Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Truth About Poems in the Park

I spent one summer of college working in a delicatessen. There was a boy who came in every day. He sat at a table in the corner with a guitar and a notebook filled with words. One day, when I brought his sandwich out to him, I asked him if he was writing poems.

“Sometimes,” he said. “But I mostly write songs.”

I was writing too. All the time. All the words. Bits and pieces scribbled onto paper napkins, the back of my hand or the frayed pages of a notebook. The words came to me on bus rides to and from campus, or in the middle of the night, in the middle of a dream. I wanted to find other people who wrote that way too. I was desperate to know other people who were consumed by all the words all the time. What they meant and where they went and all they could be.

So we made plans. Not boyfriend-girlfriend plans. Just writer-writer plans. They were early-in-the-morning plans that had to happen before my shift started at work. We met in the park with the sun and the swing set. He brought black coffee in paper cups and a guitar slung across his back. I brought printed pages of stories I’d turned in the semester before to be ripped apart by classmates and professors. Their red ink critiques still bled through the pages, but I wanted to be better so I was willing to ask for the opinions of strangers.

I read him a story. I tried to fix the parts that had been rewritten, but sometimes I stumbled on the sentences. I’d had enough distance to see the imperfections. I wrote notes as I went. I wanted to run home to my computer and fix everything. But he sat and watched me read. And when I was done, he said, “Whoa.”

I didn’t know what “whoa” meant. I wanted to ask, but he started strumming his guitar before I could. And then he was singing.

To me.
In the park.
In the morning.
In the summer.
In the sunshine.
While our black coffee went cold on the cement table in front of us.

I’m not a girl who should be sung to. I don’t like that kind of attention. People passing by stopped to watch us like we were romantic. I would’ve rather crawled under the table to pick off the old pieces of gum stuck there than sit and be sung to while people watched it happen.

Boyfriends sang to girlfriends. And this was a writer-writer outing. Not a boyfriend-girlfriend thing.

Until it wasn’t.

And when he asked, I had to say no. His face turned red. And he gathered his guitar and his papers and his coffee cup and said goodbye before I could ask him what “whoa” meant.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Club: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales


Oh, hi! Remember me, and the way I like to tell you about books I love? Well, I’m here to tell you that THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales pretty much rocked my weekend.

Because I loved it. I loved this book so much I should marry it.

“Let’s go down to the pier,” husband said.

“One more chapter,” I said, snuggling deeper into the sheets of my cozy bed.

(Sorry, husband.)

This book made me laugh and broke my heart all at once. Also, it’s packed with a kickass soundtrack (any book that shouts out to “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones will have my heart forever).

It’s the story of social outcast, Elise Dembowski, who, close to giving up altogether, randomly finds herself at a warehouse party called Start. Here, she meets a hip DJ who shows her the ropes and a trusted friend who embraces all her eccentricity. A love of DJing gives Elise newfound purpose and an understanding of the power of music.

I loved being in this world even though I have practically zero experience with clubs like Start. The closest I’ve come to going to something like that was the time I wore orange tights and green creepers to one of those pseudo-raves called Romper Room at the San Diego Sports Arena. Although I was of age, I didn’t have an I.D. because I didn’t drive, and it took about 30 minutes of begging and pleading with a big, buff doorman to get inside.

I finally did get inside.

If my experience had been as cool as Elise Dembowski’s, I might’ve gone back.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Truth About Ordering the Cheesecake


I like dessert. I like to order dessert. I like See’s Candies and cake. I don’t understand people who say, “Nobody really cares about the cake at weddings.” First of all, I had a kickass cake at my wedding. Secondly, I’m someone my husband can coerce into attending less-than-exciting events simply by telling me there might be cake there.

Here’s what I like best: Dessert after an awesome meal.

Dessert is the best.

Or maybe it’s not.

Like when you’re the only one who orders it.

When I was in graduate school, I worked in an office on campus with a bunch of other students and some fairly important people. At the end of my two-year tenure, the higher ups took all the students who were graduating out to lunch at an allegedly fancy pants restaurant in Downtown L.A. We ate and gabbed about future plans. Some of us (me) were getting married and looking for real jobs. Others were continuing with even more school. And all of us were up to our necks in student loan debt because USC isn’t cheap.

When the plates from the main course were cleared, our server came over to see if anyone wanted to order dessert.

Guess who indicated that she would like to order dessert?

Guess who was the ONLY person who indicated that she would like to order dessert?

Guess who everyone looked at when she indicated that she was the only person who would like to order dessert?

Yep, me.

My friend, Mariano, who is still one of my very best friends to this day, jabbed his elbow into my side like, you did not just order dessert. Nobody is ordering dessert. We are not important enough to order dessert. I coughed like I didn’t mean to say the word “cheesecake” and instead had something stuck in my throat. I guzzled my water stat. I maybe choked on an ice cube. The server looked at me quizzically as he did a back-and-forth with our bill tray.

Dessert? No dessert. Dessert?

“Did you want the cheesecake?” he finally asked me.

Hell yeah, I wanted the cheesecake. But I wasn’t supposed to want the cheesecake. So I said I didn’t want the cheesecake.

“Um, no thanks,” I mumbled.

Here’s the thing, everyone—EVERYONE—at that table of 20 people knew I wanted the cheesecake. My boss knew I wanted it. Mariano knew I wanted it. And, most embarrassingly, someone who might’ve been the dean of a very important school at USC knew I wanted it.

And if I could take back one thing I’ve wanted in my life but wish I hadn’t admitted out loud, it would be that stupid piece of cheesecake. (That’s saying a lot because I once admitted I wanted braces out loud and ended up with headgear.) Oh, I tried to recover from the embarrassment of being the only person at a table of 20 to order dessert. I smoothed my napkin across my lap, over and over and over again. I fiddled with the buttons on my cardigan and feigned interest in the artsy overhead lights.

Until my boss turned to me. “Did you want the cheesecake?”

All eyes were on me.

“Um, no. Really, no. It’s okay. Really.” I looked at the server like do you feel me? Please walk away now. Please walk away and save me from this humiliation so we can pretend I’ve never even heard of cheesecake.

And then, someone very important at our table sighed and said in a tone of voice that sounded a lot like an exhausted mom who finally gives in to buying a pack of M&Ms for their whiny kid in the checkout line at Vons, “Why don’t we just go ahead and order a couple of desserts. We can all share.”

Um, germaphobe alert.

I had a bigger problem now. I don’t share dessert. I didn’t then and I don’t now. I don’t share sips of coffee or swap water bottles. I have a thing about that. So when a few desserts showed up for all of us to share, I prayed a little pray that I would get the first bite of something.

Thankfully, the cheesecake was set down right smack in front of my face.

Because duh.

I got the first bite. It was the only bite of dessert I had. I grudgingly passed it over to Mariano when I actually wanted the whole thing for myself.

Okay, I might have issues.

But you know what? That one bite of cheesecake I had was really freaking good. Mouthwatering even. And I made a promise to myself that day that if I ever got rich and fancy and important, I would never get all Judgy McJudgerson on someone who ordered dessert.

I’m still waiting on the rich and fancy and important part.

But I’m not waiting on the cheesecake.