Scenes From a Los Angeles Restaurant
On Dawn Richard, romance, and regret
It's been nearly one year since I last set foot in the Crooked Media offices to record an episode of Keep It. I miss those Tuesday mornings, before I owned a car, hustling out the door to hop in an Uber. Arriving on a quiet street with rows of houses across from the towering building that housed our podcast offices. Tucked away on the southeast corner of the street was a semi-secluded little bungalow called Grub. A former home taken over in 2001 by chefs Denise DeCarlo and Betty Fraser, the restaurant operated for nineteen years before it shuttered just days before Los Angeles' first lockdown in March.
This week, lying in bed late one evening, the restaurant came to mind as I saw “Bussifame,” the new song from r&b and pop artist Dawn Richard, pop up on Spotify. Accompanied by a futuristic self-directed video, the song opens with a spoken word intro before the ballroom-inspired track takes ahold of your body and grinds on you with its deep bass.
It reminded me of my first visit to the restaurant, on the occasion of interviewing Richard. It was a brisk December in 2016 as I hurried to the street I knew so well. I can't remember if I was rushing like usual, but I know I was years from learning the concept of time management, so I'm sure I was. I'd been a fan of Richard's since Danity Kane, following her career through Diddy Dirty Money, to her more experimental solo music, which blends R&B, pop, electronic, house, and every other genre you could imagine. Richard was fascinating and inspiring to me. She was an artist who blew up in the most mainstream of ways—a cog in the MTV machine on Making the Band, who then eschewed the traditional route to success for a more self-assured, but risky path.
Ironically, I was now interviewing her for MTV News, a much-lauded reboot of the brand that focused on politics and pop culture deep dives. The memories of the interview are bittersweet now, though—because it was never released. Originally conceived as an interview that would accompany a video package of Dawn in rehearsals for her upcoming tour, until scheduling a crew to record her became too cumbersome for MTV and the project was ultimately shuttered. All this happened after I spent an afternoon with Dawn where she told me about how she was falling in love (but didn't want to share her lover's name), how she'd found strength in recording music her own way, and how her hometown of New Orleans continued to inspire her. During our interview, Dawn introduced me to Grub's famous crack bacon, which was nestled in a tray of macaroni and cheese, and was the thickest, sweetest bacon I’d ever had. But it wasn't just the comfort food that warmed me that day, it was Dawn herself. I tried to pay for the meal and charge it to MTV, but she insisted on paying herself. Her welcoming and comforting demeanor belied a person who had been put through the ringer by MTV a decade earlier, and would have a similar experience when the promise of our interview dried up.
Some time later, I discovered I was blocked on Twitter by Richard. As a person who could list on more than one hand the celebrities who had me blocked on Twitter, I knew I would have never said anything incendiary to someone I respected so much to warrant a block—then I remembered the interview that never happened. I'll always regret how that warm encounter turned into one she probably regrets. I had Richard's personal number, and blame myself for never reaching out, explaining that the failure of the interview was out of my hands and that only a couple months later, MTV News itself would be shut down in a now notorious "pivot to video," and I'd move on to another writing job.
I met the actor at Grub. It was mid October in 2017, seasonably hot if you know Los Angeles autumns. He was in town on the national tour of a Broadway show and we'd befriended one another on Twitter. He was funny, cute to be sure, and though I was, at that point, reluctant to meet anyone for a date that I’d met on social media, I gave it a try. I introduced him to the crack bacon, said he had to try it. He was from the South and he was immediately warm and tender in a way that Black queer men are with one another. Hugs feel like healing a lifetime's worth of being devalued. He was one of the first men I remember calling me sexy where I felt like he meant it. His mother loved Days of Our Lives like I still do, and she was in town the week of our date to visit him and for the annual Day of Days event NBC has for soap fans. Later, he sent me a photo of his mother with Lauren Koslow, one of my favorites on the show, who has played the semi-villainous Kate Roberts for decades. He shared my theories about the show's plot twists with her. We bonded over SZA concerts. When we finally had sex it felt comfortable and without the shame I'd associated with it ever since my first experience in college off the Sheridan stop on Chicago’s red line with a man in his late forties who I didn’t find particularly attractive, but his room was dark enough that I didn't have to see his face, except for when it was caught in the glow of his muted television. He texted me later that evening, telling me that "seeing you was such a lovely reprieve" from the chaos of his day. Here was a person who had quickly come to care about me intimately. Of course, the irony of being a person who has fears of abandonment is that you often end up being the person who abandons others. I didn't love myself, didn’t love my own body then, and so I certainly couldn't love someone else. So instead I spent my time in bars with white friends when I could have spent my evenings with him.
In a way, I'm glad that Grub no longer exists. When this pandemic ends and I return to that street every Tuesday morning, I will no longer see a reminder of the time that two different, but amazing people reached out to me with kindness in their hearts, before I learned how to do the same. The regret, however, will linger.