Danny

"Mom?" I holler through the house, shutting the front door behind me.

The echo of my feet makes the whole house vibrate as I trudge up the stairs. This new condo she bought still feels like some creepy rental that neither of us are able to call home yet. Being here is like a constant reminder that my dad's a shit head. 

As I arrive at the top of the stairs, I see my mom submerged in her comforter, her cat Pinkerton purring on her lap as she smooths the fur on its head. "Hi, Danny," she says, still staring at the TV.

"Hey what's up." I sit down and kick off my Vans. I notice the edge of this chair is shredded from Pinkerton's frisky midnight yearnings. 

"It's okay. Just watching 'Bachelor in Paradise.' I think Marissa is making a huge mistake."

I think she's making a huge mistake by watching this show. But I just nod.

"Where were you last night? I never heard you come in," she says.

"I was hanging out with June," I say, leaning back. I immediately regret saying this. It's like my truth is hanging in the air like an old fart, and she's just waiting to call me out on it.

"Oh," she responds.

As we stare at the TV in silence, I notice that Marissa's actually pretty hot. Just as I'm about to get up and grab a beer, my mom says, "So did anything happen with you two?"

Oh, yeah, mom. I licked her pussy, she sucked on my balls, and we had a grand old time. 

"Not really," I mutter as I get up to go to the fridge. 

"Ah. What does 'not really' mean?"

Though I'm 25 now, talking to my mom about girls still feels, and will always feel, like I'm 15 again, my face all gnarly with acne, and like I'm constantly hiding this chubby in my pants that I don't know what to do with.

"I don't know, sort of." Why do I keep talking? 

I grab the first beer that I see out of the fridge, and I'm wanting to open it so bad that I try to twist the top off, realizing that it's a can. 

"Okay, that's fine, you don't have to talk to me about it. It's not like I'm getting any grandchildren out of her or anything."

"Jesus, mom," I say, sitting back down in the chair.

Of course one of the girls on this show starts crying. 

"Well, you won't tell me anything."

"What am I supposed to tell you?"

She sighs. "I don't know, I'm letting you live here, rent-free, the least you could do is throw me some updates on your life every now and again. I don't see you for days and all I get is an 'I dunno.'"

"We hooked up, alright?" I take a big swig of beer.

She smiles and pets Pinkerton like a movie villain. "You 'hooked up'? Does that mean..."

"We zipped our hoodies together, what do you think it means?"

"Cute. I was just checking. You know, we used to call it 'getting lucky.' Do you guys ever call it that?"

"Only if we rolled a seven into a model's vagina." 

"Jeez, forget I asked."

"I'm trying to."

Figuring It Out will return in August! 

Second Cousin or First?

We smooch for a moment, but he pulls back.

"Woa, hey, let's just slow down for a second," he says.

I hear a train skidding off the rails and crashing into a lake in my head. "Okay," I say.

I sit back into the couch, facing the TV again. With every passing second of quiet infomercial murmur, I feel red hot embarrassment surge through my veins, washing away all the alcohol. 

"Sorry," I say, instantly feeling like that just made it worse.

"No, don't be."

"Okay..."

More silence. 

"So... should we play some Parcheesi?" I ask.

"June, don't be like that."

"Well, sorry, I don't know exactly how to act right now."

"I just can't make out with you."

"That's fine. I thought I'd go for it. You weren't into it. Let's move on."

"You're just such an old friend, you know? You're like a cousin."

If I had a penis, it would've retracted into my body by now. 

"Cool."

"June, come on."

Just then, my head fills with thoughts of home: of going back to the diner, of not knowing what to say to one of my best friends, of watching the petals of my youth fall from the long-stemmed rose that's tenuously holding my life together, and I feel like a mildly drunk loser. I start to cry. 

Mark brings me in for a hug. "Oh, June. Don't feel bad. Man, now I feel like an asshole."

"This isn't about you, asshole." I sniffle, pulling away. "Sorry, you're not an asshole. I'm just not looking forward to going home."

"Why?"

What I want to say is, 'Because I hate my job, I want to do something else but I don't know what that would be, and I'm disappointed that I hate it here. I'm worried that I don't know how to be happy.'

But what I actually say is, "You've got lipstick on your teeth." 

The Shamwow

I'm at Mark's house, and I already can't remember what I said to the Uber driver, let alone if I tipped him or not. My fingers scrambling around my purse for keys, I notice that the TV is on in the living room. I really hope it's Mark and not his unibrowed roommate.

I open the door to see Mark parked on the sofa, with a freshly showered head. "So, how was tonight?" As I come over to the couch and face him, he smiles wide enough to fit an RV camp across his mouth. There's something so comforting about a freshly cleaned, nice man.

"I don't know," I sigh, sliding next to him on his L-shaped "Brofa" (I thought up the bro-sofa over breakfast).

"That doesn't sound very good. What happened? Did you pee the bed?" He smiles, staring at the screen. 

"Yeah, I peed the bed. Turns out he's not into water sports." Grabbing the remote, I start flipping channels.

"Hey, I was watching that."

"The infomercial?" I return back to his regular programming, not looking at his face, trying to stave off a burp.

"Yeah. I'm this close to buying a Shamwow."

I look over at him. He's making the narrow hand signal, where his thumb and forefinger look like they're trying to crush me from a great distance. I don't know if it's my desire to end the night on an upswing, the tossled sheen in his hair, or the whiskey bubbles still kicking down my brain cells, but I lean over and kiss him. 

One Taco Short

We keep at it until he starts to remove himself from his pants. 

"Woa there, cowboy," I say.

"What?"

"Don't you want to... you know... 'warm me up' first?"

He smiles. "I don't know, you seem pretty warm already."

