Thursday, September 30, 2010

THE DREAM MAN

It looked like all my dreams would come true in a matter of weeks. I would have a house on the beach, a square jawed blonde haired genius husband, and two toe-headed kids. My husband-to-be’s mental issues aside, everything was falling into place.

He told me to get in touch with a realtor in Neponsit, an upscale beach community on the Irish Riviera, otherwise known as Rockaway Beach - a charming enclave with little houses and perfect manicured lawns just a stone's throw from the ocean.

He and I had been playing house a couple of nights a week in my apartment in Brooklyn. He would drive his Mustang convertible home from his job at a local college where he was a department head and celebrated professor. Matt Damon looks, gym hard body, shock jock sense of humor, and Mensa IQ – his violent sleep patterns had become less problematic since I started sleeping on the sofa. The sleep walking paranoid rants didn’t seem to manifest when he was left alone for his solid 5 hours of 40 winks. We had a good thing going, dinners together, chats about current events, pleasant strolls around the neighborhood, he would get up around 5 and tell me that he loved me and it was off to run 5 miles, do laps, and power lift before he had to show up to run a department around 8AM, the day fueled on a steady diet of Big Gulp Diet Cokes from 7/11.

Other than my personal safety being compromised by the genius’s harrowing sleep episodes where he would dream that he was under violent attack, that and the waking bouts of uncontrollable anger (carefully managed by him - storming out of my apartment only to return the next day shiny and new) - there was the nagging question, where was my beloved boyfriend every weekend?

At the beginning, he would paint beautiful pictures of the weekend we would have, beers and burgers on my deck, going to the beach, touring the city’s museums, but then without warning he'd go MIA until Monday morning when he would call me from his desk and change the subject when I'd inquire about the lost two days. When pressed he would say that he was teaching weekends at a school up in Connecticut, or babysitting his sister’s kids, surely I understood that these were priorities, real adults have responsibilities with more to do than take a no-limit credit card to the mall on Saturdays.

A few weeks later he casually mentioned the kids were his – “their mother” lived somewhere out in Connecticut, and he was planning on vying for sole custody, he claimed she was “unfit” - and that’s where the idyllic beach house came in, and me, of course, the suitable step mom figure. All I had to do was call the realtor, apply for a loan together, maybe make a family court appearance or two, marry him if it made things look better in front of the judge - he would take care of the rest.

The plan was questionable - my happy ending placed before me like a birthday cake with red flags flying where the candles should be. Still, I would be fast-tracking to the American Dream that my friends were living, the ones that had gotten married in their twenties and had kids by the time I was writing my first ad on Madison Ave. My future husband certainly wouldn’t be as safe and predictable as theirs, but who wanted that - besides my betrothed was a gay porn wet dream, his chiseled features, rock hard bubble butt had a firm hold on me, I wasted no time calling the realtor in the morning.

The houses were surprisingly affordable; my dream beach house was just a pre-approval away. I only needed to supply both our social security numbers to get pre-qualified from the bank; the realtor wanted to make sure we meant business before she started showing us houses in this exclusive beachfront zip code.

All I had to do was get those 9 numbers from my boyfriend, numbers I would have to pry from him with kid gloves. Inquiries beyond “Flavor Blast? Or Cool Ranch Doritos?” were always met with an unsavory response. As anticipated, the request turned the pleasant evening on its ear - sending him stomping to fetch his gym clothes from the dryer, snatching the key to the Mustang and on out the door with a slam – his grand exit compromised when he came back through the door again seconds later only to grab a couple cans of Diet Coke before heading out for exit deux.

It seemed like a good time to cut ties at this juncture; a decision timed perfectly as he never called me again. But months later, one Monday morning around the time the school session resumed after Spring break the phone rang. “Hey babe,” he sing-songed and chit-chatted as though nothing had transpired. “See you tonight around 7,” he said sweetly, “We can go for Veal Parmesan.” That was always our traditional meal: Veal Parm, Law & Order, cuddling, followed by sleep walking murder re-enactments for dessert.

“I don’t know, Jake,” the backslide to his perfect buns had begun, “What's with all the dodgy behavior?” We had to venture beyond the Doritos Q & A if things were going to work.

“You know what your problem is,” I could hear the rage escalating to a solid seven, surely after a three Diet Coke breakfast. “You ask too many questions, we could have had a very nice life together, but you threw it all away. Just remember when you look back, we had it ALL but YOU - THREW IT ALL AWAY.” He slammed down the phone in the unique way he had, the receiver never went clean into the cradle, you heard a violent fumble of plastic on plastic before the receiver actually found it’s final resting place. It always made me smile.

Had I thrown it all away, he gave me too much credit - I wasn’t sure it was the case. He left me no choice from practically day one - yet I kept buzzing him back upstairs. There at the ready with a steady supply of Doritos, Diet Coke, and the cloying fear that mentally disturbed geniuses with gay porn physiques don’t come along every day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

ONE NIGHT IN BROOKLYN

I was nursing my Cosmopolitan, the bartender got it right, I thanked the gentleman who bought it for me, the Dominican who was rumored to have shot a guy in front of my apartment building a few days before.

It was a hot Summer’s evening, I had been grilling steak out on the terrace, and went back inside to cool off in the AC when I heard a startling Pop! Pop!! Those kids with those fireworks, I thought, I went outside like Gladys Krafitz to see who the culprits were. A guy from my building was wrenching his neck over the railing of the roof deck of our building, he said someone had been shot right there down on the sidewalk, smack dab in front of our building.

Sure enough, the ambulance came and whisked off the kid who was lying on the sidewalk, his Model’s t-shirt soaking up a good amount of the pint or two of blood that was escaping from his stunned body. He wasn’t dead just frozen in motion from the stun, someone had pulled up in a black SUV got out and shot him point blank – in the leg.

