“Ah, L.A.!” wrote my friend from Barrington, RI, where I spent a night in July en route to the Cape. For 25 years or so, D.C. was their primary residence and they were such generous hosts to me in Kalorama (by Dupont Circle) in March. She grew up in Montclair, New Jersey but they summered in Chatham on the Cape and I texted her, “Bailed on dance. Stuck in traffic on Sunset in Brentwood. Dad had MRI and brother at the house so chatted and left too late. It’s not the L.A. where I grew up.” I don’t want to be one of those annoying “I walked 8 miles in the snow with holes in my boots” kind of people—at 40—but really, it remains shocking to me that I cannot navigate my hometown of Los Angeles the way I did when I was 16 or even 26.
As any reader of Victorian Chick or my FB pages knows, I was estranged from my family for the better part of a decade, so after the summer of 2000, I didn’t return to LA until 2008. By 2009 I was living ten days a month with my parents in the home I grew up as their little girl/best friend and companion/taxi driver for my father with macular degeneration.
I remember going to the Laugh for Sight comedy benefit at the Hollywood Improv in November of 2010. Hilma, with my parents 34 years first as my caregiver (Mom is too egalitarian and liberal to say nanny as I’ve mentioned many times) and their housekeeper/cook helper, works just three hours a day on weekdays now. I was all dolled up for the show featuring Sarah Silverman, Adam Ferrara, Kevin Nealon, Kevin Pollock, and Christopher Titus, all there to support Laugh for Sight, founded my friend Brian Fischler, a blind comedian with a gorgeous yellow lab who could be Emma’s boyfriend but for the little matter of 3000 miles between them.
At 6PM, Hilma asked, in Spanish, where I was going. I said I was going to Melrose for a comedy show with a cocktail hour at 7PM and she looked at me as though I had mental problems: “Porque estas aqui todavia?” (“Why are you still here?”) My hair was wet and I felt in honor of these extraordinary comedians, I should actually go with dry hair. I left at 6:15 to get from Sunset and Chautaqua to the Improv—a 25 minute drive in no traffic—and arrived at 7:25! It is one thing intellectually to understand that traffic post-9/11 is otherworldly and quite another to experience it firsthand.
Our neighbor, a graceful, elegant, slender early 60s woman in a gorgeous modern home she rebuilt, won’t go to dinner in Westwood at the Napa Grill (which she adores) because it takes her an hour from our house during the week. That’s UCLA, really, but the 405 has become like the DMZ: you do it at your peril and only if you have an excellent reason.
All this to say, Dad had an MRI today in Santa Monica for a minor back and leg pain issue and once I finished swimming and chatting with my brother, I left far too late to drive to Risa’s class at Hama Jazz Dance Centre in Studio City in under 90 minutes. I called Mom from Barrington and Sunset in Brentwood, reported my progress and asked for an honest assessment of how long it would take to get over the hill to the Valley—even on Sepulveda—and she said, “Oh, sweetheart. I was afraid you’d left too late. You could still be 50 minutes away.”
But this would have been my first dance class in Los Angeles in 23 years and Risa teaches on Saturday. Waiting six days won’t kill me. Dad’s buddy from Dallas, a bankruptcy lawyer he met on the big oil case in the mid-1980s when he lived in Dallas 6 days a month, is coming that night and I always like to see him.
Dad’s friend left law to become a Presbyterian minister after years away from the Dallas Baptist church in which he was raised and is now practicing again. He has guns—duh–and enjoys hearing about my little shooting excursions with my Houston-raised boyfriend who learned to shoot in Boy Scouts and then took lessons with the head or co-head of security at the Reagan Library in Moorpark, CA (Ventura County). I’ll just drive down from Santa Barbara around 10:30 on Saturday and make the noon class with no problem before an easy 25 minute drive from the Valley to the Palisades.
I can’t help noting that if I were in New York, it would—even at rush hour—be a 13 dollar cab ride from the Upper East Side to Upper West Side through the park on 66th. Twenty minutes, 13 bucks tops before tip, and I’d be at Luigi. Risa doesn’t do Luigi, but she teaches lyrical jazz and I think she is a vision. I want to book a few privates just for turns because I can’t possibly do Hama’s advanced jazz with his across the floor (which is not part of Luigi’s classical method) until I have a less-than- completely-humiliating double pirouette. Turns were never my long suit but my doubles were fine in the 1980s.
