Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bob's Big Void

I don’t make it a point to eat at Bob’s Big Boy all that frequently, and when I do, I am lucky to have the most iconic Bob’s of all in my back yard.  I’m talking about the Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank.  People call it the “Toluca Lake Bob’s Big Boy,” but other than it sitting in a neighborhood that is tangentially close to the Toluca Lake hoods near by, it is most certainly not in Toluca Lake, which is simply a section of the City of Los Angeles.  The restaurant sits in the City of Burbank proper.  I emphasize this point because I think that it is important to know which city has protected such an architectural monument as designed by the noted Wayne McAllister.  All that one has to do is to look up the restaurant on Wikipedia to find out all about its fascinating design and business history. 

Tonight, while my girlfriend was out of town at her mother’s house for a few days, it was getting late, and I hadn’t cooked anything to eat yet (anyone who knows me is no laughing to themselves because they know I never cook anything for myself), and the eateries around town were getting ready to close.  There are a few twenty-four hour places nearby, but since I tend drop in on their limited number all of the time, I felt like going somewhere fresh tonight.  So I picked Bob’s Big Boy.

It was crowded when I arrived.  The Friday night hot rod car show was starting to thin out, but as usual, that transition had no effect on the cavalcades of people filtering into the Bob’s Big Boy entry area to receive an electronic pager-coaster and await their seating turn.  And so I too waited for a single table.  It took a while, but I eventually got ushered to a seat that skirted the side service way for the waiters and kitchen staff.  They moved like busy bees handing off plates to one another, often throwing the obligatory, yet (I felt) sincere smiles at me. 

Dining alone in a restaurant isn’t one of my top choices, but unlike other people, I can do it. I don’t particularly feel like an exiled mutant, and I actually appreciate some time for my quiet thoughts, those that would otherwise be repressed by conversation, to percolate up.  I usually bring a book with me along with some reading glasses just in case I want to soak up a few pages between when the salad arrives and when the entrée, in this case, a Super Big Boy Combo with a side of rice pilaf, arrives.  And it was during this time of sitting tranquilly, whilst the small but frequent groups of people moved in and out of the isles having finished their meals, replaced by newcomers ready to review the menu, that a feeling of definite void set in me.  I am subject to this every once in a while. 

Bob’s Big Boy was one of the restaurants that a long time friend and I used to meet at to catch up on personal business.  He was a friend that I met in high school, a year older than I, who I always felt that I chose to be my friend, rather than vice-versa.  He seemed a little discombobulated at the time, getting into verbal arguments with the teacher and landing himself thrown out of class only to bake in the hot sun of the cement steps that lead to our math bungalow.  I always suspected that he was experiencing some undue pressure from home to perform, and that he sort of just said, “I’m not into all of that.” 

I felt as though, by approaching him to be his friend, that I was somehow “saving” him or giving him validation of some sort, given that I was somewhat popular in high school.  And yet, I instinctively knew that he was very smart and insightful, so in some way, there was something in it for me.  I have always not only liked, but have craved to be around creative types.  I think it’s because I see a little of that creativity in myself, but I am not blessed with great amounts of it.  And, maybe by being around someone who is so prodigiously gifted in a few areas, a bit of osmosis occurs.  And I do believe that to be the case, by the way. 

And so, our friendship was likely born of a perceived (on my part) symbiotic relationship in those tender years of high school.  However, I would later, during our friendship, discover that I had greatly underestimated upon meeting him, exactly what a smart and insightful person that he was.  It ended up that he came from a pedigree of extremely smart and able parents, and had two brothers who were non-stop productive and driven in a way that I’ve seldom seen in many families.  Actually, I had three “golden” cousins like that, come to think of it.  I didn’t even try to compete with them! 

But, what a household to grow up in, and perhaps to feel competitive with at times!  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m overstepping my assumptions there, but I couldn’t imagine there not being some pressure for success in a family like his.  It’s hard for me to say since our households were so different.  I was brought up as an only child, so there were likely fewer dynamics playing out under my own roof.  Growing up, I simply had to compete with myself, and I didn’t do much of that by any means.  I did, however, become significantly more competitive in the workplace and in physical activities later in my life. 

