Taco Bell Two Hundred

It was a sweltering summer afternoon, deep in the San Fernando Valley. Shauna stopped at the light, looking in the mirror to check her makeup. She swiftly applied some more lip-gloss and pulled her oversized sunglasses down to cover her heavily made up eyes. The traffic light turned green, and she continued north along the dingy avenue, passing by run down plazas all looking pretty much the same. Liquor stores, video rental shops, “caregivers” aka medical marijuana dispensaries, and few random restaurants, interspersed with the ubiquitous 7-11s.

The Jetta air conditioner had been broken for months. Driving with all of the windows rolled down,  the hot air whipped her long curly blonde hair around her head like a halo. She stopped at the next light. She pushed some of the hair out of her face, trying to put it back into place. She glanced over her ringing phone on the passenger seat, and as she looked in that direction, she noticed a man intently looking at her from a minivan on her right. He gave her a forced smile. She quickly looked away, glad she had her shades on. No eye contact was her cardinal rule.

Suddenly, Shauna felt hyper aware of her heavy makeup, lashes and glittery lip-gloss. She was on her way to her job as a dancer in a strip club, and she had gotten into the habit of doing her makeup at her apartment before leaving. It was easier for her than doing it at the club. She knew she looked out-of-place during daylight, but it was a routine she had gotten used to.

The stoplight was taking forever to change, and she could feel the man’s burning gaze. Suddenly, she heard a nasal voice through her car window, “Excuse me, miss?”… The light still hadn’t changed, so she turned to look in his direction. He had his arm on the window frame, and his hand was clenched into a fist. “Would you have a couple of minutes? Please, please miss. I’m desperate. Can you talk to me. Please.?” “About what? “ She barked in a sharp tone, glancing in his direction. Feeling annoyed with herself for responding,  and even more irritated that it was far too hot to roll up her windows.

He stared intensely at her, and slightly opened his fist, just enough to reveal a thick roll of bills. She noticed it, just as the light changed. She pressed the accelerator to pass him, but he paced his vehicle alongside of hers with his window down. He leaned out and shouted into her car “ please, if you can pull into the Taco Bell up ahead, I’ll give you 200 dollars, if you can just talk to me. We can park next to each other. No contact. I just need someone to talk to me. Please. Please.” Now Shauna was no dummy, but she had seen the cash in his hand and it was broad daylight after all.

Maybe it was the heat, or simply the fact that she was broke, but for whatever reason, she said ok. He told her to follow him, which she did. Ahead she saw the run down looking Taco Bell. He pulled into a parking area alongside of the building. It wasn’t desolate, but there weren’t people walking around either. She made sure her doors were locked and rolled up all of her windows, except for the one on the passenger side, only keeping it partially rolled down, just enough to see and hear. He was parked to her right in his minivan, and now, upon closer inspection, she could see his red splotchy face, bloodshot blue eyes, and a yellowed blonde fringe of fine hair around his balding head. She could make out the silhouette of an empty child seat through the lightly tinted back window of the van. She took a deep breath, feeling nervous and on edge. He held out a fist of cash towards her window. “Take it” he said. “Take it. It’s two hundred dollars.” “Take it first, you can count it if you want. I just need you to tell me how bad I am. Tell me what you think of me. Say mean things to me. Don’t hold back!” His tone was desperate. She snatched the wad of money, swiftly counting two hundred dollars. He leaned his seat back with his window open, as he watched her. She didn’t really know what to say, but the money pleased her, so she just started rambling in a loud staccatto voice, staring straight ahead. “You’re a piece of shit. What a pathetic little bitch. You look like a fat pig…..you don’t deserve to live. You make me sick!! ” She could hear him moaning and she glanced over to see that he was obviously jerking off. Now she yelled louder “you filthy slut you disgust me!”. He particularly liked that one, and he moaned loudly as he slid down in his seat. She yelled, “you nasty scumbag, how dare you even try to talk to me! You make me sick! I should make you kneel before me and lick the bottom of my shoes!”. She smiled, trying not to laugh, and felt a sense of relief. She thought to herself how much fun this was. Maybe she had missed her true calling. Finally looking over towards the van, she saw that he had disappeared from view,  except for the tuft of the blonde hair moving up and down. It was almost comical, in a surreal way. Finally, he got quiet, and when she looked back in his direction, she could see him sitting up and composing himself. As he smoothed back the few stray hairs off of his forehead. Red faced and short of breath, he repeated over and over,  “Thank you, thank you, so much. Thank you.” She quickly rolled up the window, even though her thighs were stuck to the seat because of the heat. Shauna felt a wave of adrenaline mixed with nausea. Backing up the Jetta fast, she spun the wheels to make a fast exit out of the parking lot. Disoriented, she drove around a block, and rerouted herself in the direction of the club.

