Call it privilege

I decided to finally come up for air in a week that has felt more like a month and a half.

So it is in this wild version of reality we’re living that I have eighty five things to think and write about.

The one that has me most interested is our current, collective reaction to our President’s ongoing misogyny and complete refusal to comply with even the lowest acceptable standards of propriety and respect.

While I understand the source of reflections like “I don’t want to raise my son or daughter in a world where that guy has power and influence because of the terrible example he sets” I think it falls short of what we’re capable of, and what would be truly powerful, and transformative in this ever disturbing moment in history.

Instead of shielding our children from the president’s commentary (and others like it) or condemning it for how it fails, morally and otherwise, we have an opportunity to call out and name what makes it possible that a man who speaks and acts like that holds the highest office in all the land.

It’s called privilege, and chances are good, if you have the resources and insight and motivation to want to shield your kids from the president, you (and your kids) have it too.

The biggest, most important reason president trump continues to get away with his juvenile, erratic, disrespectful, bigoted, autocratic, ignorant behavior is his privilege. Race. Gender. Class. Privilege. He is a man who has lived his entire adult life doing, saying and acting any way he wanted, pretty much without consequence. He has done so because he’s white, and male, and rich.

The signifier of privilege is anything in your identity that you don’t think about in your daily life. For me, my race and class and education are invisible aspects of who I am that play a critical role in how I experience the world, but of which I’m rarely aware. My gender, on the other hand, is something I think about constantly. I think about it when I’m in an elevator, alone with a man, especially late at night, while I’m traveling by myself for work. I think about when I’m working on the retail floor and someone makes a comment about my body. I think about it when my family shows enthusiastic interest in my dating life and almost none in my career.

Part of the problem with privilege is those of us with the most are least aware of it.

I still remember two years ago when I was traveling on crutches and got dropped by a cab driver, with my luggage, 400 yards from the door of my hotel. I’d gotten out of a cab at least that far from my destination countless times before, but only considered it a problem when the limitation of my ability made a significant impact on how I experienced a familiar situation.

We can keep feeling horrified and frustrated by the president or we can take the opportunity to learn one of the many lessons his presidency is trying to teach us. We can teach little boys to say only nice things about women and hope to raise good, young men, or we can talk about what it means to be born a male in this world and maybe transform the future of masculinity altogether.

We can keep condemning the problematic actions of others or we can turn to ourselves and seek a solution.

I for one, am a woman of action.

My commitment is to be more conscious of my own privilege especially in my every day life, and to help others do the same. I’m going to figure out how to talk to my nephews about their privilege and help my friends talk to their kids about theirs.

Those of us with the most privilege own the biggest responsibility for how it does or does not continue to impact who we are for each other.

I believe we can make a big impact, together.

What we do repeatedly


“You are what you repeatedly do.”

I was a couple of years into my yoga practice the first time I heard one of my teachers say that now familiar phrase. Likely it wasn’t the first time somebody said it, just the first time I was open to receive it.

Over the next couple of years I thought a lot about the things I repeatedly do and how they’d shaped the person I’d become. Judgment, skepticism, criticism. Saying no way more often than saying yes. Believing the worst of people, or situations, and seeking evidence to confirm that belief.

I felt sad and lonely. I worried that the impression I had left on people I didn’t know well was intimidating, sassy and abrasive. I worried the legacy I was leaving in the world was a reflection, and expression, of those adjectives.

I set out to change who I was by changing how I acted. The things I changed were simple, and easy and small. My focus for an entire year was just to be nice. To everyone. No matter what.

I know it had an impact because the people I knew before and the people I knew after would describe me differently. I used to imagine two such people meeting each other in real life and determining the katie little each of them remembered, and shared about, couldn’t possibly be the same person.

We are, what we repeatedly do.

I’ve been thinking this week about who WE are, and what we do repeatedly. I’ve never been patriotic or particularly connected to my identity as a U.S citizen. I’m realizing, more and more, that’s largely because my race and class and sexuality and ability privileges allow me to live that way.

