Notes on the Men.

It’s Thursday. Ten p.m.

He is thirty-something, in a button down and khakis. A few whisps of grey hair working their way in, but he is still mostly young, still mostly fit. He works in finance but it’s boring, just ask him, he will tell you. He just finished dinner with his visiting parents nearby and came to the bar to meet friends who are meeting other friends. He knows everyone but everyone else will know everyone else better. He’s the first one to arrive, looking lost at the top of the stairs. He walks to the bar, calls me over and still waving his hand to keep my attention he barely glances at me as he looks over my shoulder at the back bar, making sure I have a light rum of the quality that will work for him. Once he tries two or three he chooses one and then asks for it on the rocks with a splash of soda and a lime. Yeah. That’s right. Lime and a splash of soda. I make it. It’s that time of night.  I just switched over to “whatever they want” mode because I know what is about to happen. I know because I jinxed myself.

Right now I’ve been at work 7 hours, watching the summer day turn to night through the glass ceiling overhead. My makeup has worn off, there is lime juice in my hair, and I really, really, need to buy new shoes. Kris, my manager, offers me a break, but says he’d rather send me home instead. Before I can stop myself I say  ”It seems like it will stay a mellow night”. He looks at me and we both know that I’ve just done it. There is an unspoken understanding, a law of physics, that says a bartender will absolutely get slammed if they tempt fate. “Now it’s all on you,” he laughs as he walks away, and I’ll admit, I asked for it.  

The rush hits. The bar swells. Post dinner, post theater, post concert. Part two or three to the night. Men have loosened their ties, they high five one another in greeting and order bottles of light beer. Gaggles of girls walk in wearing short skirts, expensive hair and monster heels; the crystal chandeliers catch their eyes and the look on their faces says they are not sure where they have just teetered into.

I watch the people rolling in like an army charge and go into high speed mode. A couple on a first date, if it can be called that because they met at the bar before this one, are hanging all over each other and giggling like children. They wave me down. He orders shots of Patron, chilled, of course. She whispers her order in his ear but he doesn’t like this, “Tell her yourself,” he directs her, “Macawen,” she requests. I look at her, desperate to understand, I need to keep moving to manage the crowd. “It’s whiskey,” he says, “Macawen,” she says again nodding. “Ma-ca-wen?” I say. “No” he clarifies, “Macallen”. Dear lord this night is already longer than I wanted it to be. Macallen. Rocks. Patron. Shots. Fine. I pour the drinks.

The next couple wants Hennessy and cranberry. We are there. Decency is gone. Just give them what they want.

My bar was designed for a giant. Not a tall person, an actual giant. I can’t see any other reason for needing to build it in such a way. They must have been planning on employing giants and wanted them to feel comfortable, that makes sense. I put one shoe on the ice well and monkey up the wall to grab the bottle. I hop down and silently apologize to the cognac as I destroy it with the hot pink ocean spray in my gun. I take their money, point them to a seat and look up for the next order. My arms haven’t stopped moving in I don’t know how long, all I can see is ice and there are 30 pairs of eyes on me. This is madness. Where the fuck did all these people come from?

As the bar fills, the lights go down, the music goes up and it hits me like a wave.  I realize I’ll be here all night, that I won’t eat, that I won’t go out after this shift, that I’ve been working since 4 and I won’t be in bed before 3.  I look over at my co-workers, one is in a self declared dance break: headbanging to the music while his feet do a dance I covet. The other one seems not to notice the crowd, he’s just flirting with the 3 blondes at the center of the bar, a glass of tequila in his hand just below.  Then why am I freaking out? It’s just that time of the night when I can no longer take any of this seriously and in order to survive I need to make work something more personally enjoyable. I mean, they don’t care, so I relax enough to start dancing like a muppet, singing along to Journey like I mean it and handing people samples of drinks they didn’t order. At moments it feels like I’m dancing on the Titanic, but the music is just so good.  

It is partly because he’s 3 drinks in, partly because he has no one else to talk to, and partly because I’m in fun mode and just climbed up the wall of my bar, but this is when the man notices me.  It’s a perfect storm. His friend and him call me over and he looks at me as if he’s now seeing me in a totally different light. I’m no longer just the girl who is pouring him drinks. I’ve become something different. Now he wants to get to know me, and I don’t have time for this right now. “What’s your name? Where are you from?” he asks and as I say the name of my hometown he shakes his head in disbelief. In his defense I’m from a really beautiful place, but I can see this has much more meaning for him, meaning I can’t even begin to guess at. I can see the bartender effect come over him.