So, at first glance, I did indeed underestimate my friend’s brilliance. But then again, how can you really know this about someone upon first meeting them, or even in the first year or two that you get to know them.  He would later prove to be one of the most perceptive individuals that I would ever meet in my life.  Most of his insights were of the artistic and psychological kind, and most of his specific epiphanies occurred within our private conversations, and so they will remain private from this writing.   

But as a general example of his gifts, my own personal proof is that I learned a great deal about music from him in a way that a music instructor could never teach.  A sense of what virtuosic style is, and what musical tension is, and what exactly a really good rhythm section does for a piece of music and why.  It was all natural understanding with him; nobody, not even his music-instructor mother, really ever taught any of this in him.  He felt these things in his bones, and I got some of it from watching him and listening to him listen to music.  I watched him deconstruct music in his head, lifting and dissecting each instrument out of what I used to hear as general musical sound.  I could see him doing it.  He would ask me, “Do you hear that bass part right there?”  And then he would outline the bass part for me verbally.  "Do you hear how that hi-hat starts right with the second verse?" "Yeah, I guess so," I would say as I was noticing it for the first time, though I had heard the song hundreds over. This was all happening when I was sixteen years of age, while most sixteen year olds were trying to find ways to buy a six-pack of Schlitz near the front of a Seven-Eleven.  This is what we were doing.  We were studying and making music during our “play” time. 

And his insights into other people were just fantastic at times.  He had a sense of what made people tick inside, and why they would behave in certain ways.  I think that, ultimately, he was plugged into a sense of existential satisfaction in people.  I think he believed that people really needed to be happy doing what they wanted to do, and if they didn’t go for that thing, whatever it was, they would suffer from an existential dissatisfaction throughout their lives.  I tend to lean that way as well, though, because he was such an artistic type, I think he felt this stronger than most people I know.

When it came to his-own relationships to others, things were a bit more, murky.  I mention this about him because the great insight that he had into others simply became normal, or maybe even a little sub-par and peppered with some blind spots, when it came to seeing clearly his own motivations and actions at times.  Another way to put it is that his perception in relation to himself was more toward the "normally flawed" category, like most of us, rather than toward the “super-insightful" side of the spectrum.  And I write that knowing that I will never fully comprehend my own vast flaws and psychological tricks that I do on myself to justify my behaviors and reactions to the world around me. 

The other aspect that led to his early understanding of people, I think, is that he spent a lot of time with adults (and people slightly older than he) as he was growing up.  He had a vocabulary and a way of communicating that smacked of a forty-year-old man at age sixteen.  He used words such as “extrapolate,” “attenuate,” and “vapid” in high school.  It was like he was carrying around an S.A.T. word list with him at all times, but would only flash one of his words just at the selected right time for maximum effect. 

He was also somehow genius at coming up with the most “uncomfortable” situations.  And by that, I mean, God-awful.  It was yet another hidden talent he had, and I think it also stemmed from the need we all have to not be vulnerable, which he and I shared stronger than most people.  One great example of this, which I recall only because it was such an emotionally charged time for me, was as my girlfriend and I were breaking up.  She decided one day to let me know that she was just “outta here!”  She wanted to go live on her own.  I was, as I’ve noted in one of my other articles, devastated.  Absolutely devastated.  I never saw it coming and had thought that we would spend the rest of our lives together, this girlfriend and I. 

I asked her to go to a marriage counselor with me, and she agreed for just one session, and one follow up afterwards.  The marriage counselor, who also saw her flight as somewhat impulsive, asked my girlfriend if she would consider staying in our home for one week alone without me.  This would give her the sense of what it would be like without my presence, and perhaps after the week was over, my girlfriend would consider abandoning her plans, having realized what life would be like without me. 

