Juanito

“The paparazzi are outside, is there anything we can use to shield everyone?” a panicked event planner asked me, clutching her clipboard, her knuckles turning slightly white.

“We have Japanese umbrellas,” I said pointing to an expensive, ornate vase full of delicate umbrellas I ordered off Amazon, but tell people they are imported from Kyoto and made out of some sort of authentic, precious material called Meinong paper of Gifu. “Those will work, can your staff hold them over people as they leave?” We were hosting a celebrity wedding party, complete with event planning staff, security, assistants, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and now paparazzi. “Yes they can,” Janelle, my boss, said eyeing all of us as we started to open the different pastel colored umbrellas.

As we filed down the front steps like cast members in Broadway musical production of Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Juan, one of our housekeepers happened to be meandering across PCH, back from his break, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, cars honking and middle fingers going up everywhere. “Juan,” Dan said, “Take this umbrella,” he shoved a bright pink umbrella at Juan and Juan held it over his head, standing on the sidewalk, cigarette still in his mouth, his face glowing pink from the reflection of the shade, the Meinong paper of Gifu. “Nigga, TAKE that cigarette outta your mouth!” Dan yelled. Dan, who is 28 and black, and Juan, who is 22 and Mexican, are always calling each other this word my Asian and white co-workers can NEVER utter. Dan also calls me nigga. I’ll get a call from the kitchen and when I pick up Dan says, “What’s up nigga, I have a question…” “Hey, Dan! Sure, what’s up?” I say back in my peppy valley girl voice.

Juan stomped out his cigarette in the gutter and took his place among everyone else holding umbrellas, shading the celebs from the paps. The way he was standing- he was holding most of his weight in his right leg, his shoulders slouched, his head tilted upwards slightly, like he was about to enter a boxing ring, but with a pink Japanese parasol. Juan lives in Compton and is always going to parties. Parties that he shows me videos of on his phone. When watching the videos I’m transported to a garage and in the garage is a truck bed full of ice and on top of the ice is handles of booze, lots of Hennesey, beer. “Wanna come out with me tonight? What kind of parties you go to?” he says, studying my face. “People drinking wine,” he concludes. “And eating cheese,” he adds. “I didn’t see any wine in that truck bed,” I point out. “Or cheese,” he acknowledges.

“Is it true you’re a model?” he asked. “No, who told you that?” I asked. “We all think that, the housekeepers,” he told me. “You’re all fancy, getting to sit up here and handle all the guests.” I looked at him. “I would rather not deal with the guests,” I said. He nodded. “I can’t talk to the guests though, I’m a housekeeper. I’m supposed to clean, but not ever be seen,” he paused and then continued. “People want to make a mess and be cleaned up after, but they don’t want to witness it,” he said thoughtfully. Now I was all fired up because Juan was right, but he was also wrong. “Juan, that’s such bullshit, of course, you can speak to guests. Go speak to Mr. Cowley right now, I pushed back his Nobu reservation, go tell him.” Juan, who is always talking about hearing gunshots in his neighborhood, his brother’s involvement in drugs, his own visits to jail, causing everyone to question whether our company actually background checks employees,  looked nervous.

“Jenn, I can’t.” “Yes, you can. You are smart and young and full of promise,” I said like I was Obama. “You think I’m smart?” Juan asked. I have sometimes witnessed Juan speaking with his bosses. Once, his boss was informing him that he was on strike three with her. “I didn’t even know I had two strikes,” Juan was telling her. “Three strikes and you are out,” she said. “You didn’t come into work on Saturday when I called you in,” she said. “But I was off Saturday,” he said quietly. “I was at my other job, I couldn’t come in.” “This should be your priority,” she told him. “I’m the one who pays you.” She said this as if to assert her power over Juan, as if to scare him into obeying her forever and always. Juan looked deep in thought. “You don’t pay me,” he pointed out calmly. She looked taken aback by that. “Well, I’m the one who signs your checks,” she said, fighting for her power over him. “But you don’t actually pay me. And I make more money at my other job, why should I prioritize this job one over one that pays me more? And on my day off? You’re going to write me up for not coming in on my scheduled day off?” He hadn’t given her any power and also had made too many logical points that in fact, took all of the power away from her, and she was even more annoyed with him now. “You’re on strike three,” she reiterated, and walked away, leaving Juan standing with a bewildered look on his face, a familiar look, one I always have permanently painted across my own face.

“I know you are smart,” I told Juan. He stood in front of me and said nothing. “Juan, you are JUST as human, in fact, you may be more human than these billionaires,” I said. He paused and then stood up straighter. “Ok, what’s his name? Let me practice.” “Mr. Cowley,” I said. “Mr. Cowley, your dinner reservation at Nobu has been pushed back- how long Jenn?” “It’s now at 8 pm.” “Ok, I’m a go tell him,” Juan looked out the lobby window to the relaxation deck where Mr. Cowley was shirtless, wearing just his tiny bathing suit trunks that hugged his muscular thighs and taking a picture of the sunset. I watched him as he walked up to Mr. Cowley and relayed the information. I turned back to my email and then a few minutes later was rejoined at my desk by Juan, who was beaming. “He said thank you, he also asked if he could have two more margaritas asap,” he told me. “God, he’s going to dinner in a halfhour, why does he need two more rightnow, can’t he wait thirty minutes until freaking dinner,” I went off, picking up the phone to call Nobu for the fifth time in twenty minutes.

After that, Juan carves out a piece of his night to sit with me at the desk and talk. Sometimes he tells me about his bitches, all three of them, and I lecture him about love and calling women he is sleeping with bitches. Sometimes he tells me about gangs, how one tried to recruit him when he was in middle school, but he said no. “I don’t know why I said no, but I said no,” Juan told me and I compare him to young Harry Potter when Harry chose Gryffindor over Slytherin at the sorting hat ceremony. “Gryffindor was the good house, and Slytherin was the evil house. Harry had the characteristics of someone who could be powerful in the world. Things like courage, and inner strength, all leaders whether they are good or bad, have these characteristics. But it’s our own personal choice how we use those characteristics, whether we use them for good or evil out in the world which makes the difference, it’s our choices that define us.” “Well, which house are you in?” Juan asks. “I’d probably be in Hufflepuff, the house full of ninnymuggins. Or I’m Doby the house elf. Just waiting around for someone to give me a sock and set me free.” Juan’s eyes looked expressive like he was deep in thought. “Jenn, you smoke weed?” he asked.

