I am drawn to all things vegan. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but if it’s “raw” or “made with 100% organic love,” I’m in. So naturally (pun intended), the fare at Sunlife Organics is a guiltless obsession. I haunt the place alongside a baffling cross-section of Malibu-ites—individuals who grow all the more mystifying the longer one stays inside.
The following snippets all transpire during a short stint of cramming at said business. It’s a Saturday afternoon, and I am, quote, “studying” for a daunting neuroscience exam.
I enter and order tea: echinacea with pressed ginger, lemon, honey, and cayenne ($4). Think: who on earth would want pepper in their drink? A textbook page flashes through my mind, some vaguely recent reading on how capsaicin from hot peppers is used (ironically) as a natural analgesic. I contemplate holistic medicine and culinary school yet again; absently regard the inconsistency in suppressing pain by setting one’s mouth on fire by natural means. “One cold buster?” the girl behind the register asks. “Yeah. Hold the cayenne.”
I make my way through a line of yoga pant-clad, twelve year old girls and sit down at a table—the only table—in the back. It’s a specimen of a table, really; beautiful gnarled wood and benches hewn from the same timber. A giant slab of amber quartz reposes heavily in the center, alongside an intricately fashioned, geometric gold pyramid. I have on previous visits been profoundly informed by the incredibly earnest owner that the pyramid’s corners must be positioned such that they face the four cardinal directions to have effect. This way, the pyramid can channel the energy of the universe. “Business quadrupled since I put that thing in. You wouldn’t believe the vibes in this place, I can’t keep people away from the door.” He pats me on the back and hands me a turmeric shot on the house, which I am also told will make me ace my exam. At this point, I’ll drink anything.
I settle in to my papers and diagrams as a skinny brunette with owlish blue eyes glides to the small cube of bench beside me. She regards the monolithic textbook on the table and her eyes widen in avian examination. “Neuroscience… wow. That stuff is cool.” I make some sidelong quip about how much cooler it will be when the midterm is over; she goes on, unheeding. “It’s all about, like, quantum physics and stuff.” Her head swivels to fix those wide blue eyes on my own. I nod helplessly, in no particular direction as I don’t agree at all, mid-blank on my study guide. Quantum physics?? ”Everything is energy,” she informs me, her tone denoting that this is the single most important thing I’ll learn all day, or all year. She spoons red lentil coconut curry soup into a small mouth and produces a platitudinal shrug, rotating on an invisible axis to confront a man to her left. Our conversation ends.
A petite and frazzled woman across the table has apparently been watching the owl and myself for some time. She reaches one plump yet claw-like hand across to pat the wood in front of me and begins to ramble about the use of mnemonics and visualization to enhance memory. I am almost immediately let in on the apparently humbly-kept secret that she was valedictorian of her class. “Education is a pie; you just have to make sure you jam all the right things into the little slice you’re actually able to digest, and cut carefully,” she declares sagely. She looks at me sidelong to make sure I’m listening, an insane towel-like scarf wrapped around her frayed locks like a gypsy’s turban. I vaguely glance about for the crystal ball and tarot cards that must assuredly be nearby. Is my palm itching? This lady is weird. She must suffer from headphone blindness, considering I still have mine in. Hmm. Can’t seem to conjure a part of the brain that might correlate to. I google it while she chatters on. Fusiform face area, FFA. She’s still talking. Ugh.
20 minutes later: a young blonde nanny with over-plucked eyebrows and that widely-known habit of chewing gum far too loudly directs a small boy and girl to the bench across from me. They wait for their order, absently flipping through the small stack of business cards and flyers on a nearby counter. The nanny lets out a dry, high-pitched giggle and brandishes a plasticky piece of paper at the two children. “Kids meditation? That sounds like a nightmare. You guys, sitting still?” She laughs again. They look at her, unphased, and return to mentally pairing drinks to customers before their owners claim them. A worker slides a green juice forward and hollers “Amber!” Kid: “I can’t believe people put grass in their food. Like horses!” Other kid (pulling on the nanny’s neon hoodie sleeve): “Hey, who eats that anyway?” Nanny: “Hippies. Hippies do.” The girl rises to claim an açai bowl and eats it blithely as the kids watch, observing the spoon rise repeatedly from dish to mouth. She finishes. Promises to take them to a candy store on the way home. They leave.
Mark Burnett and Gerard Butler come in, order smoothies, chat with owner, leave. Look like everyone else.
An earthy redhead female with a peach-hued, off-the-shoulder beach wrap dangling from her gaunt figure sits at the far left corner of the table. I spend another three precious minutes trying to figure out how the thing is staying on such a fleshless frame. A large shapeless lump lies heavy and still under a vibrant cloth in front of her; I keep one eye on the mass and one on my screen. A few minutes later, an asian woman approaches her. They embrace; old friends. The redhead pushes the bundle gently toward her friend, smiling. Out tumbles… a large bronze idol?? The friend gasps, turns brimming eyes back to the girl, and they embrace again. She carries the idol carefully away.
Suddenly I notice a withered old woman in the far corner of the room. She is sitting inside—yes, inside—of a giant purple geode, a sparkling amethyst abyss. She is perfectly still; probably why I didn’t notice her, motionless in her glittering cave. How long has she been there?? Her hands loosely hold the soft pincer grip of a yogi, knees hiked awkwardly into a cross-legged bundle, eyes scrunched shut and wrinkled face utterly impassive. I can’t tear my gaze away from the silent scene. Suddenly her eyes snap open, and she hauls herself up rigidly, taking several rickety steps over to a man sitting in the window. Her husband, presumably. She leans against his stool and mumbles a string of incoherent, hardly intelligible words; something about constantly accepting and controlling her pain, or “I’d just be gone. Poof. Gone.” My gaze slides back to the crystalline dome of the geode, attempting to discern whether or not it was originally intended to be sat in. Nobody else seems to be surprised in the slightest. There are no answers, really.
Admitting defeat, I swig the last of my pungent brew and pop the final crumbs of an apple cinnamon egg white protein bar into my mouth. I thread my way through bodies and conversation towards the lotus-emblemed front door, clutching my textbook to my chest. It feels like someone just took a wire-bristled toothbrush to my insides—in a good way. You understand.
I push out to the smothered lilt of one final sentence: ”If you want to order a smoothie or a shake, call six months in advance. We’re actually growing the plant for you.”