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What could be more compelling than the stars? It is a complex series of emotions that fills my soul when I look up at the twinkling sky on a clear night, camping up north where there is no smog or light pollution to dim the majesty of the heavens. I am overwhelmed by the depth and limitlessness, the concept of eternity. It jostles me between scary and comforting, humbling and elevating, inspiring and numbing. I tilt my head back and gaze, contemplating the perfection of the universe... but that idea is shattered when it is necessary to use the latrine.
There are the cards fate deals us; and there is what we do with them. Like a hand of cribbage, we have only a certain number of cards that we know, and but it is up to chance how the crib will shape up, or what card will turn up in the cut. You can really only make the best of what you know you have, and hope you have done the right thing. At the end we aspire to look back in satisfaction. Ironically, it is considered a prefereable death when we have left the best life possible behind.
Joan closed the door behind her, leaning in, fighting the strong urge to open it and yell, ‘Come back!’ Married just three months, yet she almost succumbed to a dalliance with a man she met at a bookstore reading. He - charming and persistent. Very attractive. Kindred Spirit. She - proud she was able to resist. But touch and go until the last minute when he dropped her off. Accepting the ride no doubt taken as the message it almost was. Robert away on business. The phone rang as the latch clicked into place. His dedicated daily phone call to say goodnight.
There was a big school bus parked on the beach every Friday and Saturday. Wheels for the bands that played the dance hall on weekends. Painted psychedelic colours, often with some kind of mural, and the band’s name splashed across the side. Joan longed to catch the attention of one of the bandmembers, preferably the lead singer, and be invited in. She imagined partying with the guys and being asked to travel around with them for the rest of their tour. Maybe they would let her bang the tambourine on stage. She would be the envy of her friends.
Joany loved Natasha’s high riding-style rubber boots. They looked better than the ones Joany’s mom bought her, and they were much better for puddle stomping. Joany’s clumsy clod-hoppers came to just above the ankle. Water always splashed in over the top. It started to pour one afternoon when she was playing at Natasha’s and Joany was in heaven when she was loaned Natasha’s boots and raincoat. The first big puddle she saw, Joany plunged her foot in. Her face went white as her leg sunk into deep mud, filling up the envied boots.
A rose would smell as sweet by any other name, they say, but I have often wondered about that. I paid great attention to the meanings when I was naming my babies. I, myself, was named for two maiden aunts who raised my father because his mother was ill. I was greatly disturbed when I got old enough to look up the meanings of my name. ‘Mary’ is Hebrew for bitterness; ‘Joseph’ means ‘he shall add to.’ So, logically, Josephine would be ‘SHE shall add to.’ Did my parents curse me, and those around me, for life with that christening?
Something in his clothes made her sneeze. At first she assumed it was the detergent he used, then she decided those clothes had not seen detergent for awhile. It must be some kind of mold growing on them. Yet he was meticulously dressed to give the coolest impression possible. Somehow she knew if she accepted his invitation back to his place, the same smell would pervade. And she would look in his fridge and find containers with fuzzy food in them. Another hip single guy avoiding domestication until the last minute. She would not be the one to tame him.
“What do you want for your birthday?” “Something rare and beautiful.” She really did not care, as long his offering demonstrated that he paid some kind of attention to her soul. It was what she sought to do when she chose gifts – to delight and surprise with the unexpected. She refused to be like her friend, Gail, who gave her husband a shopping list of purchases to make that included directions to which stores and in which sections to find the items. Although she was not above dropping hints. Had he been listening, he would never have needed to ask.
I spotted the bag lying on the street outside the film festival party that I had attended as riff-raff. The VIP’s celebrated in a roped-off section, drinking free champagne, leaving laden with swag bags, to be swept away in waiting limos. It was one of those bags abandoned on the curb. Opening it I saw that the contents had been rifled through and were mostly gone, but a soft red scarf had been snubbed. Spoiled celebs, too good to wear rayon. The night had turned chilly and it kept my neck warm for the bike ride home.
Joan thought it would be okay to bring Sandy along for dinner. Plans with friends were already in place to try the Ethiopian restaurant when Sandy asked if she could visit for the weekend. It had been awhile since Joan had seen her old friend, who still lived back in the hometown. The food was good, and it seemed to be authentic, given the high percentage of Ethiopian patrons. The restaurant was bustling but suddenly there was one of those lulls when things go silent. At that moment Sandy piped in, “Funny how everybody here looks like Sammy Davis Junior!”