Once Dan sat with Juan and I in the lobby and outside three cop cars sounded off. Juan stood up so fast, looking around frantically. “Nigga, sit down,” Dan said laughing. “He all hype.” Dan started mimicking Juan, laughing deep from his belly. Dan has one of those contagious laughs that when he starts, you also want to laugh because it looks so joyous and fun. “Yeah, nigga sit down,” I echoed, my whiteness glaring off of me like a giant neon spotlight, blinding everyone, like that time Gwenyth Paltrow tweeted “niggas in Paris.” “Jenn, I can’t with you,” Dan said, taking off his glasses to wipe the tears from his eyes, his laugh echoing throughout the lobby.

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The Ryokan Troll and Scott Disick

I have a jacket that I bought, possibly in high school, that at the time was stylish, but in retrospect when I look at it, I’m not sure it ever was on trend. It’s just a long, warm coat with one too many pockets and I refuse to stop wearing it. I like the pockets because I can fill them with items, but that is exactly what makes the coat creepy and suspicious. In dire moments of chilly weather or necessity, I will still wear this coat. And one of these times was a few months ago when that cold front hit Malibu.

“Jenn, can you run to Nobu and get some soy sauce, we are out,” Andy asked me. It was around 10:30 at night and I was deep in the middle of planning a guest’s engagement at the Ryokan. “I’m thinking doves and harps. Is there any way we can do it on the roof? I feel like all professions of eternal love should take place somewhere high up, like a mountain peak.” Curt, our security detail, looked at me from across the table. “Well, who’s releasing the doves? And playing the harp?” I thought for a second. “I mean, if you’re available, it would be nice if we could keep it in the family. You could strum the harp and Manu could release the doves.” I looked at Manu, who was sitting next to me. Manu is another member of our security detail. He is tall and handsome and always dressed in nice suits. He appears everywhere to open doors for you, his large stature is coupled with a quiet, gentle spirit that makes you feel calm and safe. He frequently shows up in paparazzi pictures. You’ll see Kris Jenner in a see through lacy black top, her face all blotchy and annoyed, and there’s Manu in front of her, blocking her from view. Or David Beckham disappearing into a black SUV and the top of Manu’s face will be peering out from behind a bush in the background. Cindy Crawford waiting for her car next to Manu near the valet stand. “I guess I could play the harp. Would I need to wear a diaper?” Curt said, stone cold, like he was in court interrogating a witness. My eyes lit up. “Like one of those diapers baby cherubs are wearing when they are about to shoot a love arrow through someone’s heart? Or…” I paused, “an adult diaper?” “The first one, but it needs to be just a little oversized.”  “I’m releasing doves?” Manu asked enthusiastically. I pointed my pen at him. “Actually, if it’s going to happen on the deck, I’d love it if you could rise up from the sea standing on two dolphins, you know, one foot on each dolphin, and then release the doves,” I replied. Andy who had been silently witnessing this entire conversation spoke. “Why are you the one always in charge of the marriage/engagement things?” All three of us turned to him. “Would you not want to have me in a diaper playing the harp when you propose to your fiance?” Curt asked flatly. “Excuse me gentlemen, but I have to go get some soy sauce,” I said, getting up and putting my jacket on.

My jacket covers almost my entire body and if it’s buttoned, and in the dark, it looks like I’m wearing a giant lab coat. If my pockets are full, it resembles more of a lumpy potato sack with sleeves. The inside is a bright pink silk fabric so if it happens to catch a breeze and fall open in the wind, flashes of bright pink silk are revealed. My hair was gathered up in a top knot that day, which is fine sans the coat, but with the coat, my hair piled on top of my head just adds height to me, making me look bulky, a large and in charge lady who plays Rugby and is a feared elementary school principal.  You may be wondering why I wear this coat. Why doesn’t she get a nice stylish trench? Perhaps one that’s also slimming? Once, I accidentally took the hotel’s wireless phone home with me. No one could find it in the morning until Andy got there and said, “Oh, onehundredpercent the phone is in one of those pockets in that huge coat.” It was.

So when heading to Nobu prime time on a Saturday night, when the sidewalk is lined with paparazzi, I make sure I’m cloaked in that damn coat. The paparazzi crowd is similar to those lifeless gray lost souls trapped at the bottom of Ursula’s cave in TheLittleMermaid. You pass them and they gawk and reach out at you, their huge expensive cameras hanging around their necks, their eyes bugging out in desperation. All of them trying to get a good close up shot of someone walking to their car. Once I witnessed one pap run into the middle of PCH, chasing a black, tinted windowed, SUV that had Mariah Carey in it. To me, the real historical photograph is of that. This frail, lost soul, chasing after a celebrity with his camera, thirsty for the easy five grand he could make if he got a clear photo for a gossip magazine. Once I found out how much paparazzi make per photo, I toyed with the idea of joining the lost souls. Position me in the middle of all of them holding my iPhone up among all their zoom lenses. “They would never let you into their inner circle,” Andy said. “You would spend the whole time interrogating them and then you’d probably smash their cameras, cause a scene and end up in jail.” “Andy, you know nothing. There is no innercircle. Those paps have no comradery, they fend for themselves out there in the parking lots of celebrity hot spots. I could unite them, lead them. I could be the paparazzi queen bee, I just have to re-route my passion,” I said all firey and delusional.

