To read my 2017 McSweeney’s piece in its original glory, click here.
There’s no place like home! Inconveniently located a twenty-five-minute drive from anywhere, this Bel-Air neocolonial is popular with nostalgia lovers and masochists alike. Whether gazing at walls lined with awkward childhood photos and unpromising childhood art, or plucking an angst-filled adolescent journal from my bedroom bookshelf, you’ll find plenty of entertainment in the lovingly preserved archives. This isn’t just where I grew up; it’s where I lived after each of the failures of my twenties. Speaking of, on that same bookshelf you’ll find a few copies of my first novel, bound by my mom at Kinko’s.
1. MOM SHUTTLE – 3 PM
First-class service begins when my mom picks you up at LAX. Be prepared for her perfectly innocent questions about your life. Don’t read into the fact that she follows your answers with detailed updates about the doings of your wildly successful peers. You have to agree, it is amazing so many kids went on to do such great things, having only had all of the advantages.
2. FORAGING – 4PM
Once you’ve checked into your corner room with renovated bath, trek down to the kitchen for a range of courtesy snacks. Snag a slice of pumpkin bread, or one of the cookies that just happen to be fresh out of the oven. Or, wrestle one of the Costco cheddar blocks from the fridge. If you’re lactose-intolerant, hike around the kitchen island to the other fridge, with the water dispenser on the front. You might find some leftovers inside, next to the bottled water. Explain to my mom that “Keurig is so bad for the environment,” as you load a delicious cup.
3. TO THE WOMB! – 5 PM
Have a drink in the legendary Den. Imagine the bar in its 1990s heyday, when my younger sister and her friends sat around in plaid and shot gin from an old bottle of Beefeater, previously watered down by my older sister. Don’t be afraid of the life-size cutout of me at thirteen, wearing a double-breasted suit and palming a basketball like Michael Jordan on his 1989 GQ cover. It’s just a remnant from my bar mitzvah (a tasteful, basketball-themed affair). Feel free to browse the extensive library of books about everything from the Holocaust to the lives of Jewish athletes and entertainers.
4. NEGOTIATIONS – 6 PM
Because it’s Friday in Los Angeles, traffic will be a nightmare until at least 9:00. Still, call my brother and sisters, let them know you’re in town and would happily meet them for dinner. This will place the burden of declining plans on them. Once they decide to stay home, because the traffic is too soul-crushing, you’re free to join my parents for a quiet dinner in the valley.
5. STAY IN – 7 PM
Then again, even Ventura Boulevard is likely to be a nightmare, so allow my mom to venture solo into the cruel night to pick up pizza and salad. Try the homemade spaghetti and meatballs she’ll whip up, just in case we didn’t order enough. While you eat, you may need to explain to her and my dad your procreative plans and whether you’re still considering law school.
6. WANNA BE SEDATED? – 8 PM
Return to The Den for a nightcap, and pluck remotes from the remote basket at random until you find the right one. Click through all six hundred channels or watch something on demand. If you never do find the right remote, try another room, or console yourself with brownies my mom just made. When you’re ready for bed, don’t throw off that down comforter: it will shield you from the frozen wind that blows year-round through the air-conditioning vent.
7. BREKKY ON THE CHEAP – 9 AM
Keep it simple: let my mom make you a cheese omelet. Sit at the counter to watch the chef at work. Have a couple Keurigs and enjoy the retro-thrill of reading an actual paper copy of the newspaper.
8. REALLY BIG FRONT DOORS – 10 AM
The house is on a cul-de-sac in a small neighborhood of cul-de-sacs, so you can cover the whole thing in a single jaunt. As you stroll, marvel at the whimsical juxtaposition of architectural styles: Tudor next to French chateau next to Mediterranean McMansion next to pink Santa Fe. Some of these structures date as far back as the early 1970s. Note the odd ubiquity of lion statuary, and look for the old rabbi’s house, and that house where that psycho kid lived. He’s probably in prison now. Actually, I think my mom said he’s a very successful security contractor.
9. HOT TUBBIN’ – 11 AM
Suit up and head out to the backyard to enjoy the shady trees, pool, and hot tub. Note: due to its ancient timing mechanism, the hot tub may not heat. Thrill seekers can wander down the thorny, spider-webbed path to the pool heater to troubleshoot the issue, but locals know to forget about it and go take a bath.
10. PRE–LUNCH THEATER – 12 PM
When my dad gets home from the gym, his blood sugar will be dangerously low, so speak in calm tones and agree to eat wherever he wants. Don’t be afraid when, fuming behind the steering wheel, he shouts, “Where is she!?” and honks repeatedly. The more he honks, the longer my mom will take. Don’t bother asking him to stop or going back inside to hustle her along, as neither effort will make any difference. Just sit back and enjoy the complimentary ride to complimentary lunch.
11. MATINEE – 1 PM
You’d go to Stanley’s if it hadn’t closed a few years ago. My mom almost never had to send her food back at Stanley’s. But the “pretty good” place across the street will do. Warmly greet the siblings and/or niece and nephew who’ve agreed to lunch. Try to have a conversation with one of them but fail because we are nothing if not interrupters. We are also virtuosic orderers. Admire my father’s request that his bagel be “scooped out” because he doesn’t need those extra carbs. Sit back and enjoy my mother’s one-woman show Can I Do the Omelet, Pancake-Style? with its big hit, “Just Pineapple and Blueberries on the Side.” Don’t even think of leaving before the ensemble performance of “Where’s the Food?” which addresses the most pressing contemporary issues, like where the food is and whether or not enough time has passed for someone to ask the server. When my sister talks about how relaxing this restaurant is, join the chorus and sing, “So relaxing!”
12. HOT SOCCER – 2 PM
Stick with the lunch group on a drive deep into the West Valley for my niece and nephew’s soccer games. She’s five, and not that invested, so she’ll ask the coach to take her out. Serious students of family history will love seeing Grandma crouch down next to her and tell her we came all this way just to watch her play and she’s being very rude. During halftime, take a leisurely stroll around the field, maybe making a note to yourself to mention this in therapy.
13. DADA DINNER – 6 PM
Get the whole gang (parents, siblings, spouses, children, aunts, uncles) together around a big table at a busy restaurant. Everyone’s there, which means nothing you say will be heard and nothing you hear will be complete enough to contain meaning. At some point my mom will send her steak back, which will lead to a debate with my brother about the definition of “medium-well.” Stay positive: in a party this big, that extra craft cocktail or two will go totally unnoticed. My brother and sisters and their spouses will all have the same idea. No retirement for dad this year!
14. SIBLING REVELRY – 8 PM
Give the kids to my mom and dad to watch, and continue the grownup-kid party at one of Sherman Oaks’ coolest new bars, which will make you feel like you aren’t even in the valley, which will make you sad because everyone is younger than you. Watch my sisters casually trade insults until they get angry and refuse to talk to each other. Five minutes later, watch them talk to each other as if nothing happened.
15. ONE FOR THE ROAD – 6 AM
Insist that my mom not make waffles, because it is 6 AM. Make do with toast, all-you-can-eat cheddar, and some pineapple or blueberries. If you’re rushed, grab an insulated paper cup and plastic lid, and take that coffee to go. Don’t think too much about this household’s carbon footprint.
16. FIGHT… THE… INERTIA! – 8 AM
Allow my parents to give you one last free ride to the airport. When you arrive, give them big, long hugs. In an hour, you’ll really miss them. Accept the fact that, in this specific culture, your driver tips you, in case you want a snack in the airport. It would be insulting not to take that twenty.