The cops arrived shortly thereafter and started taping off the crime scene, I had seen this on TV like everyone else, even about 10 blocks from where I lived, but never right in front of my house. It seemed like such a nice neighborhood, 2200 dollar 1 bedroom rentals, places to buy breakfast burritos and overpriced cupcakes; the next day I heard that it was a squabble over a large amount of cocaine, like a pound of it. The story went that Hefty Bags full of cocaine were moving in and out of a brownstone down the way, usually around 4 AM when no one was watching, but the old-school Italians didn’t miss much of anything, some of them in their 80’s now were finding it hard to sleep and would keep a watchful eye out from their windows, and word gets around, even to those of us who were “ruining” the neighborhood.

The detectives spent an hour or so talking to everyone in the surrounding buildings, people reported on the SUV, the rotund shaved head 30 something getting out of the car, a brief exchange of words between he and the boy in the white t-shirt, and then the two shots, seemed there was something to go on, but I never heard another word about the crime being solved, except some local intel from the guy who owned the flower shop up the street. He said word had it- it was this guy in the ‘hood I knew since he was a kid. He was this fat kid who was a real nuisance when he was younger, heckling me from across the street, arriving home by police car more often than not, but that was a long time ago, he seemed like he had turned the page, he would greet me with a “hi, Miss – how you doin’ today,” and tip his baseball cap that he never even wore backwards. It sure beat being called a whooore, which was his term of endearment for all us gals back in the day, he had really cleaned up his act. But according to my neighbor, he had got into a squabble with a guy he had fronted a pound of coke to, who also happened to be his first cousin, and had shot him not once but twice - taking careful aim in a non-life threatening area to encourage his cousin to make good on his end of the deal.

Seemed the guy at the Flower Shop had identified a solid suspect, as did most of the guys in the social clubs on Henry Street, the detectives had come up empty handed, and had seemingly moved on to other things. A friend of mine who used to head a crime unit said the detectives probably had the same info that had reached the streets, but tended to let low life characters work out their own business, particularly if the parties were "friends" that wouldn't offer up anything in the way of evidence, and only if none of the local yuppies got hit in the crossfire. The laws of the street trumped everything, and life went on. The boy who was shot was released from the hospital a day later, there was no more talk on the streets, the men at the social clubs had other more pressing business to attend to.

A couple of weeks later I decided to drop into my local bar for a beer or two, it was Friday night and the guy I was seeing was probably out with friends from work, or some woman who didn’t yet know about his formidable commitment issues. “Miss,” someone placed a hand on my shoulder, it was the Dominican fellow rumored to be the shooter, he offered a warm smile, “Please, let me buy you a drink,” he slipped into the open seat next to me at the old oak bar. He waved his posse over towards me, a huge guy with a shaved head and what appeared to be prison quality tats across his neck and arms, and his beautiful girlfriend who I imagined would be what you would encounter your first night in jail if you ever got caught doing something stupid. My old friend from across the street made the introductions, the bald guy extended his hand politely, the girl stared straight ahead as though she hadn’t heard. My neighbor and I had exchanged names, I had gone by “Whooore” so many years ago, he now wanted to know my name, he said he always liked me and just had his heart broken – he was looking for the real thing, tired of being a player, his bad boy days long behind him, I could think about it, but maybe he could be my boyfriend, he would treat me nice. The other two were now seated on the other side of my suitor, she was making it clear she and the bald man were an item by rubbing his half hard on through his Phat Farm jeans. Suddenly, the tat-necked bald friend got a call and went outside, my date said, “Will you kindly excuse me, Dear,” and followed his buddy out into the street. Now it was just me and my potential cellmate there at the bar, I thought it polite to break the ice. I noticed she was wearing a diamond watch I had spied at Bloomingdales, it was covering part of the muddied black ink that covered her hand and forearm. “Hey, I love your watch, that’s the “Diamond Deco”, right? – I was thinking about getting one.” She turned in her chair, “SO??.”, I assumed we were not destined to be besties, I returned to my drink and shut the fuck up. Our “dates” returned to our sides after deliberating outside, the night was still young, I feared. “Hey, I’m going to excuse myself at this juncture, I have to be at work early,” I realized tomorrow was Saturday, but quickly realized safe to say this crowd never had a 9-5 so my lie would not be detected. Everyone said goodbye, except for the girl who shot me an “I’ll cut you bitch” look before returning to her cold stare to nowhere. “Think about what I told you, I’d like to take you out for steak and shrimp, anyplace you want,” my Dominican neighbor said, he had been practicing dropping his Brooklyn accent for a few weeks, it seemed – he almost sounded like he read books, or The Times, or watched PBS after meeting guys with black brief cases right outside Kennedy. “Oh, I’ve got a boyfriend,” I said, referring to my commitment-phobe on again off again - who was probably out romancing a 24 year old, “it was very nice meeting you guys,” I thanked the alleged drug kingpin/possible shooter from across the way for my Cosmo; I was always sure to mind my manners, particularly in instances like these.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR AND THE CRACKED DOOR

Sal was one of those advertising creative directors they had back in the day. He was a real working class kind of guy, if you met him on the street you wouldn’t be able to tell if he made pizzas, worked for the Department of Sanitation, or was a big New York Creative director at an ad agency, which is what he was. And he was a good one, too. He had a great creative sense, a love for the business, and a gregarious, jovial personality that made him a favorite of clients. He taught classes two nights a week down at The School of Visual Arts and was great to work for, particularly if you were kind of green in the business. He knew how to critique work and articulate why it was good, or why it wasn’t, and he always made sure to build you up so you’d want to do better the next time.

My partner, Brandy and I where always jazzed when we got an assignment with Sal. He loved good work, and saw something special in us, although we were practically just starting out. We would often shoot the breeze with him for 20 minutes or so after showing him storyboards of TV commercials we would dream up, he was always fun to be around. Respectful of us girls, generous with praise, he was like Santa Claus if he had a Brooklyn accent, a black beard, and wore 50/50 blend busting-at-the-seams shirts in lieu of the red and white suit.

He had a wife and a couple of kids that he kept photos of in Lucite frames on a sideboard where he also kept some of his awards that he’d won over the years at the agency. Besides teaching, we heard he had a modeling agency on the side, he had this friend, Lenny, who was his partner in the business. Lenny was a hack photographer, Sal would “call in a favor” and get Lenny to shoot product shots for clients that had limited financial resources. Lenny lacked any subtleties when it came to still photography, shooting cans of shaving cream on overly glossy black plastic with God rays behind it, but the clients couldn’t seem to tell the difference between he and the top dollar guys who had lofts on 23rd street and did deodorant shoots to support their art gallery level work which never paid the bills.

