Enjoy one of your favorite posts from the past until I return to entertain you!
And thank you for your loyal following.
You would have thought I had asked to have dinner with the President of the United States.
You would have thought that I had asked to be the first woman to go on the Mission to Mars.
I don’t really understand why Lexi seemed so bent… my daughter who once burned past my house, a dead body in the back of the hearse and Ozzie Osbourne blasting from the speakers.
It was Ray Charles for Christ’s sake.
Look at the photo of Ray that I posted above.
Does he seem like a man that would have a problem coming over to our house and having a little visit and photo-op with mom?
I don’t think so.
From what I know about Ray Charles he was quite the ladies man… I’m sure Lexi with her playboy body and quick wit could entice him to come to the house.
Okay… so yeah… he was dead.
I know that.
I’m not being disrespectful here.
I just wanted to pay homage to Ray and Lexi was about to be his driver.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be taking him to his final resting place mom,” she whispered into the phone. “I think I’m the one… but I don’t know for sure yet.”
“Well, you have to get Ray,” I demanded. “He’s one of my all time favorites and I never got a chance to meet him.”
“I thought you did,” Lexi said.
“No, that was B.B. King.”
At this point I became annoyed. “It doesn’t matter who I’ve met bring Ray by the house.”
“Jesus,” Lexi said. “It’s not like I can just swing by with Ray and open up the casket so you can take a photo with him.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Ray won’t mind and if you put on his glasses, it will look like we were just having a lovely little chat while he was still alive.”
“You’re out of your mind,” she said, her tone full of disbelief.
“Bring Ray to me,” I shouted. “You bring Ray Charles to our house or you don’t come home.”
She mumbled under her breath… something that sounded like “Totally out of your fucking mind…” before she hung up on me.
I ran to the bathroom and freshened up.
I wanted to look my best for Ray.
I brushed my hair and put on my favorite dress before sitting out on the porch steps with my camera and imagining my time with Ray.
I wondered if Lexi would let me prop him up on the piano bench.
I could put a lit cigarette in the ashtray and a highball glass next to it.
I could stand behind the piano… leaning over it casually… sharing a private moment with Ray… a bit of a giggle really as he played me one last song.
“What are you doing?” Dylan asked as he looked out the door and saw me daydreaming.
“Waiting for Ray Charles to drop by,” I said.
“Didn’t he just die today?” Dylan asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Lexi’s going to bring him over… just for a short visit.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“That’s what Lexi just said,” I told him.
“You know they’re making a movie about his life,” he said. “Why don’t you just go watch that when it comes out.”
“That’s not the same as having Ray over,” I fussed. “I mean really Dylan. You know that.”
At this point… Dylan rolled his eyes and walked away.
Every time I heard an engine come close to our house I sat up straight, excited that I was about to be with Ray and each time it wasn’t him… my hope would fade.
Then… the phone rang.
“Listen,” Lexi said. “I know how much you wanted to meet him… but you can’t meet Ray. I’m sorry,” she said. “But he won’t be coming over.”
It was horrible.
Forever kept from me by my own child.
“Fine,” I said and hung up the phone in a huff.
I sat there for a moment… my hopes crushed… my heart…broken.
I pictured Ray in heaven, stopping mid-song, disappointed that our visit never happened. I mean really… why wouldn’t Ray want to meet me?
A good friend of our family, Bobby Sepulveda, worked as a Removal Driver for several years.
What is a Removal Driver you may ask?
Well… it’s a person who picks up dead bodies.
From Nursing homes.
From the hospital.
From the beach.
From the store.
From parked cars at the football stadium.
Really… wherever you decide you want to punch your final ticket you’ve got someone to take you on that “last call” cab ride home: A Removal Driver.
Now… if you have a problem with dead people or removal drivers… please don’t read any farther.
You won’t like it because it’s about to get good… in a really, really bad way.
Bobby always had great stories about people he picked up.
He called me once from the morgue… and I said, “Where are you? The phone connection is really echoing.”
and Bobby said, “I’m with Donna Reed.”
“Donna Reed?” I asked… a bit confused… not “getting” the big picture…
“Yeah,” Bobby said. “She passed away today and I’m with her at the morgue.”
I felt my face drop.
I had always really liked Donna Reed… ever since she played Jimmy Stewart’s sweetheart in It’s a Wonderful Life, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted my last memory of Donna Reed to be “hanging out” with Bobby Sepulveda in the morgue.
If you knew Bobby Sepulveda… you would understand… I swear you would…. but since you don’t… just picture this…. one of the guys from Jackass in the morgue with Donna Reed.
See what I mean?
It doesn’t really seem right now does it?
Sorry Bobby… but you KNOW it’s true.
Lexi, my daughter, was very interested in working in the medical profession when she graduated high school.
She wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do at that time… and so she decided to talk to Bobby about becoming a Removal Driver.
“Why the hell do you want to do that?” I snapped at her, my own fear of being a Removal Driver getting in the way of my child’s one true dream.
“Because I want to know if I can handle being around dead bodies,” Lex said. “I don’t want to go all the way through medical school and find out I don’t have the stomach for that type of work.”
