Last night I had a rare “Waygu” steak (I think it’s the best American beef or something). I cut it with a butter knife if that tells you anything. And though it was truly a spectacular cut of meat, what pushed the dining experience over the top was the fact that it was cooked on a 2,000 degree salt block. I actually ate it off of the block as well. All of this and more at Yamashiro’s in Hollywood where we dined high above Hollywood with friends.
There was an interesting juxtaposition that slapped me upside the head during dinner. 12 hours later I’m still stewing in it. It was nearly 17 years ago that I moved into an apartment in the Hollywood Hills just 5 minutes from the restaurant where we had dinner. I’ve written about that period of my life at length. It was a time when my parents were divorcing, though I wouldn’t know that until months later. I was out of college and my life was an empty canvass – and that can feel good and that can feel scary. I had less direction than I ever had, less experience…less money. Interpersonally, I was probably at the least developed point in my life as well. So perhaps it goes without saying – I had no confidence. But I had ambition. For something. And that’s why I moved from Denver to Los Angeles without ever setting foot in this city.
17 years ago I had to do whatever I could to feel connected and sane here in LA. Often that meant sneaking into parties or clubs with people who had more access and money than I did. And actually, I had no money, so that was no doubt a huge contributor to my survival sense at the time. Wherever I was, I never really felt like I belonged and I always worried that someone might tap me on the shoulder and say “Excuse me sir, I believe there has been a mistake. In no way do you belong here.” Had that ever happened, the truth is that I would have probably given a sheepish smile and just slinked away. No confidence. I’d move through Hollywood carefully, feeling like the eternal visitor, never feeling like home.
Luckily I eventually made a few friends and they helped me feel grounded. Then some of my friends from Denver came out – some to live, though I was the only one that ended up staying. I became more comfortable with work, decided to go back to school and eventually moved down to Long Beach.
(Funny enough, Hootie and the Blowfish are playing on the overhead music now, as I write from the Sheraton next to Universal Studios. This is one of the albums I was devouring back then, in the early 90’s.)
But tonight I’m not thinking about anything beyond when I lived in Hollywood. That’s what I am remembering and what my brain is trying to reconcile this evening. And here specifically is what I need to dig into – 17 years ago I was young and raw, penniless with little direction and all of that was mirrored back to me as I stepped lightly through the streets of Hollywood. I don’t live here anymore, but something beyond geography has changed. Many of the gaps that defined my existence back then have been filled in since the last time I was here and tonight I feel strong and confident, like I can walk anywhere I please. No one is going to tell me I don’t belong, because somehow…now I do. Things have changed.
So why this feeling? It’s the interaction of opposites of course; that’s what I’m experiencing. But why am I confident today? Is it because I can afford to be here and before I couldn’t? Maybe in part. Is it because I have friends now and back then I was alone? Perhaps. Actually, yes. Travis and I have been though many ups and downs over the last 20 years and he was the one friend that pushed me to leave Colorado and move to the coast – just because the only reason not to go was that I was afraid and he knew I needed to conquer that fear. Jeff is a friend I met in LA – a real, living, breathing friend that I met in California and am still friends with today. Maybe I feel a little familiar in Hollywood now, too, when back then I was a stranger in strange land. And I have a wife. 17 years ago, at 22, I was at the peak of feeling like I needed to have girls in my life to validate to myself and others that I was a worthwhile male, that I was desirable. But I had no one. Now I have a wife – the best wife – and she was sitting across from me at dinner last night.
During dinner I surveyed the table…first out the window at the Hollywood lights below. Then to Travis and Stephanie. Then Jeff and Jamie. I ended on my wife and two girls. Rhonda was looking at me, knowing something was going on inside my head but not thinking about it too much. We’ve been together a long time. She knew she’d hear about it eventually. Ava and Lily were on the floor coloring. They were positioned between our table and the wall…definitely not in a place where they would bother anyone. But still, it could be argued that Yamashiro isn’t “that kind” of place. I smiled to myself.
Later I walked the girls to an open air room with high ceilings and a koi pond. We watched the fish then went to the bathroom where the attendant gave them lollypops and I tipped him $5. Then back to the table where en route I caught looks that said (at best) Not a lot of people bring children here, sir. And I gave looks too, confident smiles that said – I do.
And there it was. The final and biggest contributor to what I was going through. I am a father. All of my work, all of my friends and where we can eat or vacation and go doesn’t even reach the ankles of the confidence I have from having my wife and my kids.
For the first time, I felt like I do belong. I didn’t care who all the other people were. I wasn’t worried that anyone was going to walk up to me and say “Excuse me sir, I believe there is a mistake and you aren’t supposed to be here.” The last 17 years rocketed through my head…Hollywood, Long Beach, Pacific Clinics, graduate school, campaigns, Rhonda, Ohio, marriage, Lily & Ava… It was as if I was on a 100 mile an hour conveyor flying down a hallway filled with framed memories. People whose names I don’t remember whisked by in pictures beneath street signs and restaurants that I haven’t thought about in over a decade. Then I lifted off the ground and California began to get smaller and smaller. Across the country I glided, eventually descending into Ohio and then my house.
It’s morning now and I’m on my second oversized cup of coffee in the Universal City Sheraton. Now Gin Blossoms are playing. Popular in 1994 – my first year in Hollywood. Who is watching me and how are they so tapped in to what is going on in my head? I lean back in my chair and survey the pool area. Its chilly for southern California. I don’t expect to see anyone swimming. How strange is it that I had to leave Denver to feel confident staying in Denver, and later had to leave Hollywood to be able to come back and feel like I have a right to be here? Time to take a coffee up to my wife.
The girls are on the bed right now playing matching video games. They are bathed and dressed and Ava is teaching Lily how to “get to the next level.” Their legs are under the covers and they’re splitting a cup full of blueberries that I brought up from downstairs. Ava just sat up and had a shoe velcro’d to her head. “Um, dad…help?”
And I’m drinking coffee and looking out the window at the same Hollywood Hills I moved into 17 years go.
I win, Hollywood.
(I just re-read this and several key questions are nagging at me: Is this moment actually not as profound as what I am experiencing? Is it as basic as feeling insecure in junior high but walking tall through those same halls three years later, when you’re in 11th grade but coming back for a visit? And more pointedly –
Will I ever catch up with myself and feel comfortable and confident within the current life I am leading?)