She sold exotic vegetables and fruit. In a ritzy L. A. office, she took phone orders from hundreds of grocery stores in Florida and Key West. She was enamored of her boss, the woman who had actually named the kiwi fruit. Before her boss, kiwis were New Zealand gooseberries. That’s the type of person the fruit-selling girl was. The type who could land a job working for the woman who had recognized the pathetic nature of a word like gooseberry and the selling ka-pow of a word like kiwi.
She taught me to eat kiwis with a spoon. Slice them in half and dig bite-sized bits away from the paper-thin flesh. I am still amazed such a sweet and exotic item may be purchased three or four to the dollar.
Where Our Eyes First Crossed
I worked for a novelist (publicity and research) and had prepared a book signing for his latest opus. I’d sent out invitations, pestered everyone I met, and covered parked cars with announcements. Amazingly, it worked. Two-hundred books sold. It was the most successful signing in the store’s history. She was a single person in the serpentine line curving into the Young Adults section.
I was stacking books on the author’s table when she approached. “Give me the one with the best ending,” she said.
Of course all the books were the same. I was an over-eager audience and laughed too hard, smiled too wide, made too big a production of picking out a good copy. Through some vulgar joke on the part of cosmic intervention, she continued to flirt with me later at the reception.
What Those Struck By the Special Effects Must Have Seen
A fairly good-looking man of about her age. A snappy dresser. He still makes facial stubble look good almost ten years after the death pangs of the fad. He has an important job for a popular local author. He drives a Caracas-red sports car with a CD player hidden under the dash. He’s a mover. He’s a shaker. He’s single.
What the Girl Couldn’t See Yet
A fairly good-looking man of about her age. Owns one snappy outfit. Too lazy to shave. Every once in a while—but lately more and more often—he washes and folds the laundry belonging to the popular local author. He’s been borrowing the Caracas-red sports car with a CD player hidden under the dash from the popular local author for almost six months. He is a mover sometimes, because of his irrational fear of spiders. When he drinks too much coffee he is a shaker. Boy, is he ever single.
A Scene from the Interview Process
Int. Caracas-red sports car—Night
A MAN and a WOMAN speed through the night air in the outskirts of Los Angeles. They are giddy with the knowledge that they each have met someone they might love someday. Low and melodic beneath their voices, and coming from a CD player hidden under the dash, is the steady pulse of MUSIC.
The WOMAN playfully CLAPS as they LAUGH together.
What are your thoughts about the crushing
boredom of everyday housework?
I am revolted by uncleanliness, and therefore
take it upon myself to keep things spotless.
Uh-huh, well, that answer will have to be
subjected to further scrutiny.
And I was doing so well. Hopefully,
I’ll make up lost points during the swimsuit
and talent competitions.
(grinning, and speaking more to the
passenger window than to the MAN)
You are definitely nothing like Increase.
What is Increase?
MS OF BOTH:
Just an old flame.
Nobody’s named Increase.
Increase is named Increase.
Number of children wanted?
It’s my turn.
You snooze, you lose, and you snozed and
lozed. Number of children wanted?
Two. Two, absolutely.
Nope. Our panel of judges was looking
for the number three.
That’s what I meant. Two or three.
Things of that nature are slightly open to
negotiation. You may proceed with your turn.
Can I always count on you to be this much
I am the fount of fun.
Ext. Caracas-red sports car—Same
The MAN and the WOMAN are seen from a bird’s-eye-view (CAMERA) through the open sunroof of the car. They are exuberant. Before the car moves over the horizon, she reacts to him by slugging him softly in the arm and then resting her head against his shoulder as a form of apology.
FADE TO BLACK
In the bedroom, she is an orgasmic racquetball. She informs me that she reads voraciously about sexual technique. Her shelves are lined with books on independent finance, books on influencing people, and books and more books on sex. She teaches me a position called Origami Duck that I’m quite certain will leave me feeling pain in my shoulders when it rains for the rest of my life. Everything goes soft focus when the blood leaves my head. I become extremely excited with it all. She finally asks me to take a deep breath and count to ten. “Zeppo,” she says (Zeppo being her pet name for me), “remember the goal of controlled friction.” I think she might be quoting a sex manual. I think she might be double jointed.
Her name is spelled with two e’s at the end. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a small scar below her mouth. The scar having led to her certainty that the mandate against running on wet cement next to swimming pools is valuable advice. Funny. Smart. Funny because she is smart. Thickish glasses. No superfluous body piercings. Knows every lyric to “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” as sung by the Marx Brothers. Adores the Marx Brothers. Is a fanatic about the Marx Brothers. Oblivious to the fact that people may have heard quite enough about the genius of the Marx Brothers. Buys greeting cards for holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day and Canada’s Boxing Day. Often says that she will do whatever it may be that she needs to do at a given moment or die. Sits in the second row at movies in an attempt to feel she is a part of the characters’ conversations. Visibly repulsed by the word “can’t.” Uses words like “obtuse,” “ubiquitous,” and “fount” correctly without being a bore at parties.
We are enormously infatuated. She has discovered the truth about my car, but says everyone starts somewhere. I borrow seven hundred dollars from my parents and buy a used Daihatsu. When I take it to her house, we laugh over the fact that the dirty copper color is called Champagne. I say, “It’s loaded, too. Windows and carpet.” We always drive her car.
She is still impressed that I work for the popular local author and supports my ambitions of becoming a sought-after screenwriter. “At least you work for someone who can help you out and don’t wait tables like the rest of them,” she tells me. She is a towel for my gravel beach.
