The Art of Eating, Drinking, and Talking
Looking for a travel companion. Must be able to eat, drink and talk. For details call 323-445-8170.
Well I, a human, could do all those things. My dog, Shelley, cannot. This was an ad I came across on craigslist. At first I thought good joke. Good luck with all the candidates. It was a little less hilarious when I became an actual candidate. “Looking for a travel companion” was unassuming enough, but I was curious about the requirements so I called.
“Hello?” a voice answered three rings later. It was a rich, deep male voice, the kind saved for annunciating words for online dictionaries.
“Hi,” I answered. Clearing my throat I continued, “I’m able to eat, drink and talk so… you got me!” I laughed expecting a laugh to follow.
“Ah, the ad,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Well yeah, the ad. “So I’m calling about it…” I continued with a rising tone indicating that yes, I did indeed get the joke.
“When can you come in for an interview?” the voice replied.
An interview? I thought. So this was serious. Well I do like to travel. “Tomorrow.” I had a clear schedule. I just needed to know where.
“Write this down,” the voice commanded. “3440 Los Tilos Rd, Los Angeles, California.”
I grabbed a pen during the first half of the address. “I’m sorry can you repeat that?” 3340 Los Tilos Rd, Los Angeles? What part? “Is this in the Santa Monica area?”
“No, it’s in the Hollywood Hills,” came the voice.
I whistled. Hollywood Hills. Impressive. It conjured up all sorts of images about what this guy looked like, whether he was big or toned, an actor or producer, heir or money maker. So far I was picturing that he had stubble, light black hair, probably a hipster style about him and a narcissistic personality. I was picturing every screenwriter I’d ever met. “Nice, I’ll come by around 11.”
“Nah, it’s too early,” the voice told me. “How about noon?”
That’s just one hour difference but “sure!” I confirmed.
The next day, many turns up many streets with similar Spanish names later, I arrived in front of a massive estate. This multi-bedroom expanse was sprawled across acres of immaculate, fresh-cut lawn. It was a warm and peachy color, very pleasant on the eyes. Through the vast windows I could see silk drapes adorning the inside. Even if this experience turned out to be null in void, at least I got a small taste of how the other half lives.
The dry Californian air that I’m used to was cut off by the multitudes of hedges that blocked the back of the estate. I called up the number.
A few rings later, “hello?”
I turned to the front door. “Hi, it’s the noon appointment? I’m here.”
“Oh! Be right there.”
The front door opened a moment later and out stepped the voice. He looked around 32 and was everything a GQ model should be. He had the stubble I pictured, not the stubble of a failing actor falling back on drugs but clean stubble that framed his face well. His blue eyes charmed me, almost frustratingly so. Tied together with teeth that belonged in a toothpaste ad and he was every bit the James Bond gentleman.
“Hello,” I reached out to shake his hand.
“Hi.” His grip was nice and firm. “Nice to meet you. I’m Harris.”
“Harris,” I nodded. “I’m James.”
“Right,” he nodded. It was hard to tell if I had made any impression on him at all. Me with my 5’9” stature and chub against his 6’2” and toned build. Still, something twinkled in those pearly blues, and he motioned with his thumbs to the back. “Would you come with me?”
It turned out the hedge was actually a huge fence with a hidden gate nestled in the leaves. As we walked alongside the estate, the afternoon scents of chlorine, palm trees and dry, mountain dust reached my nostrils. We were quite high up. Every turn I took coming up here went up a fairly steep incline.
As we walked we made small talk. He asked me what I do. I told him I’m a freelance writer. He commented that he’s big on writing and really appreciates the work of Paulo Coelho. This launched us into a conversation about various authors. All the while I kept wondering when we might reach the backyard. The curve of the estate was mountainous.
A patch of glistening aqua peeked behind a corner and the sounds of an analog recording of bossa nova drifted into my ears as the full scope of the infinity pool came into view. It was the most extraordinary pool I had ever seen. It seemed to simply drop off down a cliff, and it overlooked a breathtaking panorama of Los Angeles, outdoing even the public views offered by the Griffith Park Observatory.
