Perfect White Isosceles Skirt
On the way home, my synapses were firing on all cylinders. I fidgeted in my seat, unable to nap or read or just watch the scenery. When I took my turn at the wheel, it was worse. And those Oregon road signs! They greet you at the California border with the exact number of miles to Washington, and they count down every single friggin’ digit like they’re in some kind of hurry to get you out of the state.
I had an inkling as to what this feeling was: the Perfection Point Excess Syndrome. Let me explain.
Your average female brain tracks a relationship using two measures: the Expectations Quotient and the Fulfillment Factor. These numbers rarely meet – the average female being phenomenally adroit at raising expectations even as previous expectations are met. Occasionally, however, there occurs the equivalent of a romantic ambush. The male demonstrates a flash of psychology, writes a love poem that neither sucks nor rhymes, or creates a chicken casserole that is actually edible. This can result in the dreaded Perfection Point, causing the Vulnerability Index to go right through the roof.
The most effective strategy for avoiding a Perfection Point is a Relationship Conference, generally introduced by the words, “Honey, let’s talk about us.” This disorients the male, sapping essential energy from more important functions like fucking, video games and televised sporting events. The male thus becomes irritated, retaliates by pulling back on his previously gracious behavior, and Voila! The vital gap between Expectation and Fulfillment is restored.
The real danger comes when the Fulfillment Factor is allowed to exceed the Expectations Quotient, a phenomenon known as the Perfection Point Excess Syndrome. This generally occurs when a female with a critically low Expectations Quotient – say, a 39-year-old marketing director fleeing the detritus of an aborted five-year love affair – meets up with a guerilla romantic – say, an overdressed beachcomber with a rodeo butt and Dostoyevsky laugh. If this is followed by unexpected displays of wonderfulness – say, incredibly touching mythologies about women with skins of glass – she’s in for a shitload of trouble. The Fulfillment Factor obliterates the Expectations Quotient, completely undoing whatever powers of logic remain. Thrown so completely out of her orbit, the woman reverts to the only defense she has left: sabotage, immediate and devastating.
At Florence, the sun ducked under the marine layer and threw out a stripe of burnt sienna – the very hue of blossomfire. The Vulnerability Index pressed against an artery in my brain, sparking a laser-tight headache. I was going to have to think of something before I imploded all over the upholstery.
“Frosty, honey, um… I’m going to pull over at the next rest stop, okay?”
My peripheral vision picked up Frosty’s left hand invading my air-space, poised for a neck rub. I grabbed his wrist mid-flight, just above the console.
“Could you, um… Frosty? Could you do me a big favor and see how far it is to Hirshfield?”
“I think it’s about fifty…”
“Frosty.” (Whoops. Voice getting stern. Settle down, settle down.) “I can’t explain this to you right now, but I really need an exact number. Could you?”
A cloud of puzzlement passed over his face. “Yeah. Sure.” He found a map of Oregon in the glove box and ran his finger along 101. Good. I’m gonna make it. Three minutes later, the rest stop arrow never looked so good. I pulled in, squealed the tires to the curb and got out, trying with all my might not to look back at that concerned expression. I pushed on the perfect white isosceles skirt of the women’s room symbol and entered my haven.
I took three steps and burst into a flaming spiral of Navy-barracks cussing. God it felt good! I turned on the faucets and hand dryers to cover myself, but they were all on timers and I soon tired of jogging laps trying to keep them going. I took my foul mouth to the handicapped stall, flushed the toilet, sat down and rubbed my eyes with great fervor. I began my therapy with a traditional Hebrew chant.
“Oh my God. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”
My head began to bob back and forth like an autistic child, and I felt the onset of a good old-fashioned weeping. My marketing brain (fixed firmly between skullduggery and hypnosis) began scribbling out first drafts of plausible excuses for leaking mascara and bloodshot eyes. Meanwhile, the rest of my mind lay itself down on a couch and conducted a self-analysis, like one of those cartoons where Bugs Bunny plays both sides of a tennis match.
“Vhat zeems to be zee trubbell?” I asked.
“Skip the accent,” I answered.
“Okay. So what’s bugging you?”