And that, is this: He’s decided in his mind that I am his perfect but unattainable dream girl. I don’t say this to flatter myself because it’s not about me. This is about him and whatever his lonely boy issues are. I watch the look come over his eyes. He’s there but not really there. I smile, break his gaze and move back to help other guests.

A group of girls show up to meet his friends and he calls me over to help them. He apologizes as he orders their vodka sodas. He leans over and whispers, “These girls are so lame,” to let me know he isn’t interested in them. Mind you, he is drinking light rum with a splash of soda. It’s kind of an odd order. I don’t mind it but I’m just sayin’. It doesn’t necessarily put him on the cool cocktail kids team. He distances himself from the girls by leaning closer to me at the bar, drinking more to order more and I while it’s a tad bit flattering, I mostly feel bad for the guy. It’s all around an unfortunate situation. It’s unfortunate that he needs to drink more to get the courage to ask me out because it does nothing but count against him. It’s also unfortunate that the girl he is taken with is the version of me that doesn’t fuck around. She doesn’t have time for this, doesn’t find drunk dudes appealing and she knows that based on this setup- whatever happens next won’t end well.

Here is why:  None of this is real. This bar is a fantasy we all agree to participate in together. I am framed in a way, given an authority and focus that does not carry over into my real life. Behind the bar I am there to serve, and also take on the role of the gatekeeper, the booze controller, and my shake isn’t that bad either. I wear skin tight jeans and a low cut top that “accidentally” rides up to my waist. I am there to make him happy, to entertain, to laugh, tell silly stories and be interested in him. On the flip side I’m a bit intimidating; I can cut you off and kick you out out as I see fit. That is my bartender persona. That is me doing my job. In real life he might not even talk to me. In real life he wouldn’t even notice me if I sat down next to him on the next stool. It’s not me he’s taken with. It’s the girl I’m playing against the backdrop of my beautiful bar. It’s why even ugly rockstars have super hot girlfriends.

So he doesn’t know any of this. There he is, 6 ounces of rum, a shot of vodka and a beer in, that tipping point for him when his inner life becomes his outer life. In his mind he wants to be close to me so he’s literally leaning as far across the bar as he can be, watching my every movement. This is really, really annoying. It is my job to catch indications, to look up, to notice someone and get an order. There are no orderly lines, I go off animal instinct, so this watching is throwing me off. I keep looking up and he motions that he’s okay, no drink needed, so I go back to whatever it is I’m doing, which is hard when I’m feeling watched and waited for. It takes energy to ignore someone.

I do him a favor and hand him a glass of water but he doesn’t know it’s a favor. He acts offended. Here’s the deal, if a bartender is handing you water they are trying to help you stay on your game. It is act of generosity.

The night draws to a close. He is about to leave. He is summoning his courage. I can tell. I hand him the bill. He holds my gaze. “Let me take you to dinner,” he begs. I stare back at him. It’s an incredibly awkward moment. It’s happened so many times now that I can’t help but get a little angry each time. I’m angry because I have just handed him his bill, he is about to tip me, about to pay me, so I can pay my bills, but before he does he wants to know if I’ll go out with him. Really, he wants to know that this was all real, that I was flirting with him because I like him, not because it’s my job to be outgoing. If I say yes he’ll be stoked. If I say no his ego will be shattered. Either way he is making me answer BEFORE he tips me. It is just unfair, to both of us really.

I tell him to sign his check and give me his number. He writes it down and I feel his eyes on my every move as I place it with my closing paperwork. I wave goodbye as they leave but can see in his eyes that he knows I’ll never call. I watch as he disappears into the sea of bottle clutching bodies then catch the eye of a man at the end of the bar flagging me down. He leans across the bar as the music pounds “Who are you?” He asks with drunken eyes, “Where are you from?”

Turkish Morning

Breakfast was hard boiled eggs and fresh tomatoes
served on warm toast with butter
and then a heaping of yogurt and honey
that you drizzled on with one of those wooden round things
made just for that purpose.

We drank dark Turkish tea with milk
one cup and then another
resting the cups in our hands and looking at the tile floors, the brown woven curtains, the spread of food on the buffet.

There’s no schedule here in vacationland
nothing so immediate to get done
or see.
We walked to the main drag to the Grand Bazaar
realized we’d walked too far
and headed back on the other side of the street
towards the Hamam.

