“Never felt better,” the old man says. Then he laughs, and so does the young man he’s talking to.
Never better? I think, studying my shocked reflection in front of a full length mirror inside the men’s locker room at the Equinox. I turn to the old man. He must be at least five-hundred years old. He looks like a fucked up version of Charlton Heston. He probably had better days before. “How old are you, sweetie?” I feel compelled to ask, yet, I’m afraid of how out of place my high-pitched and utterly nasal voice with a thick Southern drawl will sound. Therefore, I don’t.
I never talk much at the gym. I know, this is California. No one will punch you for sounding too effeminate, au contraire, you may be asked for a campaign donation, but one has dark memories from his early childhood, and my voice is, in any case, truly annoying. You would find it funny if I were a middle-aged Jewish woman from Brooklyn, but I’m a rather short, thirty-seven-year-old white homosexual from Leitchfield, Kentucky. Yep, that’s me, Charlie. I have dark bags under my eyes, I check in the mirror. Dark like the conscience of Lord Vader after he destroyed his beloved daughter’s adoptive planet.
I zip up my bag and as I hasten out of the locker room, I hear the old man brag one more time about his good constitution. That’s one of the dangers of lurking inside the locker room for too long in hopes of catching a glimpse of a hot guy’s penis. One gets to hear the weirdest conversations.
What a lovely day for a stroll in downtown Santa Monica, I see, through the front windows. The morning fog has burnt off. Too bad I have to be back at work in less than twenty minutes. Too bad I can’t really afford this stupid yuppie gym, I wave good-bye to Jackie, the receptionist, but I wouldn’t want to attend a gym for poor people. In any case, I press the walk button to cross the street, I’m on a mission. One does not show up to a first date wearing old clothes. Twenty minutes might be more than sufficient.
I love the Third Street Promenade. I hardly find the hordes of European tourists ignoring the non-smoking signs obnoxious. I embrace them. They’re a reminder of the wonderful world I live in, during the daytime, in prosperous, well-to-do Santa Monica. Nights I live in West Adams. It’s not such a bad place to live. It’s in transition. I haven’t heard a shooting since May, and no, I don’t regret having spent my nana’s meager inheritance on the downpayment for a house there five years ago. Yes, I cannot afford the mortgage, but I remain positive. The great recession is over, Obama will serve a second term—cross my fingers—and one day soon my property will go up in value. No one wanted to buy here in the 1980s, and now, just look around you. Pleasure your eyes at all those fabulous dinosaur sculptures, the bright stores, and the restaurants… One glorious day West Adams Boulevard will have a Barnes & Noble too, across from Banana Republic, across from Restoration Hardware Baby & Child, next to a Club Monaco, and I’ll be able to remove the bars from the windows.
My nimble feet take me to the Santa Monica Place mall in no time. Why? I cannot tell. These stores are off-limits. Ted Baker especially, and yet… Sweet Southern Baby Jesus, my heart stops. That jacket in the front window is downright absolutely and utterly fantastic. Purple velvet. That’s a dare. Why, with my pink and ivory skin tone? How expensive could it be? Probably a lot, but what’s a man to do when he has a need for purple?
I stick my nose to the glass. I bet it smells of freshly baked blueberry and lavender pie. Should I pop in and check the tag? I close my eyes. If I had that jacket, I’d be the envy of the entire planet. Short, blond, fit homosexual changes the rules of what it means to dress well in Southern California, would read the cover of Details, and you will find me grinning inside, sat on a high chair in the manner of a young debutant, dressed to impress in my purple jacket.
Alas, I’m poor. Poorer than Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. Regardless of what the movie writers wanted you to believe, fashion wasn’t made for poor people. I’m twenty-two thousand dollars in credit card debt, still five years away from paying off my student loans, twenty-five years away from paying off my underwater mortgage, and in a dead-end job working as a sales representative at a call center. I don’t need to see the price of that jacket. What I need is to go back to work and… Oy, it isn’t velvet. It’s actually wool. At least five hundred, if not a thousand dollars… Maybe they will put it on sale next week. I saw once these shoes at Cole Haan at the Westfield in Century City for two-hundred and twenty-eight dollars, from five hundred and seventy-two… Did I buy them? No, I drove all the way to Off-Broadway, in hopes of finding them there for twelve ninety-nine. I didn’t, of course. And because I was too embarrassed to leave empty-handed, I bought a pair of Skechers instead.