We are, what we do repeatedly.

If we legislate to enhance power and wealth for the already powerful and wealthy at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized we can not claim to be a culture of equality, or freedom or possibility. If we continue to allow young black men to be slaughtered, with impunity, we cannot claim to be one nation, with justice for all. If we limit access to medical care for pregnant women, we cannot claim to be a country that protects and cares for kids. If we keep turning away from mass gun violence, as if it’s the unfortunate and rare casualty of a single bad actor making a single bad decision, we cannot claim to value the safety of our citizens.

We cannot claim anything that we don’t repeatedly do.

In my own life, I’m examining how I’m complicit with all of the ways we’re collectively failing to live up to our claims. How I speak and who I share space with and how, and where I spend my time and money. All of the ways I avoid confronting the things that make me angry, and frustrated. An avoidance that’s a luxury for me, but not for people, and communities, most impacted by those things.

It’s not enough to read and write and feel engaged. I, you, we, have to do something, many things, repeatedly.


I wrote us a love story. On a cold weekend morning in March, in Michigan, I made a list of the important moments, occasions and exchanges that shape my memories of you. All of the places and conversations that defined our relationship. All of the times I wondered what you were thinking or why you wouldn’t say what I thought you were thinking out loud.

5, nearly 6 years of wondering. Wondering over dinner dates and hometown latte meetups and the type of lengthy, rambling phone calls most people our age haven’t been on since high school. Plans and dreams and futures we mapped out together.Plans and dreams along life paths that sometimes sounded intersecting and other times seemed infinitely parallel in the same direction. An image of possibly converging lines, the uncertainty of their meeting point blurred when they disappeared into the unknown horizon.

The more of it I wrote, the more I realized I’d been writing it all along.

I wrote in the romance and the mystery and the do they or don’t they subtext of our every interaction. I wrote in the plans and dreams. The parallel lines and the intersecting ones. I wrote the whole thing.

When I’d written nine of the maybe fifty stories I’d brainstormed, I stopped writing. I got distracted by the occasional sunshine in Detroit and my commitment to keep showing up at soccer even though I was pretty bad at it and nobody on the team was my friend.

It was only when I stopped writing that I realized how much I’d already written.

3 years ago last February I called from Landmark in San Francisco and got your voicemail. Ever an A student, I diligently followed our Landmark leader’s direction by following up with you every time we had a break. Five weeks passed before you returned my call. I’d left the forum feeling like my confrontation with your avoidance was as close as I’d ever get to “completing” our relationship. So when you unexpectedly got back in touch with me, our completion unraveled into a beginning. Again.

And so it would be, for the next couple of years. One or two long phone calls of catching up followed by weeks or months of radio silence. An open-ended absence of expectations. I never knew whether the next time we’d talk you’d admit you loved me, or you’d be asking for my address to invite me to your wedding.

Meanwhile, I kept writing.

I wrote both of those endings and countless more. I wrote the banter and the conflict and the resolution. I wrote compelling story arcs and potential screen plays. I wrote happy, hopeful lines, tragic and ironic ones, and everything in between.

And then, I stopped writing.

The exact definition or purpose is foggy now but “getting complete” at Landmark meant something similar to what I knew about “closure” from romantic comedies. Landmark has a formula for it. Or the initial conversation at least. There were no guidelines for what happens after the completion, especially if there’s more to say, or in my case, write.

Today, I learned from Facebook that you’re moving to New York city. A dramatic life change that under ordinary circumstances of best friendship I would be, at minimum, consulted on before the final decision-making stage. But ours has never been a traditional friendship and over the years its ever-evolving ambiguity had made it even less so. I read your post looking for apartments in Manhattan and waited for a predictable sensation to wash over me. It’s somewhere between a twinge in my stomach and an accelerated heartbeat. Not quite heated, but elevated, from my normal state. A acute, but hard to define mix of nervous, anxious and uncomfortable. I pulled up my text message ready to put my reactions to words for my (real) best friend.

