ILLO BY JEN/ WORDS BY LJ
November of 2014 was one of the roughest and ugliest months of my life. Writing is a really therapeutic thing for me IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T NOTICED so once December rolled around I forced myself to keep really intense journals as a means of distracting myself from the general messiness of my everything. Plus December is a really large and descript month and generally my favorite month to write about. In December, everything feels like something. This is the first of three instalments in this series.01.12
Yesterday one of the producers of the TV show Desperate Housewives ate dinner at my restaurant. I leaned against the wine glass cupboard with my hands clasped neatly behind my back because I work in fine dining and when in doubt clasp your hands neatly behind your back. When you clasp your hands neatly behind your back people believe that you are a person who works in fine dining and not just a person pretending to seem like a person who works in fine dining by clasping their hands neatly behind their back. Guess which one I am.
I listened to him tell his friends a story about how just before Desperate Housewives got picked up by ABC or whatever he was broke and feeling like crap about his life and he went to see a psychic and the psychic told him “You’re going to be very successful, but you’re going to have to work hard for that success. But at least the prospect of success is open to you— some people work as hard as you do, but success just isn’t in the cards for them.” The story had a kind of “Worship me” vibe to it and he kept going on and on about how hard he had to work to get to where he is now, dining with Ian Fleming’s grandson at a fancy tiny restaurant in Notting Hill, and I kept on standing there, kept my hands clasped neatly behind my back, gazing toward the front door so that guests can’t tell I’m secretly watching the levels of their water glasses because if a Michelin inspector happens to be secretly dining in the restaurant and the water glass goes empty we’ll never get a Michelin star, and then we’ll all have to kill ourselves, unfortunately. I listened to his story about the hot young thang who roped him into wakeboarding in Malibu which segued into a little bit about how he’s a Pisces in Western astrology but an Aquarius in Vedic astrology and Ian Fleming’s grandson nodded Mm-hmm Mm-hmm Mm-hmm like it was the most fascinating thing he’d ever heard in his life, which is probably how he reacts to everything, and I sort of wanted to go pull up a chair and have my sommelier pour me a glass of Larmandier-Bernier that I’m sure I would have fucked up pouring if I’d poured it and be like “Oh that’s cool that you’re a Pisces, give me money, I’m a water sign too,” but instead I kept on standing there and hoped so hard in my head that I’m one of those same kinds of people as he is. That at very least the prospect of success is open to me.
Tonight I was walking home from my regular Monday night Laura Jane date night of going to my second-favorite pub in London The Angelic to drink three glasses of wine and work on my novel that tonight was intercepted by a bald man from Chicago and his British friend with hair sitting down at the table next to me. In a loud voice that dared you to listen to nothing else, Bald Chicagoan started preachin bout how if you’re the richest member of a band what you have to do is either give some of your money to your bandmates or pretend that you are poorer than you are so as not to create a power imbalance within the band. I wanted to tell him to pipe down but then didn’t because first of all I never would and secondly I’m sure I’ve spoken just as loud if not louder about equally obnoxious topics in bars in my life. It’s normal to do that. A pub is a space better-suited to speaking loudly about issues relevant to your experience than it is to novel-writing. So, two Cotes du Rhones deep, I got up and left.
I walked down Hemingford Road and stopped to take a picture of the ripped up toothpaste-colored little shack on Hemingford Road with the handwritten sign up in its cracked up window reading “BOY STOP SMASHING UP THIS OUR HOUSE” because “BOY STOP SMASHING UP THIS OUR HOUSE” is the saddest poem in the world and I was thinking a lot about poems today. This morning after my run I dropped a 20p into a pile of leaves and I was going to abandon it but then I changed my mind and fished it out and started writing a poem, probably a song, in my head that began “Digging through a pile of leaves for a 20p, nothing comes between this lady and her money, G” which I discontinued because I don’t know any gangsters and even if I did it would still suck compared to BOY STOP SMASHING UP THIS OUR HOUSE which has broken your heart already I bet.
A man tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. He was a regular hot Islington rich guy who looked like Tony Blair circa sixteen years ago, 1998, the year my heart has never been able to believe it ever stopped being.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Just taking a photo,” I said.
