For the past few months, I have been dating an investor. On all his online bios the words Harvard and Standford are mentioned. On our first date when he was explaining his job, he explained it in such a casual, low-key way, it sounded easy and rewarding, like a two in one hair care product that made your hair super shiny. “I find a tuxedo renting company, learn about them, and if it’s right, I invest in them. As their business grows, so does mine.” I was eating a fishstick because we were at Malibu Seafood and I contemplated the different ways to respond to this to make it look like I am slightly informed about the way the world works. It was all in my delivery. If I held the fishstick up and said “so you move the money,” I would come across like a valley girl, ditzy and hopeless. If I put the fishstick down and lowered my voice to say “you move the money,” I would come across darker and more mysterious, like a member of the Italian mob, Godfather-like, but creepier because I am a 28-year-old girl. “Do you have a work briefcase?” I decided to say, ignoring the fishstick and instead of taking a bite of my fish tacos, all the coleslaw falling out the bottom and into my hair. At my job, I work with all of these money movers. Men, who usually have terrible haircuts, and who have a lot of money and use it to make more money for themselves until it seems like they have all of the money. The world they live in, which I see first hand through planning events for them, is not of my world. I have little to no money, and it really only moves away from me when I have it, it never comes back multiplied.
The first time I ever went to the investor’s place for dinner, I arrived at an actual house on top of Bel Air. There were things in it like a dining room table and a kitchen table and a counter with stools. There were designated spaces and areas where you could sit and eat and then move to another space to watch TV or read. My roommate and I have the couch, and our coffee table, it’s our kitchen table/dining room table/workspace/lounge area/everything place. My roommate will work on art projects while I sit on the couch eating cereal. There were also things like guest bedrooms with beds and dressers. A room for a guest to stay in and then leave. A security system. He spoke of landscapers and his maid Lucy. “He had how many tubes of toothpaste?” my roommate asked. “Like multiple, like you don’t have to bother spending time and exerting effort squeezing out the last of your toothpaste because there are at least five more tubes in one of your vanity drawers.” To most women, this is great news. The guy is successful, he works hard and has been rewarded. Financial security, the sigh of relief in the “settling down” conversation. But it made me suspicious. At work, these guys spend 3k a night on hotel rooms to spoil their mistresses and run away from their wives. They have so many luxuries that I question whether they can wipe their own ass. They drink all day on their balcony’s and call me “dear” when they ask for more shots of Belvedere. “Search his bathroom drawers,” my ex-homicide cop colleague Curt told me in one of our pseudo grandfather/granddaughter talks at work. “Looking for what? Quaaludes? Cocaine drugs?” “Feminine products,” he said. “Like tampons and Lady Speed Stick?” Curt nodded as if to say it’s always the Lady Speed Stick that gets em’.
Besides the urge to snoop and discover treachery, I always feel slightly like Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhatten. The movie where JLo, the struggling hotel maid meets a billionaire and accidentally tricks him into thinking she belongs to his world. The climax of the movie is when he finds out she’s a maid and is forced to battle all his inner demons. While there are many innate human characteristics that unite us all, money seems to do nothing but divide us, defining the worlds we live our day to day lives in, and creating our own unique struggles. As I stood in the bathroom staring at the waterfall shower and realizing there were no curtains on the windows because there were no neighbors or city streets or anyone to require privacy from, I was JLo. Just a girl from a struggling middle-class family who went to state school. “I’m just Jenny from the block,” I said to my reflection in the mirror, before eyeing the drawers under the vanity, wary of women’s deodorant.
Recently, after dinner, he stopped by my apartment and met my roommate. When we walked in, we found her sitting on the floor working on her most recent art project which involved clay. On the TV was The Fall, a crime show where Gillian Anderson plays a seemingly cold, but very passionate policewoman who goes head to head with a seemingly passionate father, played by Jamie Dornan, who is, in fact, a cold serial killer. The apartment is filled with art and plants and is warm and welcoming sans the graphic crime shows. Upon walking in he didn’t scrunch up his nose or put his hand on a wall and ask me in disgust, “Are these shared walls?” My roommate was friendly and engaging and the conversation was easy.