Sal was the brains of the modeling agency, we heard he scouted the talent, and Lenny was ready with his bag of tricks, a couple of SLRs, a range of lenses, and various back drop scenes like tropical islands or posh 5th Avenue apartments.

Brandy and I were moving to offices across the hall from Sal, we were his star team, and worked closely with him on a toy account. We were told the inside offices were an upgrade, which you could tell by counting the numbers of ceiling tiles that made up your space. If you counted and increase of 4 or more tiles, you were on the fast track. If you counted less tiles, it was time to look for a job. Between the two of us, we had an increase of 10 tiles so were figured we were on fire, and we partly had Sal to thank for that.

With Sal just across the hall, we started to notice a lot of activity between the hours of 12 and 3 in the afternoons. There was a steady stream of pretty girls, “pretty” in a cheap way you could say, but thin with long hair, and if they wore less make up and shopped less at the big discount stores next to Grand Central Station and maybe invested in facials to offset the breakouts from the dime store makeup – they might really have something. Scuttlebutt had it that Sal and Lenny’s Modeling Agency had no actual storefront, and no actual name, the bricks and mortar of it was Sal’s office that faced the 40th side of the agency. Girls would come and go between 12 and 3, and sometimes later, Lenny was usually there to help with the talent. The girl, usually in the 15-16 year-old age range would walk in, we’d hear Sal tell them to close the door behind them, then around 3 the activity would cease. After wrestling with the temperamental metal Venetian blinds behind his desk, the afternoon sun would flood in and Sal would ask us to wait while he ran to bring back a sandwich from the corner Italian deli. Brandy and I would wait patiently, we were always excited to show him work, we loved our jobs, the account we were on. If everything went right we would be on a plane to L.A. to shoot our first TV commercial.

As time went on we noticed that Sal was becoming less and less available to us, his modeling agency hours were taking up most of the afternoon, sometimes up until 5, at which point Sal’s portly wife and equally well-fed kids would come to visit after taking in a movie or a show – the four of them leaving together to grab the train out to Long Island.

One afternoon we had a big client meeting the next day, and hadn’t been able to get any time with Sal, he had postponed twice with us already, it was nerve wracking – if the creative director didn’t like the ideas you put in front of them you’d be back to square one and have to start from scratch. At this point we had less than 24 hours before we had to get on a train to our clients, and Sal was already 20 minutes late for our 3 o’clock. His door was closed, we had seen a young girl go in there with a portfolio around 2:15, per usual, Sal had asked her to close the door. Soon, it was 3:45, if we didn’t get in there soon we were surely in for an all-nighter with even the simplest revisions. We listened at the door, no voices could be heard, just a quiet sound, “ka-poo. ka-poo, ka-poo.” White flashes of light were coming from the space under the door - it was now 4 o’clock. After making sure nobody was coming down the corridor, Brandy got down on her hands and knees with her face pressed against the carpet to get a visual. “Oh My Fucking God, Claud,” she got up, dusting off her seersucker squirts. “There are two BARE FEET - right there,” she said pointing down towards the bottom of the door.

“This is fucking baaad,” she said, gaining momentum, “I’m goin’ in,” I shrugged an OK, I was glad that she was the one volunteering to bust Sal in the middle of his “meeting’.

BANG BANG BANG, Brandy pounded on the door. It was silent. The ka-poo’s went silent, we heard some scurrying, the flashing light under the door went dark. BANG BANG BANG, Brandy wasn’t relenting. Sal opened the door a crack, he appeared to be alone there with Larry who was awkwardly leaning against the air conditioning unit trying to appear nonchalant. “What is going on, Sal – we have a meeting tomorrow,” she pushed against the door - which was a formidable opponent wedged against Sal’s rock hard belly. And then we saw it through the cracked open door, it was there on Sal’s sofa, a small flesh colored bra, dingy and well-worn but neatly folded on the arm of the agency-issued love seat. We didn’t see a third party anywhere, just Sal’s sweaty face through the door crack, and his photographer/accomplis who now appeared to be seeking creative inspiration by leafing through an awards book annual. The bare naked feet and the young girl attached to them were apparently hiding in the corner, there behind Sal’s half cracked open door.

“This is fucked,” Brandy said as we backed into her office to discuss next steps. “I don’t know about you, but this is unacceptable,” she was going to march straight up to the creative director’s office, a woman who practically invented girl-power – she was just about the only female in the place at that level, and she ruled the roost. I, of course followed in Brandy’s huff although I could have just gone shopping instead - but we were a team, after all. I didn’t want to steal her thunder, the bare feet, the bra, and the BANG BANG BANG – she had bragging rights to this whistle blow if it went the right way, but I had to at least be in the room. It was like a great creative idea, everyone claims credit who happened to be standing in the room at the time when the guy first said it. Plus, it was hard to get an audience with the big lady creative director, but unauthorized photography shoots of under aged naked girls on agency premises? Chances are she would wave us right in.

Breathless, Brandy described the events that transpired around 3PM, she didn’t embellish, she didn’t have to – the naked facts spoke for themselves. “I see,” the lady creative director cocked her head slightly, not tipping her hand, “thanks for stopping by,” her nod seemed to show us the door.

By the time we got back to our floor, Sal’s door was shut again, it appeared he had left for the night, Larry was long gone for sure. The next day the account people called to tell us the client meeting had been postponed until the next week. It was 11 AM, Sal was nowhere in sight, he was usually one of the first ones there in the morning, but 12 PM, 2 PM, 3 PM came, the usual business hours of the modeling agency came and went; we never saw Sal again.

