In typical Jamie fashion, I didn’t start packing for my trip until midnight on Tuesday. I hadn’t anticipated that it would be an issue, but I completely forgot that I had to haul the contents of a small bakery back home with me. A few months ago, the bride’s mother had asked me to bake Jiggsy’s Cookies to use as wedding favors for the reception, and without giving it much thought, I happily obliged. I eventually realized that making 180 decorated heart-shaped cookies would take at least a couple of days to produce, so I had gotten a head start by baking and freezing the cookies last weekend. I never actually formulated a plan for how I would transport the cookies to South Bend, so at 1:30 AM, I started brainstorming. I ultimately decided that the only solution was to carry them on the plane with me. After stuffing the 3 Tupperware containers into my carry-on, I realized that there wasn’t any extra space in my bag to pack additional items to entertain me while in-flight. I am a fairly hyperactive person, and I usually require a bag full of books, magazines, snacks and games to get me through trips (much like the bags that moms pack for their toddlers when they to go church). Since it was going on 3:30 AM, I had hoped that I’d be so tired the next night that I’d miraculously sleep through the majority of the flight. It seemed unlikely, but a man can dream (that is, if he can fall asleep).
I had planned to leave for the airport directly after work on Wednesday night, so I brought the cookies with me to store in the office freezer instead of leaving them in the warm car all afternoon. Someone at the office noticed me loading the containers into the freezer and asked if he could sample a cookie. I politely shot him down, but he thought that I was joking. The next thing I knew, he started to open one of the containers when I slapped it shut and said, “You can’t try one!” This came out much harsher than I had intended (think Gretchen Wieners yelling “You can’t sit with us!” in Mean Girls), and I was slightly embarrassed. I apologized and explained that the cookies were for a wedding, and he said he understood and wouldn’t try eating one again. Not taking any chances, I stayed alert all afternoon, and whenever I heard someone approach the refrigerator, I walked back there to make sure they weren’t eating the cookies.
Before heading to the airport, I dropped by the MGM Happy Hour down the street from my office to meet up with a friend and also see some of my old co-workers. I figured that staying in touch with as many people in the entertainment industry would be good for networking, and what better way to travel than a little buzzed? When I arrived at the Happy Hour, most of the people that I used to know from my brief time at MGM weren’t present, so I tried to make some new friends/connections. I mingled around the bar and introduced myself to a few people, but everyone I met seemed to work in the film and television finance department. I feigned interest in their jobs, but these weren’t exactly the people who could help me secure a creative position in the industry. I surveyed the scene for fresh faces to chat up when a girl whom I had previously met back at MGM approached me. My only prior encounter with her had taken place a few months earlier when we dined at the same lunch table in the MGM break area. My recollection of that meeting was that she had been rather abrasive and talked non-stop about herself (I’m used to being the center of attention so you can imagine my frustration). Since my friend was busy talking to the finance bores, and I didn’t know anyone else at the Happy Hour, I decided to give the girl a second chance. I actually started to enjoy her company, but then she made a jab about my age that instantly turned me off. I was telling her how nervous I was about embarking on a new career at an older age when my friend overheard and said, “He actually looks much younger than he is. Guess how old he is.” The boorish girl looked me up and down and then said, “Um…29?” My friend responded, “Yes, but if I hadn’t told you that he was older than he looked, how old would you have guessed?” Again, the girl answered, “29.” She then added, “He’s no spring chicken…I can see it around his eyes.” Cough cough, bitch! Perhaps colleagues like her is why I left the company.
After the Happy Hour had ended, I followed the group to the next bar when I finally realized the time. I excused myself and made my way back to my office to get my laptop and keys and then set off for the airport. For the first time in recent memory, I was actually on schedule to arrive at LAX with plenty of time to get through security. Then I realized that I had left the cookies in the office freezer. Woops! Apparently I’m starting to forget things in my old age.
When I finally pulled up to the airport, I only had a few minutes to spare until my bags could no longer be checked according to TSA guidelines. Sadly, I had to have a skycap assist me with getting my bags from the shuttle to the counter. I usually take a lot of a grief from people about over-packing, and deservedly so, but this time, there was absolutely no way to downsize my number of bags – I had my garment bag for my suit, my roller board for my other clothes, my messenger bag for my laptop, and my carry-on for the cookies. By the time I lugged my 40-pound carry-on through security, there wasn’t enough time to eat dinner. Instead, I ran into a Hudson News store and loaded up on my favorite snacks (2 Diet Cokes, bubblegum, Bugles, Peanut M&Ms, Popchips, and Cheetos). When I boarded the flight, I went to town on these snacks. Before we reached cruising altitude, I had eaten everything but the Popchips. I decided to leave them for breakfast and tried to get some much-needed sleep. Unfortunately, I soon found out that my seat was broken and wouldn’t recline. There were no other empty seats on the plane, so I prepped myself for an all-nighter. I paged the flight attendant and bought a $2 headset to watch TV (by the way, those headsets hurt like a bitch and my ears were throbbing by the end of the flight). I also ordered a Boar’s Head dinner because I struggle to sit on planes without having something to snack on…in truth, I struggle sitting anywhere without munching on something. I don’t think that the passenger sitting next to me was my biggest fan, as she woke up from her nap every time I opened a new food container...which was every five minutes.
