Sunday, February 8, 2009

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.

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