second anniversary - Tuesday July 11 2000
He was a little man driving an ancient rusty sun-bleached red Volkswagen Beetle. The car was so old and sat so low on its suspension that it appeared to be a scaled-down model. It was at the front of a pack of impatient cars, waiting for the light to turn green. But when the signal finally changed, the Volkswagen didn't budge. As the motorists behind him leaned into their horns, its driver sat there with an unchanging wide-eyed expression on his otherwise featureless face. Eventually the frustrated motorists became so impatient that they abandoned the lane, swerving around the rusty pink Beetle and shouting obscenities. Kim turned to me and said, "There must be something wrong with that man; he needs help." I agreed, and together we ran out into the intersection to see if we could be of assistance.
When we got up close to the little man, we could see that his face was actually a crude construction made out of taped-together pieces of off-white paper with two large holes allowing him to see. He wasn't moving or responding, so Kim opened his door to see if perhaps he was either unconscious or dead. As she did so, the paper mask fell from the man's face, revealing a darkened, shrunken, slightly translucent remnant. Judging from his condition, it seemed he had just died from the mysterious illness he was exhibiting. It made me wonder how he could have gotten this bad and still been able to get into a car and drive it. The appearance of his shrunken, translucent greenish-black face had apparently been a cause of some embarrassment, forcing him to fashion a mask to conceal it. Now, in the immediate aftermath of his death, as he slumped out of his loosely-fitting garments, it was apparent that his condition had affected his entire body. His corpse seemed to be made out of a rather fragile material resembling the substance of Gummy Bears. For whatever reason, Kim reached out to touch his belly and it immediately collapsed, revealing a blackish-red liver no larger than a slice of pizza. I was horrified.
That was when I awoke from the dream. Whoah, that was intense! My subconscious mind must have been influenced by a number of recent experiences, including the auto accident I saw last night on Bundy Drive and the ancient trashpicker woman I saw a couple weeks ago on Stewart Avenue.
Today was the second anniversary of the day I met Kim. Up until today, I had never had a romantic relationship lasting two complete years.
This particular relationship breaks plenty of other personal records as well. Here's an example: for nearly every night of those two years we've been sleeping together in the same bed.
Mind you, it's not that bad things don't happen between us; our personalities clash about all sorts of things both big and small and we've had lots and lots of truly horrible fights. But the remarkable thing is that somehow we've stuck with each other through it all without really figuring out how to avoid conflict.
On the ride home from work tonight, I noticed that my rear tire had gone flat. So the first romantic thing of the evening for Kim and me was to go on a walk to get a new tire and inner tube. Our first stop was at a one of those small bike shops catering to the weekend Yuppie mountain biker. You know the type: guys who spend thousands of dollars on gear mostly so they can have it around the apartment to impress the chicks and their old co-pledges from the back in the college days. Money is no object with such people and thus the stores catering to them are of little use to the rare person with my mindset. All I expect from my bicycle is cheap, reliable, understated street transportation.
And it turned out that this particular bike shop didn't even carry tires suitable to the wheels of my machine. Yes, believe it or not, you can't simply walk into a bike shop and purchase a street tire for an ordinary twenty six by one and three eighths rim. Most tires these days, you see, are designed for macho off-road use. They're big, heavy, and completely unsuited to conventional street cycling. Evidently, though, the big knobby tires are the only kinds of tires that people want to buy. They're sort of like the plumes of a peacock: great for impressing the chicks, but of little practical value. Economics relates about as well to genuine human need as design relates to the universe.
So we walked down to a larger bike shop called Helen's near the corner of Broadway and 26th Street in Santa Monica. It was closing time and the door was locked, but they let us in anyway because Kim gave them that hungry look.
Again we were greeted by a cornucopia of unnecessary off-road treads amid a paucity of the sorts of tires everyone would be demanding if only the price of gasoline would triple. But Helen's had my tire, or at least what seemed to be my tire. (I can tell that the personnel at these bike shops hate selling understated little street tires. Evidently the hefty expense of the degradable parts of the modern American mountain bike is what drives the modern American bicycle shop industry.)
When I got home it turned out that the diameter of the tire I had just bought was at least a half inch too big for my rim. Evidently these bike shops, even when they're stocking items that appear to be standard, are actually stocking hard-to-find parts completely unsuited to the vast bulk of bicycles on the street. Perhaps the bicycle industry has learned something from the fine folks who bring us Microsoft Word. By changing the standard file format with every release, Microsoft can coercively maintain a strong demand for the latest version. Likewise, with subtle but accumulating changes to the 26 inch wheel standard, eventually bicycle manufacturers can force owners of older bicycles to abandon their rides for the latest, ugliest, most macho of gear.
After I gave up on my bicycle in disgust, Kim and I sat around drinking a $45 bottle of champagne and congratulating ourselves on our ability to somehow survive the years together. At the time I was somewhat pre-occupied with a new MasterCard Platinum card that had arrived in the mail. I was particularly interested in the fact that I won't have to pay any interest on any credit card balance for the next year. When I called the 800 number to activate my account, I found myself talking to a real greaseball salesman type who convinced me to write myself a $2000 interest-free check against my credit limit. It seemed like a good way to pay off the 21% credit card debt I've been carrying since buying the townhouse.
Since it was our 2nd anniversary, it was absolutely imperative that Kim and I celebrate by going out to a fancy restaurant at the very least. I would have been happy with Chinese take away and whatever HBO happened to be playing, but, knowing full well that this would have been my suggestion, Kim hadn't bothered to ask me what I wanted to do.
The restaurant, the Cafe Des Artistes in Hollywood, was a recommendation of LA Magazine's latest restaurant issue. On the drive there, we missed the La Brea tar pit exit and had to backtrack, finally heading north from the 10 via Highland Avenue. The neighborhood looked kind of shady in the vicinity of Pico and Olympic, and I joked with Kim about the mortgage we'd be paying if we'd decided to settle in this region instead of West LA. But then we crossed Wilshire and in an instant everything changed. Highland became a grand promenade divided by a tree-studded green. Impressive mansions lined either side. It looked like a perfect setting for the final march of a triumphant army.
The Cafe Des Artistes was in a rather seedy part of Hollywood, but the restaurant was well-staffed with valets and it wasn't like we had to worry about being mugged.
The room where we dined was actually a large, plastic-shrouded outdoor patio. For legal purposes it had to be "outdoors" so that people could smoke. And smoke they did. But it didn't really feel like we were outdoors; it felt more like being in a greenhouse. The shrubbery was comforting, but the plastic was sort of tacky, especially in such a fancy restaurant. Someone had tried to compensate by hanging a few mirrors against the wall of shrubbery, but Kim wasn't impressed.
It was a French Restaurant, so of course Kim had to order a fancy French wine and (along with Filet Mignon and Sole) the most "challenging" of French dishes, paté. Kim loves paté and gobbled hers with gusto. But to me it was too funky and intestinal for my mood. Remember, I'd had that fucked up dream this morning, and the last thing I really wanted to be eating was liver. And, beyond that, I've always been a big fan of geese, which, I'm told, are terribly mistreated by the farmers who produce paté.
Considering the fanciness and expense of the restaurant, it attracted a remarkably youthful "beautiful person" sort of crowd. I'm sure it's a great place to hang out if you're the sort who likes to spot famous movie stars. Not being able to recognize a celebrity in a magazine, let alone real life, that wasn't much of a factor in my interest in the place.
Our waitress, a small thin young lady with a surprisingly big nose, originally only intended to fetch us our drinks. But we were so quick and to the point, she managed to handle our entire meal, including dessert. It was the sort of work of which $20 tips are made.
Kim's spin on this day.