I used to call her “Dr. Love” back in the naive years of our early 20s, living in our quaint London flat, drowning in nauseating amounts of cheap red wine and bricks of sharp cheddar cheese. We didn’t own a “telly,” occasionally battled hypothermic showers (when our water heater inconveniently halted in the dead of winter) by bathing with boiled water from our stockpots, and felt pick-pocketed by a brutal exchange rate which quickly chopped our measly American dollars in half. “Welcome,” my mother would say, “to the real world,” as I sobbed on the phone staring at the frigid shards of London rain, wondering whether I had enough cash in my bank account to buy lunch the next day.
Dr. Love and I didn’t have enough funds to dine out on the town often so with the exception of the occasional 3-quid pre-fixe theatre meals, we cooked. A lot. At one point we noticed our neighborhood market was selling sackfuls of yellow onions for a single British pound. Dr. Love and I dropped a quid on the counter and gleefully rushed home with our stash of bulbs. From that point forth we assembled feasts centered on the onion. Fried onions. Onions sauteed with butter. French onion soup. Pasta topped with chopped onions. Teriyaki chicken topped with onions. Onions minced into fried rice. The onion was both a muse and a tasty wolf in sheep’s clothing, and our shabby 99 pence cookware was the means to transform it into infinite meals.
It was through the countless conversations we had over the countless meals we cooked, that Dr. Love and I became the best of friends.
“I haven’t heard back from Tony,” I’d pout while biting into Dr. Love’s freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
“He’s in a different country,” Dr. Love would rationalize. “So he’s 8 hours behind. AND you just talked to him yesterday.”
“Oh, right,” I’d nod, reaching for another cookie.
My time in London eventually transitioned from a Sisyphean struggle to an experience yet unparalleled in terms of wonder and enlightenment, and all of that was due to the fact that I shared every second of it with Dr. Love, one of my closest friends, Alissa. Years later we still dine together, often on a weekly basis, and recently we shared a meal at Comme Ca.
We both started off with crabcakes. Plump and warm, the patty lies on a tart base of creamy celeriac rémoulade and is garnished with a flick of spices and minced green apples. The breading is airy with a touch of crunch and the crab itself is tender and fragrant.
An astonishingly large heap of mussels lie in a murky sea of pernod-based broth. The soup is milky and bursts with potent waves of thyme and anise. The flavors are much different from a more conventional white wine broth, made with garlic or shallots and splashes of herbs. It’s less salty, with sweet notes that taunt the taste-buds with its unique flavors.
Comme Ca cooks a fine steak, hearty and juicy, topped with a luscious round of herb butter. The result is a rather rich bite – truly, how could anything bathed in melted creamy butter be anything but divine? A crisped mound of pommes frites is a comforting starchy accompaniment to the protein.
Appropriately seasonal, a scorched homemade marshmallow sits atop a slender cut of pumpkin pie. A muddy lake of scorched chocolate tastes like a smoky campfire on a winter’s eve.
“Chocolate Pot du Crème!” Alissa screeched after a quick glance at the dessert menu. She then swiftly placed the menu on the table, as if to indicate there was no reason she should consider other options. Cold on the tongue, the decadent dessert is garnished with a gob of airy creme fraiche and accompanied by a sugar powdered crisp.
I didn’t wait long – it must have been shortly after a forkful of crabcake – to unload my heavy inquiries upon Dr. Love.
“I’ve been thinking,” I started.
“Okay…” Alissa said, a singsong lift in her voice, revealing that she already knew I’d be transitioning into talk about men.
“About men and maturity,” I continued.
“Uh huh,” Alissa smiled.
“And I’ve been wondering, how much a man’s age plays into his ability and desire to commit to a relationship.”
Alissa laughed, “So you want to talk about Bobby.”
Bobby was a 26 year-old guy I dated for a heightened, heated summer month. When we first started dating I gave it less thought than which pair of pumps I should wear with my new mini skirt. Nevertheless, he was strikingly handsome (“Who is THAT??” a girlfriend of mine gasped when he showed up at my birthday party). And he lived less than a mile from me. Sometimes, beauty and convenience are the only two things that matter when selecting a guy for a temporary summer fling. As time with Bobby progressed, however, it became clear that while it was hot date after hot date, those dates would never amount to a relationship.
“I’m not just talking about Bobby,” I shook my head. I had another mouthful of crab. “I’m talking about all the 20-something guys I dated.”
Yes, there were a handful of other guys I dated that were younger than me. I think the youngest was 24, but he was tall and handsome and that compensated for his immaturity for about two weeks.
“Bobby was 26 years old,” Alissa answered.
“You’re saying there are no 26 year-old guys who want to be in a relationship,” I asked.
“Not guys like Bobby. And not guys in LA.”
Is that how it works, I wondered. If you’re young and male and have flawless skin and startling green eyes, and you live in LA, there is no chance you’re settling down in your twenties? What about if you’re young and unattractive? Is it more likely you’d want to settle down?
“I know guys in their twenties who want to be in a relationship,” I corrected Alissa.
“Like who?” she asked.
I dug deep into the folds of my temporal lobe and came up empty. I wondered if my heavy drinking was affecting my memory. “Well, okay I don’t have specific examples, but I am SURE there are a few 20-somethings that are okay with commitment.”
“All I’m saying Tiff, is that I think Bobby’s age had a lot to do with the fact he didn’t want a serious relationship,” Alissa remarked. “He just wants to have fun. He doesn’t want to be tied down with one woman. He’s young!”
That was Alissa’s conclusion: the Bobbys of the world were too young and too handsome to settle down. But do grown up Bobbys want to settle down? Or are grown up Bobbys actually called Clooneys who also don’t want to settle down? Perhaps none of this matters at all. Perhaps men are born and raised in particular ways that makes them either a man of commitment or a man of bachelordom. Or perhaps LA is the energy which causes the man to transform. A few months in this city and the desire to commit wilts as swiftly as spinach in a 200 degree frying pan.
I was sure I had figured out that the problem with having a relationship in this city had to do with the men. Then I had a conversation with a couple of male friends who made a devastating point.
“I’m not settling down until I’m in my late 30s,” a male friend asserted. “And that’s because all women care about in LA is money, and I won’t have money until I’m older.”
“That’s not true!” I screeched in response.
“Maybe not for you,” he said. “But something about LA makes girls money-hungry.”
Well this all makes sense, I thought. Girls that want money should be with older guys. Girls that don’t care about money but want a guy to commit, should be with older guys. Younger guys don’t want relationships so they shouldn’t be with girls their age anyway.
I thought about my three closest LA girlfriends – all of their boyfriends are older and none of them are in their 20s. It can’t possibly be a coincidence.
Recently I got a text from Bobby saying, “We should hang out sometime soon.”
“Look!” I shoved my phone into Alissa’s hands. “Bobby just texted out of NOWHERE, wanting to hang out! What makes him think I’m still single and available?”
“He’s young!” Alissa stressed again. “He doesn’t think about those sort of things.”
I stared at the text. I deleted it.
Then I called the guy I was dating. It should be known – he’s older than me.