Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 3, Part 1

A day or two earlier

The thing about Warren is that you can never get pissed at him, even when he invites you to a party where you don’t know a single person, and texts you, sorry Holtzy. Had to bail. I send him a text that says, YOU OWE ME, and he writes back, I know, but you can handle it.

And he’s right. I can. But I am a little pissed, because I just moved to LA and I don’t know many people except Warren, whose supposed to be my best friend since middle school when we were co-captains of our quizbowl team. Back then, girls rolled their eyes at him, partly because he had a pizza face, and partly because he was born with the left arm and hand of a T-Rex, disturbingly puny, polio-like and ineffective—no, not thalidomide, rather it was genetic, an autosomal recessive trait.

But now he’s this big hotshot concert promoter, who buffed out and gets free stuff that all the ladies want. I went to Stanford and he went to UC San Diego, and here we are five years later meeting in the middle.

Warren texts: meet a girl for once, would you Holtzy

Me: it’ll be easier without you messing with my game

Warren: the only game you have is in war craft

I’m about to type, who has the higher score? when the lights go out. The screen of my iPhone is the only glow. A woman in the corner says, “What the fuck?” and panic whispering spreads across the room.




I was four, going on five, when I stupidly and accidentally locked myself in the trunk of my uncle’s Oldsmobile. It was the scariest moment of my whole life. I shrieked and kicked, hysterically crying until my uncle Saul heard the commotion and sprinted across the wide Detroit street to the rescue.

From that day forth, I’ve had intense claustrophobia and can’t take an elevator unless it has one of those glass panels that allows you to see outside. When I was in college, I couldn’t take a multivariable calculus course because it was on the 6th floor of a building that didn’t have a public staircase—only a box of an elevator, like the ones they have in Moscow or Prague that only fit one American-size person, or two Europeans at a time. Also, the uncle Saul trunk incident left another scar: I seriously hate the dark and never get a good night sleep unless the lights are on.

So it figures that when the lights go out at this house party in West Hollywood, where I’m alone, sans T-rex, I’ve just wandered down into the windowless basement to grab a beer. The main party is upstairs in the grossly over-decorated home of a film producer. I’m not a fancy cocktail kind of guy, and was told the beer cooler was down here. I hold up my phone, a gesture that influences the glow of other phones. At least the basement seems a lot bigger than uncle Saul’s trunk.

I put my phone in my pocket and lead my way though the darkness with my hands out in front of me. Thinking there’s a lamp in front of me, I make a tentative step and then trip on something slick and fall forward, smashing my head into someone’s knee, who, by the smell, I conclude must be a woman.

The voice says, “Whoa! That’s one way to meet someone.”

I gather myself and say, “Sorry,” while attempting to study my victim, but it’s too dark to discern any features. She’s clearly African-American though, with large fierce eyes that look especially luminous in this darkness. She could be drop dead beautiful; she could have a face that resembles a manhole cover. Who can tell?

“You okay,” she says. “I mean, I think that must’ve hurt you more than it hurt me.”

“I didn’t mean to hit on you quite like that,” I say.

She smiles in the darkness and I see a row of feint teeth. It’s interesting because I didn’t know you could actually capture someone’s smile in the pitch black like this. I guess my eyes are adjusting.

“Do I know you?” she asks.

“Not unless you lived in San Francisco.”

“You live in San Francisco?”

“Just moved here last month.”

“I love San Francisco.”

“Everyone loves San Francisco.” I tell her that people often ask me why I moved to LA, since I’ve got my own Web startup thing going and the whole industry is based up north. People from San Francisco hate LA and people from LA love San Francisco, and that’s the kind of relationship I’m most comfortable with. I say, “I was told that since everybody in LA is fighting for attention, all you have to do is stand still to find yourself.”

She pauses, presumably thinking about what I just said, which makes me feel very self conscious suddenly. Even though I can’t see this girl, I’m intensely attracted to her, and that, on top of the blackout, is making me nervous.

“So have you found yourself?” she asks.

