from The Art Lovers
too, but especially
So many people in L.A. seem to get what they want. Is this how they
start? By assuming it’s already theirs?
Picture your own
and drive toward it. Hey,
that’s not bad: toward the idea of your own
driving, albeit around and around the same block. Don’t be scared.
What’s the worst that can happen? She says no—again. But this time
you’re bringing something special to the table. Something guaranteed to
set you apart.
There’s a parking spot next
to that bright red Ferrari. He’s a little over the line, so you have to
squeeze in slowly. Slowly. Ferraris back in Minnesota, should they even
exist, don’t park in front of strip-malls. You ogle the muscular car,
empty and topless, keys dangling from its ignition. Who forgets their
keys in a quarter-million dollar car? How loaded must someone be to
afford such carelessness?
Don’t lose focus. Visualize
Keep up the
Damn, he’s taking up
even more of your space than you reckoned, Mr. Ferrari is; there’s
barely room to open your door and climb out. Why can’t everyone color
within the lines?
On the sidewalk now,
breathing the balmy November air, you lock your new car, remotely,
magically—electronic chirp, sweet as birdsong. True, your initial plan
to buy a Civic would have been more prudent, but the salesman pointed
out, quite forcefully, here in L.A. everybody leases. “With the Acura,
you’re getting more for less,” he argued. “And the ladies can’t help but
Sure, technically the car
isn’t “yours,” but you’ll gladly take any mating advantage you can get
in this new land. With the electronic key fob, you relock the doors one
more time before striding with great purpose into Prestige Frame.
A high-school kid in a
cashmere hoodie leans against the customer side of the counter, watching
a dance-crew competition on his iPhone, amusing himself for however long
it will take to get served.
Where’s Claudia? Very
easily this whole plan could fall apart. You just assumed she’d be here,
but now what? Leave and call ahead first? No, no, get a grip and
visualize her. Visualize the lank brown hair, side-parted and prone to
dip across her eyes. Visualize the Gallic nose, slightly out of true and
possibly, at some bygone point in time, broken.
And like magic, within
seconds, she appears. How about that! Or, more accurately, you appear.
The large mirror she’s hefting replaces any view of her with a beveled
reflection of your own hope-racked face. All you can see of Claudia are
her hands: short-nailed, paintless, and semi-sheathed in a pair of
woolen, fingerless gloves.
Now the kid takes hold of
his frame on either side, allowing Claudia—it is Claudia—to step back,
and here’s the face you visualized, the face you often picture in the
defiant hours before sleep. Her eyebrows lush and animate, they rank
among her most expressive features. Other women might have them thinned
and shaped, but she seems to feel no need. Seeing you now, she tenses
her semi-naked fingers into a subtle wave of recognition. Very rascally,
those sawed-off gloves. Hand lingerie, but functional, too, for grasping
panes of glass.
“Fantastic,” says the kid,
gazing at the mirror in its ornately chiseled frame. He’s got long dark
lashes, which he bats at himself.
“Shall I wrap ’er up?” asks
Claudia, in the husky voice that sounds as though she’s always getting
over a cold.
“Not yet.” He continues to
admire his reflection. Could be a college freshman. Sophomore tops. A
good-looking guy, jut-jawed with cinematic teeth, and taller than you,
so you’re pleased Claudia’s all business, offering none of the personal
attention she showed you several weeks earlier.
Quietly you browse the
frame corners hung across the wall like rows of boomerangs and find the
one she proposed back then for your magazine clipping. Your first
professional byline. Actually, a byline would have been nice—a byline
would have been great!—but still: your first professional clip. Just a
small thing, a single column on the “Cufflink Renaissance.” How odd it
seemed she should hand you this baroque, goldleaf sample priced at $80 a
linear foot. She studied you, waiting for your reaction, with a
penetrating gaze that poked your heart. No girl ever looked at you with
Can she truly want
me to pick this extravagant frame?
you wondered. But when you
insisted on a narrow black border, nearly Amish in its simplicity, she
seemed to nod with approval. So maybe it was just a test. A cunning test
of your vanity. Which apparently you passed, so why won’t she go out
“Can I wrap this now?” she
asks again, ringing up her customer’s balance.
“Not yet.” Propping his
purchase on the counter with one hand, he fishes some cash out of his
pocket, hundred-dollar bills, judging from their fewness, and what looks
to be a pair of tickets. “This Saturday,” he says. “No Doubt reunion
concert. Floor seats. Tenth row. I’m taking you.”
Claudia laughs, but gently.
She’s not rude. “I can’t. But thank you. I’m flattered.”
“That’s my ride.” He points
out the front window. “The same car Vin Diesel drove in
Got his fingerprints on it still. My dad exec’d.”
