It’s Not the Yogurt, Stupid
They say you’re only as sick as your secrets. Okay. I’ll take that challenge.
I have done some crazy things for food. Things that embarrass me when I think about them. Things that will embarrass me when I tell them to you. But I will, anyway. And then maybe they won’t embarrass me anymore. Or maybe they’ll embarrass me more. But, I won’t know unless I tell you. And this incessant hypothesizing is maddening.
I was living in West Hollywood when I moved to LA from NY in 1985. NY is the city that never sleeps, they say. It’s true, and it shows. New York’s got big dark circles under its eyes, it drinks late into the night, and its hair is horrible. In LA, most things close at night, which was an adjustment for me.
In the late ‘80’s, in West Hollywood, I was introduced to frozen yogurt. We didn’t have that in New York yet, and this was a pretty exciting introduction. I loved frozen yogurt immediately. It had all the qualities I was looking for in a companion: Sweet, smooth, creamy, and very low in calories. Very important, that low in calories part. First frozen yogurt and I were acquaintances, then we started dating, and we soon became a definite item. We were together pretty constantly.
My relationship with frozen yogurt was not what one would call healthy. I was the one who was doing the running around, trying to get THERE, coordinating MY time to be convenient to The Yogurt. Frozen yogurt was always just sitting around in the same place, at the Cultured Class on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was definitely not a fair and balanced relationship. Unless you go by the Fox News definition of fair and balanced. Then it was.
I had tried a few other places, but I liked the Cultured Class best. I liked the flavor selections and the yogurt consistency there. And their portions were generous. Not that I thought about any of this very much, of course. Okay, I thought about it a lot.
The name was kind of corny. Cultured Class. You know, “cultured” as in both having refined taste, good manners and a good education AND as in the healthy bacterial qualities of yogurt. Get it? Cultured? Ha. Ha. And “class” as in hierarchy of social strata. So going there meant I had arrived. At the yogurt store.
The place was roomy, clean. The lighting was a little on the bright side, as if to say, “Enjoy yourself here, but don’t stay too long.” It had big plate glass windows all the way around so you could see what was going on inside, how many people were there, etc. I never ate my yogurt there, anyway. I preferred to get mine to go and get home to watch an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” It was all a part of my late night ritual. I found it comforting.
So this one night I was working at The Improv in Brea. I don’t even know where Brea is. It’s in what’s called the Inland Empire. I think anyplace that still calls itself an “empire” after 700 AD is likely overcompensating.
Anyway, the Cultured Class closed at 11 PM on weekdays, which this was, and I figured if I left Brea at a little after 10 PM, I could get to West Hollywood on time. Well, after the show, I got to talking to some of the staff and the customers, so I left there later than I had hoped. It was about 10:15 when I got into my car. That gave me 45 minutes, which was cutting it close.
Now, since it was late, there would likely be no traffic, and I had a good chance of making it back by 11 PM. I headed out; I got onto the freeway. It was dark. Really dark. There were absolutely no lights. I didn’t recognize this stretch, and these exit signs were not familiar.
Oh shit! I’m going the wrong way! This was well before GPS’s. I had a Thomas Guide in the car, but how the hell am I supposed to look something up in the Thomas Guide while driving on a freeway that has no lights? That’s like trying to crochet on a motorcycle.
So I decided to get off at the next exit, and get back on the freeway going in the other direction, hoping that that was right. It turns out it was, THANK GOD.
Yes, THANK GOD, because there was a lot at stake here. I couldn’t NOT have my yogurt. I had to have it. I had it every night. I couldn’t miss a night. If I didn’t have it, then what would I have instead? Nothing else was as delicious or made me feel as wonderful and sated and momentarily happy.
I looked at my watch. It was almost 10:30. Oh my god! This is not good! I began to drive faster. Much faster. Recklessly. I was driving like someone in a cop show in an unmarked car. Changing lanes, weaving. I had to get there on time. I just had to! Why? I don’t know! Don’t ask me questions. I’m driving. I’m driving fast.
I don’t even think it was a conscious decision. It was visceral. My body had taken over, and it was doing stupid things.
The madwoman that I was commandeered my car, which by now could have been considered a weapon, and rocketed across the Los Angeles freeway system with its on ramps and off ramps and cloverleafs and underpasses, taking me closer and closer to West Hollywood, to The Cultured Class, Ground Zero. At this point I was less driven by the need to get my yogurt than by the fear of not being able to have it. Or maybe it was 50/50. Either way, I was driven by mania.
I got off the 10 Freeway at La Cienega and traveled north. It was now about 12 minutes to 11:00. And La Cienega can be a bitch. I couldn’t afford to get stuck behind someone making a left turn, or end up in the right lane behind a parked car. I had to be constantly vigilant, anticipating the moves of the other drivers, just like we learned in Drivers Ed, times about a million.
10:53. At Olympic. 10:55. Wilshire. 10:57. Beverly. 11:00, making a left onto Santa Monica Blvd. Maybe my car clock’s fast. I hope so. Quick right into the parking lot. Swerve into a spot. Their lights are still on! Chairs are being put up on the tables. Run to the front door. Pull the handle.
Stopped. Nothing. No movement! I look around, I panic. I look in the big plate glass windows at the two employees picking up the chairs. “Look at me, look at me. Catch my eye.” Nothing.
I walk up to the huge window, my face almost against the glass. Please, look at me. And then, I raised both arms and banged with both of my fists against the glass. I looked like Benjamin from the movie, “The Graduate.”
“Elaine! Elaine!” “Vanilla!”
They sort of looked askance at each other, and then one of them walked over to the door, unlocked it, and let me in.
“I’m sorry,” I said, sheepishly.
“It’s okay,” he said. He was kind. He wasn’t judging me. Not outwardly, anyway. But how could he not judge me-and-my-not-quiet-at-all display of desperation?
I ordered my yogurt, to go, and I drove home to my apartment, digesting a myriad of feelings that were going through me. Relief, exhaustion, hunger, and shame. So much shame.
As an anorexic I had spent so much time keeping the shame at bay, ignoring its existence, and, instead, just concentrating on whatever it was I had to do to get to the yogurt. Or whatever I had to do to keep my away from it. I had to have it. I dare not have it. There was no middle road.
I got home that night, I put the yogurt in the freezer and waited for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to come on. Only then would I have my yogurt, when the stage was set, when everything was perfect, just so. And even then, the sadness was more than I could bear.