This weekend my roommate turned twenty-two. We went to BOA steakhouse in West Hollywood. Birthday boy’s mom was in town too, and since she was oh so happy to finally meet her son’s friends (because despite any amount of spoken confidence, a mother always digs visual confirmation that her son hasn’t been carving pentagrams alongside with the rest of the Manson family) she demanded a full-bar celebration.
By ten-thirty the steakhouse was still packed and we were still waiting for a table, but we’d been waiting with drinks in hand. It’d been an hour and we’d embarked on a rowdy trek through some boozy terrain. My friends and I just aren’t used to this kind of comped treatment. The only people who buy me free drinks are beautiful women. But it’s only after these beautiful women have shape-shifted from a lizard to a leopard, finally plopping down into a tight coil, hissing something at my shoes, that I turn over in my bed, sleep talking: That’s really interesting! Are you doing anything next Saturday?!
Because it’s dangerous: A severely obese person will be assured they’re all skin and bones by their own (or someone else’s) mom. And just the same, despite my friends and I bringing high-ball after high-ball to our lips, still that mom leaned into her son, kissed him on the cheek, and said, Sweetheart, do you and your friends want shots? Surrounded by champagne and whiskey and vodka and gin, suddenly there were six little glasses in a line, holding tequila. We took them. Are you ready to graduate? The mom said to me. I told her yes ma’am and thanks for the drink too. What’s your major? she said to me. I told her. So you want to write novels? Nobody’d ever said that to me before, or assumed that was something I’d want to do. Somehow people think being a creative writing major means you really, deep down, just want to teach high school English.
“I would love to,” I said, “write novels.”
“You know who’s good? Truman Capote’s good.”
“Did you like Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”
“I thought In Cold Blood was good.”
“He was a hell of a writer.”
I could feel the tequila still a little bit in my throat. I came out with it. “I actually don’t know if I want to be a writer. I’m good at it but I think I’d be happier being a mechanic, or a plumber.”
She cracked up. “You writers.”
“No really. I like writing but I don’t like learning about it. I wish I could have majored in plumbing. The world will always need plumbers, good plumbers, but with writers no one can really tell if they’re good or bad at it. They just fill the page and they’re done. What I like about plumbing is that plumbing’s objective. If the pipes are fixed then the plumber’s good. If they’re not, he’s shitty and loses his job. For some reason, all the bad writers keep getting work and all the good one’s spend their life doing great work but starving too. Plumbing is the only honest job that’s left.”
By midnight, stuffed with food and drink and sitting at a devastated table piled with plates and glasses, several forks and knives to each person, I wanted to go to another bar but I also wanted to figure out why, at twenty-one years old, I also wanted to go to bed. The steak was both huge and good, but I didn’t like the crowd too much. There were too many twenty-year-old girls with too many fifty-year-old guys. I wished I could be somewhere where I could buy my own drinks, too. Not that I mind having someone else do it for me, but you know, we’re all getting older and we’re all trying to grow up. It doesn’t help to be the youngest in the family either. To put it dramatically, it’s like bringing up the rear of the family. I think my older brothers had it easier. When they were in the twilight days of adolescence and trying to be adults, at least they could stick their head out the window and there I was sitting cross-legged in the dirt, talking to myself and gluing Popsicle sticks one on top of the other. Or the summer I was guzzling too many of my mom’s Slim Fasts because nobody told me you weren’t supposed to drink more than three a day alongside a plate of lasagna, and I was this eight-year-old Slim Fast balloon in cargo shorts and a tank top, sweating all the time. It’s like my brothers had their lives but they had mine too. Me, this skinny (seasonally pudgy) kid doing a lot of random shit and acting his age, and if my brothers ever needed to they could let slide the required reading, put down the resume, or tell the girl on the phone, Darling, sweetheart, another time, and walk out into the backyard to help me teach the dog English.
I guess what I’m saying is, Where the hell’s my comic relief? There’s no little kid to divert your attention when you’re the youngest, and all I want to do is divert, divert, divert. Turning twenty-two is the first of more than a few years that will have to pass before you hit another milestone. You’ve entered the desert, young man, and hopefully you have a little water with you. And if you don’t, you might need to find that special someone who does, or at the very least a large group of kids who don’t, that way chapped lips, yellow eyes, and delirium isn’t so unusual.
And in any desert, always avoid snakes. Some will bite, others will strangle, but the very worst will set you a table and charge forty dollars a steak.
BOA, 9200 Sunset Blvd: No letter grade. It’s obviously good, but bring a part-time student paycheck along with you.