It was a good answer… A reasonable answer and so… I backed her choice.
Our friend Bobby was happy to get her a job… in fact, I’m sure he was amused… he probably thought an 18-year-old who looked like a Victoria’s Secret model and was often mistaken as a show girl when we went to VEGAS… probably wouldn’t last a day picking up dead bodies… but he was wrong.
Lexi got the job, and reported to her first day of duty wearing a nice tailored black suit.
She looked stunning… a TOTAL GLAMAZON on a mission to care for the dead.
I waved goodbye to her, proud as I watched my daughter drive off to her first job… so excited to meet her “Removal Driver Trainer.”
But later that afternoon… Lexi called me on the phone and sounded a bit emotionally distraught.
“Mommy?” she said.
“Yeahhhh?” I said a bit hesitantly.
“I want to come home and see you for a minute is that okay?” She asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said even though inside I was really saying, “Oh Jesus God please don’t come home because you’re gonna smell like a dead body or something and I’m gonna freak out.”
But… when you are a parent… you have to make sacrifices and if that means you have to support your child by smelling dead bodies all over their clothing… then so be it.
She rolled in about 5 pm with a good looking young man named Tom, from Boston, and his accent killed me.
I love that South Boston accent… I’m a PUSH OVER for a “Southie” I really am… a guy could be the biggest tattooed criminal from the East Coast and walk up and say something to me all flirty like “Ah Dee…. you’re wicked smaaaart.” And I would probably BEG him to marry me… and run off to be a little toonie… living with my townie… somewhere down around Charlestown or maybe Dorchester hiding assault rifles in my dresser drawer and wildly in LOVE. (East Coast Irish boys being my fatal weakness of course)
Tom and Lexi were just adorable together you could absolutely feel the “spark.”
Their conversation popped back and forth with witty banter that could’ve given Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy a run for their money back in the day… and I couldn’t help but pray that these two would end up together just so I could tell people how they met….
Tom, sweetheart that he is, had brought Lexi home to see me because unfortunately… the first dead body Lexi ever saw… was a pretty bad one.
Now… maybe you think all dead bodies are pretty bad… but I think I would prefer someone who was fresh and had died in their bed over what Lex had to witness.
She walked in to meet Tom, her trainer and soon to be “love” interest, and found him in the morgue with an old guy they had just brought in…who had been dead… for over a month.
He had died about 30 days prior, had been laying out in the backyard naked decomposing… until one of the neighbors peeked over the fence and got quite a bit of a shock… and so when Lexi got her first look at him she said that she actually thought he was wearing a plaid bath robe and then felt like she wanted to vomit.
“He was naked,” she said….
(and I wondered what the hell he was doing out in the backyard naked… but I didn’t ask)
“but his body was all red, blue, and green… with these weird patterns on him from where the blood pooled,” she cried before running over to me, begging for a hug.
I swear to GOD I almost pushed her away.
I wanted to run to my bedroom door and shout, “It was nice meeting you Tom… but Lex is ALL yours now! You two have fun with your dead bodies! Mama needs a nap and a valium!”
But I gave in… holding my breath the entire time… before she pulled back and smiled at Tom while I tried to get a good gulp of air… hoping that their little flirtation would keep my antics from being obvious…
And then watched as she batted her eyes at him and said, “Thanks for bringing me to see my mom.” And I loved it.
I knew right then and there… that Tom was a good man.
Later that night, Lexi returned home… excited and chattering on about how she couldn’t stop looking at Tom… how even over the dead guy’s body she couldn’t help but flirt with him…
and that after their shift was over, he had taken her upstairs to his apartment, which was of course, over the morgue, and they had shared their first kiss.
It was SO romantic.
The two of them… over the dead bodies and the refrigerated body drawers… having a moment while everyone lay there…. waiting… doing nothing really.
And I thought…Ahhhhhhhh…. young love… Nothing can distract it. Not even dead bodies.
Tom and Lex became quite the “serious item” for awhile and I can only imagine how many fond memories they’ve shared retrieving dead bodies together…
But… young love is young love…. and often doesn’t last…
Tom is back on the East Coast now… running his own funeral parlor… while Lexi of course is still out here working on her medical training…
And though Lex claims they are both now “just good friends” I pray often that someday they will end up back together… working as a team… Lex helping people to live… Tom taking care of all the ones that got away…
And me…. sitting on the front porch swing… their children on my lap…. telling them the story of how their parents “Meet Cute.”
Today’s guest writer is award winning Long Beach writer and USC film school graduate, Patrick Tobin.
D: Pat thanks for being here today.
Patrick: Thank you, I was hoping I would be on your blog.
D: It seems to be a pretty exciting place these days.
Patrick: If it’s anything like your household… I can imagine.
D: Funny….So Pat… I have admired you as a writer for years and of course, CAKE was the first story I read. I was just amazed with the idea of it and since I teach high school and write young adult literature, I was impressed with how such an adult story featured a teen so prominently. How did you come up with the idea for your story?
