to Meet Cute Boys
By Deanna Kizis
Published by Warner Books
October 2003; 0-446-53072-7; 304 pages
"Oh no! You look so much cuter than me."
Kiki had just let herself into my apartment and stormed into my tiny bathroom, where I was putting on my makeup. She scared me half to death, as I was blasting the stereo and didn't hear her knock. Good thing she hasn't lost her key, I thought. Yet.
"I do not," I said, doing a quick appraisal. Kiki looked like sex on toast, as usual. Her blond hair was down, jeans were snug in all the right places, lips were berry red. Of course, she was wearing another black sweater, which toned her natural vampiness down a bit. (Kiki thinks black sweaters camouflage her boobage.) And, okay, her eyes were slightly puffy, but I only noticed that because I already knew what was going on. Overall, I have to say, she looked hot. I looked at myself in the mirror for comparison. Not exactly Kiki, I'm what people call "cute." As in, even if I were wearing nipple clamps, crotchless panties, and holding a whip, they'd say, "That's so cute! "
I was going to need more mascara.
"Ben, you know you look amazing," Kiki said, watching me apply another coat.
"I really don't."
"Oh my God, fuck you, you do." She spun out of the bathroom and headed toward my bedroom in a huff.
A couple of days before, Kiki had broken up with her boyfriend, Edward. Actually, make that, she broke up with Edward, her rental unit. Renting, as opposed to leasing (or, heaven forbid, actually owning), is a common affliction among us over twenty-fives today. You end up dating this guy for months and you're not seeing anybody else, and he's not seeing anybody else (at least, you think he's not seeing anybody else), but you don't actually call him your boyfriend because he doesn't actually call you his girlfriend. Then you get in a fight over some dumb thing, like maybe he didn't call all weekend until Sunday, and when you tell him you're upset, he says something like, "Since when is Sunday not the weekend?"
The next thing you know, you're having the I-Think-We-Need-to-Talk Talk (always prefaced with those six crushingly familiar words), and he's broken up with you when you weren't sure you were even going out in the first place. Which is how you end up mourning something you never knew you had, asking yourself questions- Should I have done this differently? Not said that at all?-that you didn't even know were serious at the time. The whole thing becomes a downward spiral of regret and second-guessing, something Kiki and I are extremely familiar with. After all, I write the articles about how shitty men can be, she edits the articles about how shitty men can be, Fill y-the magazine where we both work-publishes the articles about how shitty men can be, and a million-plus women read our articles about how shitty men can be. And yet, we're all still surprised at how shitty men can be. It's a clear-cut case of the blind leading the blind.
Anyway, after six weeks of heavy dating, Kiki's rental unit had initiated The Talk. They'd spent a weekend together doing couple stuff (making seared ahi tuna for dinner, picking out sweaters at Barneys, et cetera). He said things were getting too serious, and she hadn't heard from him since.
I heard the closet door bang open, followed by rummaging. Hangers whisked about; shoes clunked onto the floor. I pictured Kiki standing half naked in front of my full-length mirror, probably trying on one of my tops, possibly with two different shoes crammed onto her size eight feet to see which looked better.
"I look fat," she said over the music.
"Yeah, you're a real cow," I hollered back.
I headed into the kitchen to make her a drink. A strong drink. I grabbed the supersized bottle of Absolut Kiki had brought over after I finally broke up with Jack-there was a bit left. (I'd been nursing it alone, I admit it.) I peered into the fridge for a decent mixer, but the only thing I had was diet Coke. But that was okay, I decided, swirling the concoction around in a glass. The vodka would elevate Kiki's mood, the caffeine would keep her awake.
From the bedroom I heard, "I look like a complete loser! " A crash of plastic and glass hit the floor, which meant she was into the product samples from publicists that were piled every which way on top of my vanity.
"You're a bombshell, Kiki. Get over it."
"I loathe what I'm wearing!"
I entered the bedroom, and she'd exchanged her black sweater for one of my black sweaters. She was stretching it out.
"Well, now you're wearing my clothes, so go easy."
I handed her the drink.
She sighed, "Look at you. I wish I was a brunette."
"Well, brunette is the new blond."
"I'm too tall."
"Short is the new statuesque ." I pirouetted around my room, looking for the various things I'd need for the evening and cramming them into my purse.
