Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chapter 2

I unlocked my office door, picked up the business journal from the floor, and headed for my tiny office kitchenette. While coffee brewed and toast a ‘roasted, I dialed Faraday’s number. The phone rang and rang and rang. Crap, was there no voice mail? I twisted strands of my dark hair in a spiral. Finally a message came on the line: “Thank you for calling the Faraday estate. Please dial the extension number of the assistant with whom you wish to speak. Leave your name and number only.” The tinny male voice succinctly spoke a list of assistants’ names with their corresponding extensions. There was no option for Mr. Faraday so I pressed “0” and was dumped into a general mailbox.

“Hello. This is Lois Pushkin of Pushkin Atelier returning Kip Faraday’s call. Please call me at your convenience,” I said and I left my number. Assistants? Hanging up, I retreated to the kitchenette for my coffee and toast. Peanut butter toast is manna from heaven. Especially the salty, crunchy kind from Joe’s. As I licked it from my manicured fingers, I began to wonder if I’d ever seen any articles about this Faraday guy. I’d have to grill Harshy more about him later. Or I could surf the net for information him? I usually did that with clients to see if (1) they were who they said they were and (2) if they could afford my rates. He was a friend of Jasmine’s - and a man, so he had to have money. She wouldn’t waste her breath on any other combination.

Before I did that, though, I needed to go to the Pacific Design Center and do my usual bit of memo sampling and check out the new seasons offerings. Please do not let gray or brown be the trend this time; the “new” blacks. God, People, if you’re going to live in a city that has tropical weather pretty much all year round, let’s try and have a little more color and boldness in our lives and stay away from the gray, the black and the khaki. I decided to wait around a little while longer to see if an assistant from the Faraday estate called me back soon.

Putzing around, I filed paperwork and samples from past jobs, (what few there were), cleaned the kitchenette counter, shook the crumbs out of the toaster, sorted my mail and wiped down the window sills with a wet wipe. I wonder if the great writer Pushkin putzed? People always asked me if I was related to him. Knowing my father’s family, they probably stole the name at Ellis Island. My real ancestral name was probably Smith or Jones. After an hour, there was still no call, so I left. Design waits for no one.

Arriving at the PDC, I flashed my pass to the concierge and he waved me in. The PDC always made me feel that there was hope for the world. New furniture and fabrics – it all smelled so fresh and alive and full of potential. Cherished was the client who appreciated these aspects of design. Going through life trying to make the world a better place through design was very taxing. Somebody had told me that the suicide rate of designers was second only to that of dentists. I had a designer friend who was married to a dentist. What would that mean?

I popped into the showroom of my former boss, Lacey. She waved ‘hello’ as she talked into her Janet Jackson headpiece. Lacey was from New York and I loved her accent. Schnasal! She had given me my first job when I arrived in Los Angeles. After weeks of searching for the ever-elusive interior design position at every firm listed in the phone book, I started applying at every showroom in the PDC in desperation. Except for a brief internship in college, I hadn’t worked in a showroom much less retail. Even with that little experience under my belt, I was continually shunned by them because I was too overqualified because of my education and considered a flight risk. After another couple of weeks, I was ready to move home. I was weeping into my last latte at the PDC food court when Lacey happened by and saw my pitiful self. She felt sorry for me and gave me a job at her showroom. I started the next day, grateful for any human kindness in this field. Lacey knew I would continue to look for a design job, but she also knew the economy sucked. She lucked out. I stayed a year before I finally lucked out.

I perused the new selections and was dismayed when I finally realized that the 80’s were on their way back in.

“What’s shakin’, honey? How’s biz?” Lacey gave me a hug. Her heady perfume engulfed my entire being in its grasp.

“Oh, things are the usual. Business is good,” I lied. Then I let it slip: “I got referred to a guy named Kip Faraday by one of my clients. Do you know anything about him?”

“Hmmm,” Lacey was thinking, her finger pushing up the tip of her nose. “That name sounds very familiar.” She disappeared around the counter and came back with today’s paper. “I thought I’d seen this today.”

I took the paper and scanned the columns. Then the headline came into view, just a small business blurb, “Internet Genius Kip Faraday to Do It Again.” What did that mean? I scanned the article. Apparently, Faraday had bought a fledgling Internet provider, merged it with a browser he had obtained in a lawsuit and, in the span of twelve months, produced another successful company. He had just sold it for thirty two million dollars. Spare change to him, I noticed, as his fortune was touted to be on the coattails of Bill Gates’ empire.

