Excerpt

Excerpt

Picture me at five years old, wearing green polyester pants, a T-shirt with little turtles on it, two different shoes, and one sock. Through no one’s fault but my own, I always had dirt and food on my face and I usually looked like my hair was brushed with an egg beater. I assure you, my mother’s efforts were in vain.

I was in the grocery store with my mother when I saw it. I was only five but it was amazing. It was the September, 1979 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. On the cover was a woman more glamorous than I had ever seen in my short little life. Her name was Gia Carangi. I wasn’t familiar with Gia or Cosmopolitan because I was five, but this cover was forever burned into my mind. It has molded me, for better or worse, ever since. She was exotic and she was wearing a tight, yellow, spandex body-suit which didn’t cover very much.

“Wow,” I said in slow motion while pointing to the magazine. “I want that!”

“Oh my God no,” my mother chimed as she pulled me away. “No, no, no,” she insisted with every tug. “That magazine is for thirty-five year old, single women, on the prowl.”

And just like that, I had a goal. I didn’t know what it meant, but I wanted to be a thirty-five year old, single woman, on the prowl so bad. It was all I could think about. Other little girls played house or dolls but I played thirty-five year old, single woman, on the prowl. Little did I know, it would be so easy to accomplish my goal.

Thirty years later…

I’m standing in my bedroom, my curtains and the hardware that held them up, have been ripped out of the wall. There is a naked, crazy man rolled up like a sausage in my bedding. He’s asking me to help him untangle himself. I’m not going to help him. I want to cry at the level of depravity and humiliation which is now my romantic life, but wait; I’m getting ahead of myself. This story began a few months ago, after a year of internet dating turned me into a desperate psycho, who was addicted to chocolate covered pretzels and could occasionally be caught mumbling to herself.

It’s Memorial Day and some friends are having a barbecue at their house. There’s a man named Mason at the barbecue. He is a man I’ve met before but I barely remembered our first meeting. I first met him while having dinner with friends, one of whom is named Sasha. During dinner, Sasha realized she left her wallet at home. She called her boyfriend to see if he would bring it to her. Sasha’s boyfriend and Mason stopped by the restaurant to give Sasha her wallet and they left a minute or two later. The next day, she let me know Mason thought I was pretty and wanted to ask me out. All I remembered was bleached hair and a bright pink sweatshirt, both of which screamed, single for a reason. I was knee-deep in the quick sand of internet dating and he seemed like one of those vines that gives way, causing you to sink deeper. I wasn’t interested and I forgot about the encounter.

A few weeks later my friend Grace met Mason and was adamant I had dodged a magic bullet. She described him as needy, insecure, and emotional, and was sure I would want to strangle him after five minutes. I spent the last year on several internet dating sites and that shit wears you down. When I talked to him at the barbecue he seemed nice, normal, and really intelligent. I didn’t see any red flags. Never doubt your friends.

 In my defense, internet dating reduced my relationship goals to finding a boyfriend in person so I would never have to say, we met on the internet because I’m a desperate loser who can’t get anyone to go out with me.

Mason’s hair was no longer bleached and he was wearing jeans and a blue T-shirt. He was tall, blond, and had a slightly Norwegian look to him. This doesn’t usually appeal to me but I am now thirty-five, have the libido of a truck driver on crank, and internet dating has robbed me of all sense of reason. The longer I talked to him at the barbecue, the more convinced I became he was a nice normal guy. He’s an aspiring composer for movies and television who has a decent job in the motion picture industry. He really seemed to have it together. In the back of my mind, I remembered Grace and Sasha’s warning but I just couldn’t see it. He seemed so calm and confident. He was extremely unattractive but nice men can be a novelty in Los Angeles and looks aren’t everything. He kind of reminded me of Jimmy Neutron if Jimmy Neutron had been drawn by Picasso. We went on a few dates that were simple, and just interesting enough for me to go out with him again. I’m old enough to know the first few weeks of dating don’t count. It takes a while for people to let their guard down and show you their baggage.

After the barbecue Mason and I started dating. We went to lunch with friends, a movie screening in a cemetery, and he took me on a tour of the studio where he worked. We were usually around other people and he was always polite and calm. After lunch one day he kissed me in my car. It was a little awkward but we had never really been alone before.

