After sublime dinner with friend at Seagrass (farm-to-table in SB).
It’s no secret that New York City moves me in ways no other place does, but I can honestly say that I’ve found a lovely rhythm in Southern California and made a nice life for myself when I’m away from the city. The pace is slower, but since I spend so much time writing and on Facebook, much of it in private chat, it’s nice to have the relative downtime in CA after the driving energy and breathless pace of Manhattan.
And my life in WLA and SB is hardly stationary or sedentary. I will say that living on the 4th floor of a 1897 brownstone in what is now an “historic district” in the 60s East keeps you in good shape with no effort or choice in the matter, as does climbing subway stairs multiple times a day. In LA or SB, you have to make a point of going to your club or gym or driving somewhere (even if it’s the beach five minutes away) to exercise.
I’m going to swim before heading down at 7PM to the Hollywood Improv to see Jason Lawhead, whom I met when he opened for Jay Mohr on one of his bi-weekly Tuesday shows earlier this year. I returned from New York November 2nd, the day after the LAX shooting, drove up to Santa Barbara on Sunday night, back to LA Tuesday, and then back to SB on Thursday night.
I can’t wait to try the Craigslist wetsuit I bought from a nice blonde woman about my age wearing Chanel glasses and chatting on the phone apologetically in an Audi A3.
At McDonald’s in Carpinteria in front of the diaper changing station with logo. And no, hair not brushed as my FB mom hastened to point out. En route to LA via Yard House in the new Oxnard Collection
We met at the McDonald’s in Carpinteria and it fit, though I put it on backwards, which resulted in what I characterized on Facebook as “tit poppage.” She’s a bit shorter than I am but we’re built the same and it was great deal at 50. I have no interest in surfing but my parents have an enormous unheated pool which cannot be used eight months a year. It’s a bit thick for laps, but I can tread water for 45 minutes and get a good workout while Dad-sitting.
Also, I plan to swim in the ocean here in SB, which is impossible without a suit. In 17 years here, I’ve submerged my body only once, during a heat wave on Labor Day weekend in 2012.
Thursday, I had a ball in Ventura at Cafe Fiore with a woman in the Westlake School for Girls class of 1973 (I’m Westlake 1990) for lunch after months of chatting on FB (Cafe Fiore on Yelp). We took the the picture with “devious” faces as a mild fuck you to some irritating girls in my years from the Valley, who objected to my apparently out-on-a-limb assertion that the Valley is hot and that the commute over the hill sucks. Like every realtor with half a brain doesn’t know this is why it’s cheaper to live in the Valley. Seriously? This makes me an elitist? Surely there are better ways to make that case.
And I don’t respond better to being told that I “need to get over my WLA elitism” than my impatient father did at Bellevue, a moderate French bistro in Santa Monica some 30 years ago, when the imperious, middle-aged French hostess told him that he “needed to learn to wait.” (Neither a psychic nor psychologist, clearly, as 20 seconds with my father would convince a reasonably acute individual that this was so not the approach to take.)
It’s not as though I spontaneously posted, “The Valley sucks!” I merely saw a post on Harvard-Westlake’s Throwback Thursday on FB about a now-deceased and wonderful security guard named Hebron there some 25 years. He was the dearest man, like an uncle to us, and manned the parking lot because only seniors could come and go during free periods. Of course, now they have this fortified booth with what looks like a Navy SEAL protecting those privileged darlings; Hebron was rotund and older and I’m not convinced an evildoer would have been much deterred or thwarted, but that’s why Westlake was cooler in all ways than Harvard-Westlake.
As I’ve noted, I had senior privilege a year early because my father–a WWII pilot and former federal judge–was not going to be told by a frankly dreadful and spinsterish assistant headmistress fresh from New York’s Nightingale-Bamford (which meant nothing to him) that his little girl whose 14K-ish tuition he always paid on time, couldn’t go see his analyst in Hancock Park when the burdens of 11th grade grew too heavy. I only saw Rose Fromm-Kirsten, his Polish Jewish trailblazing analyst eight or nine times, but went to exercise class or lunch during free periods the rest of the year.
