Illustration: Robert Huffstutter
You know those moments when you feel like you’ve mastered adulthood? When you think, Wow, this is it—I’m on assignment in a city across the country, interviewing somebody interesting, wearing sunglasses. Someone who saw me now would totally think I was a real grown-up!
That was me yesterday, in California.
Everything was going well. The tape recorder was working, the coffee was good, the café was chic and filled with beautiful people dressed in expensive rags. Our egg salad had sliced radish on it.
In the way of such things, I had to use the bathroom. “May I use your bathroom?” I asked the owner, who was dressed in a striped French sailor’s shirt.
“We have an employee bathroom you can use,” he said. “Make a left, go down the alley, and you’ll see a flight of stairs. The bathroom is at the top.”
Now, I don’t like using the employee bathroom any better than I should—in my experience they are generally depressing, even when they don’t involve “alleys”—but it was kind of them to give me access, and the café itself was so charmingly appointed, filled with wildflowers and expensive chocolate bars involving things like sunflower seeds and cheerful employees, that I figured this specimen would be better than the common run.
I thanked him and exited the shop. As instructed, I made a left, and there, indeed, was an alley. The alley was lined with doors, each of which had a corresponding set of wooden stairs, which gave me pause, but there, at the end, was indeed a particularly imposing set of steps, and at the top of these, a screen door stood open. I marched forward, the four cups of coffee I’d had lending my mission a certain purpose.
This is weird, I thought, when I found myself in a kitchen. To the left, I glimpsed a woman in another room. Was she … changing? I looked away hurriedly. Maybe the owners lived here. Or maybe the rent was so cheap that they just rented the house behind the café as a clubhouse or something.
Anyway, there was the bathroom, at the end of a hall.
I’ve never seen an employee bathroom with a tub! I thought. They really do things differently in California! What’s more, someone had clearly recently taken a shower, to judge by the wet curtain. There was a copy of Cosmo on the floor; when I washed my hands, I noticed there was a curling iron and a contact-lens case rested on the sink.
When I exited the bathroom, there was a guy standing in front of me. He was bearded, wearing boxers and a T-shirt.
“Um, who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing?”
There was a horrible moment of frozen panic. Then,
“They told me to!” I shouted shrilly.
I sprinted out the door, down the steps, and through the alley, as if pursued by the hounds of hell.
Once back on the street, I could see my interview subject sitting at the table where I’d left her, calmly typing on a smartphone. I ducked out of view and took a moment to catch my breath. I straightened my sunglasses and smoothed my hair. Then I strolled back. “Where were we?” I asked, very much as I imagined a real grown-up might.
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