The Mouseburger Chronicles

A couple of years ago, I went looking for a copy of Having It All by Helen Gurley Brown after seeing it mentioned in Lena Dunham's own memoir-slash-self-help book, Not That Kind of Girl:

When I found her book, I did not yet understand Helen Gurley Brown’s position in the canon, that she had been written about and reacted to by the women who would come to guide me, women like Gloria Steinem and Nora Ephron ... All I knew was that she painted a picture of life made much richer by having once been, as she calls it, a Mouseburger: unpretty, unsocial, unformed. She believed that, ultimately, Mouseburgers are the women who will triumph, having lived to tell the tale of being overlooked and under loved. Hers is a self-serving perspective, but one I needed more than anything. Maybe, as Helen preached, a powerful, confident, and, yes, even sexy woman could be made, not born. Maybe.

Admittedly, I still haven't read Lena's book in its entirety because I found myself more intrigued by her original source of inspiration: Helen Gurley Brown, the real deal herself. Helen, the legendary editor of Cosmo, was fearless when it came to talking sex, careers and her brand of girl power, which encourages young women to go experience life to its fullest before settling down. This, according to her, sometimes included taking on a married lover. (Well! She wasn't a controversial figure without reason!)

Her book is written as though you're sitting down to lunch with your very fabulous and very confident mentor. I can just imagine her wearing a pink Chanel skirt suit with coiffed hair, speaking dramatically with expressive eyes and hand gestures while occasionally pushing around the salad on her plate with a fork to trick you into thinking she's actually eating. She's Yoda–but in a very Legally Blonde kind of way.

As you flip through the book, her nuggets of wisdom jump out as bold headlines:

AS YOU SUCCEED, KEEP A LOW PROFILE

TINY TASTES–JUST TO KEEP IN TOUCH WITH FORBIDDEN DELICACIES–ARE DANGEROUS

SOMETIMES THE SCENE MAKES UP FOR THE MAN

Each section contains powerful insights and refreshing new perspectives, as well as appalling and endlessly amusing pieces of advice. ("At any rate, after someone has made love to you with skill and grace, an orgasm is a way of saying you enjoyed yourself, even as you compliment a host on a wonderful spinach quiche.") It's one of my most cherished books. I find myself coming back to it again and again. The fact that she goes out on a limb and is unabashedly herself at all times is highly inspiring.

The book begins by examining what a "mouseburger" is: "...people who are not prepossessing, not pretty, don't have a particularly high IQ, a decent education, good family background or other noticeable assets." This is not seen as a problem, however; to her, it's a launch pad. She includes a brief quiz to help you determine whether or not you qualify. Mouseburgers, you see, are self-assured in their own cleverness. They're intuitive, observant and possess a bottomless reserve of drive. They're the embodiment of infinite potential. If you are one, all you need to do in order to "have it all" is simply apply yourself. With her book, you can mouseburger your way to the top!

To date, I have now purchased a total of three copies of this book. My boyfriend's daughter was reading it when she came to the ranch for the Christmas holidays a few years ago. She was so engrossed in it that I gifted my cherished copy to her. It didn't take me very long before I replenished my personal library with another copy for myself! It's one of those books that makes you want to spread its gospel to worthy friends. A couple of years ago, I showed it to my friend Aura and she took to it instantly. She's been referring to the two of us as "mouseburgers" ever since. 

I decided to surprise Aura with her own copy last week when we met for lunch at Croft Alley. She was overjoyed and hugged it to her chest. After lunch, we wandered along Melrose Place and went to Violet Grey, where she stood in awe of the store's innate glamour. "You've never been here before?" I asked. She shook her head. "This company was built by a mouseburger!" I whispered proudly.

The L.A. Mystique

A door in West Hollywood

I learned about L.A. from Sex and the City, just as I had learned about toxic bachelors, Manolo Blahniks and the importance of having good friends. Los Angeles, it seemed, was populated with a mix of Paris Hilton clones, aging bachelors and vegans. Surely, it was no place for someone like me–someone who relishes wearing long sleeves year-round, has introverted tendencies and orders steak like a Texan. 

I remember when my boyfriend took me around L.A. for the first time. We got a car wash, went to a denim store, had lunch at a sidewalk restaurant, drove around, and ate dinner at a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant. The day felt like a cardboard cut-out of itself. I had no connection to any of it. I thought to myself, I could never live in L.A.

If L.A. were a fabric, it'd be rayon, something that's not natural yet not exactly artificial. There's a strange sense of detachment that pervades this city. It feels like a village composed of millions of closed societies. There are canyons and strip malls and magnificent homes behind hedges and ivy-covered walls. The weather is eerily nice nearly all of the time. 

I didn't know if I would like L.A. but, now, I'm unexpectedly loving it. 

I enjoy going on morning hikes at Runyon Canyon with Taylor, strolling along Melrose Place, hanging out with Bill at his apartment while we cook dinner and watch TV shows, having lunch at Croft Alley, browsing the book selections at Book Soup, grabbing happy hour at Marvin or Terrine, and reading or writing back at The Clubhouse.

All of the places that I've been frequenting and all of the people who have become friends happened through an organic gravitational pull. Because of that, I'm experiencing this city authentically for myself. It's through the little choices and decisions that you make everyday that create your world, your reality. 

I don't know when or if I'll ever qualify as an Angeleno. To be honest, I still consider myself a New Yorker when people ask where I'm from, even though I haven't lived there in nearly three years. However, I'm finding myself easily trading in New York's dynamic energy for L.A.'s relaxed vibes. Instead of being pulled together, I now feel comfortably unraveled, like a head of beachy waves.

 

Croft Alley

CROFT ALLEY
8428 Melrose Place
No telephone number


My obsession with Croft Alley started when I saw a post on Instagram of a bowl of creamy-white house-made yogurt that was artfully drizzled with pure chlorophyll and decorated with glistening berries. Then I saw a picture of their baby kale & mint salad with perilla leaves and crispy shallots in a coconut dressing. These were just the kind of simple yet inspiring dishes that I always find myself drawn to! 

Needless to say, I quickly became a "regular", stopping in every chance I had when visiting L.A. from the ranch. I adore the staff there and now call Phuong, chef and co-owner, a dear friend. (They have this thing where they all say, very loudly, "Jessica DaaaAAAaang!" when I show up. Never gets old!)

This place is a challenge to find as there are no signs to point it out. It's literally tucked into an alley behind the more visible Alfred Coffee & Tea and therefore completely hidden from the famed storefronts of Melrose Place. But, of course, this is all part of its insider-y charm.

It's nothing short of a miracle what they can pull off in their tiny kitchen, which contains only induction burners and convection ovens! Everything on their well-edited menu is executed flawlessly, from the custardy French scrambled eggs to the golden-crisped tuna melt. (Believe it or not, they also serve pho on Tuesdays.) For those who are gluten-free and vegan, there are plenty of options that thankfully never taste like hippie food. 

Real food and real people. Gotta love that.

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*Croft Alley also holds private speakeasy dinners and provides catering. I had a small birthday dinner here last year and everyone loved it. We had miniature steamed Vietnamese rice cakes, heirloom tomato salad, kale & mint salad, prime rib roast, grilled broccolini, celeriac purée and panna cotta.