And before my fingers touched the key pad, I set down my phone. I breathed in, held it for a moment and let it out. I dropped my shoulder blades down my back. I pressed the weight of my body into the back of my chair. I breathed, slowly again, in and out.

In the moment, I had nothing to say.

I wrote this post over six months ago and then picked it up again last weekend. I’ve been trying to get back into writing and I used the drafts folder in my blog to propel me forward. I published all nine chapters of the book I started. Then I dove back in to complete my completion.

This morning, over breakfast when my text message beeps three times in a row I assume it’s my mom or someone who works for me. By the time I see the phone screen only the last in the series is visible.

P.S. I miss you.

I feel the pace of my heart quicken the way it does when I feel turbulence on an airplane. It’s a distinct sensation of uncertainty, and loss of control. I open up the entire thread with increasing curiosity, and worry, and excitement. I think about this entry, in this blog, still unfinished, so many months after I started it.

I think about our story, still without an ending.

Maybe, possibly, not quite complete.

9: “Cops hate white kids.”

There’s a square room in the center of the main law school building called the “student lounge.” It’s cluttered with old, uncomfortable, wood furniture and is a good place to find tired friends between classes and leftover cold pizza at 4p.m. or a half-eaten box of almost stale donuts.

It was my favorite place to study. Just enough buzz and distraction to keep me focused. Always the hopeful possibility of getting caught up in an unintentional thirty-minute break.

Eight or so weeks into our first semester, Nick and I had settled into a casual routine of semi-close friendship. We more or less knew each other’s schedules and had developed a pattern of running into one another other before we both left campus for the day.

It’s a Friday evening and I can tell that summer is over because it’s nearly dark outside but not quite 6pm. I always feel a subtle sense of heartbreak when summer ends. The loss of warm nights and long days and the carefree, unstructured hours of unfettered possibility.

It’s a likely side effect of having been a student for 90 percent of my life.

Nick appears from the upstairs locker room and sets his stuff down near my feet. He slides next to me on the lopsided couch. He looks law student tired: Pale skinned with slumped down shoulders. Like he didn’t eat quite enough to sustain the energy required to show up and look engaged during hours long lectures about parts of the law he’ll never remember, nor need to know about at any time during his career.

I could tell he wasn’t up for playful banter or even prolonged lingering on the couches where we’re vulnerable to an imminent gathering of peers that would demand his attention and exertion.

“Let’s go get food.” I told him.

Ten minutes later, we’re crossing Hilgard avenue to the guest house where he lives. He drops his heavy backpack on the ergonomic office chair in his bedroom and quickly pivots back towards the door.

The backpack drop lightened the aura around him but his urgency to leave again reminds me that he likely hasn’t eaten since well before noon. I hold back a smile thinking to myself, “and it was probably just a salad.”

Eighteen minutes later we’re waiting for dinner at the Literati cafe. I first took Nick there to study two weeks ago and we’ve been back four times already. It’s one of my old haunts from undergrad. One of the first, hip places my college boyfriend took me. The site of many a teary-eyed mixed greens salad and post make-up sex french toast.

I’d avoided the place completely in the whole year I lived in L.A. after undergrad. I was finally brave enough to go back, four years later, when I had this new, promising male friendship to distract me from the memories of that old, dysfunctional one.

Nick perks up almost immediately after three bites of sandwich. Half-way through the meal we’ve both been restored to the fullness of easy conversation and intermittent hysterical laughter.

Nick pushes his empty plate away from him, leans back in his chair and lifts his arm to check his watch. He fights back a yawn.

“Jesus. It’s only 7 o’clock.”

Nick and I have discovered many, shared characteristics. It is one of the biggest reasons we’ve so quickly become such close friends. One of our only so far discovered differences is our relationship to social: propriety, pressure and obligation.

