Whenever Zach doffed undies on his head and ran around our house as “Underwear Man,” he always emitted a fierce battle cry that went like this: WHAM! BAM! POW! It was an apt phrase that in all its glorious brevity let you know that chaos existed everywhere. Zach’s fierce, spastic jujitsu punches broadcast how seriously his battle cry should be taken. So, the best description of the weeks following winter break was WHAM! BAM! POW! Because three events occurred in rapid succession that confirmed what Underwear Man already knew: that no one was safe anywhere, let alone at B-C.
I left my clogs, coat and purse in a pile on the floor by the elevator then sized up the kitchen in a way that was impossible with a full catering team in it. There were four ovens, all of them pre-heating. Deanna had ever so casually told the entire Friday morning Weight Watcher’s group that Dick had the stupid thing gutted and rebuilt twice to get just the right distances for her because she had to skate between counters like a madwoman when she had a big order for Patis et Cie. Three dishwashers, including one of those really expensive types with two drawers were partly open and a Latina maid was removing expensive stemware from the top. A cookbook was open on the counter and canisters of flour were stacked neatly by height. The housekeeper pulled an industrial size mixer away from the wall and nodded to me. Since I didn’t even know how to turn it on, I figured I’d better stall a bit longer.
“Bathroom?” I whispered, pointing toward the powder room next to the elevator, as if I didn’t know.
“No, is not clean. “You go to Mrs. Deanna’s room upstairs.” She jabbed her finger toward the ceiling and then returned her attention to the glasses. Deanna had draped herself across a divan in the sunken living room, absorbed in the tale of someone’s hysterectomy in New Jersey. I had hit pay dirt.
I dove unceremoniously under the table on which we had been working, my ass sticking out like a large, corduroy ottoman. Pens in hand, I began to back out, craning my neck to better miss the table legs when my eyes fell on an exquisite pair of mint green suede Coach pumps at the bottom of the most elegant mint green trousers, so close I could make out the hand stitching on the hemline. I backed out, but not far enough, raising my head smack into the table edge.
“Shit,” I declared in the most unladylike of ways. Tipping back onto my rump afforded me a better perspective on Sonya Sterling’s matching cashmere twin set in the most spring-like hue of green. From this perspective, she appeared seven feet tall and seventy pounds in total. Sonya straightened her simple Paloma Picasso gold cross earrings and re-tucked her crown of highlighted hair behind her ears as I slid, crotch first, out from under the table.
“Well hello there,” she purred as I rose to meet her smirk. With legs like a gazelle and hips narrower than her Coach satchel, Sonya appeared to be little more than a walking stick, the human form of the insect which everyone pretends to find so fascinating yet which actually creeps out those not afraid to admit it.
The phone rang several times before I lunged for it. After the long April break it was a thrill to hear her voice.
“Sydney, Sydney, Sydney,” I droned in my best Cary Grant imitation. “How’s it hangin’?” I pulled a stool to the kitchen sink, which afforded me an excellent view of the birdfeeder on our back deck. But I was in arm’s reach of Mama Kitty whose bowl of kibble was now relegated to the counter given Beansie’s proclivity for eating cat food and farting the night away. So, I pushed it away from my nostril zone and pulled a human snack-treat toward me
“Everything’s hanging low these days, Clar, and getting lower with every passing year. How are you? How’s my girl?”
“I’m good. Fat and happy after a week in Minnesota.”
“Yeah? You got to recharge those crazy batteries of yours?”
“I did. Sorted my head out a bit about this Bidwell-Coggin stuff. Finally stopped having that nightmare where I’m drowning in a fish bowl that DeNutti is holding up to his face while laughing himself silly. How ‘bout you?”
“You know, I did as I always do. Hung out with my mom in L.A. while the boys wasted an entire week with their father. But hey, I can’t go there and my mama always feeds me. Plus she does my laundry.”
“What is it about you and me, Sydney, that we seem to be the only women at B-C who go home to their mothers on holidays? How come we aren’t going to Majorca or Monaco?”
“Money, baby girl, money. It’s that simple. Anyway, I was wondering if I caught you at a good time or if you were busy?”
“No, I’m good. Just doin’ a load of darks and flipping through the new Ikea catalogue. Zeppo’s watching a video in the other room. Why?”
“I need to talk to you about a couple of things. Well, two things actually. Are you sitting down?”