It’s all fine. I have been meaning to hit the Daily Grill Happy Hour forever. The prices went up since I first saw the happy hour menu. It used to be ridiculously cheap with 3 and 4 dollar bites, including an ahi poke for 4. That’s now 6 but there are well drinks for 5 and an okay Chardonnay and Cabernet for 5 also. The 6 dollar Pinot is supposedly good and a few of the frugal lawyers tried that. Frank Sinatra and what I take it is an exhibition game for the NFL are playing on this mellow late summer evening in Santa Monica adjacent to the Yahoo Center.
It used to be that going inland, that is, east on the 10 freeway into downtown from the Westside in the morning and returning home in the evening presented the problem. Mom tells me that traffic patterns have fundamentally changed, so that people are coming west in the morning to go to work in Santa Monica for IT and entertainment or nanny gigs and that you can’t predict when you’re going to get stuck. She further tells me that the weekends on the 10 freeway are no longer safe and that basically it’s all a mess, all the time.
I only made it as far as Barrington and Sunset before giving up and then heading to the Daily Grill. I thought I would make a pitstop at a Starbucks which seems no longer to be there and spied a coffee shop where the great old independent bookstore Dutton’s used to be. That closed at 5PM and I asked a lovely young couple, late 20s or early 30s, if there were WiFi to steal, already having fed the meter.
We started talking of course and it turns out she teaches at a Venice charter school and dates a man in Hollywood. She grew up in both the Palisades and Brentwood and he went to Buckley (the rival of Harvard, when it was still a boys school before the merger with Westlake). She said, “The traffic is horrible! This is our life. I live here and he lives in Hollywood.” To a Westsider, that might as well as be Orange County or the North Valley. “Oh,” I observed, “So you’re in a long distance relationship?” They laughed and I soon learned they’re Jewish. We talked about old Jewish areas of LA like the Fairfax District, where my father grew up as a lower-middle class boy in an area known as the Borscht Belt.
I have a friend recently transplanted from the Boston area to Santa Monica. Her cousin lives in Beverly Hills and when we met, she told me she can’t even go see her until 3PM or it takes her 90 minutes. This is not a joke. Of course, this is all much worse for people who actually have commitments or appointments they must make in a timely fashion. The traffic in LA doesn’t bother me, unless I’m going to dance (now) in the Valley at 6:30 PM on a weeknight. I don’t have to be anywhere in particular and if I have a commitment in the Valley or Hollywood or downtown—and by commitment I mean a long and likely boozy meal–I just leave at 2 and find a WiFi hotspot to read and write beforehand.
Tonight, I ordered the chicken pot pie for 6 and a few glasses of the Chardonnay before the last happy hour call and both are quite good. The pot pie is better than the wine but it’s 5 bucks in Brentwood/Santa Monica so you really can’t complain, though Dad believes that the absence of a rational basis for an objection should in no way interfere with the pleasure of complaining, or in Yiddish, “kvetching.” [Ed note: my friend calls Chardonnay “hangover juice.” Three glasses spread over three hours, I felt fine but woke up a bit, well, less than ideal. Turns out my dear friend in Grand Rapids, sommelier at the new Chloe Elan–very chic place with great menu and service–says that La Terre is La Plonk, “not good Chard.” He added that good Chardonnay is no more hangover juice than good Sauvignon. Daily Grill has Duckhorn, a Sauvignon of which he approves, but it’s double the happy hour price of the La Terre.]
Dad was in very good spirits in spite of the discomfort of the MRI—25 minutes in a hard, confined space with none of his pillows—and was pleased that Facebook friends heard his theory about fathers and sons versus fathers and daughters. His view is that fathers generally have an easier time (and deep down, though he doesn’t say this, do a better job) with girls and that it’s much easier for all kinds of reasons.
Superficially, you don’t have to do Little League. More fundamentally, the Oedipal thing or at least the derivative Bloomian anxiety of influence, competition thing is nowhere near as severe between fathers and daughters. Certainly, competitive urges can surface in ugly ways. But overall, the stakes are different and particularly in families with money, fathers tend not to compete with their daughters in the same ways.
