This was previously posted on Tammin Sursok's blog Bottle & Heels.
I did not take French in high school. I went the practical route and took Spanish. I still say gracias “grassy ass”, but that’s not my fault. I learned Spanish (and English, for that matter) in Arkansas. I escaped Arkansas in 2012 and have never looked back.
I have lived in Los Angeles for 4 years. In my time here, I have heard of a magical land in West Hollywood where you can meet every celebrity and movie mogul of your dreams. This land sits atop a tower overlooking the LA skyline (whatever that is) and it’s adjacent hills, and smells like lavender room spray and money. They call this land…SoHo House.
Wikipedia defines SoHo House, for those not ‘in the know’, as “a group of private members’ clubs aimed primarily at those in the arts and media.” It began in London in 1995, and now has over 17+ locations around the world. Membership to this club(s) is selective, and members are purged regularly in order to “maintain the right balance of people”, aka professional, late 20’s to 30’s “somethings”. If you are not a member, though, you may come as a guest of a member, and on a Saturday in August, I, Laura Jenkins, entered this land . . .
Yes it does indeed smell like lavender room spray and money, but also with, like, a hint of teak wood. And more money. It’s like…a fancy bank… with bourbon. It’s like Mad Men! But the wrap party of Mad Men, ya know? And I tried to find Don Draper (like the real Don Draper, not Jon Hamm) but they said he had already left with, like, 3 models… Let’s move on--
My writing partner Faith invited me to go because our friend ‘C’ was invited there, “on a date, I think—she’s not sure if it’s a date, and needs us as back up.” Not that we were scared anything was going to happen to her (which is a legitimate fear sometimes on first dates or “first dates”), but back up was needed to insure that no awkwardness was to be had if this was just a friendly-friend dinner, and not a romantic outing to a posh-as-fuck bar in West Hollywood that dreams are made of.
Faith says “It’s at SoHo House,” and I can tell she’s burying her excitement just as much as me. We’ve never discussed our curiosity for this place, but we can hear it in each other’s voices that we’re psyched, but not wanting to admit we’re psyched because who wants to admit you want to go to the fancy club you haven’t been invited to join? Who wants to admit that you are not on ‘that level’ in your career to own a membership to a club where you are ‘treated like a normal person’? Who wants to admit that you are a normal person? We’re above it, so we bury that shit deep.
“Oh cool,” I say. And then the most important question, “What do I wear?”
“Um…” Faith’s pause is so long I almost have to take a pee break. “She said it’s Paris themed? I don’t know. I’m just gonna wear all black and red lipstick.” Genius. Classic. Timeless. She’s a goddess.
In my mind I scan my closet. I have no black attire that doesn’t look like I just wore it slinging cocktails at a dive bar in K-town. Wait, that makes me sound way cooler than I am. Let’s get real. All my black clothing has some strange stain on it, and smells of permanently perfumed b.o. and beer.
“Can’t wait to feel out of place,” I joke to Faith. She laughs, but we both know I’m not joking.
I shower. Take a shot. Apply ‘barely there’ makeup that takes 30 minutes when it should take 10. Take another shot. Call a Lyft (not an Uber because they creepy as helllll), and the second I get in the Lyft I feel a calmness come over me. Probably from the bourbon… but also from my gut. My spidey senses tell me what the Black Eyed Peas have been telling us all along: “Tonight’s gonna be a good night”.
We rendezvous to Faith’s because she’s closer and infinitely more responsible. Another Lyft is called. We pile in. Fly down Sunset, and stumble out to the closest thing WeHo has to a skyscraper. I wounded deer walk in stilettos I haven’t worn since the last wedding I attended a year ago to the entrance, which is a secluded, swanky lobby in the parking garage. The ladies at the front desk are kind to us when we can’t remember the guy who’s getting us in, C’s date’s, last name. And then we stumble into a lush, and I mean lush as fuck, fabric’d elevator with four 30 somethings, with way more beauty and grace. They can smell we’re ‘new’.
