Last night I fell in love with an imaginary gay man. For the second time.
But that’s not the most important part of the story. What is, is that in 107-degree weather, I peeled my sweat-soaked thighs off of my couch and rallied to look more like a fancy lady woman rather than a breathing flesh sweat pocket.
We’ve been experiencing a rather substantial heat wave in Los Angeles and the nearby hills of the San Fernando Valley are on fire. The sky is raining ash and my asthma keeps reminding me to try not to breathe like I’m made of swiss cheese. I haven’t left the house much for several days because of the smoke in the air, but last night, I felt I needed to step out of my comfort zone of home discomfort and get out and be social!
When I’m not on tour or performing live shows here in LA, I can sometimes fall prey to that reclusive sloth syndrome. Even if I’m not vegging out to reruns of 30 Rock, (my favorite show of all time and space), distracting devices on my shelves like comic books and crayons and marshmallow slingshots will further keep me from being as outgoing as I should be.
But the old adage, if you don’t grow you recede, is true. (Or does that only apply to hair?) And as much as I love reading and writing and hibernating in my waka waka cave, I realize the importance of going out and meeting new people. I force myself to actively engage in socially awkward situations with reckless abandon. Some nights this might mean break dancing in my Hammer pants to Barry Manilow while all the ladies around me are scantily clad in skin-tight leopard dresses nursing their Cosmopolitans. Other nights it means going to see friends in live shows, enduring obnoxiously expensive parking lots and getting crammed into packed rooms full of hipsters wearing those very same Hammer pants.
So here’s my story of what happened to me the other evening, as it was happening. (Also, I have gotten all confused with my future/past/present verbiage, so this is how I’m going to cheat the grammatical system until one of you eggheads comes forward and tells me the proper ways of elocution.)
Even though it is hot enough to cook my own hand and eat it like a ham steak, I’ve decided to rally to go to my friend’s play. We recently acted together in an episode of my project and I’m excited to see more of his awesomeness. Plus I hear he’s going to be wearing a muscle shirt. Rarw. Yes thank you. So at 7pm, I began the process of getting ready. Have you ever been too hot to take a shower? Well, that was me. It seemed easier to just swap out my dampened clothes for dryer ones than to go to the trouble of showering. Drying off. Sweating through the towel. Then putting on dry clothes only to immediately soak through them. If you think about it, I’m really a conservationist.
Usually, I don’t have enough patience to learn new hairdos on Pinterest, so my hair ends up in what you might call a ‘natural curl explosion’. But last night it was so hot, I realized if I didn’t pin up my hair blanket and get it off my neck soon, I was even going to offend myself with my sweaty scalp juice. I braided my hair up like a Hunger Games contestant, put on my airiest of clothes to quell the massive amounts inner thigh sweat and looked at myself in the mirror with resolve. “You are going out baby! Remember to use your teeth!” For smiling that is.
This event was in West Hollywood, the yummiest of our city’s gay neighborhoods. And unquestionably the best place to admire attractive men. My second victory of the evening (the first being, putting on pants) was finding a free parking space on Highland Boulevard. Highland Boulevard! For those of you not familiar with the street, it’s like finding parking in front of Disneyland, or in Times Square at the M&M’s store. There it was, a free parking spot singing to me like the angels of Babylon. After a moderately illegal but highly offensive U-Turn, I squeezed my way into a spot open beneath a flurry of signage which was both confusing and beautiful. No stopping 4pm-6pm. 2 Hour parking 8am- 4pm. No standing 4am-9 pm. The implications were subtle but after multiple reads out loud I confirmed I could park and/or loiter there from now until the sun began to rise. Tonight Lady Luck was betting a thousand for me.
Working on my best Pretty Woman impersonation I crossed Sunset Boulevard, strutting towards the theater. Head up, butt out and confidence growing, I was doing something social and alone. I’m a winner!