But after Dad’s only visit to my school in six years other than graduation–for all they knew, I didn’t have a father except the signature on the tuition check sent every semester, which come to think of it, Mom probably wrote anyway–I had senior privilege from the first month of junior year. The college admissions process is far more grueling now than when I went through it (a subject about which I have very strong opinions, surprise surprise, I’ll blog about soon), but 11th grade with 4 AP tests looming, plus intro calc with my only evil teacher of life and chemistry, on top of two NFL events (foreign extemporaneous speaking and Lincoln-Douglas debate) and intense workout schedule were bad enough.
The conference lasted some three minutes. Dad doesn’t beat around the bush: he’s the ultimate fixer. He only liked, in fact, problems which he could solve in about three minutes. This was the kind of problem Dad loved, precisely because it was neat, solvable and fast. It was news to me that the other girls knew I came and went as I pleased, but I was pretty much finished with high school by the end of junior year, spending most of my time senior year at UCLA in the now-defunct UCLA honors program, and no one bugged me about it. (To wit, I only learned this year anyone was aware of my comings and goings.).
So I wrote a small tribute to Hebron on the Westlake page and unwisely (and chattily) provided some backstory on the assistant headmistress, who happened to be a single mother with a tough and hardly cuddly daughter with a different last name. These are all facts, not value judgments. Well, that precipitated one kind of shitstorm. Another kind arose when I made a joking comment about foisting Valley commutes on WLA parents. I’m a truly compassionate, kind person but I’m outspoken and have a sharp tongue and brutally honest way which is not only not-PC but sometimes tactless. And friends say I do have a way with words, even when I’m not using one of the two C words when no other words will do.
This is why I’ve decided that my theme song in life should be “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent:Victorian Chick’s Theme Song from Rent (Movie Version).
Here is our smiley picture, which our nice server at Cafe Fiore said didn’t look devious enough to serve as the intended fuck you for the high school page, “I Went to Westlake before it was Harvard-Westlake,” where we met.
The women of her generation are universally wonderful. The minor nonsense I’ve encountered has been with women my age who were, frankly, of at best modest distinction at Westlake and now leading fairly mundane existences in towns or areas they likely never dreamed of settling.
One girl I knew from K to 12 and in my carpool three years at Westlake married well and has three sons under 10 or 11, all of whom play Little League in WLA. I spent a lot of time there when my brother was young and again when he coached during college and adulthood and have no need ever to attend another youth baseball game. The idea of three sons in sports frankly strikes me as little better than my Emily Dickinson phase in Death Gardens during which I didn’t eat out once, buy a dress or have sex for 8.5 years. I have no doubt that she loves her life, but we have literally nothing in common and while I am sure many Little League or soccer moms (three times over) have other interests, I’m equally sure that she does not.
With one exception, I’ve had no success, since my transcendence of depression and transformation into bicoastal social butterfly, making friends my own age from the K to 12 years. It’s not as if I was all that close to these girls even then. But I connect neither with the the ones who married and became stay-at-home moms, nor the career women who also have husbands and children (and therefore help). The professionals have no time for new friends and idle chit chat, but my sense is that if they quit law, medicine, business, or academia, we still wouldn’t connect.
I’ve mused on why this is before on Victorian Chick, so will start by saying that those women who have never had a significant hurdle in life now find themselves in marriages and jobs which are just fine, but perhaps not all that thrilling. Of course a large number of childhood friends have become enormously successful in TV, following seamlessly in the footsteps of their often legendary parents. That’s a different case and with one exception–Shana Goldberg-Meehan–I wasn’t close to those girls (Maya Rudolph, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Levinson, to name a few).
In the case of the non-industry folks, however, the last thing they want to do is reflect overmuch on their lives or psyches, and I embody the kind of self-reflection they strive to avoid. As my new friend wrote to me, “Your shit’s out there.” I should say so: I report my period cramps on FB every month, along with the faux pregnancy it brings with it on day one. My first YouTube video, “Victoria vs the Can Opener” broadcasts my slightly Jappy inability to work a fancy can opener my boyfriend bought.