Exhaling, she laughed aloud to herself, and reached over to stuff the cash into the side inner pocket of her purse. She grabbed a canister of air freshener, and misted it in the direction of the passenger seat. At the next light she looked in the mirror, half expecting to see someone different. She felt like she had committed a crime. She had crossed a threshold with this random incident. Surprisingly, the face looking back was still hers, nothing changed. Just a few tiny beads of sweat that had formed on her downy upper lip. She wiped the sweat and laughed again to herself shaking her head.

Entering the parking lot, there were only a handful of cars, and all of them belonged to other dancers or staff. The parking attendant made his way over to her car. They exchanged the usual banter, and he helped her take her suitcase through the back entrance. Walking into the club, she felt the wave of cool air rush over her. Her eyes needed to adjust to the dark after being out in the summer sun. It was empty inside. Just the bartender setting up. Backstage a few girls sat applying their makeup, or on their phones. She went to her locker and began the process of getting ready, putting on a shiny black bikini and her go-to black lacquered spike heeled platforms. Work was pretty slow that afternoon, only a few random cheap customers. After a few hours, she decided to call it a night. She did have the Taco Bell Two Hundred after all. It had cooled off a bit since the sun had gone down, enough so that she could keep the Jetta windows rolled up. Exiting through the side alley of the lot, she turned onto a busy boulevard. As she drove home, turning the radio dial, she settled on a classical music station. Shauna let her mind drift away on the notes of the violin, and daydreamed of escaping to somewhere far far away.

Flat Stanley

When she described him as a “Flat Stanley”, she referred to him as a cardboard cutout kind of a guy. Two dimensional, and quite predictable. Basically an unequivocal bore. Which, actually does fit within the Urban Dictionary definition. Flat StanleyOne who lacks size in the boob/butt region, and therefore appears paper-thin from a side view. (Definition according the Urban Dictionary.)

He had definitely sounded a lot better “on paper”. Kelly had met him through a “selective” online dating site. On his profile, Peter was, of course, more handsome, a bit taller, with more hair on his head. Apparently the photo was outdated by at least 10 years. He was an accomplished Hollywood cinematographer, and was finally ready to develop a serious relationship. It was time, he said. He was 55.

Kelly, a divorced mother of two, still had the romantic desire to find her, as she naively called it, “happily ever after”. She was enamored by the fact that he worked in the film industry, and especially because he was so well established. Her ex-husband had turned out to have severe mental problems, and by the time they divorced, Carl was unable to work and spent most of his time self-medicated with beer, staring at the tv. Her children had long gone off to college. Finally, she was ready to start a new life for herself alongside the ideal mate.

Peter came off as a take action type. The first date was dinner, and yes, he talked a lot about himself, but she didn’t mind, since nerves could sometimes cause a man to yammer on and on. She committed to giving him a chance. He was quite predictable, with the cordial texts, the dates set weekly. Dinner, and, sometimes a movie.

Kelly appreciated this stability, it felt refreshing after her tumultuous marriage. Peter seemed to have it all together. The only problem was that he hadn’t yet kissed her. After 5 dates, not even a goodnight kiss. She was flirtatious, and made it obvious that she was attracted to him. Nothing. A hug good night, and a brief kiss on the cheek. She started to question herself and wonder. But, he kept calling and inviting her on dates. Date number 7 arrived and she thought this might be the lucky number. Nope. Finally, she decided to text him a message to ask him about it. It was too awkward to ask in person. She simply wrote “We’ve been dating for weeks now, and not even a first kiss. I need to know where you want this to go?” He responded a few hours later with a note saying that he just wasn’t ready. He thought he was, but he wasn’t ready for a relationship yet. She reminded him that she was looking for something too serious, but he suggested it best that they part ways.

Kelly was pretty broken up about this. She had really had her hopes up, and she was more in love with the idea of who Peter might be, than who he truly was as an individual. Her ego took a blow and she was down for the count.