The tiny theater was nestled inside the back pocket of a Cuban restaurant. As I approached the front entrance, I got a waft of some sort of tequila cologne and I sensed endless possibilities. It was marvelous. Cuban music bumped and blared in the background as the bouncer waved me to the rear of the restaurant around to a second entrance with its own private alley.
I stepped through a gathering crowd of male twenty-somethings all very well shaven, dressed in denim acid washed shorts and button up dress shirts.
I was already smitten and it was only 9:15. I honestly don’t know if I found myself attracted to this gaggle of very gay men, or if I simply wanted to be this gaggle of very gay men. I do know I wanted to have the prowess to wear a paisley shirt unironically. I wanted to possess both Abercrombie and Fitch’s cheekbones, and a chalkboard flat stomach; existing in a universe completely void of the feeling of one’s belly resting on one’s thighs. I wanted to laugh with them as they told jokes about their day and argue passionately about where we were going to have brunch tomorrow. Ok, that’s a lie. I’ve never been a brunch person. Take your time to judge me. I’ll wait.
Past these beautiful, happy fellows I scooted invisibly by as I made my way to the Will Call window. The lobby of the theater was the size of a children’s raisin snack box. You know the ones your mom packed in your lunch instead of a Twinkie? And you were always thinking, “Mom, why can’t you be more like Andrea’s mom?! She sends her daughter to school with a fancy Wonder Woman lunch box, homemade pizza, Twizzlers and a Fruit Punch Capri Sun. And I’m stuck here eating from my giant paper garbage bag, big enough to hold a grown turkey, eating a peanut butter and butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with a side of carrots and this goddamn box of raisins.”
You know, those raisins.
Waiting patiently in line I begin to feel the heat of the evening creeping in. But I’m not worried because I am resourceful and I have applied all-natural deodorant to my underarms, my back and my butt crack. No amount of sweat is going to spoil my lady night out on the town. The woman in front of me turns to look at someone behind me. I take this as the perfect opportunity to exercise my social skills and punch my inner shy-self squarely in the face.
“Who made the devil in charge of the weather, am I right?!” I casually toss it out there, expecting at least a snicker, and at best a new friend to go on cheese outings with. But she looks over me with dead shark eyes and says to her boyfriend, “Get me another drink, Marco. My balls are sweating.”
Feeling the need to save face, I instinctively press my finger to my ear and mumble, “Gary, I’m going to have to call you back, we can talk about the weather later.” Neither Marco, nor his date even notice I’m talking to my finger, so I decided to examine the posters on the wall for the remainder of my time waiting in line.
I haven’t seen a lot of theater, but I’m trying to change that. I’m trying to learn more about this craft of storytelling from all angles. So here I am examining posters on the wall from shows past at this buzzy little theater. The first poster I land on is called, “Five Naked Men”. I’m in. The next is about candy and boots. Yes please. The next is a gay rap opera. I’m beginning to love my raisin box. I also make note that this theater company has a moderate obsession with Kim Jong Il. One play is called, “Christmas With Kim- A Singalong.” Another is entitled, “Easter Sunday, Jesus and Kim.” And another is called “Kimmy Is My Bestie.” In these posters, the world leader is wearing a Santa Hat, coloring Easter Eggs and Harmonizing with a handful of sullen school girls.*
I’m having so much fun I don’t even notice it’s my turn when the ticket guy asks me my name. He hands me a playbill and says my seat has been comped. What?! This is Nina’s night baby! I thank the ticket guy and ask him where the bathroom is. He responds, “Exit the front door, make a sharp left, and squeeze between the iron gate and the wall. Follow it down the alley and turn to the left. It’s right behind the dumpster.” He could have saved us both time and told me to just find a spot in the shadows to relieve myself.
It didn’t matter. I needed to check to make sure my face hadn’t melted halfway down my neck and there was no telling if the show was going to be short or of epic lengths. I needed to hit the loo no matter where it’s location. I follow his oral map and sidle along the side of the pink stucco building, straddling a tiny bubbling stream beneath my feet that flowed from whence, I cannot say. The alley is long and gets darker the further I go. Then sure enough at the building’s corner, I spot a row of welcoming dumpsters. For a minute there, I was positive I was going to be hit with at least one baseball bat. I can hear the Cuban jams softly blaring in the air and I feel my back-of-the-knee-sweat kick into full force. Good thing I got here early, I’m going to need some time to blot.