I couldn’t hide my envy as I gasped and sputtered, “this is amazing. This is amazing.” I motioned down below with a huge swing of my arm. “This is truly amazing you know that?”
Harris just shrugged. “It’s an impressive view I’m not going to lie. And if you look down there,” he pointed off to the left side and I followed his finger to where Hollywood Blvd was. The usual bustle of the area was wiped clean, replaced with white trailers and trucks. “They’re filming down there so it’s all blocked off today. It’s a Keanu Reeves film.”
I nodded, straining to see if I could make out Keanu’s figure, but it was impossible. All people looked like ants from up there. “Man, if I lived here I would just take a lawn chair, set it up right here in this spot and watch Los Angeles the live movie.”
Harris responded with warm laughter, admitting that he does that “quite often.”
We took a seat under the shade of a white and blue striped umbrella. It was definitely my pre-conceived stereotypes poking away at me but there was something quite feminine about the place.
“Would you wait here?” Harris asked. He nodded slightly and told me that he was going to “mix something up.”
As I waited I looked for the source of the music. It was coming from a record player on a table not too far from mine, but what surprised me were two slender, oiled down legs, aged around the kneecaps, sticking out from the hidden oasis of the adjacent umbrella.
I leaned forward and as I did, she slowly unveiled herself to me. She was wearing a deep purple and fuschia one piece with numerous gold necklaces. It was clear she hadn’t gone in the pool yet, but she wasn’t tanning either. Her auburn hair was curled up in a pretty do held together with a matching bandana. I guessed perhaps mid-late fifties. She couldn’t hide her wrinkles even under the shade and the sunglasses. The signs of facelifts over the years were obvious, but apart from that, she was slim and neat. She exuded a collected, put together sex appeal that was entirely her own.
I wasn’t sure if I should say anything or what part she had to play in this interview. I decided to keep my curiosity to myself and stay silent.
Perhaps she sensed my presence, or perhaps underneath those sunglasses she was curious about me too, so she spoke. “What does this song make you think of?”
I thought about it. The tune swirled in heaving breaths with occasional percussion thrown in to liven up the mellow guitar. “Sitting under the air conditioning in a very hot cafe…” I began, “only it doesn’t work well so I use a paper fan.” I nodded slowly, content with my answer. “That’s what it makes me think of.”
“To me,” she began, “it makes me think of a green couch I used to lay on in Telly Salavas’s room at the Sheraton hotel. He used to caress my fingers on that couch, only we never did it. He once told me ‘Zsarzi, I don’t need to make love with you. All I need to do is press my fingers into your palm like so, and you’ll cream like a bavarian donut.’”
“And did you?” I asked.
“No,” she answered dismally. “I could say it felt good, but… let’s be real. A hand massage does not great love making make.” She pulled down her sunglasses briefly. “You’re here unexpectedly. I thought you’d be here at noon.”
So she was a part of this interview. I paused awkwardly for a moment before telling her, “it is noon.”
“Is it?!” She gasped. “Oh wow. When you’re laying out like this, queen on top of the Los Angeles empire, you tend to forget the time,” she said as she sat up. She removed her sunglasses and placed them on the table by the record player. Salvatore Ferragamo. Of course they were designer. “Hi.” Beneath tan bleached skin and pulled back wrinkles she smiled a perfectly retained 70’s prom queen smile. We shook hands as she introduced herself, “I’m Zsarzi. I’m the ‘client’ I guess you could say.”
“Oh you’re the client!” I gestured to the back door that Harris had gone through. “I thought it was Harris.”
“Harris is my…” She paused and bit her lip, mulling over what to exactly call him. “Oh what the hell. He’s my pleasure toy.”
I burst out laughing and nodded approvingly. “Harris the pleasure toy. I like it. You should consider making a line of sex toy figurines.”
She waved off the notion with a humble smile. “So you’re…? Let me guess. Clark?”
“Sorry, I’m James,” I clarified.
“Oh!” She looked a tint more surprised than usual. “There’s supposed to be a Clark coming. I guess that’s later. Sorry hon,” She snapped a gracious smile at me. “You’re not the only interviewee.”
