Rodeo Drive is like a cunty woman. Rich, beautiful, and fully aware of it. The second you see her you know you don’t have a chance in hell. She’s used to attention, to people marveling at her pulchritude and opulence. Me, I try not to look, as is my policy with any too-beautiful woman. Why blow her head up even more?
The Grill is located just off of Rodeo Drive, expensive and hidden enough to avoid hungry, coupon-clipping tourists wondering where the nearest Longhorn is. I fall into this category, by the way. It’s a cramped, bustling restaurant full of insecure health nuts who take themselves too seriously. Upon entering I hear at least two iPhone related conversations:
“Oh, you have to get one! The gadgets…”
“What about the gadgets?”
“There’s so many of them! Look at what I can do with just my fingers!”
Like babies discovering that thing between their legs grows when touched.
LA, particularly the westside, is full of simple people with money. Imagine every asshole who ever made homecoming court living in one area. Style, but no substance. Vienna sausage with a gourmet label.
Why am I here in the first place?
Joe Blaze. I have no idea what the fuck Joe does. I think he wants to manage or be a motivational speaker or something. He mentions Tony Robbins a lot. Joe is a real nice guy. He says hi to everyone and goes around giving hugs. High-octane, full of energy, always on. He acts like an overly protective mother thinks her child would act if she gave him caffeine before bedtime.
I have a seat on the bench next to three other people Joe roped into lunch: a young, gay optometrist in a polo shirt, a middle-aged Asian man with a tiny body and giant head and parted, reddish hair, and a spiky-haired Asian kid who can’t decide if he’s more academic or Fast and the Furious.
The big-headed, tiny-bodied Asian man takes out a yellow legal pad and looks over at me:
“So do you have any ideas for the Joe Blaze Show?”
“Basically it’s going to be like a real-life Entourage and Joe’s going to be the hero at the end of every show. There are going to be complications and problems and Joe’s going to use his networking powers to save the day.”
I smile and nod. What. The. Fuck.
Joe looks down at us lovingly, all lined up on the bench like sitting ducks. He calls us his children.
I know I shouldn’t have let him talk me into lunch.
He’s been pushing it on me for a while, at Equinox, and one day I finally just didn’t have an excuse. It’s not that I don’t want a free lunch in an expensive restaurant, because I fucking do. I just don’t want to endure a sales pitch. It’s like having lunch with a Marine Recruiter on the eve of your eighteenth birthday. You know what you’re getting yourself into. See, Joe is an idea man. Next-big-things swim around in his head all day long and if he could only bring one of them to fruition he’d be a rich, rich man. But the problem with having too many ideas is you can never focus on one.
A loopy, middle-aged, mammoth-titted woman in a black dress shows up. She wears a giant hat and talks like she’s excited about everything. Like most older women in LA, I’m convinced she’s forced herself to forget the exact year she was born. That way she can be in her twenties forever.
We get cramped together at a small round table near the back of the restaurant. Joe makes a joke about how much space I take up.
“I know! Look at these arms,” the gay optometrist says. And then, without asking, he squeezes one of them and smiles at me with a twinkle in his eye. Fuck. Not again.
There’s bread at the table and I’m starving because I had small breakfast on purpose. Nobody touches the bread, though, and I feel self-conscious. But I slice myself some carbs anyway. My movements are restricted, like I’m in coach on a crowded airplane. I don’t want to brush up against the optometrist and give him the wrong idea. I don’t want to knock over everyone’s iced tea on this not-sturdy table.
A waitress brings toast and broccoli to the table – appetizers, I guess – and asks me what I want to drink.
“Diet coke, please.”
And I’m happy because I haven’t had an ice cold diet coke at a restaurant forever. I miss the cold glass, the condensation on my fingers, the free refills. A moment later the waitress returns with a tiny glass of ice and a miniature, eight ounce bottle of diet coke that looks like it’s manufactured specifically for the midget community.
She pours the diet coke for me and, like that, the bottle is empty. Four dollars, I’m guessing. Maybe five. I hate to have the I’m-not-paying-so-I’ll-get-whatever-the-fuck-I-want mentality, but this is ridiculous. I ordered a diet coke, not a diet diet coke. Not a diet coke on a diet.
I order another.
Joe takes out his own yellow legal pad. He proceeds to draw diagonal arrows on it, coloring in the heads with the black ink from his pen. Lots of arrows.
The loopy woman starts to talk about her soon-to-be burgeoning cookie enterprise.
“I’m going to be like the Mrs. Fields of the health cookie industry. I’m going to be the cookie mother.”
“The cookie diva. Cookie mother sounds fat,” the gay optometrist says.
“Ooh! I like that! Cookie di-va!”
Joe writes “cookie” on his legal pad. He circles it and draws three arrows pointing to it.
An older gay man who looks like Michael York joins us at the table. The woman continues to talk about her cookies.
“And there’s time-released carbs and no trans-fats and almost no calories. In fact, the time-released carbs have barely any calories at all.”