I had decided to cut through the parking lot to avoid pushing my way through the lost souls on the sidewalk, and as I got closer to Nobu a gaggle of tall, skinny, model looking types were piling out of a Range Rover. The timing was perfect so that I, in my unabomber trench and top knot, somehow ended up in the middle of these stick women. The first thing I noticed was the smell. They all smelled amazing, like on top of being super clean, they were doused in Versace or Chanel or fancy smelling chemicals. They were all dressed similarly, strappy heels and tight high waisted jeans, and a lacy bra thing with an open jacket. I paused and really looked at them. When I think of really beautiful women in history, I never see them in these outfits with all this stuff. I envision them in this pure, simplistic way, as unique- their features, their stature, the way they walk into a room and command it silently. These women’s features all blended together and they were teetering on their heels, nervously looking around for one another. Their lack of confidence made me feel uneasy and self-conscious myself. They looped arms with one another and they relaxed, I could tell they felt safer as an anoyn in a group than if they had to just walk into Nobu alone.

When they realized a huge lady in a unabomber coat had somehow joined their posse, they looked beyond confused. “Hello,” I said, “So sorry, I’m just trying to get soy sauce.” And then flashes of lights surrounded us. “Scott, babe come on,” one of the girls whined. As the paparazzi went off, I found myself face to face with Scott Disik, who was the last to exit this Range Rover. His face was kind of attractive, but his eyes looked mean. He was wearing a flashy jacket, a white shirt, and jeans. My face scrunched up in disgust. “Ick!” This man to me, this reality show man, is like the king of lost souls. All the little grey paparazzi blobs were trembling with excitement at the sight of him. As I looked for an exit strategy I was at a loss. He put one of his arms around one of the girl’s shoulders and she did the same, and they walked together, like how mom’s pose their elementary aged sons with their friends in pictures. “Put your arms around each other, that’s so cute! Smile!” These two were smiling for the cameras too, and just behind them was me, in my coat, The Ryokan Troll, looking for soy sauce.

In my mind, I was imagining all the exciting things I could do at this moment to cause a scene. I had the troublemaker jacket on, I was in character. In my vision, one of the girls gets her heel stuck in the deck and she falls, causing the other girls to fall with her because all their arms are linked together. Once they are down, they expose me, The Ryokan Troll, who has been lurking behind them, and I begin to pose in my unabomber jacket for the cameras. Maybe I open it up like it was a cape and expose the pink satin on the inside. Maybe I even take the jacket off and pose with it by holding it with one finger over my shoulder. The paparazzi go wild because they are clueless and need shots of whatever is closest to Scott. Scott then notices me and is appalled by both my presence and the fact that I’m taking attention off of him. He won’t talk to me because I’m rando, so he raises his hand to his security guards like get rid of her, but it’s too late. I’d kind of like to end the vision there, with but it’s too late. 

As I walked back to the Ryokan, soy sauce in hand, I was deep into my own fantasy. Ryokan troll, let loose and in public, not used to fancy gentleman or fancy smells. I imagined myself hobbling through the parking lot like a mythical creature, given my size probably more like an ogre than troll, carrying my soy sauce back to my cave. When I got back, Curt, Manu, and Andy were all at the lobby table and as I entered they all looked up. I stood there before them in my coat with my eyes all crazed, the jar of soy sauce peeking out from one of my pockets, my top knot had slightly shifted and was falling off my head. “I saw Scott Disick.” I said and then paused for dramatic effect. “I feel like a house elf.” They all said nothing. “He does not have kind eyes,” I told them all.

My Bros Part Two

“Khalfani, how do you say thank you in Jamaican?” Khalfani was standing across the lobby on the stairwell, glaring at Andy, who was sitting with his laptop at a desk. It was evening and the dim lobby lighting was illumiating just one side of Khalfani’s face, making him look haunting. They stared at one another in silence.  Andy began making clicking noises using his tongue. “Click, cluck, click, click, click.” I looked up from my laptop. “Dats so racist,” I said.

“Jenn, now you have two black people mad at you,” Khalfani said, turning his attention to me, and walking down the stairs. He was referring to Dan, and of course to himself. All of us rotate being mad at one another consistently throughout one work day, but on this specific day they all seemed to be teaming up against me. Mercury was in retrograde. “I don’t know why either of you are mad at me, I didn’t do anything,” I told him. “No, it’s because you’re fucking annoying,” Khalfani told me. I stared at him, shocked. I looked at Andy for backup. As I stared into Andy’s face all I could see was this one time that, during a lull in the day, I spent almost twenty full minutes reading Pope Francis tweets out loud, and in a British accent, to Andy. Andy was working on his laptop in silence as I sat beside him announcing things like:

“Jesus does not leave us alone because we are precious to Him!”

“Forgiveness sets our hearts free and allows us to start anew!”

“Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, but is able to see tomorrow!”

He looked up once, staring at me expressionless. “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage so essential for each and every society!” Andy looked grumpy, like a parent who had just endured a long car ride listening to their child’s one favorite song “Baby Beluga” sung by that Egyptian children’s musician Raffi, on repeat for an hour. “Let our merciful hearts be free!” I said.

Then there is the singing. I’ll see Khalfani oiling a door and I’ll pass by and point at him, “Kaaaaahhhhhlllllllfaaaniiii, he’s oilin’ that doooooor.” “Stop Jenn, your voice is so shrill.” I’ll see Juan eating and approach him. “Juaaaanito, he’s eatin’ a sliiiiice of pepperoniiiiiii.” Juan once described me as “wack.” Following the singing is the dancing, which occurs whenever I walk through the automatic sliding glass lobby doors, or walk down the stairs. “How can you not waltz through these doors?” I’ll tell Andy holding my arms out and gliding. “I feel like Frauline Maria.”