By the time I landed in South Bend, I was exhausted. Fortunately, the paparazzi didn’t pick up on the fact that the Hollywood Hoosier was homeward bound, so I made it through the Michiana Regional Airport without much hoopla. Although I was sleep deprived, I had a list of errands that I needed to run, so I dropped my mom off at work and got started. Driving in South Bend had never been so exhilarating…I was able to get all the way across town in 20 minutes (in Santa Monica, it usually takes me that long to get to the grocery store which is only .7 miles away from my apartment). After stopping at Dairy Queen to get a chocolate shake (travel goal #2), I decided to pay a visit to my old colleagues at Notre Dame. When I walked into the office, the first words out of their mouths were, “Wow you’re really skinny. Are you not eating?” As I’ve stated in previous blogs, these comments frustrate me because: (1) I’ve gained about 8 pounds since moving to California, and (2) It’s not really a compliment to tell a guy how skinny he is. I realize that I’m not lifting as frequently as I used to, but I’m far from a twig. However, if one more person comments on my weight, I might have to resort to drinking those Ensure shakes that I used to drink in high school. I’m pretty sure my grandmother also drank them, but I can attest to their power. Between junior and senior year of high school, those shakes propelled my body from a scrawny 17-year-old into a slightly less scrawny 18-year-old. Although I was only able to visit with my colleagues for about twenty minutes, I had a great time catching up with them. It should be noted that they seemed much more excited to see me than when I used to come into the office every day. Maybe everyone should consider working remotely? It might boost office morale!
My mom and I got home just in time to greet my sister and her boyfriend. After getting our suitcases situated, I got to work on the cookies while my mom took Jess and her boyfriend on a tour around campus. I spent most of the afternoon icing the cookies before taking a break to eat dinner at the club (goal #2). After dinner, we returned to our house and played some family ping pong (this makes us sound like the Cleavers, but we’re far from it). My sister’s boyfriend dethroned me as the reigning ping pong champion, and since I don’t handle defeat well, I excused myself from the group and returned to the sugar cookies. The cookies ended up taking a bit longer to ice than I had expected, so my sister bravely stepped up to the plate and helped me finish them in the wee hours. I have a reputation for liking things done a certain way, and if you don’t meet my expectations, I usually let you know. As the clock struck midnight and I still had about 120 cookies to ice on zero hours of sleep the previous night, my criteria for an icing assistant had lowered dramatically. That being said, my sister did a wonderful job. I was grateful that she stayed awake with me, and we got the cookies completed around 3:30 AM. They weren’t anywhere near my best creation, but at 3:30 AM, good enough is good enough.
The next day, I met 3 of my old coworkers for lunch at my favorite campus eatery, Reckers (travel goals #1 and #2 - two birds with one stone). I was happy to spend time shooting the breeze with old friends, and even more delighted that the topic of conversation centered on me. Just kidding. But in all honesty, it was nice to discuss the past five months with people who really know me and could offer advice. This is the one thing that I truly miss about working at Notre Dame – I had built a special camaraderie with my coworkers and it seemed like I could talk to them about anything. This is something that I haven’t been able to replicate in LA, but hopefully it will come in time.
After lunch, I picked up my aunt and little cousin from the airport, and we grabbed some last-minute items for my mom’s dinner party that she was hosting later that evening. When we got back to the house, I put my aunt straight to work. I hauled the 180 sugar cookies from the dining room into the family room, and she helped me wrap each cookie in a cellophane bag with a ribbon. To distract my cousin, I turned on Austin Powers, as he had never seen the film which shaped my childhood. He didn’t find it nearly as funny as I did, but I think that’s because at twelve-years-old, his sense of humor is slightly more mature than mine. It took us about three hours to finish wrapping the cookies, but my aunt was a trooper and stayed with me until the very end (I think it had something to do with the fact that I compensated her with leftover cookies).
Later that evening, our best family friends came over for a cookout. My mom made all of my favorites: beef tenderloin, grilled salmon, Portobello potato casserole, brie bites…it was incredible. This dinner definitely solidified my mom’s kitchen as my favorite hotspot in South Bend. After dinner, everyone participated in a cornhole tournament, and without much surprise, Jorgan (Brangelina of my name + Morgan’s) proved to be the dominant force. We crushed the competition left and right, and new teams formed throughout the evening attempting to take us down. We eventually fell near the end of the night, but I attribute that loss to our alcohol intake. After our defeat, we sat around the back patio talking and laughing until 1:00 AM, enjoying the beauty of the gardens which my father had toiled over all summer. It was a perfect night!
