It must be a rite of passage to get your ass kicked by tiki drinks while visiting Los Angeles. The task was not hard to accomplish, what with a happy hour cocktail at the Roosevelt Hotel, huge beers with dinner, and a stop at the Rainbow for a whiskey soda and some jukebox glam beforehand. More reasonable humans might have called it a night at that point, but it was only 8:30! And this particular tiki bar was in walking (er, stumbling) distance from my friend T’s apartment.
But if you’ll permit me, let’s backtrack to Thanksgiving. In the dinner afterglow, perhaps three glasses of wine in the rear view mirror and tryptophan coursing through my veins, I found myself on facebook chatting with an old college pal who was visiting home from LA. We briefly toyed with the idea of trying to get together, but the timing wasn’t going to work. He suggested that I should just visit him in California, and in my warm and fuzzy and expansive postprandial state, I found myself thinking that was a great idea. A few keystrokes on my phone, and I had a ticket.
Mind you, I hadn’t seen T in about ten years, not since his wedding reception when he still lived in Chicago. Back when I was in school at Michigan State, I used to visit him there fairly regularly, taking the EL to the resale shops in Boystown or poking around Andersonville’s coffee houses and junk stores while he was at work. In the evenings, we’d go to dive bars, drink shitty beer and see bands play. Occasionally, his band would have a show, and I’d sing along in the front row.
Ten years later though, did we still have anything in common? I pondered this somewhat nervously as the trip approached. We were both unattached and had recently gone through divorces, so there was that. But we hadn’t really kept in touch since he’d moved (and even for a decent period before that), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Girlfriends inquired excitedly whether there were any “romantic possibilities” for my trip; I answered quite honestly that I had no idea.
My first afternoon in town, as we wandered the streets of Hollywood at sunset, I kept seeing bits of home everywhere I looked… Berry Gordy’s star on the Walk of Fame; a sign for Detroit Street; a guy in a Tigers t-shirt. As it turned out, by this time there was someone back home who was tugging at my heartstrings like a cheap ukelele, and as much as I was enjoying the California sunshine, I couldn’t help but have him (and by extension, the city I associated with him) in my thoughts. Naturally I thought the best way to deal with this was with a cocktail.
The lobby of the Roosevelt, as is true for many a grand old hotel, is a great place for a happy hour drink. Built in 1927 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, it is ornate and atmospheric and mysterious. We would have lingered, but our stomachs had other ideas, so we headed to West Hollywood to check out Night + Market, a trendy Thai street food restaurant. (Incidentally, it was there that I got the idea for this blog.) To his credit, T was a great sport about driving me around to try places that had been recommended by my Detroit friends, and I was thankful for that because this was easily the best Thai food I’ve ever put in my mouth. The legendary Rainbow was just up the block, so we popped in after dinner for a cocktail and some hair metal. T regaled me with stories about famous past patrons and I soaked in the ambiance of former glory days. There’s something to be said for the history of a place, but sometimes it’s better to make your own, so we moved on.
We wound our way back to North Hollywood and into Tiki No, just a few blocks from T’s house. The drinks were so delicious (and relatively inexpensive) that we had to try more than one… why not three? As the night wore on and inhibitions were shed, we trekked down memory lane to our post-college days. Didn’t I know that T had had a crush on me all those years? All the times I visited him in Chicago? No, zero clue. I tend not to assume anyone has feelings for me unless they are clearly stating it outright… and even then, I usually have my doubts as to how real or sincere it is. I mean, I had gotten texts from the ukelele picker expressing various degrees of enamoredness for the last 2 months, but I knew better than to take them too seriously, much as I might want to. A healthy degree of romantic pessimism is all but required with a disposition like mine; a part of you that constantly tamps down hope and desire (we could also call this “managing expectations”) in order to maintain a liveable equilibrium.
Not only did poor T confess an unreciprocated crush, but he inadvertently pushed one of my buttons that provoked instant tears in my tiki-sodden state. I’ll spare details, but it had to do with my family and adjusting to my new reality as a single person. Let me just say, there are a lot of great things about my life right now, and every single day I embrace it more and more. But I’m still in the adjustment stage, and there are still raw nerves. Luckily I was able to recover fairly quickly and laugh off the incident as a byproduct of the night’s imbibing.
The part of T that quashes hope and desire must be better exercised or more disciplined than mine, because he was able to be around me the rest of the week without displaying any trace of awkwardness or outward expressions of longing. Although it wasn’t exactly like old times, we had a nice visit and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. Meanwhile, I slept with my phone under my pillow in case someone decided to text me odd missives at even odder hours (is this something friends do? None that I’ve ever had before. But far be it from me to read into anything as trifling as a text message. Quash, quash!)
We went back to the tiki bar a few nights later but, such is life, it wasn’t the same. Likewise, when I got home from my trip, it just so happened that ukelele man’s attentions seemed to drop off suddenly. Perhaps a karmic payback for affections I had not returned to T? Whatever the case, I’ll try my best to get back to my old M.O. of squelching any unruly feelings… unless perhaps a few coconut mojitos are involved.