While I have no problem calling it a night before 8p.m on a Friday, the mere suggestion of it threatens Nick’s well-crafted self-image as cutting edge and cool.

There’s no way we’re going home.

We (he, mostly) make(s) the decision to drive to the beach and stir up trouble in the dark.

Parking near third street is easy, another sad sign that summer is over. The night is warm for early October but too cold for the average Los Angeleno to be out and about after sundown without a heavy jacket. I’m wearing the same thing I went to campus in at 10a.m. so I’m noticeably chilly as we make our way toward the sand. I yank my hood up over my ears and pull the zipper tighter around my neck.

The closer we get to the ocean, the more it feels like we’re the only two humans for miles. It’s a rare, special moment when you live in L.A. Silence. Complete dark. And the feeling of being peacefully, finally alone. It’s one of those sensations you don’t realized you were missing until you experience it.

I peel off my converse and ankle socks and put one roll in my jeans. I tip-toe towards the incoming tide, surprising myself that I’m willing to touch the freezing water with my feet. Being with Nick makes me feel light and playful. Adventurous.

The temperature is dropping and my toes are going numb. We seek refuge from the clear skies and light breeze by climbing up on to a lifeguard tower, maybe 600 yards from where we parked. We lean up against the front of the splintery, rickety building and sit peacefully in the quiet.

I have flashes of all of the nineties era movies and TV shows where a scene like this would be unequivocally romantic. The shy female protagonist nervously bites her lip and wrings her hands as she patiently waits for her handsome male love interest to make a move on her. It’s the type of repetitive media image that gives all young women unrealistic expectations of our male peer group and sets up a lifetime of bizarre and confusing gender dynamics. It’s the type of repetitive media image that made young women like me feel anxious and insecure about being outspoken, loud and opinionated.

Even in my late twenties I’m aware of the ways I lack the feminine allure of being mysterious and demure.

Nick breaks the silence asking if ever came to the beach at night during college. I remind him that between my very demanding extra-curricular activity schedule and frequent blow-outs with my boyfriend, I didn’t have much time for leisure.

“We used to bring the mentorship kids here during the day.” I say it softly, half talking to him, half narrating myself through reflection and nostalgia. I feel warmer as the memory washes over me. It’s the type of private, personal observation I don’t typically share with someone I’m newly acquainted with. That I even say it out loud surprises me. It tells me there’s something unusual about my closeness with Nick. I make note of the feelings: Vulnerability. Openness. I observe that I’m less uncomfortable than I think I should be.

Nick tells me he’s surprised by the quiet. I share a story from a few years ago when I spent a weekend at my then-boyfriend’s family home in Lake Tahoe. It was midway through my fifth year living in L.A. and I was alone for six hours, reading in natural light and pure silence. I told him how you get accustomed to the background noise and the not quite dark enough city darkness. I advise him to cherish the kind of experience we’re having right now.

“The longer you live here the harder it is to remember the things you miss about your former life.”

My poetic wisdom is cut short by the appearance of bright lights over the horizon to our right. I exhale dramatically.

“Ya see.”

Nick leaps up from his seat and grabs me by the hood of my sweatshirt.

“We gotta go.”

I’m a little light-headed from the whiplash and confused about the swift and inexplicable mood change.

“We gotta get out of here. They’ll fine us or arrest us or something.”

I’m wondering why my seemingly normal new friend has morphed into a shifty conspiracy theorist and I’m suddenly aware of being completely alone with him, on the beach in the dark.

“Cops hate white kids. We should run.”

I burst into laughter but before I have time for some entertaining and witty banter about it, Nick has jumped off the side of the lifeguard tower and is running at full speed towards the car.

Once again, I am my typically cautious self so I lower my body down gently, butt first, then struggle to match Nick’s pace in the sand. I get to the car with just enough breath to squeak out the question, “what the hell was that?” I’m still laughing, halfway thinking the entire episode was a hilarious and dramatic gesture by him designed to make me laugh and create a mutual, fond memory.