Patrick: Well, one of my Swedish friends was running an all woman’s support group and he was telling me how wonderful all of these women were and how supportive they were of each other and suddenly, this idea popped into my mind and I heard… “Yeah… but what if one of the women wasn’t?” and I thought, “Oooooh this could be good.”
D: That would change the group dynamic now wouldn’t it…
Patrick: Ummm yeah… my lead character is a bit of a… well… bitch and it was really hard to find a way to keep her like-able to the reader.
D: I loved her….. she is hard… but when you find out the place she is coming from… you get it… we’ve all been in those places where we come off like we are being a total jerk and then someone finds out the back story and goes…. “Oh”
D: So no teen in the beginning?
Patrick: No, it was really weird… this is the first short story I ever wrote where I had no idea what was going to happen at the end. The part with the teenage girl and the bus ride came to me after many different adaptations.
D: Speaking of adaptations… how easy was it to adapt “CAKE” the short story to the new screen play that has been receiving RAVES across America… I mean… I think you’ve been a finalist in six prestigious film festivals including the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
D: You aren’t going to make me spout off about all of your awards are you? Do you want me to start with the Pushcart?
Patrick: It wasn’t easy at all… to adapt a short story to a screen play you basically have to write a three act play. A short story is basically the “last act” of a three act, so I had to go back and write the first two acts and keep my character, as I said before, a bitch but STILL like-able.
D: Well you did a great job. I saw CAKE performed live during the New Short Fiction Series in Beverly Hills and it was really made for film.
Patrick: Thank you.
D: And you make a really great cake by the way. Do you think you might share your recipe with our readers sometime?
D: Alright then, tell me how it felt to be selected by Dave Eggers for the Best Required NonFiction Reading 2008 anthology?
Patrick: That was great.
D: Did a lot of new opportunities come to you after you were featured?
Patrick: Yes. I had a great response from young adults, college students, and agents…
D: We’ll get back to agents later but first… how did it feel to have young adults and college students validate your work? You’ve always been an adult fiction writer and of course Dave Eggers uses a panel of young adults to help him select stories for BRNR. In my experience, young people tend to be really picky and very genuine about what they like… did you feel honored? And did it open you up to the possibility of writing for a larger audience?
Patrick: Yes I did feel honored and yes it actually did open up the possibility of writing for a larger audience. Suddenly I had a lot of young students writing to me and telling me how much they admired my work, asking for writing advice or critiques, and my story was then used as a teaching tool in colleges across America. The response was fantastic and I have thought of writing for the young adult audience now.
D: Well I thought your teen character was very realistic and quite complex. I’ve read the story to my students and they love the ending which I won’t share here since everyone is about to read it!
Patrick: Thank you.
D: Pat, you’ve been a serious professional writer now for almost 20 years… any advice you’d like to share with other writers?
Patrick: Ummmmm just write what YOU LOVE… not what you think will sell… I know everyone says it but it’s true…. and don’t give up….. you’re gonna have to live with a LOT of rejection and just know that you are a good writer and keep going… Oh… And get a lot of feed back from other writers….
By Patrick Tobin
First Appeared in Kenyon Review
Included in Dave Eggers Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008
Annette the facilitator pretended to be Kate, a woman in our chronic pain support group who killed herself. We went around the circle, Annette in the middle, each of us given the opportunity to tell “Kate” what we were feeling.
Gail with fibromyaglia: “How could you give up?”
Stephanie with the botched spinal fusion: “You should have reached out for help!”
Liz with diabetes-related neuropathy: “What about your children?”
There were a lot of tears. A lot of hugging. Then it was my turn.
“I have a question,” I said.
“For Kate?” Annette asked. “Or for me, Annette.”
“Makes no difference,” I said. “Is it true she jumped off the San Pedro Bridge?”
“Is it also true that she landed on a Maersk cargo ship headed out to sea?”
Annette shifted uncomfortably. “Claire, we should focus on our feelings—”
“And is it also true that Maersk sent back what was left of her body in a Rubbermaid cooler, that the cooler was stuck in customs for a week before Kate’s husband could take custody of it, that the cooler was stolen on the way to the funeral home because a homeless guy thought it contained a picnic?”
Annette looked around the circle at the horrified faces. When she looked back at me, she nodded.
I started applauding.
“Why are you clapping?” Annette asked, her big fat cow eyes filled with confusion.
“For a job well done. Personally, I hate it when suicides make it easy on the survivors.”
When I got home there were two messages. On the first one, Annette said the group had stayed late after I left, that it had been a difficult session for everyone and she didn’t want to minimize my feelings, but—
She and the others feel it’s in everyone’s best interest if I find another support group—perhaps one specifically to deal with my “anger issues.”
The second message was from my ex-husband Jason. He said he wanted to come by and pick up the last of his things. He asked me to call his assistant with a time when I won’t be home, because he feels it’s prudent that we don’t see each other right now.
I’m sure his mother told him exactly what to say on the message because he never used to say things like “prudent.” He always was a big mama’s boy.
With all the excitement it was no wonder I was experiencing breakthrough pain. Breakthrough pain is my worst nightmare because it means the meds aren’t working right.