“You know very well what’s bugging me. He’s the most incredible man I’ve ever met, and now I’ve gone and said something… dumb like ‘I love you’ and I’m getting all these fucking idiotic ideas like marrying and moving into a campsite and having little glass children.”
“Why are these ideas necessarily idiotic?”
“The man spends his working hours hunting garbage on a beach! Does that sound like husband-father material?”
“Well, maybe he’ll change once you…”
“Oh no. Stop right there! I’ve been down that highway before, sister, and it ain’t exactly a diamond lane, if you know what I mean. Nah-ah. This is the Goodwill Store of life – as is, no fucking warranties. It was getting so great. Why did he have to exceed the Perfection Point?”
“The Perfection Point?”
“Well, yes, you see, that’s when the Fulfillment Factor exceeds the… Wait a minute! You know exactly what I mean!”
“Sorry. Time’s up. I’ll see you next week, and meantime you’d best get your sorry butt back to the car. Stop by Marketing on your way out and pick up a barely plausible excuse.”
I went to the sink and washed out every bit of loose makeup – better natural than sloppy – then walked to the car, counting my steps. Twenty-two, twenty-three, okay, he’s going to ask if anything’s the matter, thirty-one, thirty-two, so be ready, thirty-five...”
“Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine. Probably my face, huh. You know, sometimes I get these weird allergic reactions to bathroom cleansers. My eyes were watering so much I had to wash them out.” Now… switch! “Frosty? Could you take over? I’m feeling a little tired.”
Frosty was quiet and understanding, God damn him, and seemed content to drive the rest of the way, scanning the radio for country and western stations. I tipped back my seat and pretended to sleep. To my great surprise, I nodded off somewhere around Yachats.
“Honey? Sandy? Did you want the hotel tonight?”
“Mmmyeeaah,” I said, stretching. I was feeling unexpectedly affectionate. I played with Frosty’s shift-hand the last ten minutes home, and gave him a most grateful goodnight kiss. I suppose my dream state had canceled out my terrorist impulse. I watched him drive off, then dragged myself up to the Carmen Suite, where I found my raging bull (recently christened as Deniro) with a single red rose clenched between his teeth. Eleven more stood in books atop the dresser, angled my way like the guns in a firing squad. No card.
When it came to interrogations, Jeremy was a lost cause. His everyday demeanor carried all the sincerity of a Las Vegas car dealer, so any response he gave seemed like a lie. (“Jeremy, is that stop sign red?” “Well… certainly it is!”) When I asked him about the roses, he said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Strike one.
I got pretty much the same from Hessie, who was nonetheless intrigued by the possibilities. Her guess was Frosty, but I had already ruled him out. It wasn’t like him to let a dozen roses go two or three days without water. Before we could discuss it further, Hessie dragged me along on some errands. She took Highway 20 into the mountains, to a pile of scraps near a construction site. A nearby sign read FREE WOOD. We spent the next hour tossing two-by-fours and sheets of plywood into the bed of her pickup.
“I’m almost afraid to ask, Hessie…”
“No need to fear, honeykins. We’re having a bonfire.”
“Any special reason?”
“It’s a Tuesday,” she said. “We’ve got free wood, and you and I are members of a fire-loving species.”
I pulled an awkward discus throw on a small plank and relished the fleshy thwack! when it landed.
“Ya know, Hessie? I like the way your mind operates.”
Between the Mystery of the Roses and the still-lurking Perfection Point Excess, I hadn’t bothered arranging my next meeting with Frosty. I guess I wasn’t surprised when he arrived at the bonfire – he and Hessie were now bosom buddies. We were standing guard twenty feet from the Knickerbocker Beach parking lot, our fire licking the sky with a seven-foot tangerine tongue, when I spotted a form down the beach and recognized its rangy cowboy stride. I was surprised to find two other forms as well, a stout woman with gray-blonde hair tucked into a blue bandana, and a medium-sized man with a shock of straight silver, a broad Irish nose and a black leather suitcoat jacket.
Frosty greeted us with a grin.
“Hi honey!” he said to both of us. “Hope you don’t mind – brought the folks. Hessie, Sandy, this is my mom, Magdalena, and my dad, Jerry.”