"Seriously!" she wailed. "You've got that fantastic starving-refugee thing going on-I look like a goddamn giraffe."
Only Kiki could make being five foot eight with 34Ds sound like such a nightmare. She's almost managed to convince me being short isn't all bad-insists everything's more appealing when it's smaller, be it a cell phone, an evening bag, a snack food, or Sarah Jessica Parker.
"Famine is the new fashion!" I declared. "We pronounce it, fa-meen ."
She still didn't smile. So I said, "Okay, have it your way: You've got a giraffe thing going on, but you've got bigger tits."
Kiki finally laughed. Downed the drink in a couple of gulps. Chewed an ice cube. Made a face. Her green eyes took on the look of someone determined. Someone who had a job to do, and was going to do it, damn it, even if it was the end of her.
We took her Jetta, because it was parked closer than my Jetta. Before I could sit, I had to clear away a pile of her old bank statements, a ratty brassiere, several diet Coke cans, the calendar section of the LA Times, and a half-eaten bag of McDonald's fries, now hard as plastic.
Kiki watched me trying to organize the mess. "Ben, give it a rest wouldja?" she said. "You know you can just throw that stuff in the backseat."
It's the same every time.
* * *
Each fall, Filly-the fashion magazine of choice for women who prefer sociopathic men and maxed-out credit cards-has a huge bash to celebrate the fashion issue. We hold the event as a thank-you to our advertisers. Of course, thanks to them, nobody actually reads the fashion issue-it's so full of ads you can't find the articles and the magazine weighs about four hundred pounds. The party's usually held in New York. Last year Kiki and I got to fly out there for free, stay at the Mercer, and treat ourselves to expensed dinners at Da Silvano. But this year the party was being held at the Farmer's Daughter Motel on Fairfax. The choice of a campy seventy-five-dollar-a-night dive was meant to be old school, but whatever. At least it was closer to home. Filly did this eight-page spread in the issue using Hollywood actresses as models. The actresses were supposed to come to the party, which would then get party pictures in other magazines, which would then make Filly even more successful than it already was. Or something.
Outside was a disaster. Photographers were clamoring to get shots of Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson. Entertainment Tonight was pulling celebrities out of the crowd for the usual "What a great night!" chatting. And then there were all the people who weren't actually invited but were trying to get in anyway. Kiki and I fought our way through the throng, because we certainly didn't want to be confused with what a publicist friend of mine from New York called ham-and-eggers, as in party crashers who wanted more than what they were entitled to (the ham and the eggs).
"Name?" asked the bouncer when we got to the front.
As the story goes, my parents came up with it while smoking dope. No wonder they ended up divorced-family life wasn't exactly their thing.
"I don't have time for this," the bouncer said.
"Yeah, but ...my name is Ben Franklin."
He looked at the list, said I wasn't on it, and turned his face away so he could listen to an urgent call coming through his headset. ("We're running out of chicken satay in section three! Again, chicken satay needed in section three!")
I looked at Kiki, flustered.
"Did you tell him who you are?" she asked.
"You're the West Coast editor, you tell him who you are."
"Can't." She shook her head from side to side. "Can't take rejection now of any kind."
I tried to get the bouncer's attention by grabbing a complimentary issue of the magazine and waving it in his face. He couldn't have been ignoring me more.
"What do you mean I'm not on it?" I said. "See this?" I opened Filly and pointed to my last article, "How to Meet Cute Boys." "I wrote that."
His eyes arrested briefly on the magazine, then moved back into the void over my head. I felt a door-anxiety panic attack coming on. Am I seriously not going to get into my own party? I wondered. Am I a loser? Unsuitable for admittance? Does he hate me? And then, as a kind of coup de grâce, the bouncer said, "If you're not on the list you can't come in," and gently but firmly pushed me aside.
at this moment Hilary Swank arrived wearing a see-through dress and the
paparazzi went nuts. ("Didn't she already work that shit at the Oscars?"
Kiki muttered in my ear.) Everyone took this opportunity to rush the door,
and we were swept up into a wave of unstoppable, fabulously dressed humanity,
shoving past the now screaming guards. And just as quickly as we were
out ...we were in.
