The past five (wowza!) months in LA have been wonderful - I have neither turned into a satan-worshiping sex maniac crackhead (much to the relief of some church folks), nor gone crawling back to NC as a humiliated failure (much to the disappointment of a past acquaintance). Somewhere in the range between crackwhoredom and abject loserdom, I've carved out a decent little life. I am learning lots of things daily - like how exaggerating a southern accent will get you more tips, how to register my car, oh and the most important lesson I should actually pay attention to --
Men in Los Angeles are freaking crazy.
I had a lot of of snarky things to say after that statement, but then I decided the story could stand alone as a testament to that assertion. Minimal snarkiness required.
I decided to be productive on my day off. Instead of sleeping in until past noon, I ventured out to the local Ralph’s to buy sandwich stuff. (The downside of working in a fancy shiny mega-shopping-center is your lunch break can cost you two hours’ worth of work alone. I’m a huge fan of chicken madeira, but seriously. So sandwiches it is.) For those not in LA, Ralphs is a… hmmm… decidedly not upscale grocery store. I once couldn’t get my favorite frozen-dinner-for-pathetic-losers because a teen couple was making out furiously against the sliding door. I might have seen a nip. That sort of establishment.
But I was hungry, and on a budget, and also wearing sweatpants and glasses midday. No one would notice me, let alone bother me… or so I thought.
I rolled up to the deli counter, visions of turkey-and-avacado-and-brie wraps and homemade Tuscan Paninis dancing in my head. PBJ is just too plebian. My dreams of becoming the Julia Child of brown-bag lunch were temporarily halted, however, as the man in front of me had clearly ordered about FOUR POUNDS of deli meat. At least six or seven different types of meat, of course, so it was bound to take forever.
I waited patiently, because LA has made me all calm and zen and less spazzy (yeah right). Madame Meatslicer behind the counter offered the man a slice of bologna, awaiting his approval before slicing the rest. Out of kindness, or more likely to placate me as I was tapping my foot, she offered me a slice too. I immediately accepted and stuffed the bologna in my mouth. Some people say you should never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but I usually wait until I’m ravenous and semi-conscious from low blood sugar. I find it makes the trip more exciting.
The man with the cartful of meat turned to appraise me. He looked slightly older than Dr.Dad, and rocked a bit of a fake tan and an slight aura of trying to be cool past his prime. He spoke.
“Sorry it’s taking so long, my son’s twelve and he eats everything in the house.”
Awwww what a Dad-ish thing to say! I thought. He reminds me of Dr.Dad. Except Dr.Dad’s tan is from working in the garden and not standing in a little box having orange goo spewed on his naked body.
“How did you like the bologna?” I realized he was still talking to me. And the bologna in question was still partially hanging out of my mouth. (Epitome of classiness, right here) I managed to chew and swallow before responding.
“It was alright, but salami is definitely my favorite of the processed meats.” I somehow managed to sound both pretentious and like a dumbass at the same time… about salami. I really do love salami, though. And I was hungry. So it shouldn’t be my fault for what happened next.
“Oh, I got salami too! Would you like to try some of my salami before you order?” I mean, he offered. I was overjoyed at the thought of free food and how gosh-darn friendly people are in LA, so I blurted out:
“Of course! I LOVE SALAMI! Thanks!” He then dug around in his cart, pulled out those flimsy plastic bags that hold delimeat, and presented me ceremoniously with a sliver of genoa salami. I stuffed it in my mouth gratefully.
It was really good salami.
In retrospect, clearly this was a mistake. Unpackaged food from a stranger? Engaging in conversation with anyone in LA, ever? There are very few things about me that blatantly scream “southerner,” but I will always appreciate free food and striking up conversation with a jovial ol’ fellow.
Dumb, dumb girl.
We chatted briefly about salami and delimeat, and he informed me that if I got a full pound of meat, I would get a complimentary bottle of coarse-ground fancy mustard.
Well damn. If there’s one thing I love more than salami, it’s fancy mustard. Back in the Cupcake Cottage, I had no less than five bottles of mustard in the fridge at any given time. (I never seemed to remember to get ketchup though…) I was sold.
He went about his way and I went about my grocery shopping. Despite a minor incident involving knocking over a display of granny smiths that required me to fling my body onto the pile of apples to keep them from cascading onto the floor, it was a very regular trip.
Or so I thought.
I got out into the parking lot about halfway to my car when I *just so happened* *totally coincidentally* *what are the odds?!* to run into Mister Salamiman. I think he actually said:
“Fancy meeting you here.” Like I was Meg Ryan in some awful 90s RomCom. I mean, really.
And then he asked me how my day was. And as a southerner, and generally loud, talkative person, I had to reply. I told him it was my day off from my Awesome Bakery job, and I’d just moved about five months ago from the east coast. I might as well have given him my drivers license and social security number too.