We’re half-way back to Westwood before I realized he was completely serious. The whole time.

The best, most well rested version of myself would take the opportunity to impress Nick with my progressive intellectualism. Cite something smart from bell hooks, maybe drop a little Dr. Cornel West. We’d have a rich discussion about race and justice and the disparate impact of unconstitutional policing.

But it’s getting late and it’s been a long week and all I can muster is, “do you really think cops hate white kids? Are you out of your mind?”

Nick tells me a couple of ridiculous stories from his not-rebellious adolescence running the mean streets of the upper middle class white suburb where he  grew up, adjacent to the upper middle class suburb where I grew up. Two or three non threatening encounters with bored Sheriff officers chasing him and his friends out of the neighborhood park after midnight. Real, gritty, stuff.

We decide to table the intense social justice conversation for another time.

8: pancakes for dinner

My whole life I’ve been a picky eater. Incorrigible, weird, dysfunctional, disordered. My parents used to bribe me to eat on family vacations because I was in an almost perpetual cycle of not-eating, feeling sick from not eating, then not eating because I’m feeling sick. They’d give me money, or choice of activity or an extra souvenir to incentivize things like, one, whole sausage link or an extra two bites of pancakes.My repertoire of edible foods was very limited and my appetite, even for the few things I liked, was even worse. In the late eighties and nineties, there were no self-righteous parenting blogs or other well-meaning internet advice to shame my parents for their tactics. Besides, they were doing their best to keep me alive.

By the time I got to law school, I’d been living on my own for almost ten years. The first three of them were spent finally sympathizing with the daily struggle of my mom to feed me. During the college dorm days, I lived on a steady diet of Ritz crackers smothered in peanut butter, sugared cereals, apples and soft serve ice-cream. When I moved off campus, I was so busy during the day I frequently arrived home after dark to realize I hadn’t eaten a thing. On a good day, I ate pepperoni pizza pretzel from the Wetzel’s on the A floor of Ackerman before filling a bag of sour candy to keep me awake during afternoon class. On a bad day. I ate ten Oreos, straight out of the freezer, at 11pm, in bed.

As a junior, my on-again-off-again boyfriend was appalled by my eating habits and critical of my parents for not doing more to force me to eat. Both in variety and amount. In my many attempts to tailor my behavior to please him, I took to being more adventurous with food. In his many attempts to make up for being such an asshole, he’d apologize for nasty behavior by feeding me donuts from the shop his parents owned in the San Fernando valley.

During my senior year, I remember my roommate, and best friend, Alice, would cook extra dumplings, nightly, to ensure I put something substantial in my body. We’d eat together, standing up in the kitchen, yelling at each other about our insensitive ex-boyfriends, global social injustice and other important  struggles facing young feminists of the time.

In so many ways, Alice kept me from starving.

The years after college were a mixed bag of consistently feeding myself like an adult then unpredictably reverting back to survive-on-cereal behavior.

Returning to UCLA for law school sometimes felt like going back in time and other times felt like visiting the past as my present self. Some of my favorite spots for food and fun felt haunted by the ghost of my ex-boyfriend and memories of our life together. The smells and sounds swirled together evoking an emotional mix of happy nostalgia and reflective sadness.

One of my favorite undergrad study spots was the novel cafe. A two-story restaurant slash coffeehouse on Gayley avenue, one of the main drags in Westwood. The bottom was filled with small, round tables surrounded by metal chairs. It looked like an outdoor patio had been converted to indoor dining by boxing it in with windows. I preferred the upstairs, a loft-like space with a corner bookshelf that housed dusty-old versions of not-quite famous novels. The staff was tolerant of lingering students, they had reliable wifi and you could order off the whole menu, all day.