We heard his School of Visual Arts classes were still going strong, his students recommending him to all their friends. Rumor in the halls had it that he and Larry were going to make a go of it, they’d rented out an office in a strip mall a couple towns away from his house on Long Island; on-the-cheap product photography for clients on a budget and a class-act modeling agency for young girls with big dreams.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A LOVE STORY

He drove straight over when she announced she was suddenly pregnant, he had already started fucking this other chick even though they hadn’t been broken up for more than 23 hours, hadn’t bothered to change the sheets, you had to feel sorry for the girl, but then she called him, or sent him a text, I didn’t know which with the news. How did it read, “I M PRGNT” would be economical and to the point, and just as game changing. His heart did cart wheels, I had to wonder could it be a tactic, I knew a guy who’s ex lied about having cancer to get the guy back, people are capable of crazy things. But he believed in happy endings and this was a dream come true, he said, although he always had a policy that he never wanted kids, he made it clear to women he romanced, pulling out, his chosen method of birth control, with a 73% rate of accuracy, I imagined. This no-kids-policy was non-negotiable; he hadn’t the time - he liked to watch a lot of Spike TV, his job at UPS took up the rest of his days, ice hockey on Thursday nights - he surrendered his cat to the local shelter, “I want to be fair to the cat,” he said – yet this news sent him over the moon, people are full of surprises.

He did the noble thing, he called up the girl he had been drunk fucking the night before and gave her the good news and the heave-ho – he had a baby to think about, prodding some chick smelling of tequila paled in comparison, even if she did go into overdraft at Victoria’s Secret, he would man up – marry the girl, pick out cribs, bandy about names over two meals and a shared app at The Olive Garden. He wanted to be there when they took that little snap shot that looks like a Polariod with swoosh lines, he would leave the remote buried between the cushions, ask for the afternoon off from captaining the brown truck, maybe not get too too drunk on Saturday night; he was willing to sacrifice, there was a baby on the way.

The Dr’s visit never materialized. Sometime the following week his gal fell off the radar for a few hours, she mumbled something later that it wasn’t meant to be. The whole experience had brought them closer, like the clich√© says, but in this case it was true and they were happy and looking for houses somewhere in Northern New Jersey, just far enough away from the landfills so you couldn’t really smell them and the houses were still affordable.

HER COUNTRY STORE

Pleasantly full, I call to thank him for my omelet w/rye toast, butter on the side, but he doesn’t pick up. Two minutes later I see his truck again, parked in front of her country store.

They used to be an item, that’s polite “for fucking”, she put her socks in his drawer without asking; he said she was a hysteric, unstable, “she’s somebody else’s problem now”; but I always see his pick-up truck right out front there, right on-the-dot to rescue her.

One morning he told me, “I’ll be over to help you” some eight months ago. A man to fix things; holes in my ceiling. tiles to grout, a light fixture for the island. The makeshift fixture hangs, a burned out bulb, glaring.

He’s busy this Saturday – hauling her heavy load, helping her get off the ground, just being there, she barely has to ask. So much joy in the rescue, I think – sitting there by the window, I hear his truck pass by again, on its way to her country store.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

SOLO

Dear Santa or God, please send me someone to ride with. Cal sees that look of want and says we’ll go some day this week definitely, it’s the thought that counts, I say, “great!” and “psyched!” knowing full well he’ll spend the week laying down flooring and ordering kitchen cabinets, he’s a grown up after all. I admit it, “desperate” is the only word for it – not for love or sex, I’m good, thanks – but someone to ride with is just as “sad”?? Desperate times/desperate measures – that’s what the internet is for but jeesh I don’t want to shower with you/don’t want a massage WTF I just want to RIDE, please leave your wee-wee out of this. Open invitation Wednesday nights at New York Scooter Club– chicks give me their backs, men under their thumbs– shifting in their 300 dollar SIDI boots risking punishment just to throw me a quick chit-chat that will earn them a certain scolding before bedtime. They’re riding tonight the full 20 minutes to Queens for souvlaki at this place that got 48 write ups on YELP – jeesh, my tachometer needs to get a life. Just send me someone who doesn’t have a job or a dog or a watch. I get real lucky sometimes - he idles up next to me at the light, we clunk-clunk into first at the very same time and start the dance, you first, then me: weaving, soaring, like a one night stand where no one gets hurt. Pretty-eyed Darth Vader – that 1100 bores quickly and you’re off to Coney Island or Rockaway or God knows where else with no goodbye because that’s just how it is. Maybe I’ll fill up, get me some of those chicken strips and lemonade – stand back from the counter, please, over there by the condiment station just follow the smell of raw onions clutching my receipt in front of me waiting for my number to be called, is that a six or an eight?? Next to me the sunburned guy with the bad ink and the 10k Jesus chain who’s busy texting his girlfriend while his wife in Juicy sweats that shows her cellulite off to it’s best advantage holds the table with their five kids who expand their verbal dexterity with words they picked up from strangers yelling out of car windows on the Belt Parkway. They shut their traps for a moment – almost seem like kids when the guy who makes the balloon animals finally gets to their table. I should ride and ride ‘til Exit 42 in Connecticut where people still get married and shammy their bikes and shop sweep their garages but Brooklyn is where I’m at; it’s where I ride solo.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FOR THE LOVE OF BERNHARD

I never liked men with European accents but I was falling hard for Bernhard. He wasn’t my type, zero percent body weight, perfectly starched and fitted Diesel Brand shirts, Adidas (which he pronounced ah-dEE-DAAAHS) with laces that appeared to be bleached and pressed – yet he was growing on me fast. They put me together with him as a creative team at the agency where I worked, he had arrived in this country just weeks ago and was rumored to be a creative genius which proved to be true within the first hour of working together. He was a goldmine of brilliant out-of-the-box ideas.

No matter how horrible the assignment (we were quickly put on a big pharma pitch) he would make it fun and challenging. He raised the bar on creative ideas and I was challenging myself to jump higher with each new challenge, whether it was a radio spot that would run 10 times, or a crappy coupon ad, Bernhard said it had to be at “that level”.