Leaving the bathroom, a man waiting looks at me and asks, “Were you just starring in a cabaret called, “Risky Behavior, And I’m Loving It!”?
“No sorry that wasn’t me. But thanks!” This hair braid is working for me. I need to dress like a beer maiden more often.
“Oh you must be another wildly talented redhead.” He casually says. I chuckle and make light conversation about the oppressive heat and respond, “Don’t worry that’s not my sweat on the floor. But if you slip and fall and hit your head on the toilet, I promise not to rob you.”
Judging by his terrified expression, my joke didn’t go quite as planned. I make a note to myself to work in my morbid humor and then decide it’s best for me to shimmy back the way I came and get in line to be seated.
I don’t want to appear too eager so I stop just before the entrance. I lean into the iron gate, trying my best to look confident and blase about being alone. Clusters of hipsters surround me laughing, talking about upcoming projects, complaining about Uber drivers and how they see the fires but don’t exactly know where Burbank is located. (These folks never enter “The Valley”. They are entirely too cool to be seen there.)
I have to keep shifting my balance from foot to foot, as my high-heeled shoes are reaching their curfew. Plus my purse, which harbors a new fancy water bottle is weighing me down and keeps throwing me off kilter. I know it’s eco-friendly, but I’m pretty sure these jugs are made out of anvils. Heh heh, I said, “jugs”. The heat is rising off the sidewalk in squiggly waves and suddenly a swath of odor hits my face like a dodgeball. Except that the dodgeball smells like cold salmon and hot breath. The odor passes but then moments later it returns and carries with it an unwanted hitchhiker: fermentation. Somebody added sour wine to this party. I look around to see where it’s coming from and notice a trash can two feet from me. There are also half a dozen very well groomed people conversing right next to it. Do they not smell that? Do they not feel it on their necks and in their socks?
Looking for a distraction, I write a text message to a dear friend of mine in New York who is a wildly successful actress on Broadway. I want to brag about seeing theater in Lost Angeles. I know she’ll be proud.
It eventually gets so bad I decide to move into the lobby. The garbage and me can’t both be sweating. I find a spot to lean against the wall with my purse full of hammers and try to relax into the feeling of my now wet underwear. Wearing black shorts was by far tonight’s best decision. I lean over and hear a collective groan from behind the house doors. A woman comes rushing out and pushes me aside as I have accidentally turned off the lights in the theater. Why is the light switch all the way out here?! Mortified, I apologize and scoot over so as to not do it again.
The raisin box begins to fill up more as the people from the outside mistakenly think there is some sort of functioning air conditioning inside. Minutes later I am shoulder-to-shoulder with hot bodied, eager audience members who are all fanning themselves with various objects; playbills, glasses of wine, potato chip bags, shoes, etc. It was then I started to notice my eyes burning ever so slightly. And then it hit me: a hot boxed-in musk. I imagine Big Foot’s actual feet might have smelled close to this. Two feet away stood a bearded man wearing a tank top and a full-hair chest vest. He was intermittently lifting his arms up while he animatedly spoke to his pals. With every lift, his companions genuflected backward. His body odor was actually cooking their faces.
Let the record show, I love B.O. I mean, I’ve been known to huff an armpit or two. With certain people, I find it rather invigorating. And completely natural. Remember folks, I’m a mountain girl at heart. And you know what they say, you can take the hippie out of Boulder, but you can’t take the Boulder out of the hippie. Wait, that’s not right. But this man’s aroma was not natural or healthy. The scope of his glandular funk is laurel wearing worthy. If I wasn’t so disoriented, I would have been worried for him.
My nose hairs feel warm, and my head feels woozy and before I know it, I’ve fallen into the wall smack against the light switch again. Another groan rings out from behind the closed black doors. Quickly I shuffle farther away from the wall dragging my lead purse at my feet.
