The Caliber of Avocado


There was a family wedding last month. My 35 year old nephew tied the knot with his girlfriend of six years. The bride is 29 and of Thai descent. She grew up in the LA basin, so that’s where we all went for the festivities.

It’s not like we’re new to LA. We lived near San Diego in the 1960s and regularly visited Dad’s siblings in Granada Hills. I attended Cal around 1970 and nearly everyone I met came from the area. I’ve made a lot of road trips up and down 5 and 101 and even 99.

Everyone who knows California understands we’re really not one state. We may be three or four or five, but we’re at least two. The cultures of the San Francisco bay area and greater Los Angeles are alien to one another.

It’s not just the weather. Or the topography. Or the air quality. All of those contribute, but they’re not as significant as the driving habits, the shopping culture, the entertainment trends.

The wedding was a production. It was thoroughly scripted. The wedding planner, the photographer, and the emcee told everyone what to do. There were bright lights and loud music and colorful party favors and gimmicks. My sister-in-law attributed the crass bling to the Thai element, but she’s a hateful bitch. It was all about LA. The last fete I attended there was a cousin’s kid’s Bar Mitzvah, 17 years ago. Production-wise, it felt the same as this wedding.

I’m not going to be critical. I can name at least two things about LA that beat SF. The drivers are definitely more courteous. I noted the same thing in New York, in Italy: San Francisco bay area drivers are rude, contentious, and possibly armed. And the avocados were perfect! No matter where, the alligator pears I encountered were tender, buttery, and flavorful.

And I met a few people interesting enough to mention. There was Jason – a groomsman who was wearing a tux for the first time and enjoying it. Jason is 31, a survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a drummer and drug dealer. He’s a slight man with prominent ears, who always buttons his shirts at the neck but likes to show his inked (scrawny) arms. Scrawny is an apt adjective for Jason.

And generous. He was packing grape-flavored cannabis vape and a hip flask of his favorite Scotch, and he was eager to share. I don’t like Scotch any more, but I enjoyed his praise of the label. He pulled the curved silver bottle out of his inner jacket pocket and took a swig after offering it to me. He told me his brand is sweet going down, with a smoky peaty aftertaste. I’d been reading Doug Johnstone, so I was familiar with the intricacies of Scotch flavors. Jason said his favorite is $50 a bottle and tastier than stuff that costs twice as much.

He surprised me with his vocabulary. He’s well-read for his age and aggressively thoughtful. He showed his youth more in his drive to solve societal problems than in his underdeveloped physique. He’s one of those smiling punk sweethearts.

Then there was Tiffany and Bruce. Tiffany is my nephews’ cousin and Bruce is her boyfriend. She’s around 21. He might be eight years older. Circumstances occurred on the night of the wedding that made my nephews and even my brother suspect Bruce was more than a poser: a catfish!

Till then I didn’t know the term. My younger nephew enlightened me. A catfish is someone who pretends to be other than himself online, in order to lure a person into a deceptive relationship. That wasn’t new to me; didn’t we swap personae in elementary school, to deceive substitute teachers? Haven’t there been countless comic plots that use the device?

I’ve looked into the word since the wedding and I see that it comes from a 2010 documentary. I understand that the term “catfish” was adopted owing to the fishing boat custom of introducing a few catfish into a load of live cod, because the presence of the catfish keeps the cod on their toes (fins) and promotes cod-liveliness. So the implication is that a human catfish isn’t just a deceiver – that the act of catfishing in some way stimulates the deceived and keeps things perky.

Tiffany sported the loveliness of youth, but I can’t describe her as comely. Her mother is a handsome Jamaican and her father is a homely white guy who looks older than his 57 years. Tiffany favors her dad. Her skin tone is yellowish, her hair is badly straightened, her features are unprepossessing, her figure is lumpy, her posture is awkward, and her clothing for the weekend was too beachy. She wore low-cut knit shifts that showed off oddly-placed tattoos of words and numbers, unplump boobs, and rolls of belly fat. She’s young and she has a nice smile, so she’s not bad looking, but her boyfriend is more attractive than she is.

My nephews nicknamed him “Thor.” Bruce is big and blondish, with scraggly hair hanging to his shoulders. He has a strong-featured face and close-set blue eyes. He said he played water polo but he’s built more like a weight-lifter.

The wedding went till 11 p.m. Afterward my brother opened his ground-floor “suite” (it had a room divider that separated the king bed from the TV area) for an after-party. Even my nephew-the-groom showed up (the bride was tired – she gulped down lobster mac-and-cheese in their suite and then went to sleep). We also had my other nephew-the-best-man, most of the groomsmen, a few bridesmaids, Tiffany, and Bruce. I took a chair that was perpendicular to one end of the couch; Jason landed on the opposite armchair. Tiffany and Bruce sat on the couch. We four conversed for awhile about the state of the world in general and relocation plans in particular. Jason wondered how to stop climate change and revealed his desire to live in the Bay Area. Bruce and Tiffany shared life-off-the-grid ideas. Bruce is moving to New Zealand next month. His mother and her new husband recently emigrated there, he visited and found it perfect, and he plans to make his mark like a Maori. Meanwhile he told me about the three part-time jobs he has in San Francisco (Indie film production (he hopes), social networking for a food-delivery start up, and branding for an on-demand personal trainer service). In fact, he announced that he would have to start the long drive north by 4 a.m., to be at one of the jobs by noon.