We gave them money and they gave us tokens, a key, underwear, and a bathing mit.
Clothes in the locker and coarse plaid printed towels around us we
walked to the main hall in plastic Bata slippers that reminded me of India.
Most things here remind me or don’t remind me of India.
I think because this is the furthest I’ve been from home since I was there.

There were women everywhere in small groups pointing us along.
This way, now this way, up the stairs, here’s your towel, now you go this way.

Kat and I laid on the big beautiful slab of marble under the circular ceiling
as I imagined a hundred past lives in these baths.
Our women appeared, older, round women, in tiny underwear and huge hanging bare breasts.
Kat’s took her to the edge of the marble and started scrubbing her.
Mine put on her bra, hoisted up her wet underwear and filled her bucket with water.
Everyone seems to speak English in the city, it’s jarring when someone doesn’t.
My washer woman didn’t.
I don’t know what else to call her.
“Here”
Is all she could say.
Otherwise she tapped me to get me into position.
Then she dumped buckets of warm water on me and drizzled
what smelled like lemon dish soap
across my back.
She scrubbed and scrubbed, my skin wearing off in grey beads, until she’d gotten every inch of me.
Hair?
She asked
Yes.
So she took me over to the sink in one of the little rooms that sat off the main room and scrubbed my hair with fruity scented soap.
I think if I were a millionaire, I would pay to have my hair washed by someone every day.
Perhaps in a room like this
made of marble and old copper faucets
where women have washed one another’s hair for centuries.

One last rinse and then she sent me away with a wave of her hand, pointing me to the tubs at the end of the room.
I stepped into the pool with Kat and for a moment
we were mermaids of the middle east
the water pouring out of a fountain into the bath
echoing its sound up the marble walls.

I watched Kat swim the pool from end to end, sometimes we would catch one another’s eyes and smile, a half open eyed smile. Happy.

I looked at my hand and the ring on my finger
the one my aunt gave me
that Seymour had given her
and I looked at the beauty of the room,
that she had directed me to go to.
“You must do the Hamam” she had said.

And I felt closer to love than I had in a while
the words
“I am loved beyond love”
running a circle in my brain.

I am loved beyond love.

Next was a massage in a cool dark room
and Kat and I stumbled out of the door like new puppies.
We climbed in the big shower and stood there together
In our standard underwear
covered in rich oil
Still getting used to being this close to one another.

Me having grown up in hot tubs and communal showers
aware that some people are not that way.

We laid back on the marble slab in the big room
surrounded by women getting scrubbed and washed.
Western girls in full bathing suits and local ladies in the washrooms to the side, talking and scrubbing one another.

“How long do you think this has been here?”
Kat asked.

“Forever”
I say.

Warm and raw and washed we walked back through the rooms
past all the women
quietly talking
and changed back into our clothes
pulled on our boots
put up our hair
checked for running mascara
returned the keys back to the lockers
the towels to the bins
and walked out.

We had fresh pomegranate juice from a man selling it on the street.
He made it with a press right in front of us.
“How extravagant!” The little girl in me said to the grown up me.
“Three whole pomegranates just for you!”
(When I was little my aunt would buy me a pomegranate when she came home some weekends. I remember they were expenisive. A treat.
I sat on the deck wrapped in a towel so as not to stain my clothes. It’s one of the most vivid memories of my childhood, the beginning of my affair with fruit.)
"Loved beyond love," I thought as I took my drink.

We paid him two dollars each
and walked with cups
towards the bazaar.

Travel Day Rituals.