“I don’t mean to intrude,” he said, “I just wanted to ask why.”
“Because it was sad and it made me feel something.”
“It is sad,” he agreed, “People live here, you know.”
I forget what I said here. Probably either “Oh” or “Yeah.”
“A very nice couple,” he went on, “Look at this.” He gestured to the broken window. “It’s an ongoing problem. People smashing in their windows.”
“Why do they smash in their windows?” I asked, stupidly, like a baby.
“People see a house like this, in a neighbourhood like this, and they just want to smash in their windows,” he said.
“Why?” I asked. I was genuinely curious. I couldn’t get from Point A to Point B.
He shook his head, and never answered me. “It’s so sad,” he said, and walked away.
I never had any idea what point he was trying to make or who he thought I was. I don’t know if he thought I was the boy who was doing the smashing or if he hoped I was an investigative journalist setting out to bring justice to the nice couple or if he was just a curious person. I don’t think I could ever figure it out.
We were just two strangers using simple sentences in an attempt to communicate and we failed at it. The house made us both sad but it didn’t unify us. I wanted it to. But I don’t think he wanted it to.
Maybe he wanted to be further away from everything. The house, me, all of it.
We couldn’t get out of bed this morning. Mark was being so cute, I couldn’t believe he wasn’t from another planet, that his wasn’t a Superman-style narrative about a guy who was born on a faraway planet populated by unfathomably cute creatures but ended up on Earth somehow and what a score for me that I get to go out with the world’s lone native of the cuteness-planet and hug him in bed. I was fading in and out of sleep imagining the planet, a spunky Gauguin color palette, little piglet-fawn hybrids and sleepy-eyed newborn cheetah kits chilling out by a Windex blue pond. If you took an Earthling puppy and put him onto Mark’s planet he would be equivalent in cuteness to a frumpy forty-five year old businessman here on Earth. That's how cute it gets.
All day the whole world was existing in that spunky Gauguin color palette, even though it was depressing December. The air was grey but all the other colors were much brighter than usual, maybe because of the grey, they looked so bright against it. I was wearing a bang bang yellow shirt. At work my sommelier walked out of the kitchen and said “There’s something in the kitchen for you” and I went in and it was a rhubarb and Sauternes sorbet. It was the color pink, a Technicolor candy pink that reminded me of a jaunty little short-sleeved sweater a movie star from the nineteen-fifties would wear in something Gentlemen Prefer Blondes-esque. It’s a movie but back then they would have called it a picture, or maybe they wouldn't have. Maybe nobody ever called a movie a picture except for the The Kid Stays In The Picture guy and people playing studio execs in movies about the past.
I ate a couple bites of the sorbet and then forced myself to stop eating the sorbet, which was no easy feat. I could eat the sorbet forever. It tasted like sweet syrupy sunshine. Like eating the pink part of a sunrise.
I say “Let’s get this show on the road!” so often, and nearly every time I say it think about its origin. I imagine two lanky men with glossy black hair and dark circles under their eyes (they’ve lived) wearing one olive green, one brownish tweed suit and sitting on suitcases at a bus stop on a dirt road in the middle of Dick Whitman-style America in the 1920s. They’ve been practicing their Vaudeville act for years, and now—finally— it’s ready! They are, literally, taking their show on the road.
That’s how I feel, every time I get up to take a shower. Every time I shut the front door.
Mark and I took the tube to Notting Hill Gate and sat at a little frozen yogurt shop and I ate dulce de leche frozen yogurt with raspberries, granola, coconut shreds, and dark chocolate chips and it was blandly good in its frozen yogurty way: not as good as actual dessert, but better than no dessert at all. At the wine store I bought a bottle of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc I’ve ever tasted— so far. It smells of spritzy lime and elderflower cordial and tastes of pudding stones and sugar snap peas. It feels like the liquid hot gold from the part of Aladdin when they’re riding through the tiger’s head slurping sleekly round your mouth. If the Beatles were wine I am about 85% sure George Harrison would be a Sauvignon Blanc, and I wonder if this Sauvignon Blanc, from Central Otago in New Zealand, is the George Harrison of Sauvignon Blancs. I’ll probably need to taste at least another two hundred Sauvignon Blancs before I know for sure but it will be nice if two hundred Sauvignon Blancs later it turns out I was right all along.
