Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chapter 5

A couple of weeks later, I had my second appointment with Faraday in his office. Bruce and Trevor were buzzing around like flies on shit. Sitting across from each other, the huge expanse of his desk separating us, Faraday and I reviewed my preliminary lay-outs, the new finishes and their applications, elevations of all of the walls, and a new lighting plan to make the thinking spot less gothic and more enlightening. Naturally, the fabulous plumbing fixtures would stay.

After studying the proposal for about an eon, Faraday startled me. “I like it,” he said.

I waited for more, but nothing came. Faraday leaned back and motioned for Bruce. “Please see that Ms. Pushkin has full access to the bathroom to finish her design work. Review with her the daily schedules, security procedures, etc. I am leaving the coordination of this up to you and your assistant.” ordered Faraday.

Turning back to me, he pulled out his platinum Waterman pen and inquired, “Do you have your contracts ready, Ms. Pushkin?”

I pulled the documents from my bag. “Yes, right here,” I said as I slid them across the desk. Barely glancing at them, Faraday flipped to the ‘Sign Here’ tabs and penned his name in triplicate. Thoroughness was the one nerdy trait I did share with him.

Faraday motioned for Bruce again and handed him the documents. “Please take care of these.”

I stood and extended my hand to Faraday, thanking him for the opportunity to work with him and to be involved in such a great project. Graciously, he shook my hand and nodded, saying, “No, thank you, Ms. Pushkin. A great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I feel more at peace with the space now that it is in your capable hands. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Bruce will take care of everything for you.” He stood up and left without a glance back.

I took my drawings, finishes, and catalogues off the desk and put them back in my bags. Remembering my contracts, I turned to Bruce. “Should I wait here or in the foyer for my contract and retainer?”

“You may wait here in the office, Ms. Pushkin”, replied Bruce, cordially. “I’ll have Trevor make you a drink if you like.”

“That would be great,” I said, settling myself back down into one of the Empire side chairs. “Hey, you can call me Lois since we’ll be working toget….”

Bruce cut me off. “No, I’m sorry. That won’t happen. That is unacceptable here at the estate.”

“Well…,” I replied, “but I’ve been calling you Bruce.”

“And that’s the way it is,” stated Bruce and left down the hall to take care of the start of my future successful design career. Money, money, money! Finally, a job that paid big bucks. I could rest easy for a month at least. No fretting over next month’s rent and bills at the Wiltern. If Faraday retained me for construction oversight, then I could make some good hourly fees. I wonder who he’ll be using for a general contractor? That would be key for this project. Hopefully, no overweight, smelly, butt crack of an attempt at fine carpentry idiot. I couldn’t bear it. I’d have to charge double.

Anyhoo, the remainder of the design portion of the project was going to be exhausting. Not the design work per se, but the people and the protocol. What was up that Bruce’s ass? “That is unacceptable”. Was I now caught up in a rendition of the ‘Sound of Music’ and would he come in with a whistle to command my attention? Oblivious to my inner dialoging, Trevor shuffled into the office and set about making me a drink. He was about to pour something when he paused and turned to me, “Um, what would you like to drink, Ms. Pushkin?”

“Isn’t that in your notes?” I asked, coyly. He obviously was having a hard time with the formality as well.

Trevor turned back to the bar, patted his coat pockets and then dropped his head back and sighed. Turning back around to me, he sneered. “Very funny. We don’t keep crib notes on the guests or the hired help.”

I raised my eyebrow at him. Hired Help? “Well then, I’ll have an old fashioned.”

He parried my eyebrow with a wispy one of his and returned to the bar to make my drink.
I noticed he didn’t even need to reference a bartender’s bible to make my un-trendy drink.

I sat back in the comfy chair and made a new list, sipping the wonderful burning beverage, allowing the stress from my neck and shoulders to flow down into the plush cushion
cradling my ass. Bruce finally returned with my signed contracts and retainer which I immediately put in my bag as I tended to lose important papers or unknowingly recycle them.
I retained him as I handed him my list that contained the things I needed to start and coordinate the design of the project, i.e.: the assistants’ cell phone numbers, fax numbers, and email addresses, etc.

Then I stood up, extended my hand to him, and told him that I looked forward to working with him and hoped that all would go smoothly with the project. Bruce shook my hand in the way men shake women’s hands that makes my skin crawl and showed me to the front door. Once again, I was in my outdoor room on the porch, staring back at the house. Would I have to go through this escort process throughout the entire project? I felt like I was 6 years old and in a chinaware exhibit. I wondered if they watched me? Pretending to take an interest in the landscaping, I snooped around for hidden cameras. Nothing to the naked eye, but sprinkler heads and outdoor lighting fixtures, although I was sure some of them could be a camera.

I got into my car, drove around the curve and made to exit onto Mulholland Drive. As I straightened out, I glanced into my rear view mirror to see a car pulling up to the gates. A silver Jaguar. Must be Jasmine, I thought. As I rolled my window down to shout ‘hello’, the gates opened and the Jag pulled through. I couldn’t back up as my gates had already closed, so I put my car in park and trotted over to the entry gates. They, too, closed on me, but I could see a woman approaching the front door. I studied her to see if it was Jasmine. Unfortunately, she was wearing a large hat, the kind you see on women at Ascot during race day. Bruce opened the door as I began yelling Jasmine’s name. Bruce, startled, looked up and glared at me all the while firmly herding the woman through the entry. Hmmm. Must not’ve been Jas after all. I waved at Bruce’s angry face and trotted back to my car. Idiot! Him, not me.

