The baby took a long nap. Longer and later than usual. I took a nap, too. We woke up and the sun had set and the night was young. We were staying in Beverly Hills, at the Thompson hotel, which we chose for lack of other affordable options for our last night in LA. We’d booked the room that morning, after bidding on Priceline without luck. The location didn’t excite me, I didn’t want to shop, I wanted to be near the beach.
After the nap, we left for dinner. The lobby was compact, but fancy. The halls were long and narrow, but black and laquered. The street lacked charm, but the rooftop pool was warm and you could see the Hollywood sign. It was the size of my pinkie.
James went to request the car from the valet (because that’s how it is in LA) while I determined our destination. In the dim lobby, I noticed another mom. The kind that stands out wherever she is: long-ish bleached blonde hair, trim body, two whining boys. Her kids were pulling on her long sweater, saying, “we wanna stay, mama.” From what I could see, she ignored their pleas, and they stopped. I thought it wasn’t a bad strategy. She had an agenda. She was saying good-bye to a dark-haired woman with a suitcase who was checking out of the hotel.
Meanwhile, I was annoyed that the concierge desk was empty. I was drinking water and giving Giovanna water and using my iPhone to find a restaurant on the Yelp app. I admired my pretty dress in the mirrored wall. I buttoned my baby’s sweater. I found a sushi place around the corner. I stepped outside, where James was still waiting for the valet, and told him that we should walk instead. He agreed.
I stood behind the curb, stuck in my own universe, watching a Mercedes G-wagon roll up ever so smoothly. The two whining boys climbed in. I watched them buckle up, thinking that they must be in booster seats because of how high they were sitting in the car. I wondered “who are these people? Does everyone in LA have blonde hair and drive what looks like a cross between a Hummer and a Mercedes, only more expensive?”
I was watching this family scramble into their car, wondering who they were, when I saw her face.
She was sitting in the front seat, wearing plenty of black eye make-up, looking paranoid and scared. Would the paparazzi jump out from behind the corner? Would I whip out a camera and start photographing her? Was she going to escape unscathed?
I am a child of the mid-eighties. Britney was in her glory days, living the dream, during my tween years in the nineties. Once upon a time, I may have been a fan. And here she was, in the flesh. The girl who went from mouseketeer to pop princess to sex icon to raving lunatic to a mom just trying to provide a good life for her kids and know love. Here was the girl who was chewed up and spit out by the pop industry, created and destroyed by the same force. A girl people love, and a girl people love to hate.
After my eyes adjusted, and my brain accepted the image it was perceiving, I tried to look the other way. A man was climbing into the front seat of the car (later identified as her fiance) and he looked at me before closing the door. By then, James had re-joined Giovanna and I and was steering us towards the street.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“That’s Britney Spears,” I whispered.
“I know. She ran into me.”
And so it was.