He’s obviously too young
for her. Then again, maybe she thinks the same of you. She’s probably in
her late twenties, closer to your brother’s age. And does “exec’d” mean
produced? There’s a whole regional lingo you need to learn if you’re
going to succeed out here.
“It’s beautiful,” Claudia
says of the car, barely glancing at it. “But I can’t.”
“You’re beautiful,” he
says. “You can.”
Why couldn’t you have
driven here faster? The dating pool is so competitive, more even than
“Sorry.” She sets his
receipt and change on the counter. “I’m not available.”
Ignoring the money, he
points to her wooly knuckles. “I don’t see any ring.”
“No,” she admits.
“You with anyone? Like,
“Not exactly.” She frowns
with a consternation that seems directed less at him than aimed inward,
as though she’s trying to resolve some issue in her own mind. Most
striking about all this: her reluctance to lie. She could make life a
lot easier for herself if she’d simply invent some excuse but, for
whatever reason, that doesn’t seem to be her way.
“Then what the hell, girl?”
“I’m just not available.
Spiritually.” Admitting this, she sounds slightly embarrassed, and you
can’t help but wonder if some of the effort she’s put in to this nuanced
explanation is for your benefit.
“How ’bout I just take your
This gets a bleak laugh out
of her, and you envy the macho cleverness of his line. Then again, you
don’t want just her body. Whatever she means by her “spirit” you want as
“How ’bout I wrap that
mirror,” she responds, “so you can be on your way.”
He sighs, feigning
heartbreak, then abruptly grabs her wrist.
“C’mon,” he urges. “Don’t
be like that.”
His tightens his grip,
making her lean across the counter. And though her face betrays no
concern, you start to feel it for her.
“You’re going to have to
let me go now,” she says calmly.
“Excuse me,” you hear
yourself call out from the far side of the shop. Louder than you meant.
Glancing toward you, his presence looms closer, though his feet haven’t
He may be even taller than
you first registered. Heavier, too. Stronger all around and possibly
meaner. At least he’s unhanded Claudia. Now what?
“Is that your Ferrari?”
“So?” he demands.
“The keys are in the
ignition.” What’s that rattling under your ribs? It feels like you’re
driving over a rocky road.
“So?” he asks again. This
time he can’t help squinting past the window toward the sunny parking
“Just that there’s a guy, I
noticed. Suspicious-looking. Checking it out.”
“Yes.” You just want to
give him a face-saving way to leave.
His lip curls. “Mind your
own business, asshole.”
“I’m just saying. If that
car were mine, I’d go make sure it was okay.”
He scoots the large mirror,
still unwrapped, closer to the counter’s edge. It’s perched at such an
angle that you happen once again to see yourself reflected, and now,
it’s fair to say, you look a little queasy.
“Don’t do anything stupid,”
“Shut up,” says the guy,
even though you think she might have been talking to you. That he
assumed otherwise suggests he probably does have something stupid in the
works. On a scale of one to ten, how consoling would he find it to hoist
that leaded glass and smash it over your head? “And I’m not stupid,” he
finds it necessary to declare.
“We’re not saying that,”
you assure him, though something—possibly that incongruous
him squint with contempt. Cornered by his own injured pride, he looks
anxious now to inflict some serious damage. He shifts his grip on his
mirror, and you think maybe he does plan to weaponize it. But instead of
hoisting the thing, he simply lets it go.
For a second, it stands
upright, then barely leans forward. Suddenly you feel trapped in a dream
about falling, but since you’re already awake, there’s nothing to stop
the whole deal from toppling toward the ground. Just before it hits,
Claudia crouches behind the counter. The bang, when it comes, scares the
daylights out of you. In the time it takes to blink, angles of shattered
glass have made themselves at home across much of the floor. One rests
against your shoe, even though you’re at least five yards from ground
zero. Could any of these shards be used as a knife, if you absolutely
Flashing a grin, your rival
seems happy to have made you flinch.
“Fine then, I’m calling the
cops.” Reaching for the wall phone, Claudia yanks it from its cradle.
It’s an old model, with a tangled yellow cord about ten feet long.
“Better hope they’re
‘available.’” Grabbing his concert tickets, but content to leave his
change behind, he strides out the door with a terse, “Later.”
In no time he’s fired up
his rocket ship. Claudia continues to grip the phone, even though she
doesn’t seem connected to anyone. You’re not even sure the old thing
Only after he’s screeched
out of the parking lot and disappeared down the street does she hang up.
Glaring at the money and
receipt as though they’re part of the damage, she demands, “Was there
really a suspicious character checking out his car?”
