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, I’ll see someone get close to the camera and stick their tongue out and start to speak and the video ends. “Wanna come out with me tonight? What kind of parties you go to?” he says, studying my face. “People drinking wine?” he concludes. “Eating cheese?” he laughs. “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 half hour, why does he need two more right now, 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. “Juanito, I’m Doby the house elf. I’m waiting 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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I’m On A Boat

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.“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.

The Ryokan Troll and Scott Disick

I have a jacket that I bought, possibly in high school, that at the time was stylish and on trend, 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, one hundred percent 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 The Little Mermaid. 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 inner circle. 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 flat white pancake ass!” “Jenn what da hell, dis is what I’m talking about,” Khalfani said exasperated. Kiss my ass 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?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1%

“I’ll tip you such and such ridiculously large amount of money to get me a table at Nobu.” Instead of perking up at the thought of all that extra money, I began to think about how I would bribe someone if I had the means to. What do I want that I would give someone money to make happen. “My income is inexhaustable and I’ll reward you with a sum of money that seems enormous to you but is mere chump change to me if you can sink the entire state of Florida. Floridians will be gone and unable to breed more Floridians and I’ll still be rich.” From my observations, it seems as though people only say things like that when there are witnesses around because it’s not exactly genuine good will and generosity that’s driving this exchange of goods for a service. It’s either to appear impressively generous and full of good will, but more often it’s the word “no.” What the “no” is tugging at, is their ego. What they really want, is to be told “yes” when everyone else gets told “no.” And yeah, money usually equals “yes.” But real talk, being poor defines your options by providing you very few, and being rich provides you endless options. So why is it that when you have everything at your dispense, people seem to start creating useless problems and suddenly become aggitated by odd nuances. Money inflates your bank account and your sense of self follows suit. But having a huge ego is comparable to turning your skin into glass. One fall, and you’ll smash a leg off, unable to get back up and just keep going. The wrong brand of bottled water in your room and suddenly your panties are all bunched up your butt, causing you to squirm like an unearthed worm. How could this happen? What would happen if they drank water from the sink, like me? I hope I never have to find out.

Once, I walked into the lobby and was startled by one of our guests lounging on one of the couches. He was quiet and somehow had blended in with the colors in the couch, possibly because he is bald, but I didn’t see him until he started screaming into the phone. I jumped ten feet with my hand on my heart like an elderly woman. His burst of aggression caused us to make eye contact and when he saw me he pointed to me and took a break in yelling at whoever he was speaking to on the phone, to yell at me. He pointed at me and barked, “Bring me a shot of vodka!” I stared at him for a few minutes in silence until I got nervous that he would start strangling me. “And bring me my sugar free red bull, it’s on the deck!” I hate to profile people, but I feel like this man voted for Trump. When I brought him his shot of vodka and sugar free energy drink, I watched as he poured half the energy drink into a potted plant, dumped the shot into the rest, and wandered away, back to yelling on the phone. Alone, I googled him and, yes, he’s donated millions of dollars to the Trump campaign. “I knew it” I murmured to myself.

I work at nights and besides being able to spend all morning hiking and out in the sun, my fantasy was to get a front row seat to all the sketchy things that rich people do when they think no one is watching. Like when O.J. Simpson and all those freaky Vegas thugs quarintened themselves in a hotel room until O.J. got his signed footballs back. “No way. I won’t allow it. You will have no life Jenn,” my boss said. “You will become…weird.” My other co-worker chimed in, “Weird-er.” “But the scandals happen when the sun goes down.” “You can work evenings, but you will go home at eleven,” she said almost in disbelief that she has to talk someone out of working overnights. “And let me make one thing clear,” my boss stated, “there will be no scandals at this hotel.” My boss is a powerful lady. O.J. never would have gotten through the door if she was running that hotel in Vegas. So when the daytime staff couldn’t get a table at Nobu, the torch was passed to the spooky night crew. I hate asking for favors, if someone says no, I’m onto the next viable option. But at work I float in and out of my reality, which is on the ground, and the billionaire’s reality which is soaring above the clouds and possibly too close to the sun. Pulling strings requires levetating somewhere in the space between the ground and outer space.

The hotel and the restaurant are sepearte entities and for some reason we have bad blood with one another. Like true siblings, we annoy one another constantly. So asking for help from the restaraunt is always awkward and slightly intimidating. I’ve notcied that when speaking to guests or asking for favors, everyone’s voices tend to increase a few octaves, thinking they sound like a kind, genuine person. Imagine a daughter asking Daddy for a pony. Sugary and phoney. Real talk, they sound like suspicious cartoon characters. It is offputting, and people pick up on vibes. Like those “good vibes” people. They are announcing and plastering “good vibes only” everywhere, but if they really were sending out these good vibes why are they not more chill? I decided that since we have emailed, phoned and already presented ourselves in person to Nobu and gotten turned down, if I went over there and asked one last time in person I better be straighforward and honest. But also, it’s very hard for me not to be straightforward and honest, take for instance, this blog full of years of my musings. My granddaughter one day will read all of this and say, “Wow, grandma was not chill.”