I keep my phone on vibrate so when it clicks on at 5:30am it does this awful noisy dance on the bookshelf by the bed. I snooze till 5:45am and then lay in the dark room for a few minutes with my eyes open, willing myself to wake up.  At 5:50am I sneak out quietly, not wanting to disturb the sleeping house. The hallway is cold and there is still a layer of sleep encasing my body just under my skin. Dree is waiting in the living room, laying down, fully dressed, getting a few more moments of rest.
    “Morning,” I whisper.
    She sits up suddenly, looks at me slowly and smiles. She is adorably still mostly asleep. She says nothing, but gets her bags together and walks quietly to the door.
    Off we go.
    I drive her to the airport with the windshield wipers going and the defroster blasting. It feels like high school again, in my parents’ car, the way the morning feels in my lungs, the not quite awake aching in my eyes. The sun isn’t up yet and the traffic lights glow in the darkness- red and green halos in the mist. We drive quietly. Partly perhaps because of the cold and the dark and not wanting to break the spell of sleep we are trying to hold on to. Partly because we have nothing to say at the moment after spending the last 2 days endlessly together. It’s a sweet silence; sweet to not talk after so much talking; sweet to know someone in the morning.
    It only takes 10 minutes to get to the airport. We fumble a hug and a smile and I drop her off at the curb. She carefully navigates herself and her bags off to her gate and out of view. I pull the car into the outer lane, the mist picking up on my windshield, the heater finally kicking in, and drive back to the house as the sun rises slowly over the mountains.
    I’m home again before anyone else is up. I undress and stand in the shower motionless for much longer than necessary, willing the heat to sink into my bones. I watch the water go down the drain and think of a friend of mine who once told me he did a little ritual every time he showered, asking the water take away the past and prepare him for his day. I look at my toes with chipped blue polish against the white tiles on the floor and I ask the water to renew me too. It’s early in the morning a few days before the new year, it’s been a busy visit and my brain is wandering all over. The idea that this shower could take away some of my darker thoughts, absolve me or help me forgive is nice. Then I think perhaps I’m too hard on myself. The water is hot and falls down and around my neck. I wash my hair, and watch the soap go down the drain.
    Out of the shower, tea made, toast in the toaster and towel in my hair. Leslie is up, quietly pulling her bag out to the front hall. We finish our packing, talking in whispers. Mom comes out to drive us in her pajamas and we load into the car. Boots on, bags in, I check the house again and remember my sweater in the dryer. Back in, back out, cup of tea balanced in one hand, toast in my teeth and handbag on my elbow. I climb in and shut the door. By now it’s 7:15am.
    Morning breaks over San Jose as Mom drives us, again quiet, again with the defroster on. Again the feeling of high school. I never want to leave her. I never want to leave California and the brown hills and the big sky. I never want to leave the crisp air or the open road or that beautiful ocean.  She hugs me at the airport like no other time. Coming or going doesn’t matter, she squeezes me and buries her nose in my hair. She doesn’t like a drawn out scene but she fusses just enough. I always press my nose on her cheek, smelling her face cream, the sleep still on her. I whine that I don’t want to go, I stamp my feet, I sigh, and then I do.
    We had been there 8 days and it had been a thorough visit. We ran up and across California from San Francisco to Sonoma to Big Sur and back again. We did shopping, visiting, exploring and Christmas. It was a lot. It is time to be back in New York. It would have been nice to have all been on the same flight but it didn’t work out. Dree flew first, Leslie and I are on the next flight out of San Jose.
    We take hold of our bags, sling jackets over our arms and wave goodbye. We walk to the gate, check in and go though security. Separately Leslie and I travel a lot. We have jobs that send us places so we are pretty good at the whole airport thing. Separately. Evidently together we are idiots. I forget to take out my computer and get scolded by the security guy. Leslie forgets a snow globe she got as a Christmas gift in her carry on.
    Rookie moves.
    I wait on one of those springy grey rubber benches while she goes back to check the bag with the globe and then we walk to the gate. We each have our little airport quirks. She gets a bottle of Smartwater at the store. Always Smartwater. She always seems thirsty when we travel, I rarely see her drink water at home.
    I get Vanity Fair. I always get Vanity Fair, just at the airport. It’s been that way since I stopped reading Seventeen magazine around the time I turned 15 and wanted something a bit more intelligent. At home I used to read Conde Nast Traveler, I was that kid. I was that small town girl pressing her nose to the window of the world in the glossy pages of the travel magazines. I remember reading about Milk and Honey years before I was legally allowed to drink. I can still see the article layout for when they opened the Four Seasons in the the Golden Triangle in Thailand and made tent camping a $500 a night proposition. It’s always been a thing, Conde Nast at home and Vanity Fair, with it’s social exposes and articles that make New York City seem the center of everything, on the plane. I used to buy it on the flights to France to visit my dad every summer and every winter. I read it on every flight to San Francisco and Hartford and LA and New York. It’s my tiny ritual. Vanity Fair and a pack of gum. I don’t read it any other time. I think about it, I always keep those little cards and think about getting a subscription. I’ve almost done it so many times. But then what would I read on the plane?
    We fly to Dallas. I dislike the Dallas airport. I dislike it mainly because one time I got stuck there in a hail storm that grounded every plane for 24 hours and I had to stay overnight in Fort Worth eating wretched chinese food and trying to not let my feet touch the inexplicably damp carpeting. It was really awful. I feel like that warrants a disliking.