Yelp wasn’t quite a thing back when I was in college but I imagine that’s how Nick found his way to “Novel” years after I first discovered it. I read his text message as I was leaving an evening yoga class in Santa Monica. It was a half hour old already and he’d asked if I was interested in joining him for dinner and studying. I let him know I was twenty minutes away but I’d stop by if he’d still be there.

Just before 8pm, I rushed through the front entrance, almost missing Nick as I instinctively headed upstairs. On the third step, I caught a glimpse of him in my right periphery. He was huddled at a corner table, near the window. There were two heavy textbooks on the small, round table. He was leaning back in a metal chair, staring at a third, open book. He was wearing his black-rimmed glasses and appeared quiet and focused. He wouldn’t be for long, as I ungracefully interrupted with my always-a-little-too-loud-for-public voice that sounded a pitch or two higher when I was nervous or excited.

I threw down my overstuffed lululemon bag and yoga mat. I pulled two chairs close to each other so I could sit in one and put my legs up on the other. My once sweaty hair was now dried, sticking to my forehead and the sides of my face. I could feel the sensation of my still-damp sports bra in the center of my chest.

I’d later wonder if it was early moments like these that prevented Nick from falling in love with me.

Nick had “already eaten.” He gestured towards a small, almost clean plate, and I note the remnants of what appears to be a salad. I nod to signal understanding and try to conceal my curiosity about the seemingly unusual eating habits of my new friend.

I had a long, torrid history of close male friendships and I knew almost all of my boy friends (not boyfriends) to devour large meals at frequent intervals usually with high concentrations of protein.


6: awkward dance circles

Up until a few days before I was born, my mom did Jazzercise with me in the womb. It is one of few concrete sources to which I can trace my exceptional sense of rhythm and lifetime obsession with Whitney Houston. It was the early 1980s and my mom was on the cutting edge of healthy living. The gestational vibration of pop hits and the bounce of her belly to the beat of an up-tempo grapevine transferred to me her relentless energy and love for moving her body.

When I was a kid, I spent hours alone in my parents’ bedroom making up dance routines to the soundtracks of dirty dancing and top gun. As a teenager, I sweat my ass off near the DJ booth at the front of the Rio Americano small gym. I was always sober but more than once accused of being drunk.

No one could possibly go that hard without a wine cooler or two.

In college, I was a token white women in a rainbow of first-generation immigrant friends. My boyfriend was Cambodian. My best friend was Taiwanese. Pictures of me from that era are easy to spot for their absence of other men and women that look like me. My non-white friends had considerably more soul than the aforementioned Rio Americano high school students. We spent Saturday nights and weekday birthday celebrations in cool, hard-to-find, intimate hip-hop lounges where the bass was loud and the dance floors were crowded and tiny. It was my best life. One of my most special memories is walking into “The Room” in Santa Monica when the clock struck midnight on my 21st birthday. Tupac’s “How Do You Want It” was playing, perfectly timed. It’s my all-time favorite dance song and that night was my all-time favorite dance to it.

Fast forward seven years and the days of closing out my tab during last call and liquor-fueled taco stand runs on Hollywood boulevard seem like a lifetime ago.

I’m sitting in my apartment, alone, watching the Food Network on a Wednesday night. There’s a  stack of heavy law books on my coffee table and I’m exchanging sentimental text messages with my best friend from home about how hard it is to be away from each other.

My phone dings to alert me to an email. I sign in on my computer as to not interrupt the text thread.

It’s my not-quite-friend, Nick, and he’s urgent to “get my digits.”

I feel a small rush of excitement shoot through the center of my body. Unexpected, but not unwelcome.

I respond with something characteristically concise and witty.

24 hours later I’m sitting at a familiar Mexican restaurant on Wilshire boulevard. The long table is filled with 12 or 14 twenty-somethings who are engaged in forced conversation. I’m feeling light headed from my first margarita on an empty stomach and trying to stay focused on what the guy next to me is saying. His name is Luis, and apparently he used to be an actor. His wife is a semi-main character on a popular vampire show and for some reason I’m completely oblivious to how handsome and charming he is. It’s an inexplicable foreshadowing of the next two years. Attractive, engaging men are all around me and I barely notice them.