Imagine the most excruciating thing you ever experienced. A migraine. A kidney stone. Giving birth. All of these I’ve experienced, by the way.
Now try to imagine that the nerves involved in that pain are being pulled out by a sadistic fuck, one by one. No matter what you scream to make the sadistic fuck stop, he won’t. The sadistic fuck just keeps laughing at you because he’s enjoying your agony.
That, in a nutshell, is breakthrough pain.
Guess who got a private room at Cedars with her very own morphine drip?
Morphine is like being wrapped up in warm towels fresh from the dryer. Morphine is like your mother rubbing your back when you have the flu. Morphine is like drinking cold water from a hose on the hottest day of the summer.
Who am I kidding? Morphine’s even better than all that.
Thank you morphine.
Drug Induced Hallucination #1:
There was a boa constrictor slithering under my sheets. The snake tried to convince me that As You Like It is Shakespeare’s most unjustly criticized play. I stared at the mound under my sheets and didn’t move a muscle for hours. I knew if I made any movement the snake was going to stop arguing literary theory and devour me.
Drug Induced Hallucination #2:
A group of young kids was standing outside my room, talking loudly. They didn’t go away. I got angrier and angrier.
I finally rang the nurse and told her to tell those fucking brats to move it somewhere else, if that wasn’t too much fucking trouble. Or was I interrupting her goddamned fucking break?
That’s when the kids started throwing a basketball against my door.
“Don’t you hear that?” I asked the nurse.
She pulled the drip out of my arm and started jabbing the needle in her eyes. “I can’t hear a thing.”
Drug Induced Hallucination #3:
Kate walked into my hospital room carrying a cake with a bunch of candles on it. I told her I liked her new look.
“Thanks,” she said. “I wish I could say the same about you.”
“The morphine makes it kind of hard to fix myself up.”
“You’re probably wondering about the cake.”
“I didn’t want to be rude, but yes.”
“Remember that time when Annette asked us what our dream would be if we didn’t have chronic pain?”
“I always hated her drippy little exercises.”
“You said your dream involved the Brazilian soccer team.” Kate crinkled her nose in disapproval.
“And you said you wished you could bake your kids a birthday cake.”
Kate lit the candles. “Everyone in the group cried after I said that. You didn’t though.”
“I had my reasons.”
“I know that now.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the whole Saint Kate thing.”
“Saints don’t jump off the San Pedro Bridge onto a Maersk cargo ship.”
“I thought you’d like it.”
Kate brought the cake over to me. “Make a wish,” she said.
I closed my eyes and blew out the candles, even though I couldn’t think of anything to wish for. When I opened my eyes, Kate threw the cake out the window and jumped out after it. There was a sickening thud and someone started screaming from the street below. A nurse ran into my room.
It took me awhile before I realized that the person screaming was actually me.
The remote didn’t work so my TV had been stuck on the Discovery channel the whole time. No wonder I was having nightmares about fucking boa constrictors. I told the mousy Filipina nurse to change the channel manually.
“No problem your highness,” she said.
“Ooh,” I said, “somebody developed a spine while I was out of it.”
She left the TV on the History Channel after I told her to turn it to HBO. Touché, Imelda.
I watched a documentary about the demise of drive-in theaters in America. Apparently there aren’t any left in California except for one in Barstow.
Jason took me to a drive-in theater when we were dating, back when we were both in law school at UCLA. He’d been mortified when I found the Carpenters: Greatest Hits in his glove compartment. I teased him about it, until he cued the tape up to “Close To You.” He held me in his arms while we listened to the song—I’d never felt as safe as I did at that particular moment.
It was only the second time I’d ever gotten drunk. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum and Coke, on top of a large carton of buttered popcorn. After I threw up his car smelled like sour cinnamon toast. He gently stroked my hair and told me everything would be okay.
I was stupid enough to believe him.
When I got home I made two phone calls. First I called Rosalva, my cleaning lady, and asked if she had a driver’s license. When I found out she did, I asked her if she wanted to make an extra couple hundred bucks.
Then I called Jason’s office. I told his assistant to tell him I was going to be out of town tomorrow, so he could come by the house then.
I told her to tell Mama’s Boy I’d changed all the locks, but I’d leave a key in the bottom of the deep end of the pool for him.
For the road trip:
4. A nasal opiate from Glaxo that’s still in the trial phase.
5. The phone number and Mapquest directions for a pharmacy in Barstow. Just in case.
6. A fifty-dollar ergonomic travel pillow I bought at Sharper Image.
7. A two hundred dollar lumbar support pillow I bought off the Internet.
8. Orange juice.
10. My sunglasses.
11. A change of clothes. Just in case.
12. A bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum.
13. A six pack of Coke.
The drive to Barstow should normally take two hours, not five. I had to get out every twenty minutes to stretch. I felt like my breaks were starting to get on Rosalva’s nerves.
“No, no, no, Mrs. Fine. Is okay,” she said.
I told her I was still freaked out by the crow we killed near San Bernardino, the way it dived head-on into our car like a kamikaze pilot.