I drove back to the office intending to prep work for Monday. I made more lists, in my head of the job priorities and ordering procedures. I spoke into the recorder of my cell phone as these lists came to mind. I swear I don’t have a brain anymore. All of it is either on paper, in the computer, or in the cell phone. More often than not, it’s written on my hand. I remember one time, while still working late nights at Williams, Markel, and Frack Architects, I was at Gelsons grocery store standing in the express line to buy some frozen dinners. A couple was in line in front of me. The man leaned over and asked me if I had bought stamps that day. I looked at him in disbelief and asked how he had known that I had to buy stamps. He pointed down to the top of my hand where I had written ‘Stamps’ and ‘Library’. I laughed and said yes, but I hadn’t been to the library yet. The woman looked at me and grinned an apology for her partner. He said to me, “In this age of computers and gadgets, I find it very charming to see that people still write notes to themselves on their hands the way they did when they were still in grade school.”
That is how much of my brain is not with me as of today. As long as I have it all written down or recorded somewhere readily accessible, I never have to remember anything on my own. As if I could anyway. This is my use of technology. A new way to be lazy. Now I just filled up that space between my ears with TV, useless trivia, and daydreams. I think computers and gadgets gave us more time to be brainless and less responsible for the competent functioning of our brains. No wonder people have ADHD and allergies.

I parked in the garage of the Wiltern, hustled through the breezeway to the lobby, waved hello to Joe, and zoomed up the elevator to my office. I had stopped along the way for a grande
mocha and set that on my desk as I put my bags down. Déjà vu and a vision of a mocha all over Faraday’s project. I’d try to remember to be more careful. I moved the drink from my desk to
the credenza. Then I pulled the contracts out of the Faraday estate’s embellished manilla-sized envelope and a couple of checks came fluttering out. Picking them up from the floor, I saw, to my delight, that Faraday had paid my entire design fee to date, plus my retainer, and 100 percent of my reimbursables as remitted to him at our meeting that morning. Suddenly, I liked him even more. Jasmine was right about Faraday and I was glad.

Getting money from most clients was like pulling teeth. They couldn’t seem to understand why they should pay you any money for something they thought they could do themselves. General contract your first remodel or build your first house and then you’ll see why I get paid to do this. People pay attorneys and CPA’s for their services, no questions asked. Why? Because they are relying on their education, expertise, and experience to do a job for them that they will not or cannot do themselves. Well, people, same goes for designers. Just like doing your taxes or suing your brother-in law, you could do it yourself, but you wouldn’t want to. I wish more people felt the same about designers because I’ve seen a lot of botched “do-it-yourself” jobs and they were dangerous and offensive to the human condition. I am the defender of the world through good design. I think I’ll make that my mission statement. I laughed out loud to myself. The song “Neverending Story” by Llamal popped into my brain.

After who knew how long with my nose to the design grindstone, I rose up out of my crouched position and looked out the window. It was dark and not 5 PM dark. I looked at the
clock. It read 10 PM. Crap! I’d been here that long? I sat back in my chair, stretching my arms over my head and my legs under my desk. My lower back cracked in relief. My body ached. No
ergonomically correct furniture here. Well, if this job goes well, I’ll be able to afford some new furniture. I slid my shoes off and scratched my toes with my feet. I limped to the window. God, my butt hurt and the nylon sting on the backs of my thighs wasn’t helping my situation. I raised
the sash of my window and leaned my head out. I surveyed Los Angeles with her worker bee cars and their flash of red, white and amber lights. I stared down at the people below on the sidewalk and watched where they went, back and forth like a tennis match.

I closed my eyes and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Yahoo!” and “Yee haw!” and “Woo hoo!” I opened my eyes and looked down to find people puddling under my window, staring up at me. I waved down at them and ducked back inside. The phone started to ring.

“Pushkin Atelier,” I answered, spinning around in my desk chair.

Joe’s voice came on the line. “Are you all right, Ms. Pushkin? I’ve been getting calls that there is a crazy lady yelling on the roof.”

I laughed. “No, no, I mean, yes, I’m fine. That crazy lady is me, Joe. I’m yelling out of my window.”

“Well, knock it off please,” he implored, “The tenants are getting pissed.” I could hear a basketball game going on in the background. Yeah, right Joe.

“Right –o! Yes, sir!” I shouted and hung up the phone. I finished my mocha, naturally stone cold now, and put my suit jacket on. When I came out of the kitchenette, I found Harshy sitting in my chair.

“Who let you in?” I asked, jokingly.

“Your door man. He said you were going nuts, screaming out your window or some such shit,” she quizzed me, raising one eyebrow.

“Yeah, that was me. I had a long day and I wanted to blow off some steam and feel my blood pumping again,” I explained. “It felt good watching those people watch me. I felt much more important, more than anybody else at that moment.”

“OK, sister, whatever. Let’s blow this corndog stand,” ordered Harshy.

“OK, but no Formosa tonight,” I pleaded. I dreaded seeing Guy there again.

“Fine. Let’s go to La Boheme and melt into some hot toddies.”

“Mmmm, sounds delicious. I’ll call and reserve a table.” After I placed our reservation, I clapped the lights off and we drove off to West Hollywood for our night cap.

It was very late by the time I left Harshy and La Boheme. One night cap had turned into four. Harshy worked for a record label and had drunk way too many people under the table. I had fallen for that only a couple of times. Having peeled myself off of several bar floors, not knowing who I was or who I was with, I had learned to monitor myself. Well, most of the time anyway. I was letting my hair down that night and wanting to celebrate a little. A good, goddamn, decent job that was going to pay the bills. I felt legit. And Harshy was treating. Having an expense report that is primarily booze and bar food was never under suspicion in her line of work. If I didn’t watch it, I could really get into the swing of things with her and lose track of my imbibing. Harshy always had tons of stories about both the people she worked for and the people she worked with. It was a great business for her because it fed her celebrity whore habit. And, thanks to her, I knew intimate details about certain pop singers that I could’ve blissfully lived my whole life not knowing. Now that useless, annoying information pops up in my head at the most inconvenient times. That night I received more of that kind of info. Thankfully I was drinking fast and laughing a lot, causing much air to course through my veins and get me looser and drunker quicker than usual. Then I had to put on the breaks when I caught sight of my bawdy self in the bar back mirror. Whoa! I had too much work to do the next day to call myself in sick.