My Facebook friends have semi-regular bets about when I will lose my driver’s license/passport/keys/purse/wallet and my boyfriend proposed “Beautiful Disaster” by 311 as a theme song because I do tend to break and misplace stuff. (This last trip in NYC, I am proud to report, I lost nothing, not even my various chargers for the V2 e-cig, which is a good thing given the consummate incompetence of the V2 folks in Miami. I can’t wait till Walmart starts to carry V2; it will be only the second time I’ve entered Walmart and the only product I buy at this store.)
One good thing about having your life fall apart in your 20s is that if you pull it together, your life tends to be very solid and smooth. “Solid and smooth” is not how I would describe the narratives of women I’ve heard through the grapevine in the last year. I said this to Mom just this week, “You wouldn’t believe what a mess a lot of these lives are! Thank God I got that shit over with a few years before I turned 40.”
But I think the real reason I don’t connect to women of my cohort is that my life is unconventional and that my friends, who are mostly from the last 3.5 years on Facebook, are far more diverse in every way than those who returned from college and graduate school to replicate the lives of their parents as best they could. Mostly older (50 to 60), they’re scattered all over the country and from very different political, social, religious and educational backgrounds. I’m vastly more tolerant of difference than some of these kids of (pseudo-)limousine liberals who regard me as an elitist when they have zero diversity on their Facebook pages. They’re much more judgmental than I am.
And realistically, those from the Greatest Generation through the early Baby Boom faced economic conditions which will never come round again. Perhaps the biggest change is the cost of higher education, which drastically limits upward mobility and entrenches all but insurmountable class divisions. Mom worked her way through UCLA and UCLA Law and graduated debt free in 1965. Her story, the daughter of Mexican immigrant with serious health issues and an alcoholic Irish/English writer who left when she was 10 (at the behest of her mother who had had it with the drinking and all that comes with it), is no longer possible, something conservatives seem not to realize. We used to have a fine system of public education in this country and with rare exceptions, we no longer do at the high school level. And at 30K a year for California residents, the UC system can in no sense be regarded as “public.”
Generally, but by no means universally, people I’ve become intimate with, whether entirely on instant message or on the phone and in real life, have had bumpier rides through life than the uber-privileged kids around whom I was raised. And I think when you’ve been through some serious shit, you become a more authentic and compassionate person. This doesn’t mean, by the way, you can’t also be a bit of a snob, and I make no bones about my preferences when it comes to food, real estate, geography, private schools, colleges and so on. So sure, I regard 90272 and 10065 as more desirable zip codes than all but a handful of others both in LA and NYC, but it in no way forms an obstacle to genuine and meaningful friendship with those who’ve never entered the neighborhoods these postal codes serve.
So while most of my childhood friends’ parents and parents’ friends and colleagues (a lot of overlap there) grew up at most middle class and attended public schools exclusively, a large number grew up lower middle class or from poor (largely Jewish) immigrant families. None of this prevented them from becoming what, post-Occupy Wall Street, we refer to as 1-2%-ers.
So for those who grew up with money and attended private school without a thought about college tuition, there is nowhere to go but down, unless you both kill it in a career and marry auspiciously. Or your parents help you with a down payment on a WLA or NYC place in the 1 million range. The average house where I live in SB is 850K and that buys you almost nothing. In WLA, it’s even higher in the areas Westlake or Crossroads kids lived. I will, barring a fluke of some sort, never own such a property and at 42 in February, the only things I own are my used Saab, my clothes, and my jewelry.
I can’t afford a house or even a condo right now in anywhere I would consider living even half the year. But I’m fine with that and completely honest about my life without work but with a budget. I’m not in debt and I don’t buy on credit. Because I am childless, I am able to live within my means and still have a very nice life. (And I planned it that way, deciding early on that I was never going to be in a position to have a family because the preconditions for that path were not ones I was willing or interested in securing.)