The following weekend a friend came by for a glass of wine. She brought another friend, Chantelle. Chantelle was the complete opposite of Kelly. About the same age, but never married. Chantelle was always the life of the party. She was a single dance teacher who really wished to find “the one” and settle down. She too had ventured online dating for some time now, with no luck. She jokingly called herself a “professional dater”. She was definitely well-versed in the world of online relationships. She would go on a date with any Tom, Dick or Harry, just to get a meal. Hey, sometimes it’s the only way a girls gonna eat, as she liked to say.

The three women sat on the back balcony, enjoying the evening air, and some cheap wine. A few glasses in, Kelly shared her story about Peter. As she described him, Chantelle’s smiling eyes and lilting laugh abruptly shifted. Her expression became perplexed. She placed her wine glass on little table, and took a deep breath. She interrupted to ask a few more details about his work and where he lived.

Then Chantelle sighed, and said….“Yup”, she said, “I dated that guy. For 6 months.” Kelly’s jaw dropped. It was pretty awkward.

She paused for a moment, going on to say “But, it was well over 5 years ago. He was pretty boring. All he wanted to do was come over to my place and have sex. It was nothing spectacular either. He was a “one-trick pony”, Chantelle said, rolling her eyes. Apparently, she too had wanted to find something long term, and initially, Peter had told her the same story, that he was finally “ready”. He had just turned 50 at that time. After 6 months of the same thing over and over, she realized that this was as far as it would ever go, and she needed to cut her losses and move on.

Kelly was crushed! How could this be? With her not even a kiss. Again, her ego was taking a beating. She didn’t want to know, but she asked anyway. “How was the sex?” Chantelle laughed throwing her head back, long hair flipping around. Then composed herself, looking straight at Kelly and told her it was exactly the same every time. In fact, she could barely remember it. It was just that dull.

Kelly wondered aloud amongst her friends, why hadn’t he tried to even kiss her? What did he want? They speculated various scenarios and wondered aloud why this man would date her for that long without even a kiss, while with the other girl it was only sex and nothing else. The final conclusion came down to the fact that Peter was simply put a “Flat Stanley”. Not that complicated, just a  two dimensional guy, without much substance. Once Kelly removed her ego from the equation, she was able to laugh at the entire situation and she realized that she had definitely dodged a bullet this time.

 

 

 

From Romania with Love

I’ve often heard it said that you should always go after what you want, rather than accepting whatever falls into your path. This applies to lifelong passions, studies, the perfect job, and of course, above all, the ideal mate. Or should I say the pursuit of the perfect relationship. Relationships ranging from basic companionship, to the simply sexual. Of course, there are the not-so-simply sexual as well. Then, of course, those involving long term love affairs, and of course marriage. Whatever the relationship desired, it is preferable to seek out what you want, instead of accepting what comes your way, or falls in your lap, so to speak.

My friend Viva is always driving around town in a rush. She’s a beautiful, creative and athletic woman, who runs her own very successful business as a jewelry designer. Most weekdays, you will find her up early to get the kids off to school, followed by a hike or surfing, then back at home working away in her studio, between various errands and business meetings. She never sits still. Of course with this lifestyle, in Los Angeles, she is constantly in and out of her car. LA, being what it is, involves cars. Lots of cars. Cars full of all sorts of people. My friend, being very vivacious and gorgeous, attracts a lot of attention. Men are constantly trying to pull her over to get her their digits. Oh, and did I mention, Viva is super friendly. Too friendly I think. Anyhow, one day, she was in the bank. She was doing a transaction with the private teller. She felt his stare. You know the type of stare. Heavy and intense. The kind of stare that wills you to look their way.

Sensing the pressure of his gaze, she glanced over, and saw a striking blonde, tall athletic looking young man. Well-dressed, and definitely European. He flashed his pearly whites, and she was intrigued. But, being that she was in her gym clothes and a rush, she left the bank without looking back. When she turned the corner to the parking lot, there he was, with his confident smile. He said hello with an accent, and she was hooked. Conveniently, he was parked right next to her Range Rover, in a brand new, immaculate white Mercedes. Red flag #1. If it seems to perfect to be true, it probably is.

Of course he got her number.

The first text arrived within the hour. He asked her to meet him for breakfast the next day, followed by a rose emoji. She said she could meet after her morning run, but just for a quick coffee. But of course, that was no problem, since he had soccer practice that morning as well. How convenient.