I’ll just give you the spoiler now, which is that at the end of that week, in which I suffered staying with my parents at their house, not being allowed as part of the arrangement to even call her once, my girlfriend still split at the end of the period.  It was just the worst time in my life, literally, because I was emotionally blind-sided so badly. 

But to get to the point, while I was at my parents’ house, crying at times, and suffering, my friend stayed in close contact with me (bless his heart…seriously…it meant a lot to me….while during the same days, a different friend of mine jokingly suggested that I kill myself…a-hole!).  And while I kept in contact with my friend, I told him how much I wished I knew what was happening.  My friend told me he wished he could just give me a data print out of exactly what was going on, as if somehow from the universe, he could furnish me with the truth, whatever it was. I appreciated his sentiments. 

Then, he…not I…suggested that he drive by and see if he could spy her in or around the house at night and then he could call me.  I thought that it would be great if he could, but at the same time, it felt like cheating (of the arrangement) to me.  Later, I would brand my own strict adherence to this “agreement” as a joke played on me given her being “out and about” and calling other guys (as evidenced by my next month’s phone bill) during what should have been her own quiet time, and given the final outcome of it all that I noted two paragraphs above.  But again, my friend’s sentiments were so very much appreciated at that time. 

Then, during that same telephone conversation with me, he came to the realization that maybe he shouldn’t do it because he thought up a scenario based on where he would have to park, which was an alley adjacent to the loft that me and my girlfriend lived in.  He thought, what if an L.A.P.D. officer patrol car stealthily drove up behind him, wondered why he was sitting in a dark, narrow alley in his car, so the L.A.P.D. officer fired up his spot lights and barked on the loud megaphone, “Driver…take the keys out of your ignition…driver…show both hands out of the car window….driver…drop your keys onto the ground…driver…step out of your vehicle…” and so on.  Meanwhile, my girlfriend would hear all of this, look out of the window, and see that I had sent my friend, who she knew very well, to spy on her and feed me information. 

When he related this scenario that he had quickly composed in his head to me, and as I was in my utter emotional pain laying on my parents’ spare bedroom twin bed, I started laughing hysterically at his fantastical caper gone horribly wrong, and he too began cracking up just as much as I was.  And all that I can say is that in literally the worst moment of my life, this friend had me laughing hysterically for a good few minutes.  That’s an inherently impossible task, and that’s a pretty unique individual. 

As we graduated university and got jobs, he eventually moved out of state and, therefore, our visits, which had once been every few days when we lived near each other, became quarter-year visits.  But that was okay for our relationship.  It really didn’t matter how often we saw each other.  Like any two long time friends, you just pick up where you left off, and it feels like you just saw them earlier that morning.

When we would get together, it was always time to spill the beans.  We would download upon each other as many of the high-item life experiences we had gone through since our last visit in as much time as we had that evening.  And though I can’t speak for him, it was a way for me to mirror and reflect my experiences through someone else’s eyes, which helped ground me.  During a lot of this time, I was very busy with a career in animation and under a production schedule that was nightmarish.  So my visits with him were a recess from all of the work turmoil that I constantly endured.  Miraculously, this was a person who did not need to actually experience something in order to deeply, and perhaps somehow, to empathetically understand it.  It was a great talent of his.  And I tried to do the same back for him after hearing his anecdotes, though I’m sure, my mirror’s reflectivity being a fainter version of his. 

I had a similar relationship with my own parents.  I used to talk with them in the family room of their home about this and that, and I would listen intently for their responses, trying to glean some sense of direction from them.  They always had great listening power and offered sound, yet unobtrusive advice.  They never forced either of their opinions down my throat, but rather, offered suggestions. 

However, the difference between my beloved parents versus this particular friend was that I could literally tell my friend anything with what felt like very little if any judgment on his part.  And again, his skill level in this department exceeded mine, as I felt that when I listened to his issues, I was a little too quick to offer some amount of judgment-tainted advice back; we’ll just call my listening style, “judgment-light,” here for purposes of simplicity; still something I need to work on.  And as much and often as I loved talking with my parents, I couldn’t quite get that kind of clean, non-judgmental feedback from them that I could from my friend.  Every relationship feels a different need.