It was time to jet. I made sure that Harshy got a cab and was well taken care of. She was going to take a personal day after this night. I left my car at the lounge and took a cab to my condo. I slumped into and out of the elevator, braced myself on the walls down the brightly lit hall to my front doors. I fumbled my keys in the lock and let myself in. Kash was sitting on top of the kitchen island, very disappointed in my tardiness and shooting his eyes to his bowls.

“Shit, cat, feed yourself!” I cried. I plunked my bags onto the island and put kibble and water into his bowls. Squatting down at his level, I watched him eat. Then, after shrugging my blazer off, I stood up and stretched to my fullest bodily extent. It was then that I noticed a light on out on my patio. It wasn’t a light, it was the TV. Weird. I could’ve sworn I’d turned that off the previous night. I shrugged my jacket back on, opened the slider, and proceeded to the couch. I looked around in the darkness for the remote. Well, that was stupid. I went back to the slider and flipped the patio lights on. Their brightness scared the shit out of the night. I returned to the sofa and scanned for the remote, pulling off pillows, blankets, and tugging at shoes. Ah, there’s the remote. Wait. Shoes? I jerked back to the edge of the couch. Yep, shoes and not mine. I pulled off the rest of the blanket. There lay the stinky, transient guy from the week before, sleeping like a baby on my couch. I nudged his foot and he murmured and snorted. I pulled his leg and called out to him. He drew himself up in a fetal position, pushing his butt deeper into the back cushions.

Defeated, I sighed, went around the couch and sat at the end where his feet had been. My head hurt and I wanted a cigarette badly. Lounging back against the cushions, I lit up a smoke and exhaled into the fake bright sky. I smoked for a while and then decided that I had waited long

“Hey!” I yelled straight up into the night. “Buddy! Wake up!”

His eyes fluttered open, and then his hand came up to shield his eyes from the brightness, “What the fuck? What’s going on?” He looked my way. “Who are you?”

Looking closer at me, he bolted upright, “Oh shit, man! I mean, lady, look I’m sorry about being here. I’m not sleeping on your couch or nothing…”

“Cool your jets, man. Take it down a notch. Chill out,” I said, lolling my head on the cushions towards him. I watched him and waited.

He sat up straighter and picked up the blanket and started to fold it up. “Peace, lady. Uh…Sorry about being here. I thought you were already in bed.” He didn’t make to move off of the couch, just sat there fiddling with the corner of the blanket.

He was young, maybe nineteen or twenty, tall, with curly blonde hair and soft, brown eyes. He nervously smiled at me taking stock of him. Great teeth. And reasonably clean, too. In fact, he really wasn’t as dirty or smelly as I had earlier assumed. His clothes were the same as the other day, but not filthy. His shoes were new – freshly stolen? He followed my gaze and propped his feet upwards on the patio deck to show them off more.

“Yeah, I stole ‘em. Had to. You need good shoes to live on the streets. I don’t steal regular. I try to do odd jobs and stuff. Hard to get steady employment with no address and employers don’t call you back when you give them a shelter number,” he explained.

“What’s your name?” I asked. Didn’t look like he was going anywhere soon and I knew it would be a while before I could get my butt off the couch anytime soon as well. What the hell was I doing drinking with Harshy?


“Brian what?”

“Brian Marcs.”

“Where are you from?” I asked exhaling the last of my cigarette. I managed to lean forward, without falling, to swipe an old pack off of the Philippe Starck coffee table I had scored on eBay. The table maintained itself very well in the outdoor elements. Apparently my cigarettes had, too, although they looked a little warped from the recent moisture system passing through the city. I pulled one out and lit it from a match proffered by my new guest.


“And why are you on my patio?” I asked.

“’Cause it’s private, it has a couch, and a TV,” came his cheeky reply. He put the match out in the ashtray I had made when I was ten. He stared at that for a long time. Maybe he had one just like it?

“Well, that’s an obvious reason to be here now,” I replied. “Why are you in Los Angeles then?”

Brian looked down at his hands, rubbed them on his thighs, and stuck them under his legs. “Long story short, I left Chino to pursue acting and now I’m homeless. The only acting jobs I was offered were porn and I ain’t about that so I got zilch right now.”

I looked him up and down. Actor- poor idiot. “Why don’t you go home?”

“Ain’t nothing for me in Chino neither. I was thinking about it a few weeks ago, but then I found your place. You were pretty predictable before you saw me the other night, so I thought I was doing OK for a while. After you freaked your shit on me, I was being more careful. Blew it
tonight, though,” concluded Brian. He stopped and waited for me to say something. After nothing came, he pulled on his coat and zipped it up. He started to get up.

“Wait, you can stay out here for tonight. We’ll figure out your shit tomorrow,” I suggested. “Do you like ‘Conan’ ?”

He smiled sheepishly. “That was already on. It’s really late, you know.”

Oh. I hadn’t noticed in my drunken state. “Hungry?”

“Starved!” yelled Brian, startling me out of my seat.

“Come on, I’ll make you a salad.”

Brian’s food enthusiasm sank like a lead balloon. “Uh, yeah, great. Thanks.”

I laughed. “Trust me, you’ll love my salad.”

Chapter 4

I drove up to the gates of the address I’d been given on Mulholland Drive. They were huge gates, made of iron and steel, with rivets the size of Oreos. They were also very high – 12 feet, I’d say, with spikes every 8 inches on center across the top. Somebody definitely wanted to keep the world at bay. The ominous ironwork was still an art piece, though: two great lion heads with big, wide eyes hung off center panels. Wait. Did those eyes just move? I rolled down my window and stared intently into them.