She showed up in her “lady of the valley” attire, gym shorts and flip-flops. But, Viva’s one of those women who can make anything look sexy, and with her bronze complexion, she always looks extra radiant after a workout, never red and blotchy. As she entered the café, there he was seated in the corner at a table with a coffee. He flashed that Cheshire cat smile in her direction and she was hypnotized as she headed towards the table. On her placemat was placed a single red rose. It was almost too perfect. She smiled and thanked him, as she sat down.

They chatted, and he told her he was from Roumania, a former pro soccer player, now coaching soccer here in LA. He looked young to have retired, but soccer is a young sport anyway, so she bought it. The bill came, and of course he pulled out a Louis Vuitton wallet, cracking it open just enough to give her a peak at a stack of bills. He swiftly flipped out a 50 to throw on the check tray. She glanced away, not wanting to reveal that she had noticed. She was no gold digger. In fact, she was quite secure financially.

He continued to be the perfect gentleman, opening the door, walking her to her car, offering her a hand and a hug. She got into her car and rolled down the window. He told her he would see her soon , staring into her eyes, while touching her cheek gently with the back of his fingers. Such a charmer.

She was walking on air. It was very flattering to be wooed by such a gorgeous young athlete. He seemed to have it all, looks, intelligence, charm, and money. What harm could come of spending some time with him.

He texted within the hour. Like clockwork. Would she be free this week because he really enjoyed her company, and he couldn’t wait to see her again. She said yes. She would be working at her studio all week, and he was welcome to stop by. He would be there tomorrow morning, he said. She texted the address. Oh, did I mention that her studio is in her home? Yeah.

The doorbell rang. She checked her hair in the mirror before she ran down the stairs to get the door. She felt her heart beat a little bit faster than it should. There he stood. Dressed casually, but obviously wearing expensive clothing. He smiled and his blue eyes sparkled with promise as he offered her a bottle of wine as a gift. She invited him in, and he sauntered into the house as though he had been there before. He flopped down on her sofa. Red flag #2. If a guy (or girl) seems too comfortable on the first visit to your place, it probably means he or she does this kind of thing frequently. Just saying.

He suggested she open the wine since they both had the day free. She went into the kitchen and when she came out with two glasses, he had his perfect bare feet up on the ottoman, and was leaning deep into her sofa. He asked her to come sit next to him. She couldn’t resist. He gave her a sip of wine from his glass. She was all in now. They laughed and talked about Europe, since she had spent time there as a girl. Conversation was light and easy. He kept refilling her glass. He stroked her arm gently and pulled on her hand….asked her to show him the rest of the house. They went upstairs.

Once in her bedroom, they fell onto her giant bed and she knew there was no turning back now. He was so confident, and sensual. His athletic prowess was a perfect match for hers. It was intense and physical, so much so that they both passed out after.

A while later, as they laid in bed, he was sprawled out like he owned the place and she was cuddled up on his athletic chest. His phone was vibrating, but he ignored it. Suddenly, he checked the time and jumped up like there was a fire. He told her he was late for an appointment, and he went to her bathroom where she heard the shower running. He came out looking perfect again and kissed her on the forehead as he was on his way out. He told her he would text later on.

He didn’t text that evening. She waited, but really that had just met, so she didn’t feel any concern. He had a life, and he would call. Obviously, he was into her.

The next morning she got another text. He wanted to come by again. She told him she needed to check her schedule, but she definitely wanted to spend time with him again.

25 minutes later, there was a knock on her front door. Yes, he just showed up. Unannounced. Need I say, red flag #3?! Normally, she would be upset, but she really wanted to see him again, and she was still reeling from the hot sex. One could say her judgment was somewhat clouded. So, she welcomed him in. Again, he walked in like he owned the place, this time heading straight to the kitchen where he opened the fridge. She followed him and offered to make him some brunch. After eating French toast and having some champagne, he was ready for desert and they headed up to her room. She was dizzy with infatuation. His scent lingered on her sheets, in her hair and on her skin. He lounged around in her bed for a bit afterward, his tousled locks and sculpted glistening body gleaming like an adonis. Again the phone continued to vibrate intermittently. This time it was texts he was ignoring. At a certain point he grabbed the phone, went into the bathroom and she heard the shower turn on. She also heard him speaking in his native tongue, in an angry hushed tone. He emerged looking fresh and clean, and again kissed her softly, this time on the lips, and told her he would see her soon. But probably not until the next week, since some important work had come up. His soccer coaching was about to start up for the season.