“We’re putting hemp in them. Not marijuana hemp, but hemp hemp. They have these free radicals and stuff that make you feel better. One of my girlfriends broke up with her boyfriend recently and she was sad and crying and I gave her a cookie and within ten minutes she was cranking the stereo and dancing!”
Everyone at the table either says no or gives her these incredulous “noooo” looks like a skeptical audience in an infomercial.
“I swear! We’re taking these to Oprah. We’re going on Oprah with these. We just need some investment money so we can be prepared for all the orders we’re going to get.”
“I want to invest,” the gay optometrist says.
I feel around in my pocket for loose change.
Cookie Diva passes around some cookies, which surprisingly don’t taste like shit. I have two. Everyone exclaims how good they taste. Cookie Diva revels and basks.
“I wish I could say it’s me, but it’s the power of the chocolate.”
The menus come, finally, and I can’t decide if I want the twenty-five dollar steak salad or the seventeen dollar grilled chicken sandwich. Joe asks the spiky-haired Asian kid to tell us about his business ventures.
“Well, you know how there’s Sprint and AT&T and Verizon?”
“Well there’s this other company called ACU and they’re really good and they’ll totally give you this brand new phone for free if you sign up with them. Look.”
He takes out flyers and passes them around. Everyone reads with genuine interest. Either that or they’re really good actors.
Michael York speaks up. He’s here to help with the pitch:
“Video phones are the wave of the future. They’ll do especially well in the Lah-tino community because they’ll be able to see their families back in Mexico or wherever.”
“That’s such a good idea!” Cookie Diva says.
Joe writes “idea” on his pad. Circles it. Arrows it. Shit, you already know.
“I know. It’s even endorsed by Donald Trump,” Spiky-Haired Asian says. And then he shows us a picture of Donald Trump.
Michael York looks at me:
“Are you happy with your phone?”
“Uh… I mean I can talk on it.”
“Let me see it.”
I take out my first or second generation Sprint camera phone and flip it open. I can hear a collective, restrained gasp.
“Oh no no no no. You need something much better than that.”
“But it works.”
“You should sign up with ACU. If you get two people to sign up under you you get $700.”
Hmm, a video phone pyramid scheme endorsed by a picture of Donald Trump. No thanks. Maybe if it was 1994. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Big Ben starter kits from Problem Child 2.
The waitress comes back and I order the steak salad and another diet diet coke. I spend the next fifteen minutes keeping my mouth shut and avoiding eye contact. I don’t want to invite sales pitches or sexual come-ons. I don’t want a video phone or a blowjob.
Through my peripheral, I see the gay optometrist checking me out. His eyes burning a hole through me.
And then Michael York’s eyes. He says this:
“You look a lot like my nephew.”
I nod and smile uncomfortably. The gay optometrist chimes in:
And then he pats my leg. I check Joe’s pad to see if he’s writing down “homosexual gang rape”. Circle. Arrow.
Lunch comes. The salad is delicious. Not twenty-five dollars delicious, but twelve dollar delicious. The conversation takes a weird(er) turn.
“We only have enough oil for ten more years. Then we’re going to collapse and die like Atlantis.”
“Did you know Atlantis had lasers?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah. They had crystals and shined light through them. Those are lasers.”
“Didn’t they plant a time capsule in the Sphinx?”
“Yes! I was reading something about that!”
“They planted a time capsule in the Yucatan too.”
“It’s a shame they drowned.”
Does it really fucking matter who’s saying what at this point? Another conversation:
“I’ve been going to these breathing classes.”
“Kind of. You learn how to breathe. And, if you breathe a certain way, you can get higher than any drug will get you.”
Really. How do I have to breathe to believe this bullshit? I make the mistake of looking up. The big-headed tiny-bodied Asian man is staring at me. Smiling.
“So would you be interested in helping out with the Joe Blaze show?”
And from there, lunch begins its final descent. Waning conversations, mostly-empty plates. I arrived at 1:05. It’s now 4:00.
“Well, I’m gonna go catch the four bus.”
“Oh no, I’ll give you a ride,” the gay optometrist says. Great.
The walk to the car is every bit as awkward as you can imagine, and more. One big, extended what-do-I-say-now moment. We enter this fancy, underground parking garage with shops and wait for valet to pull his car around. Twenty dollar flat fee by the way.
Fucking parking in this city.
We get into his Jaguar and I comment on how I’ve been bumming rides from people and have ridden in a whole bunch of nice cars.
“How’s this one?”
He smiles. Pats my leg. We pull out of the underground parking garage into heavy traffic. We need to make left and there’s no left turn signal. It takes about twenty minutes to get back onto Santa Monica Boulevard, which is less than a half mile away.
Gay Optometrist turns on his stereo. Presses play on his CD player. Selena fills the car.
And I’m dreaming of you tonight…
“So, do you have a girlfriend?”
… until tomorrow I’ll be holding you tight…
“Yeah, in Tennessee.”
… and there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be…
… than here in my room, dreaming about you and me.
Richard Marx comes on and we don’t say anything to each other for the rest of the ride. He makes the occasional “traffic is soooo bad” comment, but that’s more for his own comfort.
He drops me off in front of work.
“Well, good luck.”
Translation: Get on your fucking way.