Kiki and I walked through the courtyard toward the bar, and my eyes turned skyward to hundreds of people making their way up and down the motel's outdoor walkways. It was an "Around the World" party-each room in the motel had a theme. At a glance, I could see a massage parlor, a keg party, and a tiki lounge, all going on at once. I squinted at faces to see if I actually knew anyone, but found myself staring at the same familiar-looking strangers I always see at events like this. We had our well-heeled Westsiders wearing wrap dresses, the hipsters in thrift-shop corduroy, a coterie of agents who'd dashed straight from work and still had on suits and ties. The publicists were in the house, talking on their cell phones and giving dirty looks to everyone who wasn't a potential client, along with Filly writers like myself, all of whom were getting bombed. There were the actors, of course, who came hoping to be noticed yet, the minute you noticed them, pretended they didn't want the extra attention. And then there was ...everybody else. Whoever they were.
I imagine we all had that same desperate look in our eyes. The one that says, Entertain me. Show me. Seduce me. Shock me. Do something, anything that will make tonight more than just another excuse to leave the house. But I predicted that everyone, including me, would be let down. There are so many premieres, so many art shows, so many boutique openings, restaurant openings, record-release parties ...you could go out every night of the week but know deep down inside that you weren't actually doing anything. It was depressing when I stopped and thought about it, which I tried not to do. Maybe Jack was right. All these people come to L.A. because they just want to get famous. Or get next to the famous. They want to get on the list. But inside the list there's another list, an A-list. And inside the party there's another party, the VIP room. So then people try to get on that list, in that room. And what they find is the same sorry, bored-out-of-their-minds fuckers as the ones they were so desperate to elevate themselves above in the first place.
And yet. Well, there is that moment. You go to a premiere, you walk down the red carpet, you see all the people standing on the other side of the velvet rope clutching their autograph books, and you think to yourself, I may be just another hanger-on, a plus-one, a ham-and-egger, but I'm here. And here is always better than there.
Speaking of which, I spotted Collin, a wannabe celebrity stylist friend who wears a lot of ironic eighties fashions and thinks The Strokes were the Second Coming of Christ.
"Ladies, how's your lifestyle?" he said.
"Excellent," I said.
"Crappy," Kiki said.
"Pretty good party." He nodded, eyes darting this way and that. "Strictly A-list."
(Total bullshit-there were more people at this party than there were on the Titanic .)
"Oh fuck," Collin added, "there's Winona Ryder."
Kiki and I didn't look.
"Damn, she's hot," he said. "Damn, damn, damn. Hey-do you think there's a chance?"
"Didn't she date Beck?" I composed my face in a way that would imply that if she weren't into rock stars, she might be interested.
"So," he said. "I met Beck once and he was a really great guy."
"He was eating with a friend of mine at Ammo. We talked for, like, ten minutes."
Collin always gets annoyed if you question his celebrity bragging rights. It's fun. So I said, "And he was nice, huh?"
"Hey Ben? Go die. There are lots of people here I want to meet, and I already know you two, so-later!" Collin dived back into the throng.
Kiki was primed for another drink, so we fought our way to the bar. Souza was sponsoring the party, which meant unfortunately there were only free tequila martinis on hand. Everything else we'd have to pay for, which was out of the question since we hadn't brought any cash. (Nobody in this city ever carries more than just a few singles, which, naturally, are for the valet.)
Kiki and I got two free drinks and she chugged hers while I winced my way through mine. We decided to do a lap. We hit the massage room first, where Kiki got a five-minute neck rub. Opted against the tattoo parlor, which was being patronized by the Gwen Stefani/Orange County/wallet-chain crowd, and headed to the next floor. If there was one good thing to say about the party, it's that there were boys, boys, and more boys. Not that I intended to actually try to talk to any of them. My secret hope was that a cute guy would try to talk to me.
We grabbed another tequila martini from a nearby cocktail waitress and made for the fortune-telling room. I usually avoided fortune-tellers. What if they tell you you're going to die in a terrible boating tragedy or go bankrupt or something? But I was curious to see if she thought I'd ever meet The One. The One I go to places like this looking for. Now, I that a huge, impersonal party can't really be the right place to find true love. Nevertheless, I keep RSVPing, hoping that, one night, yes, maybe tonight, I'll have RSVP'd my way right into an earth-shattering romance.
I got in line. Jack would give me so much shit for this, I thought. He didn't believe in fortune-telling-would have hated this party, too. Of course, he was a financial planner.