He tries to kiss me again, and I push him back. "Yeah, I don't mean cover me with blankets, I mean go down on me." I can tell my whiskey is wearing off.

"Oh. Well, yeah, I guess I could."

What a regular Casanova over here. "Do you not want to?" I ask.

He scratches his head, with his belt and pants still as open as a last-minute rummage sale. 

"I'm just...not that into doing... that."

"Going down on women?"

He sighs. I wonder if his Jagermeister is wearing off, too. "I'm just not a big fan."

"But you like putting your penis inside women, right?"

"Uh, huh, yeah." He smiles.

"Then why would you put your penis somewhere that you wouldn't put your mouth?"

He scoots back onto the couch, facing the wall. "Wait... what?"

Between the whiskey wearing off, his sheepish unwillingness to face my crotch, and the burp he just emitted while I've been staring at him, I've lost my appetite for dumb jock sex.

"I think I'm going to Uber on out of here," I say, snatching my purse and hurtling myself towards the door. I don't want to get the chance to look at his face or hear him say anything before I find myself on the street, wondering where the hell I am, in every way possible. 

 

Metamorphosis or the Trial?

Danny's place is exactly what I thought it'd be- mostly empty, except for a black leather sofa, and an oversized fish tank. 

"I gotta go pee, I'll be right back," he slurs, already undoing his belt buckle as he stumbles off to the door at the end of the hall.

I scan the room, knowing even through my whiskey cloud that this was a bad idea. Then I see a book by Franz Kafka on his shelf. Even I couldn't make it through Kafka, and I'm darker than a rainy Monday in January.

He emerges from the bathroom wiping his mouth. "So... you got a condom, or what?"

I laugh. "Uh, I'll take the second one. 'Or what.'"

"Huh?" He says. Something tells me that Kafka book was a gift.

"First of all, it's awfully presumptuous of you to assume I'm just going to have sex with you on the spot, and second, you haven't even kissed me yet."

"Well, let's fix that," he says, falling next to me on the couch, then planting his mouth on mine.

At first, I go to pull away, but he's a good kisser. A very good kisser. In fact, this is kind of hot.

At Least He Fixed the Washer

The club is a barrage of beautiful strangers with faces so clean and fresh, they're probably not born with it, it's gotta be Maybelline. I feel like a freshly-landed alien from the planet Plaid-Beard, on a planet of smooth white grins and caramel skins, with fluttering sequins and sparkles as far as the eye will bear. I say "club," but it's really more of a mansion-turned-bar/club, with small bars in the living room and bedrooms. With all of the little conversations happening along the walls and on the suede sofas (I wonder how difficult it is to get Bacardi barf out of suede), I keep reminding myself that this is a bar, and I didn't just crash Zac Efron's birthday party. 

As Mark, Danny and I meander from room to room with our drinks, we eventually stop in what might have once been the den. 

"What are you guys drinking, rum and cokes?" I ask.

They both look down at their glasses, look at each other, then look at me, and say, "Yeah."

"What are you drinking?" Mark asks.

"Whiskey. On the rocks. That must mean I have the biggest dick here," I say.

"Oh, wow- I guess we'll have to find out," says Danny, looking off into the glitter sea.

Scanning the crowd and each silky face giggling or drawing out their vowels ("Yaaaa" "I know-aaaa"), I'm getting that sinking feeling in my stomach again.

"So, everyone here is absolutely stunning," I say, taking a sip off my bourbon.

"Yep," they both say, staring at this lean, raven-haired vixen in the corner sipping from a champagne flute that has the grace and elegance of a first lady, but the body and mannerisms of a sought-after porn star. 

"How do you even begin a conversation with any of them? Do they give you the time of day?"

"Not really," Mark says, sipping from his drink. 

"So how do you guys get laid?" I ask.

They both laugh. Danny says, "Some of these chicks will put out, depending. Some of them are so grateful that you open the door for them that they'll have sex with you on the spot."

I scoff into my cup. "Has anyone ever actually had sex with you on the spot?"

"Once," Mark says wistfully.

"Yeah, once for me, too," says Danny.

"Was it because you opened the door for them?" I ask.

With a twinkle in his eye, Danny rearranges his stance to douchebag mountain pose: "No, it was in my apartment complex. I was in the laundry room, you know, doing my business, and this girl got her quarter jammed in the washing machine." 

I feel my eyes rolling like a couple of downhill marbles.

Danny continues, "So, I asked her if she needed help. Of course, being the proud babe that she was, she said she got it, but she clearly didn't. I happened to know where the tool kit was in the laundry room, and I ended up unscrewing the little coin slot thing and got it working again. She didn't have to pay for laundry after that. And then we did it on the drier."

"Bullshit!" Mark says, laughing and spilling droplets from his drink.

"Yeah, seriously. That sounds like a bad porn you watched last night. Oh, I'm sorry, that's redundant- any porn."

"It happened. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it happened. We did it on the drier. It was stupid hot."

I ask, "Did you guys exchange phone numbers or anything? Did you ever see her again?"

"Nope. I think that she was just really grateful that she didn't have to pay for laundry anymore, and it made her really horny."

Mark says, "Usually people just write on my Facebook wall or send me a card."

"Were you shirtless and wearing a toolbelt, too?" I ask, finishing my last drop of whiskey.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Danny asks, smirking into his cup.

His smugness makes me want to throw up and kiss him at the same time. I excuse myself and go inside to get another whiskey, and find out which one it'll be.

 

The Brief and Wondrous Life of June's Days in LA

Tonight is my last night in LA, and all the conversations I've had here are leaving me somewhere between placid and depressed. Glancing at my phone, I see my last text from Mark says, "I'll be home around ten, and we're going out." I look at my phone, which says it's 10:27, and I go back to reading my Junot Diaz book on Mark's L-shaped taupe sofa. I remember reading an article that says L-shaped sofas are very in with bros. 