I start walking. Dressing up in that purple jacket would be like wearing Cendrillon’s gold and silver dress to the ball. I’d be the handsomest man, and the prince would choose me, wouldn’t he? If only the birds flew down from the sky to make me a purple trousseau. Imagine me, singing and dancing covered in vermin—seagulls and crows, mice, and opossums, quarreling in a rush to make me the best-dressed man in all of Los Angeles. I’d be like the little cockroach Martina, from the Cuban tale, who put on some makeup and stepped out to sweep the front of her house. Before she knew, she got a husband. That jacket would for sure earn me a husband, wouldn’t it? Any husband, I wouldn’t be as picky as cockroach Martina. A dog or a cat would do. He wouldn’t even need to be handsome. He would only need to be alive… Oy, that’s a lovely long-sleeve denim shirt, I stop at Eton. If it’s under a hundred, I’ll buy it. Even if it means I’ll have to nourish out of grass seeds for a week.
I enter the store. “I’m only browsing,” I announce to the first employee that catches my eye. You’re welcome to offer me an employee discount, though, I add telepathically.
Smile, always smile, Charlie, and never forget to… Shoot, here she comes. I never feel more insignificant than when I shop.
“Take me straight to the sales rack,” I demand.
Not much in here… This one costs only a hundred and seventy-five. If I wanted to rock the look of the fat detective from The Wire, I’d buy it.
C’est la vie, Martina, I laugh, on my way out. Oublie le chien et le chat. Tu vas épouser le souris.
You better get used to me dropping phrases in the language of Voltaire and Diderot. I spent a whole year in France in my early twenties, and I do my Duolingo religiously every morning, après mon café-au-lait, assis sur la cuvette. It is not vulgar if you say it in French.
Oy, I’m already five minutes late. I better hurry. My life isn’t too bad, is it? I may be broke, and I may be wasting my English major working at a call center for ten dollars an hour plus commissions, but right now I’m window-shopping in downtown Santa Monica. That’s a far ride from Leitchfield, Kentucky, n’est-ce pas? Think of the poor gays in Uganda, getting killed and not because they chose to wear white shoes after Labor Day. They probably can’t even go window shopping at all. Well, they must have shops too in Africa. Assuming they don’t is racist, but probably they don’t have many options, do they? Probably all they have is Old Navy.
I may not be able to afford Ted Baker, but at least I have options. I have Nordstrom Rack. I have Marshall’s. I have plenty of reasons to be happy and live a productive life.
Breathe in, Charlie. Fill your lungs with the manly smell coming from the Abercrombie and Fitch store. Delight yourself in the visuals: Women from the midwest wearing spiky hairdo’s as if it was 1990s all over again. College students dressed in sweatpants. Man buns. Man buns everywhere. Saudi brides… Under their abayas, they’re all wearing Dior. I need to befriend one.
Oh, crap. It’s now ten after. I’ll just go super fast to the GAP.
At the GAP, I run my fingers over the clothes from the discount section… This is a handsome jeans jacket, mighty light and classic. How much is it? A hundred and twenty-nine. Fuck me, I cannot even afford the GAP… Now, could that gentleman over there notice how good I look in it and offer to buy it for me? Perchance. How old is he? Fifty-five? Sixty? He has the shabby surfer look of a west-sider with a two-to-three-hundred-thousand-a-year income. His wife looks amazing in those yoga pants… When he crosses eyes with me, I’ll be ready to smile… There you go. He nodded back. That’s a good sign.
Oh, I know, I shouldn’t be thinking of trapping rich men when I have a date tomorrow, but how else will I get the money to buy clothes? I’m totally broke. I need to come up with $900 by the end of the month to pay my mortgage because my stupid roommate left without paying his share of the rent. And If I don’t find a new roommate soon, I’ll have to come up with the entire amount for the next month too.
That jackass. He left three months of unpaid cable bills too.
“But Charlie,” he cried. “I need Showtime!”
“Kurt,” I remember I said in my calmer voice, the one I reserve for rational conversations with highly emotional people, “we can order Nurse Jackie DVDs through Netflix.”
“But the mail takes too long! And they don’t have the latest season!”
Well, probably the one who cried for Nurse Jackie DVDs was me. Kurt is quite manly, he’d never cry. He probably burped his response to my hysterical claims that we couldn’t afford to continue paying for cable, then blew out some air forcing me to smell what he had eaten for breakfast.
