Three LA Shorts

But first, a list of words that I confuse with other words, and therefore have to think about significantly more when I try to say them aloud:

  • Polenta, the cornmeal-based Italian food; it takes every last sinew in my body to not say “placenta”
  • Aioli, the spicy mayo that comes with your fries at nicer restaurants;  always right on the razor’s edge of blurting out “areola”; this one works both ways, as the words are totally interchangeable for me, unlike “placenta” which always, always comes out first
  • Nagini, Voldemort’s snake in Harry Potter; I refer to her solely as “Kathy Najimy,” but that one is a conscious choice

And now some stories.

The Storage Unit That Was Filled with Garbage

I recently posted on Instagram about finally getting our stuff delivered from Chicago. A very exciting day, indeed! It was surreal to have lived in a new city (and apartment) for 2 1/2 weeks, packed a whole apartment and then traveled across the country the week and a half prior to that, to make for nearly a full month of not living normally. I remember packing up our Chicago apartment at the end of September and saying to books and dishes, “I probably won’t see you for awhile.” And I was right!

We reserved movers to meet us at our moving unit in Van Nuys early last Thursday morning, which was a very easy commute because no one here wakes up before like, 10. To give a small amount of context to anyone who hasn’t used a moving-unit service (still calling it a “moving-unit” as not to out a particular moving company, but maybe I will start a PODcast and out them there), it works like this: You rent what is essentially a storage unit from a participating company of your choice. The difference is that the storage unit is not a part of a building; rather, it’s just a big metal box that is moved around a warehouse with a forklift. (Very cool to witness and even cooler to think about how satisfying it must be to stack and unstack things all day; thought briefly about quitting writing and going into demolitions full-time.) Your big metal box gets loaded on a tractor trailer and is driven to where you need it to go, e.g., the City of Angels. Most cities allow you to place your metal box on the street, and you can unload directly from there into your new home. As luck would have it, we moved from one big city to another, so street zoning laws prohibited us from leaving it on either our new or old streets. Therefore, we had to hire movers to move all our stuff into their moving truck, and then load it into the moving unit, vice versa of course for the California part of the task. That is why we had to meet our movers at the loading dock last Thursday morning. You can also avoid all of this by driving your stuff across the country in your own rented moving truck but, as I cannot think of a lower depth of despair, we opted not to do that because I didn’t want to hate myself. I remain steadfast in saying I have no regrets.

Our movers were three lovely Russian gentlemen (though two were quick to clarify that they were Latvian and Bulgarian respectively) and upon hearing we are writers, they began to pitch stories, I assume with an aim to get a story credit on our pilot, “Movers.” One of them asked if we are the next Dan Brown. I said, “I hope so.” The leader of the moving team then told us a story about moving a hoarder out of her home and discovering a mummified parrot between the cushions of her couch. I had many follow-up questions about this claim, chief among them a question of the parrot’s age in relation to the hoarder’s age. Parrots live forever, everybody knows that!

A woman in a BMW pulled into the loading zone. She was very put together: high heels, expensive bag, hair up in a sleek bun. From around the corner, three day laborers entered on foot, one of whom holding a gigantic pair of bolt cutters. The forklift was moving again, readying 3 storage units for her. We watched her deliver some instructions to the day laborers then disappear, presumably into the main office or some kind of Fancy Lady Lounge. I decided to watch them unload her units, since watching my own things get loaded made me too nervous, and Tony was already low-key Dad-style checking in with our movers after every box. I was also curious to know what such a fancy lady could have in storage. Jewels: Box 1/7 I chuckled to myself. The day laborers cut the Master Lock with their giant cutters, and that’s when I saw it: an avalanche of trash cascade out and onto the asphalt. It was too good to be true! You know, you dream about seeing so many trash bags fall out of a storage receptacle, especially one owned and operated by a rich person, but you never think the stars will align in such a way that is actually happens to you. And then the second moving unit was opened: More trash! Trash bag upon trash bag, gathering in a great mountainous heap. The day laborers shrugged at each other like, Boy, this lady has a lot of trash! then proceeded to toss it about before eventually digging out a gigantic antique dinette set from circa the “Backstreet’s Back” music video. I guess it just goes to show that sometimes you have to dig through a lot of trash before you can….eat? (That one didn’t work so well, I’ll keep trying to break it.)

I of course want to note that I recognize the relative disparity in a fancy lady just passing off her mess onto someone else, in this case, workers she can probably exploit if she wanted to because that’s how power and privilege works in this country. I also recognize that she is likely a person who is used to things getting done for her while she gets to wait inside in the air conditioning, and that sucks. But for now, reader, take solace in the fact that once the storage units were open it was revealed what had been inside her all along: it was trash. (Theeeeere it is.)