At that moment, the front door bursts open next to me in a torpedo of overwhelming Axe scent. 

"Shots-shots-shots-shots- oh wait," says the culprit.

His blond spikes reach for the ceiling in an almost impressive erection, highlighting his tanned face, piercing blue eyes glazed in what smells like rum, and a baby blue polo shirt accompanying slacks. He's panting, and is the type of man I'd see at a shitty club that I'd only be at for a friend's birthday party, and just keep walking.

He stops in the middle of the living room, scanning it. "Where'sssMark?" He asks me.

"Not sure. He said we were going out at ten."

"Oh. What time is it?"

"10:30."

"Oh. Okay."

He sits down on the couch and doesn't say anything, so I go back to reading. Clearly this is not appropriate social etiquette; a better person would engage him in conversation. But given his general smell and the fact that he's swaying like a willow in the wind on the couch, I don't think he'll know the difference.

"Whatcha reading?" He asks, sniffling and still panting.

"Oh, it's 'This is How You Lose Her.' It's a bunch of short stories about failed relationships."

"Oh."

We don't say anything to each other for what feels like 5 years. I'm starting to feel like I'm in a failing relationship myself.

Is That How You Buy a Latte

His black ponytail hangs off of his head in a flowing mane, pointing to his plain white t-shirt, '90s mom jeans, and black Vans. I still can't remember his name. All the voices in the marketplace surrounding us meld into a cocoon of soft noise.

"Yes, I'm June. It's nice to meet you."

I shake his hand. I think my hand might be stronger.

We sit down at the coffee bar, flooded with beautiful baristas in fashionable eyewear. Without hesitation, ponytail says to the barista steaming milk in front of him, "cappuccino." She nods.

"Did you want something?" He asks me.

"Uh, I'll have the same," I say."

Within what feels like seconds, she hands us off two drinks, and he's sneaking some covered amount of money into her hand. They nod at each other, and now I have a cappuccino, after waiting ten minutes in line and getting nowhere. 

Ponytail turns to me and says, "So, I don't have a ton of time, I'm on my lunch break. But what would you like to know about the film industry? Andrew said you were interested in getting into film. What would you like to do, what's your goal?"

Taking a sip from my latte, I try to quiet the acid overflowing in my stomach, checking with my left hand to see that my shirt is still fully buttoned in the back. "Well, I just know I've always been interested in film. I've always been a total movie dork, and I think I might be interested in getting into some kind of film job, but I'm not sure what that is or if that's possible yet." God I sound like an idiot. And I've probably still got dog shit on my shoe.

I'm glad he can't hear this internal monologue. He responds, "Okay. Well, I've done... pretty much everything there is to do in this industry. I've obviously been a PA; the set bitch, if you will. Now I'm shooting commercials, doing more production coordinator work. What I can tell you is that it's a tough industry. I mean, half the year you're working 14-hour days, the other half you're unemployed. I guess if you're a PA in LA, there's almost always work available. But it's tough, it's grueling. And some people just are going to treat you like shit, and you have to be ready for that."

Is anyone ever ready for that?

"Writers can be real dickheads, too," he adds.

I smile.

We talk a little longer; about our backgrounds, experiences we've had. 

Then I ask the question that's been nagging me since I landed. "How is it living in LA?"

He shrugs. "I don't know, I mean, I'm from here, so, I'm-"

"You're more defensive of it?" I ask.

"No, I hate it. I'm actually in the process of moving to New York next year. I'm just so over this place, you know? People in clubs are such assholes, and everyone else is nice, but in a very artificial way. And it's so hard to just go out and like, have a drink with friends after work. After such long days at work, the last thing you want to do is get back in your car and drive an hour for one drink. It just seems so much easier to have friends in New York, from my experience."

I nod. Suddenly it feels like I've swallowed a black hole, and everything around me spins.

After a few more minutes of questions about where we grew up and went to school, he says he has to go back to work, and we get up. He gives me a hug good bye.

"Good luck. Let me know if you end up moving down here. 

As I watch him walk away, I hear the Verve song come on faintly through the marketplace speakers. This song came on after I lost my virginity, seemingly every time in high school I got into a massive fight with my mom in the car, when I found out I got into my first choice college, and when I moved home. Now, standing in the doorway of this place that might as well be in a foreign country, this repetitive, over-played song is on again, and I'm reminded of all the other times before this that I knew something big just shifted. 

Always Carry a Wardrobe Change

"Thanks," I say, as he bows and sits back down, next to his shopping cart, whistling "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain."  

I look at the bottom of my right shoe; there's a thick smear of (let's hope it's) dog poo layering my beautiful wedge. With a little time and obsessive scraping with a pen I found on the ground, most of the poo seems to vanish (at least I hope it does), and I'm power-walking to my rental car to meet up with Mr. Film Industry man- key to my future. 

After a half hour of swerving, gagging, and sweating through the highway, I park in a lot where I could probably get towed. As I exit my car and walk through the parking garage, my stretchy jeans glue to my sticky, hot legs, while sweat trickles down my spine and across the bottom of my feet, making my wedge heels suddenly feel like I'm trying to walk barefoot on icicle stilts. Between pulling up my jeans, using my right hand to keep the buttons in the back of my shirt from unhooking, rubbing my poo shoe against the ground, and trying not to fall down, I wonder how I've made it this far.

I make momentary peace with my outfit, and look around the converted warehouse. The website made this marketplace look really charming. I pictured it to be full of barrels of fresh dates, and old Jewish ladies wearing kerchiefs on their heads, selling rugelach in threes; a hidden cheap escape from the usual overpriced, trendy boutique LA restaurants. Apparently this is not the case; this marketplace is just smaller, kiosk versions of said restaurants pressed next to each other, dispersed intermittently with fish stands.  