“That depends.” Your pulse
is still revved.
You wipe the sweat from
your brow. “How suspicious I look to you?”
She leans both elbows on
the counter and rests her head in her hands. Her face hidden, it’s
impossible to guess what she’s thinking, though that subtle slouch to
her spine suggests the incident has not left her unscathed. Does she
“I’m really sorry about all
the mess.” You offer to sweep up.
“No, that’s my job,” she
says, though she remains propped against the counter, still talking into
her hands. “Thanks, I guess, for trying to help.”
“I wish it had played out a
“Could have gone a lot
worse.” She straightens up and asks, “What’s this visit about, amigo?”
Too bad your timing has
turned out to be so miserable. “Maybe I should stop by later.”
“Just out with it already,”
she says. “Please.”
“Okay then.” As you step
forward, unable to avoid crunching the carpet of glass, your heart
pounds even harder than it did at the prospect of getting your skull
“I’m also here about
Unfolding your date bait,
you hand it over and search for any glimmer of interest. Not like last
time, you pray, when you couldn’t remotely tempt her to that opera about
the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Or the time before, when a
socialite’s book party inspired only a brief, mysterious chuckle. Or
that time you managed to score the magazine’s Laker tickets—within
spitting distance of Jack Nicholson—which earned you points for
persistence but still no date. A Putney Museum gala, however, seems
Classy, like her. And she
used to work there, she mentioned, so you figure the place might still
hold some interest ….
She squints at the elegant
invitation. “How’d you get this?”
“My boss gave me his,” you
admit. “I may have to report on it, for
She sounds skeptical. “Climb
as in stairs?”
The magazine I work for.”
“Ah. So, you don’t just
write about cufflinks and cummerbunds.” That trace of sarcasm sounds
like she blames you a little after all.
“I’ve done real
journalism,” you tell her, “in college.” If she won’t go out with you,
at least she should know you’re not a joke. What a shame that tiny
cufflinks piece formed the basis of her first impression, because you’re
not that frivolous; in fact, you’re very serious. You mention
“Hockey-gate,” the scandalous collusion you uncovered between your
school’s Registrar and athletics department, a story that got picked up
by two wire services and
The Daily Beast.
“I’m hoping to gear toward public-affairs reporting, issues pieces.
Meaningful, long-form journalism. There’s such a need for better
environmental coverage out here,” you propose, just as a for instance.
“And I want to do something on rising homelessness. And stalled
immigration reform. Also port security.” Okay, now you’re just listing
any important topic that comes to mind, but even if you haven’t yet
found a way to raise these ideas at work, saying them out loud to
Claudia stokes your resolve to make it happen. “And I know L.A. might be
about the worst place to expand print journalism right now, and
mostly into lifestyle fluff. But I’m hoping to sneak in
a serious piece now and then. Gradually effect some good. That’s my plan. Get under
their skin without them realizing it.”
During your soliloquy,
Claudia’s studies the creamy page as though it’s an artifact of great
personal significance. So enthralled is she that watching her feels
almost like spying. When she registers you’ve stopped talking, she looks
up from the invitation and blinks, then smoothes the paper on the
countertop between you.
Gradually her expression
warms into a smile. “It’s been almost two months since you moved here,
right? Haven’t you found a girlfriend yet?”
Whether it’s the tenderness
in her voice or the adrenaline racing through your body, you take heart
in that remark. At least she can picture you with a girlfriend. But the
hopefulness of the moment is short-lived.
“If I go to this thing,”
she says, “will you promise not to think of it as a date? It’s a work
night, you said.”
Her bargain catches you
off-guard. Refusal you were prepared for, but not compromise. Somehow
compromise seems worse. Possibly dangerous. You glance down at the
floor, only to find fragments of yourself shining back.
“Sort of,” you allow,
groping toward an answer. “It’s
a work night.” After all,
you start to think, why squander what could be your only chance to woo
her? Maybe she’ll come to view the evening as a date in hindsight, you
hope, unaware at this relatively calm moment in life how little profit
hindsight holds in your account. “I guess we can call it a work night.”
She pauses to scoop up the
kid’s left-behind cash. After counting it out—a little more than sixty
dollars—she balls it up as though considering her pocket, then stuffs it
into the register.
“All right then.” She wipes
her hands on her jeans. “In that case, I consent.”
Her terms having been met,
she scribbles an address on the back of the invitation and hands it
over, then smiles once more and fixes you with that penetrating gaze of
hers. It’s a drug, this look, and
you’ve been craving another dose ever since you first experienced it.
This look that feels like a touch.
“I may even prove of some
use,” she adds. “After all, I know a thing or two about that creepy