Saturday, January 17, 2009

Design for a Crime - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The evening dragged itself in as it does when fall is belatedly tromping into Los Angeles, California. The calendar says “fall” and yet summer clings like a gay man to his momma’s apron strings. Inner clocks are screwed up and I swear people drive more like retards now than in any other season. Perhaps more so for the luminescent presence of the pregnant harvest moon resting on high-rises in the premature dusk of the work day. Lunatics abound! Scientific American says that this is just the first of two Harvest moons in a row, a phenomenon that only happens once every 50 years. Could I deal with two straight years of insanity? I hadn’t heard from my mother in two months and this was the most sane I had felt in a long time.

As I stood at my desk in my modest office on Wilshire Boulevard in a Buddhist meditation over my latest project, my phone started ringing in the desk’s file drawer. In a slow motion delay, as I realized that I’d left the phone in the drawer, I drew my hands up, giving my now cold Grande Mocha a left hook. It went everywhere and, as I scrambled to save it and attempted to answer the phone at the same time, it went all over me.

“Crap!” I muttered under my breath as I realized the utter hopelessness of the murky situation. Flinging cold, congealed soy from my fingers, I pushed away from the desk and headed for the kitchenette. The phone was still ringing in the drawer.

“Fuck you!” I yelled as I grabbed wipes and towels. The phone died as if it heard me. I came back into the room and began mopping up the mess. Eyeballing my desk, I saw that the drawings I was working on were ruined. Why the hell do I drink volatile liquids when I’m working? And why isn’t there a better place for that stupid phone? And why am I here working after hours anyway?

I answered myself as I was used to doing. Because you’re an interior designer, Lois, and it was your big, fucking idea to strike out on your own - “Yes, that’s right. I’m going to call it ‘Pushkin Atelier’ ” I told all of my friends and colleagues. You thought you were so hot that your shit didn’t stink and now you’re working after hours on a project that doesn’t even exist in an expensive office suite in the Wiltern building. And the only reason you’re working on a phantom project is because you have no clients, no prospects, and no money, but you need to keep busy on something. You know if you have nothing to do, Lois, the impending doom of no work lurking about the periphery will crash down around your ears and you will have an anxiety attack. That’s not pretty. That would also bring your mother to town.

Then, you had to go Retro and get a place in the Wiltern. Telling everyone you would be going to shows there all of the time with your BFF, Harshy, and her entourage. Ha! Well, OK, that was true, but it didn’t help pay the rent. As for the current project, like I said, it doesn’t exist. Well, yes, it does. In my mind, it’s my dream. Someday, it will for real. So it’s worth it for me to work on it when I have no clients aside from the anxiety attack abatement.

But now it’s one Grande-Fucking-Mocha mess. I turned my back on it and stared out the blackening window behind my desk. It was raining, an oddity in LA. Rain drops silvered against the backlit glass as they hit the pain and scurried down the surface quick as mercury. This rare crappy weather always sent me tripping down memory lane and I wallowed in the state of it when it happened. Most times, thoughts of home were what kept me here in Los Angeles. The more I remembered my life back there, the greater the role my mother played in the picture and suddenly my motivation to succeed and stay in this town would come bounding back like a lab with a slobbery ball. LA was great and I loved the wonderful warmth and glow of it all, but I did think 90 percent of the people living here wallowed everyday in dreams of any one of the forty nine states they once called home. Some became homesick and returned, I was sure. I wondered how many of my fellow ‘daughters’ stayed here for the same reasons I did.

Turning back to the disaster zone, I dropped all of the sopped papers into the trash can and wiped down the desk with a wet wipe. A very useful tool leftover from my days as a celebrity nanny during college. Drying the top off with towels, I finally opened the desk drawer, pulled out the phone, and set it on my now barren desk. Picking up the receiver, I dialed the millions of numbers required to simply retrieve a message. (It’s 1998, Lois - Speed dial?)

“You have one new message,” informed the feminine computer voice of Pac Bell.

“This message is for a Ms. Lois Pushkin. My name is Mr. Faraday…, Kip Faraday. I’m an associate of your client, Jasmine Leland. Please call me back regarding your design services. Ms. Leland highly recommended you to assist me with my estate on Mulholland Drive. The project is of some urgency. I need a, um, sensitive room redesigned in my home. Please call me as soon as you receive this message. Again, this is Kip Faraday. Thank you.” And he left his number, twice, succinctly.

I wrote down what I assumed was his office number and checked the time. I hated making calls after 5:00pm so I stuck him on my to-do list for the next day – sticky notes stuck on my computer screen. Blackberry lovers would tear their eyes out at the sight of my 3x3 sticker army.

Funny that he should call today. Eyeballing my mess of sopped papers in the trash, I began to wonder if they didn’t cause their own demise. Did they sense the futility of my vision? Did they sense the potential new client? And a friend of Jasmine’s at that. That means money. I needed money. I needed to support my chic, retro, Wiltern lifestyle. So, you are on for tomorrow, Mr. Faraday. What is a sensitive room?

