Hey gang! So today we’re going to try something a little different, and use (slightly more than a thousand) words instead of a picture to offer a snapshot of the Orange County layover. Partly, yes, because I neglected to take a picture while I was there yesterday, but also because I used my one Orange County Outing as a writing prompt, the results of which I am moved to
foist upon an unsuspecting public share.
The sun-soaked oceanfront county of Orange is home to 3 million people. It encompasses such scenic byways as Laguna Beach, San Juan Capistrano, and Tomorrowland, and boasts a glamorous mall and a very manageable airport named after the man who shot Liberty Valance. It is, in other words, as depicted on this-here postcard, probably delightful as a vacation hot spot; at the very least, judging by all of the dernier-cri sportsters zooming along the 12-lane surface streets, it is a great place to get rich selling really expensive cars. And, as is often the case in this post-fun day and age of flying, we see none of that. No Laguna art galleries or Capistrano swallows for these crews; rather, we lay over in an airport-adjacent business park close to a fountain, a few drastically trimmed shrubs, and bugger all else. If you are firm in your resolve to get coffee, however — and you know how in this arena my resolve does not waver — you can walk 3/4 of a mile, take your life in your hands crossing the hugest intersection in Southern California, and get you a Starbucks.
Which is of course what I did yesterday. Having collapsed onto my bed at something of an early hour the night before, I was up and at them, and rolled up at the Starbucks at like a quarter to nine. A stone’s throw from the Southern California headquarters of every company in America that has a Southern California headquarters, this particular Starbucks was jammed. Men in suits, women in heels, everyone on their way to work or getting a jump on the first meeting of the day, everyone talking, either into their phones or at each other. The baristas were rushed off their feet, friendly and loud. And over here along the wall, as is apparently required by some bylaw in company policy at every Starbucks location, sat the Guy Working on His Laptop. I was like, Really? This is where you’re going to come to try and get some work done? I myself have a crippling fear of being perceived as a posturing Look At Me! douche anytime I so much as refer to my laptop in public, and so naturally I judge others harshly against this standard that I hate having applied to my own self, you know how we do. But then I caught myself doing it — which is much less rewarding than just blithely judging people and getting on with your day, as you know — and reminded myself, You don’t know this dude’s story at all. And, because I prefer to think of myself as someone who Knows It All, I remedied that by sitting — on a lovely patio chaise, but still — at the very same Starbucks amidst the very same distracting crowd, and writing (it hurts from the irony, I know), and deciding that his story is this:
The music, that new brand of commercial folk, is set to compete with the chatter. Behind the counter—Make me this!, Where are more cups?—plus a line of tall dudes in high-waisted pants quacking into hands-free cell phones—or talking to themselves like crazy people—the shorter, tubbier guys all Coffee’s on me! as a way to stay noticed. It’s 8:45 on a weekday morning in a parking lot bullseyed in a ring of office parks, the line’s out the door, the Business Speak is at pep rally volume—an observer would be hard-pressed to think of a worse writer’s workshop. But this contest isn’t going to win itself, and he can’t let another deadline slip by unless he’s planning on coming to dinner with news about a job at the Mall. Parker wants to be supportive—he knows he’s got talent, and in truth Parker’s the bigger dreamer—but he also wants the hell out of his parents’ basement, which is exactly as alluring of a newlyweds love nest as it sounds.
Considering how warmly they received Parker’s coming out, and considering how specifically they hold him accountable for sucking all the joy out of their future—if you don’t think it’s possible to work a breast-beating lamentation for lost grandchildren into a conversation about chicken pot pie for dinner, then you lack the imagination of Parker’s Ma—they’re probably OK as roommates go, but if he tries to write at the dining room table, he ends up typing “deadbeat” or “get a job” every hundred words in the manner of Marge Simpson reading aloud a letter that includes an inadvertent transcript of an at-home interruption. He can work in their bedroom—Parker insists he doesn’t mind—but Taco Bell stays open til 2, and last night Parker was too beat to wash the work off him. He came to bed smelling of sticky meat grease, and he doesn’t have the heart to clack away at the keyboard and call it work while Parker pretends he can sleep just fine with the lights on. Even if Parker doesn’t need the alone time, he feels better giving it to him, like at least he can contribute that.
The library is quiet, but it doesn’t have coffee, and anyway his story’s about the crush of the corporate wheel—these men in suits inspire him, and not just that one with the wavy hair and the spectacular ass. The things he imagines set him apart from these people are more superficial than he can see. Sure, he can get a tattoo on his neck; he can let his facial hair do crazy things and nobody cares that he hasn’t washed his t-shirt. But he’s chasing his own vision of success. A riveting, perfectly-timed short story is his sales goal; the frustrating search for an agent his unrelenting district manager; the Reader the exacting client he knows he can woo with the exactly-right pitch, if he can just get his foot in the door for a meeting.
Parker knows that his writing is work. Parker wants him to craft and sell and thrive as an artist. But Parker wants them to have their own place again, and Parker wants a better car; and if this story doesn’t hit, Parker wants him to get a job. “I need help,” Parker told him. For the first time in three years together. There’s no way to tell him No, but a two thousand dollar grand prize will buy time. And probably an agent. And maybe even that meeting with the Reader. He borrowed the only three dollars in Parker’s wallet for the black-five-sugars rent on this hectic, hollering-hipster office. The door opens every three seconds; he waits for the words that will win him his future to waft through it.