I must say that my brother and uncle, both tremendous athletes, really wanted to have girls and so did my ex-boyfriend, who lucked out with two bright, beautiful girls. My brother’s girls are truly talented dancers and until she gave it up, my older niece was headed for a Stanford or Ivy tennis scholarship. She’ll go to MIT or an Ivy or Stanford; she just won’t go on a tennis scholarship. She will essentially have finished high school with all her AP courses by the end of junior year and the younger girl is just as exceptional both in school and dance.
My half-nieces are also really happy, well-adjusted, social girls. My brother and his wife were great divorced parents. But my brother never missed the chance to coach their baseball teams. Of course, he was a WLA Little League Coach well over a decade and he has unpaired as well. He told me yesterday that if he’d had boys, he would have done what my cousin’s husband does in Ellensberg, WA: he coaches year-round because my cousin’s son plays basketball, football and baseball. Our nuclear family doesn’t consider soccer a real sport (sorry); my brother played baseball, football, basketball, and tennis but never soccer.
I met a mom on the Cape at Five Bays Bistro, the only fine dining in Osterville, MA, that soccer would have been the death of her and that she therefore steered her two children to the patrician sport of lacrosse. It’s not the plebeian nature of soccer which distresses me (and I’m not sure than anyone considers it thus, but there is no denying that crew and lacrosse are traditionally upper crust, preppy sports); it’s the sheer ennui of this low-scoring and interminable game.
I have already recounted on FB and Victorian Chick my phone call with the AYSO lady in 2nd grade. I hated ball sports but nothing—with the possible exception of volleyball which I considered sadistic torture to the wrists—was more odious than soccer. If I had liked it, I knew getting Dad off the boat (or letting Mom go) on Saturdays to watch a bunch of girls kicking a ball around to no end or purpose was never gonna happen.
Maybe it’s a matter of class or ethnicity, but the idea that guys want sons is completely foreign to me as an LA girl raised in this milieu. And my one uncle (my aunt’s husband born and raised in Seattle) was absolutely not raised upper middle class. My ex-boyfriend was a Choate kid raised in Manhattan, as well as the only captain two years running of the Choate tennis team, and he absolutely did not want sons.
On Saturday night, Dad recounted the story night about Mom’s little “surprise” after 5 or 6 years of marriage. They had married with a kind of Congreve Way of the World proviso: no kids. He already had two and that was quite enough. He was driving up Chautauqua, probably in that big black boat of a Cadillac with the red leather interior, and she thought he’d crash the car.
After a slight negotiation, he agreed but said that “if it was a boy, they were sending it back” because he wasn’t “doing Little League again.” Now, I remember this story but Dad has no recollection either of a gender preference nor of this stated aversion to extremely intensive Little League engagement. Anyone who knows my father knows he wouldn’t just dither in Little League. My brother happens to be an extraordinary athlete in every sport and not surprisingly, he was the star of WLA Little League, soon earning the nickname Koufax.
My Macbook wasn’t charged so I moved to one of the comfy couches near an outlet and am slightly sorry I did because there was a party of 7 next to me at the tables, clearly partners taking summer associates and interns out for drinks. When they sat down—two fit middle-aged gentleman, an extremely easy stunning blonde (and I’m not an easy critic) in an outfit I’d die for, and three mid-20s golden boys in nice shirts and slacks but no tieor jacket as is now the custom in private practice LA firms—I heard the senior partner talking to the young men about “success.” I’m not clear who the girl is; my battery ran out before I was able to employ my superior powers of eavesdropping.
When I say stunning, I mean that I have seen and known of Ford and Elite models who have nothing on her (I’d say Ford as they have always preferred blondes). The senior partner was talking about a senior associate no longer with the firm who clearly hadn’t been able to cut it. He seemed in a casual and not overly didactic or moralizing tone to be using this subpar associate as an example of what not to do if you want to “make it.” “Whenever you meet a person who has been successful in any field, and you ask them how they did it, the response is always the same: I killed myself in my 20s and 30s, kicked ass and had no life.”
When I tell new friends on FB my story and they say that it’s never too late to finish my dissertation and get my doctorate to teach, this is where I’m coming from. Academic stars or at least tenured professors at good places are finished with their Ph.D.s at 30 or 31 at the latest and landing tenure track positions by 32. Getting a Ph.D in English at 42? What’s the point? If by “success” (and I am not here talking about money of course) you mean the possibility of tenure at a school you’d want to be if you grew up in a coastal urban city, that ship has sailed. The professor dream died a decade ago and I’m okay with that but it’s worth explaining once again.