My roommate is a Georgia O’Keefe of sorts, she’s beautiful and genuine. A gentle spirit in touch with natural beauty which she paints and sculpts and re-creates in her artwork. When he asked what she was making, the subject of bones got brought up, Halloween is around the corner and she was making fake bones for a project at work. The conversation ran away from us after that as my roommate began to bring out her collection of real-life bones- vertebrae, skulls, animal teeth, a clavicle, and before I knew it the investor and I were surrounded by bones, holding the different remains of deceased animals that my roommate found while on hikes around LA. “It’s really amazing, I mean I have never found a full spinal cord while on a hike,” he told us, taking a closer look at one she brought out. She had got up from the couch to go to the kitchen, her story trailing behind her, “Well, I find stuff all over, like once my parent’s had an opossum that got stuck in their radiator,” I looked at my investor studying the jar of teeth, my roommates story being narrated in the background. “I asked the exterminator to save it for me, here let me show you.” She popped her head around the corner of the kitchen wall “I have the head,” she said. She walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to her room and returned with a box. She opened it and there it was, grinning, all it’s teeth still intact. She handed it to the investor. As he held the skull of an opossum in his hand, a woman being abducted started screaming on the TV in the background, Jamie Dornan strangling her to death. “Welcome to our home,” I said. “Can I offer you a glass of water?”
Even more recently, I spent some time with his friends. He described it as “going to the beach,” but we ended up in the harbor of Marina Del Rey, on a fancy boat. Upon boarding the boat, you must remove your shoes. Not like in Hawaii, where you weren’t wearing shoes in the first place, but like when you are entering a designer home where everything is made out of precious materials. There was a group of people gathered around a table full of food. The boat was owned by an older guy, he looked like he was in his late sixties, who kind of resembled Cary Grant if Cary Grant was half hobbit or gnome. “What are we drinking?” he said happily at our arrival. “I have the best tequila, the best I’m making it myself, I have it here on tap.” He pointed to three shiny taps, one that dispensed white wine, one that dispensed beer and one that dispensed his I guess you would say “homemade” tequila. As he filled up little silver shot glasses, the investor and I joined everyone at the table. I met Amy, a beautiful young Asian girl who it took me almost thirty minutes to make the connection that she was dating hobbit Cary Grant, even after the investor had briefed me in the car about their relationship, and I literally walked into the situation knowing this information.
There were three other men who must have been in their forties, who were deep in a discussion about a deal they were closing in Sao Paulo. As we took a shot of tequila, the word “equity” was used. The man sitting next to me was white and slightly overweight and was all fired up discussing his company. Within three minutes of us entering the conversation, my investor friend, who was sitting on the other side of me, was getting the white guy’s email and connecting him to his connection in Brazil. Business people are always saying things like “nice to connect.” It makes me think of them as little legos, stacking each other on top of one another, building a tall tower, all connected and high off the ground. Before the white guy exchanged cards with my investor, he had grilled my investor friend about his own company, what he does, is the company international, marketing analytics, it seemed abrasive because we had barely sat down, until my investor revealed his connection, ending the interrogation, the white guy’s face softening and relaxing into a smile. “Favio, over here,” he said to me looking at my investor. “The guys always give the other guys nicknames,” he said.T “My nickname was Ralph,” he said looking nostalgic. No one said anything and I took another shot of tequila.
Hobbit Cary Grant was in full show off hospitality mode, bringing out fancy cheese plates and different sauces, constantly filling up people’s empty drinks. Across from me was a large jovial English man wearing a pink striped shirt. Out of all the people there I felt the most comradery with him for reasons unknown. Later when there was a break in conversation I “reached out” to him. “I’m sorry I haven’t met you, I’m Jennifer,” I said, reaching out my hand to connect. “I’m Yak,” he said. We smiled at each other. I didn’t need any words with Yak. The conversation had moved to Uber and how all Uber drivers are terrible. A voice said “I don’t have the heart to give them poor ratings though because they are just trying to make a living themselves,” I leaned around the aggro white guy who’s buddies nicknamed Ralph sitting next to me and saw an older man with huge kind brown eyes sitting across from Yak. Ralph and I made eye contact in the process. Ralph kind of had crazy eyes. Chill the fuck out Ralph, I thought, my own eyes narrowing. Amy suddenly looked impassioned over this topic and she stood up like she was about to give an inspirational speech. “No, this is exactly why the service industry is so bad. You have to give them that feedback and rate them poorly, otherwise, we are just allowing service to be poor.” Her tone was strong and loud, full of zeal. Ralph and hobbit Cary Grant applauded her. “Yes! That’s my girl!” And they all high fived to bringing down Uber drivers and making the service industry better. I would love to see Amy, Ralph and hobbit Cary Grant be Uber drivers, with an Uber driver’s salary, transporting the versions of themselves around Los Angeles.
