The first time I came to the California, specifically Los Angeles-- “The Land of the Pretty People” -- I nearly went on a fast within a week. I have never seen as many summer-body ready people in my life. Well, except that one time my bro-husband had to come retrieve me from dance camp. I accidentally passed out in the back of the school bus that happened to be scheduled for First Position Camp the next morning. Dancers have insane bodies. And I am no fatty but standing next to a dancer or the typical sun-seeking Angeleno, you would swear my body more likely resembled Ursula’s from “Little Mermaid” than Luke’s from “Pitch Perfect”.
It starts with the plate. No, that is an actual thing, www.itstartswiththeplate.com. It became crystal clear that Los Angeles is a highly visual place. That if you are not seen then you are nothing. The fastest way to getting noticed is the same fastest way to having sex—the body. Everyone (or at least it seems like everyone) has some sort of diet:
A) The Grape Diet (TGD) —the, “I don’t do drugs, though it’s the fast way to a zero waist line, and air isn’t as filling as some flowers would like you to believe, so I do a liquid diet”. The same liquid diet that means there has to be a happy hour somewhere, anywhere. Even if that means ‘where’ is a mystical place like Narnia.
B) The Air Diet (TAD) —the is for the truly dedicated pursuer. Besides the individual’s typical minute-to-minute intake of air, the participant is only allowed an extra gulp per hour and three sets of deep euphoric-inducing holding-breath intakes per day. This is to cut down on deaths, aimlessly walking into oncoming traffic or hallucinating that one is a god. Also, this cuts down on the one big side effect —gas, a party killer.
C) The Cotton Ball Diet (TCBD) —this was originally established by Supermodels but then rapidly gained acceptance by the ‘I got to get into this dress in two weeks’ bridezillas and self-conscious drag queens. You take a few cotton balls (preferably a name brand), dip it into your juice-of-choice and swallow it. It will expand, leaving your tummy feeling full and you are one step closer to squeezing into that outfit in time for those much needed, superfluous selfies. If one is truly dedicated, he/she will only have three cotton balls a day and instead of dipping the one cotton ball in juice, he/she will dip it into oil or vinegar. It lubricates, helps with bowel movements and cleans the teeth.
D) I Don’t Eat Anything Not Good For Me Diet (IDEANGFMD) — which has its cult followers eating only: lettuce, cattail, weeds, burdock, jicama, ginger and Snapjacks. Snapjacks are only incorporated after a full six-month completion of the regimen.
Coming from the middle of nowhere, where I am from; this was all new to me. Everyone in my town deep-fried Lucky Charms and each person at the table had bowels of butter in which we dipped everything from vegetables to our fruit. How else were we supposed to get it to taste good? I thought health conscious meant eating a chocolate covered, cream injected banana, with Oreo cookies and Neapolitan ice cream on top, ala natural, instead of deep-frying it and then covering it with cotton candy, was holding back.
So we are at this restaurant in Bel Air, which makes Beverly Hills look like the projects, and not only could I not get over the prices on the menu (they charged for water! Even tap water!), I could not believe how these people ate. I swear it was a straight out of a scene in “LA Story”. First, I was with The Chick from The Pound, my childhood friend (the Fourth of July bar-b-que) and Counting Cash. My childhood friend leans over and tugs on my ear, “I got it.” “THANK GOD,” I screamed in my head. I probably would have screamed it out loud had it not been for me pinching myself thinking my dyslexia was acting-up again because there is no way the menu was asking seventy-one dollars for a steak. “That’s another grand,” Counting Cash says as he looks at his Rolex (I pray it is a fake and some fancy-dick dude walks by and calls him out).
Counting Cash is one of those dudes who makes Cujo look like he was just a bit irritating. He wears the latest whatever it is and somehow works it into the conversation. “Sparkling or flat,” the white-gloved waiter questions. “I don’t like choosing. Give me both. That’s also what I said to my jeweler when he asked me if I wanted the two-point-seven-five carat J color emerald cut diamond or the flat four-point-eight-centimeter pink Brazil imperial topaz,” Counting Cash bellowed so, loud that the deaf gal in the corner of the restaurant looked over. He was also fond of clocking the time and spouting exactly how much money he was making while hanging out with us. “What time is it?” He stopped a man passing by our table who looked like he was on a mission, probably to pee. Visibly conflicted to oblige his request or run-off to his desired destination, “Um, I... let me…” he pulls up the wrong sleeve. Second attempt successful. Looking as his other wrist, “Um, it’s just twenty pa…” “Another grand!” Counting Cash chirps. “You’re dismissed,” he says to the flustered man with a flick of his wrist. Unsure what to do next, the man stands there. Unlike the rest of us sitting at the table, Counting Cash had no idea the man was still standing awaiting further explanation. I guess realizing he had more pressing matters, the man hurried off to his destination.
The waiter returns, “May I have the pleasure of taking your order?” I swear, everyone starts talking a different language:
Chick from The Pound – “I request the gluten-free pasta, boiled without salt and using only alkalized water on a non-flame stove. A side of GMO-free cauliflower, steamed—alkalized water of course—no seasoning. A side of free-roaming grass-fed chicken breast, no skin, no seasonings, baked in an oven no older than 2013 or slowly roasted in a rotisserie with no other meats or contaminants. And please bring a bowl of chard, beet greens, kale and watercress. No dressing. No bread. No butter. No sauces. No dairy anywhere on the table. Thank you, I appreciate it.”