“Please play! Please start soon.” I think to myself. No, wait. I actually said that out loud. I figured no one was listening to me anyway. Instead of seeking out the seat closest to the exit, (am I the only one who does this?) now my goal becomes sitting as far away from B.O. Guy as possible. My initial plan to impress myself and strangers with my fearless I-can-go-out-alone-and-have-a-good-time-attitude has been replaced with me trying to keep from passing out in the armpit of this dirty, dirty man.
I imagine if I get stuck sitting next to this fellow I would have to say politely, “I’m sorry but with all due respect, if I sit next to you, I will vomit on your lap. Repeatedly. And with enthusiasm, because I know it will make you smell immeasurably better.” The smooshed raisins in this room are all on the verge of delirium. As people continue to cram into the lobby, the smell of smoke from the nearby fire, women’s perfume, Cuban brisket, freshly paved tar and hopelessness saturate the room. Then without fanfare, they open the house doors and we spill like meat juice into the brisk climate-controlled theater space.
Oh thank the Lord I am far away from that hound! I spot the highest seat in the room and shot put my purse onto the chair. It is at the end of the aisle and in an emergency, I can crawl under the railing to make a quick escape.
Reaching my seat I feel so grateful to get off my feet and take a drink from my hulking chalice. Contentedly I am going to sit in the dark and appreciate both the existence of air conditioning and that I have successfully escaped the stifling meat belly smell polluting the lobby. My nose hairs no longer have to fight one another to survive.
The man in front of me is sporting an unnecessarily tall, curly blonde hairdo. Oh guy with hair, please don’t be a seat shifter. Please don’t be a head-scratcher or a bouncy laugher. I notice the flock of men filling the seats around me. They are bright and laughy. They wear round glasses frames and resemble Waldo. But sexy Waldo. Waldo gone wild. Bad boy Waldo. Yesss, now you see it.
But no one takes the seat next to mine. And I didn’t even pull the ol’, throw-your-purse-on-the-seat-to-keep-it-empty, routine. Does that mean, could it possibly mean… I have the BO?! I used half a container of deodorant, rolling it virtually everywhere but under my tongue. And then I immediately think, “So what?!” I’ve got leg room, a canteen, a light snack (here’s the thing: sometimes I get sleepy watching theater, so I may, on occasion, need to chew on something to stay awake) and chilled recycled air to breathe. I’m calling it a win. You know what they say, you can take the Jewish woman out of the house but you can’t take the house out of the Jewish woman? Wait. That’s not right either.
The play begins and it is sweet and funny. My friend plays the ex-boyfriend of the lead character. He wears a red bandana around his neck, a snug muscle tank top and very tight acid washed denim shorts. Good for you acid wash. You’re making a solid comeback. He is charming and dashing and I could watch his biceps give a soliloquy. Thankfully, big hair guy doesn’t move a muscle and I get to recline like I’m in Bulkhead. Plus, I didn’t even need to chew!
The show ends and I want to stick around to congratulate my friend. So back to the lobby I go. This time I avoid the light switch and see no sign of Mr. Smellypits. I don’t want to come across too fangirl (read, stalker) so I decide to wait outside. There at the gate’s entrance, I get my pose ready. I decide it’s ok to look excited, but not too excited. I pull out the two-page playbill and pretend to read the credits again with interest and verve. Audience members are lingering and I overhear a group of men talking about my friend.
“The ex-boyfriend was super cute.”
“Meh, he was ok.”
“Oh you know you’d take him home with a bottle of cheap wine!”
“Yes! Yes I would!”
I laugh to myself. I desperately want to turn and brag to them, “That’s my new friend. And I’m going to go talk to him with my fancy hair weave and my sweat blotted forehead!” And then do a Julia Roberts laugh with all my teeth.