He was a boarding school boy from a family of aristocrats – complete with a trust fund and a Rolex watch that he would let me wear like a boyfriend watch. He broke it off with his girlfriend of ten years when he came here to America and was staying with his good friends here, Michael and Sarah. There was never a dull moment with Bernhard, he would breeze in around 11 and say with his clipped staccato cadence, “So. My. Love. What. Will. We. Do. Today!!” We would have some unseemly assignment, but whatever it was, with Bernhard had to make it great, “The. Great. Idea. Will. Not. Happen. In. This. Shit. Office.” And with a, “Lunch?” he would whisk me off in a cab to some fancy eatery where we would work, drink, and eat crab cakes. Then it was back in a cab to the West Village to this little favorite record shop of his to buy LP’s of the latest dance beats, he was a huge fan and DJ hobbyist to add to his joie de vivre cred. Then it was off for two scoops of the best ice cream in the city, Bernhard had been here but a couple of months, but he was showing me a New York I had only seen in movies. He had a passion for the business combined with a real distaste for the office – so much so that my manager left me a voicemail one afternoon, “it would be nice if you two could occasionally stop by the agency,” but it was all good; we were hitting it out of the park – Bernhard was the best partner I’d ever had. And I was falling for him hard.

Bernhard and I spent breakfast, lunch, and dinner together – but the weekends were saved for his roommates, Michael and Sarah, to whom he seemed incredibly close. Bernhard would sneak out early on Fridays, “I’m. Going. With. Michael. And. Sarah. To. The. Hamptons. Soo. Lovely.” But I would dearly miss him over the weekend, we were glued at the hip Monday through Friday but weekends he would never so much as pick up his phone. One Friday afternoon he was packing up his man bag in a hurry so I asked, “Hey, Bernhard, maybe Michael and Sarah would like a weekend to themselves.” “What!,” he rolled his head in joy, “They. Love. Me. We. Have. Too. Much. Fun,” and he’d be off with a kiss. A few more weeks went by, I had more and more portfolio pieces for my book – Bernhard was the best thing to happen to me in the ad business – he was a great hugger, would hold my hand in cab rides to expensive restaurants, I was a goner. There was just this business about Michael and Sarah.

It was a crisp Fall Monday morning, Bernhard appeared at my office door, “Hey. Bay. Bee. Let’s. Rock.” We strolled over to Bryant Park, it was chilly, and Bernhard took off his 300 dollar Diesel Jacket and put it over my shoulders. “Come. Sit. Let’s. Talk.,” he led me over to two open seats on the lawn, “So. I. Have. Something. To. Tell. You.,” I couldn’t imagine, did he have a girlfriend, a wife and kids somewhere, what was with the lost weekends. He held my hand, “You…Know… Michael. And. Sarah…,” he said in a slow staccato, “Well. There. Is. No. Sarah.” He went on, “And. Michael. And. I. Are. In. Looove.”

Bernhard was flying high with this news finally off his chest, he didn’t seem to notice that the color had drained from my face. He giddily explained that had been hetero his entire life, had met an English banker 25 years his senior at a restaurant his first week in New York, Bernhard and he decided they were soul mates and had been together ever since. They were both well traveled, both spoke 5 languages, and had a passion for dancing and doing ecstasy until five in the morning. Bernhard had moved into Michael’s apartment and was living the gay life in NYC unbeknownst to his friends, family, and until five minutes ago, me. Bernhard popped out of his chair, grabbed both my hands and said, “Come! Come. See. Our. Beautiful. Home!” I had no time to process or protest, we were once again in a cab on the way to his Upper West Side homosexual soul mate love nest.

“I’m. So. Excited. To. Show. You. My. Dear,” he said, unlocking the door to the pre-war apartment that I’m sure his lover Michael snagged back in the day when he was young. There were fine English antiques everywhere, beautiful oriental rugs, and Robert Mapplethorpes on just about every inch of the walls. Expensive black and white prints, pristinely matted, professionally framed photos of naked twenty something men. Raw shots of men’s butt cheeks, men’s butt cheeks with horsewhips inserted in their anuses, men’s uncircumsized penises in bubble wrap. “Isn’t. This. Won. Der. Ful!” is wasn’t a question, I needed a glass of water. The kitchen was large and smelled like last night’s dinner although it was immaculate, save for a glass plate with white powder by the breadbox, “This. Weekends. Party. Favors,” Bernhard said with glee, the horse tranquilizer had a step-by-step preparation process, the men were proficient in the kitchen.

The cat was now out of the bag and now Bernhard’s felt he had a carte blanche to talk ad nauseum about Michael. He would describe their love making in graphic detail, how Michael had slowly broken Bernhard into homosexual lovemaking, Bernhard was the receiver. I lost my taste for crab cakes, the ten dollar glasses of wine, the trips to the little LP shop, it all took on a different flavor.

Our partnership was halted a couple of months after that, Bernhard had to find a better paying job, his partner Michael had quit his banking job, had “borrowed” most of Bernhard’s trust fund, and wanted to buy the apartment next door and break down the wall. Bernhard had become sole bread winner – and when I ran into him years later, we hailed a cab and had lunch at one of our old haunts. Bernhard had become a creative director at an agency who’s heyday had come and gone, he was on a terrible account forced to do terrible work to keep the client happy, he was now a slave to the big bucks, he had a whopping mortgage to pay, as well as having to throw Michael’s old lover some money now and again. He grumbled that Michael had to Get. Off. His. Ass. And get a job – he hadn’t lifted a finger since they day he walked away from Wall Street, I didn’t know the likelihood of that happening, I imagined that he was now well into his seventies. Bernhard still had his passion for club music, we strolled over to the little LP shop but it had gone out of business, then strolled a bit more before Bernhard said grumpily, “I have to get back to those fucking agency people,” his staccato now subdued, his job as a CD had sucked the life from him. I had been laid off from my agency job of 21 years - I was enjoying the farewell bag of money they had given me for signing the “I sign away all rights to sue your ass” agreement, life was good. I was seeing a mentally ill Physics professor who looked like Matt Damon who was keeping me on my toes by rarely showing up when he was supposed to and exhibiting borderline psychotic behavior when he did – his hairless gym body, Mensa-sharp wit, and calling me “baby” like he meant it was still gaining him access to my crib for the time being. “You. Are. Fucked. Up. Like. All. Single. Woman. In. New. York.,” Bernhard said with a window of staccato before giving me one of his world-class hugs and hopping in a cab; I didn’t know if I would ever see him again. He seemed so different, he’d gained 40 pounds, soured on the business, bitched about his spouse – he was pretty much like all the other beaten down ad hacks who had seen better days. But Bernhard had turned me on to great work, great food, and repetitive disco beats. He showed me how screwing around is fuel for the creative process and let me feel the cock ring through his slim Euro-jeans one day in the client’s lobby. Bernhard was one-of-a-kind and I had loved him back then, that was until the day we took a walk to Bryant Park, the day my whirlwind tour of New York took an abrupt left turn and there would be no turning back.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