The days passed and no text, no calls from him. She continued with her life and business. Halloween arrived, and after a few drinks that night, while giving out candy to neighborhood kids, she picked up her phone and texted him. She simply sent a message saying “Happy Halloween. Miss you xoxo”.

Ten minutes later, her phone rang. A female voice with a heavy accent asked her why she was texting this number?  Viva was so shocked, she didn’t respond at first. Again, the woman asked her, “why are you texting my boyfriend?”. Uh-Oh. Didn’t I tell you, when it seems to good to be true…go back and take note…red flag #1, red flag #2, and red flag #3?…

Yup. This woman wanted an explanation. My friend, being a very honest and direct type of person, told her the truth. Oh, I think she left out the sex part. I mean, she told her they got intimate, but I don’t think any details were given.

Turns out he was living with the woman for years. And, yes, that immaculate white Mercedes? Of course it was hers, not his. Those nice clothes he wore, she bought them. Now the picture is getting clearer, isn’t it?

The woman was livid, of course. She called back again, this time she told my friend, she wasn’t mad at her, in fact she was glad she found out the truth. She told her in a controlled, robotic voice that if she wanted the guy, he would now be available, since she was throwing him out the next morning. But, he would be homeless, and carless. Not sure about his wardrobe.

In any case, the point of this story is sort of a cautionary tale to all the single ladies out there. When you see a red flag, take note. Never let a pretty face mesmerize you into overlooking the obvious. Be careful of those seductive foreign accents. Watch out for guys who seem to comfortable too quick. Like they’ve been in your place before. This is because they have. Well, not your place, but you know what I mean.

My friend, well, she let it go, and actually laughed a lot about it with her friends. It could have turned out far worse. I mean, this is the perfect set up for a crime of passion, but fortunately, the player’s girl was onto his tricks and she just needed the last piece of evidence to kick him to the curb. Good riddance.

The funniest part is that this guy still texts my friend. Even though she has moved into a serious long-term relationship with a real man, and she has told him this. He’s just one of those guys. There are plenty. Consider yourself informed and warned.

 

Dirty Mattress

Christmas 2015. Another holiday season in full swing. This year I found myself alone in LA on a shoestring budget. A recent catastrophic breakup had left me in a bad way, both emotionally & financially. Operating on autopilot, I felt I had hit an all time low. A last minute call to cater a private party on Christmas Day came in, and of course I had to accept the job. At least I would leave with cash in pocket, and what better distraction is there than to busy yourself with work.

Driving up the curving streets, into the hills above Hollywood, the homes got bigger and the streets narrowed. Finally in front of the location, I glanced up to see the multi-tiered home looming precariously above. Heading up the steps to the door, I adjusted my black ruffled shirt and smoothed my hair back. After what seemed like an eternity, I stood before the massive entrance. Taking a deep breath, I rang the bell. I had arrived 30 minutes early as requested, and the host answered the door promptly. He was an older gentleman, wearing a tuxedo, and an expression of disdain. He swiftly ushered me in, and pointed to the closet where I was to put my personal belongings. A bearded man passed by covering his mouth to muffle a nasty cough. I turned my head to avoid contamination. “Oh, that’s my son George, he has a terrific flu.” I just feigned a weak smile. I followed him down the hallway towards the heart of the residence, adjusting my apron along the way.

He turned and barked at me in a stressed staccato tone, “Where is the other server? I need to go over the menu. Are you the lead?” Actually, I had never catered a private party before, so I just told him that I was to meet the lead server, and that as soon as he got there, we could go over the menu together. He opened a swinging door into the brightly lit, steamy kitchen. This room needed a serious remodel. The drop ceilings with fluorescent panels, and cabinets were definitely circa 1986. It was painted a color that I recall being all the rage during the Reagan years. The smell of cooking overwhelmed me, and I saw a large blonde woman stirring a pot of rice on the stove at the center island. She had wild curly hair, and her crimson flushed face glistened with beads of perspiration. He introduced me to his daughter, and informed me that she had been a professional chef and would be preparing the food for the party. She rudely interrupted him to let me know that she had made a drastic career change over the past two years, and was now a renowned psychic to the stars. She was a medium and could channel spirits. Interesting.