Leslie on the other hand has a game plan. “There’s an Urban Taco at 21C,” she says as we walk off the air bridge. “How do you know?” I ask. “Eater has a whole airport thing, they break down every major airport so you know where to go during your layover.” This girl is brilliant and we are back on professional traveler track. The tacos are awesome.
    It’s a toss up between frozen yogurt or coffee for dessert. I go with coffee since the A/C is intense and we take our burnt brown liquid to the gate to wait for our flight. Hopefully sometime soon we will get decent coffee in airports, until then, I consider it a miracle that I got soy milk in Texas. Sitting with our coffee, Leslie looks down at my boarding pass and that’s when we realize that we are on different flights and my flight doesn’t leave for another hour. We’d been traveling together for 8 days and just now, at the gate, are catching the mistake. Another check on the rookie side. I’m not upset. I figured since it was Dallas that something was bound to go wrong. It could be worse. They could fly me up in the air and then circle for 6 hours before landing again in the same place. That’s what happened in Phoenix last year. This is Texas, so I could end up having to rebook my ticket to a town 4 hours from my house just to get to the state I live in. That also happened last year. I have terrible travel luck sometimes. Today, I’m focusing on the positive. At this point I’ve had a taco and a soy latte, so so far all is fine.
    I wait on line for 20 minutes to try and change my ticket. I’m always the person who should be up next, but the gate agent keeps calling other people in front of me. She does this to a point that’s nearly comical. The desperation of everyone around me is so intense. In this kind of situation everyone feels intensely entitled, the center of their own little travel narrative and deserving of an upgrade, a seat change, a cookie. I’m not much better, but I’m keeping it light since worse comes to worse I’m on the next flight out. It’s been such a long time that I’ve been staring and waiting that other people try and cut in front of me because they think I couldn’t possibly be on line. The 20 other people stacked up behind me yell at them and they scamper off claiming they just had a “quick question”. Don’t we all. 
    Airports are a wonderful place to see people at their worst. The computer system crashes just as the gate agent finally waves me over. Nope. She waves me back and puts her head in her hands for a moment. She says something about needing a martini, prints a physical copy of the manifest and hands it off to her gate helper. Just as he is about to start checking off names manually, the computer comes back on and everything seems to be settled. She waves me over, I explain my situation, and as I expect there is nothing to be done. Holiday travel. Everything is overbooked. Etc. Etc.
    Leslie feels bad but she boards the plane. I watch her go down the bridge and then turn back to find my new gate. Traveling alone again. My instincts kick on- should I eat? Find a copy of Vanity Fair? Wait, I already did all that. With nothing else to do in the airport I walk to my gate. They’ve set out Christmas trees and oversized rocking chairs for the holidays. I climb into one and spend the next hour reading and rocking. I get up for a minute to go and beg for a window seat change and the gate agent has mercy. It’s the last row, but I take it and then go back to my rocker.
    Of course my plane is delayed. Of course. Because this is Dallas and me. There can be no other way. I read and rock and text flight updates to the people waiting for me in New York. In the end it’s not so bad, just 60 minutes behind. I get settled in my window seat and send a quiet thank you to the gate agent.
    As the plane takes off we rise above the cloud line and I forgive Texas. Because cutting a swath across the sky is a bright red sun setting into the west in an explosion of colors. The whole of Texas, of the world, is getting pulled into night, the world and me, both turning east as the sun falls into the west. I look at the the colors above the clouds and exhale as I press my nose to the windshield, trying to swallow every detail of it. I don’t begrudge the ticket mistake or the delay, I don’t mind getting up before dawn or eating my toast while I ran to the car because I’m up in the air now, getting to see this sunset from above. It’s so personal, like it was planned just for me.
    Travel is really great because I get to go places and see things. That’s the best part of travel. But then there are also these lovely quiet in between moments. Time in the liminal spaces. The story of how I get somewhere. The dark morning in the shower and the walk through the airport. It’s the time spent alone with my nose on a plastic window, staring at the great beyond. It’s the rocking chair and the taco stand and the Vanity Fair. Always, Vanity Fair.
    Night wraps it’s blanket around my little metal plane and I fall asleep for a time with my head nestled in the blanket against the window. We land in New York and as I de-plane the cold slaps me across the face, winds its way into my sleeves and cruelly welcomes me home. The line for a cab fills in behind me and we all make a great winding snake outside Laguardia. 25 minutes later I’m home. Dree is waiting at my place as she is staying for a few days. She’s put food in the fridge and has the lights glowing. It’s a perfect homecoming. I cook some food and we chat a bit, little updates here and there, then she is off to sleep. I stay up in my quiet home to enjoy being back; I eat some chocolate, rearrange the pillows on the couch and water the plant. I run a bath and let my body soak in water- asking it to keep me here, to settle me back in.
    I finally fall into bed, wrapping my head around the reality that I’d woken up that morning 3000 miles away. I think about my nose against my mom’s cheek. I think about the grey airport benches. I think of that big read sunset over Texas, the field of clouds and the beautiful colors. I think about the way it felt to fly into the night below the bright stars and the full moon hanging up there in the darkest sky; and then I fall asleep.

