When you be­long to the city

Los Angeles Times - - L.A AFFAIRS - By Stacey Gar­ratt

On our first real date, we shared cigars and Scotches in a dark, red base­ment bar in Man­hat­tan with the win­dows steamed over from the cool fog out­side. I’d been friends with Benari for years, and this, thrillingly, would be the first night I’d in­vite him to come home with me. It would also, I as­sumed, be the last. Seven days later, I would leave New York City on a one- way f light back to my na­tive Los An­ge­les.

Happy to say, I was wrong. He was in the Army Re­serve, and, to my sur­prise, he vis­ited of­ten, and I loved pick­ing him up from LAX in my ’ 84 El Camino. We had whiskey at Big­foot West and ate Tacos El Gal­lito bur­ri­tos from the truck parked next to my stu­dio apart­ment off Venice and La Cienega boule­vards. He’d hinted that he was con­sid­er­ing giv­ing L. A. a shot. I tried to keep my cool. I loved his vis­its and found my­self think­ing of him a lot when he was away.

Dur­ing one of his trips here, af­ter see­ing a show at the back of Melt­down Comics on Sunset Boule­vard, he be­came dis­tant and quiet. Over ap­pe­tiz­ers at Bossa Nova, he told me that he’d re­ceived a call that af­ter­noon. He was be­ing de­ployed to Afghanistan.

He left and the months went by. We went back to a friendly cor­re­spon­dence. Then, af­ter a some­what re­gret­table of­fice f ling, I re­al­ized it was time to get out there and look for some­one close enough to live in my area code but not so close as to stum­ble over on the way to the mail room.

I was too fru­gal ( ab­so­lutely broke) for any paid dat­ing ser­vice, so I used free­bie fa­vorite OKCupid. “I’m look­ing for a Won­der Mike to my Casanova Fly,” my pro­file said, “for a truly re­gret­table karaoke ren­di­tion of ‘ Rap­per’s De­light.’ ”

I’d heard the usual com­plaints levied against dat­ing in L. A.: The guys are shal­low and looks- ob­sessed; ev­ery­one’s vy­ing for sta­tus and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for an over­sized ego. I cer­tainly wasn’t any­one’s idea of suc­cess­ful, and I’m not par­tic­u­larly svelte. By all ac­counts, dat­ing should have been a dis­as­ter.

But the year I spent dat­ing in Los An­ge­les was un­ex­pect­edly lovely. Of course, there were dud nights. One date had named his dog af­ter a fic­ti­tious sex ad­dict. One broke down in tears five min­utes in, talk­ing about his re­cent move from Chicago. Another needed a sharp re­minder that “quit be­ing handsy” is more than an im­prov sug­ges­tion. But those were brief, weird evenings to re­count to friends later, ex­cep­tions to the rule. Most of the men I met online were un­de­ni­ably tal­ented, op­ti­mistic and am­bi­tious.

Then, af­ter a year and a half away, Benari came back from his de­ploy­ment. Within days, we’d fallen in love and, in what’s re­ally an un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated courtship rit­ual, I deleted my OKCupid pro­file. He moved in im­me­di­ately, and show­ing him Los An­ge­les was like gid­dily in­tro­duc­ing him to a sprawl­ing fam­ily. I stum­bled through show­ing him how to surf in Venice. We walked around Lake Bal­boa Park in quiet re­flec­tion on Yom Kip­pur and cud­dled in drive- in movies in City of In­dus­try. We walked our fin­gers over book spines at Blastoff Comics, the Last Book­store, Sky­light and ( the now de­funct) Pic­colo Books. We loved Com­pari’s and Pann’s near our first apart­ment in In­gle­wood and Tonga Hut near our next apart­ment in North Hol­ly­wood.

It was in that apart­ment that he told me the news. He’d got­ten a job back in New York, a job he’d worked hard to get and there wasn’t any ques­tion of him tak­ing it. I knew he’d been in­ter­view­ing there, and I’d gone back and forth on how to han­dle the pos­si­bil­ity. But there in our kitchen, now faced with the re­al­ity of it, my choice was ob­vi­ous. I was choos­ing the per­son I loved over the city I loved.

There was a feel­ing leav­ing Los An­ge­les that I’d never had leav­ing any­where else, a hy­per- aware­ness that the mem­o­ries of things I loved were start­ing to sting with loss. It was the feel­ing of a breakup with a pop­u­la­tion of 3.8 mil­lion.

Like any great breakup, there’s a sound­track; Snoop Dogg, Frank Zappa and, yes, a lit­tle Tom Petty and War­ren Zevon. The bar­gain­ing to visit of­ten, keep in touch and still be friends. A sad pro­tec­tive­ness not to let the places I loved not be there when I came back. I had loved a lot when I was there and loved Los An­ge­les best of all.

Three months later, he’d left me, sud­denly, and I re­turned to Los An­ge­les. I wor­ried that my home­town would be haunted by loss. It was at first, but within weeks, the ghosts of con­fused heartache grad­u­ally gave way to the warm em­brace of a place of be­long­ing. Maybe my Los An­ge­les story wasn’t meant to end. My new apart­ment is right by the Tonga Hut, and I’m back search­ing for a Won­der Mike to my Casanova Fly ( or is it the War­ren G to my Nate Dogg?).

I missed you, Los An­ge­les. I’ve loved a lot while I was here, and I’ve loved you best of all. Stacey Gar­ratt is a writer and a for­ever Cal­i­for­nian. L. A. Af­fairs chron­i­cles dat­ing in and around Los An­ge­les. If you have com­ments or a true story to tell, write us at home@ latimes. com.

Matt Rota For The Times

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