Mason offered to cook me dinner for our next date. This was when things went very, very wrong. Right before the date I received a text which read…

“I just moved into a new place and never unpacked because I work so much.”

 “Ok,” I replied.

“I live in a studio. Don’t judge me! I have a lot of stuff too, it’s kind of cramped.”

 “I’m sure it’s fine,” I replied.

I wondered why he lived in a studio. Was he frugal? Did he have $100,000 in student loans? Was he horrible with money? Apartments in Los Angeles are expensive. I didn’t think it was a red flag. His next text read…

“What do you like?”

“What do I like?” I scrolled back to see if I missed a text but I hadn’t.

“You know, stuff,” he answered.

“What do I like to do, eat, try?”

“Yes,” he replied.

We had already talked about this on our previous dates. I responded with, “I like to try new foods and men with clean kitchens.”

I realized my text may have indicated I liked to try new foods and try new men if they had clean kitchens.

“Oh,” he said, “Maybe we should have dinner at your house.”

“Is your kitchen really dirty?”

This I actually cared about because I can be a little bit germaphobic. By germaphobic I mean every time I touch a dollar bill I wonder how many times it’s been tucked into a stripper’s ass crack. I start thinking about how there are STD’s and cocaine remnants on money, and I look for a place to wash my hands. There’s usually a teenage cashier staring at me and waiting for me to pay while I become increasingly preoccupied with finding a bathroom, but back to my story…

“What’s your idea of dirty?” he asked.

“We should reschedule and you can clean and unpack,” I answered.

“No, no, no, I don’t want to reschedule, I’m planning something really special for our dinner.”

I wondered what was so special about the dinner.

His next text was odd.

“I’m really nervous. Are you nervous?”

“About dinner? No we’ve already eaten together.”

He was starting to make me nervous by asking if I was nervous. I was starting to worry about dinner, the dirty kitchen, and his special plan. I hate surprises. When I was seven years old my brother told me he had a surprise for me. He tried to tie me to a tree so he could put spiders on me.

“Why don’t you cook dinner at my place?” I said.

It would be easier if I didn’t have to drive to Hollywood for a surprise. A trip to Hollywood guarantees enough surprises, like parking tickets.

“Ok, but I’m still making dinner!” he said. “What kind of food do you like? I have to go to the grocery store after work.”

This stumped me because our special dinner was a few hours away. I thought the food was part of the surprise. I also couldn’t figure out how he was going to drive to the store in rush hour traffic, buy groceries, drive across town to my place, and be ready to cook dinner in just a few hours.  He didn’t either because he was very late. When he left work he texted to let me know he was running late. Later, he texted again to let me know he was on his way and we could go to the grocery store after he got to my place. Work is an acceptable reason for being late so I didn’t cancel, but I wasn’t interested in going to the grocery store before dinner. The date was shaping up to be a huge disappointment, and I was hungry so I started making dinner. I hate it when people build things up and go out of their way to disappoint me. He texted again and said he had a gift for me, but I didn’t answer.

Right about the time I finished cooking dinner, he knocked on the door. When I opened it he said, surprise and presented me with a cherry slushy from a gas station. It was melting and leaking over the sides of the cup. I’m not sure how to graciously accept a surprise slushy but I tried.

I’d made pistachio crusted salmon and salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing. He didn’t even mention going to the store. He just walked in as if he was expecting dinner. He looked like an absolute disaster. Mason was wearing a sport coat over a yellow, button down, resort style shirt, with short sleeves. Had I not visited his office on a studio lot I would not believe he worked there. I put the slushy down and started plating the food.

“I made dinner,” I said.

“I see,” he said. “It looks great.”

He took his plate and sat down as if we were in a hurry to eat.

“Do you like your surprise?” he asked.

He was looking at me the way a young child looks after giving someone a gift made from glue, macaroni, and something personal they stole from you. I didn’t know what to say, so I just said sure

“Why a cherry slushy?” I asked.

“I was talking to Sasha about you and she said you like them.”

Next to the salmon and salad it stuck out like a turd in a punch bowl. Was it really the surprise? Was it a joke that wasn’t funny? Was it a test to see if I’m an ungrateful bitch who thinks a surprise should be something expensive I actually want?

“How come you aren’t drinking your slushy?” he asked.