She was having trouble following the animated conversation at dinner. She was okay with French, one-to-one, if the other person spoke clearly, but it was hard to distill even the most familiar words from this rat-a-tat drumroll of rippling ‘R’s. She began to drift into her own thoughts. Suddenly all the faces at the table were turned toward her expectantly. She was the proverbial deer in the headlights. Quickly she held up her glass. “Salut!” she proclaimed. A pause, then her host raised her glass in reply. She wished she knew what she was toasting.
There is nothing sexier than a man in a skirt or a robe. Think Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, or Omar Shariff in Lawrence of Arabia. And kilts! At the tartan shop in Edinburgh they offered family pictures with everybody wearing tartan. Fun, I thought, until I saw the price – close to $200. When I mentioned it to our host however, he dragged out his kilt and tarted Steve up in the full regalia so we could take a picture of him with a shot of scotch in hand. My heart flutters every time I look at that photo.
There were things she could tolerate when she first met him. She even found them endearing. Such as the absent-minded way he often left the keys hanging from the lock when he let himself into the apartment. Love is blind, after all. Now she was getting tired of constantly having to shepherd him through life, safeguarding his every step, because his behavior could prove fatal. His personal grooming was atrocious, too. How dare he come to bed with such disgusting feet, and toe-nails so long they gouged her calves when he snuggled up, so innocent of her disdain?
Sandy leaned in to Joan’s ear. “That guy’s staring at you.” “I know.” Joan was avoiding eye contact. Now he was removing his shirt, pretending he wanted to get some sun, but Joan knew he thought he could seduce her with his body. She suppressed the urge to curl her lip, knowing he would use any reaction as an invitation. He was making it hard, though, as he hiked up his pants, obviously believing that she would find his bulge impressive. You could not tell a guy like that he was pitiful; he would think you were flirting.
He actually had a fencing scar. It slashed sharply upward like an arrow pointing to his smoothly bald head. He took my hand and raised me from the table, leaning over to kiss me fingers. I felt like I was in a romance novel. On the dance floor he drew me towards him, but not too close. Not like the stumbling dork who had been stepping on my toes during the last dance. With just enough pressure applied to the small of my back, he guided me around the room in a swirling arc. My feet barely skimmed the floor.
He was dripping with sweat by the time he finished his lengthy drum solo. He looked around the audience for approval and to Joan’s great contempt, he was getting it. Mostly from the guys. In her eyes it had been just one long, boring interruption. The moment she dreaded at every dance she went to. And bands seemed to insist on it. “What the heck?” she thought, “it is a DANCE, not a tribute to crappy drummers.” Scanning the faces illuminated by the stage lights, the drummer’s eyes fell on one with eyes lit up by burning fury.
Joan was there only because Sandy knew the guys in the band, but Rock-a-Billy grabbed her immediately. She had never been a fan of country music, but this fast-paced, fun genre had her on the dance floor all night long. Afterwards they hung with the band members in the green room downstairs. A chemical reaction occurred between Joan and the lead singer, and they ended up taking a cab back to her place. The first thing he did was to inspect her cassette collection. “Abba?” he exclaimed incredulously, and picked up his jacket. “Well, I gotta go.”
The Premiere’s son lived in the same residence as my brother. I already knew that. So when he brought Bob Davis home for a long weekend visit, I was impressed that Tim had made such a prestigious friend. And I was very flattered when Bob asked me out on a date. He was not really my type, I had to admit, but there were definitely bragging rights involved, and I let all my friends know about this special distinction. Tim and Bob were laughing at my gullibility behind my back. After all Bob Davis is a pretty common name.
That summer Joan and Sandy had one goal. To find a boyfriend with a bike. A motorcycle. They wanted to be seen, wearing halter tops and cut-off shorts, on the back of a bike, clutching a handsome guy wearing black leathers. And they decided it had to be a Kawasaki. For some reason that was the bike that held cachet for them. Unfortunately, their search for the perfect summer accessory came to no avail. None of the guys they met who owned bikes matched up to the physical qualifications they had in mind. They tended to be smelly, too.
In order to qualify for maternity benefits, I took a long contract with a firm on the 26th floor of the bank tower. I had other assignments in sky-scrapers before that, but this was the first time it occurred to me that it could be perilous. During high winds one day, the building swayed enough that the vertical blinds on the windows clanked against each other. And then there was the fire drill, where I had to walk down 26 flights of stairs while heavily pregnant. Years later 9/11 affirmed my vow to work only in low buildings.