I spied a pathway to my left and squeezed past the ladder-back chairs with the B-C crest embossed on them and headed toward Edna’s desk. A pudgy woman with a mass of frizz framing her pasty white skin sat behind it. She was shifting folders around in a way that suggested she didn’t really have a grip on her actions.
“Hi,” I said, leaning on the counter above her desk. “I was hoping to talk to someone about the letter Mr. DeNutti sent over the weekend.” The woman lifted her head, her body remaining perfectly still as if she were shell-shocked. The only part of her that moved was the bag that hung, in shades of bluish-black, below her left eye. She had the pathetically resigned look of someone for whom God was not a savior so much as an angry deity that kept pissing on her life. Were that not true, he might as well have given her a circle of hell under her other eye. Symmetry might have been a gift. Lord knew nothing else looked like it had been.
“The letter?” I repeated amid the incessant ringing of cell phones and the pitter-patter of tiny thoughts coming from the vacuous brains of the coven crowding me. The woman lifted the bush of blonde hair from her face. If she had been 15-years-old instead of 55, her “do” might have been fashionable. But as an uncontrollable Afro around her too white, terribly round face she looked partly angelic and completelyout of place, especially among all the thousand-dollar Japanese iron jobs on the mothers at Bidwell-Coggin. A phone rang across the room on the receptionist’s desk. The clueless woman looked like she might scream. The din in the foyer was even making me anxious.
So close, yet so far. I actually have high hopes for The Skank With the Gum (see earlier post.) We swam laps side-by-side. She fussed with her flippers. Tugged at her jacket. Slammed the water enough to actually displace some. But as long as she wasn't littering band aids and chewing gum in the pool or on the locker room floor, I was cool with that. I get out of the shower just as she is coming into it. Something about this chick I just don't like. And it's not because she weighs what I did in 8th grade. It's because I heard the other day from the other Ladies in the Locker Room that The Skank actually stepped right over the paper towel with her gum underneath it last week. Never bent down to pick it up. Never bothered to even wave at it. So, again, I'm out of the shower today and head for the sink to grab a paper towel on which to honk my honker. And there, lying every so brightly on the teeter-totter top of the garbage can, is a wad of gum. Chewed, red gum. Can't the bitch even push the top down on one side and spit or toss her gum in while the top is pivoted open? Did she spit it onto the top? Did she toss it and then become so busy, so important, so whateverthefuck, that she couldn't remove it and then dispose of her filthy byproduct herself? Or is she waiting for the immigrant janitor to do it for Her Skankness. Really, she is disgusting. I don't care how thin she is or how fast she swims.
Dick DeNutti pulled his opal black CL600 Mercedes into the VIP spot in the school’s parking lot, shot the stick shift into park and heaved himself out of the car with the grace of a brown bear rummaging through garbage cans. I’m sure he wasn’t aware how hard his door hit the car parked next to his. It was audible all the way inside the teacher’s lounge. Peering through the sooty windowpanes, I could see the flecks of paint sheer off the poor schmuck’s Yaris. But I’m sure that Dick DeNutti didn’t realize he marred someone else’s property, or else he would have stopped to put a note in the windshield. I’m sure of it.
The big jerk tugged his black leather jacket up around his neck and pushed open the heavy door to the administration building just as I returned to the foyer, my face partially hidden behind a steaming cup of tea. He stormed across the floor to Mueskes’s office where tight voices rumbling like a small temblor threatened to build into something more explosive. He tossed a phony knock against the open door, as if he, Board president, needed to knock to enter a lesser being’s office. And from the look on his face, Dick DeNutti knew he was breaking up something good. He erected a taught smile that he had probably perfected over the years to mean one thing and one thing only. And that was that whatever you might be going through didn’t mean shit to him. He didn’t want to be kept waiting, or put on hold or, God forbid, held hostage to the marital squabbles of a couple whose place in his life seemed a necessary evil but also a dreadful mistake. He appeared to be a man on the verge of losing control. And I figured that if he didn’t say what he needed to at that very moment that he heard John Thomas and Melanie arguing, he might implode. Or worse, explode. And that could get all kinds of messy. COPYRIGHT: LAURA A. NOVAK, 2011
I slid into the bench of our usual window table and uttered profuse and profound apologies to everyone. Elspeth just waved her gnarled hand and said, as if she were black and hip, “Ain’t no thang” without looking up from a pill bottle she was trying to open.