After purchasing an egg sandwich and a teaspoon of 6 dollar orange juice, I find the coffee shop where Mr. Film Industry man, who's actual name I suddenly realize I can't remember (fuck) told me to meet him. I stand in the back of the line, behind a girl slightly shorter than me, with a butt thinly veiled with yoga pants that I can't help but stare at.  

She is 50 shades of chemically-induced dark; piercing black hair, dihydroxyacetone skin, false eyelashes. Her default face is pursed lips; as though she's waiting for the moment where a photographer will burst out of the barrel of dates and snap her picture, elevating her to instant fame. She is the type of girl who bleaches her butthole and has an agent. I'm the type that has untamed crotch hair and eats salad with my hands.   

She sees a guy with pink pants and a creamy Ralph Lauren polo and screeches. "Oh my gawd, Bobby! It's been, like, forevs!"

He comes up to her and they give each other a hug that says "It's good to see you, but you might have Ebola."

He puts his hand on his waist. "Oh my god, I know! LOL! How have you been? Did you get that part?" 

"No, but my agent already has something else lined up for me, so I'm like, whatevs."

Just as I'm like whatevs with this conversation, I feel a tap on my shoulder, and I swivel around. 

"Are you June?"

Fool Me Once, Shame on Poo

The next day is figuring out Santa Monica. As I stroll in my wedges down Main street, I witness cafes filled with old, injected ladies and little accessory dogs, UC students studying, or enjoying June found freedom. Amidst the neon white smiles and crocodile shoes, every sixth person is a man pushing a shopping cart, with a mane of stringy hair running through the back of an Orioles cap.

Wandering through the streets like a lost puppy, everyone looks foreign to me. Between the acrylic, bleach, and smog, I wonder if walking down this street every day would eventually second-hand poison me. I also wonder if anyone here is neurotic enough to have thoughts like that. But it's LA; at least one of these people have to be Jewish.  

Reaching into my sprawling handbag, I pull out my ear buds, just to remember what familiar sounds like. Smiling briefly at the man beneath the Orioles cap who is now sitting down next to his shopping cart to wipe his brow as I pass, I click on Spotify on my phone, checking the time. I've still got an hour before I meet up with Mr. Film Industry man who's name I can't remember, who will hopefully give me some answers about my future.

I stop to focus on the screen, and press "play." The thundering beat and electronic plinks whoosh me back to every time I've listened to this song; when I watched walls of rocks go by on a crowded bus in Israel, smoked weed in my room and felt too much at once, and my last night in Portland. That kiss. His hands moving up my leg. My front steps digging into me, scraping my back while he pressed himself closer...

A hand taps my shoulder. I whip around, taking out one of my earbuds. It's the homeless Orioles fan.

"You've got poop on your shoe." 

He Looks Like a Waxy Mel Gibson

The inside of the house is very small, but stuffed from one wall to the other with smooth-faced Los Angelites sitting in rows of chairs. Mark, Ally McBeal's antagonist and I are sitting on a sinking couch, facing the living room; presumably the stage for the evening. We are so close together that if any one of us were to sneeze at that moment, it would result in a big, hairy sandwich. And I would definitely be the meaty center.

"So... are you guys dating, or what?" The antagonist turns to ask me, her curls framing her piercing gaze and creepy little smirk. 

"No, no, we're just friends," I rush to correct. I pull the hem of my dress down, covering my thighs. "He's all yours." I turn to look at him and smile. He rolls his eyes and goes back to his phone.

She tosses her hair out of her face. "Oh, no, ha, I was just curious. I couldn't tell. I felt some tension in the room, and you were making all those sex jokes in line."

The only tension I'm feeling is coming from her pant suit. "No, I just talk like that. And I'm a big slut, so I could see how it would come off that way."

She nods slowly. 

The first comedian steps up to the mic. His hair coifs into rows of sandy waves, his nose boldly introduces the rest of his face.

"Do you ever just want to, like, kill all of your co-workers? Just murder them cold?" 

The audience and I chuckle, unsure if this is the joke, or if it's yet to come.

"...And then you realize you can't kill them, and instead just bring them doughnuts every day, so you can maybe slowly kill them over time?"

We all shift uncomfortably in our seats. I feel a twinge in my chest. 

Comedians pepper the next hour with jokes about living in Hollywood and how Macklemore is overrated. With the exception of a few decent punchlines, I spend the show thinking about what I'm going to do tomorrow, and trying not to accidentally touch Mark or witch woman in a zone of no return. 

The final act is a leathery specimen named Tommy in matching leather pants. At least ten years older than any of the prior comics, he saunters around the room like a waxy Mel Gibson. 

"So how's everybody doing tonight? Is anyone as coked out as me?"

I look around the room, and everyone is still shifting in their seats. I can't tell if that's a joke, or a plea for one of us to call a hotline.

His rant (because it is more of a rant than an act) rambles on four times as long as anyone else's set. He shoots a series of "So I says to her I says" and "ums" so fast that I wonder if he's actually reciting a noir film backwards. By the end, everyone in the room is fidgeting almost as much as he is.

After the show, Mark says his goodbyes to some friends on our way out, and we tumble onto the front sidewalk, into air so stagnant and warm that I wonder if we've walked into somebody's mouth. Ally McBitch appears behind us. 

"So what was your takeaway joke of the night? I loved the bit about the dog. I don't know why, but the brown dog joke just got me." Her sugary, cloying tone makes her sound like she could be trying out for Entertainment Tonight. 

"I'm not sure what mine was," Mark responds. "But you know that last comic, Tommy? I worked for his agent for a little while, we used to get beers together and smoke weed outside this little shithole in Silverlake. Hey, Tommy!" Mark yells at Tommy, who looks up from his conversation with the stringy girl who admitted us into the show. 