I almost fainted clean out of my Steve Maddens. “Shit! What was Jasmine thinking? How could I possibly have even returned this guy’s phone call? This must be a joke. He could pull in the big guns on this job. Hell, this guy could get Versace if he were still alive.”

My mind was a blur and dots were beginning to dance before my eyes. I was going to have to sit down before I fell down.

“Oh, honey. I don’t know what to tell you except that I’ve heard he’s a very private man so maybe he wants a designer who is local and clueless about him. Or maybe he doesn’t care about what he wants done so he doesn’t think twice about hiring you, sight unseen?” Lacey offered as a clumsy show of support while leading me to a velvet mohair chaise.

“Thanks for the ‘clueless’ part, Lacey, but I’m sure my other client didn’t know about that aspect of my psyche when she made her recommendation.” I sat on the chaise putting my head between my knees, eyeballing the scuff marks on the toes of my shoes, trying to keep from throwing up and passing out at the same time.

Every one of my friends knows what a boob I can be sometimes. I will totally miss the forest for the trees. One time, during college, I was sitting at the back of a bus with a girlfriend and a woman rider got on. I was instantly fixated and stunned by the glaring extent of how much her panty lines showed through her stretch pants. I leaned over and told my friend, who nodded and then pointed up to the woman’s head. She was in one of those cylindrical head stabilizer things with a neck brace. Ooops! But then everyone knows God is in the details.

“Well, I left a message for him, so maybe I’ll get a call back - if it’s not some elaborate joke.”

“Sure. Are you going to be OK?” asked Lacey, touching my shoulder. I looked up and she was offering me tea. I sipped the hot liquid and savored its heat at the back of my throat. When I had more or less composed myself, Lacey took me around and helped me figure out fabric samples to take back to my office. I finished my day at the PDC by browsing at a few more showrooms. I had just become too distracted with the magnitude of the information rattling around in my brain that I had to leave. Traffic was a bitch and a half on my way back to the office and I didn’t get in ‘til 5:00 PM. I checked the voice mail as soon as I hit my desk.

“Hello. This is Trevor Gerard calling for Ms. Pushkin on behalf of Bruce Hansen, personal assistant to Mr. Faraday and, thus, calling on Mr. Faraday’s behalf.” He paused and then continued. “It is our understanding that Mr. Faraday called you himself and, as this is very unusual, Bruce has taken it upon himself to return your call via me and schedule an appointment for you to consult with Mr. Faraday. Please call as soon as you receive this message. Thank you.” He left a number similar to Faraday’s. Wow! My God. What the hell was that? Was I not watching what I was wishing for or was this the ultimate design career opportunity? Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Breaking my rule about no phone calls after 5:00 PM, I picked up the phone and punched in Bruce’s number. Or was it Trevor’s? Or was it Faraday’s again?

“Faraday estate. Who’s calling please?” came an uptight, little voice. Was this the same guy that called me? Was he an assistant or the receptionist?

I was determined not be unnerved by my lack of societal protocol. “This is Lois Pushkin of Pushkin Atelier calling for Kip Faraday.”

“What is this regarding?” came the squeaky voice again. Who was I talking to – an Oompa Loompa?

“I’m returning a Bruce Hansen’s call regarding a previous call placed to me by Kip Faraday,” I replied.

“Yes, and it’s ‘Mr.’ Faraday. I do recall a message placed by Bruce via me,” answered the voice. “One moment please.”

The sing-song Muzak came on. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a very bizarre “hold music” choice, but I suppose by the time I reached fifty, it will be old hat, like the Stones’ Muzak renditions. A different voice came on the line. “This is Bruce Hansen. I have time for you to meet Mr. Faraday next week, Monday, at 8 AM.”

“I see,” I replied absorbing the bluntness of the direction I was being given.
There was an almost inaudible sigh. “If this is not acceptable, Mr. Faraday will have to reconsider the appointment.”

Right-o, pinched anus. As if I believed that. He called me, bucko. “No, that’s fine,” I replied evenly and calmly. “I’ll arrange my schedule to accommodate his time.”

Then there was a significant pause. “Mr. Faraday’s time is quite valuable, and we do the utmost to maintain his schedule.”