“Ms Pushkin?” came a male voice.

“Fuck!!” I yelled. The voice had come from out of nowhere. No, more precisely, out of the lion’s head, 12 inches from my face. “Err, um, sorry about that. You startled me. I usually don’t yell and I usually don’t swear. Yes, this is Lois Pushkin.” Fucking great, you retard. Lois. Arrgghh. Nice first impression.

There was a long pause. No doubt some assistant’s, assistant’s, assistant was laughing so hard he’d peed his pants already, “Please park your car in the turn-around and go directly to the Main entry.”

The gates buzzed and languidly swung open in all of their grandeur like the gaping jaws of Pinocchio’s whale. Was I like Pinocchio or more like Jonah? Well, the end was just the same. I drove my sleek, silver, Subaru wagon through and down the white pebbled expanse to the home. It loomed up as I drove toward it.

Honestly, I liked the house. It wasn’t offensive to me like I thought it would be when I checked it out via the aerial photo on the net. That was a good thing. I couldn’t work in crap. It was a bright, white, stucco in the Moorish style with not too much ironwork. They must have used that all up with the security fencing. Ironwork always killed Moorish architecture if it was laid on too thick. What appealed to me most were all of the flowers. God, how I loved flowers. Another perk to living in this city – flowers in bloom 365 days a year. I stuck my head out the window and breathed them all in. I caught the scent of my favorite and looked around for the shrub. It was daphne and a bank of it flanked a path shooting off to my left. My vision was obscured by birch tree branches, but the path seemed to go on for a ways. I parked my car in the turn-around, got out, and headed toward the path, intoxicated by the plant’s perfume. As I was leaning over, breathing in the wonderful aroma, I heard someone clearing their throat at my head. I quickly stood up and was faced by a butler in full regalia.

“Pardon me, ma’am, but this area is off limits to you. You were to come directly to the main entrance,” explained the butler, stiffly showing me the correct path to the front door.

“Oh, I’m sorry. The daphne smelled so good and they’re my favorite. I just had to come over and smell them. I… I wasn’t going to go anywhere,” I stammered.

“This way, Ms.”

“Wait, I’m sorry. Please wait. I have to get my materials and portfolio out of the car. Hold… hold on a sec,” I said as I rushed over to my car and quickly gathered my things. The butler waited until I was ready, and then we entered the house together. The front doors looked so old. I wondered what bankrupt Scottish castle Faraday had seized them from. In fact, I started to wonder who had done his entire house. Crap, I forgot to call Jasmine. The butler led me down a long hall and offered me a seat in a small sort of waiting room in front of a pair of double doors. I sat and waited. Presently, the doors opened and a tall, spry man with wispy, receding hair and frameless glasses came out.

“Ms Pushkin?”

“Yes,” I answered, rising from my seat.

“I’m Trevor Gerard, Bruce Hansen’s assistant. Come with me,” he ordered. I followed him through the double doors into another room half the size of the previous one. Trevor offered me yet another seat and told me to wait. He went through another pair of double doors at the end of the room. It was then silent, very silent, except for a low buzzing sound. Was it some early form of tinnitus. I looked around absentmindedly. Then my eye caught something moving and I turned my head fully to inspect it. High in the ceiling, above the crown molding was a tiny surveillance camera. I waved and smiled.

At that moment, the double doors opened and another tall, thin man with wispy, receding hair, and frameless glasses appeared. I did a double take, but, yes, it was a different man.

He introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Bruce Hansen, Mr. Faraday’s personal assistant.”

Figures, I thought. “Lois Pushkin.”

“Yes, yes, if you’ll come with me,” invited Bruce, leading me through the second set of double doors. I followed, only to be led into some sort of antechamber. It had plush lounge furniture, a real log-burning fireplace, and real gas candelabras equally spaced all around the room in ornate raised panels on the walls. Bruce motioned for me to sit down again.

“Please wait while I tell Mr. Faraday that you are here,” said Bruce and he disappeared through a pseudo-concealed panel in the wall.

Well, I’m sure Faraday already knows I’m here. I felt as though I were at Wuthering Heights, waiting for Heathcliff, except the weather was far too nice to be any place on the Moors. As I sat gazing out the beautiful, leaded casement windows, I heard a click and another buzz. Turning around, I found Bruce once again standing before me.

“Mr. Faraday will see you now,” he announced. I got up and was once more lead through what was a last set of double doors into an expansive executive office that was fit for a king. In front of the chair I was directed to sit in was the most beautiful Amazon blackheart and English fingered sycamore desk that I had ever seen. The inlay and the carving on the piece were extraordinary, the details infinite. It was either very, very old and a cherised family antique or recently custom made if Faraday had no regard for the environment. I’m sure I could find a picture of it in my old art history books from college.

The walls were upholstered in purple and olive crushed linen velvet, tufted with big oiled-bronze studs similar to the rivets of the security gates. There were floor-to-ceiling French-lite windows draped in layers of the most luscious Chinese silk in coordinating shades of purple, olive, and gold. All the traditional colors of royalty.

Looking around, I saw that the chair I sat in and its mate were from the Empire period. There was a side table with matching side board in a Roman style with swan balustrades. Quite truly a room fit for a king. Or maybe more like Napoleon? The room was dimly lit and the air was musty and pungent with a smell I couldn’t identify. I turned my nose up and snorted softly to expel the stench. Where was a cup of coffee when I needed it most? I was finally left staring at the back of a large, worn, leather executive chair.

