I sat at that desk by the entrance to the office. Just me and the phone and a wasteland in between.
In front of me was a series of doors, all lined up. Inside each door was a narrow windowless room, each with a drafting table. That’s where the artists worked, the real people with real lives, older than me. In their twenties.
I had a boyfriend a few blocks away, a boyfriend who didn’t like other people much. I sort of wanted a home where people came and went easily, but he didn’t like people to show up, especially if they were my friends and not his. He doesn’t like my friends and the way he talks about them I don’t like them much either.
Like Jan, the blonde secretary whom I finally invite over, just for a little while, before we go out to eat somewhere.
Jeffrey doesn’t come out. He has told me in advance that he will pretend not to be there. He will stay in the bedroom so Jan and I hang out for awhile in the living room with its lime-green-and-white shag carpeting and the two bubbling fish tanks and the brown Salvation Army couch.
Jeffrey and I have lived here for a couple of years. Los Angeles. West Hollywood. A place where there are palm trees and the supermarket stays open 24 hours a day. Los Angeles. California.
I drive an orange-and-white Pinto that Kerry gave me. Kerry is beautiful, older, sophisticated. The set of keys she gave me has a plastic fried egg attached that has a perfumey smell to it.
I drive Kathy to work every morning. She lives a few cottages down in this shady line of cottages. She lives with Stanley who is black, while Kathy is blue-eyed and blonde. Kathy smokes. There are little lines around her eyes. She wears a nurse’s white uniform to work and their living room is filled with adult furniture.
Stanley and Jeffrey hang out during the day. Stanley is an actor and Jeffrey writes screenplays, sometimes, sitting at the heavy wooden desk in our bedroom at the beautiful self-correcting typewriter that I never in a million years could afford.
Jeffrey drives an old four-door Mercedes. That’s the kind of thing that would never happen to me. His Uncle Elliott passed it on to him. We drove that car cross-country. Jeffrey made tapes for the trip. He bought two special tape-carrying cases to store them in for the trip. He cuts out from construction paper a cover for each tape – red for fast tapes, purple for sleep tapes, the ones he plays to fall asleep to, blue for tapes of slow songs.
And he types up the song titles onto the construction-paper label. And he gives each tape a title as if it were a book or a record. Sometimes he uses words I don’t know.
And before the cross-country trip his sister rolled us dozens of joins because Jeffrey and I have never learned to roll. We always use a pipe, like the pipe Jeffrey bought as we passed through San Francisco, ceramic, long and blue, shaped like a wizard with a beard. That’s the pipe that sits always now on the vinyl-topped coffee table in the West Hollywood cottage along with the ashtray, round, large, painted in earth tones from a trip Jeffrey went on in high school to Morocco.
After I got back from dinner with Jan Jeffrey was on the couch, watching TV. “She was so stupid,” he said. “Why would you want to spend time with someone so dumb?”
And I know what he means. There isn’t much to Jan, but in the office somehow we are friendly, something sets her apart, I’m not sure what it is, but I can’t pit her against Jeffrey’s friends from college and high school all of whom he thinks are so great.
I have a shelf in the cottage, one of the built-in bookshelves. I put there a mirror I bought in the Salvation Army that day when we got the couch. It’s an old-fashioned hand-held mirror with a stem and curlicue initials on the back. There’s something sweet and pretty about it, like I can imagine being a woman wrapped in a satin dressing gown sitting in the morning, taking the pins from her long hair. I don’t tell Jeffrey why I get the mirror. I don’t know why I want it. I just sense that we have something in common, me and the mirror.
I hate the sticky yellow linoleum in the kitchen from the oil in the electric deep fryer. I hate the freezer splashed with dried brown liquid from when Jeffrey’s coke exploded. I hate the tiny fish tank on the shelf, never cleaned, where some mushroom-like creature seems not to die.