There was also the time I tried to bond with the guys by revealing my first sexual attraction was Robin Hood, but the cartoon fox in the Disney version. Connor turned his chair away from me and refused to speak to me the rest of the day. Khalfani actually giggled like a twelve year old girl, “A cartoon fox Jenn! A cartoon fox?!” And Sam, one of the in room dining servers approached me the next day and said quietly, “Jenn I had a dream about you last night. We were in the forest and you had a baby fox. It was your pet but you couldn’t care for it anymore.” I stared at him. “I think it’s because of what you said the other day. About your crush on that cartoon fox.” “He was Robin Hood,” I said. I had disturbed them all, poor Sam all the way to his subconscious, and worst of all, Khalfani had giggled.

And now, I had two black men mad at me. “You think I care that you and Dan are mad?” I told Khalfani. “Kiss my ass Jenn,” he said. “No! You kiss my ass! My flatwhite pancake ass!” “Jenn what da hell, dis is what I’m talking about,” Khalfani said exasperated. Kissmyass is something we are all reviving from the middle school playground. Everyone’s favorite comeback is “kiss my insert ethnicity ass.” “Kiss my Asian ass.” “Kiss my black ass.” We are a diverse bunch of asses of the world. Sometimes the guys lecture me about standing up for myself. “You can’t let those bitchy women walk all over you,” Connor will tell me. “You have to put them in their place.” “You’re right!” I’ll yell, all jazzed up. “From now on I’m signing all my emails:

Kiss my ass,

Jennifer”

Dan is trying to teach me how to shake my white ass. “You gotta look back at it to make sure you’re tootin’ it right,” he says, demonstrating. I’ll try to mimick him and he looks disappointed. “It’s like a salt shaker,” he says. “You ain’t tootin’ it, you’re shakin’ the salt outta the shaker. It would work if you were dancing to only the sound of sleigh bells.”

Dan has lost all patience and I love to pair him with any guests who happen to be from Russia. “We…….wuuuuuuuld like uhhhhh….a bottle…..uh you have bottle?” Dan’s large brown eyes will grow crazed and I can almost hear his thoughts. Bitch WHAT do you want?” “Um……yes…….a bottle of white mixed with red wine…… wait…….rose……..if you have?” If I have?! Bitch you’ve been drinking that shit every night how are you asking me this right now? “Can…….we also………have…..yes…..ice……” Beads of sweat will begin to form on Dan’s brow. “…..cream?” What the fuck bitch! No! 

When I give tours, sometimes I pass Dan. Dan will widen his eyes and relax his face into a fake smile and he looks like Cuba Gooding Jr in Radio. He will stop to acknowledge the guests, holding his own hands in front of him. “Welcome,” he says,  his mouth hanging open but smiling, and more often than not the guests turn to me, searching my face for answers.

“Fine Khalfani,” I said as Dan entered the lobby to join us. “I am annoying. But I know what we need.” I searched YouTube for Harry Belfonte and began to play “Banana Boat Song (Day O).” Dan and Khalfani sat at the desk with Andy and I and we listened to Mr. Belfonte. “Come mister tally man tally me banana..” Dan perked up, “DAY!! Me say Daaaay O” he sang, and all of us followed, “Daylight come and me want to go home..” Juan stepped into the lobby. “What…. the hell?” he said and ran out.

My Bros

“Expose your cracks and love will fill them,” I said and four blank faces stared back at me. “Jenn, dat sounds geeeeaaay,” Khalfani, who is an engineer and from Jamacia, broke the silence with a disgusted look on his face. I work with a team of men, nay, boys, who have all become like the brothers I never wanted. We spend so much time together that we have all ended up knowing way too much about one another and our conversations vary from everyone’s bowel movements to the fragility of love. “Ew, not that crack” I told Khalfani, equally disgusted. “Your cracks, like your fears and flaws.” “Expose your cracks and love will fill dem,” Khalfani repeated with his hands on his heart, mimicking me. “Khalfani don’t you think I would know what crack I’m talking abo-” He was beaming. “Yeah. Dat’s geay Jenn.” He walked away. “Vulnerability is not gay,” I called after him. “Yeah, but filling your crack wit love is,” he yelled back.

We always end up ordering food together and every day it’s the same chaos. “Double bacon burger, no tomatoes or lettuce, with mayo. WHITE bread, Jenn.” Sometimes I try to sneak vegetables into their meals. “Fries or a salad?” “Salad,” I’ll whisper into the phone and once the food arrives it’s like I’ve committed an unforgivable sin. Once I ordered all their sandwiches on wheat bread and I paid an enormous, taxing, price. “What the hell JENN?” “What is dis shet?!” I spent days afterward trying to regain the trust those loaves of bread cost me. “You all are NOT getting diabetes on my watch!” I yell at them. “Dan didn’t you tell me the other day that you couldn’t feel your big toe?!” Dan, one of the in room dining servers, looked at me and then his face softened. “My toe did go numb,” he said in a low dark voice, his eyes narrowing. He put his hand on my shoulder. “Thanks for looking out for me Jenn.” “See?” I looked around at the others, waiting for them to follow Dan’s lead. Khalfani took a bite of his burger and grimaced. “Fuck dat Jenn. Sheeeet.”

The other reason I want to monitor their diets is so they will stop blowing up the bathroom. All day long someone is locked away in the bathroom while someone else is trying to go. Once when I was using the restroom, my phone started buzzing. When I looked, Khalfani had sent me a series of bomb emojis. When I walked out he was standing outside the door grinning. “I just peed, Khalfani,” I told him flatly. Andy, our manager, will appear and ask, “Jenn, were you blowing it up?” This is the same with emissions of gas. Once Khalfani told a fart story that began, “It was winter…” Khalfani also mentioned that he wears eco-friendly underwear. When I inquired about what exactly makes it eco-friendly he responded, “They are ruit of da lum. They hold your farts in.” I stared at him for awhile and then asked. “Why would you want that?” He shrugged, “My mother in law bought them for me.”

