His profile said he was from Portland, Ore. No picture, but only a handsome man could be so disarming. He was coming to work in Los Angeles and needed a place to stay within biking distance of his firm in Santa Monica. My Venice apartment, on Rose Avenue, a few blocks from the beach, suited his needs.
But how would my intriguing guest get a bike onto a train? I asked if he wanted to borrow mine and learned he carried along his folding bicycle when he traveled. That riding a bicycle was important to him delighted me. Other men, like my ex-husband, scorned the notion of Los Angeles’ public transit system and refused to even consider riding a bike. The bourgeoisie French guy? Tu est comme une enfant, he said of my carless existence. “You are like a child.”
C had nothing but nice things to say to me. He praised the book selection; the quietness of the bedroom; the glitzy, crystal chandelier; the baby grand piano. No weird complaints or outraged private messages that there wasn’t a mat in the bathroom or that the bed was too low to the ground.
His sweetness, after so many insane and picky guests, dripped into my brain like an IV. He said that my apartment was an oasis of culture and beauty from a long-lost era and that my kitchen was well equipped for cooking his breakfast.
His kindness brought tears to my eyes. He was instantly more than just another guest whose easygoing vibe made hosting pleasant. My ex-husband said that nonstick frying pans caused cancer, that my knives were dull. And why had I painted the dining room red?
After so much criticism, my guest’s simple niceness felt otherworldly, as if Oregon was not just a different state but an alternate planet that sustained and nourished brilliant men. He said he would be traveling often to Los Angeles and would like to stay at my place again if it was available. He likes me, I thought. Also, thinking of this man from Portland observing my city gave me a dirty thrill, like noticing someone at the party checking out your boyfriend.
When things improved for me financially, I stopped hosting — except my charming C. Our emails grew more personal, a little longer as time passed.
I once referred to him as my friend from Portland, and he replied that indeed, I did have a friend there. The quiet pride with which he mentioned his significant other’s writing impressed me.
Most of all, I loved entering my apartment after he left. In our anonymous domesticity I felt my presence intertwine with his. Instead of stripping the bed, I’d slip into it, curling around the pillow he’d used. He belonged to someone else, but I pretended he was mine when he stayed in my apartment.
Surely he would not have washed up his breakfast dishes so tidily for just any host. And the towel. I’d never seen a man fold a damp towel before. Los Angeles is about as gentle as a well-paid dominatrix, and I was suffering blows for which I couldn’t even begin to pay.
Seeing the city through a visitor’s eyes, I felt, meant he also saw its cruelties, the impossible economics, the droves of homeless on the street. I sensed an empathy that extended as far as sunlight.
He was always so thoughtful, it wound up so easy for me to pretend that he loved me. I reciprocated the fantastic affection, giving the cold shoulder to the guys who occasionally tried to talk me up. One was, at 25, several years younger than myself. He told me that he was an architect.
“C works for an architect firm,” I said, blurting out this amazing fact.
“Who’s C?” asked the attractive guy with sandy-blond hair.
“Do you know him?” I demanded.
“I mean, maybe,” he said, but his lack of certainty disappointed me, and I walked away. A month and a half later, C sent a polite inquiry, as he always did — but this time he mentioned he was bringing his novelist along. That’s what we called her. The Novelist.
It had been cute, our nickname. It was our thing. But now it wasn’t cute. I burst into tears. I was insane. She was probably beautiful too. I told him via email that no, no I could not host the two of them. What you ask is unkind. It isn’t fair. It’s too much, I wrote. I had borrowed his empathy, love and respect for her, just as much he had borrowed my home.
He replied that he wanted to respect my feelings, but that he was confused by my communication. Apparently, there was no thing.
Many months later, driving in the unfamiliar city of Glendale, I mused less painfully upon C. The very next second, I saw the name of his firm on a banner affixed to a chain-link fence surrounding a building.
Then, a few weeks later, I found I’d inadvertently biked upon the architectural firm’s Los Angeles location. Emblazoned on the side of the building? The same logo adorning the stationery on which he once penned a thank-you note.
Unobtrusive greenery breathed from the permeable pavement. Someone had worried about conserving nonexistent rainwater? But it looked sophisticated and gentle as the man himself. My eyes caressed the pores of the place. I could see through the windows that the interior was painted an intense, friendly yellow. This must be where he worked. Or was I imagining this too?
“What do you see? On the building?” I asked a woman walking past me as I stood straddling my bike. I almost grabbed her. She looked at me, then at the building, and calmly read the logo out loud.
“Ha. I’m not crazy,” I said.
“It’s OK,” she said.
And suddenly, it did feel OK, because maybe our thing really had been sort of a thing. C remains the nicest man a girl could ever never meet, and the thought of him still touches me.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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