I did not speak a word because no one really spoke to me and there never seemed to be a break in any one given conversation where I could ask if anyone’s seen any good movies lately. I’m sure all those people thought my investor was dating a deaf-mute. The only time I said anything was when hobbit Cary Grant brought out a plate full of white strings and melons. “Have some cheese, it’s like the best string cheese you’ll ever have, it tastes amazing with the melon,” he said. “This is string cheese?!” I exclaimed, and everyone looked disrupted like a ghost had just revealed itself. I took a string of it and Yak smiled and also reached for a piece. The topic of conversation had moved to travel and hobbit Cary Grant began listing off all the countries he’s visited or done business in and as everything got duller and duller I started scanning the marina to see what other people were up to. Docked next to us was a boat full of what looked like attractive frat guys. A charter boat cruised by, full of people, it looked like a family celebrating a birthday or some event. I watched as all the frat guys ran to the edge of their boat and pulled their pants down, mooning the family passing by.
We devoted a good amount of time to people’s ethnic heritage. “Is he Korean?” Someone told me I had Italian eyebrows. We talked about a three thousand dollars genetic test that Amy has taken. “It tells you what age your cells are. Mine said I was lactose intolerant, but I eat cheese and dairy all the time.” I looked around for people’s reactions. Damn girl, what a waste of 3k! My investor friend looked at me, “Have you taken that?” I looked at him in silence. “Um, no, but how curious…” We discussed tea at length. Amy has drunken it all and she knows really good tea from shitty tea. I didn’t even know there could be shitty tea. It’s fucking leaves in hot water, where can you really go wrong. But you can. Oolong tea leaves must wither in the sunshine in the correct way. Oxidation? We don’t have enough time to even begin to discuss the process. Amy didn’t believe the lady in Shanghai that her Oolong tea was good, she said she’d try it because why not, she wasn’t expecting anything from it really, and now she orders it from Amazon. Amy was so surprised it turned out to be the best tea she’s ever had, and that’s saying so much. Just like hobbit Cary Grant’s tequila. It tasted nice I guess, but I suspect the point of having it was so that he could explain his tequila. Him, a sophisticated man who knows how and when to separate the heads and tails from the corazon of the distillate, a skill that takes years to acquire, one that he has and is now sharing with us. Cheers.
Yak and the man with the nice brown eyes got up and put on business blazers and after sipping on tequila left to go to a business meeting. They were gone for a few hours and when they returned they took the blazers off and refilled their drink glasses. My investor friend talked about heading to Vermont for a trip with his company where there was an itinerary of all the meals and cocktail events they would attend. I felt desperate to get off the boat and into these people’s offices. I wanted very badly to watch them in action, working. I wanted to see them at three in the morning struggling to stay awake, on the phone moving money, stressed out over closing deals in thirty days. I wanted to see the effort and sacrifices they put in to earn these fancy boats and the right to be pissed at the shitty service industry. Does that stress feel the same as the stress I carry living paycheck to paycheck and trying to stay afloat and the sacrifices people in my situation make? I thought of everyone I work with at my “service industry” job. We work long hours too. We give up holidays and nights with our families and friends and we make sacrifices in order to make a living. But our salary doesn’t allow us the luxury of making our own tequila and taking hereditary tests to learn about our cells. Having an Ivy League education, owning a business, being well traveled, knowing how to speak Chinese. The many blessings of the blessed. I thought of my parents who have spent their lives in social work, helping people who have less than we do. My brother and I taking out loans to go to state school, trying to get jobs in the present day economy, trying to help others like our parents have in the process. The situation I was born into is a lucky one, but it suddenly didn’t feel like it. It felt like I had a lot working against me. What an uphill battle, this life.
The night ended when Ralph got drunk enough and finally asked me a question about myself. When I told him I had just been living in Hawaii he said “Oh, do you have any recommendations of a really top quality coffee farm? I’m vacationing there next month. You know really great coffee…” I was in a tequila haze at that point, but a really high quality, superior tequila haze, from hobbit Cary Grant filling up my little shot glass all day long with his self-made nectar of life. So when Ralph went off, for all I know he was talking about how the bean must be eaten by local pure bread livestock, shat out, and the fermentation of the bean creates the greatest coffee in the world. “The livestock marinates the bean you see?” “Mhmmmm” I’d say, impressed.