“It’s beautiful up there, ladies,” one of them says to us. I can’t tell if it’s out of kindness or…what’s the word? Bitchy-ness? But either way we breathe a sigh of relief and laugh. Who are we kidding? No one but ourselves. I touch the cloth on the elevator as my inner child’s been dying to do. I’m certain this is what my mother’s womb felt like. I would have been fine to stay in there for the rest of the night, but there was no bar.
And then the elevator doors open, and I have never been so smacked in the face with serendipity in my life. My celebrity crush is BOOM. Right there. A celebrity crush I have pined for since I was in Arkansas, had pictures of him on my walls as a teenager. I get drunk and tweet at this guy, then wake up the next day, and delete everything out of shear embarrassment. A crush all of my friends and even co-workers know about and BOOM, there he is. My friends go into hysterical laughter.
“OH MY GOD. What are the chances!”
“Of course this would happen!”
And I turn ice cold. “Everyone shuts the fuck up. Everyone shuts the fuck up. Get it together.”
I cannot meet him like this—not in my element, with friends who are ready to burst at the seams to tell him what a psychopathic, fangirl I am. I make a beeline to as far back as I can go, which isn’t far enough, as we’re stopped by C’s date. He has no idea what they’re laughing about. I come up with the best thing I can think of, which is, “It’s just so pretty in here.”
My friends laugh harder. He thinks we’re crazy, but a good kind of crazy. “Are you all hungry? We’re thinking about dinner.”
We all do a brief scan of each other, not sure which one of us should answer. Can we eat? Should we eat? How does this date-not-date-friend-gathering work? Finally, C answers, “We love food.”
“Great!”, he says, “Let me just wrangle my friend.”
And then I realize where I know this guy from, and it makes me hate and love myself and my supernatural memory for faces… or maybe I’m a stalker… but like good stalker, if that’s such a thing… I know this guy from my celebrity crush’s Instagram. The friend he’s getting is my celebrity crush. We are about to have dinner with my celebrity crush. As he’s walking over, I become Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed. You remember that part? He’s talking to the psychiatrist he ends up falling in love (or lust) with, and he’s describing how he can sit in front of gangster-mass murderers all day. “My hand does not shake…ever.” Not that my celebrity crush is anything like Jack Nicholson/Frank Costello, but I, too, in moments of extreme panic or excitement, can convincingly bury that shit. So when my crush extends his hand in a kind introduction, my hand doesn’t shake…ever.
I tell a joke. Faith tells a joke.
“You girl’s are funny!” he says.
Crush thinks I’m funny. Validation consumes me as we walk up the stairs for dinner.
I hate reading stories that describe scenery for too long, so bear with me as I roll my eyes along with you: It’s not fire capacity packed, but close. I have to dancer-style my way through the room with our hosts as guides—dancer-style meaning on the point of my heels, arms half-extended as balance, and trying to remember everything my childhood ballet instructor taught me about balance and grace. It was, indeed, a theme night, Midnight in Paris, so the décor is different than normal.
“Usually you can see the hills from here,” C’s date tells us, but as the dining room has now been converted into a Moulin Rouge-esq establishment, the windows are draped in reds and gold tassels. There are half-mooned booths lined back to back in the middle of the room, and a leap above diner-style booths lining what is being used as a make-shift stage for the dancers along the draped windows. There are 2 bars, both with a farm-to-table vibe—one long bar as you enter, and another perpendicular to it once inside the main room. There are real people and character-people—actors playing the famous associated with France (the expatriates of the 1920s, Marie Antoinette, Julia Childs…). Surprisingly, I never saw a mime. If approached, they stayed in full character. At one point, I needed to find the restroom, but the only person around who could guide me could only speak French. It was annoying, but I admired her commitment. Also the fact that she clearly, too, did not speak French, so we both kind of giggled and apologized to each other with our eyes. I stand corrected. In a way, I did meet a mime.