The articulation of the Kamikaze model of success was the point at which my battery died and I had to move. A pity, as I am quite curious about this Grace Kelly figure wearing a thin, long sweater dress with a cardigan and cute tan wedges. Is she an associate? A prodigy and a partner at 35? An office manager or secretary, er, administrative assistant? The only clue I had was her offhanded remark to the male summer interns/associates about other friends of theirs, presumably at other firms: “Do they drive Ferraris? Is that part of the package?” (This had to be a joke.)
Incidentally, I’m not sure why blondes tend to have thinner hair than brunettes, but she has decent, relatively thick and lustrous hair. It’s just a bit on the thin side, though nothing like Gwyneth Paltrow’s anemic hair which she is determined to wear, for no reason I can determine, in a Marcia Brady middle part. She has a million stylists and has been on best-dressed lists for 15 years so it’s not that she has no access to someone who could steer her in the right direction.
In the Estee Lauder ads, her hair is glammed up in 1940s curls (the way it was in Talented Mr. Ripley) and I’ve never understood why she chooses a hairstyle which wouldn’t flatter a Breck or Wella girl post-1975 when she has unlimited resources to give it some body and layers. Clearly, she likes it that way. Gwyneth is a lovely, talented actress and devoted mother. I see her on covers of magazines plugging her cookbooks and apparently food—both cooked at home and ordered in restaurants—were central to life in the Paltrow home.
Bruce, her beloved father who died prematurely in his early 60s, loved Michael’s and 72 Market Street. In an interview, she said that he grew up lower middle class or the lower end of middle class and that his family couldn’t afford to eat out in New York (Brooklyn if I remember correctly). Enjoying fine dining in LA was therefore a great pleasure for Bruce and they ate out at wonderful Westside restaurants. After 6th grade graduation when the family moved to Manhattan, I never saw Gwyneth again. Our pool party for 6th grade graduation was in fact at their Santa Monica home. She would have no idea who I was if I didn’t identify myself as Maria Ordin from St. Augustine (and add that I was close to Shana and Ari).
Before moving to the leather couches near the back entrance, when they were asking the server about happy hour wines (the firm must be very frugal to care about happy hour wines), I told the young men to avoid the Ginger Pear. I tried one on Saturday when I came here with Mom and Dad and it was sickeningly sweet. Our server, who of course knows Dad like everyone here (Dad knew Bob Spivak decades ago, the founder first of the original Grill in Beverly Hills and then the wildly successful moderate Daily Grill chain), happily switched out this pear vodka concoction for the Duckworth Sauvignon. I recommended this and they said it was not on the budget or something comparably amazing (it’s 11 I think).
I haven’t written my Legally Blonde blog and will do that tonight and post it tomorrow before I have lunch with a man a few years younger than me who went to Yale Divinity School after Cornell undergrad and Penn Law. He hated law and is now writing screenplays. We’ve known each other some time now on FB chat. I only have four Yale friends I talk to at all on Facebook, all men and all, with one exception, people I met on Facebook. One, with whom I dined at Blush in Santa Barbara on a pitstop from LA to San Francisco, I met at the 2010 reunion. I do have two girls who went to my high school before Yale but never talk to them on or off FB.
I have not one friend from St. Augustine, Westlake, Yale or UCSB (which was socially abysmal for me on every level) on my FB page or in my real life. This is the miracle of Facebook. There may be some ridiculous drama on occasion (of course with women), but overall it’s a true blessing and I have too many wonderful people to chat with daily for me to get through the stack of books on my nightstand.
I also have friends not on Facebook at all, all of whom I met out and about in New York, a point I intend to make in the long-delayed spec piece on New York vs LA when I check out Julie Carlson’s England’s First Family of Writers: Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Shelley at UCSB. Extensive search and destroy missions did not uncover the book in the trunk of the Saab (aka mobile closet/landfill) and I need it for the second part of the piece.
The pool at my parents’ house is glorious right now, even unheated, so I can do penance for my chicken pot pie and wine in the morning before lunch and post the theater blog then.. My friend Mark just got a rescue kitten named Pyxis and I am dying to play with her so I hope to swing down South (by LAX) after lunch in Santa Monica or Venice to have some kitty time!
Happy Monday from Santa Monica!
Tuesday morning: I just posted this and wanted to thank you all for looking me up on Facebook. Weekly reach just hit 3744!