I’m not married, though I am in a longterm relationship of over three years (my first), and I don’t work or have kids. I lost a decade or so, though “chipper” was hardly the word for me at Westlake or Yale when highly functional, and am therefore living my 20s now. In the city, where I will have spent 85 days by the end of 2013, I go out almost every night and in LA, with shows at the Geffen Playhouse (where I am a subscriber) and various other events at the Hollywood Improv or other small theaters like the North Hollywood Arts Complex, where I saw the tremendous Suburban Showgirl (which Palmer Davis will reprise in Malibu at the end of this month), I’m not a complete homebody either.
In Santa Barbara, I subscribe to the lecture portion of UCSB Arts and Lectures and in the first week of October, I saw both Alan Alda and Tony Kushner. (I lost my notes on both so didn’t blog, but will write about Alda after I read the book I bought at the Granada.) I need to buy individual tickets to the symphony and ballet series, but I won’t be here for enough of the key shows to merit a subscription, at least not till January, when the prices go down mid-season.
I’ve come to believe that even if I hadn’t had the problems I did and become a professor in the North Atlantic corridor as planned, my friends would all be colleagues rather than childhood friends from St. Augustine or Westlake. When I do meet a girl living with her husband or children in Bel Air or the Palisades, for instance, at a reunion lunch, there is never any follow-up. I ran into an older sister of a girl from Encino in my class and she was exceedingly friendly. She and her sister were both big in theater, dance, and music and her childless sister actively involved in her kids’ lives runs a major arts organization in LA.
They’re Jewish and you’d think, even if I wasn’t friends with either one, I might become lunch buddies with the big sister in the Palisades based on our small private school experience. I would guess that she or someone with a comparable bio would be the equivalent of what my good friend in affluent Park Slope–a neighborhood in Brooklyn which has become essentially a Manhattan annex–calls “a Drinky Mom.” Park Slope is a trip and the stroller moms (who may or may not also be helicopter parents) are well-known throughout the city, meaning Manhattan as well as Brooklyn and Queens, where many Brooklynites now live because housing got too expensive not just in “the Slope” but Brooklyn as a whole.
My friend in her late 40s says she is now on “Team Breeder,” which always makes me laugh. She’s not like the other moms for many reasons, among them that she’s a true intellectual and writer who didn’t attend private schools or grow up at least upper middle class, as many of the Park Slope moms no doubt did. I enjoy her tales of the “Drinky Moms” who meet at great restaurants for food and fine wine to get away from boisterous toddlers and small children, whom they leave with babysitters or actual nannies (who work part- or full-time only for them).
I’m not sure how to account for this cultural difference among equivalent tax brackets except to say that maybe New Yorkers are just more interesting and fun. The LA moms from my private schools I hear about now that I’m peripherally hooked back into the world of my youth don’t seem even a little bit fun.
My Baby Boomer Westlake friend thinks the “make everything look nice on the outside” thing is stronger in LA than other places, particularly in the provincial and quite homogeneous Valley. I’m not sure if it’s a Valley phenomenon per se, but I do think that NYC women in the same financial strata are more real because even when they return to their pricey apartments in Brooklyn or Manhattan after getting their kids from private school or the obligatory lessons which follow, they’re on the subway with people from all races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds.
It’s almost impossible to remain provincial or sheltered in NYC, but beyond that, New Yorkers disdain bullshit, particularly of a bourgeois and suburban nature. The old joke that in New York, someone says “fuck you” and means “how’s it going?” and in LA says, “how’s it going” and means “fuck you” is exaggerated but not entirely wrong.
LA has always been less authentic, though in my recent Patch review of Enough Said (a revised version of my blog on the film), I take great pains to debunk some of the New York City stereotypes about La La Land. There are plenty of real people in LA, particularly in the professional class removed from, but still–by virtue of owning houses in affluent, industry-heavy areas–on the periphery of Hollywood. I imagine there are hundreds of thousands more in what passes for the “middle class” in LA, though frankly this is not a world with which I am very familiar.