The interview was going very well. It was for a peach of a job as executive assistant to the CEO of one of the top arts organizations in the country. This was the initial phone interview and I thought I was really clicking with the woman on the other end of the line. I truly believed I was going to get the second interview and I enthused about the job, telling her it was perfect in every way – it was even great for bike commuting. “Oh, you ride a bike to work?” she responded dryly. “I’ll be in touch.”
He had a scruffy beard that made him look like he spent the last ten years on a desert island. Joan assumed that he developed the look in his hippy youth and never bothered to change. Some people were like that; losing self-awareness after their crucial mating years and settling into a certain style that they never grew out of. Friends constantly urged him to spruce up his image and one day he showed up trimmed and clean-shaven, to reveal an acne-ravaged face and the almost complete absence of a chin. Better grow it back, Joan thought.
I don’t know how I managed to charm the old Jews in the New York schmata trade. They are widely known to be the crankiest shop owners in the world. When I first started work as assistant designer in the costume department at Juilliard I was warned I would have to grovel, or I would never get my swatches. The one they said was the worst curmudgeon fell in love with me at first sight. Not only did I get my swatches, but, he would always tuck in a yard of something pretty. “Just for you,” he would say.
Joan just happened to look out her bedroom window late one night after getting up to pee. Elliot was walking with Wendy up the deserted street. It was winter and their breath hung around their hunched shoulders. Joan’s feet were icy, but she had to watch. Where had they been? she wondered. They stopped, turned toward each other. Tall Elliot wrapped Wendy with his arms and her upper body disappeared into the fold of the embrace. Joan got in bed. It was warm and welcoming. She imagined the pillow was Elliot’s chest, the comforter his arms around her.
Our local was the Cameron House, my sister and I. It was our vibe – Queen West bohemian artsy. For awhile the place flew under the radar and we could enjoy the coziness of being with people like us. There were never any problems being misunderstood. And then the Cameron became 'known' and the 'others' arrived. We were enjoying a beer one evening when four engineers suddenly mobbed us, wanting to talk about art and literature. They tossed the names ‘Picasso’ and ‘Hemmingway’ about liberally. I think they were the only examples of an artist or a writer that they knew.
The kids were 12 or 13 years old. Joan guessed that would make them peewees or bantams. Their coach was a fat, loud old fart whose presence took over the restaurant. The team came in without reservations for their end of season celebration. What kind of an idiot would do that? But the manager cobbled some tables together at the back to accommodate them. Once they were settled Joan went to take their order. “These guys have worked hard,” said the coach, “They deserve a round of beer.” Joan laughed, and then she realized the old jerk was not kidding.
The figure skating princesses had permanently colonized one corner of the change room. They were the ones who could do the flying camel, and the perfect twirl ending in an axel jump. They talked reverently of their legendary sister who had moved on to skate in the ‘Icecapades.’ When they were not talking of her they were talking about perfecting their own performances so they could follow her to glory. The coach would walk past the rest of us to bestow her presence and wisdom on that small clique. The rest of us were invisible except for our eager ears.
Damned insistent fantasies. Joan often regretted her highly primed imagination. She could not stop her mind from fabricating complex fictions of a future life together every time she met a new guy. At the very least she set herself up for disappointment, but often these dreams themselves ended up destroying the budding relationship. The guys were scared off by her intensity. She would let slip a detail of her delusion, and a look of terror would appear in their eyes. They would stop calling. If she had never built her fantasy world, losing them would not be as thoroughly devastating.
For some reason it was the guys who moved out and got places of their own, rarely the girls. Probably because they had more access to the lucrative jobs out at The Point. They would usually rent an old farmhouse between three or four of them. The place would look like an untended dump in no time. Not only because of the sloppy habits of the guys, but also because the houses were perpetual party venues. There were always, however, willing girls happy to play house from time to time, who would whip the places into shape, at least temporarily.
The television died. Dad said, “So be it.” He would not spend money replacing it. It did not take long for us to adjust. No doubt, that we were not teens was a significant factor. We played a lot of board games and we were lucky to live in a small town at a time when it was normal for kids to roam freely. Then it was football season. Suddenly a TV became a reasonable expense in the family budget. It was not long before we settled back into regular episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie,” and “My Favourite Martian.”
Sandy’s gramma was going dotty. She chain-smoked, but always forgot she had an open pack going. There were decks of smokes all over her house; easy to lift without her knowing. “Have one!” insisted Sandy, as they sampled the product. Joan had not really enjoyed her first smoke, but she took the pack home and hid it under her bed. A couple of days later her mother found it while vacuuming. Joan had to sit and smoke the whole pack, one after the other. Aversion therapy did not work. In her teens Joan took up smoking with enthusiasm.
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