I look away from my well-read playbill to see him already in the lobby, talking to friends. Last time I saw him he was bloated and covered in hives, dying in a hospital bed made out of chicken crates and bubble wrap. (Our production budget was modest.) He was as charming tonight as he was convulsing in that hospital bed. I am very (secretly) excited to approach him. I need to make sure I am oh so carefree when I tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. But as I step in his direction, my two old friends: gutter and iron fence, decide to revisit me. My ankle rolls in the dip of the sidewalk stream and my body and more specifically, my face meet the vertical bars with a loud hello.
I can hear in the distance a collective, “Ooohhh!” as I go down, but it is slightly muted by the ringing tones made by my skull hitting the iron gate. Please note, I am no stranger to falling on my face. I’ve met the ground on no less than three occasions, this month alone. But fear not, I am a getter-upper. And without missing a beat I dust off both my face and rear end and make my way to the lobby. His back is to me, so I still have a shot at appearing normal. With a slight hobble, I approach and gently tap him on the shoulder. He turns to give me a sweet and gracious hug. I squeeze him a bit too enthusiastically, but then quickly jump back to tell him he was great.
Me: “I loved the show! You were so fabulous!”
Him: “Thank you so much for coming!”
Me: “Yes thank you for the ticket!”
Him: “I’m so hungry after that performance, wasn’t it crazy hot in there?”
Me: “Really? I hadn’t noticed! Oh, you should get a burrito from that cantina place nearby, I hear they are so filling you’ll feel like you’ve eaten a baby.”
Me: “I’m kidding. How would I know what a baby tastes like?”
Him: More silence.
Him: (ruffled) “Uh, have you been?”
Me: “Yes! Like a hundred and forty-three times.”
Him: “I feel like that’s a made up number.”
Me: “Yes it is.”
He looks at me quizzically.
Me: “Well, you were great, thank you again and congratulations.”
I think I might have briefly blacked out as I can’t recall if I then hugged him or shook his hand or fist-bumped his shoulder. I back away slowly, careful to avoid any walled light switches and dips in the sidewalk. I then wondered, did I say goodbye? Did I sound weird? Was he looking at me funny? Did I say something offensive? Did it even matter? He turns to talk to his friends and I refocus my energy on shaking off the wipe-out and walking like a person with feet.
Swishing my hips back and forth as I cross the street, I walk back to my free parking spot happy to see the absence of a ticket. I feel triumphant. I feel liberated. I have successfully gone to see a handsome gentleman fellow with no co-pilots. I have mingled among filmmakers, fashionistas, and trendy bloggers and while I didn’t actually speak to any of them, I did stand next to them. And with only one minor fall!
Even for those of us who make our living as performers and who interact with strangers by profession, it can be intimidating to venture out into the social world alone. But with no friends or significant others to bounce our existence off of, it can actually free us, allowing us the opportunity to be virtually anything we want. So while I may have burned out my sense of smell and offered up unnecessary information about being a violent criminal and/or burrito lover, I also gave myself permission to be a complete goon with no self-judgment.
I end my evening stopping at the supermarket to get a bottle of Vitamin C. Because I am single and can shop for vitamins at midnight without criticism. But I get waylaid at a display of Star Wars shaped puffy potato chips.
“Oh, these are coming home with me,” I say out loud. It’s midnight and the only other person near me is examining laxatives and is definitely in their own world.
At the counter, I have the thought, what if I didn’t have the cash and the person behind me offered to buy my puffy chips? Would that make the night worse or better? I turn and smile at the man behind me. He smiles awkwardly back.
At home, I drop my chips on my couch and decide to unwind with a little Netflix before bed. I go to the bathroom before beginning my show and upon looking in the mirror, notice black, Belgian waffle-like grease tracks running across my left cheek. I smile, then calmly say to myself, “You were great tonight! So fabulous! Try a burrito!”
I head back to my couch where I finish my night eating Millennium Falcon potato chips naked in my underpants.
I do love this part of my life.
*Funny right? Except that on my drive home, I heard on the news that last night North Korea just tested a hydrogen bomb. So if this post makes it out. Let’s hope we’re all laughing about it years from now.