Tommy kisses her hand and I feel the plane peanuts from a few hours ago rise up in my stomach. He saunters over to us with his chest puffed and his eyes glazed, as if he had just ejaculated. "Thanks for coming, guys."

"Tommy, do you remember me?" Mark says.

He shrugs and says, "Maybe if you hum a few bars." He looks at me and smiles. He mouths, "who is this this guy?"

"I used to work with Dan Soloman," Mark reminds him.

I'm smiling and my eyes are saying "Hey Mark, it's time to go," but he isn't looking at me. Unfortunately, Tommy is.

"I don't think she knows what the hell you're talking about, either, guy."

"No, no, I'm just starving," I reassure, at the sight of Mark's sad face. "I haven't eaten since this morning."

"Oh. Are you visiting?" Tommy asks me. 

Why does everybody keep asking me that? "Yeah, I'm from Portland."

"Oh, Portland," Tommy gushes. He gets a far-off twinkle in his eye, like I just reminded him of his first kiss.

"You know, I love Portland. And Portland has a surprisingly good comedy scene, too," Tommy says.

"I was just saying the same thing!" says the soulless she-devil. I look at her through a furrowed brow, and she shrugs and smirks at me again.

"Were you? I thought you hated Portland for its nature smell and wild turkeys."

"Wild turkeys?" Tommy asks.

"Yeah, apparently she had a bad experience with some turkeys. I think she owed them money."

Tommy smiles at me. I have a bad feeling about it.

"Figuring It Out" will return in January! Stay tuned for "LA- Part 2."

Babes in LA LA Land

Already, I feel like a foreigner, and I've only been here for six hours. More twenty-somethings trickle into the line filing down the driveway, all of whom are clean, clear, and under control. In Portland, going out usually includes a lot of unwashed hair, piercings, and an active attempt at looking "earthy." This crew has weirdly pore-less skin, shirts that have been ironed recently (!), and the guy in front of me wearing $200 jeans smells like kittens. Everyone in line is emitting an air of casual importance and expensive hair wax. 

The plants covering the wall of this house jut out in a starfish pattern, and I can’t help but step over to them, touch their stringy feelers, and smell their buds. I turn around and notice there are about fifteen people in line now, and all of them are staring at me. I wonder if being interested in nature in LA is like wearing a pro-choice t-shirt at a rodeo. 

“Heyyy Sam,” I hear this chick say to my friend, coming up to us from behind.

She's slender and in a business pantsuit, with rows of curly, dark waves bubbling down her face. She's pretty, but in an Ally McBeal's antagonist sort of way. 

“Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you guys!” She tells the people behind us. She’s doesn't seem sorry.

I tell her, “I love your hair, it’s great.”

“Thanks.” She looks at me like I just handed her a toothbrush, and we’re in prison. “So, are you visiting?” 

“Yeah, I’m from Portland.” 

“Oh, Portland. You know, I like Portland. I really do. But I have three reasons I could never live there.” 

“Yeah? What are they?” I'm already regretting asking this.

“Oh, well, first of all, it’s too small. I mean, my friends and I walked around, what was it, the Northwest? And that was nice, you know. Then we walked up to, I think it was like, The Pearl? There were some pretty cool little shops, but that was like, it. I feel like I saw everything there was to see in three days.” 

I nod. The line moves an inch forward. She only mentioned two neighborhoods, that happen to be right next to each other. “Yeah, Portland is pretty small.”

“And my second thing is the smell. Smelling all that pine and pot smoke, I can’t do it. I mean, I don’t judge people for that lifestyle choice, I just couldn't handle smelling that rustic smell all the time. I don’t do nature, I’m a city girl. I just know that I need to be an aggressive, urban environment. That’s what I like about LA; it’s very fresh, very cosmopolitan.”

I try to hide the grimace that just wants to splay all over my face. “Yeah, totally. So what’s your third reason?” 

She folds her arms. “The wild turkeys. I just don’t think I could handle getting attacked by wild turkeys.”

Bitch be cray. “Erm, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I've never seen a wild turkey before.”

She looks at me for a moment. “Oh wait, that was in Eugene. That’s right.”

The line is finally starting to move, eventually pushing us to the front, where a very tall wafer-like girl who might have been recently faxed over from "Glamour" scans my friend’s phone, and ushers us inside. The moment we step through the back door, I smell pot smoke.

“Does it smell too rustic in here for you?” I ask Sam’s friend, who's behind me.

“What?” she asks.

“Nothing." 

 

LA- Part One

As I look out the plane porthole, I suddenly feel excitement wave through my skin. The ground below is buzzing with a sea of lights; I know we must be in Los Angeles. I've always been enticed by LA; America's cultural epicenter, a city built on dreams getting crushed or made. Not only is LA a cultural hub for America, but also for the world. Whether we've put drones in Pakistani skies, or wiped out the Panamanian government, people all over the world still watch Friends and The Simpsons, and I want in on it. 

A couple hours later, I find myself following Sam around Hollywood, with an empty stomach. It's a predictably warm night; not so warm that my thighs are Velcro-ing together, but so mild and pleasant, that with the hazy pink sunset, I almost feel like I'm inside of a hotel painting. The rows of houses all look very modest and similar, but like a bunch of wealthy oil kids in their first year of college; pretending to be normal, while actually worth millions. 

"I can't remember where they live," Sam says.

Sam and I have been searching for his friends' house (that he's been to) for twenty minutes. He and I have known each other since he was the only boy in Kindergarten who would play Legos with me. Also, we bonded over the fact that our sneakers lit up.