I shouldn’t have given him back his deposit. I shouldn’t have fallen in love with his perfectly round straight ass either. The tattoos on his big, bulging arms and the mustache were a clear sign that he wasn’t honest. When I asked him what he did for a living, and Kurt said that he worked the register at the Wienerschnitzel in Ladera Heights, I also shouldn’t have replied: “You do? How intriguing!”
No, I shouldn’t have opened the doors of my fabulous two-bedroom, 950 square feet craftsman in West Adams to that half-black, half-Japanese, one hundred percent stud jughead.
“I don’t have AC,” I remember I said during the interview, six months ago. “Will that be a problem?”
I had to be honest about that. You cannot begin what promises to be a long and steady relationship with a man you’re dying to give a blowjob with lies, can you?
“When it gets too hot, I just strip to my underwear and open the windows” Kurt replied.
My, the vision of this racially ambiguous young man in his tighty whities opening the fridge on a hot summer day, then inserting his hand to scratch his left butt cheek, turn around and say, “we’re out of beer, Charlie,” crossed my mind like the vision of a flying saucer saving humanity must have crossed Ron Hubbard’s. The vision of Kurt lying on the couch watching TV, his boxers rolled up on his strong legs well beyond decency, his hairy chest, the musky scent of his manly armpits filling up the room; the vision of Kurt swiping left and right photos of chicks on Tinder while reaching inside his basketball shorts to stretch his penis… I didn’t interview anyone else. I immediately deleted the ad from Craigslist, forgot about Kurt’s credit check application, and begged the Lord that he would have enough money to pay a deposit or at least let me see him naked from time to time.
It took him two months to pay his half-month deposit, and in half a year, not even once I had the chance to see that jerk in his underwear, barely a couple of times shirtless. He never washed a dish. He never cleaned the bathroom. He ate my food, drank my booze, and used all my beauty products. He’s twenty-eight and straight, for God’s sake. Why in the world would he want to use my La Mer rejuvenating crème?
Many a night I spent pressing a pillow against my ears while he had sex with those stiletto-wearing white girls he picked up at the clubs in Hollywood.
And the one time I brought home a trick, he dared to judge me.
“You guys are gross.”
Coming from a guy that cleaned his buggers under the sofa, I shouldn’t have paid much attention. Still, the day he gave notice, my heart bled a little.
“Where are you moving to?” I asked, brushing a tear before he could see it.
“Hermosa. This girl I met has a pad half a block from the beach. She wants the meat, bro,” he said, grabbing his crotch. “What’s a man going to do?”
My eyes must have widened the same way as Gary Oldman’s when he saw the blood in Keanu Reeves’ razor in Dracula, for he started laughing.
Oh, I wanted the meat too. I wanted the whole pig, not just the sausage.
Kurt left me with over five hundred dollars in unpaid bills, a kit to grow marijuana using UV lamps, and a freezer that weighs a ton and occupies half the space in my garage which I bought online on a whim, because Kurt suggested once that if he and I were going to work out together, I would need to start eating better, and who had the time to cook? “You wake up at five thirty to be at the call center by seven,” he reminded me. “You’re always so tired by the time you come home, we always end up ordering pizza.” He proposed cooking our meals one week in advance and freezing them. I agreed, thinking that one thing would lead to having showers together.
“Kurt, bro, what d’you think we should have tonight, boeuf bourguignon or chicken piccata?” I imagined myself I’d say, drenched in sweat, wearing a band on my head and my new shorts from Lululemon as we walked home from the gym.
We worked out together just once, but Kurt ate most of the meals I prepared. Now he’s gone, the freezer is empty, and I still don’t know what I should wear tomorrow for my date with Jignesh.
I paid over a thousand dollars for that stupid freezer. I should be able to sell it for at least nine hundred.
That could more than pay for the purple jacket.
Screw it, I think, putting away the garments I was about to enter with into the dressing room. I refuse to live the life of a poor person. First impressions are incredibly important, and I need to give my Indian prince my mighty best.
I leave the GAP and walk back to the mall, as determined as Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman when he gets to the factory to confess his love to Debra Winger… The purple jacket is not a whim. It’s an investment. Oy, my lunch hour ended thirty minutes ago, I better hurry.
“I’m doing this in the name of love,” I’ll explain to Tunisha, my supervisor. She’s black, therefore on CP time. She’ll understand.
“How romantic!” I bet she’ll exclaim when I explain her about my date tomorrow.