THE MARRIAGE COUNSELOR

You could cut the air with a knife; me and this marriage counselor standing face to face - she was frozen, I was fuming, it was 3 minutes into our first session. Dave, my fiancé, had gone to the bathroom and came back into the tiny room where the two of us stood, he could immediately tell that something had already gone terribly wrong.

“What’s goin’ on,’ he said slowly with an uh-oh voice. He had dragged me into counseling, things had gone downhill since we’d become engaged three months before, this was last stop before Splitsville.

“I simply asked her if she did mostly couples counseling or individual,” it was my attempt at small talk while Dave excused himself to pee, “and SHE responded, ‘and which would YOU prefer I did’.” Dave shook his head in further dread, the lady shrink stood frozen, wearing an overly starched old-fashioned floral frock with a high neck that hung like a curtain down to her ankles – circa Little House On The Prairie; her tightly cropped perm helmeted her plain expressionless face reminding me of a Duplo figure.

“I ask a simple question about her p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e-,” I scanned the tiny back room of her Park Slope apartment which barely had room for her Mission oak chair and the beat up old futon that we would apparently be calling “home” for the next few weeks, between the two seats sat a tiny wooden coffee table with the mandatory box of Kleenex – she couldn’t have been a day over 32 but somehow felt much older, about 70-ish. “How would YOU prefer I would have responded,” she retorted with feigned calm, her deer in the headlights expression betraying that she was not in control.

“Hechhhh, never mind,” I plopped down and was quicksanded into the recesses of the old futon, Dave sitting next to me perched on the edge, holding on for dear life.

“O.K., then,” she said hands on lap, broomstick posture, “these are my rules: Come every time. Come on time. Pay every time. Am I clear?” I was waiting to see how long the woman could go without blinking. Dave and I nodded; I pulled out my checkbook, her hand shot out at me, “END of session.” My checkbook receded back into my bag.

She had come highly recommended from a co-worker of Dave’s, a woman who had been screwing some guy behind her husband’s back for a couple of years but had suddenly found some remorse and was trying to get things back on track. “My name is Julie Bradshaw,” she still hadn’t moved a muscle,” but you are to call me Mrs. Bradshaw. Not “Julie”. Not “Mrs. B”. Simply ‘Mrs. Bradshaw.’” I had been to a real shrink down on 12th Street, with credentials on the wall, leather bound books, and a real leather sofa that you could lie down on, and REAL Kleenex tissues, not the generics, and he was fine with “Gary”. “OOkay,” I nodded. Dave was shifting nervously on the edge of the futon, contributing the further demise of the tattered fabric beneath his butt.

“This is what I do,” her scripted intro continued, “I keep couples together, no matter what.” My chest was tightening, I had tried to break up with Dave a couple of times and was here pretty much here as a courtesy so I could leave the relationship with a clear conscience. “I will see you to the point that you’re married, throughout the marriage, I will help you raise your children, the treatment continues on for life," she went on with the sentencing, “Unless, of course, you decide to break off the relationship, in which case we will come to that decision together, and I will lead you through the breaking off process. Treatment will continue on from there, at which point I will see you both for individuals therapy.”

You could tell she made this exact same speech a hundred times before, she seemed to be reading it from somewhere, just over our heads on the dingy wall behind us – her eye contract slightly off by a half inch or so. We were already 58 bucks into this thing, when was our chance to talk? I looked over at Dave, was he second-guessing this couples counseling thing, or thinking about basketball. I tried to prompt her on with a nod and an affirmative, “O.K.,” I was curious to see what she had – again the hand darted out, and settled back into her lap as she finished her soliliqui. “If you should see me in the street, I will pass you with no acknowledgment, do not be offended. If we should see each other at a party, or other social context we shall proceed as though we’ve never met. Should introductions be made you will simply say, ‘nice to meet you’, this is in the interest of privacy.” I was wondering if someone said to us at a Bar Mitvah, “hey guys, this woman dressed in Mormon attire is my good friend, Julie,” if we should respond, “Nice to meet ya, Juleee-I mean Mrs. Bradshaw.” I had found a loophole but resisted the opportunity to point it out as we would soon be out of time.

“O.K., now let’s get to work,” her shoulders relaxed an eighth of an inch. I nodded, Dave settled back stiffly into the futon, the room went silent. She stared at us. We stared back. The pregnant pause continued, grew wider; to her credit Mrs. Bradshaw blinked a couple of times, probably out of necessity. I looked at her, looked over at Dave, looked at the generic box of tissue, then back at our new therapist, no one said a word – Mrs. Bradshaw finally breaking the silence, “O.K., we’ve come to the end of our session, you can make your payment now,” she watched as I filled out the check for a hundred and twenty five dollars and handed it over to her, she folded it precisely in half and tucked it in a manila folder that appeared out of nowhere. She stood as we stood, folded her hands in front of her and looked down at her feet as her hand gestured us towards the door.

Things went downhill from there. We heard from the woman who had recommended her that she had heard through the grapevine that Mrs. Bradshaw’s marriage was headed towards divorce. The sessions were fruitless, Mrs. Bradshaw seemed depressed, lackluster, and not particularly cut out for a career in her chosen field. After Dave and I agreed, I called Mrs. Bradshaw leaving her a message telling her that we had decided not to return. She in turn left us countless frantic messages like a scorned girlfriend, each message increasing with threatening tenor, insisting that it would be her decision when the process would end. She finally stopped calling after I picked up the phone and threatened her with a restraining order. Dave moved out about a month later, I started my life as a single gal, feeling lighter than I had in months.