As of two months ago, Jack and I were still living together. It was like being married-except not. Because we didn't want to have kids (not yet, anyway), and we still liked to meet friends out at a bar and get bombed now and then. On the other hand, it was generally assumed we'd get married eventually, and the sex had a predictable but comfortable bent. On the surface, everything was great. Jack was making a pretty good living; I'd left the local freebie I was writing for and gotten a new gig as a Filly writer. Jack asked me to move in and I did. But every time I wanted to go out with my friends alone, he would make these annoying little remarks. Like, "Have fun hanging out with the other fashionistas, dahling."
"I work at a fashion magazine now, Jack," I'd say. "Besides, it's just a party, like any other party. The only one who takes it seriously is you."
But then I'd always feel bad and invite him to come along. He'd throw it in my face, saying, "No, just go. Have a fabulous time."
I finally did just go. From his Santa Monica duplex-which I always felt was like living in the land of the multiplying baby strollers anyway-all the way to Silver Lake, which is forty-five minutes and a million light-years away. To Jack, it was the ultimate betrayal. I invited him out to see my new apartment, hoping we could at least be friends, but he refused. When I gave him my address so he could forward my mail, he said, "Oh, aren't you so cool ."
The one-bedroom I took was small, but it had hardwood floors and a view of the hills. I tossed the Pottery Barn crap Jack insisted I take half of, bought a couple of Eames chairs from a used-furniture store, and got a nice minimalist vibe going. The neighborhood had coffee shops you could walk to, art galleries, independent bookstores, and quirky bars on practically every corner. There were things to do.
But then, well, sure, a little bit of fear started to creep in. I couldn't figure out what people who weren't in a relationship did with their spare time. Watching television alone was an excruciating experience-I started turning down the sound real low so the neighbors wouldn't hear it and feel sorry for me. It occurred to me that Jack was like this piece of driftwood-a small, resentful piece, fine-but he'd kept me afloat. Without him, I was just bobbing along, getting tossed this way and that, not sinking, but not really swimming, either.
I was almost at the front of the line for the fortune-telling lady. I turned to ask Kiki what she thought about fortune-tellers. Charlatans? Clairvoyant? But she was preoccupied with people-watching-scanning the crowd looking for Edward. Probably terrified that he was there, yet somehow downtrodden by the fact that he didn't seem to be. Kiki caught me staring at her and mouthed the words, "Kill me now."
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"HEY YOU GUYS OH MY GOD IT'S SO GOOD TO SEE YOU WHAT'S UP DO YOU HAVE A LIGHT I CAN'T FIND MY FUCKING LIGHTER THOSE PEARLS ARE GENIUS!" It was Steph, Filly's publicist, a stick-thin party thrower/socialite, who, because she spent most of her evenings at events where music was blasting and chitchat was rampant, did her own brand of yell talk and could never focus on one topic. Jack used to call her "Minnie Mouth."
"Hey, Steph. I'm good. Take these matches. Thank you," I said.
"DID YOU GUYS HAVE ANY TROUBLE AT THE DOOR THE LIST IS ALL FUCKED UP CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW MANY CUTE GUYS THERE ARE HERE OH MY GOD I SAW THIS GUY WHO I AM SO IN LOVE WITH HE'S AN ACTOR BUT MY FRIEND SAYS HE'S ALSO A DRUG DEALER AND I CAN'T DECIDE IF THAT'S BAD WHAT DO YOU THINK?"
I let Kiki take this one. "It was hectic, but we got in," she said. "If you really like him then it's probably okay." She shot me a he's-a-drug-dealer? look. "But you should probably find out if he's, you know, the right guy for you."
"TOTALLY I SO HEAR YOU WAIT OH MY GOD J'AI IS HERE SHE'S SUCH A FUCKING GENIUS I HAVE TO TALK TO HER AND SEE IF I CAN GET AN APPOINTMENT MY EYEBROWS ARE A DISASTER BYE-BYE DAHLINGS!"
We watched Steph cut her way expertly down the stairwell and thrust herself in the path of an eyebrow shaper who, thanks to journalists like myself, is now a celebrity complete with first-name-only recognition. Like Madonna.
It was my turn. I walked into the dimly lit motel room, and it took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the candlelight. I made out the fortune-teller waving me toward an empty upholstered chair. I sat at the table, which was covered with glittery scarves, but the presence of two double beds with green and blue comforters and a cheap-looking nightstand sort of detracted from the gypsy ambience. Not to mention that my fortune-teller, who introduced herself as Olivia, looked bored out of her turban. She told me to shuffle the tarot cards; then she laid them out on the table, the bangles on her arms making a fake-gold clinking sound.