“We met online,” I’ll say, pulling my headset out of my drawer, as if ready to resume work. She’ll stop me with her exquisitely manicured hand before I could make the first call, and after I compliment the color of nail polish she chose for the day, I’ll continue: “We’ve been sexting for three days. He’s Indian. He’s thirty-four. He’s tall, muscular, and incredibly attractive. He’s an accountant and, wait for this, Tunisha, wait for this: he writes too!” Here she’ll scream, and start jumping, the same way all women do under these circumstances, then she’ll swat my shoulder with those big hands of her, hopefully hard enough so I can sue the company for harassment.
It is true, my Indian prince writes. He sent me one of his novels. I couldn’t read more than two pages—not my style, I suppose—but I checked the plot in Wikipedia. I’m sure he wrote the entry, himself, it was nothing but praise. In any case, I told him that I’m looking forward to reading the rest of his work and that I admire his discipline. I certainly didn’t lie when I said that, each brick is apparently over five hundred pages. I have been working on my screenplay for the last six years, and I haven’t been able to type more than twenty pages. I normally stare at the screen for half an hour, then browse for free porn and jack off, then stare back at the screen for a little longer.
“You need a boyfriend,” my friend Lucille said, during her last intervention. “That will boost your imagination.”
“What I need is a husband,” I replied, lifting my cup of coffee with my pinkie upwards, trying to outwit her.
She forcibly agreed.
“Oh, honey,” I imagine I’ll say to my millionaire consort as I lay down on the living room couch after work—in reality, racing through the crowds at the Third Street Promenade back to Ted Baker. “I saw a fabulous jacket today. Purple. But it was too expensive and I—How did you know?” I’ll gasp when he offers me the jacket.
“I bought an extra-small too, in case the small is too big,” he’ll say, offering me a second jacket. He will get a thousand kisses as a reward… Kisses? Ha! I would rip off his clothes and mount him right there, right on our Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams button-tufted Chester couch, right after putting my new purple jackets away in the closet, so they wouldn’t wrinkle, and laying a large towel from Frette to cover the expensive couch so we wouldn’t have to clean it afterwards. We would fuck so much, my billionaire husband and I. Once every four hours, twice before breakfast on Sundays. “I love you so much, William Andrew Jignesh Vanderbilt-Rockefeller,” I’d whisper in his ear as I caress the hair on his head and feel his big pectoral muscles. “You and your black American Express. Go on, slide it down my ass crack and I’ll make those ca-ching, ca-ching sounds that make you so horny!”
Jignesh must have some weird, unpronounceable, Indian last name, of course, but I don’t know any rich Indian last names.
I finally reach the mall and pop again into Ted Baker. I fetch the jacket without checking the price then walk straight to the fitting rooms to try it on. Even for me, small is too small. Stupid English people—don’t they have cows to feed off in Britain? What do they eat? Polluted London air? I try on the medium. It fits perfectly. I look myself in the mirror. I look so handsome, I’m sure no one would care about my horrible voice anymore. I reach then for the price tag… Please, Baby Jesus, make it a dollar.
One thousand, six hundred and seventy-five, plus tax.
It would be a terrific investment, yes, I put the jacket back on the rack, and I totally deserve it, I start walking towards the door, but I better wait until I marry.
“I just wanted to know what it felt like,” I say to the employee as I exit the store. He nods politely.
Tunisha didn’t care about my date. One would think that a woman that spends as much money on her nails as she does would have a slice of empathy. She put me on overflow, meaning that I probably won’t receive any leads for the rest of the afternoon, and then gave me another warning: next time I’ll be on overflow for a whole week. Fine, I wasn’t going to reach my sales goal this month, anyway.
I spend the next hour browsing the Ted Baker site for sales.
Jignesh isn’t too handsome, I stare at his picture, but he sounds smart. He must be if he writes. There are things more important than looks in this world. For instance, money. As an accountant, he must be making eighty thousand a year as a bare minimum. I’m hoping for a hundred and fifty. Two hundred? Oh, boy, what would I do with all that money?
Sudden cheering. Yasmeen, in the cubicle next to mine just closed a $25,000 sale. Everyone rushes to congratulate her.
The girls in this office are insufferable.
I know Jignesh’s photo is not recent. He can’t fool me. I’ll add three years to his thirty-four—and then ten pounds to his weight, to be on the safe side. The important thing is that he has money. And I need a boyfriend with lots of money. I’m like a Jane Austen heroine, raised by loving parents, with a handsome countenance, good, old-fashioned manners, and a kind heart, but in every respect unable to provide for myself or actually willing to. And I don’t fancy receiving orders. Tunisha should be receiving orders from me and not the opposite. Just because she has an MBA in Finance. What happened to male privilege?