“No problem. Monday at 8 AM it is,” I said. Then I couldn’t stand it anymore. Breaking into a fit of the giggles, I said good-bye and hung up. I could almost feel Bruce looking at his receiver up there on Mulholland Drive. Still giggling, I fell back into my chair. Must be low blood sugar. God, I’m hungry. Today was so overwhelming. As Dorothy was whisked away into the tornado, what fate did await her? I packed up my bag, snapped off the lights, locked the door, and cruised down into another glorious, warm LA night. I made my way over to the Formosa for just one little drink before going home. As I walked past the bar toward the front entrance, I saw the private dick I’d met the other night. What was his name? Shit! He saw me and waved me to join him. He seemed a little buzzed already.

“Well, hello,” Guy slurred slightly. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Hello yourself,” I replied curtly, “considering that this is my usual place.”

“How’s biz?” he asked ignoring my tone.

“Fine. How’s yours?”

“The usual,” he droned. “I’m spinning my wheels. I need some excitement!” He spun his hands around in front of his face. “Insurance work can get a little tedious. Investigating is not the glamorous, Mike Hammer career I thought it would be.”

“Well, something may change,” I cautioned. Watch what you wished for, buddy.

“Maybe. That would be refreshing. Would you like a drink?”

“Sure, if you’re buying,” I agreed.

Guy waved the server over. “What’s your pleasure?”

“Old Fashioned, please.” When my drink arrived, Guy moved us over to an empty booth and we slid in from opposite sides, observing our buffer zones. Guy was still sporting the same bad haircut. Perhaps I would bring that up later in the conversation when he was more buzzed; it had worked before. Men needed to know they had to have decent hair and not fight for some sought after style if they do not have the head, or the hair, for it. For example, major comb-overs from ear to ear. I loved bald men – it was so honest.

“So, what do you do exactly?” asked Guy.

“I’m an interior designer,” I replied.

“Oh.” He paused. “What do you do exactly?”

I started my schpiel, “I offer a full range of design services, soup to nuts, from designing entire homes and corporations to matching pillows to draperies.” I paused for drama. “I make your world a better place through my design.”

“Anything in Architectural Digest?”

“Not yet. My speed is more Dwell and Nest.”

“Don’t know what those are. Maybe you could come over to my place and give
me some advice for my bachelor pad?” Guy suggested with raised eyebrows and a sloppy, drunk grin.

Jeez. If I haven’t heard that one a thousand times! Yeah, I want to come over and feel your sheets, buddy (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). These are the times when I feel like my occupation is similar to that of a rock star or actor. Everybody dreams of being one and when they find out you are one, all they can do is share their lost dream with you. “Oh, it must be sooo glamorous” or “That would be the funnest job, you are sooo lucky!” or my personal favorite, “I have a knack for design myself; you should see my home, its soo (insert style here). I get complimented on it all of the time”. Yeah, from your suburban, cul-de-sac, manufactured home, soccer mom neighbors! Do tax lawyers and drycleaners ever get bothered with such extended goings on when they’re minding their own business at the doctor’s office? Oh, the celebrity.

I looked back at Guy, “Maybe in the future. You’d have to agree to my rates.”

“Oh, I see how it is.” Guy grinned. “All right, fine.” Guy was getting way past the buzzed portion of his evening. “Any famous clients?”

“There have been a few.” (From the firm I worked at before.) I studied him for a moment before I went on. “Say, what do you know about Kip Faraday, Mr. PI?”

“Faraday, Faraday… He’s the Internet mogul, right?”

“You’re a regular Columbo. So, you surf the Internet like everyone else.”

“You have a real attitude, don’t you?” pointed Guy, sitting up straighter in his seat.

“Yes, and that’s why I am single,” I shot back. “So, do you know anything else?”

“Yeah, yeah, He’s a real weirdo. Very eccentric, focused on specific things, and very tempermental. I don’t think a lot of people like him, but they ‘like’ him” – he crooked his fingers – “when it counts,” mused Guy.

Great. Client from Hell. Only once did I have to “fire” such a client and that was my own mother. The woman couldn’t tell ochre from eggplant. Still, I was curious and I had only an initial consultation lined up, so what was the harm? Watch what you wish for, Lois. I’d have to do the full internet search on Faraday when I got back to my place. Maybe I’d do one on Guy as well. He acknowledged me casually studying him.

“Have you eaten yet?” asked Guy. “I’m kinda starved myself.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I have to get home. I’d just wanted a drink. Someone’s expecting me right now,” I said as I slid out of the booth, gathering up my bag. “Maybe I’ll see you around again.”

“Hey, I thought you were single?” Guy yelled after me.

“I am,” I replied swinging the door open and turning around in time to see Guy toasting me with his glass and smiling with a shit-eating grin. He was going to fall down soon.

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