The next morning, everyone was slow to get out of bed. I, too, wanted to ensure that I was well-rested for my friend, Clare’s wedding. She and I have been fast friends since the 8th grade, when we bonded over our love for oldies music during Mrs. Wroblewski’s math class. From that moment on, we had been inseparable. We traveled down US 31 together, from St. Joe High School to the University of Notre Dame. Through it all, no one has ever made me laugh more than Clare. Our wicked humor routinely got us into trouble. Whether it was with our Drivers’ Ed instructor, who refused to let us sit together, or our senior year English teacher, who had to call the high school guidance counselor into our classroom because of a project we had done, we were definitely a force to be reckoned with. When Clare first told me that she was dating her now-husband, Saurish, I was skeptical. Saurish came from a traditional Indian family, and Clare was known for her outspoken tongue and steadfast convictions (not exactly something that I associate with females in the Indian culture). However, after moving to California and seeing them interact on a regular basis, it became clear that they totally complement each other, and I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited for Clare. This became especially apparent during the wedding ceremony when Clare and Saurish exchanged their own vows that they had written. They articulated exactly what it was that drew them to one another, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the church. Growing up, Clare often concealed her real emotions from other people and put on a tough exterior, so I was proud of her for being so vulnerable in front of a church full of family and friends, and I credit Saurish for bringing that side of her to the forefront.
The wedding reception was a blast, and I was able to catch up with tons of old friends. Because of Clare’s and my long history, the wedding guests included people from grade school, high school and college…this could have gone either way but I was happy with all of the guests invited! My family was seated at the same table with 3 friends whom I’ve known since the fourth grade. We had lost touch in recent years, but we instantly reconnected and it was like no time had passed at all. One of these friends confessed that she actually follows my blog, so she knew exactly what I had been up to the past five months. I must admit that I use my blog as a bit of a crutch – when people ask me what’s new, I usually refer them to my blog instead of telling them. In my defense, I feel like most of Generation Z communicates via social media, so I’m just trying to keep up with the kids!
After the reception, I convinced everyone to go to my favorite local bar, Corby’s. Although I had not been there in a few years, the bouncers and the bartenders still remembered me. I say this sadly, not proudly. My friendship with the bouncers resulted in me distracting them while the bridal party snuck the groom’s underage sister into the bar. Successfully sneaking minors into Corby’s always gives me great pleasure because it was the one bar in South Bend that I wasn’t able to get into with my fake ID. The bouncer who used to work there went to my high school, and he made it his mission in life to prevent St. Joe grads from entering the bar before their 21st birthdays. Clearly he had unresolved issues and pent-up anger stemming from his high school days that he needed to work through. After buying numerous $7 pitchers of beer, we claimed a few picnic tables on the back patio. We then participated in some of our old favorite bar games, including one that my friends made up junior year of college called “Zoo.” The premise of the game is for everyone to assume the role of a different animal, and everyone goes around the circle calling each other out by their animal sound. From the looks that we were getting from the other patrons around the back patio, I don’t think Zoo is a game regularly played at Corby’s. We also engaged in plenty of games of Flip Cup and Cornhole. Saurish and Clare even made a surprise cameo at Corby’s and played a few rounds of Flip Cup with us. Say what you will about South Bend, but any place that serves pitchers of beer for $7 is first-rate in my book. I was so bowled over by the low prices that I definitely overindulged in the alcohol department, and I stayed out until 4:00 AM. In other words, it was a successful night!
Once I fought off my hangover on Sunday morning, my family met my cousins, Josh and Jackie, at one of our favorite local restaurants for brunch. I was faced with a really tough decision – whether I should get breakfast or lunch. I ultimately opted for lunch and I ordered my beloved Quattro Formaggio pizza (which I scarfed). As usual, we had a ball with Josh and Jackie, and before we knew it, 2.5 hours had passed and I’m sure that the waitress was ready to get her next table sat. With our time quickly dwindling, we tried to jam-pack as much fun into our last day as possible. After brunch, we went to the club to play tennis (I won) and then we returned home to play even more ping pong (I regained my title as the reigning champ). Like all good things, the weekend started to come to an end, and my parents drove my sister and her boyfriend to Chicago to catch their flight. While home alone, I raided the refrigerator and ate some of the leftovers from our Friday night cookout. I then met one of my best college friends at Scotty’s Brewhouse and got my favorite chicken quesadillas and Mo’Fo’ Chicken Wrap. I didn’t tell my friend that I had just eaten before dinner, as I didn't want to be judged for licking my plate clean at Scotty's!
As I started to pack my bags on Sunday night, I felt a pit in my stomach at the thought of heading to LA in the morning. I definitely wasn’t excited about returning to my sketchy apartment with its shady neighbors, but there seemed to be something more going on. Sure, I had accomplished both of my travel goals, but I felt like I hadn’t gotten to spend nearly enough time with my family and friends. The weekend had flown by and I certainly could have used a few more days in the Bend. Sitting on the plane bound for LA, I reflected on this feeling and I caught myself smiling. The thing is, friends often complain to me about having to travel home to visit family, so I guess I feel fortunate that I can’t seem to see enough of mine! I hope that I always long to spend more time with friends and family than time allows because that’s what keeps us coming back for more. So until next time, South Bend…