Checking my bag to make sure I wasn’t forgetting my cell phone, again, I declared my work day over. No one was here to hear me, so no one cared. Ah, the life of the self-employed. Snapping the lights and music off, I headed down to the lobby to check out with the building security. It wasn’t a building protocol. Doing it just made me feel as though I was part of the building culture, that I really did belong here. Like Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat into the air to acknowledge breaking the glass ceiling; success within reach.

“ ‘Night, Joe.”

“ ’Night, Ms. Pushkin.”

Why are all lobby security men named ‘Joe’? Mentally counting security men I knew in my head, I walked through the breezeway to the parking garage to retrieve my car. I poked its nose out onto Wilshire Boulevard and then made my way north to the Formosa Cafe. This was my LA version of a neighborhood bar. Never mind the fact it wasn’t remotely close to the neighborhood where I lived. I had never realized how important a neighborhood bar was to me until I moved to Los Angeles and there were none. Absolutely none. In my old neighborhood bar up north, I wasn’t chummy with my neighbors or had a neighborly “Cheers” type relationship with the bartenders, but the neighborhood bar played a big role in the routine of my life. Where I came from, it was the place to ‘pre-func’ before the party, a quick bite to eat before the movie, or the last place to crawl to before going home after a night of partying or a really bad date. Always ready with a plate of fries or a burrito paired with a cold beer to get you that last leg home. And ‘legs’ were important because you could usually leave your car at the neighborhood bar and walk home safely.

There was none of that in LA. You always had to dress to the nines, be fully made up, and get your posse together. Then you all would strut your stuff to the club, the lounge, or the swanky bar. No casual place to go in your two-day, shower-less funk wearing sweats, a tank top, fucked-up hair in a scrunchie, and your sexy librarian glasses on (your only accessory) to drink micro-brews, play pool, and listen to the entire Stevie Nicks album on the best juke box in town. But the Formosa Cafe made it all up to me with its eclectic interior, timeless booths, great servers and bartenders, and regulars. Now I was a regular thanks to my friend, Harshy, who had introduced me to the place. It was where I had met her for the first time, through a friend of a friend who was no longer our mutual friend, collectively.

Glancing at my watch, I realized I had only a few minutes to meet Harshy before she got pissed. Contrary to most Angeleans, we prided ourselves on always being on time. The sky looked bleak and spits of rain smacked the windshield. The dry, brittle wipers scoured the glass, leaving behind black, rubber turds. Bad idea. I parked in the first available spot and got out. Shit, no umbrella. I quickened my pace with my purse over my head and rushed to the bar entrance. I searched through the blue haze for Harshy. From our usual booth, she locked onto me and pulled me in with a roll of her eyes. I immediately saw her predicament. Two men were circling the booth like vultures.

“Hey.” I plopped into the booth beside her, eyeing the two men who were ivery startled by my sudden appearance.

“Hey, yourself,” Harshy hissed and then with lowered voice. “Where have you been?”

“I had an Exxon Valdez at the office and a desk drawer phone call,” I replied glancing up at the two men who were still hovering over the booth, both mouths open just enough for the stray fly. I turned to them, clearing my throat. “Excuse me, but we have some business to discuss here so if you could please give us some privacy?”

Both mouths shut promptly only to reopen with pathetic, “Come see us when you’re done” mewls. Yeah, right, bucko, I thought to myself.

Harshy raised one eyebrow and smirked. Harshy had been my best girl friend since I moved to Los Angeles so many years ago. She had been in LA much longer, and, the moment I met her, she took pity on my very unstylish self and filled in all of my social gaps and corrected all of my beauty guffaws. Harshy was a woman’s woman: tall with hips, breasts, and lips. No assumptions about hair and makeup. So not your typical anorexic LA woman. In my opinion, that took balls. It was so easy to succumb to the peer pressure of LA. One day you woke up and found you couldn’t go to the grocery store without full make-up, your hair in an up-do and decked out in a complete Dolce & Gabbana track suit. All that effort for a carton of milk and some smokes.
Resistance to maintain your own individuality took work. Harshy was so against proof of her permanent residency in LA that she deposited her paychecks into an account in Cleveland, Ohio. Don’t get it wrong. She loved LA and would’ve died without the city, but she didn’t want to be known as an LA gal. She was still an outsider, a rebel. We both knew we were full of crap and that it was all a game, but it helped us survive among the plastic. Harshy, fortunately, has been blessed with more natural beauty than most. Her greatest asset was her long, dark hair, natural with no dye or extensions. She also had the most lively eyes I had ever seen. They literally vibrated when she was excited about something that really moved her. Usually it was celebrity gossip. Her smile came easily, she always gave people the benefit of the doubt, (sometimes twice), and she never, ever had any airs about herself. She also didn’t give a crap about what people thought, especially of her.