Sam moved to Chicago in the second grade, but since our moms became friends, we would talk every now and again. I've shared awkward "How's it going"-s with him at a few Holiday parties here and there, but the last time we've had any sort of real conversation was at the Lego station. Now I'm just trying to figure out if he's stoned. 

"Wouldn't there be a lot of people in front of this house? This is like a pretty well-known comedy show, right?" I ask.

"Yeah... Wait, here it is."

There's a line of four people standing in a driveway.

"Wow, it looks pretty popular," I say.

"Nah, it is. We're just ridiculously early so we can actually score chairs."

We don't talk for a minute, which gives me proper time to visually catch up with him. He's wearing nice slacks and nicer shoes. I'm still not really sure what his job is, but he's clearly doing something where he has to wear a tie. LA has shown its light on him, turning his charming belly into hardened man-muscle, his skin from "Buttermilk" to "Latte." Velvet fuzz lines his cheeks and jawline now. He's come a long way from the weird, chubby kid in turtlenecks. 

"Hey, thanks again for letting me stay on your couch, I really appreciate it," I say.

"Yeah, no problem. I owe you one after you let me stay on your couch after I drank all that punch at the last Connor Christmas party."

"Yeah, hah. You were out like a light."

He shrugs. "One of many reasons why I don't drink rum."

How to Forget Last Night

I wake up in a pile of my own hair. Instantly I smell whiskey, and want to vomit. Through a squint, I look down my body, and see that I'm still wearing my bra, and the right leg opening of my underwear looks weirdly stretched out. At first I'm annoyed, but then I remember I bought these underpants when I was 16.  

A little "mmm" sound wafts from next to me, and I look over to see Danny's face. Suddenly all of my skin feels too tight, and the room feels like a scene from "Syriana." I need to get the fuck out of here.

Danny's bedroom is filled with trash. I don't mean like the time he and I got in an argument about how his DVD collection was trash, I mean literal trash. I'm talking gum wrappers, old coffee cups, Luna bar wrappers (aren't those supposed to be formulated for women?) and an empty container that used to house Fred Meyer briefs, with that buff, mostly-naked man-God on the cover grinning up at me, as if to say in an almost Nelsonian way, "Ha-ha!"

Somewhere in his swarm of laundry, I spot my skirt, my leggings, and my shirt with the quiet hole in the armpit. Once I'm mostly dressed, I reach for his bedroom door, and in a flash, I'm walking away from his house at a more than brisk pace, while trying to slip on my shoes and shove my arm into my coat. The gray sky starts to drizzle, and I've finally gotten both my shoes on. I stop at the intersection. I try to think through my thick, 40 proof headache, but all I know is that I need coffee. 

Stumptown is its usual mix of people in cool, round glasses on laptops and scruffy-looking 22-year-olds reading their horoscopes and nursing their Pabst-overs. 

"Hi, what can I get you?" Snotty McMoustache asks me from behind the counter. I don't even remember standing in line. 

"Uh, could I get a soy latte for here?" I ask.

"Sure, what size?"

"Big." Really, June? 

"So, a 16 ounce then?"

I nod. He stares at his computer screen. 

"How's your day going?" I ask.

"Good." He doesn't look up. We share a year of silence.

"That'll be $4.90." He still doesn't look up. 

After I retrieve my latte, I notice the only spot left open is at the bar by the windows, with a half-empty glass sitting in front of it. 

Not All Dads Go to Heaven

We get our beers, and Danny's face is oddly calm. It's not a real calm, though; it's like the eye of the storm. We know more torrential downfall is coming, more broken houses and tidal waves. But for the moment, we're just waiting.

"So, why do you think your dad's cheating on your mom," I ask Danny, handing over a wad of cash to the bartender. She nods her head, and pushes two more beers in front of us. The bar now only includes us, a punk couple sitting in the corner, and a pile of gray hair and flannel, sleeping in his beer, his head down on the bar. For some reason, Katy Perry is playing. 

Danny gets out his phone from his pocket, showing me a text bubble from "Dad":

"Thanks for last night. I haven't had that much fun in a long time. You're great, LOL. Talk 2 U soon. Pete."

I look at him with eyes practically outside my head. "Jesus. That can't have been meant for you."

"I don't know what's more disturbing; the fact that my dad texts like a 15-year-old cheerleader, or the text itself."

"Yeah, god. 'LOL'?"

Danny runs his hands through his hair, looking directly at the wall. I notice his knee is slightly shaking. 

He says, "I really, really, REALLY don't want to know what kind of fun they were having. My dad never does anything, I've never seen him go on any wild dates with my mom. If their date was anything like how he usually has fun, then they probably went hunting, drank some Bud Lights and watched Charlie Rose."

I shake my head and quiver. Bud Lights. "Is there any chance that that was meant for your mom? Or that it was some kind of joke?"

He takes a big sip from his pint. "Not really. The thing is, this isn't the only clue. My mom has noticed my dad's been around a lot less lately, and he's been acting shady with both of us. And my mom found some panties in the wash that weren't hers. Also, some woman called their house last week, asking for my dad. It's like from a really, really shitty movie."

I scan his face, searching for any hint of tears. He's still stone. 

"So....are you going to tell your mom about the text?" I ask. 

He looks down at his pint, making lines in the condensation with his finger. "I don't know."

"Well, don't you think you should? Especially if she's already suspicious..."

In all the years I've known Danny, I've gotten to know all of his looks. He has his uncomfortable "I don't want to be here" with his eyes bugging out, his low slouch while looking at his Converse, and he has a smile that always makes me feel like everything's going to be alright. But his look right now is one I haven't ever seen before. I can see the burden in his eyes, and weirdly, it almost makes him look more masculine. 

"I don't know, June. Why do you always have to over-analyze everything? I don't know what I'm going to do, and I'm probably not going to figure it out by the time I finish this beer."