“I dare say I wasn’t expecting to be.” I felt comfortable enough to insert some jokes here and there. She had a very open, friendly way about her, but there was still a guard up that I had to watch for. She was only as open as she wanted to be. Beneath that hair do, I had no idea who she was. I’d never heard of a Zsarzi. I’d heard of a Zsa Zsa. Perhaps this was Zsa Zsa’s distant niece who landed a few movie roles and disappeared into obscurity.
“Well it’s noon,” Zsarzi repeated, mulling over the time to herself quietly. Her age might have been older but her voice was three decades younger. “I guess this’ll be a lunch interview. Look at you! An interview at a gorgeous place with a beautiful view and food to go with it. Aren’t you glad you came?”
“I am,” I agreed. As far as interviews go, this one was hitting all the records.
Harris came down the backdoor path with a catering cart. On the top layer were drinks - three mimosas and a chilled bucket of champagne. On the second layer was grilled salmon, portobello mushrooms, garbanzo beans, kale salad and breaded chicken. On the bottom layer were berry yogurt cake, gelato, mousse, chocolate truffles and chocolate-coated strawberries.
“We better start with the gelato first,” Zsarzi pointed out. “It’s chocolate hazelnut with a little bit of vanilla cheesecake inside.”
I was passed my share and tasted a bite. The sound came out in embarrassing moans. “It’s ridiculously good,” I gasped. “Shit.” When I eat I can’t really control myself. Whatever comes out just does.
Zsarzi nodded approvingly in my direction. “That’s right. You let those sounds out! Try the mousse next. Oh! Try them both together. A little bit of all parts of heaven rolled into one.”
The Zsarzi combo was decadent. Imagine if you will, rich, deep chocolate mousse rolling over a tuft of cheesecake in a gelato meadow. Phantasmagoric would be the most appropriate word. “Starting with dessert first,” I gestured with the spoon to Zsarzi. “Very nice.”
“Well I always say you don’t want to be too full when you get to the dessert because that’s the best part,” she pointed out. If words were any truer they’d be tattooed to the sky.
We sat there in a mumble of sounds as we finished off the desserts. We then moved onto the actual food and the mimosas.
“Don’t forget the champagne,” She nodded to Harris who promptly, and with the know-how of a sommelier, popped the bottle of Chandon open. She reached across and took my hand in hers and wiggled it. “This is a celebration after all!”
“Oh did I already pass?” I feigned cockiness. “Well what can I say.” I rubbed my stomach. “I know how to eat.”
“Do you know how to drink?” Her eyes smirked at me, teasing me, and I knew the answer.
I took the bottle of Chandon into my hand and examined it. “Let’s go with Charles Heidsieck Reserve next time. That’s a real drink.”
She clasped her hands together in delight and unleashed a smile so killer, I was momentarily stunned. “So you do know how to drink!”
I lengthened my neck a bit to show my pride. “I do indeed.”
We clinked our glasses as one and shot back our drinks to the sounds of João Gilberto. The sound of life in LA had diminished to a small frequency. Birds spreading their lullabies overpowered the Pacific wind. I let loose a satisfied sigh. “I want to thank the academy, João Gilberto and Zsarzi for a fantastic way for me to spend my afternoon.”
Zsarzi lifted her glass in acknowledgement. “Hear hear! And I’d like to thank James for dragging his ass all the way here.”
I nodded accordingly. “To dragging my ass.”
We laughed more. She spoon-fed me garbanzo beans. I let her. I scooped some salmon into my fork and distributed it on my tongue. The texture melted against the warm temperature in my mouth, filling my senses with the fresh taste of the Pacific. I cut Zsarzi’s piece for her, and the salmon came apart in a second.
“It’s so soft.” She must have paid a fortune for salmon this fine.
She swallowed her piece and explained, “a chef I know at Urasawa sends a delivery boy to my estate early in the morning. This is the freshest, most delicate piece of salmon you’re going to get in Los Angeles, except in the restaurant itself. But I’m paying double, sometimes triple the price when I request over three pounds.”