"This one," Olivia said, taking a swig of bottled water, "says you are a creative person whose strengths lie in the arts."
Flattering, but not exactly what I had in mind.
"This one says there will be a big change for someone close to you. Maybe family."
Unlikely-my mother dated so often that a new guy could hardly constitute a big change, and Audrey was in a perma relationship with the Commando.
"This one"-she pointed to another-"says you recently had your heart broken, but you're starting to realize that it's all for the best."
"Is there a question you want to ask?" Olivia looked at me and yawned.
Suddenly I realized how pathetic my question really was: Would I ever fall madly in love? Would I ever want to give someone everything I had? Would I ever want to share everything, want him to touch every-thing, want to tell him everything? They were probably the same questions everyone asked. What the fortune-teller should do was start taking down everybody's phone number and become a matchmaker instead. I shook my head. "No, no questions. Thank you, though."
Olivia was too tired to put up a fight, so she just shrugged, giving me an incriminating, it's-not-my-fault-you-didn't-come-prepared look. I felt like I'd wasted her valuable psychic energy, so I put four dollars in the tip jar-my valet money-and met Kiki outside.
"How was it?" she said.
"I'm good at the arts, I've had my heart broken, blah blah blah. Are you going in?"
Kiki peered into the gloom at Olivia lighting a cigarette off a candle and hesitated. "No, forget it. I can't face the future," she said. "Let's go get another drink and obliterate it instead."
With our territory staked out at the bar so we wouldn't have to wait in line for refills, Kiki finally went there. "I'm never going to meet anyone again," she said.
"Of course you are," I said.
"I don't think so. Seriously. I don't even have the energy to try anymore. Edward took the will right out of me."
"Kiki, you can't give up because of Mrs. Doubtfire."
She raised her eyebrows at me, like, Quoi?
"He was so hairy he looked like Robin Williams on Rogaine."
"Good one," she said. But it wasn't the direct hit I was hoping for.
"Look, meeting cute boys is easy." I bobbed my head up and down like one of those little nodding dolls. "All you have to do is find someone you might be into, and put yourself in his way. If he's into you, too, you'll strike up a conversation."
"Really." She raised an eyebrow. "Quoting our own articles, are we?"
"A, it was your idea. And, B, you edited it, so supposedly you agreed with it."
"All right, then." She took a look around the courtyard. "Show me."
"Yeah!" She gave me a playful shove toward the masses. "Do it now!"
"You can't be serious."
"Ben, lemme ask you something." Kiki leaned back in her chair and studied me. "Why do you think I keep assigning you those dating stories?"
"I give up. Why?"
"Because if I didn't, you'd never go out on a date ."
"Bull true. You broke up with Jack, but instead of getting busy you just go to parties and watch me and Nina flirt with everyone. So I figured, you're a good reporter, if I give you an assignment, I know you'll do it. And you do. But then you sit at home, right, type type typing away. Never do this; always do that . . ."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. She was dissing my stuff.
"What?" she said. "I'm not saying I don't love your articles. Look, think of this as fact checking. You claim the techniques in your article work, so show me. Go meet a cute guy."
© 2003 Deanna Kizis
Jones's Diary there hasn't been anything as original as this smart
and funny debut novel about a young woman experiencing the trials and
tribulations of the L.A. dating scene. Benjamina Franklin is a star journalist
who chronicles her dating disasters for Filly, a women's magazine.
When Benjamina meets Max, she believes she has finally met the man of
her dreams. And just in time--her little sister's wedding is only a few
months away. The only problem is that Max turns out to be, in a word,
younger. A lot younger. Soon he begins to exhibit classic signs of Benjamina's
worst nightmare: male commitment phobia. Will Max leave her to be single
and broken-hearted? Or will Benjamina come to realize that her life is
full without a pseudoboyfriend? Women everywhere will laugh and cry along
with Benjamina as she navigates the highs and lows of the modern dating
Deanna Kizis is a West Coast editor at Elle magazine. Her work has appeared in Harper's Bazaar, Entertainment Weekly, People, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Details, Premiere, and Variety, among other publications. Ms. Kizis lives in Los Angeles.