“Ms. Pushkin is here, sir,” announced Bruce, startling me out of my reverie, I almost swore again. The leather executive chair swiveled around slowly, and for the first time I found myself staring at Kip Faraday. ‘Odd little man’ was the first thought that came to my mind. He stood up in greeting. Excuse me – Odd, tall man! Faraday must’ve been 6 feet, 5inches with the build of a bean pole and hair that stood as much at attention as Faraday’s assistants. Perpetual bad hair (poor guy), aquiline nose, and glassy, bright blue eyes in an almost Neanderthal brow. Or maybe his forehead only looked prehistoric because his jaw was cut with the precision of a builder’s square.

Faraday came around his desk, and I got up from my chair. He extended his hand to me. “Thank you for taking time out to meet me, Ms Pushkin,” he greeted me, taking my hand wholly in his and shaking it like he meant what he was saying. It was, I was sure, a well practiced maneuver for him.

“Please, call me Lois and it was no trouble. Thank you for calling me. It’s good to finally meet you,” I replied in turn. So far so good. I actually sounded seasoned and professional. It was all just rolling off the tongue like it was true. Wow.

Faraday turned to Bruce. “We’ll be fine. You can go now. I’ll call for you if we need anything.” Bruce left the room via the real doors and Faraday remained standing before me, “What I have for you is only a small job. During the initial renovation of my home, I chose to depart from the main vision of the house and went for a very modern scheme in my executive bathroom. Very bad advice I took, I’m afraid. It turns out that I am so disturbed by this design choice that when I’m in the foul room, it begins to affect my life and my business.” He paused and then continued, searching my face for understanding. “You see, as cliché as it sounds, I find the toilet is the best place for having brainstorms and trouble shooting business issues.” He paused again to study my face.

With every bit of willpower given to me by God, I made no other expression on my face other than that of intense listening.

He went on, “The reason why I called you and not the original conjurer of my own personal Xanadu is because, well, she is dead.” Again, Faraday scrutinized me. I felt I was taking a pop quiz. I nodded for him to continue.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t aware of how my bathroom was affecting me. One night I was having drinks with Jas here at the house, and she revealed that she totally hated that bathroom. That got us discussing its demerits and flaws. By the end of the night, we had concluded it to be the root cause of my current failures and she insisted that I call you immediately to make things right. She also said you would be available right away,”

I nodded again (Thanks, Jas). “Please continue,” I said, encouraging him.

Faraday held my attention with his intense facial expression, “I have not used that bathroom since and, pleasantly enough, my business has stabilized.” Faraday sighed, turned to his desk, and then abruptly turned back, a finger pointed at me. “You must not ever let people know that the lull in my success was because of my bathroom, capeche? If you speak of this to anyone I will ruin you forever, personally and professionally. Before you leave today, you will be signing an iron-clad, no loop holes, ‘you cannot make any money off of your information’ privacy clause.”

Oh, my God. I was so scared. Not. I let my shoulders relax. Who did this guy think he was? My mother? Little Lord Fauntleroy was more like it. But this was news. Glad I wasn’t the only one who received divine inspiration whilst sitting on the pot!

“I understand fully, Mr. Faraday. One’s environment does affect one’s psyche and if it is the wrong environment, it can throw one’s entire life out of kilter. I take it you want your bathroom more in sync with your original vision, at least what I have seen so far?” I summarized.

“Yes, yes, that is correct. Please follow me and I will show you to the disaster area, but I won’t go in with you, it’s too disturbing. Please, take complete photos so that we can discuss the project later,” he said as we exited his office. We passed through a different pseudo-concealed panel and into a short hall. Along the way, I noticed alcoves with a coffee bar, a snack bar, a juice bar, and a wet bar. Along the other side were full- height closets. One was ajar and I noted sports clothes and corresponding equipment neatly stored. Instant access and ready to go on a whim. I wondered if he had a servant in one of the alcoves, just waiting to be buzzed to assist his every need?

At the end of the hall was the executive washroom, my new project. Faraday opened the door and I went in, leaving him at the threshold. The small room amazed me. So unlike the rest of the house’s décor. It was very glitzy to the eyes with a very high ceiling, almost 18 feet for sure, with a beautiful, leaded-glass dome skylight which surely must have been custom made in Europe. The sky light was uplit and glowed like a suspended full moon. The room itself was very austere with an ultra-high tech, modernist influence. As you stepped into the space, your feet slid on glossy, soot black, slate tiles. The walls were paneled in brushed aluminum riveted to the walls almost all of the way up to the ceiling. There was no traditional millwork, save for some exaggerated cornices over the door, window, and mirror. They were very large and cantilevered out from the walls in such a manner that you felt they would come crashing down with the slightest movement. These were finished in a patina application of silver with black crackling – very Batman. Was the original designer’s idea to turn Faraday into a superhero while he was on the pot? Apparently, it wasn’t working for him.

As I moved around the room, I noticed the fixtures the only artistic features in the room. They should be, they were all Philippe Starck. I wondered if I would be able to soil such works of sculpture myself? With the bathroom such an abomination, why couldn’t they have picked Michael Graves to crap in? Maybe Starck was inspirational; that would make sense after all. The fixtures would definitely be staying.

“So, this is it,” said Faraday, making a sweeping movement from the doorway. He was not about to enter the small enclosure. “Do you think you can save it?”

“Oh yes,” I replied, “it seems pretty straight forward. After my preliminary assessment and site measurements, I’ll begin putting ideas together and pulling suitable finishes for you. We’ll meet again to review the new scheme when I have finished the initial design development. Naturally, I can only begin on your project upon receipt of a signed contract and retainer. I can have that to you by next week.”

“Great,” said Faraday and he smiled, the first smile I had seen on him since we met. “Thank you. I’ll have Bruce give you a check for this initial consultation as agreed upon plus money to get started before I receive your contract. I want this started on ASAP.” With that, he pressed a button on the wall just outside the bathroom and left the hall through yet another concealed panel. Well, at least he appreciated my profession and how I worked. So nice to have a client who values service and pays for it.