My childhood friend – “Hmm. I’ll have the turkey. No breading or coating. Black rice. The whole meal seasoned only with red pepper, pumpkin, endive, tomato, parsley and lemon. Instead of the creamy mashed potatoes, I want a salad with Chinese cabbage, grapefruit, strawberries, alfalfa sprouts and arugula. If you don’t mind, please request that the vegetables are no more than three days old, from local farmers and pesticide-free. Suitable substitutions would be blueberries, baby coconut, bean curd—firm, or snap peas. None of which should have been stored above room temperature.”
Counting Cash – “Bring me the Surf and Turf. Ribeye. Make sure the beef is 100% antibiotic-free, vegetable diet-free, and hormone-free. I want it cooked on an open-flame, medium rare; with only pink Himalayan salt and freshly ground black Tellicherry pepper from the South of India. Lobster— nothing farmed-raised, nothing frozen, never broiled. No salad. Roasted asparagus, no seasoning and a whole sliced California avocado, no peel.”
By the time it gets to me I have a headache. I have no idea what to order, and apparently, I have no idea what I have been putting in my mouth. After listening to these food-haters it appears everything I, and assuming the same goes for all those I grew up with, put in my mouth, was not good for me. My family and friends live by the notion— if it tastes good then it must be good for you by definition. I had no clue that all-natural did not necessarily mean it was all natural; genetically modified food was not a fancy word for it was dipped in sugar and then rolled in peanut butter; that there was a difference between sea salt and table salt and table salt was ‘the worst’; studies have shown coconut milk is a healthier choice than whole milk or the fact that food is imported from all over the world and there is no real way to know what practices and safety precautions were used when it was grown or shipped. I feel like my head is melting and forming into Silly Putty. When the waiter asked me, “And you, Sir?” I froze. The first thing that came to mind was steak. So, I said, “Steak?” The Chick from The Pound chimes in, “You don’t want steak. I could talk about the injections, the conditions, the antibiotics, the substances being feed to the animals that are as artificial as the tablecloth…” She must have seen my eyes glaze-over and how it looked like I might faint. “But I won’t. I’ll just say if you’re going to have the steak ask for the type of cow you want.” “There is a type of cow,” I mumble. “He’ll have the fish,” pipes in my childhood friend. The waiter asks, “Which fish? Snapper, Salmon, Orange Roughy, Butterfish, Catfish, Flounder, Trout, Swordfish, Sole? From what region? Fresh water, farmed-raised, Atlantic? How would you like that broiled, baked, grilled, blackened, sushi, ceviche, fried…?” “NOT fried,” squealed The Chick from The Pound. With all eyes on me, I close my eyes and spew my order erratically.
It was like my first time on stage in elementary school, scarring. And though my babbling was unintelligible, the waiter responds, like a gentleman, “I’ll see what we can do.” He then bows his head, excusing himself. I believe I said something to the effect of, “Just bring something, anything, as long as its dead, does not have a face, will not kill me in my sleep, will not give me gas, does not have those bionics she is talking about, that is cooked and tastes good and I do not have to answer any more questions!” Apparently, it was loud enough to attract the attention of half of the restaurant which was the perfect audience for Counting Cash to announce, “Five thousand dollars. ZAP! Just like that.”
I am steadily getting drunk as Counting Cash tries to keep up with me. He is in for a surprise. This place is so fancy (or we are ordering drinks, conveyer belt style) that they set up a mini mock-bar right next to our table. Now that is service!
Our food arrives. The presentation is so stellar the food looks alive. The only place I have seen food look like this is on television, in one of those cooking competitions. Counting Cash stands up, “I'd like to say a prayer.” What? He is a God-fearing man? Did not see that coming. “God…that’s another ten grand! I’m going to be richer than you by the end of dinner. Amen.” Counting Cash sits. Shaking my head, I look at the ceiling, “I should have seen that coming.” Looking at me, Chick from The Pound leans in, “You said that out loud.” “If he can, then I can too,” I exclaim pounding the table. Counting Cash looks at me like I have lost my mind. Looking at him looking at me, it hits me. I am finally in a place that everyone does what they want, whether that means transform one’s body or one’s awareness, amass pennies in one’s bank account or stand on rooftops screaming, “I am a God”. Whatever it is, they own it. Crazy or not.
The server provides each of us two drinks at a time so he can have a breather. Every time Counting Cash blurts something to the effect of, “Another child that doesn’t eat is another dollar for me,” I shout something to the effect of, “Strike him down Lord; strike him down now.” Chick from The Pound told me later we sounded like a modern day Greek chorus. To step it up a notch, Counting Cash starts doing what he calls the ‘money dance’. This consists of him taking hundreds from his money clip, throwing them on the floor and stomping the money while repeating, “I’m rich, bitch!” This prompts me to start doing a ‘dance’ of my own which consists of me throwing cups of water in his face and repeating, “I am Noah and the Lord sent me to cleanse the earth of you.” Yes, we are beyond drunk. We are waving our metaphorical cocks in each other’s face. He jumps on the table and says, “I have enough money to make everyone beg for an indecent proposal.” I jump on the bar and say, “You are the reason abortion is still legal.” After much apologizing and throwing tons of money at the restaurant staff, The Chic from The Pound and my childhood friend get us to settle down. Until I hear an obnoxious ringtone. I am about to blast Counting Cash for being the biggest douche born this century when my childhood friend pulls on my arm, “Your phone is ringing”. “That is not me! I would not have something that asinine,” I say with indignation. I am so drunk I do not realize why I have that disturbing ring tone until my childhood friend thrusts my cell phone in front of my face. The caller identification says Mother. Sobering up fast, I answer, “Hello?” Clearing her smoke-clogged throat, she says, “Family-Dinner.”