The woman five years my senior in the Palisades who was in 11th grade when her sister and I were in 7th, has two charming children, whom I met at Cafe Vida, as well as two post-graduate degrees, one in writing/English related field. She was so friendly, even effusive (laughing at my jokes, saying how interesting my life sounded). She’s a self-employed educator with some sort of agency she started so she could work at home and be with the kids while her dentist husband works outside the house. We exchanged information but nothing came of it.
This is typical of my run-ins with random Westlake girls, and also why I’m so grateful for the internet, not just Facebook but the blogosphere, where I write for the Patch as well as myself here on Victorian Chick, and have a direct and immediate relationship with my readers. I don’t keep in touch with every actor, dancer, director, singer or comedian I come across in the city (often at the show of a friend), but many times I do, which leads me to believe that I just don’t have enough in common with well-t0-do moms in LA from my various schools.
After lunch at Cafe Fiore with my new Baby Boomer friend, the only extended and fun encounter I’ve had with a girl from Westlake (of any age) except for the friend I met at E Baldi for dinner and will see in early December when a producer gig comes to an end, we had a nice stroll around the main drag by City Hall. She’s roughly my sister’s age and because I grew up with older siblings and my parents brought me to adult dinners from a young age, I’ve always related better men and women 15 years older. Here are some pictures from our stroll around Santa Clara Ave, which has retained the quaint charm it had pre-gentrification (though it was never the hood, just not the way it is now).
Sweet main drag with renovated but still old-fashioned movie theater.
I shop almost exclusively secondhand but I don’t do thrift stores: my five favorite consignment or designer resale aren’t dirt cheap but they sell clothes, on average, 1/2 to 3/4 below retail for designers like Nicole Miller, Vera Wang, Tahari, Roberto Cavalli, Michael Kors, Helmut Lang, and Gucci (one pair of sandals I love were 88 from Lola). This is cheap cheap, with sale racks full of tops and dresses around 20. I will swing by there on my way back to SB in a few days.
Old picture in Le Monde, a thrift store, of James Garner, who was a neighbor of my childhood best friend, Shana Goldberg, post-Family Ties syndication when the family moved from Anita Drive in Brentwood to the mansion on Oakmont Drive, north of Sunset and up from Rockingham, made famous (nor infamous) by OJ Simpson. On the other side was Germaine Jackson.
Garner was a great favorite of mine from Rockford Files and his new memoir, with a foreword by Julie Andrews, looks powerful if painful, detailing a truly horrific childhood before his military service.
For a small area in this second main drag (not Main Street), Ventura is full of restaurants, both new and old. The Sportsman is I think the Ventura equivalent of the Tee Off or Harry’s in Santa Barbara, where “old-timers” get together to drink martinis at both lunch and dinner, along with a steak.
I love the old sign for the Hi-Fi and antique camera store (tape recorders!):
Hi-Fi store! It could be on any Main Street in America.
Lure is one of the trendy new seafood restaurants and they spared no expense on the interior. J and I will have to go one day after shooting at Oxnard’s Shooter’s Paradise when we want something more formal than snacks and appetizers at the excellent Yard House in the impressive new Oxnard Collection (which my friend calls the “new ‘Nard”).
Tail end of one of the best sunsets of the year in Santa Barbara and Ventura after a wonderful afternoon with my new friend.
I’ll write a short blog just about Seagrass, where I ate for the second time with an also new friend met in real life in SB at a group happy hour. We had such a great night, as you can see from the Yelp review: Victorian Chick Rave for Sea Grass My rabbit was perfect. Rabbit isn’t exotic; it tastes like the best chicken you’ve ever eaten but something about the way the chef prepares the vegetables and sauces is transcendently great, though I think they could have made the potato portion slightly larger without disrupting the visual integrity of the dish. I get that presentation is key at a restaurant like this, but potatoes cost almost nothing and without dumping an unsightly scoop of potatoes on the plate, they could–and should–enlarge this part of the dish.
Rabbit loin at Seagrass: the most perfect sauce, vegetables and potatoes.
I’m getting to work on The Prose Doctor, my new website for essay help from college applications to masters theses and everything in between. I want to swim before I head down to LA around 7 to see Jason Lawhead’s 9:30 PM show at the Improv.