Grown-Up Camp

In the past week there have been at least three occasions where we find ourselves out with friends and the subject turns to owning a home. There is discussion of “the market,” “variable interest rates,” “the bubble” and “equity.” One month ago I couldn’t have told you what any of those terms meant. Turns out that everybody’s got some opinion on real estate in Los Angeles.

Every time this happens, when stee and I hijack another fun night out with friends at a bar or whatever into a discussion about what we should do now that the landlords are selling our house out from under us (like, tomorrow), there’s one friend of mine who just doesn’t know how to handle it. She behaves the same way I would have about four weeks ago. She stares at first, politely, smiling at everyone as if she knew what the eff any of us were talking about. She nods a bit, pretending to care. Then she stares at her drink a little, fixes something on her shoe, stares at the decorations on the wall, wonders why The Formosa has such a terrible drawing of Elvis, and then at the end she just goes numb.

When it happened to Liz she excused herself from the table and went to another party because Liz knows that talk about real estate isn’t going to get much crazier. When it happened to Sara M, she somehow braved through the conversation, stone-faced, confident that we would return into the same hip, funny people who normally reserve that kind of passionate energy for debating Mullendash answers.

I feel like I’m pretending to be a grown-up, like 13 Going on 30. I feel just as confused as when I was a kid and played Life, and there was that “You can play the market if you own stock,” which was the most confusing sentence in the world for me when I was seven because there was no grocery store and what’s stock?, and then you’d stick a green piece of paper on this strip of numbers and spin the wheel and it’d be like, “5,6,7 you win, 8,9,10 you win more, 1,2,3 you lose!” And then it’d be over before I knew what was going on. Green paper, spin, and then money or not. Nobody could ever explain it to me (because I played these games with other children), and so “the market” continued to be this crazy strange place where I either made money quickly or lost it all without ever knowing what the hell I was doing. The only game I play as an adult where I am just as confused about why I either won or lost money is that multi-payline slot machine they have in Vegas, where the lines all intersect and no matter how many pictures of “shopping” or “Dennis Rodman” whatever are in a row you never win what you think you’ll win.

So. I’m in grown-up camp. Since we have to move pretty soon this has kicked us into gear. We were already planning on seeing if we could buy a house, but we thought we had a few months left in this place. We got a letter about three weeks ago telling us that they decided to sell the house earlier than that. We went out and got pre-approved, and my last two weeks have been a blur of houses and pages in the Thomas Guide. We’ve seen houses we liked but couldn’t come close to affording, and houses we hated we couldn’t come close to affording. We saw places that seemed okay, but were far away, or next to mechanics, or next to a scary abandoned lot. We saw a house that had a bathroom pretty much in the kitchen, and one that had the bathroom exactly in the kitchen. We saw houses with sad, scary, crying velvet clowns in the living room, naked velvet girls in the bedroom and dogs playing roulette in the bathroom. We saw houses with bars on the windows, yards paved over with slabs of concrete, and crazy neighbors with yards full of junk. One house we liked already had eight bids on it by the time we walked in the door, and standing there debating throwing in another bid was this guy, who would have clearly won. Who’m I to get in a bidding war with Gary Jules? I just told him, “Good song, dude,” and left the house. He deserves it, anyway. That song’s awesome.

Every day we’d leave the house full of hope, knowing that the chances are we’re going to have to find a rental. We’ve given ourselves to the end of this month to find a place that we’re in love with. If we don’t find anything, then we’re going to find another rental and save up for another year. The market, the bubble, the interest rates — none of it matters when you can’t find something in your price range that isn’t a crackhouse.

A year ago our landlords offered us this house, wanted to sell it right to us without a realtor. At the time we were so broke that there was absolutely no way we could do such a thing. I was about to go on the book tour, Stee hadn’t sold his pilot yet, we were in a scary “how do we pay rent” place. So we passed, and they let us live here another year. The house is now worth $150,000 more than when they offered it to us less than a year ago. That’s “The Bubble.” That’s “Fucking Insane.”

So between searching for homes and trying to get my work done while trying to land my next job and cleaning this house for the open houses that are starting in days (trying to work from home while people get to walk through the house every day is going to be FUN FUN FUN!), that’s when I like to give myself even more stuff to do. That’s why since the beginning of April, every other weekend I was out of town. I was in San Francisco, then Kansas City, then Austin and soon Atlanta. I like to mix it up. When I booked these trips, I had no idea I was about to have the craziest couple of months in my life. But here they are and I’m half living out of a suitcase, half living in my car, totally living on fear and excitement, and it’s just been crazy.

There’s no way to describe everything that happened over the past six weeks. Kansas City was an absolute blast. I met some phenomenally wonderful men and women who are at various stages in their careers. It’s another entry entirely for me to describe being in an unfamiliar city with complete strangers yet feeling like we’ve known each other for years.

Austin was a celebration of food and friends and food and beer and food and babies and food and food and man, we’re just now recovering from the food. Again, another entry entirely. Oh, yeah. And Omar got married. You know. Little things like that.

This has been one of the busiest times in my life, and it’s filled with people I love and exciting things happening and just a great energy. We’re confident that things are going to work out okay and even when it gets really overwhelming we know that it’s all going to work out fine. We have each other. We have great friends. We are doing well in our careers.

