drizzle was unpleasant. At some point, though, the rant about Irvine ended, and Gretchen was driving us effortlessly down wet empty streets. "I guess I should have never mentioned Irvine," she said.
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