You could’ve knocked me over with a stalk of vermicelli. It would have been easier to accept the appearance of Frosted Glass Woman herself than two such normal-looking people claiming to be Frosty’s parents.
There were cordial greetings all around, then they spent the next hour telling stories of their summer trip to the Canadian Rockies. Like lots of retired folk, they spent a lot of time in their RV. I was just biding my time till I could get some dirt on their son. Magdalena was sort of a dead end, tight-lipped on personal matters, but Jerry was downright gabby. My subsequent opening could not have been better choreographed by Balanchine. Hessie and Magdalena drifted to the subject of gardening – a mutual obsession – and headed off for a nighttime tour of the Bel Canto’s English courtyard. Frosty stood on the far side of the fire, swapping jokes with Carlotta, whom he had apparently never met before. Fighting back little bug-bites of jealousy, I attempted to steer the conversation with his father.
“When I left the job with McDonnell-Douglas ten, twelve years ago, Maggie and I really thought Sedona was the sticks – which was exactly what we wanted. Five years later, it seemed like every goddamned yuppie in America had a sweatshirt with the name of our town on it.”
I shared a guilty laugh, picturing that exact garment atop my hotel dresser. Then I went for the abrupt apropos-of-nothing.
“Forgive me for putting it this way, Jerry, but don’t you find your son’s current occupation a bit… unorthodox?”
Jerry unleashed a chocolate baritone laugh, not quite as Godalmighty as his son’s. He tugged at the collar of his turtleneck, as if it were one size too small.
“We have always found our son to be a bit odd, Sandy – because he is – but we have also learned that he has a… let me see, a sense for things. It’s never a good idea to bet against him. When he started fooling with those second-hand computer parts I brought home, we figured it was just a harmless hobby. Like Lincoln Logs. If you asked us about our preferences, we would have picked one of the more standard careers: doctor, lawyer, engineering like me. But if you saw the look in that kid’s eye the first time he made one of those parts actually do something – oh! Utter fascination. Well, like me, you would’ve just shut your damn mouth and let him alone.
“But then came the predictions. ‘Dad, one day there will be millions of homes with small computers in them, and they will all be hooked together through phone lines. People will do their banking and shopping and letter-writing through them, and some people… some people won’t even go into work anymore, they’ll just stay home and send it in to the office.’
“And monkeys will soar from my bee-hind, I thought. But I didn’t say anything. You know why? Cause he had that same look in his eye. So I trusted him – and damned if he wasn’t right about the whole package. He and his buddies in Silicon Valley made lots of trips to the bank, if you catch my drift.
“So now, I don’t know. He’s looking for glass on a beach. Sure it’s odd. I certainly don’t understand it. But just wait a little while, and don’t say anything, and somehow that David of mine will make it all come out okay.”
My eyes flashed. Jerry immediately saw his mistake.
“Oh shit! I’m in for it now.” He put a hand to his mouth and whispered, “He’s got a thing about the name.”
A half-hour later, Frosty broke off his tete-a-tete with Carlotta (about time!) and interrupted us, taking me by the elbow.
“Excuse me, Dad, I have something of a personal nature I’d like to discuss with Sandy.”
His dad’s laughter should have been warning enough. Frosty walked me to the edge of the firelight, dropped me into a tango-dip and kissed me for a lengthy period of time. I just couldn’t help my reaction.
Frosty lifted his face in mock anger. “Zat bassturd! He hass betrayed me!” He pulled me to my feet. “So. Are you surprised?”
“Normal parents? Happy family? That my eccentric lifestyle was in no way inspired by childhood beatings, or being dressed up as a little girl?”
I smiled and let my face fall against his, tracing my nose against his cheek. “Tell you the truth? Yes.”
“Well, there you go. I like my parents, and they like me. I know it’s freakish behavior, but you’re just gonna have to deal with it. Why don’t you come over for lunch tomorrow? My mom’s making deviled eggs.”
“I’ll be there,” I whispered. I felt the aphrodisiac rush of a man whose mother makes him deviled eggs, whose father believes in him. The Perfection Point had officially been obliterated. Had I been able to ditch the family and friends I would have ripped off his clothes right there and done that boy to a fine froth. Oh my.
Photo by MJV