Next, I met Anna. Apparently, Anna had been the housekeeper for 35 years, and it showed. This lady looked ancient as she stood over the sink, washing dishes. Naively, I offered her the rubber gloves I had brought along, but she just laughed and told me in broken English, that she couldn’t work with gloved hands. Her expression spoke volumes. For a fleeting moment I had the urge to whisk her away so she could relax, but then again, I wasn’t that far behind in the current scheme of things.

Finally, at 5, the doorbell rang and it was the other server. The host brought him into the kitchen, where I stood pretending to study the menu. I quickly placed the menu on the counter, and readjusted the ruffles on my apron once more. I had dressed as nice as possible within the confines of the catering uniform, because it was the holiday after all. My outfit was as flattering as possible, and my makeup and hair was perfect. At least the fake diamond earrings coupled with the ruffled apron made me feel a little more “french maid”, rather than just a “server”.

He quickly introduced himself with a proper accent, “Shawn”, and turned right away to the host. “Sir, let’s go over the menu if you are ready sir.” Something didn’t correlate to me, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint anything. Shawn wore the standard white button down shirt, tie and black pants of a caterer. I noticed the shirt seemed just slightly dingy around the edges. As we reviewed the menu with the host, he nodded and threw in a “yes, sir, okay sir, how would you like the items plated, sir?” “first or last, sir…etc…” It all seemed a bit over the top, but I figured maybe this was to be expected. Again, this was all new to me, so I just went along with it. The dinner was a sit down, French style service. We were to bring in the dishes in order, and above all, remain discreet. The table had been set already, and at each place sat a tiny box wrapped in tiffany blue and tied with a silver bow. First thing would be champagne, while the 10 guests opened their gift. It was, apparently, a Tiffany silver spoon. We were advised to promptly remove the wrappings, after the guests were done with the ceremony. Following this, we would need to keep on time with the dish removal, and setting up for each next course. We were also expected to keep the wine flowing throughout the entire evening.

As we stood in the kitchen waiting to begin the service, the host went out to the bar area to round us his guests. Shawn, Anna and I waited in awkward silence. Finally, they were all corralled into the dining room, which was through a swinging door from the kitchen. Shawn looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Merry Fucking Christmas” he said, with a heavy Boston accent. I laughed. Gone was the proper waiter with the “yes sir, okay sir.” He swiftly turned on his heel and walked away, disappearing out the back exit. He returned a few minutes later, smelling of cigarette smoke. He asked me if I had worked for this company before, and I let him know it was really my first time doing private catering. He told me not to worry, I simply had to follow his lead. I felt a slight sense of relief.

As we stood there, he looked at me for a moment and started to tell me the story of his recent break up. I shared that I had gone through the same thing around the same time. We laughed and sort of bonded over that fact. Then he told me that the reason he was late was that his motorcycle had been stolen, and he had taxied over. In addition, he wasn’t able to get to the bank to get cash to pay me at the end of the shift. The lead caterer was responsible to handle the payout. How convenient, I thought to myself. Of course, I offered to take him to the bank on the way out, because I would be damned if I didn’t get my money after all of this!

The host came into the kitchen, and silently motioned to us that it was time to pick up the wrapping paper and begin the service. So it went. We moved in and out of the kitchen, passing plates, picking up, pouring wine, giving Anna more dirty dishes and so on. The host’s son with the violent cold kept coughing and covering his face with a cloth napkin. I tried my best to avoid his plates, and let Shawn deal with it. Getting sick was not what I had signed up for.

Anyhow, the night went by smoothly and the host was very pleased. At the end of the affair, he met with us in the kitchen to give Shawn a check and to tip us for our labors. I assumed, since it was Christmas, and since the host was raving about our service, well, I assumed we would be generously tipped. The guests each got a Tiffany spoon. Well, we each got an envelope with 60 dollars. Merry Christmas indeed.