Dinner for the evening is a set menu. Now, we’ve established I am not bourgeois to the point that I can’t even spell it without a Google search, but I’ve worked in enough fancy restaurants to know a set menu is going to be my least favorite thing about tonight, and it is. So I’m not going to describe the food to you other than saying it was fine, and it was free. Again, thank you gentlemen, if you so happen to be reading this. Free food is my favorite food, always. Oh, but there was one dish that was hilarious! I’m not sure what it was trying to do, but it was an almost soup that tasted like hot dog water and tomato sauce with more steamed hot dog water added to it, and then a long soggy crouton stick that, essentially, was the only part you were supposed to eat, even though a spoon was provided. I know what you’re thinking. I should be a food critique, right?
That’s enough scenery. You get it. Let’s move on…
Admittedly, my crush is intoxicated. “I’ve been here for…. way too long.” He slides down the booth, almost under the table, acting his exhaustion. He’s perfect.
“We know exactly what you mean. We’ve been here 20 minutes and it feels like ages,” I dramatize.
He laughs kindly. “How do you all know each other?”
Faith takes the reins, “We met on this weird, experimental art film set about, three years ago. It’s not porn, we swear.”
We’re so winning. People should take us out more. I order my cocktail. They don’t have Bookers bourbon, because I am that bitch who likes a specific bourbon that no one seems to have anymore and it kills me. They don’t have it. I sigh, and say, “I’ll just take a Manhattan.”
Crush looks impressed. “You are Ann Black,” Crush says definitively. There’s a pause like I’m supposed to know who she is, and I feel bad for not knowing who she is, and then he clarifies with a laugh at the pause, “A dear friend of mine from college. You’re so Ann Black.”
He pulls out his phone and shows me her picture on Facebook. She looks like an older, plainer version of me. I’m not offended. I get this all the time. I always remind people of their sister’s best friend from high school or their intellectual cousin, and it’s always followed up with, “But you’re way prettier.” Crush follows up with something similar, “You probably won’t think that’s a compliment but it is.”
Validation rises again. My hands don’t shake. And then we’re reminded that he’s not all himself, “So wait… how do you all know each other?”
My heart sinks a little, just like a little, but hey we’ve all been there in the booze haze. We rehash the story ever so briefly, then add, “But we’re also writing partners.”
His face lights up. “Writers! I knew you ladies were smart. Wow, that’s great.” I hate the term ‘you ladies’, but I love the word ‘great’. Great is a great word.
“Thank you! Yeah, we mostly write comedy. We’re working on a pilot right now, and a screenplay,” Faith establishes.
“We’re ambitious.” I joke, but like all good jokes, it’s also true. We are ambitious, and slightly delusional, like all artists. Watch for us, we’re going places.
Crush jumps into action. “Let’s role play! I’ll be a studio head and you both pitch your idea to me.”
We pitch our satirically, politically driven pilot to him. Before we can utter any of the characters, however, he says, “I gotta stop you there. You’ve already eliminated half of the country. I cannot in good conscience finance your pilot. Thank you for your time.”
We laugh, but then we realize… he’s not joking. He goes on, “Seriously. That pilot, though funny, is niche. Niche doesn’t work here. Anywhere! You need to go big, go family! Go Chuck Lorre! Comfortable nerds who make you laugh. That’s what sells. But what do I know? I’m only interested in making money.” He takes a long sip of his drink as we laugh. He goes on to talk about his ideas of ‘the business’, and give us his last bit of advice, “I have good friends who end up making these projects that they love, that they put all of their heart into, but then they’re broke. You can’t keep making the projects you love if you’re broke. You need money. We’re all a slave to the money.”