“Three pounds!” I repeated. “You feeding a dinner party?”
“No,” she stated firmly before dissolving into a knowing grin. “Myself.”
Zsarzi was as impressive in speaking as she was in eating. “Zsarzi, I got to know. How’d you get to this point?” I motioned to the estate, the pool, the food. “How did all of this fall into your lap?”
“A dead husband,” she stated squarely.
I paused, unsure if I should offer my condolences or just stay mum on the subject, but she seemed unphased. Except for the dry tone of her answer, she continued to stuff rich, thick salmon bits into her mouth.
“He wasn’t a good husband,” she continued. “He was a rich husband. Now he’s a dead, rich husband, which to me is the best kind of husband. So if you’re thinking of saying ‘sorry’ don’t. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Then…” I dared myself to do it. I raised my champagne glass tall and proud. “To rich, dead husbands!”
She hooted loudly, surprising Harris and myself, as she zoomed forward and lifted her own glass. “To rich, dead fucking husbands!” She was smiling and as strange as it seemed given the seriousness of the topic, she never looked so bright and filled with life as she did in that moment.
I took a sip and immediately changed the topic, “so where do you want to travel to?”
“Oh…” She gestured to nothing in particular. “All over. All the countries in the world if possible, even North Korea, even…” She put her finger on her lip as if remembering she had left the kettle on. “Even Somalia… The outback, all of it” she finished taking a long sip of her mimosa.
“Somalia…” A country far from our spray tanned world. “We could be pirates there. Do you think they would train us on how?”
She laughed at the notion, her eyes curling up into moon-shaped eye smiles, “oh dear, I certainly hope so. Of the many job professions I could hold in this life, ‘pirate’ has a nice ring to it.”
The baked Pacific breeze met our faces, greeting us with warm surrender. Our bellies were filling to capacity on the lingering final notes of a saxophone, and in that moment every element of the world seemed to join together in harmony, exhaling in a wholly satisfied sigh.
“Is there anywhere better than here?” I declared. I lifted the remnants of my mimosa in salute to the sun. “Is there anything better than this?”
Zsarzi took a moment in for herself, as if attempting to feel everything I was feeling, but a small sigh signaled to me that she couldn’t. She had already felt everything I was feeling and then some. She’d felt it over and over repeatedly until she was numb. In the stillness of her eyes I could see the shades draw over that vibrant twinkle. It occurred to me then that we were on two different planes. She, wanting to leave this all behind for the taste of another world, and I, having only just gotten a taste of hers.
If I was going to be a travel companion, I had to be a good paramedic for saving a bored soul. “Are you more of a potato chips person or a cheese plate?”
“A cheese plate person,” she replied immediately. She pulled in her lips and looked me up and down. “And you are… potato chips.”
“I’m water,” I shrugged. “I go well with everything.”
Zsarzi shook her head vehemently. “No, no, no. You can’t bend the choices. Choose one.”
“Then, potato chips,” I confirmed with a point of my fork.
Her lips twisted into her cheek as she concentrated on my face, trying to designate some meaning to the label. “Potato chips,” she repeated. “You sit in economy and eat KFC.”
I nodded slowly. Half right, but, “I sat in first class once and it was so worth it. I could have used my frequent flyer miles to get some free flights, but I chose to blow it all on first class.” I smiled, the kind of boyish grin that came from pure irresponsibility. “I’m not that much potato chips.”
“Potato chips…” Zsarzi repeated, taking on a completely different tone. She called to Harris. “Do we have any potato chips?”
Harris’s voice came back to us, “think so! I’ll check!”
I called to Harris, “and a cheese plate!”
Zsarzi snapped her head to me, surprised. I’m not sure where the urge to give Harris orders came from, but it seemed right at the time. Her deep brown eyes locked on to mine, authoritatively at first but then fell into curiosity. “What made you decide to call?”
I thought back to the ad. Must be able to eat, drink and talk. It was that line alone that brought me here. “Intuition,” I answered. “And a little bit of boredom.”
