Around the Way Girl: A Personal History of Being Hit on by LL Cool J
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The first time LL Cool J kicked it to me was at The Shark Bar on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side. It was my junior year in college and Lynai and I had driven down from Poughkeepsie to spend the night in “The City.” We were tired of the keg parties and dearth of eligible men on campus and wanted sophistication.
We were halfway through our meal when I saw him.
The Shark Bar had fancy soul food, strong cocktails, and a lenient carding policy. The restaurant was popular with the music industry crowd who would often turn it into a dance party after hours. We were halfway through our meal when I saw him. He sat at a table in the back, in a private section reserved for the better-known diners.
A lot of celebrities don’t look like their screen self when you see them in real life, but LL was instantly recognizable. A fitted charcoal sweater showed off his broad shoulders and muscular arms. Below the rim of his black Kangol hat, his sexy eyes made contact with mine. I gave a small smile and spent the rest of dinner doing my best to appear animated, fascinating, and thoroughly engaged in the conversation at my table.
He left his table before we did and as he approached ours, I let myself look up.
“How you doin’?” he asked.
“I’m alright,” I said.
“Would you and your friend like to join me at the bar when you’re finished with your dinner?”
Lynai kept her distance at the bar while LL and I talked. My hair was slicked back tight in a low bun and I was wearing platform heels, wide-legged, cream-colored slacks, and a gold tank top. I was hoping to look like I could have been cast in a music video, but had chosen to be a music executive. Eventually, one of LL’s friends came up and told him the car was outside. I was hoping we’d be invited to join them at whatever party they were headed to, but LL just asked for my number, said goodbye, and left.
He told me his real name — James Todd Smith — and that he had a Porsche, a BMW, an Audi, and a Benz. I had a silver Nissan Sentra hatchback.
LL called me the next night. I pitched my voice a little higher while also trying to sound sleepy — my attempt at sensuality. LL talked about his upcoming tour and answered my questions about what it was like to make Toys with Barry Levinson and Robin Williams. He told me his real name — James Todd Smith — and that he had a Porsche, a BMW, an Audi, and a Benz. I had a silver Nissan Sentra hatchback. We talked about how we both felt a kinship with Africa. I had grown up in Kenya and Zambia and he’d been crowned a chief in Ivory Coast. We talked for over an hour and then he said he had to go into the studio. Would I like to go out sometime? I said yes and he said he’d call me the next day.
He didn’t. But he did call three days later and this time we talked for 45 minutes, mostly about Baltimore, where I’d gone to high school, and Queens, where he was from, and Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, the movie that had introduced me to Queens. Finally, he said he had to go see his grandmother, but that he’d call me the next day and we’d go out. I never heard from him.
Finally, he said he had to go see his grandmother, but that he’d call me the next day and we’d go out.
The second time LL Cool J kicked it to me was two years later. I was just out of college and living in Los Angeles. My home was a cockroach-infested studio apartment on Sepulveda and Venice with a landlord who used my bathroom when I wasn’t home, but I felt like I’d made it. I was writing script coverage and was an assistant to a filmmaker. My job mostly consisted of hanging out with him, forcing him to go to the gym, reading books that he might want to adapt, and making his actress girlfriend jealous, since she was sure there was something going on between the filmmaker and me. I tried to assure her that our relationship was professional and platonic, unable to tell her the one thing that would have convinced her — which was that when the filmmaker and I hung out, we were often joined by his boyfriend.
It was Grammys week. The filmmaker and his friend took me to the Four Seasons, Chateau Marmont, The Argyle, and the Mondrian. We sat at the bar and they’d flirt with each other while I sipped cocktails that cost as much as the bottles of vodka I’d buy at the corner liquor store. I was in my Michael Kors dress, a red, blue, and black print that I kept recycling. I was hoping to look like I could have been in movies, but had instead chosen to be a film executive.
I was doing a loop around the pool, pretending not to look for Madonna, when he and a group walked in.
I saw him at the Mondrian. I was doing a loop around the pool, pretending not to look for Madonna, when he and a group walked in. Our eyes met and I waited for the glimmer of recognition to cross his face. It didn’t. I returned to my seat at the bar and he had a dirty martini sent over. I raised it to him in thanks.
He came over to talk to me and I played along for a few minutes before reminding him that we actually had met before.
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” he said. “I knew I knew you from somewhere.”
I feigned hurt that he’d never called me back and he said, “Well, why don’t we fix that now?” He said he would call me that week.
I watched him on the Grammys the next night and felt special, as though I had somehow played a role in his fame.
LL called me a few days later and we talked for about half an hour, our conversation consisting mostly of me reminding him of everything we’d talked about last time. He suggested we go to the beach in Malibu that weekend. He’d take me to a little shack that sold the best fish tacos I would ever eat. He didn’t know if he could do Saturday or Sunday; he’d call me on Friday to let me know. I never heard from him.
He’d take me to a little shack that sold the best fish tacos I would ever eat.
The third time LL kicked it to me was a few years later, back in New York, in the Halcyon Lounge of the Rihga Royal Hotel on West 54th Street, across the street from my office at the William Morris Agency. I was wearing a black suit from Zara with a cornflower blue blouse underneath and Nine West flats — the uniform of the New York entertainment agency world. I was an assistant to a literary agent, and dressed, I hoped, to look like I was an agent.
Some fellow assistants and I were sharing a bottle of wine after another thirteen-hour day when LL walked into the lobby. He wore jeans and an un-tucked polo shirt and talked with a couple of guys while glancing around the room. Even behind his dark sunglasses, I could tell that we had caught eyes and I smiled and waved. He smiled and tilted his head and I knew that he had no idea who I was. Embarrassed, I put my hand down and turned back to my friends.
Even behind his dark sunglasses, I could tell that we had caught eyes and I smiled and waved. He smiled and tilted his head and I knew that he had no idea who I was.
In my peripheral vision, I saw him and the guys sit at a nearby table. They ordered drinks and I could sense his glance at me every now and then. A couple hours later, they had joined our table and I was, again, reminding him of the times we had met before. When my friends and I got up to leave, he asked for my number and, with great restraint, I said no. I had a boyfriend and, anyway, this back and forth felt too ridiculous to perpetuate.
The last time I saw LL Cool J was in LA in 2012. Austin Film Festival was hosting a panel with Buck Henry and it was the last event I would program for them before leaving my position as director and starting my MFA. The day after the event, I was eating lunch in a café at The Grove, jotting down changes I wanted to make in the next draft of my screenplay. I looked up and saw LL walking towards me. He was also by himself. I didn’t smile or wave, just watched him approach. He glanced at me, nodded, and walked on. I can’t say I was surprised. Almost ten years had passed since we’d last seen each other. Still…
As ego-rattling as it was to never be remembered by him, it had been flattering to be found flirt-worthy every time we’d seen each other. Had I aged out of the market? I’d recently seen him and his wife — turned out he’d been married all those years — interviewed on a talk show. Perhaps he had renewed his commitment to his marriage. Or maybe I had misinterpreted his gestures of friendship as flirtations. Either way, LL Cool J looked at me and kept walking.
What was he wearing? Some kind of pants and shirt combination, I assume. I remember what I was wearing, because it’s been my uniform for the past three years — jeans, a T-shirt, and Birkenstock sandals. I was a writer who just wanted to be a writer.