Standing alone in the bathroom suddenly became weird. The hall gaped beyond the open doorway and it unnerved me to think someone else could come popping through any of the panels at any given time and sneak up on me. I closed the door - who knew how long it would take Bruce to get back to me? Maybe his office was in the basement and he would have to pull his creepy self up in a dumbwaiter. With his physique, that could take hours.

I pulled out my tape measure from my work bag, along with a legal pad and pencil, and began measuring the room, verifying some basic dimensions. Might as well make use of the time. I needed to remember to ask Bruce or Trevor for the original construction drawings. Site verification was always good, as contractors liked to change things and the design wasn’t always implemented as planned. Although I couldn’t imagine Faraday standing for any little deviation in his own personal “Xanadu”. Except, of course, for this disaster. Perhaps he had an Achilles heel after all.

I was just about to tackle measuring the exact ceiling height when there was a knock at the bathroom door. “Ms. Pushkin? Hello?”

I opened the door to find Trevor. “Yes, I’m still here. Just taking some measurements.”

“Ah. Yes.” Trevor’s tone was now more the civil assistant type. “Bruce said that Mr. Faraday wanted you to be shown out.”

“Yes, that seemed to be the plan.” I said, putting the tools of my trade back in my bag. “When I was finished in here. Do you have someone hired for that?”

“Well, no not yet…er…” Trevor looked at me and saw I was pulling his leg. He blushed and, in a fluster, escorted me back through the maze of halls, into the volumous entry way, and politely showed me the front door, opened.

“My check?” I asked.

Trevor sighed and opened the padfolio he was carrying. Pulling out a fine linen envelope embossed with the Faraday estate logo (a pair of lions, of course), he handed it over to me, taking care to avoid any physical contact with my person. Was that required or his own personal preference?

“Thank you.” I said as I stepped out into the portico. “I’ll be calling you in the next day or so to arrange another meeting with Faraday in two weeks.”

“Yes, fine,” acknowledged Trevor, not picking up on my abuse of the Faraday name, “Good day.” And he shut the immense door in my face. I was left standing in the little outdoor room. Shrugging my shoulders, I hoisted my bags and walked to my car in the turnaround. Little pebbles found their way between my toes in my open-toed mules as I walked on the pads of my feet to avoid sinking into the fine gravel. I had almost twisted my ankle before when I had hustled with the butler to the front door after my arrival.

Driving to the front gates, I mouthed “Open sesame” at the little camera looking at me. The gates started their slow swing open. I doubted very much that the two actions were related, but for an instant I got the feeling that Bruce was eyeballing me from his little dungeon. Did he, I wondered, share a desk through the wall with Trevor, as in the movie ‘Brazil’? Oooh, that made me giggle. I tooted my horn as I drove through the gates onto Mulholland Drive.

Back at the office, I peeled off my suit jacket. Another “hot” day in LA. ‘There’s going to be another heat wave this weekend,’ the news always said so very spritely. Sounds like every weekend from my hometown except change “heat wave” to “rain showers”. What else was new? Weekends were always ruined by the weather wherever you lived. I sat down at my desk and pulled the Polaroids and sketches of Faraday’s bathroom out of my bag. A Post-it fell to the floor. “Call Jasmine,” it read. Ah, yes, mustn’t forget that. I reached into my desk file drawer, pulled out the phone, and dialed her cell. When she finally answered, I could hear the 405 freeway as a clearly as a pin dropping. She’d put me on speaker phone for sure.

“This is Jasmine.” Jasmine announced in her silky, wealthy voice.

“Hey, lady, it’s Lois.” I announced.

“Hello, dahlin’, how arrreee youuu?” she drew out.

“I’m fine, thanks. Hey, I had my first appointment with Kip Faraday and his entourage today, and I wanted to call and thank you for the referral. I think I’ll be taking on the project.”

“Fantastic, dahlin’! I knew this would be a great break for you,” Jasmine gushed.

“Be honest with me, Jas. Am I nuts to get involved with that circus family?”

Jasmine laughed her champagne bubble laugh. “Oh, dahhlin’, don’t be silly. Kippie’s a great fellow. Yes, he’s odd, but he doesn’t bite and he always pays.” She paused, the 405 whizzing by in the background. “Besides, I thought you could use the notoriety, honey.”

I snorted to myself. “Yes, well, thank you, I could. By the way, do you know who designed the house or at least the interiors?”

“Oh yes, Dahlin’,” confirmed Jasmine, “some famous architect designed the house. He’s dead now, but it was Char McVie who did the interiors.”

Char McVie was an older, long established, celebrity designer who started her career fresh out of a New York design school in the opulent ‘50’s of Los Angeles. She was the designer that created palaces for Sinatra, the Bogarts, and Merv Griffen. Char was the only “celebrity” designer at the time and she was very cut throat when anyone tried moving in on her ‘territory’. It was rumored that other designers wanted her dead and plotted her demise regularly.

I was then surprised to learn from Jasmine that Ms McVie was dead also and just recently. I hadn’t heard that sound bite. Maybe I should have a celebrity death update on my homepage.

“Oooh, gotta run, dear, my exit’s four lanes over and coming up fast,” relayed Jasmine, and before her cell clicked off, I could hear the tires squealing.

I could see why Faraday would hire Char McVie. She would be the only designer to hire for the creation of ones own personal Xanadu. Faraday’s estate was like literally Xanadu II, the sequel. The house and grounds were magnificent, what I had seen so far. Maybe Char McVie saw the project as her final mark on the world before she passed on, her final coup de grace. I still couldn’t get over the bathroom, though. Why would Char deviate so much from her established styles and do something so mod and even deconstructionist? Would she even have known what deconstructionism was? Did Char even do the bathroom or had she passed on before it was finished? Was it finished by a partner or an assistant? Or the general contractor? I’d have to remember to ask Faraday at our next appointment. Damn, no more daylight savings time. It was 5 pm and already dark. I called down to the lobby.