I almost say “You would hate what I do,” but I hold it. Though I’m writing with Faith, what I’m ‘known for’, if you will, is my solo art. I have written and performed 2 one woman shows in LA, and New York. My shows, my art, are all heart. I love it, but he’s right. I’m broke. I spend roughly $6,000-$8,000 a year on my art that I fund through donations from caring friends and family, but mostly through back-breaking catering, working events for stars like Crush. And of course, as serendipity would have it, I’m meeting him as I’ve just finished an expensive and time consuming run with the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I’m at a point where I am sick of asking for money, sick of wearing the cringe worthy producer hat in order to see my art come to life, sick of scrapping to pay for the city life and blah blah blah… But that’s a spiral I can’t go down right now, so I say the mantra I almost believe, “But there’s a freedom in being broke, too.”
He genuinely takes this in, “True.” He smiles, and raises his class to me as if to say, “Touché”, not that he agrees with me, but that maybe there’s another side to this argument.
The rest of our dinner is filled with the sharing of stories, college stories, LA stories, life stories… none of which I will share because it would be too long of an article, but mostly because, they are not my stories to share. People go to SoHo House for the privacy. Well… maybe also for the notoriety, but mostly for it’s ability to allow you to be yourself, or something like it. For the chance to be whoever you want.
We were getting up to leave, and Crush looks up to C’s date. “They are so nice!” Then to us, he says, “It’s so truly rare to meet such nice people.” He sounds so formal that I almost don’t believe the compliment, but then he breaks his faux-formality, and gives us a hug. “Truly, you both are great.”
You’re so right, Crush. We are great.
Here comes the “what I learned portion” of this article, so if you want to leave this article as the “Spin on a Modern Fairytale” story you crave, stop here and go back to scanning Facebook or Twitter or the rest of this awesome blog! See ya later, hope ya had fun. But for those interested, my take aways are dope.
Although my celebrity crush was not what I expected, though the fantasy was blown, and by fantasy I mean us being taken away in a horse drawn carriage to our wedding day the second we met or whatever the modern equivalent of that is (a Bugatti? A Maserati? Now I’m just quoting Britney Spears lyrics…), I was never disappointed in the person I met. I learned my celebrity crush was a person. And though at first, I was completely turned off to his opinions on ‘niche’ projects, it’s not bad advice. It was just unexpected, and not my motto. Crush reminded me that I can turn my nose up to ‘The Big Bang Theory’, but that show makes money. It is seen by millions of people, and ya know what?. Though it does not address social issues and demand change, it does give people comfort and love. It’s not a bad show. (Two and a Half Men, though, can suck it.)
But what Crush forgets about is that Chuck Lorre also created ‘Grace Under Fire’, ‘Dharma & Greg’, and ‘Roseanne’. Chuck Lorre made once ‘niche’ subjects primetime television. And I also beg to say in this argument that I’m having weeks later with only my laptop computer, that nerds have not always been mainstream! At one time, they were the definition of niche! But I held my tongue that night, something I don’t usually do, but that I’m glad I did. I knew I needed to listen to what he said, a person with a valid opinion, an opinion formed over years of experience, and I needed to put my personal vendettas for art and liberty and justice aside for a second and come back to them. And besides, we had both been drinking. So there’s that.
I was reminded of the dichotomy of ‘the Hollywood scene’— The bourgeois, larger than your dreams ideal. A world that I am not a part of, but got to pretend to be for one night, like a bourboned Cinderella with no glass slippers. I did not ‘fit in’, and I don’t know if I necessarily want to. A scene where you’re never really certain who your friends are, where you always have to hold your tongue, where you join a club for some place to feel “normal”. But who actually fits into that mold after all?
I learned that I am still ‘me’, whether I like it or not. I am still niche. I am still ‘edgy’. I still write with a vendetta of freedom and justice for all! But what if I could do all of those things, still be all of those things, and write in a way that opens instead of closes without abrasiveness or exclusion?
Is that possible? Is it dream? Am I completely delusional?
I don’t know. But I want to find out.