Harshy was so intoxicating when I was an LA virgin. I revered her big city rebellion then and I felt lucky to be picked for her friendship. Then she found out and told me to get a life. It might sound like I dug her more than just a friend, but it’s not like that. She was my soul sister and I loved her like that. In turn, I protected her from being overtaken by hovering, predatory males, people with sob stories, and stray puppies. We looked out for each other. It was nice to find another human being here that actually really cared about her friends. It was key when you are an alien in LA.

“Little harsh weren’t you?” asked Harshy, snuggling up to me for a hug.

“No, well, I get so tired of this boy-girl meet-and-greet business.” I sighed into her shoulder. “Sometimes I feel like I’m evolving uptight.” Pulling away, I glanced over at the guys and waved. They had been intently watching us and talking behind their shoulders. I had given in, God help me.

“That’s better," clucked Harshy, pushing a cocktail my way.

“Ha, ha,” I replied. “And thanks.” I raised my glass in a toast with her.

“So, what’s new with you, miss? Aside from the fact that you’ve had another accident in your drawers,” Harshy teased me. “You’ve got to quit doing that!”

“I know, it’s a bad habit, but I need the space when I’m designing and the drawer is just so handy and, well, empty,” I explained and then changed the subject. “During my Mocha Valdez, I got a call from a real muck-a-muck up on Mulholland Drive.”

Harshy’s eyes lit up. “Oooh! Who was it? How do you know they’re a ‘muck-a- muck’?” Like I said, she loved gossip and was the quintessential celebrity whore. As such, Harshy was one of the best lead sources for my business, my own personal search engine only a speed dial away.

“Jasmine Leland knows him, that’s how. It’s a guy named Kip Faraday,” I revealed.

“Oh.” She frowned. “Bummer, dude.”

“That bad?” I asked, shocked by Harshy’s unusual reaction. This was new. Usually any celebrity gossip gave Harshy diarrhea of the mouth be they as passé as CC Demille of Poison or the B list actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

“Oh, God, Lois, could you’ve picked an even more boring person?” chided Harshy. “The guy’s a geek who made his millions as a computer nerd and lives the lifestyle of Michael Jackson without the monkey or the nose jobs.”

“Swell,” I countered. “So should I call him tomorrow and decline?” How successful would Mr. Jackson have been without the monkey and the nose jobs? Well, probably in the same situation that he was today. Creep. Hope this Faraday guy wasn’t a creep. I involuntarily shuddered at the thought.

“Cold?” I jumped in my seat. Turning around, I saw that the guys from earlier had moseyed over from the bar.

“Excuse us. The place is getting crowded and we were wondering if we could share the booth with you. Maybe warm you up a bit?” the taller one of the couple asked. His friend, behind him, pathetically pleaded with glassy, hyper-extended, blue eyes. Igor?

I rolled my own eyes. “Sure, knock yourself out.”

As they sat down, I turned to the taller one and introduced myself. “I’m Lois and this is my friend, Harshy.” They introduced themselves as Guy and Drew, respectively and we went through the usual pleasantries.

“So, what do you both do?” I inquired, ever curious as to why people choose their professions. I contemplated my choice daily. Especially when I didn’t have any clients.

Guy answered first. Aside from being tall, Guy was mostly all shoulders that supported a head with hair that needed to get any sort of good cut from a decent barber. The clothes were nice - the shoes better, but his best features were his eyes and teeth. “I’m a freelance investigator.”

“With what studio?” asked Harshy.


“What studio do you do research for?”

“I don’t,” replied Guy, who looked very puzzled by the question. “I’m a private investigator.”

“Oh,” said Harshy. “When you said “freelance” I thought that you were some Hollywood research monkey for a studio.”

“Whatever.” Guy glared at her. “I mostly work with cheaters, bail bondsmen, and injury claim insurance offices.” The woody in his pants evidently had gone down at this point.

“That’s where we met,” Drew chimed in.

“Met where?” I asked.

“At an insurance company, my insurance company, where I work. TorkelsonMadisonInsuranceIncorporated,” spewed Drew.

“Match made in heaven!” I exclaimed. “A little office romance?”

“Oh, God, no! It’s not like that at all,” boomed Guy. “Shit! You can’t have a guy be your friend in this city without everyone thinking you’re bouncing boners.”

I started to laugh and almost wet myself. Harshy and I were accused of that far too often and then still propositioned by the opposite sex. “I’m so sorry, but every attractive guy in this city is gay.”

Guy and Drew looked at each other, and then back at us.

“Whatever,” Guy replied sourly. “So, what are you ladies doing tonight?”

“Drinking, smoking, and then a little more drinking.” I replied. The place was definitely feeling like my neighborhood bar that night.

No comments:

Post a Comment