The vigor that seemed lost returned to her eyes and she lifted her stare to the Californian sun. Blinded by its afternoon strength, she reached for her sunglasses and returned them to her face. “Boredom is the best kind of mutual friend. We all have boredom in common, and it introduces us to the most interesting people.”
What beautiful words, I thought. And how true it was too! Could I ever have imagined meeting Zsarzi, munching down on Urasawa salmon and drinking Chandon this afternoon? Could I ever have imagined it? Not in my wildest writer dreams.
With the sun beating out our daydreams, we turned to the topic of travel. She was insistent that we skip the Pacific Ocean and all the exotic islands within it.
“My late husband’s idea of ‘travel’ was sitting on beach chairs, drinking mai tais and napping.” She pulled out five pink polished fingers. “So far I’ve been to Kiribati, the Marquesas, the Marshall Islands, Tahiti… It’s the ‘cheese plate’s’ idea of travel. Just find an island and soak on it. That’s not what I want this time.”
“You want to soak in the culture,” I summed up.
“Exactly!” Zsarzi exclaimed, delighted that I was on the same page.
“We start out in Japan, and…” I walked my fingers across the air, “over to South Korea.” We would traverse the mountain ranges of middle China, make our way down to Tibet, into India, eat all the curry we could find…
Zsarzi’s excited giggles interrupted my train of thought. “Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.”
Harris appeared with a bag of Tim’s Hawaiian potato chips and a silver plate of cheese neatly balanced on his left hand. “Enjoy,” his fancy voice commanded the two of us.
I observed him return to his “post” by the pool. He’d earlier said he watched the miniature actions of Los angeles often and it was indeed what he returned to doing, but always an earshot away in case we needed anything.
I dipped my hand in the bag and popped a good number of potato chips in my mouth, the saltiness layering a much less impressive but more familiar taste than earlier. “Zsarzi, here’s a trick.” I reached into the bag and pulled out a single potato chip. She pulled down her glasses and watched me behind long, mascara lashes with the innocence of a 6-year old. I dipped the chip in the champagne glass and bit. “Fantastic combo. Try it.”
She did so and nodded slowly with approval.
“Vintage move,” I explained. “Got that from the Marilyn Monroe movie The Seven Year Itch.”
The all-knowing Zsarzi folded her hands beneath her purple-stained lips and smiled. “Well aren’t you just an A-class hipster.”
My face reddened and my smile fell all over the place. “Secret’s out,” I laughed.
“Tell me,” Zsarzi began. “Did you think I was some faded Hollywood film star when you saw me?”
That was indeed my first thought, and who could blame me. Big house, Hollywood hills, Salvatore Ferragamo glasses and an infinity pool.
“It’s fine,” Zsarzi continued. She leaned back against her chair, stretching out so that her whole body contoured against the balmy sky. Her pink-rimmed sunglasses reflected my stunned face back to me. “Most people get that impression, yet I’ve never acted, modeled or sang a day in my life.”
“I bet you have tons of stories,” I said, recalling her Telly Salavas story.
Zsarzi shrieked a loud gasp inwards and exhaled, “Oh do I!” They were all at the edge of her tongue, secrets Page Six would pay in the thousands for. “Too many, too many. Hence why I need new stories with new people in new lands. Not in this…” She waved her hand to the vast LA expanse below us, “bubble.”
We turned our attention then to the cheese. Parmeasan reggano, brie, roquefort, gruyère, caciocavallo, a decadent platter that made us forget about the fullness in our stomachs.
She went for the caciocavallo first. “Love this one. On toasted honey almond rye, it’s the best.”
The vivid shades of cheese turned the platter into a paint palette, each piece unique, all competing for our attention. “Ah, the other half,” I sighed blissfully, enjoying the firm, full taste of the parmesan. “This is so beyond that Kraft grated parmesan I put on my pastas at home.”
“There you go being a potato chip again,” Zsarzi pointed out.
“Sorry,” I apologized and moved my fingers greedily to the caciocavallo. “It just comes out.”