Rosalva acted like she was about to cross herself. “No more please.”
“Sorry. We don’t have to talk about the crow.” I offered her some chips and a Coke and that seemed to improve her mood.
The pain got bad near Apple Valley. That annoyed me. It also annoyed me the way Rosalva looked at me when I took my pills.
“Could you do me a favor?” I asked.
“Yes, ask me what you need.”
“Don’t call me Mrs. Fine,” I said. “I’m divorced now so I don’t want to be called Mrs. Fine.”
“But what to call you?”
“How about Claire. That’s my name.”
“Okay Mrs. Claire,” she said.
With a sweet smile. Oh fuck it. She’ll get it right one of these days.
Rosalva loved The Passion Of The Christ. I found it kind of weird to listen to all the torture through the small, tinny speaker. I started chipping off the polish on my toenails.
“You must be seeing this,” Rosalva said, her eyes filled with tears.
“I am seeing this,” I told her, as chunk number forty-five flew off Jesus’ body. “I’m also seeing we’re out of Coke.”
She seemed relieved when I offered to go to the concession stand so she could keep watching the movie. It’s okay, I get it: The Jews killed Jesus, so we should have to go to the concession stand during The Passion of The Christ.
The desert night sky is dreamy this time of year—a deep purplish blue and stars that look like Christmas lights. The cold air hurt my lungs, but in a good way.
I crawled under the low wire fence behind the concession stand and walked through shrubs and gravel down to the train tracks.
What would Jesus do? I think if he were in my shoes he would lie down and wait for the next Union Pacific freight train.
When you think you’re going to die imminently, you choose your final thoughts carefully. I tried to think of beautiful things, like Michelangelo’s David. A Bach cantata.
That got me thinking about the Nutcracker Suite. When I was a little girl I danced as a mouse two years in a row. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of music.
My thoughts turned to Jason.
I hated to admit it, but I did understand what he meant when he said I wasn’t the only one suffering—right before he handed me the divorce papers he’d personally drawn up. It was hard at the time to react graciously to what he said, because, after all, he’d walked away from the accident with only a sprained shoulder.
But now—I can see.
I can see that we were both the wrong kind of people to deal with this kind of situation. Problems that could be solved by money: that’s the most we could handle. Not the loss. Not the pain. Not all the thousands and thousands and thousands of pills.
Too bad Jason’s such a mama’s boy that he’d never take methadone, because it really does help take the edge off life.
I felt the low rumble of a train. Then I heard a voice, getting closer and closer.
“Mrs. Claire! Ay Dios mío! Mrs. Claire!”
I struggled to sit up and saw Rosalva scrambling towards the tracks. I tried to gauge how far the train was in relation to her distance from me.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said, “I just got tired and needed a rest.”
During the drive back Rosalva kept looking at me like I was going to jump out of the car.
“Knock it off with the attitude already,” I said.
She scolded me in Spanish. I think she said something about how it was a good thing Jesus told her I went “loca.”
I was thinking of the most profane thing I could say when the car started making a grinding noise. Right before the “service engine” light went on.
The guy at the garage in Barstow said it was going to take at least three days to fix the car. He tried to explain the problem to me.
“I don’t need to understand what a head gasket is,” I said. “Just make the arrangements for a rental car.”
“Okay,” I said, “maybe you don’t understand Triple A. I have the platinum coverage that gets me a free mid-size rental if repairs are going to take more than twenty-four hours.”
“There’s nothing open now,” he said.
“Why? Is it a holiday?”
“It’s nearly midnight. People have to sleep.”
Now it was my turn for a blank stare.
Inside a dark Greyhound bus, strung out on opiates, traveling through the high desert in the middle of the night, I started to feel like I was in a rocket flying through outer space. I stared at Rosalva while she slept next to me. She opened her eyes.
“Gracias,” I said.
“Why?” she asked.
“For putting up with me,” I said. “I wish I knew how to say that in Spanish.”
“Sleep Mrs. Claire.” Rosalva closed her eyes again.
I heard muffled laughter from the back of the bus. I turned around and saw a group of teenagers passing around a joint. Everyone else on the bus was asleep. I waited a few minutes, the smell of pot becoming stronger.
I made my way to the back. The leader of the group, a girl with a bad tattoo of a python on her arm, glared at me.
“Toilet’s broke, bitch.”
Her friends laughed.
“I don’t need to use the toilet.”
She sneered. “Then beat it.”
Her friends were enjoying the show. I leaned down into her face.
“I used to be married to a federal prosecutor in LA. Even though I hate his guts, I have no problem getting on my cell phone and asking him to send a marshal to the bus station.”
The sneer disappeared.
I pointed to the joint in her hand. “Is that just pot or did you morons cut it with something else?”
I’d hoped the girl—Becky, a runaway from Idaho—wouldn’t want to talk, but once we started on the second joint she wouldn’t shut up.
“I want to be an actress,” Becky said.
“Can I give you some unsolicited feedback?”
“You’re going to end up doing porn. Or worse. That’s what happens to girls from Idaho like you.”
“Gross! I won’t do porn!”
