Recently one of my close childhood friends contacted me to let me know that she and her husband were coming to LA with their son on a weekend college tour. They were stopping for just a day and night in town, before flying to Palo Alto, where their daughter attends Stanford. We arranged to have breakfast this morning, a rare Saturday morning without a 10 out of 12 for me, at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills where they were staying.
My usual circuit does not include passing through or anywhere near the Peninsula Hotel, though I had stayed at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong in 1993, courtesy of my father, on my way home from a two week fact-finding trip to Vietnam with a group of his family planning colleagues. It was an amazing trip, and the luxury of the Peninsula Hotel stay after two weeks traveling around Vietnam was incredibly welcome.
Pixley and I had selected 10:30AM for our rendez-vous, which allowed me to sleep in and go to the gym before we met. She and her family had to leave the hotel by 12 to get to the airport in time for their flight. As I sloughed off my wet gym clothes, showered, and redressed, dashing out the door with a quickly blown kiss in my husband’s direction, I hadn’t reviewed the directions on my phone; so, as I approached the hotel, the Maps app stubbornly guided me once, then twice, then three times not to the Peninsula, but to the Chase Bank building on the southeast corner of Wilshire and S. Santa Monica Blvd.
When I eventually pulled into the driveway of the hotel, there was a large ladder in the driveway, topped with a nervous looking gardener holding a 10″ crystal globe tree ornament in his hand, and an apologetic event planner on the driveway below, who hurriedly moved the orange cones out of the way of my dusty Honda Civic Hybrid.
Pixley greeted me at the foyer, and we moved through the front lobby, where tables were set with service for tea, and sunshine streamed through the large wall of windows.
I’ll show you our room before we go to breakfast.
We swept out a side door onto a gracefully curving path. The door was just to the left, and soon we were in a very modern room,clean brown striated walls, the crisp white rumpled bed visible to the left. Pixley pointed down at some pillows on the chair.
Can you believe this?
I looked down and saw that one pillow each was monogrammed with hers and her husband’s initials on an angle in one corner – ES, KS, and in the adjoining office space, where there was a twin bed set up, NS, on her son’s pillow. When I see this kind of opulence, it impresses me, but also makes my stomach churn. We giggled nervously about the ridiculousness of this excess, and turned to leave, just as her husband and son returned from a morning trip to the USC campus.
We are a long long way from Greensburg, PA, where, as girls, Pixley and I belonged to a girl scout troop, rode a yellow school bus daily from the dingy downtown YMCA a half hour out to the Valley School, in Ligonier, PA. There, we played field hockey, and acted in plays together, watched Marx Brothers movies on the day before Thanksgiving holiday recess, and presumably studied hard enough to be accepted at boarding schools. We attended dancing school, though Pixley was an accomplished ballerina, and I just a clumsy pre-teen learning how to foxtrot. On frequent weekends, we shared sleepovers at my house or hers, where her brother’s Elvis obsession revealed itself in his bedroom, plastered with posters. I remember the welcome embrace of Pixley and the other girls in my sixth grade class when my parents announced they were getting a divorce and I ran into the bathroom at recess in tears.
In between our childhoods since 8th grade graduation, Pixley had attended a different prep school, then off to college, and then on to New York, where she performed in several shows on Broadway. She now teaches on the faculty of the Boston Ballet School.We had been out of touch for probably 15 years before we recently reconnected. And now we were sitting on the rooftop of the Peninsula hotel, ordering cholesterol-free frittatas, and trying to reassemble the missing chapters. At 56, the beginning of the book is a bit blurred for me. Like my experience when I put down a book for a long time, I sat reaching into the dark recesses of my memory as she updated me on some elementary school friends, telling me a little about their lives now – does commercial real-estate in Manhattan, keeps fit, etc, younger wife. We had both lost our moms, mine 19 years ago to lung cancer, hers 5 years ago. I can see Pixley’s mom so much in her face. A single mom when I knew Pixley as a child, raising two kids and doing so well at it. I’m sure that she, looking across the sun dappled patio, saw much of Shirley in my face as well. We talked about our eventual retirements, she longing for more travel and recreation time, more sun, and I asked her where she would like to travel. The far east – Bali, Thailand, Japan. She asked me where I would want to travel to, and all I could come up with was Tahoe, where my son and his fiancee and our granddaughter live.
If you could take them and Jimmie and go, where would you like to go?
This one stumped me; circumstances being as they are, with the need and desire to work, along with the current health concerns, I was seemingly unable to reply, but I said I’d like to return to Italy one day, and I’ve always been sorry Jimmie and I didn’t get to Ireland.
Her son soon joined us, and they discussed whether to eat now, or later. Deciding to eat then, we ordered our food, chatting a little about Nick’s morning visit to USC and the other schools he was looking at. Ken arrived soon after, and I could see he was distracted by the travel schedule; my insertion into their time at the Peninsula was, while not unwelcome, an inconvenience. His questions seemed almost like the continuation of a conversation with Pixley about what she liked about California. I told him we had lived in Los Angeles for thirty years.
What are your favorite parts of the city?
My brain froze, as I scanned my city’s highlights, and I found myself more critically examining my fervent embrace of Los Angeles since our arrival in 1986. During all that time, I’ve engaged in a full and rich working life in the theatre; through it all, I’ve loved the dynamism of the town’s working theatre professionals and the fruits of our many collaborations. I love the restaurants. I don’t really have time to get to see the museums, but know that there are world class museums here that one day, given the time, I will wander in and explore. But sitting there 20 feet from the cerulean blue of the Pensinsula pool, I was being asked what specifically held me in Los Angeles. The implication in both his and Pixley’s questions:
If money were no object, where would you live? What do you look for in a full life?
Of course he hadn’t asked me that, just what were my favorite parts of the city. But the question slammed me with a force I was completely unprepared for.
I mumbled something about the beautiful gardens at the Huntington in Pasadena, and saw the skepticism in Ken’s eyes.
How about Malibu or Santa Barbara? Do you ever get there?
I realized I was not going to be the best person to give them the answers about a quite different Los Angeles they might be searching for, and lamely, I said
I don’t get out to those places very often with my work…. I like downtown?
Shortly after, he rose from table with apologies that he needed to pack, and Pixley and Nick and I finished up our breakfast, saving the last five minutes to talk about how wonderful it was to get together. And it truly was. I hope that we have more time to see each other in the future, to write the new chapters of our lives as friends. Hopefully she’ll come back because we both know that the Peninsula has her pillowcase ready for her. Or she can always plan a sleepover at my house.