In the kitchen, there is Connor. I went through a phase where every time I entered the kitchen I would Gordon Ramsey Connor, like in the reality show Kitchen Nightmares. “Connor!” I would yell. “Show me the freezer!” He would stare at me blankly and then walk over to it and open it, his face emotionless. “That freezer is rancid!” I yell. “This food tastes like it’s made with stress and a microwave!” Connor had no idea what was going on, and his face scrunched up in annoyance. Once Gordon Ramsey was dining next door at SoHo House and everyone sent me texts to come to the deck. Once we were all gathered Andy gestured for me to look next door. I leaned over the rail and had a total meltdown. “Oh my God, oh my God!” Everyone walked away and left me alone babbling obscenities in a British accent. “Why do we care about this person?” Juan, one of our housekeepers asked. Other times when I walk in the kitchen Connor is preparing something, and the dishes are beautiful. “Simple, fresh, elegant,” I’ll say in my Ramsey accent. “Are you making golden pillows?” I ask, changing my accent back to my annoying valley girl stoner voice. “These are wontons,” he will say, confused.

Some of my favorite people belong to our security team. One of them, Curt, a retired homicide cop, is always willing to discuss the gritty details of crime with me. When I first met him I asked him what IDing bodies is like. Unphased, he replied, “Have you ever gotten your dog’s nails cut at the vet?” I nodded. “That sound of the nail clipper cutting through the nail is the same sound that you hear when the coroner has to cut through a bone.” All the blood drained from my face and Curt started telling me about all the people who get hit by trains in Ventura. “You’ll find a shoe, and then ten feet away you’ll find another shoe. They get blown right out of them.” Once a random couple off the street walked up the steps to the front entrance and started peering in windows of the sliding doors. The doors only open from the inside and Curt walked over triggering the sensors. The door slid open and the woman outside asked if she could see a menu. “Of course,” Curt told her and turned to leave. The doors slid closed, leaving the woman and man outside, peering in. They watched through the glass as Curt walked through the lobby, out through the garden, down the path, turned right, and disappeared behind a wall. “Is he coming back?” the woman said through the glass. He was not. Curt is in a YouTube video of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian taken by paparazzi. In it, Kanye is yelling that the papz won’t leave him alone. Kanye looks small and angry until the camera is blocked by the angry face of Curt. Curt’s face fills the camera and the video ends. When he showed me, I observed, “so Kanye’s a little guy?” “Yeah,” he confirmed.

I have given them all nicknames that I’m not sure they enjoy. Andy, who’s last name is Chen, and who recently bought a fidget spinner, is Chenneth Paltrow when he’s wearing his elegant, gray shirt. When he’s in a bad mood, he is Chenny Jones. When I have strong feelings of comradery with him, he is Chenny from the block. And when he’s being sweet, he is Chennifer Love Hewitt. When he ordered his fidget spinner he accidentally left the page up on his computer. He paid six dollars for it with free shipping. “I bought the chrome one,” he tried to justify this, as if you can’t buy the chrome one anywhere else for cheaper. Everywhere he goes now we hear him first. The silent whir of the chrome fidget spinner.  Dan is Petty Murphy. Sometimes, behind the scenes, Dan and I like to act out scenarios where we tell a rude guest exactly what we wish we could say, instead of being polite. In them, Dan uses the word “trifling” and “heffer” a lot. And sometimes we like to imagine if when guests arrived we welcomed them by saying “Welcome to the International House of Pancakes.” Khalfani’s name I just sing in a long drawn out, out of tune song. “KhaAAAAaaaalllllLLLLfffFFFaaaAnnnnniiiiiiIiiiIi” Sometimes I’ll try to harmonize Mariah Carey style and go up and down a few octaves while waving my hand in the air for emphasis. Connor is ConBon, and Juan is Juanito. Juan is young and lively and sometimes I like to peer counsel him. “I met a girl at a party and I took her to a gas station.” Khalfani will put his hand out to fist bump Juan in approval, and I will intercept their handshake with my own hand. “That’s a bro block,” I say in a high pitched nerd voice. “Do you like this girl?” I ask Juan. “It’s my friend’s gas station,” he replied. “Juanito come sit with me, I have an excessive amount of questions,” I say.

Once, the topic of having children was somehow brought up and I ended the convo with one word, eggs. “At least none of you have to worry about eggs. For all I know, all my good eggs are long gone, and now all I have left are the evil eggs.” Everyone looked like they were going to throw up. “It’s the grapes of wrath in there guys,” I carried on. “What if I die alone?” I asked. “Jenn, you won’t,” Khalfani consoled me. “You have all of us.” I smiled. “We should all go to the Teen Choice Awards togeder,” he said. “Wait, what?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jefe El

“Khalfani, stop looking at people like they are circus animals.” I was following behind my boss and we had just been passed up by a tallish black man who was scowling at us. I wasn’t sure if it was the sun that was making him squint, or he was displeased at the sight of us, because his face was all twisted in disgust. At a black rights activism protest in 1954, he wouldn’t have looked out of place, but wandering through the property of a private hotel in Malibu he looked alarming and angry, like he was on his way to light the place on fire in revolt. The hotel, the Nobu Ryokan, is where I work now that I’m back on the mainland, and while it is a constant revolving door of high profile celebrity clientele, I must admit, one of the most loveable, and interesting people I’ve met there is Khalfani.

Khalfani is from Jamaica and is an engineer at the Ryokan. He is always saying things to me like “Jenn, what is this shet?” or “Jenn fix this shet.” Everything is shet and shet is added after everything. “Did you see those people on the boat? Girls in bikinis dancing to dat new Rihanna song. Wild Tots. Man, I wish I was on dat boat. Shet.” “What song?” one of my co-workers will ask, confused. “Wild tots,” Khalfani will say again. “Wild what?” they say, still confused. “TOTS,” he will repeat. I will interrupt, and start singing “Willd wild wild tots, willlld wild wild tots-” and Khalfani will interrupt me, “Not TOTS Jenn…TOTS. WILD TOTS. Sheeet.” “No, THOUGHTS,” someone will say and Khalfani will nod, “Yes, TOTS, not what Jenn was saying, not tots.”