Finally, we were dismissed, and Shawn and I walked out the front door into the night air onto the landing. From the top of the stairs we paused for a few moments to look out at the view. Under a clear starry sky, the sparkling lights of Los Angeles extended for miles below. As we walked down the steps together, I felt a strong kinship between us. At the bottom of the stairs I pointed across to my car. Shawn wanted to smoke a cigarette, so we walked around the corner, and up the side street as he got his nicotine fix. It was dark and we both laughed about the night. We commiserated about the shitty tip, and he asked me what I was going to do the rest of the night. I told him I would probably go home and drink wine. He said he was going to do the same thing, so if I wanted to I was welcome to go over to his place and we could hang out. He said he was still so upset about his ex, and he didn’t intend anything other than hanging out. I said okay, and we headed back to my car. Driving across town, we stopped at the bank so he could get my payout. Then we headed over towards his place. He told me it was a huge apartment and in a great location. We stopped at a 7-11 on the way. Christmas night, 7-11, Venice Beach. Need I say more? A few homeless people lingered in the lot as we pulled up. I expected it to be empty, but the place was buzzing with action. The store was full of random characters, including us. We were still in our catering garb, although mine was now disheveled, and the hair was out from the bun. I hadn’t touched up my makeup, so it was likely smeared around the eyes, and there was a high probability of a lingering outline around my lips. Shawn perked up, saying hello to everyone, and shouting out ”Merry Christmas!” He grabbed a case of beer and some chips. I picked out a bottle of wine. I told him I wanted to get us Christmas gifts, and bought a few lotto tickets and some scratchers, along with the wine. It was that kind of a night.

Back in my car, we headed further west. He guided me towards a large modern, but somewhat desolate looking building, and I drove down a ramp into the lower level of a vast parking lot. We took an elevator up and walked down a maze like hallway. At this point, I was so tired I just followed along, looking forward to a glass of wine. As he unlocked the door, I had a moment of trepidation, because now I realized, I was basically with a perfect stranger. A false sense of familiarity had been established, via our catering bond. In reality, I had no idea who this man was. And, now I was entering into his apartment. “What an idiot. I watch Forensic Files”, I thought to myself.

He switched on the lights, and immediately, I noticed a giant bare mattress to the right of the door. He saw me looking at it, and quickly told me that his neighbor had died, and he inherited some of her items, including the mattress. I didn’t really know what to say. There was a brand new surf board leaning on the wall wrapped in a giant red bow. He pointed to it, telling me it was a Christmas gift for his girlfriend. He still planned to give it to her. There was a photo of a female silhouette over the fireplace, as well as a few photos of the same girl sprinkled around the room. Otherwise, the place was a kind of messy, average one-bedroom apartment. He told me to check the rest of it out and I followed him through the small hallway. He switched on a light, and I looked into the bedroom to see a pile of camofluage clothes, and a military backpack in a heap on the floor. On the bed laid a rifle. He said “I was just cleaning my rifle earlier, gotta put it away.” Then he explained to me that he was an Army Veteran. He started rambling on about how he was on disability, and that is how he was able to afford this apartment in the luxury highrise. Back in the living room, he switched on the tv , and shuffled into the kitchenette to open the wine. I heard him tear open a bag of chips and pour them into a bowl. As soon as I sat down on the sofa, a scruffy cat came over and jumped up onto my lap. Shawn laid out a spread of tortilla chips, beer and wine, along with some dubious looking premade salsa. He then grabbed a giant bong, lit it, and proceeded to get stoned. I sipped on my wine, declining the bong hits. He flipped channels incessantly. Finally landing on the burning log channel, which featured holiday songs with the lyrics superimposed. At that point I was getting tipsy and we started to sing Christmas songs. This continued for what seemed like hours. Soon I was drunk, and I needed to lie down. He got up, bong in hand, and told me I could sleep on the mattress, pointing to it, as he walked towards his room, and shut the door. I placed my coat down and kept my clothes on, lying on the mattress. Sleeping with one eye open, I tried to get some rest. I did doze off, and woke to a breeze blowing through the open sliding door. The smell of stale smoke permeated the room. A cat was sitting on my chest. I sat up and Shawn stumbled out of his room. He offered me some instant coffee. I sat in the dead woman’s bed, and sipped on the bitter brew. He was acting odd, and started putting on different shirts and telling me how he got them from someone who left him a bag of clothes. He paraded around in various “looks”. Suddenly, I felt the urgency to leave, and told him I needed to be somewhere. As we walked down the matrix towards an elevator, he told me he was happy I came over and that if I hadn’t, he might have really lost it. I said the same went for me. I got in my car, and exited the parking garage into the bright morning light. Looking into the rear view mirror, I half expected to see a different person. But all I saw were my smudgy eyes, looking somewhat bleary and sad. My coat was covered in cat hair, and I could smell the smoke that had infiltrated my hair and clothing. I got home, threw all of the clothes into the laundry basket, and took a long hot shower.

Lying down on my bed, a text came in. I looked at the phone. It said “Merry Fucking Christmas”. I responded in kind.