When my parents died, it was very hard for me because there was (and still is) a hole in that piece of me that wants to feel satiated with telling them all about my life and what happened last week or the week before.  And at that very same time in my life, for some inexplicable reason that I may never figure out, my friend started drifting away from me as well.  I heard less and less of him as I can only assume that he was struggling with his own difficulties, until one day, I never received a response from him again. 

Life is not easy, and the timing of people’s lives cannot always be synced well to be supportive to one-another, if that makes any sense.  We are all the products of what we want to do, and of what simply happens to us in this world in which we live.  One of the things that I think is hard, especially between male friends, since males seem to naturally or sociologically be a bit clipped of emotional effusiveness, is that one doesn’t like to see one’s friend suffering emotionally.  And within differing maturity levels, and even maturity “areas” of relationships, that may be handled in varying ways. 

Neither one of us was perfect by any means, and we both had rather large, gaping holes of vulnerability within each of us; perhaps one of us too affected by early emotional losses in our life that sometimes resulted in psychic impulsiveness, and perhaps the other of us nearly unable to see someone, including himself, emotionally raw and vulnerable at times.  And moreover, both of us were almost surely unable to really express our own respective grief in a productive way that we were concurrently going through.

Some of this vulnerable energy is what formed the basis of a lot of our humor, and yet, over the long haul, that combination simply may not have been able to work well when the times got tough for both of us at in the same period of our lives.  The major ups and downs, the “sine waves” of life if you will, are bound to coincide every once in a while.  And when the dung part of the cycle happens to land upon two people at the same time, some of that internal “stuff” has to have been taken care of individually before those mechanisms in a relationship get “real-world” tested, and somehow, the relationship is deemed unnecessary.  It’s all part of the flesh failures I suppose. 

And so, as I was sitting eating my garden salad with ranch dressing with pepper tonight at Bob’s Big Boy, and that vacant feeling washed over me, I had the desire to share the story my recent life information with someone who knows me very, very well; a relationship that supersedes all of the school years, the places we’ve each lived, girlfriends, the jobs, and maybe even our relatives and parents in certain ways.  I yearned to compare notes on life, to talk about how damned old we are, to tell about the latest technology each one of us is adoring, and to discuss the possible ways of dealing with people in our lives that irk us, and, of course, to end up telling a few stories that make us both laugh so hard we can’t even breathe.  Those manically hilarious breaks always seemed to say, “F-You” to all of the hard moments in life.  They put it all into perspective and served as a purifying and re-setting of the slate.  

And all the while, as we flash over scores of themes throughout the evening, that hustle and bustle of customers and servers milling up and down the isles of the restaurant pass us with time-lapse speed so peripherally that those other creatures seem that they might be unnoticed leaves blowing by on a mere sidewalk while our narrow-sighted focus remains on the myriad of topics, seemingly banal as, “Would you really want to be living in the same house you grew up in if you had the choice? I mean, what would that signify about your life?” but which said something about the philosophical head-space we were always searching for.  And before we know it, our 7:45pm meeting time has augmented into 2:15am.  There are four couples left in the entire restaurant, a diner whose once inaudible music is now inappropriately loud given the absence of the earlier din level and the lack of bodies to fill the vacuous restaurant space. 

And outside, as my friend and I stagger to our cars out of sheer exhaustion after covering one last topic is raised by one of us…and then one additional “last” topic yet again, while we each stand with our keys dangling from our hands in the parking lot, the polished black streets reflect the glaring green traffic signals of the nearby intersection devoid of a single car as the entire city has been asleep for two and a half hours.  And as each of us drives home, the conversations of the evening recirculate and shimmer throughout our heads until we have somehow arrived home and find ourselves shutting off the headlights in our driveways. That’s how it always was with us. 

Instead, tonight I read a couple pages of my book, bit into my over-sauced burger, and then glancing outside the window, I observed with particular poignancy a leaf fluttering down from one of the gentle windblown trees in an arid, earlier than usual, summer-like breeze.