The dinner is a gathering of UCLA law transfer students that Nick organized. The days notice invitation explained the urgency with which he sought my contact info, a revelation that left me more disappointment that I could make sense of.

A partially eaten cheese enchilada, second margarita and complicated group check later, we’re filing across the busy west Los Angeles thoroughfare like kids on a fifth grade field trip.

Our destination is a smallish, poorly lit bar. Not quite a dive, but not the type of place where I’d go out of my way to use the bathroom. Definitely not as hip or underground as the urban joints of my youth. The music isn’t as good, either. I notice the dance floor is small but practically empty.

Half an hour later, my transfer student classmates have all had 1-2 shots or quickly slurped drinks and are feeling just loose enough to get on the dance floor. I can barely stand the thought of another conversation with a self-absorbed white guy about where I’m from, so I’m grateful when I feel the energy shift towards dancing.

The transfer student dinner party forms a clump on the back edge of the scratched-up linoleum and reluctantly, I make my way into it. My love for dancing is almost outweighed by my loathe for groups of uncoordinated white people bobbing and shuffling together off beat, but I’m still waiting for the second margarita to wear off before I drive home so I suck it up and try to enjoy myself.

Two and a half songs in I’m ready to call it a night when Nick finds his way to us. To make room for him, or shape organically morphs into a circle.

I’m more annoyed than ever.

The next track is a Justin Timberlake song and I bravely decide to stay and hear it. Immediately, my eyes are drawn to Nick. There are three people between us but I feel his energy like he’s right next to me. It’d been years since I shared the dance floor with a man who could move like that. It was so surprising I could barely focus on my own connection to the rhythm. I was suddenly more aware of my own body moving in space.

I stayed in the mix for an hour or so longer than I anticipated, relaxing enough to settle into a smooth, sweaty groove. I moved around the still-awkward dance circle but kept my left eye on Nick. I was mostly fascinated by him but also quietly interested in how much attention he paid to me. For all 72 minutes we were dancing together, I couldn’t really get a read on it.

I drove home that night reflecting on a rich history of my favorite dance partners considering whether I’d have another opportunity to see if Nick would become one.

He certainly had the talent for it.

5: teach me how to Dougie

My hands are icicles. I’m in constant complaint about the frigid indoor temperatures of the law school. It seems impractical and environmentally irresponsible to fill 10,000 square feet of classrooms with freezing, artificial air when the outside temperature never exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. On a day where I comfortably walked to campus in a tank top and cotton skirt, I shouldn’t have to bring a hoodie to sit inside.

It’s Wednesday and the last ten minutes of law and sexuality are dragging at an excruciating pace. I can’t focus on anything but getting to the patio to warm myself like a reptile at sunrise after a cold desert night.

When we’re finally dismissed I’m practically sprinting up the staircase, I’ve got pretty good speed and momentum when I’m abruptly stopped at the top by a human-body bottleneck. I’m temporarily detoured  by the wave of movement generated by too many people trying to squeeze through too narrow a space.

It’s the hallmark of mobility in Los Angeles.

I get bumped and jostled in what feels like an upstream struggle until I’m coughed out into an open space between the student lounge and the women’s bathroom. I notice Nick and the beautiful Persian woman have caught up to me.

“So much for my sprint up the stairs.”

It’s week two of classes and I’ve yet to make any friends. My simple, predictable, life occurs through the repetition of solo routines. I wake up and go to class. I eat a peanut butter sandwich alone in the sunshine during the lunch hour before one or two more classes. I stay on campus to read for homework, then leave, go to yoga, then whole foods, then home.

I continue past my classmates when, from behind me, Nick grabs my attention and asks what I’m “up to” right now. I pause, nervously trying to think of something less pathetic than the ritual I just described.