I want to say a lot of things. I want to point out that he came to me with this problem, that he got me out of bed with my hot dumbass lover and now he suddenly doesn't want to talk about it, and that he's just avoiding his problems, like he always does. But some part of me knows this won't accomplish anything, and instead I just say, "Okay." Danny says to the bartender, "Excuse me, miss? Can we get two whiskeys over here?" I already know this is going to be a weird night.

On The First Day, There Was Social Studies

"My hair feels chewy," I said, staring into one of my curls.

I was fifteen, and not paying any attention to Mr. Davenport, alongside everyone else in the classroom. I think he was talking about Margaret Thatcher and bees and maybe something about coats. Since I'd transferred into this fifth period circus two months ago, I'd slowly made my way from always looking at the front of the classroom, to only talking to Danny, behind me. 

"'Chewy'? Have you chewed your hair recently?" Danny asked. The delight in his tone, accompanied by his silent laugh made me feel important and funny- mission accomplished.

Danny was funny. He drew robots and abstract cartoon characters doing dark things on his notebooks, and he remembered everything. He was wiry and always had the faintest of bags under his eyes, but they almost went with his pale skin, shaggy hair, and high-top Converse that created his lost, depressive teen boy-ensemble. 

He wasn't conventionally attractive, and the fluorescent lighting of our public school only aided in all of us feeling hideously awkward. But Danny was weird, and I knew that I liked that.

I dated him for six weeks after I told him about my chewy hair. (Six weeks in dumbass Freshmen time is roughly a year and a half.) We would get coffee, or sushi, and make out in the park near his house. Whenever we'd kiss, I'd always feel so big and lumbering; I was all breasts, stomach, and hips, slathered up against his bony body. I felt like Jabba the Hut trying to fondle the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. 

It was a rainy, dreary Tuesday when he broke up with me. He pulled me aside in the hallway one day, saying he wanted to talk to me. I wore this ugly green shirt that I suddenly became aware wasn't fully covering my stomach. He said he thought things should "probably slow down." I felt like a pile of green Jell-O. The worst part was, I wasn't even that into him. Our kisses were out of sync and our dates were "meh," which made it even more insulting that he was ending things with me

"Let's just try to stay friends. I think that would be best," he reassured me.

Then something weird happened- we actually stayed friends. We partied all the way through high school, went away to distant colleges, and returned back to our city, ready to figure out ourselves, our careers, adulthood, and pick up where we left off. 

Now we are 25, sitting at the shady-ass bar a block away from his house, and he's got something very important that he needs to tell me, that couldn't wait until I was NOT in bed with my man-candy. 

"I think my dad's cheating on my mom."

I stare at him for a second, then say to the bartender with myriad piercings walking by, "Can we get two more IPAs?"

Here's Hoping

My grandmother’s living room is beautiful and sad. Her walls are festooned with portraits she painted throughout her life, when she could still hold a paintbrush for hours, when my grandfather would sit and do the crossword in the other room. Even though I sit in this turquoise chair every week, I still feel the weight of my grandpa’s absence in it. The only people that sit in it now are me or my grandma, when she draws with fine tip pens, or tries to figure out how to use her cell phone. 

Sitting around her coffee table littered in doilies and grandchild photos, I take yet another tiny cookie from the plate on the coffee table, praying that my aunt and my grandma will NOT ask me about my love life.

"So, do you have a boyfriend?" My grandmother asks.

My grandmother is the most stylish you can find in today's grandma market: she is thinner than me, taller than me, and only wears clothes that fit perfectly. Her coif of short hair enables her to pull off the most extravagant of hats with effortless chic. Sitting in my chair while scarfing down cookies, I look down at my torn pantyhose, my right boot's broken zipper, and my green sweater, pooching at the belly, also with quiet moth holes in one sleeve. If she's Chanel, then I'm Target. 

I snatch another cookie from the coffee table, trying to land back on the chair. "Um, no. Not really." Suddenly I'm very busy with chewing.

She nods slowly, her mouth a straight line. "Well, you'll meet someone."

"Yeah, here's hoping." I'm surprised to hear that come out of my mouth.

"Are you still working at, well, what was the name of your restaurant again, dear?"

This is a loaded question. It's not just that my grandmother "conveniently" can't remember the stupid name of the restaurant I work at, it's that she, the ex-head of the Portland Opera Board, the interior decorator for the mayor, and an old-world East Coast Jew raised in the Depression can't fathom how a college-educated woman, let alone of her own lineage, would subject themselves to a job who's most frequent question is: "Fries or tater tots?"

"Yes, I'm still working there. But I've been looking for something else." Half-true.

"Have you contacted my friend yet?" My aunt pipes in. Aunt Sharon is the eldest of three, and acts as the vice-matriarch, the diligent daughter, and the all-seeing aunt. She, too, has hosted more than a soiree or two in her day. Though she technically became a housewife after pumping out a couple kids with an accomplished oncologist, you'd never know, as she's always on the board of directors for the latest trending non-profits. She also knows I have not contacted her friend yet.    

"Darren is so knowledgeable, he could surely get you in touch with someone at the Lewis and Clark psychology department. That could also help you get into grad school."

I nod. "Yeah, but I majored in fine art, and failed my freshman year psychology class, so I'm not sure I'd qualify."

The air suddenly feels brimming with silence. 

After seemingly forty years of quiet and exchanged looks between aunt and g-ma, I say, "How about these, cookies, eh? What is this, mint?" 

~

The feeling of his tongue slithering down my ear feels somewhere between awful and compelling. Then he starts licking my neck.

"Okay, okay. That's good," I say.

