Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Older Years

Facing away from the handprints and footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, I see a billboard atop a building to my left across the street, a huge poster for Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. I am awed by this place, the history that I perceive to be here, the concentrated roar of Hollywood tour buses, touting glimpses of the stars' homes, the people dressed up as various movie characters on the sidewalk, taking photos, taking tips.

That was April 2003. It's now May 2011. If we're still here in late August, we'll have lived in Southern California for eight years. But we have changed. And I have changed. Those handprints and footprints were fascinating back then. All those people were there, those silent film stars, those abrasive wits like Bette Davis, and I think Buster Keaton is somewhere there, too. Charlie Chaplin, if not.

Meridith and I went to see them again today, the first time since that first time. We're more mild toward it now. It's there, but for us, it's just there. It's a part of this landscape that has been with us for all these years. But there is a markedly interesting difference: Meridith took a few photos of the stars that had been installed in the years after we saw this. That first time, she took photos with a disposable camera. This time, a cell phone camera. I asked her if we had had cell phones back then, and she told me that only Mom and Dad had them.

The billboard atop that building this time was of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow for, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Back then, the El Capitan Theatre was just a glimpse on the way to where we could board a van for one of those stars' homes tours. Today, we went to see On Stranger Tides at El Capitan, and while the organist played what sounded like every single song in Disney's history, Meridith figured out how many times she and I had been here, both together and separately. There was the Little Mermaid sing-a-long, the same for Mary Poppins, and there was The Jungle Book, and now this. That was four for me. Meridith reminded me of a fifth for her: Ratatouille. She had gone to that with Mom. So five for her. If we're still here in September, it may be a fifth time for me and a sixth time for her, since they're showing The Lion King in 3D.

That day in 2003, I think we also went to the Hollywood & Highland Center, to see the Hollywood sign from a distance on the fourth floor. This time on the fourth floor, our purpose was Soul Daddy, the restaurant concept on America's Next Great Restaurant, which became the winner of the show and opened three locations: One in Manhattan, one at Mall of America in Minneapolis, and one at the Hollywood & Highland Center, on the fourth floor. Meridith watched that show religiously, since Bobby Flay was the host and one of the judges, and he's her favorite chef. Over those weeks the show aired, she thought that the grilled cheese concept, Meltworks, might win, but then figured, after Meltworks was eliminated, that Soul Daddy would probably make it, and she was right.

It is good. Really good. The focus is on healthier southern food, and I'm sure because of the startup costs, most of the sides are cold, except for the cheese grits, and the braised kale. Mom had roasted pork, with sweet potato salad and green bean salad. Meridith and I had the same thing, baked herb chicken, but she had wild rice salad and green salad, while I had sweet potato salad and cheese grits. I love grits, probably on an equal par with books. I subsist partly on Quaker Instant Grits. There's not a real prominent taste of corn in there. There's corn grit, as you'd expect, but a taste that would be close to cornbread, no. This had that taste. This was truly a different kind for me. The cheese taste offered itself up meekly, but never shouted. I was fascinated at that near-cornbread taste, though. Meridith thought I should have gotten two side orders of grits (since the meal comes with two sides), but I wanted to try the sweet potato salad, too, which was also excellent. Dad had the country style ribs with cabbage slaw, but I don't remember his second side. It might also have been cabbage slaw, since he's big on cole slaw.

Amidst our joint reflection on all those years, looking back at our younger selves, remembering what rubes we were when we came to Hollywood too and were taken by everything around us (It's not so much that it's a sham, because in some aspects it is, but just that when you live relatively nearby (as nearby as you can get via various freeways), it becomes more and more surreal. A lot of it is a Dali painting come to life, and forgive me, because that's the only kind of surrealism that comes to mind right now), I also got a look at my possible future. Not a flash forward where I see exactly what I will become, but something to consider.

Toward the end of eating at Soul Daddy, I looked out the floor-to-ceiling window across from our table in the back and saw a blonde-haired, bright-eyed woman (late 20s, maybe) with her baby at a table just outside that window. There was a stroller, she had in front of her what she was eating, there were things on the table for the baby, and that was it. Single mother. That's what it looked like to me, anyway. A husband or boyfriend might have been along later, but I go by what I saw at that moment.

She didn't look worn down by the baby. It seemed like this baby had strengthened her, given her a strong resolve to make life worth living in so many ways.

I feel like I've tangled myself up in my words. I don't mean that she didn't have that resolve before the baby. I don't know. But there was an energy I felt from her, even with that window separating us.

The baby looked at me, the mother looked down at the baby and then at me, and she smiled at me. I thought it was because the baby had looked at me, but when the mother looked back again and smiled, the baby wasn't looking at me.

I'm definitely not ready for a baby. I know that for sure. But over the past year, after getting out of, and far, far away from, my anxiety brought on by all that weight, I've thought that I'm most happy among my books. I'm excited each day by what I choose to read. I'm continually enthused by my research for my next three books. What else would I need?

It turns out that I wouldn't mind a smile like that often coming from someone like that woman. It didn't look like there was any doubt in her eyes, and it certainly didn't look like a polite smile designed to deflect me from looking at her further. It's the kind of feeling that can carry you aloft for a long time.

I didn't feel an urge to talk to her, but as we walked away, back to the elevator to head down to the cupcake place on the ground floor of the Kodak Theatre area, I kept sneaking glances at her. And I thought, and I thought, and I thought.

I keep thinking that pursuing this might be a lot of work, that I'd have less time to read, less time to do what makes me everything that I am. Seems like an idiot notion, though. To connect with someone with the same interests, who's as equally passionate about their life as I am about mine? Why wouldn't I want to have that balloon feeling all the time?

I'm going to do this. I haven't been serious about this before, but I want to find someone. I'm 27, and I've only dated in 7th grade. Never through the rest of middle school, never in high school, and never during most of my 20s. There wasn't anything that stopped me; I just never went for it.

I don't know if it's some part of human nature that's spurring me on, but I don't care. I want to explore. I know it can be difficult, frustrating, whatever, but I'm the only one of me that I have, the only one in this body. I want to see for myself. If anything, that kind of smile would be nice to see every day.