Life’s so wonderfully surprising.
Two weeks ago, when I had just sprained my ankle (and broken my foot, it turns out), I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t walk onto an airplane and fly to New York. That vacation had been planned for months, and it disappeared into the grey November sky. Instead, I had to lay on the couch, wounded, my song gone.
You couldn’t have told me that day that two weeks later, I’d be in Los Angeles, my dearest friend by my side as we sang along with Paul McCartney in concert.
Let me explain.
Sharon has infused my life with laughter, a thousand connections that make no sense to anyone else, and abiding, unconditional love for the past 23 years. How is that possible? How did we grow old enough to have been friends for nearly a quarter of a century? We met in Southern California, when I was in the tenth grade, and she was in the seventh grade. Sharon’s older sister was one year above me in high school, and we became friends. Of course, I met her kid sister, several times. But at the time, Sharon was still in junior high, which is an impossible divide for a high school kid. When I was sixteen, I lived in London for a year, with my family. Among a hundred other hilarious adventures, I met Paul McCartney that year. Always a Beatle fan, I had become a swoony, impossibly-in-love-with-a-pop-icon, gushy, near-obsessive 16-year-old. When I met him, my face flushed bright red, as red as ripe tomatoes in July. And he was a real mensch, dear and kind, standing on Oxford Street for fifteen minutes with his wife Linda, leaning forward to listen to me babble, smiling at my family. I hadn’t thought I could love him more, but it turns out I could. I skipped down the street afterwards, as happy as a girl could be. When I returned to sunny Southern California, Sharon was in the ninth grade. Her sister told her that I had met Paul, and she had to hear about it from me. I can still remember everything–from the look of the hazy sunshine coming down in the 400 quad and the maroon lockers outside the classrooms to Sharon’s shy face hidden behind thick glasses–about the moment I met Sharon again. We began babbling about Paul, right away. And instantly, we were friends.
We’ve been best friends ever since. I don’t think we have ever gone more than a few weeks without talking, and that was only once. These days, we chatter every day, laughing through our cell phones, discussing every litle detail of our lives. We lived in the same apartment in New York for years. She came to visit me in London when I lived with the CFP. We drove across Ireland in a little green car. She and I drove to Vermont to look at hillsides covered with firework leaves every autumn. We made our way across the United States in a rental car, slowly, and with wacky stories at every stop. We drove down the coast of California, the wind blowing our hair through the open windows, listening to Wings as we looked for the ocean. We have been with each other in every important moment and mundane day. And we’ve joked, since we were sixteen, that we’ll end up in the same nursing home, rocking on the porch, laughing and talking about Paul McCartney’s butt.
And eating. Because, you see, if Sharon and I have shared anything these past twenty-three years, it’s food. We are both utterly, without question, passionately devoted to food. We talk about food on the phone, in lavish detail and multiple enthusiasms. We cook meals in separate states and report to each other about what worked. We advise each other about new delicacies the other should try. Sharon’s the one who started me on fig balsamic vinegar, chai lattes, and chestnut honey on pecorino romano. We reminisce about meals: the sticky toffee pudding at Tea and Sympathy; sandwiches at Le Pain Quotidien; Pad Thai at Thai Tom. I always tease her about this: when Sharon and I are in the midst of a gorgeous, sumptuous, eyes-closed-it’s-so-good breakfast at a little country bed and breakfast somewhere on a relaxed weekend away, she’ll moan, then look at me and say, “Where are we going to have dinner?” Not lunch. And not even dinner that night. But the next night. Because all the other meals in between are already planned and dreamed of. After all, this is the woman who, as a girl on a car trip with her family, kept a journal which consisted of: “For breakfast we had ______. For lunch we ate ______. For dinner we stopped at ________.” And in our epic cross-country road trip, nearly every story we still tell each other has to do with food. The Italian beef sandwiches we ate in Chicago, hunched over the trunk of the rental car. And the splatterings stayed on that white car until the thunderstorm in Wyoming. The milkshakes at the Yellowstone drugstore in Shoshone. The picnics and greasy breakfasts and cheese curds in Wisconsin. We made a short film of the experience, and every shot that wasn’t scenery was a shot of Sharon either doing a little jig or eating pie. We’re pretty different in so many ways, but we’re connected at the heart through our love for each other and our love of food.
So I hate the fact that she lives in Los Angeles. Why can’t she live in Seattle, next door to me? Well, she’s an actor, a stand-up comedian, brilliant at it, still trying to make it in Hollywood. And since she’s one of the funniest human beings I have ever met, who can leave me in paroxysms of giggles, doubled over on the floor, on a moment’s notice, she really should pursue it. (Anyone reading? Hire her. Immediately.) But there’s only so much the phone can serve us. And I miss her when she’s not around.
