Picnic

The idea was simple enough. I wanted to spend part of my Fourth of July like any other American — outside, with a book, eating some food. Some call it a picnic. Back in Texas, we’d call it a cookout. I didn’t need anything fancy. I didn’t even need open flame to cook over. I wanted a blanket, some shade, my boyfriend, and a little peace and quiet away from work.

You should probably know that the last bit is the hardest thing to accomplish around here. We work every day. Seven days a week we’re at our computers, on one project or another, from the first cup of coffee while checking email in the morning, to the first glass of wine at night checking email for the last time. We sit right beside each other silently for hours, only looking up for a lunch break or to announce, “I’m going to go work in the other room for a while.” Sometimes we take work breaks in order to go work out. So to go outside without bringing any work with us was already a monumental decision. It was officially a Vacation Day.

After one tiny check of our email, we packed a backpack with the essentials: sunscreen, a sheet, two books, a digital camera, a notebook in case any ideas came to our heads while we were resting in the shade, sunglasses, money, a wallet and a purse. Oh, and two tiny throw pillows for comfort. After going back in to grab hats and bandanas to protect our heads from the sun, we were ready to get in the car and find some land. After one last jog inside the house to check and make sure we had locked the downstairs window, we were in the car. Then it was just one more stop back in the house to grab a CD to listen to on our way to pick up lunch, and we were good to go, after answering the phone that was ringing and deciding whether or not we needed to bring both cell phones, or if we could get away with just the one.

I suggested Quiznos for our picnic meal, because it makes him so happy and because I’d never tried it before. I opted to eat outside in the park and not at one of our favorite cafes because I assumed it’d be cheaper to grab a couple of sandwiches and go. Quiznos for two costs twenty dollars. Why would I ever assume fast food would cost so much?

Sandwiches in hand, we stopped at a liquor store to grab a large bottle of water. After a full hour of planning, packing, purchasing and picking — we were on our way to the park.

Obviously we weren’t the only ones with the idea to go to Griffith Park and rest in the sun. What I didn’t realize was just how much of Griffith Park isn’t reserved for resting in the sun. There’s a large section for horses. Another for playing golf. Another for a zoo. There’s some kind of museum featuring trains. There’s large open areas known as Melanoma Zones, where you could sit and wait for cancerous sores to form on your face while pretending to have a great time sweating.

We seized a small patch of shade. It was along the major street that ran through the portion of the park, so it wasn’t exactly quiet. It wasn’t even part of the park, really. It was the grass on the side of the street that takes you to the park. It was near a running trail. We chose a spot with grass, and not mud, so the area wasn’t level. It was a hill, almost perpendicular to the street below, and took all of the strength in my feet and thighs to keep myself upright while I ate part of my seven-dollar sandwich. We tried to rest with our heads on the pillows as we read, but we would slowly slide toward the street, our shorts gathering up around our crotches as we oozed down the hill.

Then the sun came from behind our one branch of shade, and a group with a screaming child sat down beside us, and we knew it was time to find another picnic area.

We got back in the car and drove to the other side of Hollywood, the other side of Griffith Park, a fifteen minute drive. This was the area of open parks, where family reunions and quinceaneras take up any visible shaded area. We drove around the park, up into the mountains and back down again. We were getting frustrated. It was worse than the time I wished I could “Just Kick a Ball” — a seemingly simple wish that ended in a screaming argument with a K-Mart employee over the cost of a Blue’s Clues kickball and a half-hour drive that resulted in turning a street corner only to find a gigantic brick wall that might as well have had a sign posted that read “ACME Punchlines.”

We found a sparcely populated park area, stopped the car, weaved along the fire ant hills and found a patch of shade. Oh, blessed patch of shade. We giggled at the red, white, and blue tent someone had erected and then abandoned over by the tree, wondering who went through all that trouble to buy, haul and build an enormous screen mansion, only to walk away and never look back.

We opened up the sheet (which turned out to be for a twin bed, but no matter), dropped down to the ground, removed the stones and sticks underneath our bodies and rested our heads on the pillows. There was the sound of an 18-wheeler honking. Turns out our chosen spot of land was directly beside the highway. We hadn’t noticed because we had kept our heads to the ground, seeking out shade like reptiles. The holiday traffic made a hum that was not unlike the sound of our bedroom at night. Our house is very close to this same highway, and now when I’m out of town I find it very difficult to fall asleep without the constant whine of sirens, helicopters and horns reminding me that people are out there keeping me safe.

“This is actually just as comfortable as our bed at home,” he noted. We’ve been planning on buying a new mattress for quite some time. We sleep on the mattress I bought when I moved into my first apartment back in college. It cost about two hundred dollars, and had a three-year life expectancy. The mattress is now eight years old, and is a collection of sprung springs that creaks and moans more than your grandmother’s staircase. We hate the mattress so much it causes us to hate everything in the bedroom. We don’t even bother cleaning up in there too often anymore, since we hate that bed so much. We hate the sheets on it, and the old pillows at the top of it. We hate the footboard and the headboard. We hate the fur-collecting throw rug at our feet, and the mismatched furniture that surrounds that bed of nails we throw our bodies on every night. The only thing we’re looking forward to in our upcoming move (anybody know of a good two-bedroom?) is throwing that mattress out with the trash. And we will dance the dance of glee.

Needless to say my Griffith Park sparce grass and twig bed lulled me right to sleep. I had claimed my bit of land and had fallen in love with it. There was no work to do, no phone calls to return, no email to answer. It was just me, my sweet boy, a good book, and the skin on my shins slowly burning to a crisp in the sun. I had half a mushy sandwich and six crumbled Sun Chips. A nearby gathering blasted Nelly, while the family on our other side played both the accordion and an acoustic guitar. Little children kicked balls right next to our heads and trash gently rolled in the breeze past our feet. It was Independence Day, Los Angeles style. Driving all over town in the heat, ending up two miles from your house to find a patch of dirt-grass near a stretch of highway to listen to music you hate while pretending it’s a relaxing vacation.

It’s more than just the Diet Coke and corporate sandwiches. It’s more than the frustration of knowing a family of seven is staring at you from nearby, audibly discussing whether they should ask you to move or just sit down on top of you because you’ve been in the last patch of shade for over an hour and they need to get the grill started before Maria and Pedro show up with the meat. It’s not even the satisfaction of a good salt-fueled coma while a spider crawls into your ear. It’s being outside, in nature, in America, seizing your holiday to its fullest potential, allowing yourself to take the day off and get some fresh air and a little sun (just a little sun, SPF 55), so you can get home before those kids set off all those fireworks in the street and those drunkards start weaving on the roads.

Just finished

Running With Scissors. If something horrible had happened to David Sedaris growing up and he survived to tell the tale, this would be it. It’s funny and tragic and quite brilliant. I don’t believe a word of it, and that’s why I love it so much.

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