“What is it with this school and everyone and their pills?” I asked handing Carlos my tote bag to place on the bench next to him. The horrible Goth creature was seated again at the table to my right and I wasn’t sure whether or not to include him in my round of hellos. So I lifted my eyebrows and smiled limply. Sydney was busy admiring the many rings decorating Vlad’s fingers before our favorite waiter could toss a strand of Day-Glo orange hair out of his eyes.
“Would you prefer Kvass or Pinko?” he asked.
“Remind me what Kvass is again?”
“A fermented drink. Sort of like beer but tastes more like piss. You’d like it.”
I rolled my eyes. “And the Pinko?”
“Pink lemonade. Shall I put you down for one?”
“Yes, and replace one of those sesame rolls in the Proletariat Platter with a second tofu blini, would you?” Elspeth took my hands in hers. I had broken out in a sweat from racing to get to lunch on time. She felt like she’d been waiting in the walk-in freezer.
Sydney said, knocking her knuckles gently against my head. “How was the doctor’s appointment? How are Zach’s legs?”
“They’re aching a lot lately. But the doctor doesn’t want to do anything about it right now.” I blew out just enough air to get a strand of curls off my face. “Anyway, it’s always something. Ten years of some sort of medical drama or worry. And I know it sounds terrible to say but sometimes I simply don’t want to deal with it anymore.”
Sydney squeezed her arm around my shoulder and pressed her face into my hair. “I know how you feel. Not about the medical stuff or my boys, though I’d like to knock their heads together often enough. But for me, it’s my ex.”
“Oh yeah. This is a good story. This should cheer you up,” Carlos said with barely disguised sarcasm.
“No, no, I’m not aiming to top anyone or distract them from their own pain. I’m just saying that my blonde hair, blue-eyed surfer boy who thinks anyone gives a shit about the pukka shell necklaces he sells down on Telegraph…that he was and is the biggest fucking mistake of my life. Well don’t get me started.”
“Gladly,” Carlos said, snapping open a small notebook of his own. “Where were we then?”
“Telegraph, as in this Telegraph Avenue?” I asked Sydney.
“Yup, right down there by the university. Even has his favorite corner. All the pukka shells you can wear. What a loser. What was I thinking?” she asked shaking a napkin into her lap.
“What were you thinking twice?” Elspeth said, winking at me.
“Yeah, well, those boys are my best mistake ever. My worst mistake was swearing at Dick DeNutti the other night. Which is why we need to come up with a plan, fast, before he fires our sorry asses. Pass me a piece of bread, Els.” But Elspeth just shook her head no.
“It’s a Collective Basket left over from the people before us. I’m not touching it and neither should you.” She held up the old bread for the bus boy to take off her hands. “Besides, DeNutti isn’t going to fire anyone. Not as long as I have these in my possession.” Elspeth drew two photocopies from the Action File and placed them before us.
What Berkeley power couple did I just see sipping fuzzy wuzzy loco lattes outside a cafe and talking as if they were total strangers? Well, as this is my first blind item, I can't spill of course. But I can dish. And I'd like to dish out a bit of advice to her: He's a randy pecker. A Lothario. A fool. It was only a matter of time before he tossed you over the side of his boat like the many who weighed anchor before you. But he's a good looking jerk with a good build. You on the other hand, look like he's mopped the floors with you. As my mother, the socialite from Edina would say: stand up straight. Put on some makeup. Comb your hair and look disinterested. If you're going to bump into him on a sidewalk, put your shoulders back, stick out your chest and close your mouth. You're not catching flies. And if you are, hopefully they'll be nicer than this big gnat was.
I came home from the pool today (see skank and band aid post) and tossed my wet suit and swim jacket over the porch railing and propped up my thong (the floor kind, not the bottom kind) to dry in the sun. My bathing cap, goggles, toiletry bag...all of it laid open on the porch for the world to see and the sun to dry. Andy, love of my life, and architect to the Berkeley elite, crossed my path on his way to make a cup of coffee. "This place always looks like a tenement when you do that," he commented dryly (yes, I know, an adverb, so shoot me). He further wondered what Bob and Janet next door would think. Personally, I don't think that they think. I think they are slouching toward dementia and a good day for them is when they recognize each other and Bob manages to urinate in the toilet IN the house. And not down the walk way separating our houses while singing an old navy tune from the top of his lungs. So, here's the rule: if Bob can drink till he's pissing like a sailor outside my dining room window, I can hang up my size bazillion Speedo and air out my soap for a few hours. "nuf said.