I turn my face away, comforted that she doesn’t notice my awkwardness with the room so dark. I suddenly become aware that she doesn’t know anything about me. That my curly hair needs a trim. That my forehead is too long for a 26 year old. She doesn’t know that my bottom teeth are crooked, because I broke my retainer in high school.

She says, “Usually when someone asks you a question, you answer.”

I finally say, “I’m a dork.”

“You’re a what?”

“Never mind.”

“No, I heard you.”

I scratch the back of my neck. I should put more thought into what I’m going to say before I speak.

More silence.

“I read graphic novels,” she says.

“You’d be a dork in the 80,” I say.

“But I collect them, too.”

“Didn’t you get the memo? Comic books are now cool.”

“I have every issue of Aqua War.”

“That’s like 85 issues!”

“Told you. I’m dorkier than you.” She shuffles for something in her purse.

“If you have a comic book in your bag then you win,” I say.

I hear more shuffling than a popping sound of a ChapStick lid. “Sorry, my lips are just dry.” Though I can’t see, I assume she’s running the stick over her lips because then I hear a pursing sound as she smacks them together.

“What do you do?” I ask.

She sighs and puts the ChapStick away. “You want to find yourself; I want to disappear.”

“Well maybe the stand still law applies with you, too, considering the blackout.”

And she stands motionless, silent.

“Where did you go? I can’t see a thing.”

She laughs an unusual, endearing sort of giggle.

“There you are. Welcome back. Should we get a beer?”

“A beer would be nice.”

I shout, at no one in particular, “Where’s the beer?” and I see glowing cell phones directing us to the right corner. I reach down for her hand and gently pull her along the wrist. Bracelets dangle loosely around her forearm.

We walk slowly through the dark room, with my hand over her wrist, toward the corner of the room where cell phones and cigarette lighters illuminate a cooler and people reaching in for beers.

I say, “What kind of beer do you want?”

She says, “Can you even tell in this light?”

I reach into my pocket to grab my iPhone when she cuts in.

“No, don’t!” And I feel a hand reach around my waist and press against my pocket. She has both her arms around me now, and it feels warm and nice. Our bodies pressed so close together. “I’ll drink any beer,” she says, still holding me. “I like the mystery here. I mean, the way we don’t know what the other looks like. I’ve never met anyone under circumstances like this, you know what I’m saying?”

This girl is something else. I reach into the cooler for the two closest bottles but instead grab a cube of ice, turn quickly and drop it down what I hope is the back of her shirt.

She jumps, startled, and shouts, “You did NOT just do that!” Dancing around from one foot to another, she shakes her shirt to get the ice cube free.

“My hand slipped.”

She punches me hard in the belly, which nearly knocks the wind out of me. “Sorry. My hand slipped,” she says and lets out that funny giggle. “Seriously though, that was supposed to be where your chest should have been.”

I recover and we have another laugh. I tell her that I feel like we’ve met before. She says she gets it. I, of course, have to tell her the whole uncle Saul trunk story, which makes her laugh, but also leads us down this other path where we discover a mutual love for the Detroit Tigers, of all things. Turns out, her dad is from Detroit.

We find ourselves discussing our favorite musicians—Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, Kings of Leon—and to our surprise, we also like the same music. We both confess to not knowing anyone at the party. She came with a girlfriend and the girlfriend’s fiancé, the guy who knows the owner of the house. We get to our second beer, and I wonder what will happen when the lights go back on: Will she be disappointed? What if she doesn’t like my looks? I guess in that case, we’ll have something else in common, too. And maybe that additional bond will be enough to counterbalance the other.

I want to ask her what perfume she’s wearing, but even I know that’s a creepy question. She smells like rain after it hasn’t rained in a long time. I didn’t know that a person could smell this way.

Then, just as I’m losing all traces of awkwardness and nervousness, she says, “You’re not going to believe this, but I have to piss. I mean, I’m totally coming back, okay? It’s just the beer goes right through me and I’ve got a bladder the size of a thimble, you know what I’m saying?”

“I’ll protect your drink.”

[Be sure to tune back in tomorrow for the conclusion of Chapter 3!]

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.





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