Friday, June 09, 2006

Vicarious Circle of Life

Yesterday was my big life cycle proxy day.

Proxy Papa

A friend just had a baby! But her husband has the flu! Baby mustn't get sick! So she asked me to pick her up from the hospital.

First, I had to fetch her car, way up in the posh Hills of Beverly.

"Go into the house and you'll find the keys and a bag of baby clothes on the dining table. The car is in the garage."

I drove my own kid-unfriendly car up to their palatial estate, which unfolds over a few acres off a secured road. I parked and walked through the lush garden and into the house. There on the table were the keys and togs. I said hi to the nanny, went back out to the garage, slipped into L's new silver Mercedes, navigated the garage door and then the security gate, and glided down the hill to Cedars Sinai, where tout Beverly Hills goes to give birth.

I found them right away in what may be the least confusing hospital on Earth. L looked even more beatific than usual, and the infant lay semi-propped in the center of the bed like an offering, swaddled and vague. As I inspected the perfect miniature, she appeared to wave at me despite a general glazed look. The room was crowded with L's bouquets and bags, so I commandeered a surgical steel cart from the nurse and piled high the personal effects.

At the elevators, an excited young man held a potted plant and a tiny spray of carnations.

"Would you like a bigger bouquet?"

He misheard me: "I wish I did."

"Here, take these," I said, handing him the biggest bouquet off the top of the laden cart. I knew my friend wouldn't care.

"Oh, you're good," he said, which confused me, but I gather that's how people speak these days.

The discharge process took an hour or more: First L disappeared, then I went off to the car, then I came back and the baby was gone, then she was back but needed a new diaper and bottle of Enfamil, etcetera, but eventually we were done. As the orderly rolled mother and child in a chair through endless halls and waiting rooms, people' eyes darted from them to me, marching along behind with the rented breast pump and bales of sterile sponges. I wondered if I owed the moment an effort to appear the proud papa. Nah. I must have radiated the right vibe; only two people congratulated me.

I left them in the lobby with the wheelchair and the orderly and a collection of demented seniors waiting for their rides, and retrieved the car. The baby seat posed a new set of issues, because it was new and complicated and neither L nor I had ever used one. I tore open the "Alcohol Prep" packet from the room (nostalgic reminder of high school) and swabbed my fingers to keep germs from the tiny slumbering baby as I manipulated the straps and buckles around her. L redid all my work more exactly, slid in next to the baby seat, and I drove them home.

Tasting Dinner

That night I met three friends at downtown LA's tony Café Pinot for a tasting dinner, part of the catering process that has never before been apparent to me. The engaged two of them had invited the other two of us to help evaluate the food and wine options for their wedding next month.

We sat on the patio surrounded by suits and skyscrapers and glimmering tiny lights as managers hovered and servers delivered a series of artfully plated dishes: six appetizers (choose three); three salads (choose one); four entrees (discuss). Midway through my detailed comparison of the salmon crisps (unimpressive to look at but surprisingly good) and the crab cakes (promising of mien but curiously disappointing) I stopped and happily observed that this was even more fun than I'd expected, because people so rarely want to hear me pontificate about food.

"That's why we invited you!" cried the future groom. "Of all the people we know, you two are the best at pontificating about food. You're doing great -- keep going."

Thus encouraged, I waxed even more loquacious than usual: why the wasabi mousse had no bite, why such perfect French fries are appropriate for a celebration (hang the calories!), why my baby vegetables were losers and what would be better, how the sauce under my perfectly pan-roasted halibut was basically a puddle of oil, why the Spanish white had all the virtues of a Sauvignon Blanc without the downside, and on and on .... We all agreed on most points, a concord likely helped along by grapes. We probably sounded like huge asses. And if we ate like that nightly we'd have huge ones too.

After dinner we wandered through the gardens and the bride-to-be showed us the tree under which the actual ceremony will happen, where the bar will be, and all the homeless people who won't be allowed to occupy park benches on that hallowed night.

We parted in a haze of bonhomie, and I drove carefully home, musing alone in my car on proximity to the major life events of others.

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