“Security,” answered Joe. From the background noise, he was obviously watching the first of the season’s basketball games.

“Hey, Joe, it’s Lois on the fourth floor. Could you meet me in the lobby and walk me to my car?”

“Yeah, sure, Ms. Pushkin,” replied Joe. I’m sure that he was praying for commercials when I came down. I met him in the lobby and we took the stairs to the garage.

“You walk down here by yourself all the time, Ms. Pushkin. Is something wrong?” asked Joe. “Is someone harassing you?”

“Well, no, I just get bad vibes when there is no more daylight savings,” I confessed.

“Whatever,” answered Joe, shrugging his shoulders, “as long as you’re safe.”

“Thanks, Joe,” I replied. I only cringed slightly at his reply as I opened my car door. “I hope your basketball people win.”

Joe smiled sheepishly, “It’s a team, Ms. Pushkin and I’m not watching the game, really.”

I drove out onto Wilshire and waved to Joe that I was OK. Traffic was light for once and I made it home quickly. Kashmew met me at the door. I fed and watered him as he wrapped himself in a knot around my legs. I felt creative that evening and made myself a salad. I was famous for my salads among my friends. It was the only thing I couldn’t burn unless you count hard boiled eggs. I can burn water – genius, I know. I hated your typical definition of a salad so I made it a loose “sandwich in a bowl” adding bacon bits, sunflower seeds, lots of cheese, hardboiled eggs, meat or tuna, and sometimes, in the summers, fruits and berries. I poured my favorite dressing, Green Goddess from Joe’s, all over my masterpiece. One bite and I was sated and ready to work.

I had brought home my design materials for Faraday’s project and I laid them out on the ottoman coffee table. I studied the Polaroids and began sketching a mind’s-eye drawing of what I thought his bathroom oasis should be. The next day, I would go through my library of finishes and then peruse the showrooms for the rest. The ideas for the project were spontaneously flowing and I furiously sketched and noted and listed for several hours. I loved those moments. They made me feel like I really was a professional designer and that I actually knew what I was doing. Everyone feels like a fraud at their job sometimes, so it’s great when that idea is obliterated.

I turned my head quickly. Something in my periphery had changed. I became aware of a slow materialization of clothing at my slider. Taking in tennis shoes, jeans, a trench, and a shabby baseball cap, I found myself looking through the glass at a stranger. A transient? On my roof top? I stood up and locked eyes with him. I was in shock, unable to move even my fingers, feeling only my heart pounding out of my chest. Then the stranger began pantomiming through the glass, indicating that he was leaving? Or that I should open the door and just hand him my valuables? Or worse, give myself over to him. Did he have a gun?

That last thought made me mad. Heedless of the spine-tingling, spidey sense of danger, I stormed over to the slider, anger overriding any common sense. Furious and now slightly dizzy, I threw the sliding panel open, “Answer me, buttneck, how did you get up here?” I yelled into his face.

He backed off. “I’m sorry, I’m very sorry. I saw your place from the hills. You have a fire escape.” he paused, “And I just wanted to crash and watch TV awhile.”

“Jesus Christ!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, my adrenaline surging.

Shitdamnfuck! I composed what I could of myself and then stared at him more closely. He was young, dirty, and smelly. He was probably a runaway, maybe a hustler off Sunset. Thankfully, not a rapist. “Well, now you have to leave! Get the fuck out of here! This is private property and I will call the cops!”

He turned and took off quickly down the fire escape. I realized now I’d have to get some concertina wire for security. I turned, now physically shaking, and went back inside. After locking the slider, I checked it twice. I also left the patio lights on in case my “visitor” returned. Back in my living room, I tried to calm down and turn my attention to my work once again. I made myself some chamomile tea and went back to the couch. I sat cross-legged in a yoga position, trying to center my troubled and scared core. It was hopeless. I stared at all of my work I had done so far. I had been on such a tear! But inspiration was lost for the night. Thanks, buttneck. I ended up making a list of things I needed to do for the next day and people I needed to call. When I finished, I leaned back into the couch cushions. God, I was tired. Kashmew jumped up on the sofa and curled into my lap. I turned the inside TV on, but fell asleep only minutes later.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Out onto the busy streetscape, I retrieved my car from the valet. I headed for home on Crescent Heights in West Hollywood. A safe place for a gal. Nobody would harass you in that part of town. The gay men could barely stand to look at women there because we’re the ghastly competition. At least that’s how they made me feel. A friendly wave would be nice, guys.

Because my career as a self-employed interior designer can be sporadic and monetarily unpredictable, I’m very appreciative of my home. I lived in the penthouse of an old apartment building at the west end of Laurel Canyon left to me by my great aunt; the “crazy” aunt my mother always likened me to. The building had actually been left to my mother, but she couldn’t be bothered with dealing with “that LA”, so she gifted the whole property to me. According to her, if I was going to live in that god-forsaken city, I might as well have a decent place to live. My mother really does care.

My apartment was 2,000 square feet in an L-shape with two full-height, full-width window walls looking out on terrace gardens. The roof parapet was high enough that I could sunbathe naked if I so desired. The penthouse structure sat right smack dab in the middle of the building roof so I had patio on all four sides. Well, one patio was the pool that I now kept for myself. The penthouse had originally been built as a rec room/pool house for the original mucky-muck celebrity tenants use in the ‘20s. When I inherited the building, I didn’t want neighbors around me so I took over the rec room and remodeled it into my own private oasis with a California back drop of hills, sunsets, and the Hollywood sign. It all made me feel so glamorous.