Someday I want exactly this: A cottage in the Catskills that she renovated herself fulfills a dream for a woman who was once homeless.

Life. Today.

Mornings like this make me think of this piece I wrote ages ago. Edited down it goes like this:

He says I’m living too much
I say there’s no such thing
(though I’m six times each year)
He says
Be true
Be true
Be true
Just hold your breath when you swim under water
There are limits to what you can do.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

Part 1:

Sunday I wake up near the beach with the sound of cars passing by the windows. My host lives in a commercially zoned studio on the PCH. It’s a great location but feels in a way like we are living in the back room of an office, hiding from the landlord or the zoning committee. The previous tenant was a glass artist cum mechanic and he covered the living room floor with creatively arranged busted windshields. The effect is that of walking on broken glass, but I am assured I’m safe to be barefoot. I wear shoes anyways. Where the glass has come up my host has covered it over with packing tape. He keeps meaning to fix it properly but there’s never any time. There is never any time. Ever. He is the busiest person I know. I was able to see him by staying at his place because he is busy the other 18 hours a day.

This time it is my fault but there is no time for breakfast. He’s sweet to get up when I do. He cuts me slices of peaches and puts them in a washed out yogurt container. The greek kind- with the clear lid. I pull on my last clean shirt, pin back my dirty hair and rub lotion onto my face without looking in the mirror. He turns and looks at me holding the little container in his massive hand. This is morning here in LA. This is him, standing in the kitchen on the clay tile floor, his tall, muscular body looking as if he could have been a model for Rodin. Me with sleepy eyes, dirty clothes and a need to get on the road. He looks up at me and I smile, slipping my bag over my forearm. Ready? He asks. Ya.

He puts on shoes and walks me to the car. See you next time, see you next time, here is your breakfast, thank you, you’re welcome. Sigh. Thank you for having me, of course- always a treat to see you, likewise, drive safe, ok, you know how to get there? yeah. I close the door and he directs me safely onto the road. I see him disappear in the mirror and then look ahead to the ocean meeting the mountains and the thin ribbon of road I’m on that separates the two.

Part 2:

I grew up in the mountains north of here in a place called Big Sur. It’s a wild coast line and it was a wild childhood. Dirt roads, drum circles, friends with names like Sunshine and Jezariah. My dad used to collect water from a natural spring that poured out of the mountain side. He’d use a bamboo flute to funnel it into a big glass jar. When I was still small enough, and maybe for a bit longer he would carry me in his metal frame backpack on day long hikes into the back country. I remember waking up in that canvas bag and listening to the rhythm of his footsteps. My mom used to hose me off when I came home from school each day. Literally, with a hose. She would spray us down before we were allowed in the house. It was the best. We were children of the wildest place.

I’ve spent a hundred days of my life driving up and down that coast line. I know the way it twists and turns.  I made friends with the moon one night when she followed us home from a night in town.

I’m on that that road today. In LA they call it the Pacific Coast Highway, it extends all the way up California and up north we call it Highway 1. I always thought it was named that because it was the first. The best. Because I didn’t know any other highways.

I’m just going a short ways, past Malibu and into Ventura. Day trip. I’ll be there in time for breakfast. My instinct is to just keep going, to drive all day the way I used to, put on This American Life and head north. I know where all the places to stop for food are. My craving for iced tea and a grilled cheese from In-n-out is intense. Pavlovian.

I leave Santa Monica and the storefront apartment. I go past the beaches, the Palisades, up into Malibu and all the houses that cling to the west side of the highway as if by force of will alone. On past Pepperdine and Zuma beach, past the real Malibu where the locals live and on to that perfect part of coast that is empty. Just mountains ending in the ocean. It reminds me of the road up past Davenport before San Francisco and another lifetime when I lived there.

I keep driving, up further and inland a bit where the mountains move east and the land is flat; past farm land and rows and rows of green vines and veggie fields. The whole morning covered in a gentle blanket of dew; it’s Sunday, and the world is still sleeping. Just a little further now, past the military part of the road, past shooting ranges and obstacle courses, past statues of jets and signs declaring our pride in our troops. Then Ventura appears and before I know it I’m at the beach house, pulling up and hugging my dear friend.