He pulls away, then lays on his back. After a few moments, he leans over and snatches his phone from the floor on his side of my bed, scrolling through Facebook. The room has a strange hum to it, like it's still reeling from the past half hour of sweat beads and moans. It's collecting all of the moments where we felt connected; so fleeting, like a match lighting before it evades, and we're left wondering if it ever happened at all.

"How was your grandma's?" He asks. I'm always surprised when he seems interested in my life.

"It was....normal. What did you do today?"

"I almost got a job." He says this while still scanning his phone. 

"Oh! What do you mean, 'almost'?"

He runs his hand through his hair. "Well, I was supposed to get this construction job, and the guy was totally ready to give it to me, but then a bunch of guys that used to work for the company came back, and-"

I prop myself up on my right elbow, to look at him while he talks. I wish I were interested in what he had to say; I wish he and I were sharing laughs, and enjoying that split second where I could finally be on the same page with someone, perfectly synchronized, landing in each other's smiles. As he talks about a couple of other job leads and this one might really go somewhere, but he's in no rush because he actually sort of likes being on unemployment, I hear my phone go off on my bedside table.

I say "excuse me" to Todd, but I'm not sure that he notices. I unlock my phone and see a text from Danny- my chest seizes. It says, "We need to talk."

Whipped Expectations

If I weren't already feeling depressed about my birthday, the Lion’s Den certainly won’t help. The minute I walk through the Budweiser flag-adorned entrance, I smell cigarettes and lemon pledge. Frowning faces litter the bar, alongside years of dashed dreams and expectations, swathed in flannel. Old men’s sagging faces slurp overflowing pints, which I can only imagine are not their firsts of the night. The bartender bursting through his belly shirt giggles with a Hispanic man in a black Matrix coat at the edge of the bar. A very flat rendition of “Your Own Personal Jesus” perseveres from the other room.

Stepping around the corner, I see a room full of the usual Portland mix; beards and gauged ears, flowing Saturday Market skirts and middle-aged women with hair that hasn't known its real color since the ‘80s. A girl that looks like she just turned 17 is singing "Baby Got Back." Monica is sitting at a table at the back of the room, with a few other girls. My friend Angie seems to have already found them. If there’s one thing Angie knows how to do, it’s find friends.          

“Hey Ang, how do you know Monica?” I ask, setting down my coat on the empty chair next to her.

“Monica, actually, hooked up with my brother, and dated his friend haha,” she says. "Happy birthday, by the way!"

“Wait, it’s your birthday? Why didn't you tell me?” Monica asks. The concern on her face makes me want to roll up into a ball, for some reason. 

“Yeah, sorry. I’m just not that into it this year, I guess.”

“Are you going to get a drink? Let me buy you one,” Angie says, getting up.

We walk back over to the bar, and Angie shouts at the bartender, “It’s her birthday!", pointing at me. He pours a shot that could make Charlie Sheen blush. If Charlie Sheen could blush. 

“It is? Oh, we’ll take care of you, don’t worry,” the bartender says, his t-shirt revealing a window into his hairy belly. 

I’m worried.

Twenty minutes later, while I’m sitting at a table with mostly ladies tee-hee-ing with each other, the karaoke jockey announces through his mic, “Some-body’s got a BIRTHDAY… Will JUNE come to the stage? And bring a friend!”

I get up and walk to the front, feeling the room’s eyes on me as Angie follows. From the dark kitchen door, a waitress with cat eye glasses emerges, carrying a chair, and a shot smothered in whip cream. She sets the chair on the the tiled floor and hands the shot to Angie, sulking off. This is clearly not the first time she's done this.

Angie sits down in the chair, placing the shot between her legs. “Ready, June?”

Suddenly, my memory transports me back to the first time I took a shot off of another girl, when I was eighteen. I remember the whole scene very vividly; it was the first time I used my fake ID, and I had never been more proud of myself. I walked into the mostly Irish bar, my new Ukrainian girl friend from the dorms handing me a shot glass containing a liquid that looked like a very positive urine sample, saying, “Hold this.”

Being three shots to the wind already, I very willingly complied, watching her lie down on one of the long wooden tables. She snatched the shot out of my hand, and lifted her shirt to expose her stomach, placing the glass on it as she lied back down. Her stomach was so flat; mine hadn't looked like that since I was 5, before I even knew I wanted that.

“Take the shot,” she demanded.

“What?” I asked, stumbling.

“Take it off my stomach. You can’t use your hands.”

With my head cocked forward like a hungry pigeon and my recently-bought lace shirt struggling to cover my boobs, I shuffled over to her, suctioning the edges of the shot glass to my lips. With one singular swoop of my head back, I felt the burning liquid collide with my throat, immediately heating my chest and face. I placed the shot glass back down on the table after it was emptied, and looked around. A group of balding men smiled at me, clapping, hollering, “That was so hot!" and, “Nooiiiiice!”

At that moment, I felt like I had the power of the world in my hand. I was the pinnacle of youth and vitality, the desired object in the room, the thing we use to sell tires and toothpaste. I was the hot college girl that took shots off of bellies and wore short skirts and received applause at the bar. And I only just discovered that I could do that.

Now, staring down into the pile of whipped cream and Bailey’s tightly placed between my friend’s thighs, I’m suddenly sad. At that wooden bar in college, with my fake ID, I had the entire world in front of me. Now, on my 25th birthday, all I have in front of me is the same shirt I've had for five years, and some quickly deflating whipped cream.

I cock my head forward, pursing my lips, taking the shot back like so many before me. Everyone claps their hollow, obligatory claps, while laughing with their friends, cream decorating my face. These claps sound off like the sad reminder that I’m here on my birthday, with a bunch of vague acquaintances that probably don’t remember my name.

After sitting back down with Angie at the table, Monica asks, “So, how does it feel to be 25?”

I shrug. “Not what I thought.”