Last week, her boyfriend called me, unexpectedly. Before I tell you this story, I want to show you Matt’s photograph. He deserves to be recognized. So here’s Matt, standing on Sunset Boulevard with Sharon:
Matt is also a struggling actor. Of course. So he doesn’t have the brilliant income he might wish. But still, he’s one of the most genuinely generous people I’ve ever met. And when he called me, he proposed this plan. Sharon’s birthday is next week, but he wanted to surprise her a week early. And he knows her well enough to know what she would most want: a weekend with me. So–get this–he bought me an airline ticket to come down to LA for the weekend. Even better, Sharon had no idea about the plan.
So, on Thursday evening, I hobbled onto a plane to Los Angeles. Well, first I was driven in a Lincoln town car to the airport, by a jovial man who turned out to be editing his church’s cookbook. So we talked food all the way to the airport. And when I was on the plane, in the bulkhead seat so I could prop up my swollen foot on the little wall before me, the man next to me asked about my ankle. We started talking. Turns out he lives in San Francisco, where the plane made a stop before LA. Before long, we were talking about the joys of Zuni Cafe, Chez Panisse, the farmers’ market at the ferry terminal, Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and French Laundry. (He had lunch there this year. I’m so jealous.) Everywhere I go, people start talking to me about food. And I happily participate in those conversations.
By the time I arrived at the restaurant where Sharon was waiting, I had worked myself to a fever pitch of excitement. When I sidled up to her in the booth where she was sitting with Matt, she looked so utterly shocked that her entire face froze. She couldn’t speak for a full few minutes. She just opened her eyes wide, tears welling up instantly, then started shouting, “What is happening?” When she finally fully comprehended the fact that I was there, standing before her, the first thing she said was, “Oh no! The kitchen just closed! We can’t order you any food.”
I didn’t care. There was plenty of gorgeous, gluten-free food to be had all weekend long. And I’ll tell you more about it, in the days to come. Sweet corn salad at the Casbah. Seared ahi tuna and warm duck breast at a beautiful Tuscan restaurant on Beverly Boulevard. Spinach omelettes and great cups of coffee at Madame Matisse. Goat cheese and cinnamon-sugar marshmallows and dried apricot paste and Vosges fire-red chocolate. I’ll share photos and stories tomorrow, or the next day.
But pardon me if today is not a traditional food blog entry. No recipes here, except the recipe for happiness Matt shared with me. Flying to LA and being with Sharon was exactly what I needed. I’m no longer mopey about my broken foot. I stood in the sunshine of Sharon’s presence for two and a half days, and I’m feeling fine.
And there were more joys to come. Matt had told me that he was throwing Sharon a huge surprise party this weekend, and that’s why he wanted me to be there. Absolutely. Great. Except he lied. There was no party. Instead, he surprised us both. Late Saturday afternoon, he showed up with food from Baja Fresh, and several pieces of paper. Sharon read them silently, her eyes growing wide, then started shouting, “Tonight? Tonight?!“
And I shouted at her: “What? What’s happening?”
Matt had bought us tickets for the Paul McCartney concert happening that night. In fact, he had bought these tickets back in June, when they had first gone on sale. He had been planning this for months. He knew how much we loved this man, and he wanted us to share the experience together.
We jumped up and down and smothered him in hugs and chastized him for the money he must have spent and squealed like 16-year-old girls. “You are the best boy I know!” I shouted at him. It’s true. He really is. For corn sake, he bought us fifth-row tickets to Paul McCartney.
So there we were, in the darkness, with 20,000 other Paul fans, screaming those deeply familiar lyrics as loudly as our voices would allow, and we still couldn’t hear ourselves over the music. And we danced. I danced in the aisles, with my cast, abandoing myself to the joy of the moment. At the beginning of each song, Sharon and I looked at each other, eyes wide, then shouted, “I love this song!” And we did. Every one of them. Dear old Paul may be 63 years old, but he still knows how to rock. And hard. He played for three straight hours, every great Beatles song and solo work I love dearly. Some of the greatest songs ever written, played for us, by the man who wrote them, who seemed to be having as joyful a time as we were. Imagine screaming “Helter Skelter” with 20,000 other people. With your dearest, longest-standing friend by your side. The friend you met when she was fourteen, because she wanted to hear about you meeting Paul McCartney.
All the parts of my life connected together this weekend. And I didn’t even know I was going to be in LA a week before, when I lay on the couch in pain.
Life will never stop surprising me. And I’ll never stop smiling at it all.