The patio and pool area used to be open for use to all of the tenants, but I changed that when I received the building. I did not cherish the thought of old, wrinkled, half naked men peering into my windows looking to chat. I still had some of the original tenants living in the building. They regularly told me how much they missed the pool. Live with it.

So what was my deal? Why was I so concerned about money if I had a sweet deal like my apartment building? In West Hollywood, I should be able to get a pretty penny for all the units. I should have sniffed a rat when my mother gave me the “gift”. My aunt was crazy, really. In her will, she decreed that all original tenants who were still living at the time of her passing would maintain their residency as long as they desired at their current rent rates. She was an old softy. She didn’t charge anyone more than five hundred a month for their deluxe accommodations. Anyone who contested her will was considered deceased before her, so ineligible to inherit. What bastard thought that up? So, I basically inherited an albatross for now.

I felt like walking through the halls monthly, shouting “Bring out your dead.” With the upkeep of the building and the naïve, wide-eyed loans I had taken out for my remodel against the building, I was barely breaking even with the rents I was receiving each month. I danced for joy when a tenant moved out or “moved on”. Only then could I quadruple the rent. Damn medical science! Someday I would cash in. Someday. And then I could appreciate what my mother had given me.

I opened up the double glass entry doors and was greeted by the love of my life, “Hello Kashmew.” I reached down to pet a striped tabby with Margaret Keane painting eyes. “How’s my baby today? How’s about some din-din? I’m starved myself.”

Kash followed me into the kitchen and paced his bowls like guarded treasure. I filled them with kibble and water. Kashmew was very demanding and he liked his schedule. I’m secretly confidant that he has OCD. I had inherited Kash from a college roommate. She used to bring him to our design studio hall all of the time. Back in those days, you could still bring your dogs, your gnarly, sexy-ugly boyfriends, and even smoke in the studios. Then everyone went PC and that was the end of that era. I’m sure the hippies are cleaner and more organic now, with well adjusted and organized studio desks.

How I got him was a freak and almost fatal accident. My studio mate was out on the fourth floor balcony off of our studio space, smoking a cigarette, and her cat (now my cat, Kashmew) was out there, chasing bugs and eyeballing birds. I was spacing out on them, frustrated with my thesis. All of a sudden I was watching Kash balancing on a concrete windowsill off of the balcony deck, forty feet off the ground and up on a four- inch horizontal space! I bolted from my desk, ran out onto the balcony, lunged over the railing, and grabbed Kash by the scruff yanking, him back over to safety. His life had flashed before my eyes. I turned with him in my arms to find my studio mate staring at me, eyes as wide as Kash’s.

“Oh. My. God. He could’ve died! You saved his life!” she cried. Did I mention that she lived in a sorority? Then she did something that would change my life. “He’s yours now. He’s chosen you. It’s Chinese Philosophy or something.”

“I can’t take him. I can’t have pets,” I protested. I had a sweet apartment close to campus that I didn’t want to give up especially for a cat plus I was graduating in a month.

“You have to,” she said. “I can’t keep him now.”

So, Kash lived at the studio, inside only, ‘til I graduated. After graduation, I piled my stuff and Kashmew into the U-Haul and we left for Los Angeles. I think that had been his plan all along and I think my mom had put him up to it. She couldn’t guilt me about leaving home for school anymore, so she had to send me to a place where she could guilt me about my lifestyle plus living away from home.

Reaching into the fridge, I pulled out a pre-made salad from Joes and a Dopplebach. I kicked off my shoes and headed outside to my terrace. Putting my dinner on the TV tray next to the sofa, I searched the cushions for the remote. Yes, I also had a entire living room set-up on the patio complete with TV and a satellite dish. I’d found that it was warm enough in LA to watch TV outdoors year round, one of the perks of living in this blasted wacko city. It wasn’t really decadent, just doable. When it rains, I have an awning that automatically comes out to cover everything. That happens about as often as that harvest moon phenomenon.

Besides, Kash didn’t let me smoke in the house. Sometimes pigeons joined me and once a raccoon. That was weird. Golden eyes staring at me from the parapet, little, black, gloved hands holding cheese stolen off of my plate, nibbling away. Los Angeles’ weirdness was unique and it was one of the things I enjoyed about living here. It wasn’t weird in the way that there were a lot of freaks, weirdo’s, or crazy’s here. I think that was an LA myth perpetuated by tourists. The weirdness was that it was so different from where the majority of its inhabitants were from originally. Is any Angeleno native anymore? Only in LA could you watch TV outside year round, swim in a warm ocean in December, share your Sunday mornings with your local transient haggling over recyclables, and be among tons of people in the grocery store and you and the automated check out are the only ones that speak English as a first language.

I settled in, watched the news, and ate my dinner. Kashmew settled down at the opposite end of the couch, grooming himself and then eventually falling asleep. Soon he was making soft snorting sounds and kneading the pillows. The ghetto birds flew in a tizzy overhead searching for slow-speed police chases or cars burning on the 101 or 405. Once the news was over, they would all disappear until the 11 o’clock hour. I hoped to be snuggled in bed by then. I began to think about my Monday appointment and started to panic a little. Was I prepared? This was a huge step for me. A client with money. Was I stupid to think I had the balls to take on such high-profile client. Who was I? Was Jasmine too confident in me? Why had she recommended me? Maybe it was really a ‘nothing’ job like Lacey had circuitously suggested. God, what was I going to wear? Would he look at my shoes? I pulled strands of hair around to my face. Shit, I needed a haircut and style. I noticed the cuticles on my fingers. Fuck! Kicking off my shoes, I reviewed my toes and heels. Then, I hiked up my pant legs and sighed. What a forest. Oh, boy! I knew what I was doing that weekend. I reached over to the coffee table, picked up the phone and punched in Harshy’s number. We agreed to a day of beauty at the Beverly Center with dinner and drinks, of course.