“I tasted the salmon before you came in. I don’t think it will taste right if I mix all the flavors up,” I said.

Guilt set in and I drank some. After we started eating I put it in the freezer and told him I would save it. Once the drink was out of sight things seemed less odd. We slipped into a comfortable conversation like we had on our previous dates. As the evening went on the conversation started to get a little wacky. He told me when he was eighteen he changed his last name so he could tell people he was related to a former president. I had no idea how to react to that information. He also told me he really wanted to own a helicopter. I asked if he wanted to take flying lessons but he insisted he just wanted a really big, loud, helicopter, so people would know he was important. He also wanted to be really, really famous.

“As a composer?” I asked.

“No just famous enough to get anything I want and people will kiss my ass all the time.”

“Famous for what?” I asked.

“Anything,” he said. “Like it matters.”

“I just want to be able to give the finger to everyone who has ever pissed me off,” he said.

I couldn’t imagine him famous but infamous was looking more like a possibility. Next he told me a story about how he lived in Japan when he was a teenager and worked with homeless people. He told me he’d spent a lot of time in Japanese bathhouses, and accidentally befriended some Japanese mobsters. He moved erratically from one topic to the next. It sounded like he was trying to fit it all in before time ran out. None of his stories were believable.

After detailing how he left Japan to distance himself from the mob, he started to talk about his finances and spending habits which seemed flamboyant. I learned he was living in a three hundred square foot apartment, drove a really old car, and was unable to keep it together financially, in spite of having a terrific job and residuals from composing music. This is fine if you’re frugal or don’t make much money. It’s not ok if you’re broke from spending excessive amounts of money on restaurants, alcohol, and sunglasses. At his own admittance he hemorrhaged money, and had a previous bankruptcy. He had also been fired from several jobs.

He asked me if I would help him work out a budget to follow. I tried to explain he had an impossible debt to income ratio, and it couldn’t be done. That made no sense to him and he added that he wanted me to budget in a way for him to buy a new wardrobe. It had to be a really posh designer wardrobe because he felt his current designer wardrobe gave off a homeless vibe. I told him this would not be possible. He needed to learn to live within his means, the way other middle class people do, and homelessness is not a vibe. He laughed a maniacal high pitched laugh. It made him seem unhinged and he started talking about how he could will the universe to give him what he wanted. He must have really wanted to be broke, drive an old car, and live in a shoe box.

“Hey do you want to wait at my apartment for the gas company to hook up the gas? And then light the pilot light? I’ve been living there a month and the gas still isn’t on,” he said.

How was he showering?

“No I don’t want to. How are you showering?” I asked completely confounded.

How can a person be in their thirties and not know how to light a pilot light? I now thought he was an idiot. It sounded like his entire persona had been a lie. For weeks he had convinced me he was a very average, calm, together guy, with a good job. It was disturbing but also a little fascinating.

“I shower at my friend’s apartment next door. Please, I’m not sure how to light a pilot,” he whined. “I would do it for you.”

“No you wouldn’t,” I said. “You don’t know how. You know they have this thing now called the internet. You can look up instructions on how to do anything. I just put in a new garbage disposal by myself. It took longer to drive to a hardware store and buy it, than it did to install it.”

“Hey,” he said changing the subject. “There’s this spa out in the desert that’s owned by a mobster or something. I can’t remember the details. We should go together. We’ll just spend a few days drinking margaritas and getting massages. I’ll dance naked and sing to entertain you. What do you think?” 

I thought it sounded like a nightmare.

Going on vacation without him, however, sounded fantastic. We had talked very late into the night. It was 3:00am when I looked at the time. That’s what happens when you become enthralled by watching insanity unfold. It’s similar to everyone slowing down while driving past a car accident, only entertaining.

 “I really don’t want to drive all the way back to Hollywood. I have to be at work by eight, work all day, and I have a piano lesson with my mentor. Can I just sleep for a few hours? If I get up at 5:00am I should make it to work on time. I promise I don’t snore.”

“I thought you played the piano. You said you’re a composer. What instrument do you play?”

“I don’t play any instruments,” he said.

“But you said you’re a composer?”

I was now genuinely confused. I had looked up his profile in a motion picture data base and his compositions were credited.

“I just play around on the piano, record it, bank the music, and people buy it.”

I felt a weird combination of awe, confusion, and disgust. 

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