Ellen always wore her makeup slightly too bright, too happy and positive in color and emphasis, so that all it seemed to emphasize was how deeply she hated herself. At parties, she would run up and ask how I was doing, and if I said anything was going well—work, or love, or life at all—I could practically see her take the words as they exited my mouth and from them fashion an elaborate wooden stick with which to flog herself if all was not going equally well for her on that day.
“I’m so glad for you!” she’d say, even at my most modulated statement of anything good. Her smile, too big, too toothy, stayed on her lips just a little longer than made sense, an over-effort that likely came from not remembering how long a real smile is supposed to last. I know this because my own mouth does the same thing.
Like at this party, in the Hollywood Hills, at a 1950s two-story modified ranch house with a pool built on the edge of a cliff, where she bounced up to me in an emerald-green scarf matching a glint of green eyeshadow. We were both there to celebrate an actor acquaintance-friend’s role in a pilot for a TV series that would air the following week.
“Hey!” she said. “How are you? How’s the new guy? How’s work?”
Fine, I told her, though the guy had ended. Still, I’d had an okay week. A local corporation named me junior high school counselor-of-the-month and gave me a ceremony and a plaque and a small stipend, enough for a new pair of earrings and a blender.
“You are so good!” she said, adjusting her scarf evenly on her shoulders. “You’re walking the walk. They’re so lucky to have you.”
“It’s no big deal,” I said. “They’re required to give it, for tax reasons.”
“It’s amazing,” she said. “Oh, by the way,” she lowered her voice. “I saw Bob.”
Bob was a mutual friend whom I had dated for a few months; he had an idea about me that had very little to do with actual me and it had annoyed me so I’d stopped seeing him. The idea about me was flattering, but it was a torch made of synthetic materials. It meant that every time Ellen saw Bob, he was going on and on about how much he missed me, how great I was, even though we’d never really connected, and when we had gone to dinner and I’d talked about the junior high school troubles I heard, the meannesses, the hiding in the bathroom, and all the new learning disabilities, he got fuzzy-eyed and stopped listening and said how my earrings matched my eyes exactly.
“But my eyes aren’t silver,” I’d told him once.
“The spirit of your eyes,” he’d said, because he was a fast thinker.
Still, all it did was add lengths and branches to Ellen’s flogging stick. “He still loves you,” she said, winking.
“He never loved me,” I said. I started staring at the bar, like an actor who has figured out what she wants in the next scene.
“Well, he acts like a guy who loved you,” she said.
Upon my suggestion, we walked to the bar for refills on wine and I found myself giving Ellen emphatic advice on her quest to buy a new car, a subject I knew very little about. Her eyes widened, taking in every word.
“Yuck,” I said, as I drank the wine; she sipped hers carefully. “Is it bad?” she asked, blinking. “I know absolutely nothing about wine.” “No,” I said, “it’s very good,” and I went to stand at the edge of the hill, looking out on rooftops of curved Spanish tile below us, at the faint purple-blue-gray tinge of the scraggly shrubs and chaparral, spring beginning in Southern California.
Behind us, the party was filling—guests poured in, hugging, beaming—TV producers, actors, a few magazine editors, one motorcycle aficionado. The homeowners were producers of another show and had offered to host because they could, and because that was part of the internal guilt bargain they made when they bought the house.
We were all the same age, but I lived in a dingy apartment with a brown sofa and a leak. Even the bartender and caterers here had shining, truly silvery eyes, all polished up by the hope of being discovered, and I caught a glimpse of an attractive older woman in the back of the kitchen, carrying out a trash bag of paper plates, wearing what looked like a rhinestone-studded silk apron. I had been invited only because I knew the pilot’s star from childhood and his wife thought it might be helpful to have a sprinkling of non-industry types at the party, for texture. “We all love your social-work stories,” she said when she made the call. “We’d love to see you.”
A Thai Love Scene
Apr 1, 01:26 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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