We went to a pub called The Prince of Wales and I had a cider and drank it while explaining the entire plot of Serial. Mark asked me if I wanted to walk to Winter Wonderland before I met up with Charlotte for dinner and I really didn’t, I just wanted to keep on sitting in the pub, but I said yes because for all I knew Winter Wonderland was going to be excellent and romantic and I didn’t want to be the sad and dull loser who just wants to sit in a pub and never do anything. But boys always think things are closer than they are. We walked forever and for the first three quarters of the walk I was really into it and announced: “I have fallen back in love with London!”
It’s true. It happened. I think it happened while I was eating the Sauternes ice cream. I’d been talking emptily about loving London to a guest at my restaurant and in the middle of saying it I realized that I was talking as if I was lying but maybe I wasn’t actually lying and then I kept on talking and later I was having the ice cream, the sorbet or whatever, and I remembered how that had happened and I decided that I hadn’t been lying. It’s so infuriatingly easy! You just have to say I love it here instead of I’m kind of iffy about it here and then you love it again and you can still be iffy but you’re iffy in a way that reminds you, “Oh it’s so normal to be iffy!”
(I’m pretty sure it’s normal to be iffy. You can’t let yourself be devastated by the iffiness. It’s too cute of a word to let it devastate you.)
By the time we got to Winter Wonderland I was in a bad mood. Not devastated, but my eye was bugging me, and I have to work six day weeks for the two weeks up til Christmas and I was afraid that I was going to catch a cold and the cold was going to get into my bugging-me eye and I’d get conjunctivitis again and I’d be sick and goopy-eyed at work and then I’d fly home on an airplane and infect the whole airplane with my disgusting eye disease and then I’d just lie in bed for all of Christmas holiday and not want to see any of my friends because I’d have a disgusting eye infection that I’d be justifiably self-conscious of.
Winter Wonderland is sort of like the Canadian National Exhibition, lots of bright lights and rides studded with multicolor light bulbs spelling out the names of the rides and all the rides and all the names and lights have been assembled by people whose jobs are to assemble and reassemble the same rides in different cities over and over again and I have very little insight into what it would feel like to be a person who has one of those jobs. The Winter Wonderland is, obviously, winter-themed, and features a nice big fairy-lit Ferris wheel that we didn’t have time to wait in line for and cute little booths made of fake logs selling sick-looking bratwursts that I desperately wanted to eat but couldn’t eat because I had dinner plans in an hour. I mean I guess I could have eaten a bratwurst and then gone for dinner anyway but that’s not really my style, thank God. We stood in a little Biergarten to warm up my knees and I watched some teenagers eating Bratwursts with pierogie toppings and then we left the Winter Wonderland and I freaked out about nothing and felt like a textbook bitch girlfriend but I lived. Mark lived.
Mark came out to dinner with Charlotte and I. We realized it might be our last chance to spend an evening together until 2015 and I just couldn’t waste it. I am always so proud to show him off, his flappy hair and little sweater, if he’d had a hoop earring he would have looked exactly like an Irish punk singer from 1981. I love him so much, I just wanted to be touching his face and listening to his little bed-voice, home-voice. As a rule I want to get really rich anyway but that night I wanted to get really rich mostly so I could buy him shit. I bought him dinner. I bought him smoked eel and some Grenache from California and a confit duck leg. I ate an entire fish, on a plate, with its eyes on it, and none of the wine we drank meant very much to me which is always a drag because when it means something oh God it really means something. But isn’t that just the thrill of the chase.
Mark woke up an hour and a half before me and I lay in bed awake and listening to his noises. The noise of Mark showering and the noise of Mark flushing the toilet and of Mark faffing about inside his vitamin drawer and clearing the steam out of the iron.
“This is fucking horrible,” I said, because sleep is energy and I had a big day ahead of me. Waking life was sucking the energy out of me.