As I stepped out onto the sidewalk and made my way over to Nobu, I passed a girl sitting on a bench. “Wow, you look great. That is a great buisness professional look,” she told me. This is a real win for me because when I was presented with my uniform I thought if I wore it in everyday life and happened to pass someone on the street, they would think I was selling Bibles. In a conversation with my mom I referred to it as a Mrs. Trunchbull outfit. “That buff mean lady in Matilda? Why would they want you to look like that?” my mom argued. “Jenn, you love style, just fix it somehow,” she said. I bought chic heels, fake reading glasses, googled “how to wear your hair in a bun and not look like you are serving lunch,” and discovered red lipstick. And now, with this random woman’s validation, I was full of confidence. I am not Mrs. Trunchbull, I told myself, I am Jenny from Coachella Valley. I will keep you wild, if you keep me safe. I’m a fashion blogger and have unique personalized style that looks like no one else. I’m a woke feminist because I voted for Hillary. My Instagram’s full of Nasty Girl things. “Thank you! I was afraid I look like I’m selling Bibles,” I told her and she looked alarmed. “I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness,” I said.

Nobu is like The Capitol in The Hunger Games, because it’s full of all the specials and people wear over the top, flamboyant, low key ugly outfits there. It is literally across the street from a KFC and a McDonalds. On one side of the street people are buying 99 cent fish filets and directly across the street, celebrities are dropping $500 for some steamed mushrooms and a piece of raw fish. In the middle is the Pacific Coast Highway, this specific stretch nicknamed “Blood Alley,” referring to all the car wrecks concieved there, but also a good place for people like me to fling themseleves into when they get totally overwhelmed by the sheer madness of society.  Everytime I walk through the parking lot full of all the Tesla’s and Lambo’s and Jamie Foxx’s gold Bugatti, I wonder if Nobu San, the humble, talented, and very sweet little Asian man who started all of this, ever feels like since Robert DiNero got involved it’s really turned into a circus.  When I got inside, I pushed my way through the crowd and saw that my favorite Nobu manager was working. He is my favorite because he treats people how I would like to treat people. In the middle of utter chaos, he makes you feel calm, like everything is going to be ok. He doesn’t sound phoney or shmoozey, if he tells you he can’t do something his eyes look sad and you know if he could, he would, but he can’t. I asked. I said please. I revealed that I know it’s their busiest night and that they most likely can’t, but I was there to do my do-dilegence. And he moved everything around and booked it. “Really? Thank you!” I said, my big eyes bugging out behind my fake optical lenses.

When I told the guest, he dropped by with his crew to fling $100 bills on my desk before going to dinner. I took half the money, put it in an envelope and wrote the Nobu manager’s name on the outside. My boss looked at me, “What are you doing?” “Because, he’s the one who did the favor for me,” I said, like duh. “But Jenn, he will probably get tipped out by our guest anyway” he pointed out. “Yeah but isn’t it a nice gesutre of comradary?” I explained. “Ok do whatever, it’s your money,” he looked agitated and his tone revealed what he was thinking. Which sounded like oh my God, she’s literally killing me right now. I looked at the envelope. “This is why poor people stay poor,” I said not blinking, suddenly understanding the world and why everyone has so many chips on their shoulder. But I got up anyway, and went to deliver the envelope next door, because I know myself. And I would have been up all night tourturing myself over how selfish I am, and how I basically did nothing and got rewarded, and how I’m a garbage person and that next time, I’ll have learned from this and I’ll split the tip. Part of knowing yourself is not having to first make mistakes that teach you what to do next time, you just do it right the first time. “It’s not like I’m giving all of it to him,” I said. But it was unianimous among the other spooky night crew employees that I could absolutely have given him less. “But that’s not fair,” I whined like a self rightous-snot nosed-Bernie Sanders-till-I-die supporter.

“People wouldn’t do that for you,” someone pointed out as if that was an easy cop out, and it suddenly dawned on me why people are selfish. “So if other people aren’t fair, I shouldn’t be fair either…because that’s only fair?” I said, “A dog eat dog world…” And that’s all it comes down to. You absolutley will not be treated fairly as you go through life, life is 100% not fair, and you can bitch about it all day everyday, but that’s not chill or good vibes. What is more important is when you, yourself, are given an opportunity to be fair, you don’t let life’s losses make you jaded, bitter and corrupt. If you get a bit of power, you can still be kind and recognize others. If you get thrown a few more bones than you expected to have, you can throw em’ to someone else who might need them. Or don’t. But it’s all in your control. You have to be the hope you want to have, the justice you expect, and your own light at the end of the tunnel. “You are pride, you are powah, you are a bad mother who ain’t going to take no shit from nobody!” I told all my co-workers, and silence filled the room. “Cool Runnings?” I asked. They all frowned. “You are all powerful, but you have to know it,” I told them all and walked away.

 

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.”