“Right. Do any of these stars ever say in an interview, ‘I ran away from Idaho when I was sixteen and ended up doing Hollywood movies’? No. That’s what porn actresses say. Not Scarlett Johansson.”
“I hate Scarlett Johansson,” she said.
“If I had your body I would too.”
“At least I don’t look like you.” She pointed at my face and arms with a vicious little smile.
“Give it time honey. You’ll get your own scars some day.”
I asked if she had another joint.
“I hope you know these weren’t free,” she pouted.
I pulled out a hundred dollar bill. “Let’s skip the soul baring. It’s starting to get on my nerves.”
Becky finally passed out. The bus was absolutely quiet as we went down the Cajon pass. The sun was just coming up. The San Gabriel valley glowed from under an ozone shroud.
Rosalva woke up. She panicked when she didn’t find me next to her. I waved from my seat next to Becky.
“Who is this?” she asked, eyeing Becky’s tattoo.
“I’m starved. I want a yellow cake with lots of fudge frosting.”
“I make one tomorrow.”
“I want one the minute we get home.”
“Mrs. Claire, I must go to my home. Later I come to your home.”
I realized I had no idea where Rosalva lived.
“Downey,” she answered. “You do not know this place I am sure.”
“Isn’t that where the Carpenters were from?”
“I have not met them.”
When we sat down in our seats Rosalva pulled out a brush and started combing my hair. I began to sing.
“Why do birds…suddenly appear…”
Rosalva smiled. “This is very pretty song.”
“Every time…you are near? Just like me…they long to be…close to you.”
At the L.A. bus station I sent Rosalva to Downey in a cab. While I waited for my own cab I noticed Becky’s friends had deserted her. She walked up to me with a shy look on her face.
“What are your big plans?” I asked. “Oh that’s right, you’re going to be a star.”
“Want to make an easy hundred?”
She gave me a look of disgust. “I knew you were a dyke.”
“I don’t want to fuck you. I just want you to bake me a cake.”
“You’re a freak. You know that, right?”
“Can you follow directions on a package, or are you illiterate?”
“Am I what?”
“Jesus. Can you read? Do they still teach that in Idaho?”
A cab pulled up. I opened the door and waited for Becky. She studied my face, trying to decide if I was a good risk or not. I felt bad for her until my legs started killing me again.
I sighed. “Do I look like someone who could hurt you?”
“You’re mean enough.”
“You outweigh me by at least fifty pounds.”
I got inside and gave the cabbie my address. We were driving off when I heard Becky’s voice.
“Wait!” she yelled, running after the cab.
I didn’t look at her when she got in the car. “Offer’s fifty now.”
“You heard me.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair. Any more lip and it goes down to twenty five.”
Becky decided to make the cake from scratch. We were at the grocery store right by my house, in the baking section. I’d become distracted by the Disney-themed birthday candles.
“Do you have baking powder?” Becky asked.
“I’m not sure.” I was starting to lose focus. “Is that the stuff you put in the fridge to keep it from smelling?”
Becky rolled her eyes. “That’s baking soda.”
“Then I don’t think I have baking powder.”
“Who doesn’t have baking powder?”
“People who order out, that’s who.”
“You’re pathetic,” Becky said while were standing in the checkout line.
“You’re only just now realizing that? God you are stupid.”
“What about booze?” Becky asked.
“Can you handle liquor? I don’t want green puke all over my carpet after you drink a whole bottle of Midori.”
“Why are you such a cunt?” she hissed.
“Paper or plastic?” the clerk nervously asked.
While Becky made the cake, I went through the house. The last of Jason’s clothes was gone. All the tools were missing—not that I’d ever use them. All his books were out of the den. With his collection gone it really exposed my intellectual laziness—Clive Cussler no longer propped up by The Collected Works of Shakespeare.
I found the picture on the desk, the framed photo of Jason and me and the twins. We’d hired an expensive photographer, a guy who does fashion spreads for Los Angeles magazine. The year before the accident, for our holiday greeting card.
I picked it up and studied our faces, until none of us was recognizable. I thought I’d made it clear to Jason he could keep the picture.
I called his office.
“Mr. Fine’s not in. Would you like to leave a message?” his assistant asked.
“Tell him he won.”
“Won what?” The assistant sounded nervous.
“He’ll know,” I said, before I hung up the phone.
I took so much methadone I just barely made it to my bed. Becky yelled from the kitchen.
“Where’s the fucking booze?”
“Be resourceful!” I yelled back. “You need to be resourceful!”
My last thought before I passed out was that maybe primitive cultures are right—I think the camera did steal my soul.
When I woke up, Rosalva was wiping my face with a cold washcloth.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Too many hours,” she said.
“Is the girl still here?”
“No. I think she stealed.”
Rosalva helped me get up. We discovered that Becky had taken my purse, all of my jewelry, all of the liquor, and the entire stash of pain medication, including the methadone.
How did she find the methadone? I’d completely underestimated her.
“I call the police,” Rosalva said.
I stared at the frosted cake on the kitchen counter, covered in plastic wrap. “No.”
“She does wrong when you are sick! This is bad girl!”