Khalfani likes to announce when girls are “10’s,” and in Malibu, most every girl is a 10 and it is really depressing when they are not. He will stand by the front window watching all the street goers, and then turn to me, “Jenn, see her? She’s a 10,” or “Jenn, did you see her ass? It’s hoooouuuuuge.” In a moment of hightened annoyance at all this women rating, I rated Khalfani. “5.6,” I told him. He yelled at me and told me I needed to shave my chest. “How dare you,” I said, inspecting my chest for rogue hairs. “Yeah Jenn, you are gross.” “You know what Khalfani? You could stand to lose 5 to 7 pounds.” The specificity of my response was hurtful, and the next day Khalfani started a diet and I was labeled the workplace bully. A week after that he was back to eating chicken nuggets and critiquing women he encountered. When he met the girl who works at Jay’s Surfboards across the street from the Ryokan up close, he came to find me. From a far she is tall, tan with long limbs and golden hair, a “10.” But one day she came to the hotel and encountered Khalfani in the parking lot, and he got a good look at her. “Jenn, she has horse teeth, her face is crazy! She’s not a 10,” he told me, disgusted. “Khalfani you look like an angry black rights activist right now,” I replied. His face changed, “Dat’s racist Jenn.”

Once I asked Khalfani what his favorite book was. He thought about it for a long time and then said thoughtfully, “Wheel of Fortune.” Some people would try to make a case against this answer, but in this instance, why try? “Wheel of Fortune, the television show?” I asked and Khalfani nodded. “Jenn, why didn’t you add me on Facebook?” he asked, done discussing literature. “You never added me,” I told him. “Yeah I did, check your shet!” he yelled and then walked away. Later I logged into my Facebook and saw a friend request from “Jefe El.” When I clicked the link, a picture of Khalfani wearing boardshorts, a white tank, and sunglasses appeared, and when I enlarged the picture I saw that he was posed with one foot raised and resting on an orange traffic cone, his arms resting on his raised knee, one hand under his chin. He was in a parking lot. The next picture was him on a tractor, wearing the same white tank and tropical board shorts, socks and sandals, smiling big for the camera. I clicked “accept friend request.” If Myspace was still thriving, I would have put him in my top friends list.

At night, Khalfani will move things around in the fitness center with the lights off. On the security camera it looks like objects are floating around the room magically, until Khalfani smiles and you see a flash of white teeth. I told him about this once and he scowled, “Dat’s racist Jenn.” After calling me a racist he will say “sheet.” Then his face will light up like he just remembered something. “Jenn, I saw Mrs. Katzman the other day.” There is a pause and I say, “Oh yeah?” He continues. “She asked me what my name was and I told her,” he paused again, longer this time, making me feel like the pause was possibly for dramatic effect, his eyes squinting into a smile. “Khalfani,” he finally said as if I didn’t already know that’s what he was going to say.  Then, still smiling, he will continue, “She said, hey, I’m Heh-der.” Silence will envelope us, signaling the end of the story, and I will stare at him. “Sorry I was racist,” I’ll decide to say and he will respond, “Jenn, did you get sick from that avocado we ate yesterday from Subway?” I will have to re-adjust my train of thought and I’ll think about it. “Actually, yeah, I did feel kind of ill,” I’ll tell him honestly. His face will grimace and he will state, “Dat avocado tore my black ass up.”

Khalfani is married, and at first would never talk about his wife. Almost to the point where I began to wonder if he had been low key kidnapped and threatened into silence. I spent weeks asking about her, what she was like, what she does for a living, how they met, and Khalfani refused to answer. “Dat’s my personal life Jenn. You’re so nosy. Sheeeet.” Finally, weeks after I had given up, I started to tell Khalfani about a date I went on. He enthusiastically responded, “Is dat why you are wearing two chains?” My brow furrowed. “I knew it! When Big Jenn wears two chains, she’s going on dates.” After that, he began calling me two chainz, and after that I stopped wearing any sort of jewlery at all, and shortly after that, Khalfani snuck up on me while I was waiting for a client in the courtyard. “You want to know about my wife?” I turned around and there he was standing near the pond, on top of a rock, glaring at me. I just nodded. “Ok,” he said seriously and paused. “If you must know, she’s white.” He looked at me and then walked away. I stood there watching him, reveling in this new found information. I must be his friendI thought, he told me his wife is Caucasian. 

Something Khalfani does not mind talking about, is Michael Jackson. Not his songs, or his music, but just him, as a public figure. Just after racism, Michael Jackson gets brought up in conversation often and as a result, I’m sure our small, high end hotel staff ends up thinking about or discussing Michael Jackson more in our day to day lives than any other person on the planet. Khalfani wonders about Michael Jackson’s death, why his skin changed color (“Jenn, why did he do dat?”), and also just his relevance to Khalfani’s own day to day life. “I’m wearing one white glove today to stain the teek wood,” he will announce and I’ll look at him seriously. “You know who that reminds me of?” I’ll start to say, thinking of O.J. Simpson, and Khalfani will finish my sentence, nodding, “Michael Jackson.” He grins, and I grin, and we stare at each other grinning. Then Khalfani will put the one glove on and it changes him in a way I don’t enjoy. “Take it off Khalfani, you’re a different person when you wear that glove,” I tell him. Khalfani loves Disneyland and once I asked him what his favorite ride was, and my boss interrupted, “Michael Jackson, the ride.” Khalfani scowled and corrected him, “Noh, da one where you ride da caterpillar.”

Khalfani also loves Squirt. In passing one day he offered, “Hey Jenn, do you want a Squirt?” “A squir- ew, a squirt of what?” He grimaced and started yelling. “What do you mean ‘EW?’ Squirts are delicious. Dere are sum in da fridge.” When I opened the fridge there was a twenty four pack of that colorful, caffeine free, citrus flavored drink that was big in the 50’s and was created as an experiment by a college student. After realizing that the Squirts belonged to Khalfani, every single person on staff drank them and the next time Khalfani brought a pack of Squirt, he locked them away in his employee locker. Once he left his employee locker open and I left him a drawing of an obese cat waving his paw. He brought it to me once he found it and said, “What is dis shet?” “How did you know it was me?” I asked. “Jenn, why did you do dat?” he said frustrated. “Shet.”

