It was the end of the summer, technically fall, but still warm enough to wear a tank top along with a pair of overpriced skinny jeans to an afternoon party in Highland Park that my younger friend Jordan had invited me to. She was hosting it with friends who had been on “The Real L Word.” Jordan admired these women for making good money, landing hot girls and knowing how to “get it in” (a term that, according to Jordan, did not have an implicitly sexual meaning).
And then there was me…
I wrote personal essays about my dead mother. Followed politics. Meticulously maintained my GoodReads account. All qualities that women like these found unbearably hot.
As I parked, I spotted a middle-aged butch-femme Latina couple looking for the house. Since I was flying solo, I quickly joined them on the sidewalk and asked if they were going to the party. They didn’t look perfect or hip. They looked down-to-earth. My worries about being out of place immediately abated. This isn’t going to be so bad, I thought. Then I turned the corner with them down the driveway into the backyard…
The party consisted largely of lesbians in their late 20s acting out some “Gin ‘N’ Juice” fantasy. A DJ spun hip-hop records next to partygoers sporting tattoo sleeves, bandanas and multi-colored Ray Bans. Baseball caps sporting words like “Puta” were worn with flipped-up bills or backwards.
Awesome. I was at some sort of lesbian gangsta party and not in a wink-wink nudge-nudge sort of a way. A middle school-esque responsibility fell on me to prove that I was relevant, that I could hang — and dropping a dime on why the Republicans wouldn’t let us fall off the fiscal cliff wasn’t going to cut it.
I found Jordan as quickly as I could. We hovered by a plant wondering if it was a palm tree with one of the only guys there, and then I made a beeline for the bar, doing what any respectable person would do in this situation: I got drunk very very quickly. I filled my party cup from a bottle of Chimay I’d brought and made my way out onto the patio.
The one friend of Jordan’s I knew was bobbing her head like an extra in a music video. I sat next to her in a semi circle of plastic chairs. “You have a fine array of magazines in your bathroom,” she said. Jordan had brought this friend over to my house for a Cards Against Humanity game night a week ago.
“Yeah, my collection is pretty expansive,” I said. Hello, I’m the well-read friend who’s known for the library in her toilet. If that’s not game, I don’t know what is.
The two-tier basket of reading materials next to my bathtub included but was not limited to a PostSecret book, an old New York Times Modern Love article, three Entertainment Weeklys, a Rolling Stone, a copy of Writer’s Digest, a book on how to make your dog stop barking, and an edition of MORE magazine, which magically started arriving in my mailbox the moment I turned 35 to shame me .
“That Psychology Today had some really interesting articles,” she said.
“It does,” I said, wondering just how long she’d sat on the can flipping through it. She was referring to the sociopath issue, the one with the article about how forcing yourself to smile actually made you more miserable.
“You can have it if you want,” I offered. She seemed to like this prospect. Why not give her a gift? This friendly early 20-something who had pronounced with surprise, “Drew Barrymore used to be hot?!” when I’d thrown on “Poison Ivy” after the card game.
Jordan approached me and asked if I was hungry. There was a bunch of Mexican food in the dining room if I wanted. I wasn’t hungry, but I usually fared better in quiet areas of parties where people could actually hear me, where I could try to talk my way out of things.
Inside I found a spread of Spanish rice, beans, grilled steak, chicken and tortillas. The homemade food made me feel more at home, welcome. Even the people on “The Real L Word” had mothers, and this one supported her gay daughter so much that she hosted all of her wannabe lesbi-gangsta friends in her home and fed them. And it seemed like she’d been doing it for years. I stacked my plate high and sat at the dining room table with a handful of women. To my right was a gal who had driven up from Long Beach. She resembled Mindy Kaling and was noting how the best thing to say to your significant other when they are totally pissed at you is, “Are you mad?”
The girl across from her was androgynous and complaining of how she was so hungover she barely made it to the party. She, too, had driven up from Long Beach. It dawned on me that I lacked the partying stamina of nearly every attendee of this fête . Two glasses of beer in, and I was already drunk. I cleaned my plate, hoping it would help me sober up so at some point I could have the prospect of leaving.
That’s when I noticed the middle-aged Asian lesbian with the short black hair talking to the mom who had prepared the meal. She was telling her that her partner had died in the spring. Then she burst into tears. “Don’t cry,” the mom said, not in an uncaring way, but in a “it’s life” kind of way. Everyone stared, the responsibility to nurture this woman dissipated in our numbers. The woman’s body heaved in earth-wrenching sobs, sobs that made my heart weep. And in my drunken state I decided to do something about it.
I rose to my feet and embraced the woman in a tight hug. She didn’t hug me back. She just stood there sobbing, separate from my body, from my well-intentions. I had intruded on her unintentionally public grief experience and somehow made it worse. I released her and marched back to my rice and beans.
The woman left the dining room. I tried to change the subject and discuss the food with two women from Malibu. One by one Mindy Kaling and her hungover friends trickled out until I had no choice but go to back outside.
I exited to the top of the stairs above the patio. The music was about 40 decibels louder. Jordan approached and introduced me to her closest “Real L Word” cast member friend. I extended my hand and said, “I’ve heard wonderful things about you.”
Jordan interjected, “You’ve heard horrible things about her? Come on!” The woman made an indifferent face and said nothing.
“No, I said wonderful…” I said. I looked over at the DJ. The music was booming so you couldn’t hear someone yelling an inch from your face.
She and Jordan drifted off to raise a Corona-shaped pinata, and I noticed the Asian woman sitting alone on a plastic chair. She refused to make eye contact with me. I went back to the bar and finished the bottle of Chimay and stood behind a group of partygoers as they tackled the pinata without blindfolds until the “Real L Word” cast member I’d met tripped on the candy and fell on her ass. Jordan howled in laughter. I picked up a lollipop from the ground, unwrapped it and placed it in my mouth as the group took photos to commemorate the good time they were having. I stood behind them as they mugged like badasses.
One of the Malibu women approached me. “I don’t feel like I belong here. You look like you don’t belong here either,” she admitted.
I laughed. “Hey, at least the beans were good,” I said.
I looked over my shoulder at the Asian woman. She was still sitting alone on the plastic chair, not drinking or eating anything, not trying to connect…smart woman. My strategy for this party had been entirely wrong. I sucked on my lollipop. My work here was done.