I dabbed my finger on the top of the cake and tasted it. Homemade fudge frosting. A little on the sweet side, but definitely homemade.
It’s impossible in L.A. to find out where someone lives if they haven’t given you the information. The white pages are useless; 411 is a fucking joke. I needed to talk to a human being and not Verizon’s annoying computer, so I called Annette.
“And how are we doing Claire?”
“We’re doing great.”
“Well, that’s super. Did you find another support group?”
“Funny you should mention that. Ever hear of Gloria Allred?”
“Uh, well, yes I have.”
“Because I’ve decided to sue you for discrimination.”
“Goodness. A lawsuit?”
“Just kidding. I’m calling to get Kate’s address.”
“I don’t think I’m allowed to give out that information. Was there something I could help you with?”
“That’s hardly possible.”
“Well I’m certain I can’t give you that information. I’m sorry.”
“Remember when I said I was kidding about the lawsuit?”
“Now I’m not kidding.”
The address was in Palos Verdes, for a house that looked like the bastard child of a mansion and a small hotel. Rosalva, bless her heart, drove me there in the mid-size rental. I told her to wait for me in the car.
“I help you Mrs. Claire.”
“Thanks, but I need to do this by myself.”
I wonder what Kate’s husband will say. I have to remember his name before I ring the doorbell. Ken? Ben?
Fuck it. I’ll just mumble something.
I hope he doesn’t freak out and think I’m a crazy person for bringing a cake with cheap Disney-themed candles. Will I actually tell him it was something Kate had wanted to do for the kids? Jesus, I hope he doesn’t start crying, or worse, ask me to come in to meet the family.
I stand outside the front door, my hand ready to press the bell. I hear children’s voices inside. Lots of children.
I take a deep breath.
Something you must know about people who swim or play water polo.
We tend to get naked a lot.
Because when you spend a life time running around in a bathing suit… changing behind towels at meets, at the beach, somewhere in public… you stop caring who sees you.
And… back in the day when we were all swimming, playing water polo or whatever…. our bodies had no wobbly bits… no bouncing blobs of fat… just nice sleek tan taught muscle.
It was lovely.
Ryan Ballance and Erik Prosser two of my high school friends, were both polo players at Wilson… I of course was a Millikan girl…. you weren’t SUPPOSED to like the Wilson boys…. but we often did…. maybe because it was “forbidden” fruit… going against school spirit to want to make out with the “red and the gold.” How extremely unsportsmanlike.
It didn’t matter to me… I adored them both.
Erik and I had a friendship that went back and forth from friends to boyfriend and girlfriend for years… and I still miss him today… I hate that he is gone from this Earth… a fluke accident.. leaving all of us to miss the beauty of his spirit…
Ryan… was always my buddy… maybe a casual flirtation here and there… maybe a moment of sexual “wit”… but nothing more than that… and today… I take great joy in seeing photos of him in love and happy in Florida where I imagine he still runs around in speedos, mostly naked, with his girlfriend probably shaking her head as she says to herself: “Christ, everyone must think I’m dating a European.”
Anyways… it was the year of Wilson’s 10 year high school reunion, and Ryan and Erik invited me to a night before “pre-party” at Ryan’s parent’s place down on the Peninsula.
Now… I remember that Ryan was dating someone at the time…. but I cannot for the life of me remember who… but… if you are reading this… I’m sorry we were such complete idiots that night. You must have been mortified and by the way… “Well done you!” for taking the high road and not smacking the shit out of all of us drunkards.
I don’t drink often… I really don’t… but with Ryan and Erik… I don’t remember much of that evening except that we thought it would be a really good idea to strip down to our skivvies and go for a swim in the Bay sometime around 2am.
Okay everyone… listen up….
1. Don’t swim drunk. It is probably one of the stupidest things you can EVER do…
2. If your last name is Wood… don’t swim drunk… do you really want me to bring up the whole Natalie Wood incident? I don’t need people running around Long Beach using me as the butt of their driftwood jokes… I’m sure I’m already the butt of so many Long Beach jokes that we don’t need to add another. And Tim Grobaty… if you are reading this… DON’T get ANY ideas.
3. As you are stripping down to your skivvies don’t prance around and prattle on about your body… and how you STILL have it… you just sound like a COMPLETE AND TOTAL conceited MORON and… nobody likes a show off.
Don’t go out in the Bay at 2am.
People will come.
And not in the cool Field of Dreams sort of way…
They will not pay money to watch you play and frolic in the water… as they sit satisfied… content in nostalgic memories of their own high school reunions… no… they won’t…
They will call the cops.
They will have you arrested.
You will be cited for Disturbing the Peace…
Drunk and Disorderly…
YOU NAME IT…. their ON IT at 2 am when a bunch of yahoos wake up the Peninsula.
The ENTIRE Peninsula.
Now, I do remember Erik went in first and he was half way to the buoy before I shot in after him… we were always competitive so I busted my ass… or what I believed was busting my ass… who knows what I was really doing… probably floundering around in circles believing that I was somehow moving forward and catching up to him.