We spend the day talking about her wedding, the details, the images she wants. We talk about her fears and excitement. I make one large list as she makes little ones all over the place. We have different brains and we love one another. It’s going to be a beautiful wedding. 14 people in Big Sur. White and gold and beautiful touches. Carrot cake and magical champagne. As much as I want to engage in the pretty planning we have run out of time, now is time for the plan, to think of the day and see it happening before it happens, see the problems before they occur. Her fiance moves around us- taking the dog out for a walk, pouring me drinks, making brunch and dinner. The day passes in a whirl of lists and feather boas and what song to walk down the aisle to. When I look up I realize I’m running out of time.

When I lived in LA I stored some things at a friend’s house while I was working out of town. I forgot about those boxes for 3 years and on this visit she reminded me so I picked them up. They are full of old clothes I loved once, in high school or even before, plus Burning Man costumes and pieces I’d found in odd places. All this I spill on to Amy’s living room to sort because I can’t take it all back with me. I’m merciless. I throw out 90 percent of it, saving the nice things here and there but shunning sentimentality. I think about my New York life. If it didn’t fit in that life then it went. I repack my suitcases in her driveway in the dark and just as the clock hits 7:30 I throw bags in the car, hug the soon to be married and depart the sweet house on the coast.

I have just enough time to make my flight if I drive exactly the speed limit and there is no traffic, I’m stressed but refusing to ruin my chance to be in that open wildness again. I hit that part in the road as night falls thick over California. The moon is almost full and reflects it’s beams on the black rolling water. I get 13 minutes of this drive. They are the most peaceful moments of my trip. Warm car, music on the radio, golden moonlight bouncing off the ocean. For 13 minutes the world feels empty and deliciously lonely and the moon is following me home again.

Part 3.

Drop off the rental, catch the shuttle, miss the terminal, walk two blocks with two loaded down suitcases, check in, drop bags, through security in five minutes and arrive at the terminal where of course my flight is delayed. I buy a magazine and gum and sit down with my phone. I call the friends I missed seeing while I was in town. I call my host to thank him again. I get a decaf soy latte and a piece of cake at Starbucks in case it’s the last chance to eat for a while. One time on this airline they took us up in the air and then circled for 6 hours before bringing us back to the same airport. Problems with landing at the destination they said. It was 6 of the most wretched hours of my life. In case that happens again I’ll at least have my latte to comfort me.

Luckily this time the flight leaves only 40 minutes late and we fly all night to Charlotte where I’ve missed my connecting flight. Now it’s Monday. I get breakfast at some awful airport restaurant and wonder about the lives of the people who work here. I wonder if I’ll ever find good hash browns again, are they really SO hard to make? I’m loopy because sleeping on a plane isn’t really sleeping. It’s denying certain death by shutting down my conscious brain. My sub-conscience is alert the whole time. I’m exhausted and is it too much to ask to have decent breakfast potatoes?

On the next flight and off the plane at JFK where fall has come to New York. Taxi home, where the subletter has kept a nicer apartment than I do. Everything is perfect and I fall into bed for a much needed nap. I open my computer to check email and it’s a rabbit hole. I finally close the screen and try and sleep. I think I’m out for 15 minutes when the phone rings, my former step mom from Paris. The rule is, I always answer the calls from Paris. We talk for a minute and then she hands the phone to my brother. He’s 13 so conversation is slow. I feel like I need a class in how to talk to 13 year old boys. It didn’t really come natural when I was 13 and it’s not coming easily now. I need to go to Paris soon to visit. Before he is 14 and then 20 and then getting married or something and I’ve missed it all. There are ropes that hold my heart 3 thousand miles in every direction.

So no nap and up again. Shower. Sweet shower, with my shampoo and my soap and the things that smell like me. Base, foundation, eye shadow, fake lashes, blush, mascara, hair, black pants, black shirt, something sheer on top and an explosion of my suitcase. Boots on, bag over shoulder, out the door.

Part 4.

Subway to subway to Chelsea Market. Jamie calls to ask me to get cardamom and sugar. $60 later I’m in a cab to 27th and walking into the McKittrick. Jamie comes just after and we make 8 buckets of cocktails out of 10 cases of booze, 15 quarts of citrus juice and gallons of simple syrup. I pour the drinks from one bucket to the next to mix them and make jokes about mixology. I think of a time not so very long ago when I’d never heard of batching. Now this is about the closest I get to bartending; pouring 50 drinks from one food safe lexan to the next. It’s not a complaint, it’s just a different gig.