Zsarzi took one of the potato chips and stuck some cheddar on the outer rim. Into her mouth it went and she settled on the taste for a moment before raising her eyebrows once in approval. Then she made another cheddar chip concoction and pushed it gently towards my mouth. I bit into it. The fusion of tastes filled the roof my mouth as our eyes lay on top of each other. For a small moment everything about all the silly bits and pieces who made up who we were connected seamlessly.
“Chips seem to go well with everything.” Zsarzi parted her mouth a bit to allow for a small bit of cheddar. “Especially cheese.”
My heartbeat rose and then calmed. I raised my champagne glass in ode to Zsarzi’s sharp wisdom. “To potato chips and cheese.”
Zsarzi did the same. “Hear hear!” She took a sip and noted, “how many toasts have we done so far today?”
I thought about it, “I count three so far.”
Zsarzi’s purple lips curled into the grin of a woman holding a precious secret. She clinked her glass against mine. “We can beat that number. Day’s still early.”
And there, shining in that second, was the opportunity to make it four. I lifted my glass. “To the day still being early.”
We sampled cheeses, drank San Benedetto sparkling water, finished off the champagne and the potato chips, finally surrendering our gluttonous bodies to the sun. We stared ahead to its bright body hanging low in the sky, exchanging snide comments about boyfriends who propose during sunsets and girls who bleach their hair too damn white.
Harris’s approaching shadow interrupted us. “The 3pm appointment is here. Clark?”
My humble heart sank shyly to the floor. The clock had struck midnight for me. I knew the drill and stood up, lightly patting my pants. We could have flown that garden party up to the moon and back, me and Zsarzi. Sadly magic has time limits.
“That won’t be necessary…” Zsarzi began. “Tell Clark thank you for coming and that he’s welcome to come back anytime.” Her voice changed tone. “3pm… I do have to start heading to Malibu.” She half-turned to me with a smirk. “Personal training.”
My voice lost itself in my throat and my joints clammed into place. What had just happened? I reviewed everything quickly in my head. I had come here on a whim. I met a swanky widower and ate half her refrigerator with her. I was slightly tipsy. I was full on chips and cheese and incredibly sunburned… Had this even been an interview?
Zsarzi must have noticed my clammed up state. She pulled down her glasses to the bridge of her nose. Her deer eyes communicated all even around the frailed edges and that composed stare nurtured a calmness in me that until then, only Venice Beach mornings could draw out. “The interview is over,” Zsarzi gestured with a wave of her hand towards the door. “Go on. Scoot. You passed. We’ll set up travel plans next Thursday. In the meantime…” She stood up, her striking tanned figure in deep rose colors captured the wind. “I got to go repent for all that gluttony.”
A figment of a smile spread out over her lips, one that I couldn’t distinguish was real or fake. She wasn’t an open book. She kept the chapters sealed tight with saran wrap, but those flirtatious little hints kept me hooked, unable to put the book down or think to pick up another one. Like an acid jazz tune flittering down to the final notes, Zsarzi disappeared out of view, leaving behind her cool, collected residue as parking validation.
The wind picked up around me. I became aware of the stillness of the infinity pool and that I was alone. From where I stood I could see Hollywood Blvd, still in filming mode, the Beverly Center, the Denny’s by the Wiltern, and down there in that much hated intersection of Sunset and Vine was the ArcLight. The breeze, the view and the silence all met in synergy, aligning themselves as the planets do. The last remnants of champagne rumbled beneath my voice. I swayed, fragile as a palm, on the movement of the wind, riding that silence as far as it would take me. I held onto the silence even after the roar of a jet passed me by, with muddled, detached thoughts as my only companion.
Sarah Edge is a laptop-wielding, coffee-guzzling multi-manager in the obnoxiously sunny city of Los Angeles. When she's not hard at work managing social media, or doing editing work, she can be seen muttering f-bombs at every onset of writer's block. You could probably find her at Caffe Bene, her favorite cafe, with a pen that never gets used and an already-empty iced coffee cup. Her work sits quietly in this custom-made website: http://www.sarahedgewrites.com ~waiting to be read and responded to.