When I was 10 years old, my mom took me back to school shopping for my upcoming year at a new school in the middle of the California desert. The thought of starting over in a new place is usually a child’s worst nightmare but for me it was a chance to erase my social browser history and cleanse myself of any previous embarrassments that may or may not have happened. As I browsed the little boys section of the Walmart in Adelanto, I laid eyes on a shirt that would surely boost me into the upper echelons of my school’s educational hierarchy. It might have seemed childish to some, and tacky by most people’s opinion, but to me that white cotton shirt was the culmination of years of emulating my favorite slapstick comedian. Printed with the cheapest, most sweat-inducing ink imaginable was Jim Carrey, in his classic Ace Ventura getup, straddling two angry crocodiles on a river in Africa. The bold letters across the top ensured everyone knew that Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls was obviously my pick for the greatest movie of all time.
My mother tied to stop it. Having given birth to me at a young age, she still had her finger on the pulse of what was cool. Despite her logical argument, I was determined to have that shirt. In my vast knowledge of cinema during my 10 year journey through life, Ace Ventura had been like a father to me, guiding me through life’s obstacles and always proving that everything always works out in the end (so long as we all collectively choose to forget the blatant transphobic ending to the original Ace Ventura).
Before leaving the brightly lit coffin that would serve as my inevitable social downfall, I had to bargain with my mother for what seemed like forever. After agreeing to also wear an ill fitting flannel shirt that she loved, I was able to coax her into buying me the dumbest shirt ever. I wore that shirt for as long as I could until its untimely disappearance halfway through the school year.
Looking back on that shirt, I am almost positive my mother finally got so fed up with it that she buried it somewhere in the California desert. I remember making a silent vow to myself that someday, in the not so distant future, I’d buy myself an entire closet full of T-shirts with Jim Carrey’s face printed all over it. Thankfully, Jim went through a weird phase of believing that vaccines cause autism so I just buy plain shirts like a normal adult. Every time I’m in Los Angeles shopping for expensive shoes to wear or shirts with ironic sayings, I think of my mom, who risked our relationship to ensure that I wouldn’t get beat up by some hillbilly at school.
The other thing I like to do while visiting Los Angeles is to stop by Kashtan, a Russian restaurant and deli nestled deep in the heart of West Hollywood. Located just seconds (depending on traffic) away from Fairfax, along a stretch of storefronts that are Russian owned and operated, is a nondescript door that leads to a variety of food and beverages that are very foreign to anyone who hasn’t experienced Russian cuisine. Alex, the gentleman who is seated behind the counter seven days a week, is always happy to see a new face walk into his deli. I have a confession, I have yet to branch out from anything they have to offer beyond their succulent Samsas. The savory meat pastry is native to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, but I like to think Alex’s version of the traditional dish is the greatest in the world and the best part is you don’t have to go to Russia to find it.
Oh yeah and Brenda, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that I will never wear a flannel, I don’t care if it’s cold outside.
Kashtan, 7707 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 654-8713.
Jefferson Matthew VanBilliard is a leo that enjoys all things cannabis and is just trying his best. He let us know that although the desert will always be his home you can find him on Fourth St. in Santa Ana battle rapping teenagers or at the local high school where he coaches girls varsity volleyball without anyone’s permission.