We have a windowless van that housekeepers use to drive to and from the beach villas. We’ve all driven it and the one time I did, Khalfani was in the back. The van has a vented divider separating the driver from the back, which is seatless and full of cleaning supplies. “Khalfani I don’t feel right driving with you in the back like that.” “Why Jenn?” he said sitting on the floor next to a basket of mini shampoos. “I feel like a baby snatcher.” “I am not a baby Jenn,” Khalfani replied. “I feel like I’m driving a paddy wagon, or transporting criminals.” What da shet is a paddy wagon?” “You know, like for drunk underage kids in medieval times?” I said unsure, imagining a horse drawn carriage pulling a trailer full of teens who were overserved ale and brandy at the underground tavern. “I wish I was drunk right now, shet.” The van makes everyone who drives it look sketchy and up to no good. When Khalfani gets behind the wheel of it sometimes I see him stuck in traffic on PCH, scowling. “Khalfani, I like when you drive the van,” I told him. “Why Jenn?” “I don’t know, you look natural, the whole scene-” I stopped. Khalfani’s eyes narrowed and together we said “Dat’s racist Jenn.”


Editor’s Note: Jefe El has read this tribute and does not approve. To put it in his own words, “I’m gonna sue your ass Jenn.” 

Nunu

My grandfather’s name was John. He was tall, strikingly handsome and a really sharp dresser. Walking beside him was like walking beside a movie star, he attracted stares and interest from everyone. He was quietly confident and good at loving people. I knew that because of the way his children, especially my mother, loved him. She could tell him everything, all her worries and fears, and he could take it all away. I, even as a little kid, could sense she felt safe and happy around him. I always did too. He was a curious, tolerant, caring man, and a very good listener. And as I got older I realized it wasn’t just us, his family, everyone relaxed around him, he put everyone at ease, and he became less of a movie star to me and more of a statuesque mountain, mighty and unshakable, but also a calming, quiet place of refuge. I knew him as a little girl and a teenager, he passed away when I had just started college, around 17 or 18. Once retired, he was ordained and became a Deacon at his church and when I was in middle school and high school, I was an altar server, basically a religious assistant who held books and lit candles for Priests and Deacons during ceremonies, while wearing a white robe tied at the waist with a felt rope.

Not to insult Catholicism or anything, but I really only wanted to serve the altar, because it meant every Sunday I could spend the day with my Grandfather at his church,  both of us wearing matching robes like wizards, and baptizing babies. My Grandfather always performed the baptisms at his church, which usually consisted of him giving a touching speech about love, life and faith that brought everyone to tears, and pouring three different types of oils onto screaming babies heads. My main job was to remind him what the babies names were because often there were at least three different ones in a shared ceremony, and he’d get them all mixed up otherwise. I’d stand next to him holding a slippery crystal chrism of scented oil, and I’d whisper up to him, “Noah,” and he’d take the oil and we’d approach the family, “I baptize, you Noah in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…” I watched, wondering whether or not those oils would liven up a salad in a good way, or if using holy oils as salad dressing was terms for eternal damnnation. Then we’d leave Noah, who was turning red from screaming, his head all slimy and his parents holding him and smiling, rubbing oil into their child’s head continuously because if they stopped they’d just be standing there in front of everyone with oily hands that they weren’t sure they could wipe off on their kid’s bib because is it magic Holy oil and whatnot?  My Grandfather and I would move down the line to the next family and I’d whisper up to him, “Samantha,” and Samantha would start wailing.

We were very popular in the baptism business, not only because we were a Grandfather/Granddaughter duo, but because my Grandfather had a way of taking the creepy out of Catholicism. In his speeches, which are technically called a homily, he wouldn’t focus the conversation on purification or admission into the Catholic church, he’d talk about how this tiny innocent newborn life will grow up in a confusing world and how faith won’t necessarily guide or save them, but may help them through the hardships life can sometimes bring, by providing hope. His talks were personal and authentic, they came from a place of a father raising his own children. It never felt like an out of touch and suspicious Priest or religious figure preaching or giving ultimatums, it felt like a respected and loving man was bestowing his well earned wisdom of raising children and the importance of having faith in not just them, but in the world. And what it means to love your children insufferably and not want the world to damage them in any way. My Grandfather was never religious to me, he was spiritual. He was spiritual in a very unique, rare way that made him a person of significance. A person the world wouldn’t ignore or cast aside, a person the world would listen to, a person the world desperatly needed. 

When it came time for me to be Confirmed in the Catholic church, which is basically when you get baptised again, this time as an adult into the church, around 13 or 14, I had to pick a “sponsor.” Similar to an AA sponser, but for Catholicism. My sponser would be my spiritual guide, and of course I asked my Grandfather. This meant that he would accompany me to meetings every month where we would talk about religion with a bunch of other 13 year olds and their sponsors. Also similar to AA. The first meeting we attended we were in a large circle of about thirty people, and had to go around and each tell the group the greatest gift you’ve ever recieved. It took a very long time to get through. Parents said their children, aunts and uncles their nieces and nephews, grandparents said their kids and grandchildren. I forget what all my peers said, probably pets or their friends or siblings, or parents. Unanimously, folks agreed other people are gifts in our lives. I can’t remember what I said. When I was 13 I lived everyday in crisis over the abscence of my boobs and period. So I’m sure I was only thinking about the main gift I hadn’t yet received, which was my womanhood. My grandfather was last. With the entire group’s eyes on him, he sat there for awhile, thinking. While people had whispered or fussed and there always seemed to be background noise during everyone else’s time to speak, when it was my Grandfather’s turn, the whole room fell silent. That’s the first time I realized what having a presence means. It’s not age, or good looks or stature, or job title, or economic status. No one in that group knew anything about the other people except their names and that the group was divided into “confirmandees” and “sponsors.” We didn’t share our personal stories or what people did for a living, we were all strangers to one another, brought together by our faith in God (or forced to be there for most of the “confirmandees”).  Everyone fell silent when it was my Grandfather’s turn because of this hidden, unidentifiable power he possessed.

