to be a part of

This past Saturday night, I met my two bosses for drinks at a brewery in the Arts District. This was a totally unremarkable event for them, but a highly significant one for me.

My work life, such as it is, has been a bizarre and staggering trajectory the starts and stops of which add up to so much WTF. None of the things that I have done for money in the past twenty years have anything to do with one another. Dancing? Its own crazy chapter. Editing a wedding website? Uh, okay. Hacking HTML to design blog templates? Cool, I guess. Personal assistant to a deranged millionaire inventor? Sure. Great. Why not. 

There's nothing about any of it that speaks of pursuing meaningful, skills-appropriate work. It was all just shit I either fell into or did for lack of knowing what else to do with myself. But worse than that, none of these jobs afforded me experience in a typical workplace environment - or familiarity with any of a typical workplace's gratifyingly normal elements. Face time with coworkers. Break rooms. Water cooler gossip. Performance evaluations and meetings and HR and conference calls. 

Getting close enough to your colleagues to consider them friends. 

So now here I am, in the very normal and everyday position of growing closer to my higher-ups, but not really knowing how to navigate the waters. Feeling awkward and shy and probably overly grateful to have the hand of friendship extended to me by the same people who hand me my paycheck. It's a good problem to have, I know. 

My two bosses are themselves very close. They run two stores together, clocking lots of long, stressful hours side by side. They are an amazing duo, and even when they occasionally crab about one another, they always have one another's backs. And now, mine. Some of my favorite moments at my job have been the hardest ones, the times when I was utterly exhausted and burned out and frustrated and breaking - and one or both of them dropped whatever they were doing to be there for me. We're talking emergency-group-hugs-in-the-parking-lot type there for me. Slowly I have come to accept this support without feeling shame or a sense of failure. Running a restaurant means drama and stress, and the pressure can push people together or splinter them apart. And little by little they have brought me into their often chaotic world of management. Trusting me with more, confiding in me more, inviting me to have more say in how things should be. There even may or may not be some group texting of questionable professionalism. 

And it has all felt really good to be a part of something with them. 

---

I took a personality test the other day, and it reaffirmed much of what I've learned about myself in this job, in the past year. Namely that I love being a source of support. I love assisting. I love taking things off my boss's plate, and knowing I've just made her day slightly less stressful. But I need my efforts to be acknowledged and appreciated. I'm addicted to praise. Thankfully, luckily, she gets this. I keep her Christmas card to me - the one in which she calls me her rock - where I can see it every day. I live for her delighted surprise when I take the initiative to clean up some aspect of our workplace, whether digitally, logistically, or just physically. 

But the test also said that I don't necessarily want to lead - also true. The "manager" half of my assistant manager title is the hardest for me to get into. I tiptoe around outright telling people what to do. I ask, and I nudge. And in those instances where I have to come down on my coworkers - I hate it. I am deathly afraid of being unliked by anyone.

And it was this very feeling I expressed to my second boss, our head chef, on Saturday night over drinks. 

"It's why I could never manage," I said, gloomily, not really sure if I meant it or not. It was the three of us plus three other couples, everyone two or three rounds in. A decent-sized group of drinkers. But in this moment, my voice was low enough to just bounce around us three in the middle of the table. 

"Yes, you could," he said, looking hard at me. I shook my head, but as the group's conversation picked back up, he said it once more, quietly. "You could."

I only spent about three hours with them, before leaving to go meet Timo. And most of the time we were jumbled up in short-burst conversations with others. But their invitation, a first, felt like a massive and heart-filling milestone. And before I went to bed that night I couldn't resist texting them: 

I'm really high right now, which is when I always get sappy with my friends, and I hope I'm not waking you guys up, but I need you both to know how much you inspire me, how much I've learned from you, and how grateful I was to be let in a little more tonight.

I didn't get a text in response (it was 3am). But when I got to work the next day, I did get a hug. 

mostly probably

the last things

Summoning enough self-discipline to climb back out of the warm bed and take an Advil. I don't drink much these days. Three cocktails could prove disastrous in the morning if I don't take precautionary measures.

Then back to the warm bed, where I make him watch a YouTube video of some insane South African dude introducing a pair of kittens to a couple of (fenced off) tigers. The tigers chuff and pace and yowl, curiously sniffing the kittens through the wire. You have to wonder if deep inside these distant cousins is some ping of recognition. Oh, you're sort of like me. Only much, much stronger. 

Or if the kittens would just be so many snacks. The strong can't be expected to be merciful, just for the sake of the weak. The strong have to eat, too.

The vodka, not content with soaking my liver, decides to poke around the glass menagerie of my emotions. I know better than to open my mouth and say what I'm thinking, but I do it anyway. Fears tumble out, bald and ugly. What are we doing, where are we going, what if, what about, blah blah blah. He catches them, setting them down gently on the ground before they can crash and shatter.

It is what it is. It's mostly wonderful. It's probably okay.

the middle things

A second round of drinks at The Stocking Frame. A pizza. Some pasta. Kenny and Alfie on one side of the high top table, Timo and I on the other. I didn't think he was going to make it. Long, bad day at work, which is far across town anyway. But he made it happen, and when he walked in my back was to him, and Kenny's "There he is!" is so delightfully familiar, so genuinely delighted, that I'm treated to that incredible feeling that happens when you get to be simultaneously in the company of the One You Love and the ones you love, and everyone has come to be happily knit together. I feel spoiled.

It's so good to be with these three men, and despite my own long, bad day, I feel myself glowing with liquor and laughter. Equal parts sharing. Everyone has something to say. My history with these friends easily mapping onto new territory with Timo.

We head to the show, The Fratellis at Belasco. Drinks are on me. Tipsy, I tip heavily. Bartender counts the cash, frowns, asks me if I'm sure. I wave gallantly. I'm so rich tonight.

Upstairs just to show Timo the venue, but when a waitress tries to upsell us on getting a table, we spontaneously accept. We'd wanted one anyway, because we wanted to sit down. We're kind of fucking old. We chat and joke through a forgettable opening act. A mildly illicit Kenny-Ellie memory (gay bar, foam party, shirtless dancing) comes up in conversation and I produce my phone. Oh hell yeah I have photos. Kenny sees that I've actually got an entire album of him. He starts sending himself shots he hasn't seen in six, seven years. When I look at one, check the date, and see that our friendship is in fact that old, my heart does a curious thing. Feels less like it grows than it graduates. Why yes, I have managed to keep this awesome friend in my life that long. Achievement unlocked.

The show is terrible. The arrangements are rushed, the sound tinny. It's no big deal. We're casual fans. We blow the pop stand after a few songs and go for late night Chinese food and the most delicious passionfruit cider in the world. Alfie is a regular here, and they keep the kitchen open late just to accommodate us. Noodles and dumplings, spice and heat and salt. Peking Tavern, still one of my downtown favorites.

the first things

I am in an Uber, on my way to meet my friends and my boyfriend. Hair up, bangs down. Jeans, white sneakers with silver satin shoestrings, and my favorite red lip gloss. Work day behind me. Nothing to be ashamed of, little to be afraid of. Los Angeles leaning into another cold spring night. Stars and stars, oh my stars.

I will never tire of this.