The First Time I Bonded with Other Angelinos 

Perhaps I have expressed this before, but one of my primary concerns in moving to LA has been finding people that are like-minded. There are plenty of nice people, plenty of funny people, plenty of amazing friends-of-friends, but I’d be lying if I said I was totally sure I could hang with Angelinos. Over the past several weeks, I have become very aware of how Midwestern I am, and I began to ask myself, “Then what, exactly, is universal?”

I got my answer at the West Hollywood Target.

Tony and I had spent most of Sunday shopping at Target, because that’s what you do when you move. (It’s also what you do not when you move, when you just feel like “going out and doing something!”, when you just want to feel something.) This was to be our last “big” move-in Target trip; purchases included things like a vacuum, an ironing board, tiny fake pumpkins that were noted on my shopping list as “fall color.” It was a relief to be done with this, because it meant we could start living our lives with all the same trappings that we had in Chicago, with most of the same stuff, with all the comforts of home that go into making a home. Of course, when we actually got home, we realized we had left Target without an entire bag of stuff.

I was very angry.

Angry because it meant the move was still not over, angry because driving all the way back to West Hollywood would not be a breezy errand, angry because I never forget anything but when I do I really beat myself up over it. Luckily, we were attending a Halloween story telling event in West Hollywood later that evening so we decided to leave a whole half hour early and go back to the Target.

We got our stuff back, it was all good, plenty of time to spare. But in the middle of our exchange, while we were waiting to see if they could track down our bag, I noticed two security guards bolt out the front door, presumably to chase someone down. Tony leaned over and said, in total sincerity, “Do you think there was an issue with our receipt?” Eventually our transaction was complete and we got into the next down elevator to go back to the parking garage. We stepped into the elevator where two Kendall Jenner-clones already were: Shiny high ponytails, high-waisted jeans, crop tops, dramatic brows. One was on her phone, with her agent, I thought. Then, Target security personnel appeared at either elevator door, so suddenly that my first instinct was to be anxious of them. Other people loaded onto the elevator, but I realized we weren’t going anywhere. That’s when I realized security was there to apprehend the two ponytails.

“Mommy, I have to go,” said the taller ponytail into her phone before hanging up and cooly going with the security guards. The smaller ponytail toady followed suit, pushing their over-stuffed cart back into the bowels of Target Jail.

“Oooh, mommy’s not gonna be happy with her,” a fellow elevator rider said the second the elevator door was closed.

Without hesitation, the other people on the elevator started adding onto this bit, calling out their total lack of denial and laughing at their acceptance at getting caught. We all sort of reveled in our collective pettiness and wore it like a party tank, while ultimately knowing, Hey, I’m not the one shoplifting at Target! And that’s when I realized: it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you are there for witnessing the comeuppance of some white girls at the Target.

The Woman in the Gold Dress

I was sitting at a Halloween story telling event a few nights ago, when I noticed a woman slink in. It was nearing the end of intermission, and people were heading back to their seats, fresh drinks in hand. This woman, however, had not been there for the first half. In fact, I wasn’t entirely convinced she knew what she had wandered into, as this event was taking place at a bar and anyone could wander into this back room if they wanted to. The woman wore a floor-length gold sequin dress and she jangled the ice of her cocktails in a glass. She was smiling not only with her mouth but with her eyes and her whole body. She was very drunk. The lights changed and the MC of the event approached his microphone, signaling to us that it’s time to be quiet and behave. The woman in the gold dress had different ideas, though. Instead of finding a seat or heading back to the bar, she opted to sit on a chair that was part of the set. She wrapped herself in a sarcophagus of fake cobwebs and then sat down in the space where performers might perform. So picture it: the MC, in full vampire regalia and makeup, is addressing a room full of people while a woman in a gold dress sits exactly parallel to him. It looked like this:

Artist’s rendering

She stayed for more stories than I expected, laughing along at all the right times, listening intently, never taking her eyes off the performers. It seemed that the woman in the gold dress might be an honest-to-god fan of live entertainment. And when she decided to go, at some point in the middle of a story, she quietly stood up and left, dragging all the fake cobwebs with her, the very same cobwebs that were wrapped around mic and music stands. At first there was an attempt by some audience members to assist her, but they soon realized it was not a fruitful undertaking. They just kind of let it happen. She slinked back out into the bar, ice cubes clinking, sequins and cobwebs disappearing through a curtain. The moral of this story is: When you’re a woman in a gold dress, you get to do whatever the fuck you want, I think.

Book Club Questions

  1. What do the female protagonists have in common in all three stories? How are they different?
  2. How does privilege (theirs and your own) affect the lens through which you read these characters and their actions?
  3. Is it possible that the woman in the gold dress was a ghost?