Mark left and I was stressed. I ate a handful of trail mix to calm myself down. Our apartment is only one room big and the minifridge is right by the door. I fell back asleep and dreamed that I was back at school and the school was in the middle of a vintage clothing store and there was a test but I hadn't read the book we were being tested on, which was called The Cat’s Elysian. The classroom was also my bedroom and one of my classmates sat on my laptop and broke the screen and it was summertime and there was a party going on, all of my friends were there, and I went to the party because I didn't care, I did not care about the test, it does not make any sense that there’s a test because I’m twenty-nine and I don’t go to school and school is for fools and I’m too cool for school and then I woke up and ate a bowl of Muesli in my underwear and then I was on the bus, the 390, to King’s Cross.
I love the 390. It’s so solid; it’s like a dad or a tree. It runs twenty-four hours but it doesn’t turn into the N390 like all the other night buses, it just stays the 390, it’s so sure of itself. It’s one of the new double-deckers with an open-air space at the back of it like San Francisco and you can stand there gripping a pole and letting the wind blow through your hair and once when it was warmer weather out it stopped at a traffic light and I just walked right off the bus, into the world, without having to ding the dinger or alert the driver or anything. It was so wild of me.
I got to work at 10:45 and everyone there was going crazy. We were having an Investor’s Lunch, which is when all of our investors come in and eat lunch at the restaurant. (That’s obvious, I guess.) They spend a ton of money and it’s cool for us but it doesn’t matter to them because the whole thing is all their money anyway. This restaurant is every day of my week, it’s everything I love and hate about it, it’s a paragraph written down on a future resume that I think will probably count for something, it’s the heart and soul of this blog post. But none of it belongs to me. It only really belongs to those guys.
My sommelier made up the table, for ten of them, running diagonally across the dining room floor, and then he went to our flower shop, the most Notting Hill little flower shop, where we buy our freesias every three days. The owner is a hottish middle-aged gay guy with a white goatee and Diesel jeans tucked into knee-high Frye boots the texture of which could only be described as “buttery” who owns two fat pugs that he dresses in padded black jackets that make them look like security guards and a parrot, the flower shop mascot, who is revolting and always trying to gnaw off his own foot.
I stayed behind to print menus. The menus started printing and I noticed there was an intense-looking cheese plate and paper bag full of croissants sitting out on the pass. I cut a little slice of truffled brie off the wedge and tucked it into the gut of a ripped-off chunk of almond croissant and little flakes of the croissant fell down the front of my John Lennon t-shirt and all I wanted to do was leave work and go sit in a room with a bag of croissants and a full round of that fucking heavenly fucking Brie, a cheese so damnably decadent that it just begs to be bookended by a couple of fuckings.
The investors were all mostly jokesters. Which is not to say that they were insubstantial in character but rather that they made a lot of jokes. A bunch of them used to work for Barclays bank. One of them was a little dumpier than the rest and he was bald and when I took a picture of the group he said “Well done, Laura,” which made me feel good about myself. By saying someone’s name, you acknowledge that they are a human being who exists. One was Scottish and wore a burgundy blazer; he seemed to have a real lust for life. He was like when you call a wine or piece of well-seasoned meat “robust.” Another was Australian and quite jovial and played music off his iPod, weird choices, Bridge Over Troubled Water followed by the Skyfall theme from Adele. I listened to him making business negotiations on his mobile phone and he seemed like he was afraid of no one. He was jovial before and after the phone call and I admired how he was capable of turning it off and on like that. His wife was there. She had makeup on her face like a Kardashian’s, with all the contouring. There was so much of it on her face but it didn’t look gunky or cheap. Anybody could be beautiful if someone put that on them. She wore a leopard-print fur coat and I put it on her, I helped her into it. The fur was so real it felt like the leopard’s bones were still inside of it. But it probably wasn’t really a leopard’s real pelt was it. They just dye a bunch of rabbits don’t they. I don’t know. I don’t know what they do.
Sometimes it is so hard to stand there and watch them. I don’t hate that I do this and I don’t doubt that there is an empire in here somewhere: in this body, in this story. Yeah yeah yeah I’m everything in the world like that Desperate Housewives guy, I’ll never give up, it’s in me. I’ll sit at that table one day--
But I’ll never sit at that table the same way they do. I’ll never be a rich guy being fed. I’ll never be a rich guy’s wife. They sit and eat like they are the inside of a train and the food and wine is the landscape moving past them. Every once in a while they notice it.