Hold the lettuce…

Watch Kitty


One of my first jobs in Los Angeles was in Century City, an area full of high-rise office buildings and lots of entertainment industry companies.  There is a food court in Century City where you can find everything from an “authentic” New York Deli to Thai food, Mexican food, sushi, sub sandwich place, juice bar, etc. – basically, all your usual quick lunch food options.  There was a long line at the rice bowl place so I decided to check it out, using the standard logic that the place with the longest line must have the best food.  I chuckled to myself as the Angelenos ahead of me made their very specific, SoCal-style orders, “no veggies”, “sauce on the side”, “no skin on the chicken”, “double meat”, “no meat”, etc.  How could they be so picky and so demanding?  I had just spent about a year working in London, where asking for your dish to be prepared specially to your liking was asking for being looked upon as just another crazy, selfish American.  No, you can’t have it “your way”, this isn’t McDonald’s (I’m told that “have it your way” is a Burger King slogan, but “this isn’t McDonald’s” is every French waiter’s favorite thing to say to American tourists, next to “non”.)  Having grown up in Europe, I have an aversion to being lumped in with the American tourist crowd – I didn’t spend all that time learning foreign languages and mastering the art of the squat toilet to have to take crap off a guy selling ham sandwiches (aka Croque Monsieur) outside the Louvre.  I get it, I’ll take it the way you make it and I’ll appreciate that this same dish has been sold steps away from the Louvre, exactly this same way, for a hundred years.  And thank you.

After just a few weeks working in Century City, and having my restaurant-choosing logic confirmed, I had my own special order – “brown rice, no cabbage, no skin, easy sauce”.  It was really, really good to have my rice bowl made exactly the way I wanted.  Of course, there was no Louvre next door.  There are trade-offs.

But THIS is America and our forefathers didn’t bust their asses to escape the tyranny of European tradition to eat stuff any way other than how they want it.  Los Angeles is the epicenter of the American dream mentality – where the beautiful, the talented and the hustlers go to make big, crazy dreams come true and they did not give up everything and cram all their worldly possessions into the back of their Jetta just to eat a rice bowl with skin on their chicken.

I have a friend that used to walk all the way around her block to enter her apartment through its front entrance.  The entry from the parking lot required that she had to walk past the stinky garbage cans.  It was so much more pleasant to take the long way and get to enter through the pleasant entry hall in the front, instead of taking the short way and having to be assaulted by the sight and smell of the whole buildings’ trash.  She made the choice to start and end her days in a positive, nose-friendly way.

“I imagine most people, when imagining the life of their dreams, forget that they are living it now.” — Hannah Marcotti

I could walk through the laundry room to the garage of our house, but I prefer to go out the front door.  It’s painted one of my favorite shades of red, it has a gorgeous brushed nickel handle that feels good to grasp and then I’m in a little courtyard, filled with the scent of jasmine and the sight of the purple salvia, red geraniums and little yellow violets that are nearing the end of their season.  When I come home, the stag horn fern waves hello and the sign we picked up on our last trip to Italy reminds me to beware of the cat.  It’s heavenly.  I could take the shorter route past the dusty washer and dryer, let myself be reminded of the loads of unwashed laundry sitting in the laundry chute or the the pile that is most likely  becoming wrinkled after a few days forgotten in the dryer.  But I choose jasmine-perfumed air and cheerful blooms.  I choose joy.  I choose to have it my way.

I was at one of my favorite restaurants after a long absence recently.  I ordered my favorite salad.  The waiter asked, “Is it okay with everything in it or do you have any special requests?”  I giggled and said, “I want it exactly how you always make it.  That’s my favorite way.”  I felt so cared for and so lucky to be there on a beautiful day, about to enjoy one of my favorite lunches.

Look around, joy comes in all shapes and sizes.  Maybe it comes from having things done exactly the way they have  always been done with the comfort that tradition can bring.  Maybe it comes from doing something out of the ordinary and different so that you can enjoy what you already have in an extraordinary way.  Maybe it comes from asking for exactly what you want, and getting it.  But always, yes, always, choose joy.



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