I looked for Ryan… who started to follow but then seemed to pause and disappear… either he stopped because he had a moment of clarity and thought better of it or his girlfriend grabbed him and forced him to the ground….. either way…. he never made it into the water which ended up being a really good thing for him.
Erik and I frolicked about from buoy to buoy laughing and screwing around up and down the tow line, spitting water at each other, slap fighting waves, until someone turned on their porch light and stared us down…it was a BIG SOMEONE… a hulking MAD MAN SHADOW of a SOMEONE… ready to call the cops… we reverted back to high school…. hid behind a buoy whispering God knows what, until he went back inside and turned off the light, leaving us to giggled as we backstroked our way over to the beach grabbed our towels and headed back up to the house.
We were about to enter the gate when I grabbed the pull string… realized the latch was stuck… pulled harder and watched as the string broke, and the metal washer that had been weighting the end flew straight at me and cut a half moon slash right between my eyes.
Erik didn’t even flinch… he just started laughing at me which of course led Ryan’s father to become involved.
He wiped off the cut, told me I would live and then insisted on me spending the night… and rightfully so… here is another thing you NEVER do after a 10 year high school reunion pre-party:
YOU NEVER… EVER… DRIVE HOME DRUNK.
Do you hear me children?
I slept on the couch until about 5 am, when I woke up in a Homer Simpson moment and shouted “DOH!” before I rushed home in a plain white over-sized man’s t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.
I knew I had more clothes somewhere… but I couldn’t figure out what had happened to them.
I drove home at an alarming pace, all windows down, blowing the stink off, praying to GOD that my husband didn’t see me and think the absolute worst because… if he would have seen me… no matter how innocent that evening had been… I would have paid for it over the course of a lifetime.
I looked like I was heading home from a “walk of shame” and you don’t want your wife showing up at home… 5 am… no shoes… another man’s t-shirt on her back and a crescent moon shaped bloody cut in the middle of her forehead… EVER at 5 am… trust me people… it looks bad.
Now, I learned a lot by being sneaky in my youth and I knew that if I cut the engine as I crossed the Cohn’s house… I could coast up to the front of my childhood home (where we all still lived) in complete silence…
I cut the engine at the appropriate time, and let the car roll easily to the front walk.
I jumped out, quietly shut the door before I crept up the steps, into the house and lay down on the couch to wait and see if the coast was clear.
After about fifteen minutes… of shallow breathing and twitching at every little noise… I knew I was safe… no one was awake.
I tip-toed into the back of the house and found my husband asleep with our son…
I went into the bathroom, washed my face, brushed my teeth, cleaned the wound on my head and covered it with make-up before putting on my nighty, that was hanging on the back of the bathroom door.
I was going to have a hell of a hangover day and I had to get some time alone to recover.
I knew what I had to do… I had to find a way to get my husband out of the house and his love for surfing was my ticket.
I went back into the bedroom and shook my husband gently…
“Babe,” I said in my sweetest voice. “Babe?” I whispered again.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“The surf is supposed to be really good today,” I said. “It’s 5:30. Why don’t you get up and go catch some waves… I’ll watch the kids.”
“Okay,” he said as I climbed into the bed and he exited out the other side, grabbed his car keys and flip flops, before heading out for the day.
I’m surprised he couldn’t hear my sigh of relief from the driveway. In fact… I’m surprised he couldn’t hear it from the Huntington Cliffs for that matter.
I slept my stupor off for several hours before heading off to load up my system with a lot of greasy junk food and coca-cola and was right as rain by the time my husband was back home.
I returned to the Peninsula later that afternoon in search of the rest of my clothing… and that is when Ryan’s father informed me that my cowboy boots, my black t-shirt, my jacket and my belt had been strewn in a long path across the bay in front of a block of his neighbor’s houses… and that he had to gather them up, apologizing for our behavior, before he placed them in a brown paper bag which… he was now handing to me… as if it were a bag of something dirty… secret porn… and I took it with my eyes cast down, embarrassed and ashamed, as I rolled the top of the bag over and hurried towards the door.
“Oh,” he said. “By the way D.D….”
I turned back to look at him.
“You and Erik might like to know that the Bay was closed yesterday due to bacteria contamination. So… you were basically swimming in shit. Probably wasn’t such a good idea to go for a swim last night… right?”
I suddenly felt like I was seventeen again.
My face flushed red and my mind flashed back to Erik and I swigging mouthfuls of dirty Bay water and spitting it at each other…
I was sure for a moment… that I was going to vomit… but I didn’t… I just nodded my head slowly and said, “Yes Mr. Ballance. I completely understand Mr. Ballance. It will never happen again Mr. Ballance.”
As he looked at me…. fatherly sternness radiating like laser beams from his eyes… Ryan standing behind him…. laughing his ass off.
Erik and I didn’t get sick from our late night misadventure…it’s amazing really that we didn’t… and I’m just glad that neither one of us drowned that night.
I don’t regret it though… I really don’t… it’s a good story… contaminated… or not and it is one of many great memories I have of Erik and of Ryan…. most of which involve some type of inappropriate activity.