Before I can respond, he’s telling me what a beautiful day it is and how he’s dying to spend the afternoon outside.

“I guess I can do my reading at home, for once.”

I suggest Sunset Rec, the campus-adjacent pool area that was the site of many irresponsible episodes of prolonged sun exposure during my years as an undergrad. I can barely remember how to get there from our current location but my memories of freshman year sand volleyball and UniCamp era BBQs are as sharp and vivid as what I had for lunch today.

Unexpectedly, he agrees, and we make our first, official plans together.

The big, grassy area by the upper pool is nearly empty. It’s still a few weeks before the undergrads swarm the campus common areas and the local members are all busily engaged in their children’s late summer after-school activities. We pull two off-white, plastic lawn chairs together and I’m suddenly aware of being alone with an almost total stranger.

I’m ostensibly social and outgoing but have a few, secret anxieties. One of the biggest is driving in a car for more than a mile and a half with anyone other than my mom and my closest friends.

The dried-out August lawn feels like a long, open road.

Luckily, Nick is a natural conversationalist. He’s one of those people who takes personal responsibility for other people’s experience in social situations. Later, I’ll wish he didn’t, but today, I’m grateful he does.

Small talk is easy and light between us. We grew up in the same town and before I was a future lawyer, I worked as a crisis counselor at his high school. Our moms stayed home with us as kids and our dads are practical and successful. My dad is an eccentric urologist and his is an affable orthodontist.

Twenty minutes into the conversation I’m wondering if he wants to trade.

Nothing about our time together felt flirtatious or sexy. Nick is attractive, but not really my type. After repeated failures of attempting to  date them, I’ve sworn off short men. Besides, he’s probably too serious for me and he lacks that emotionally unavailable arrogance of a true alpha male. The kind I can’t ever resist.

This is the perfect first date I never wanted.

In hundreds of hours together over the next five years I would wonder what Nick thought about me. Am I pretty enough? Does he find me charming and charismatic? Does he wonder what I look like naked? Does he think about waking up on Saturdays and cooking breakfast together in our rustic, open kitchen? Am I too much ego or personality? Does he feel ashamed when I shout the “f” word in public?

That day though, my mind was clear and open as the sky and the grass and the deep end of the diving pool.

The ice had been broken into a million pieces of shared values and similar life experiences. The always uncomfortable edges of getting to know each other had softened and both of us found ourselves playfully in the company of a familiar friend.

And, because, as I would soon find out, he can’t help himself when in the company of new female, Nick taught me how to Dougie.

For years I’ve relied on my varied career and volunteer experiences working with young people to stay hip and relevant but I genuinely had no idea what he was talking about when Nick first made the reference. While it was happening, I felt resentful of my most recent summer camp staff for letting me dwell in already outdated (and age inappropriate) Justin Bieber fandom instead of teaching me how to Dougie themselves. But now, looking back, I appreciate the memory of Nick even more because I was so clueless and uncomfortable.

He was wearing a white cotton t-shirt, white basketball shorts and his trademark dance floor expression. In my first exposure to it, I didn’t realize the look on his face was typical of his commitment to the move. I remember wondering whether this was his one, goofy thing. Most law students I knew were as uptight as I had judged Nick to be, but the ones I got along with best, so far, had at least one or two behaviors that vaguely resembled my kind of sense of humor. I figured this was his.

Our day together ended as spontaneously as it started as we joined a nerdy group of summer school kids in a low-skill level game of sand volleyball.

Just like the old days.

When I finally got home that night it had been more than fourteen hours since I left my apartment-a new record. I was sticky from sweat and felt my favorite type of exhausted-the kind that comes from a full day of activities that are energetically demanding but spiritually filling.

I felt a sense of calm belonging that had been missing since my move back to L.A. Like maybe I didn’t have to be lonely forever.

Like I might make a friend, after all.