He uncrossed his legs and rested his forearms on his thighs, holding his hands in between his knees and leveling with the group like he was a coach in a football huddle.  And suddenly, even though we were all seated in a huge circle, far away from each other, it seemed like we had been brought closer together in our attentivness. “Well,” he began, looking around at everyone, “I think the greatest gift I’ve been given is..my life.” I took my eyes off him and scanned the room. Everyone’s faces looked the same. Damn it, why didn’t he go first?  When I think back to this, now, as a 28 year old I see how “life” and “gift” don’t correlate as easily as “life” and “burden.”  It is much more challenging to see life, in all it’s unanswerd questions and tragedies, as a gift we are given, as opposed to a challenge we must endure. I lose hope constantly as an adult, there’s a point where the evils and the darkness of the world seem to drown out the light. Even people become burdens.

I remember once asking my Grandfather, “why do tradgedies happen? Why is there evil? Why does evil seem like it wins sometimes?” We were driving on the freeway to his church, probably on our way to a baptism, when I asked. My Grandfather was in the slow lane, with his right blinker on, signaling to other drivers that he was about to switch lanes off the freeway and into the canyon. As drivers swerved around us, he explained that God gives us free will, and with that comes choices. We don’t have a lot of control over what other people choose to do. But we have all the control over what we choose to do. And everyday we are faced with choices, but the main one is will we do good in the world? Or will we do harm? God doesn’t control us, our lives aren’t predestined by “Him”, they are just that, our lives. As a little girl, I don’t think I fully comprehended what he meant, but I knew enough to never forget his words, or that moment. So I logged it away in my heart.

Recently, I went to my Grandfather’s church, which I haven’t visited in years. I didn’t attend a mass, I went in the middle of the day on a weekday and the church was empty, but unlocked. While most Catholic churches open up and ascend down an asile to the alter in the front, concert hall style, my Grandfather’s church is built in an octagonal shape with the altar in the middle of the room. He helped design it that way. It feels less grandoise and cold. Like you are gathered around a common table having a discussion, not an audience member attending a performance. I sat alone next to the Deacon’s chair, where he would sit during mass, and I wrote him a letter. In it, I told him how it’s getting harder and harder to view life as a gift. The world is a mess, I told him. I didn’t tell him about Trump because that would send him over the edge, but I did complain a lot about the state of the world, I’m sure he can piece together Bernie Sanders is not the one running things. How do I do good when I’m so small and insignificant? How do I become bigger? How do I right wrongs and really help people or make a difference? How do I love people and give chances but protect myself from those who will hurt me? And more importantly, how do I forgive and rise above evil?  So many harsh words have been unconciously logged into my heart against my will. How do I erase that stuff and not become jaded, or bitter, or worst of all mean spirited? How as a little girl did I choose what I logged into my heart to remember forever and now I can’t stop the bad stuff from logging itself? Since my Grandfather died, our entire family has stopped going to church. I thought about how maybe I should be directing my questions to God. But now that my Grandfather is gone, all the creepy has crept back into Catholicism. And my Grandfather was not “God like” to me, but he was real, and I believed in him and his hope, and he believed in me. I trusted him. Thank you for Mom, I wrote. She’s a great mother. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I don’t know if there is an almighty, all knowing “God.” Who, if does exist, is certainly a woman.

I sat there for a long time before I folded up my letter and placed it in the song book on the Deacon’s chair. As I was driving home I thought about what my Grandfather would tell me. If he thought life was the greatest gift he’d been given, I imagine he viewed his failures, and tradgedies the same as his triumphs and blessings. That is a hard thing to do. If you can view both the good and the bad in your life as gifts, as life waking you up to something, a revelation of some sort being bestowed on you to run with, as something that connects you to others instead of alienating you from others, then the world isn’t so hopeless, and you become stronger, more capable, and more valuable to others. It’s your choice. The way you choose to percieve your life and other people’s lives is a true confession of your own personal character. Maybe that was my Grandfather’s indescribable power that gave him such a presence. People could sense he believed in them. 

It was then that I realized I was driving 45 mph in the far right lane on the freeway and that my right turn signal was slowly clicking, signaling that I wanted to turn off the freeway and into the canyon. Oh no, I thought, maybe there is a God and he’s been signaling to me this whole time to just end it all in a firey crash….No, I’m just getting old and losing my faculities. Catholicism is sooo creepy. I sped up and changed lanes.”Hi Nunu*, thanks for still being here” I said to no one.

*”Nunu” is grandfather in Italian. My Grandfather was from Northern Italy. He ate gnocci, loved The Godfather movies, and felt no shame in expressing emotion or crying when something touched him deeply. He really was a true badass. 

 

Uber Rides 

When taking Uber’s, I always have the same fantasy. In it, I’m a Lebanese British human rights lawyer like Amal Clooney. I’m wearing a satin gown, and white gloves, and being escorted to a fancy hotel where I will be joining, not my friends for dinner, but the President of China’s wife, Peng Liyuan, whom I will be meeting with to discuss the advancement of women’s education and what she and President Xi Jinpin like to do for fun. And always, my fantasy comes crashing down around me when my driver, most recently named Carlos, strikes up conversation with me. “Where are you from?” “I am from here, from LA.” “Oh my God, wait…are you Caucasian?” Carlos will look at me in the rear view mirror disappointed, and I will look down at my gloveless hands. “Yes, I am white,” I admit, ashamed. “And I will not be seeking resolution for world conflict with the 58th most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes tonight. You can just drop me at the corner by that donut shop.”