Jamie brings espresso chocolate. It makes everything better and my brain is able to figure out multiplying these specs by 300, able to figure out how many ounces are in a gallon, and how many quarts of lime juice to add. We finish up in time to go get dinner- labeling all the buckets and then donning our masks. We follow Keith, the bar manager, through a dark door and into the McKittrick where the show is in full swing. People move about the room like ghosts and we pass them unnoticed in our masks, down a hallway, past old photos, through a side door and out on to the street. Like it never happened. Like that was just a dream.

Dinner is delicious and quiet. Jamie and Rachel and I checking our phones and chatting. Part work, part hang out, part meal. We cross the street and go upstairs to the roof of the McKittrick where the party is about to start and the staff will be serving all those drinks I made this evening. It’s a great party. Before I know it I’m sitting in a replica of an old pullman car, drinking punch with David Wondrich and looking out at the vastness of the city so pretty some nights I think it’s all made of candy. My best friend is across the table, new friends nearby and everyone is laughing. I’ve been gone from New York for nearly 3 weeks and this as good a welcome back party as I could have imagined.

They kick us out at 2am and we wander on to the street. I catch a cab and fly home in the coldness and lateness of the night. I can’t pull the energy to do anything so I just fall into my bed. No sheets, no pillow cases and I don’t care. I’m still in my fake eyelashes and foundation. I can’t move. I’m tipsy on absinthe and haven’t really slept in two days. I fall asleep in this soft cloud and don’t wake up until 10 the next day.

Part 5:

I wake up Tuesday and fall back asleep and then wake up for real. There still aren’t sheets on the bed, I didn’t just imagine that. I still have the eyelashes on and my hair is all over the place. The tiniest hint of a hangover is present but I deny it and throw on clothes, tie my shoes and force myself to, if not run, then walk quickly for a mile- down the street, around the Pratt campus and over to the store. I buy kale and eggs and hot sauce and go home and cook them. I answer emails, will I sponsor this, can I help with that, do I know someone who can do this, what’s the plan for that. I eat eggs and do expense reports. An odd element of this position is that not everyone I work with goes out 5 nights a week as part of their job. They are up and emailing at 9am like the rest of the working world but I was expected to be out last night until 2. Add to that that my other office is in Paris and I find myself answering emails at the strangest times of day and night.

My co-worker shows up and we go about the main activity of the day. Jello shots. 300 of them. For a low brow art party her gallery friend is throwing. I decide on making a passion fruit, rum and absinthe shot. It’s delicious and I think we get a little buzzed just from tasting the mixture. Since this is the first time either of us has done this it takes longer than expected and we finally finish at dinner time with 325 jello shots chilling in my fridge. She tastes one and deems it perfect. I don’t eat gelatin so I pass but admit that they look amazing.

After a massive clean up effort she heads out and I eat dinner and watch some drama on TV. That’s when I realize I have more to do tonight and it’s getting late. I clean up best I can and head out to grab a zip car. I need to pick up some Lillet for a punch I’m making tomorrow, drop off some product at an account that is doing a charity thing and then grab a punch bowl from an account I’d loaned it to so that I have some way of serving the Lillet punch. I get in the car and I’m instantly happy. The night is cold and wet, the car is warm and dry. The radio is set to the Columbia University station and they are playing honkey tonk music. Even though I get lost on the dark Brooklyn streets I’d have been happy driving all night. Just me, the lonely catchy country music and this shining Brooklyn night.

I finish my errands after midnight and reluctantly leave the car at the lot. I make the bed, turn down the sheets, brush my teeth and finally feel home. It’s nice. It’s nice to be home after 3 weeks on the road. After weddings and parties and performances. After flying for hours and hours, and driving miles and miles. After reunions and first dates and heart breaks and cleaning out the garage. After climbing mountains, giving toasts, and serving punch. After photo shoots and meals in the car, drinks with friends and a perfectly timed haircut. After dense cities and wide open fields, basement bars, rooftops lounges and wild cliffs at the edge of the world. After San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Arroyo Seco, Santa Cruz, Davenport, Monterey, Carmel, Los Angeles, Malibu, Ventura and the San Fernando Valley. After all that it is nice to be home in my warm place in Brooklyn where my life lives for now.

I fall asleep by 2am. I have to be up at 8am the next day to head to Boston.

To be continued.