A couple of years later I was shopping in Park Slope, I had stopped into a jewelry store that featured local Brooklyn artisans, a pretty young woman with long curly hair, jeans, and a peasant top was looking at a ring, and nuzzling affectionately with what appeared to be her cute girlfriend who was similarly dressed. The woman looked up and was trying to catch my eye – she looked so familiar; it was Mrs. Bradshaw. She had dropped Mr. Bradshaw, got herself a good therapist, a pretty girlfriend, put on a sexy top and grew her hair long. She smiled at me, but I adhered to the rules she set in place at that very first session; I walked past her without acknowledgment out on to 7th Avenue, leaving Mrs. Bradshaw, or Julie, or whatever name she went by there with her girlfriend to pick out their rings.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

MADISON AVENUE SAGA

It was the kind of shoot that made being in the ad business all worthwhile. Staying out in Santa Monica on the beach at a hotel crawling with celebs, the location: a mansion in Malibu overlooking the ocean, shooting with a world famous model, traveling with my best friend and creative partner, and the account exec who was fucking the guy I had been in love a short while ago, who was busying herself planning the double funeral of the twin fetus' they had lost first term, between checking her messages, crying quietly, and going over the client’s financials for the coming year.

I never really liked Lisa, she was pushy, overbearing, and braggartly bright. She had straight blond hair cut in a razor sharp wedge, a tennis body – muscular and taught, with calf muscles that would shine when the light hit her pantyhose just right. She had dumped her husband for the guy I used to like, Lenny, and she was going in for the kill. The qualities that made her a killer account executive, (can-do, and by whatever means possible) made her cloying in a social capacity. Lenny had come from a humble background, his smarts, charm, and composing abilities had lifted him from his wrong side of the tracks background and landed him firmly in an ad agency, his long hair, good looks gave him pretty much his pick of anyone at the veritable candy store of hot chicks that made up our Madison Avenue shop. Lisa had spied him, we all did. They worked together on a high tech account, spending countless hours together, late nights and weekends at her and her husband’s house. Rumor had it that she and Lenny would be fucking out by the pool while her husband was fast asleep in their bed. Pretty soon Lisa and Lenny were out as a couple, Lisa filed for divorce, and in the shake of a lamb’s tail she was pregnant with twins, she did everything short of sending out an inner-office memo, and Lenny clearly had gotten more than he bargained for. One minute he was starting out at a small agency in Stamford, the next thing he knew he was making big bucks and fucking any woman he wanted at one of New York’s top shops and at first glance, Lisa seemed like the grand prize. Platinum blond hair, played tennis at a country club, Master’s degree a couple of times over, he’d just never expected that she’d divorce her husband and toss out her birth control ¬– but Lisa had the determination and brass balls that kept three of the agency’s most important clients happy, and now she had Lenny beholden to her, too.

I couldn’t lie, it hurt like the dickens. Lenny had once sneaked up behind me while I was at the copy machine, churning out scripts for a meeting I had with our yogurt client. “I was listening to Prokofiev last night, imagining I was fucking you,” he whispered in my ear like Satan on Valentine's Day. We had never spoken before. I was winding down out of a relationship that had lasted 9 years, the last 8 years of which the sex had rapidly dissipated. I didn’t know who Prokofiev was, but I was sure as heck going to head over to Tower Records at lunchtime to buy the CD and find out what all the excitement was about. Lenny strung me along for weeks with promises to go out after work, before he’d catch the 9:05 out to Stamford, but it only materialized once or twice when he worked me into a tizzy with his sublime footsie skills. I’d go by his office during the day to get my fill of dirty talk, but each time a procession of other women from the creative department would stop by; Lenny’s office was a deli counter of dirty talking. I was devastated when a particularly pushy brunette I worked with and never liked, Jenna, had a coming out party to announce that they were officially fucking on a regular basis, an event to which I was invited, which I accepted in the hopes that I could “win” him back. Lenny sought me in her bedroom and recapped his turrets of poetic filth.

The other guy’s at work were perplexed by Lenny’s popularity with the ad women, his long hair often unwashed, he hadn’t made the switch to 100% cotton yet, his too tight 50/50 blend shirts seemed wildly inappropriate for client meetings, his off the charts genius never seemed to translate well into the pedestrian, yet tricky solutions he was asked to come up with, he often lost out in our creative shoot outs. Still, a lot of us gals swooned to his advances. Me, this girl Marta also who I swore was gay, was a regular in Lenny’s dirty talk virtual deli line, and a whole bunch of others. But Jenna won the shoot out but was soon dumped in favor of the blond with the tennis calves and her weekend house she shared with her sleepy husband. Ashamed that I had been so stupid to pick him as my first crush after a nine year relationship, I took comfort that I wasn’t alone - the number’s climbed into the double digits as a string of shattered ad girl crushes littered Lenny’s wake.

It wasn’t surprising that Lisa had won - she was a goal-oriented gal, and wasted no time filing for divorce. She made darned sure we all knew she had triumphed; she and the polyester robed prince were often found making out in the agency’s lobby, right in front of Annie’s Lobby Shop. Annie was a holocaust survivor, had seen the worst of what humankind had to offer, yet showed shock and disgust towards the couples anything but subtle displays of affection in front of the Mounds, Necco Wafers, and pretzel snacks. Not only was Lisa pregnant with twins and planning a wedding to Lenny ASAP, she was the head account person on my yogurt account so I had a pipeline to her ob gyn updates, possible locations for their honeymoon; nor would she hesitate to ask my advice on how to hurry her husband out of the house they once shared and into the small studio she had found him in a crap neighborhood in the outskirts of Brooklyn so that she and Lenny could move into the 3 bedroom house and start their new life together. Advertising was tough enough; creative shootouts with anywhere from three to ten other teams, trying to come up with the stuff after staying out all night drinking margaritas, keeping up with the witty repartee with everyone from the custodial staff to the CEO, and now this.

