Alphabet: A History – (B) Brentwood

This is a series of autobiographical vignettes inspired by Dear Wendy’s series of the same name. The idea is loosely based on Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

All of my stories can be found here.
***

It’s 1995 and I am about to turn 17 years old. My parents have binders full of SAT information, transcripts and college brochures that they spend their evenings painstakingly organizing after putting in long days running their own business. We are about to embark on a week long trip to tour colleges in southern California. The thought of college paralyzes me.

I am mired in the day to day of my friends, of boys, of high school in general. All of that is already enough. I don’t do my own dishes or cook my own dinner. I have a job and a car payment but I am hardly independent. I avoid thinking about the next stage of my life at every opportunity. I want it all to stay the same so badly — I want to hit the pause button on my life. I want to scream, “WAIT! I’M NOT READY!” But the universe has other plans. The next three years of my life will be full of change. So much change, in fact, that the current life that I am dying to hold on to will almost become unrecognizable at the end. But I don’t know this, and I wait for the next step to unfold.

We pack up the family Suburban — The Urban Assault Vehicle, as my dad calls it — and we head down to Los Angeles. It is sprawling and I hate it. Too much traffic, too many people, too much asphalt. I feel a lump of panic bubble up in my throat just sitting on the 405. I don’t know where I want to end up but I know this isn’t it. Unsurprisingly, I hate UCLA. “It feels like a concrete jungle” I tell my parents. But before we leave Los Angeles we *HAVE* to drive through Brentwood. This is 1995 and my mom has spent the entire summer glued to the television watching every detail of the OJ Simpson trial unfold. She can map out all the streets and routes, she knows the time lines and the key players. She needs to see it in person instead of through the filter of Court TV.

The 10 year old Urban Assault vehicle has no hope of being incognito next to the luxury cars parked in the garages of Rockingham Avenue, and my mom with her camcorder pointed out the front seat window does nothing to help detract from our tourist vibe. Even though I want to roll my eyes because I am 16 and I know it all, and I am OBVIOUSLY way too cool for this, I allow myself to share a giddy laugh with my tiny family, our mouths hanging in awe at all of this opulence and infamy in real life. Though the scenario itself is tragic, the place itself feels a bit magical.

My dad navigates all the streets and our final drive-by includes the last place Ron Goldman was seen alive — the restaurant Mezzaluna. If only he hadn’t left his job to return that pair of sunglasses his story may have had an entirely different ending. I’m struck by the amazing power of one small decision to change the entire course of your life. I wonder if any of my big life decisions even matter at this point, or whether it all just comes down to the ticking clock of fate. When we get home I don’t apply to UCLA.

I end up at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo the fall after I graduate. I take courses in Political Science and work at the Starbucks downtown but good friends are hard to come by and lack of interest in my course work causes my grades to suffer. I am so confused about what to do next but finally during the winter quarter of 1998 I realize I do not want to finish college here. I have no other plans but I just know this isn’t where I want to be anymore, so I tell my parents. You can imagine their delight. I move home in June despite repeated discussions of alternatives because I am stubborn and it just feels right. I’m sure I will convince them it is the right move once I’m back at home. Two months later, however, my dad is gone and no more convincing is needed. The move was a blessing.

I spend the year after his death living with my mom while we piece together a new existence. It never becomes comfortable or familiar, and it certainly no longer feels like home. I don’t know what I want to do but I know I can’t stay in that town and continue to live that life. I am 20 years old and a friend attending UCLA says I should move there and try something new. In August I pack up the pieces of my life and head into Los Angeles with no money, no job and no idea what the hell I’m doing with my life. One day on a long drive alone — something I will do often during my time here — I find myself in Brentwood again. I am suddenly and profoundly aware of the Before and After of my life — a palpable emotion that will become commonplace over the next few years. At the same time that I feel such a huge loss I also feel more at home than I have in a while.

There is a Peet’s Coffee & Tea opening there. It is minutes from my house, I am unemployed and I have experience working for Starbucks. Obviously, I apply. At the last minute I almost don’t go because I figure a job in coffee is not going to pay my bills. The interview goes well and they offer me the job on the spot. The store will open in two weeks and they are not fully staffed — can I start immediately? I drop the bomb about how much money I need to make per hour in order to stay afloat here in this big city and the interviewer actually laughs out loud.

Looking back I can’t blame her, but I am 20 years old and short on life experience, so I think I am doing her a favor. Part of my behavior is ballsy. Part of it comes from a sense of entitlement that I will later feel embarrassed by, but at that point I can’t tell the difference and so I play hard ball about salary. A few phone calls are made and they agree to my magic number. I will tell this story over and over later on in my life as an illustration of the simple magic that sometimes happens when you ask for what you need.

I walk out the door excited about my new job right as a tour bus goes by. Every seat is full and all heads are cranked looking inside of my new place of employment. My face must have had questions marks written all over it because a man walking by gives the store a little head nod.

“This is the old Mezzaluna. They go by at least 10 times a day.”

And in the end, they do.

Day in and day out people will drive by gawking so often that I eventually won’t even notice unless someone points it out. My life has changed so much between the day that I was doing the gawking and now. The novelty of this event and of this place where I work now — even of the famous people who patronize it — will eventually wear off. But in this city and at this job I will begin to build a home. It will be where I begin to build my own life. For so many reasons Brentwood will end up being full of magic. And no one will be more surprised by this than me.

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