One month ago we were celebrating my birthday. We had to do it a few days after my birthday, as we were driving back from San Francisco on my actual birthday (there’s a town of many many many stinky cows you must pass through. I had them sing “Happy Birthday” to me).

He surprised me with a night at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a piece of old Hollywood that’s pink and green and wonderful. At the pool, when you go underwater, there’s music playing. It feels like magic, to dive underwater and hear classical music. You feel like a mermaid. We rolled around on the cathair-free bed, and soaked in the huge tub. The scale in the bathroom reports your weight as ten pounds lighter. It really does. Now that’s an amenity.

We had dinner at the same restaurant he took me to for my birthday three years ago. And back at the hotel, in the middle of my birthday presents (I was busy wearing a velour hoodie, clutching this book to my chest going, “I don’t need any more presents! I love my book!”), he insisted that there was one more. He sat me by the fire, got down on one knee, put his hand in that little pocket men have in their jackets for moments like this–

And I thought, “What an asshole.”

Because for about two years now there has been much discussion over the little pocket. We’d go out somewhere nice, he’d say, “Oh, I have a little something for you,” and then go in the little pocket. My brain would fire synapses left and right — remember what you’re eating! Remember what the room looks like, what his face looks like, how the soup had just arrived. Remember all of it!!— and then he’d hand me a book of matches, or a little letter he’d written for me. And I’d exhale the exhale of a thousand exhales and say, “No more little pocket. That pocket is off-limits. That’s it. No more.”

So I’ve been going crazy over the past few months. We couldn’t go anywhere without me thinking he was going to pop the question.

Here’s how crazy: A few months ago we saw Keifer Sutherland two days in a row on the same street. The second night was at a nice restaurant where we were having our Christmas/New Year’s Dinner. I became convinced, convinced that Keifer was sitting behind us because stee had asked him to propose for me. Now that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever told myself. Why would Keifer Sutherland, of all people, propose marriage for stee? I’m not even a huge Keifer fan. But I thought it was a strange coincidence, and stee looked nervous (but I suppose that was because Keifer was so dreamy), and so when Keifer was done with his meal he just got up and left. And then in the valet lot we ran into him again, so I was sure it was going to happen here instead of in the restaurant. Keifer got in his Mustang, the valet shouted, “See you tomorrow, Keifer!” and then Mr. 24 drove out of my life without asking my hand for stee’s in marriage.

So at the Beverly Hills Hotel, when stee put his hand in his little pocket, I was sure he was teasing me. We’d been doing that thing lately where you pretend to find something and then pull out your middle finger. Because we’re mature adults who should be homeowners. Anyway, I was sure he was going to pull something like that, take either his middle finger out of the little pocket, or tickets to a show or a drawing he made with the cats, something like that.

And when I saw it was a little black box, I couldn’t think to remember everything. I couldn’t stop crying as I realized this was really happening, and he was saying all these nice words to me and he wasn’t nervous and he looked so happy and everything was perfect.

I put on the ring, removing the star sapphire my grandmother willed to me. It’s tradition in my family to wear a star sapphire on the left ring finger until it’s replaced with an engagement ring. I’ve worn that star sapphire there since I was thirteen. I stared at my new ring and cooed, “Oh, stee. Look what you did.”

This prompted him to ask, “Are you going to answer my question?”

We’re getting married.

I hadn’t even dried my eyes before he said, “We have to go. We have drinks reservations.” There was a surprise party for me at the Polo Lounge, but none of them knew we were late because we were getting engaged. They yelled “Surprise!” I held up my left hand and yelled “Surprise!” and then they gasped. Only stee could throw a surprise party where absolutely everyone gets a surprise.

Stee’s just happy to have his little pocket back. And proof I’m not completely crazy? He was trying to find Bill Pullman.

We spent the past month trying to tell as many people in person as we could. I met Mom in Kansas City. I had a group of friends get together in Austin. Stee wisely suggested I not wait the six weeks until I’m in Atlanta to tell these two ladies. Allison’s reaction was my favorite: “But I didn’t KNOW! How did I not KNOW this was happening? Are you serious? Are you pulling my leg? How do I know if the ring is pretty? I WASN’T CONSULTED!”

I called Dan at four in the morning his time that night. The next morning, when he heard the message, he knew I was either engaged or in a hospital. I didn’t want to give it away, so I left his incredibly stilted, calm, over-cool message: “Dan, this is Pam. Please give me a call when you get a chance. Thank you.”

He returned the call, leaving this message: “Yes, hello, Pam. This is your friend Dan, returning your call. If you would be so kind as to phone me back at your earliest convenience, it would be much appreciated.” I knew he knew.

And before anyone asks, we already recieved this book. It was our first engagement present.

This is the shorthand version of my past six weeks. I’ll try and take a little more time here to tell you about the night in Kansas City where we picked out our high school boyfriends, stee’s birthday party that would make most thirteen-year old boys green with envy, and the struggling library system that hopefully we can help this year for the pamie.com book drive. Liz and I relaunched our show. My mom and sister might be moving across the country. Friends are having their second child. I have to plan a wedding, write a new book and a screenplay and possibly buy a house (but definitely move), all in 2004.

Being a grown-up is more fun that I could have ever imagined.

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