Well turns out, his sister started a company that is in direct competition with the Awesome Bakery (and because they’re a competitor, and also not very good, I will henceforth refer to them as Lame Bakery). So then he had to give me the entire history of Lame Bakery, and how his sister poured her entire life into it, and how Lame Bakery was the most popular bakery ever in this one city he was from. Then Salamiman proceeded to ask me increasingly prying questions about the profit margins and stocks and projected expansion for Awesome Bakery. I felt like Charlie being approached by the Slug Candy guy right after leaving the Wonka Chocolate Factory. Like I would be stupid enough to give secret information to someone who just announced how evil Awesome Bakery is?
Though I guess I was stupid enough to stop in the middle of the parking lot to converse with a stranger.
Moreover, I have no idea about financial thingamabobs. I mostly work at the cash register and try not to knock over trays of fresh baked goods. I think he finally realized he wouldn’t get anywhere with me when he asked my best guess of how many baked goods we sold in a single day and I replied,
“Probably close to a million. Give or take a few.”
What? I majored in writing, not numbers. I’m not gunning for the position of CFO, that’s for sure.
Somehow, the conversation didn’t awkwardly trail off from there, but actually picked up steam. He grabbed my Achilles Heel of conversation: New York City.
Salami is great. Artisan mustard is even better. But New York City? I interned there for a summer, and up until March, had been absolutely certain that’s where I would be living and working after graduation. Like any girl growing up watching Sex and the City and wanting to be an actress-writer-director-foodie-journalist, New York City captivated and fascinated me. So of course, I wanted to talk about it.
Mister Salamiman talked at length about the restaurants and clubs he’d opened in his sparkling career. We talked about the nightlife scenes of LA and NYC, and fine dining, and the cultural difference between the two coasts.
And suddenly I realized that this whole situation was really weird.
Accepting salami from a stranger wasn’t weird. Remeeting in the parking lot wasn’t weird. Fending off prying questions about business secrets wasn’t weird. Talking about the second-best-city-ever (I said it. LA has my heart now.) wasn’t weird. But somehow, fifteen minutes into this conversation that had been strange from the moment it started actually FELT strange.
Maybe I am finally starting to develop an awkwardness radar. Too bad it still sucks.
I made up an excuse about meeting friends for brunch (brunch? I was neither hungover nor able to throw down $30 on pancakes and watery mimosas.) and tried to make a graceful exit.
Well if the title of this blog is any indication, grace isn’t exactly my forte.
“Wait!” He said. I waited. (Not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I just couldn’t walk away… that would be RUDE.)
“Is this all just a crazy coincidence… or do you want to go out sometime?”
I stared at him.
My face contorted into disgust and confusion, and I was too stunned to speak. GO OUT? But he was so… old. And gross. And talks to girls in parking lots. And has a kid only ten years younger than me. Like… ewww.
However, he mistook my moment of silence for prompting to continue. (Not sure how he misinterpreted my facial expression, but I don’t know how women flirted in the 1950s or whenever he was a youngster.)
“I’m helping open Restaurant X in West Hollywood and it’s a really cool spot… drinks and dancing… I’d love to get to know you best and you like such a fascinating lady…”
Okay. Enough is enough. My eyebrows had risen so high in disbelief that they disappeared into my hairline. I finally processed that this wasn’t a joke, and that I should probably say something to deter him before he tried to take me home with him right then and there.
“Uhh. I have a boyfriend? Sorry. I gotta go.” I was so legitimately confused and appalled at the situation that I didn’t even try to sound convincing. If he could use cliché line to try to pick me up, surely I could use just as trite ones to deter him? Right? And then my mind started to wander into why I had to use the “boyfriend excuse” and it wasn’t even really true, and I was single and alone in LA, and maybe all I could get is creepy old men who open swank restaurants and…
Nope. Still a creeper.
“Well you can’t blame me for asking, especially with someone as fascinating as you. Have a great brunch.” Really? REALLY. I can blame you for asking, because that’s hella weird. And though I may think I’m fascinating, talking about Washington Square Park is not exactly the height of intellectually stimulating conversation. I turned to go about my way.
Except for one problem.
We just happened to be parked right next to each other.
We awkwardly walked in the same direction, together apart, until we arrived at our cars. Mister Salamiman turned to me:
“Oh wow, we even parked next to each other. Like it was meant to be. Oh well. I’m sure I’ll see you around, I’m here all the time.”
What sort of parting words are those? Stare-in-your-window, kill-you-in-your-sleep sort of parting words, that’s what. From friendly Dr.Dad-like figure to hinting at serious psychosis in under three minutes. Wowza. I tossed my groceries in the car and gunned it out of the parking lot.
As I drove away, I realized two things:
1) Salami is phallic-shaped. And a meat. Maybe accepting one phallic-shaped meat from a strange man might lead him to believe you would be willing to accept his other… phallic-shaped meat. Gross.
2) I was in such a rush to get away, I left my damn artisan mustard in the cart. And there was no way in hell I was going back for it.