The following names and places have not been changed with the sole purpose of harm.
If this was a movie, it’d be the kind that you don’t take a date to. Or that anyone would see, really. There’d be goofy, sad music playing over a guy in sweatpants. The kind of music that makes dads cry in Disney movies. A man, changed. A boy, not a man. Old enough to be a father, not a dad. This man is me. Carlos Herrera. This story isn’t sad, it’s just real. It’s like the beginning of Up. Starts with promise and love and ends with an old man hanging out with an Asian kid and balloons. Whatever. Just come this way. Here’s a cigarette and a throw-away phone in case we get lost.
Let’s go back half a decade. 17 million people in Greater Los Angeles and the two of us meet in its most populated center where Old Hollywood meets a 3rd world country. Born and raised in Texas I ate a diet consisting of BBQ, Whataburger, Gatorade and Communion. My counterpart was a former TV assistant who was working her way up the pastry chef ranks. First as a cupcake store cashier in Santa Monica then as an assistant in a kitchen at Firefly in Studio City where she made pastries and other desserts for Oscar winners eating with their mistresses. Firefly was great. The waitresses were cute improv actresses and didn’t care when I wore basketball shorts and smoked cigarettes when her shifts ran late on Saturday nights. My ex-girlfriend wasn’t a pretentious foodie, just one that when eating my microwavable chicken fingers from Target would take a mental note of the level of white trashiness and make sure to eat that much more bone marrow at Mozza Pizzeria next time. I ate at IHOP thinking it was healthier than Burger King because they have waiters. She called me out when I told her I went to eat there. Smart girl.
Her taste in food ranged where mine didn’t. I don’t have it in me to care. I’ll explain it like this: I love music. Most genres of it and all the remixes. All humans love music. Not all humans give enough of a shit to search for hours on iTunes, record stores and lame hipster blogs from cheap corners of Brooklyn. That’s how I am when it comes to food. I always loved eating what she would tell me to order but left to my own devices I’d be knee deep in Frosty’s and Astro Burgers. My relationship with food is why McDonald’s executives drive Ferraris drenched in gold and why pop music is so bad. Convenience.
About a year into it with Hillary Naishtat, said foodie, our relationship needed emergency heart surgery in the middle of the night. So we drove up California One into Berkeley. Listening to rap and comedy podcasts the whole way. We parked my ridiculous rapper car on Shattuck Avenue and walked into Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. Rewind a second. Hillary is an Oregonian, educated in New York. She does crossword puzzles and plays Scrabble for fun. She doesn’t own a TV and donates money to NPR. Her cat and dog get along and her ex-boyfriends look like folk revival band members. We are opposites. I’m a former cocaine addict with a love for mean comedy, highrises and luxury gym memberships. I worked at an entertainment PR firm when we met and had the attitude to back it. She floored me. Food, culture and “healthy” cigarettes. I guess I could give this a shot. It was a shot in the dark but I didn’t know that just yet.
I was an outsider like Leonardo DiCaprio eating with the upper class deck in Titanic. She would talk about saving her money to eat at fancy places in Manhattan so I thought I’d do the same thing. I took several cigarette breaks and constantly checked college football scores on my phone. What an idiot. The food was great. I didn’t appreciate it as much as she did, that’s for sure, but I’m still a paying costumer. It’s impossible not to like this food but to give a shit and make reservations, pay big cash, smell the soup and have a 3 hour conversation with your waiter about the fucking cow that gave birth to the other cow that you’re eating’s sister. Not my cup of organic, green tea.
About a year later, the surgery didn’t stick and we were on our 9th life. She was now the executive pastry chef at Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica serving desserts to tacky recent-college grads and lazy Brentwood couples. I would save my money for a week and on Mondays (her day off) we would go to restaurants all across Central and West LA. Up Laurel Canyon at a rustic mountain villa to Melrose Place sitting next to sitcom stars and their same-sex counterparts. Hilarious. I’m a former rich kid, now broke stand-up comedian whose 15 minutes of fame in the writing world were just about up and I’m trying to impress this girl with organic fucking lemonade.
So I did what anyone would’ve done. I kept going. Best worst idea I ever had. I bottomed out and got dumped. Didn’t eat at a restaurant with over 2 stars for at least a year and my bitterness skyrocketed me into creative heaven. I ate at taco trucks and drug-front donut shops in Hollywood and loved every second of it. I can name drop still to this day. Nancy Silverton, the pastry chef at Mozza on Highland and co-founder of La Brea Bakery. I know who that is! I know that Street is overrated, that chefs are assholes, that pesto is made out of some sort of nut, and that I don’t give a shit. I crashed that car that I drove up to Berkeley on The Sunset Strip and blamed the other guy. I rode the bus and saved my money to get a motorcycle. I now eat on street corners with illegal immigrants and late night diners. I recently went to a nice restaurant with a fellow comedian friend and ate sushi on a balcony. It tasted good then I left. Whatever. The girl? Living in Brooklyn with her new boyfriend. Me? Coming soon this fall.
Carlos Herrera is a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian and writer. A former entertainment assistant from the the age of 19, he has performed at The Hollywood Improv and The Comedy Store, amongst others. Herrera’s thousand page plus library of original features and television are saturated in fast-paced, uncensored true stories and ultra-cynical dialogue that have made him a rising star in the writing community for a while now grabbing the attention of cease & desist letters as well as talent agents and producers everywhere. He just wrapped a docu-comedy pilot for MTV and can be seen late night (in the back) at comedy clubs in Hollywood. Twitter: @cjherrera