One afternoon I was finessing a script, or “polishing a turd” as one of my creative directors called it, “HEY!,” Lisa popped into my doorway with the starling suddenness of a marionette, not bothering with the common courtesy of a ‘tap-tap’ at the door frame when you see someone bent over their work. “What, Lisa. Bus-yyy,” it didn’t seem to knock the wind out of her sails. “You know how you liked Lenny,” she said teasingly, jeeze, I had a meeting in 9 minutes. “Uh-huh,” I said, not looking up. “And I like Lenny, right,” incorrigible. “Spit it out,” come ON already. “Well, I figure, we have the same taste in men, and now that my husband’s single…,” wow - she had to be fucking kidding me. “NO, Lisa, no WAY,” we had a new low on insult to injury, “No. Fucking. WAY,” I repeated for clarity’s sake. “Okay! Okay! I just thought….” I missed the rest of her sales pitch as I forced her to the other side of the slammed door. “See you at our four o’clock!,” she chirped, making adjustments in audio to compensate for the density of the metal door, a passive aggressive reminder that we weren’t done - we had a meeting together later in the day.

Not more than 8 minutes later the phone rang, two rings, outside call. “Hello??” a meak, almost male voice was on the other end, “is this Claudia,” he squeeked. “Yes,” the balls, the incredible balls. “This is Mike Mustow, I was Lisa’s husband before,” he said sadly, asking me out on a date.

I shook my head at Lisa as we all took seats around the conference room table at our meeting later that day. We were going over the shoot details, soon we would be flying out to L.A. for a week and a half of production. I was so looking forward to getting out of Dodge, the pool at the hotel, expensing meals at 4 star restaurants, flirting with the cute guys at the production company. We were wrapping up the final details around five o’clock, I had brought my purse and jacket so I could sneak out and grab the subway home nice and early. “Guys,” Lisa said, firmly putting the kibosh on my plan, “listen, I was thinking, if we don’t fly business, we would have enough in the budget for Lenny to come along!” Wow! I thought, the woman’s balls had grown so big you could see them pressing through her freshly dry cleaned pencil skirt. The room went silent, which Lisa promptly took as confirmation, “Good, then it’s all set!” Yes, it was. I had a date with Lisa’s forlorn ex husband on Thursday night, and Lenny would be tagging along on our Malibu shoot the week after.

The days before the shoot went by quickly. Lisa’s husband Mark had delivered as promised, crying in his sushi, making puppy-like wimpering noises during my sympathy hug, which he punctuated with new found confidence, forcing his thick saliva’d tongue in and out of my mouth. After quelling his advances, I paid him forward to a lonely friend who later told me that he now referred to me as “that lesbian dyke.” She, however found him smart and kind and lovable in spite of his impossibly small “is it in yet” penis; apparently it was a tiny head attached to his mound with no shaft twixt the two, but the size of his heart made up for it, she said, sighing. They exchanged “I love you’s” and were thrilled to have found each other. A week later, he stopped returning her calls, had apparently taken “Tiny” out to the big city see what else was out there. Next, Lisa reported in one of our pre-production meetings that she had a miscarriage, the twins didn’t make it, I gave her what was now my trademark sympathy hug. She cried quietly as I held her and announced that she had asked the doctor to keep their “remains”, that she was going to have a full burial out in Connecticut, and that I would be invited.

A couple of days later we called the shiny black cars to take us to the airport, Lisa would be meeting Lenny at the gate, he had a client meeting and would catch up with us, but he never showed. Lisa sat on the plane next to an open seat, tears streaming, refusing both the snack and the cheese stuffed chicken breast the stewardess was offering, opting for the packet of tissues instead.

The hotel was lovely, the director was a rich boy UCLA film school graduate, born and bred in Southern California, he showed me pictures of a more buff version of himself from his surfing days. The agency wasn’t allowed to speak directly to the top model on set, her acting abilities were limited, delivering bad take after bad take to camera, but the star-struck client didn’t seem to notice. The location was stunning, the weather was perfect, my partner and I rented a Jag, things had turned out OK. Lisa sat in her director’s chair, making sure the client was happy between making calls to Connecticut to book a priest for the funeral and to the funeral home to order the tiny tombstones she had picked from a catalog she showed us over dinner one night at this super place in Venice Beach. She had tried and tried to reach Lenny, but he was never at his desk, and wasn’t picking up the phone at the house she had once shared with her ex-husband. She spoke to the receptionist back at the agency to pick up her messages; one of them was from Lenny, “I can’t do this anymore,” 4:29 pm/Wednesday, the day before. She called him in front of all of us on the courtesy phone they had set up for the agency, Lenny picked up as his desk, their conversation was brief, she grabbed her Diet Coke and ran out. I followed her out and was consoling her by the infinity pool, the ones that look like they flow directly into the Pacific. The wedding was off, she had to stay strong, she said– there was still a funeral to plan. I rubbed her muscular back to calm her sobs, I heard the director yell back on set, “Cut!! It’s a wrap!” I had missed the shooting of the final scene of the commercial, when I saw the footage the super model had gotten the read all wrong, but this was never going to be my Tour De Force anyway. Lenny abruptly left the agency after that – no one knew if he’d quit or got fired for sub-par creative, or for leaving Lisa to plan the funeral by herself – but I heard he showed up on the day to support her with a smattering of family members, they kept it small after all. Rumor had he went back to a career in Science. After the funeral she had planned at a lovely site in Greenwich, Connecticut, Lisa renewed her passion for tennis, met a tennis pro and was showing off her sizable engagement ring around the halls at work three weeks later. I ran into sad Mike, her ex-husband, many years later at a freelance job I was doing. He pretended not to know me but I would catch him peering around corners at me in the burgundy carpeted halls. He was still single, but had a “work wife” who he also spent most of his personal time with – a loudmouth crew cut lesbian who wore the pants in the family, did all their presenting, as well as the planning of their weekend getaways to Fire Island. I reconnected with Lenny recently, he was teaching Science at a small college, had lost his taste for controlling women - settled down with a nice girl in Connecticut where I suspect they spend quiet evenings at home, sans children, indulging in a little dirty talking while listening Prokofiev before turning in for the night.