Youth is a disease from which we all recover. — Dorothy Fulheim
‘That’s the third billboard for 17 Again that we’ve passed in as many blocks. I forgot how thick they lay it on here,” I said.
David shuffled the papers in his hand. “You’re going to want to turn soon. The entrance should be right after we pass over the freeway,” he said without looking up.
“Okay, thanks. But you know what I mean? We’ve been on Sunset this whole time, and it seems like all the ads are for the same movie. Is it really necessary to have the same billboard on every corner? Are they worried we might have missed the first two? Maybe it’s that whole repetitive thing,” I continued, even though I was pretty sure David wasn’t listening. “I read somewhere that redundancy works in advertising — it’s not a mistake when you see the same commercial played twice in a row. No need to point, beh-beh, I see it.” David lowered his arm as I pulled into the driveway to our hotel.
Usually, when we visit Los Angeles, we stay at the Avalon in Beverly Hills. This time, David had found a place called the Luxe, located at the base of the Getty Museum, which was even closer to the Kopeikin Gallery, at which David’s new photographs were on exhibit.
As we were checking in, the porter behind the counter asked where we were from. “San Diego,” I said.
“Really? Me too,” he said. A few questions and answers later, we learned we’d both attended Bonita Vista High. Because the natural progression of two people having established a commonality in hometown and high school is to then ascertain by how many degrees they are separated, the porter must have anticipated my next question, and he jumped to squelch it. His words, like a wet blanket, extinguished my enthusiasm: “We probably don’t know any of the same people. I was there way after you.”
I didn’t know what to say. The kid rushed to explain himself…something about how it’s not that he thought I was old so much as he was “just a baby.” I allowed him to gush and backpedal, even though I was more amazed than bothered. “That was before my time” is usually my line. My friends have always been older, and my husband was in high school when I was born. I’d automatically assumed this kid was within five years of my age, but the next thing I knew, he was talking about one of his teachers who turned out to be a guy in my class. To think of that classmate — who I remembered as a scrawny dude with peach fuzz — as a teacher…it boggled the mind and begged the question “When did we grow up?”
While David was shaving, I opened my laptop on the bed in our room and watched the trailer for 17 Again. The movie is about a 37-year-old (Matthew Perry) who is unhappy with his life and is magically given the opportunity to be his younger self (played by Zac Efron — apparently one must suspend a good deal of disbelief before the lights go out in the theater).
“God, that sounds like a nightmare,” I said.
David turned off the water and poked his head out of the bathroom. He used a towel to wipe a dollop of white foam from his clean-shaven crown. “Were you talking to me?”
“You know, when I was fresh out of high school, I did a lot of stupid things,” I said. “As soon as I turned 18 I drove up to L.A. to acquire my obligatory ‘I just turned 18’ tramp stamp. That wasn’t so crazy, but the way I handled it was way different than I would now. I just walked into a shop on Hollywood Boulevard and made an impulsive selection, something right out of the book. But now — how long has it taken me to decide on a design for the new tattoo I want to get? A year?”
“Are you saying you regret getting the first one?” David asked. “That if you had a chance to go back and do it over, you might do things differently?”
“No,” I said. “My point is, I wouldn’t want to go back. I like the fact that I did all that crazy shit, stuff I’m way too sensible to do now. I’m lucky to have escaped my adolescence unscathed. Because of my lack of sensibility, I had a ridiculous amount of fun. But that doesn’t mean I want to relive it. Being a teenager sucks. Why would anyone want to go back to that?”
“The people who want do-overs are the ones who aren’t happy with their lives now,” David said. He picked up a cobalt-blue shirt from beside me and stood before the mirrored closet doors to watch himself button it. “People might regret having made decisions that sent them down an undesirable path.”
“You know, my dad always tells people, ‘May the rest of your life be the best of your life.’ It’s easy to analyze the past, and worrying about the future is natural. It’s much more difficult to appreciate the present,” I said.
I retrieved my makeup bag and went to stand beside David. “Those billboards must work — I went online to watch the trailer,” I said in the measured tone of one who is applying liquid eyeliner. “Looks like a cute but formulaic flick. We can wait to Netflix it.” I turned my head to examine the evenness of my application — left, then right, then left again. I painted my lips red, blotted them on a tissue, and turned to face David directly. “Do you have any regrets?”
“Only the one,” David said.
“The list?” I asked. David nodded, and I smiled. He was referring to the scrap of paper from the day we got married, the one on which I’d scribbled a list of tasks to be accomplished that day. On three separate lines, I’d written, respectively, “Pick up dry cleaning,” “Get married,” and “Go to Ralphs.” It was a Wednesday, and we accomplished our tasks in the order I’d written them. David’s regret was not having kept that scrap of paper, which had been tossed in the trash along with the receipt from the supermarket.
“You?” he asked me. “Do you have any regrets?”
“I’m pretty happy with my life.” I collected my purse and headed for the door. David grabbed the room key and followed me into the hallway. “So, no, beh-beh, I have no regrets.” When we made it to the staircase, I stopped for a moment to adjust the strap on one of my stilettos. I reached out and clasped hands with David. “It’s like you said,” I continued as we began descending to the lobby, “do-overs are for people who don’t like where their choices have led them.”