Tiffany didn’t have as much to say for herself. But she too has a plane ticket: one-way to southeast Asia. She plans to join Bruce in New Zealand when she’s had enough of Thailand and Viet Nam and Laos.

I got to witness some relationship interaction between the couple. Tiffany couldn’t find her phone in the pockets of her knit dress. She showed a fair amount of small unsupported boob as she fidgeted around searching, as well as the script tattoo tucked in her cleavage and the inked area code of her birthplace etched above her left clavicle. Bruce was calm and parental as he talked her through the search:

“I know where your phone is. And you will too, once you think about it.”

Tiffany looked a question up to him, under goopy eyelashes.

“You made a call earlier.”

“To my mom.”

“Yes, and if you remember, you were upset when it was over.” He paused. “Are you recalling now?”

“Of course. It has to be in the bathroom.” She didn’t seem at all bothered by her boyfriend’s patronizing. She asked the room if anyone needed anything fetched from the third floor, and she took my younger nephew’s room key with her so she could bring him his pot.

I learned the next day from my brother that Bruce informed him that he lives in San Francisco with his mother. When asked where, he responded “Snob Hill.” We don’t use that term. It would be like a native saying “Frisco,” or “San Fran.” Like a northerner prefixing each freeway number with the definite article. It simply isn’t done. And my best-man nephew says he spotted Bruce at 10 a.m., walking out of the hotel lobby. If so, Bruce certainly didn’t start his drive at 4. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The bridesmaids left the after-party around 2 a.m. They missed all the drama. A handful of hungry people had taken off in Bruce’s truck at 1:30, seeking food. We were surprised at the dearth of nearby all-night food sources but my two nephews, Bruce, Tiffany and Jason hit the road like they were on a scavenger hunt.

Here’s what we learned when they returned.

They were pulled over by the police because two of them were riding in the back of Bruce’s pickup truck. Bruce drove and the groom was riding shotgun, with Tiffany in the back seat of the pickup cab. Jason and my younger nephew were loose in the truck bed. The cop just gave them a warning and made the boys squeeze in with Tiffany, but meanwhile the groom was freaking out because they had an open bottle in the cab. Luckily the officer didn’t notice that. The five were permitted to proceed.

They landed back at the hotel around 2:30, bearing Jack-in-the-Box burgers and coursing with adrenaline. There was an appropriate amount of laughter about their experience, and my brother said his burger was great. Then Jason started looking for his Scotch bottle because his flask was empty.

I’d seen the bottle before they left. I’d seen the box. But no one in the suite could see them then. The Scotch was gone. Then my brother said, “Wait a minute. You guys said you had an open bottle in the truck. What was it?”

My younger nephew went out to see. He came back with Jason’s box and bottle of Scotch. There was still about four inches in the bottle.

But Bruce yelped “Hey, that’s mine!” He insisted it was an ingredient in an old family recipe. He said he always carried some with him.

He looked weird. His close-set eyes glared and then settled into petulance with the rest of his features. He acted like he valued the box as much as the booze. Tiffany appeared uncomfortable, like she wanted to be elsewhere.

My brother took the bottle from Bruce. My nephew-the-groom set the box on the table. Bruce sat down beside Tiffany and seemed to calm.

It’s weird watching an adult lie. You don’t expect it. You don’t know what to do. You want to believe them, because why would a grownup lie like a child about a little thing?

Tiffany and Bruce left soon after. I was about to go but opted not to exit with them. Tiffany gave little kisses to her cousins and then followed Bruce out. Which is when we noticed the absence of the bottle. Again.

We were incredulous. Really? Dude made off with the Scotch again? My two nephews nearly came to blows, arguing about what to do. The younger nephew, maybe 5’8″ and not built, wanted to go after Thor. My nephew-the-groom is taller and stronger than his kid brother, and less prone to anger. He prevailed.

But they agreed that they had to tell Tiffany’s father. They wanted their uncle to know that Tiffany was being victimized by a catfish. They even wondered if their young cousin was in on it, whatever “it” was.

I got out of there. I slept like a rock for four hours. I didn’t get up to use the toilet. I never even changed position in bed.

There were two strange reports the next morning. One was the Bruce sighting, hours after the guy said he had to leave for San Francisco. The bigger deal was the break-in of younger nephew’s room. He’d lost his iPad and a bottle of Vicodin. The moron had left his balcony door ajar. True, he was three floors up, but his balcony was shared with the adjacent room. More than that, he recalled lending his key to Tiffany, so she could fetch his smoke. Then again, my younger nephew is notorious for leaving his stuff behind and not noticing the absence for hours, days, sometimes weeks. He may have left his iPad somewhere else. His brother the groom could have borrowed the pills for the honeymoon.

We left around noon. My brother and I don’t know if we’ll ever hear the truth about Bruce, but we do expect a chapter on the conversation between the nephews and Tiffany’s dad. For then, we headed east on (the) 405 to (the) 5. We stopped at a Subway for a quick bite before accelerating north. I had a veggie patty on whole-wheat flatbread, and paid the extra 75¢ for avocado. That wedge of soft green was magnificent. We’d have given top dollar for it at any tapa restaurant in the Bay Area. Obviously, the avocado standards in the LA basin vastly exceed our own.

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