We hate to be separated. I spend every night at her house. While waiting for me to grab clothing from my apartment, she grimaces at my purple futon and the posters duct-taped to the walls. “You might as well load that crap into boxes,” she tells me, as I stumble around in the hamper that is my closet. “You’re moving in with me.”
All is bliss. We fawn over each other and contemplate matching tattoos.
When Kimberlee makes up her mind to do something, she attacks the project with uncommon willpower. When she says she will vacuum, she means she will vacuum or die. When she says she will paint all of the picture frames in the house to match the carpet, she will do it or die.
She begins to rub off on me. I have moments when I wish I will be out of bed at 7:00 a.m. or die. Start on my taxes a good month before April 15th or die. Eat a tire-sized chocolate cake or die. Unfortunately, I have noticed a difference between saying you will die and actually keeling over.
Kimberlee sticks to a monotonously well-planned schedule. She eats the right foods, exercises four times a week, puts fifteen percent of her paycheck into a savings account. She has a file cabinet in her bedroom and another in her den. I once examined those files. They were alphabetical with titles like “Reading Glasses Insurance” and “VCR Warranty.” I’m fairly certain she does all of this daily duty and organizational Nazism without ever imagining failure. Kimberlee has one hell of a genetic code pulsing within her. Who wouldn’t be envious? I watch her every move for the secret of her success.
I have lowered my ingrained amount of tardiness from thirty minutes to ten, and when I tell the popular local author I will be at his house at 3:00 to type up his latest romantic comedy, I try very hard to do so. I am convinced that Kimberlee is as good for me as wheat grass. She becomes part of my mantra. How would Kimberlee handle this situation? How would Kimberlee handle this situation? How will Kimberlee handle our situation?
On the Precipice
We are lying in bed when the phone rings. She has been marveling at the way my chest hair resembles a large valentine.
“Chest hair reminds me of those butterflies kids make in kindergarten,” she tells me. “You know, where you paint one side of the paper, fold it in half, and end up with a perfectly symmetrical butterfly?” I let her know that kindergarten is a blur of paste-eating and hand print outline Thanksgiving turkeys.
Before the phone rang, she was pressing her fingers through the valentine heart I hadn’t recognized before. It was one of those moments of perfection. Like the time she’d decided to sing “Little Drummer Boy” next to a decorated Douglas fir in the center of Crystal Court Mall.
She had suddenly stopped walking by my side and began to sing. People gathered around in silence. I’d never met anyone with a genuinely gifted singing voice who didn’t flaunt it twice or more a day. Her ber-ump-a-bump-bums were flawless, and all the shoppers clapped. I doted on Kimberlee as though she were an extremely appropriate and early Christmas present.
I loved that she sang without fear, and I loved the silly way her hair fell out from under the red Santa cap she wore as a gesture of Christmas spirit. The same helpless love was bouncing freely within my chest like a pink tennis ball, under my Valentine heart, and under her hand, when the phone rang.
The Foot Down
In every relationship there are moments when you must put your foot down. Sometimes these moments are easy to see coming and understandable to the party who has seen the foot put down. For example, “Honey, please don’t freebase in front of the children. I’m putting my foot down on this.”
Foot Downs can be tricky. Do not waste them. Never put your foot down for lawn mowing or hour-long television dramadies. Do put your foot down on new credit cards. Put your foot down on a mother- or father-in-law living in the spare bedroom. And, if it is possible, when your significant other’s last significant other calls while you are both naked in bed, giggling and euphoric, bring a booted, steel-toed foot down on the head of that disease-carrying cockroach.
“It’s Increase,” she tells me. “You understand, don’t you? He needs to speak with me.”
She stands by the bed looking down at me, one hand covering the mouthpiece of the phone so her ex-boyfriend will not hear the exchange. She is nude and holds all the cards, so I put my right foot down on the floor, followed by my left, and walk into the TV room. The heat is up high in her house, and I sit naked on her leather couch while mindlessly flipping channels. She has a Christmas tree surrounded by a tree skirt her mother recently made and sent in the mail. The tree skirt dwarfs the tree and its decorations—stringed popcorn we’d put together a week earlier in front of the fireplace—and the few presents lying about. There are six presents for me, all in different wrapping papers with bows and curly, colored strings. There are two presents for her, wrapped in movie ads from the Sunday Times. Her words on the phone in the bedroom make their way to me through doors and walls. Although I am not able to make them out, they buzz like doom in my ears. The leather couch is swiftly made the victim of an unsettling, and eerie, cold spot.
A History Lesson
Cotton Mather, Christian moralist who spawned the Salem witch trials, spawned a son named Increase. An interesting name, vaguely Biblical, as historians might expect. I must admit, begrudgingly, that it would be a fascinating name to have. The parents of Kim’s Increase must have thought so, too.
How I Must Become a Dining Room Colombo
We are in the middle of dinner when she says she needs to call her work. I had just finished telling her about how the popular local author had been very upset that afternoon when he discovered I was using sub-standard Buff-n-Shine on his Caracas-red sports car. She listened while keeping her eyes locked on her mound of fried plantains, and as soon as I was done complaining, she dropped her fork, rose from the table and said, for the third time in a week, “Better things are in your future.” My significant other is a fortune cookie.
Then she went to call her work. She comes back into the room as Groucho Marx, and says, “Inside a dog it’s too dark to read,” while brandishing an invisible cigar. These actions mean she doesn’t think I’ll like what she is about to say. “Sorry, Zeppo, gotta go. There’s been some sort of disaster with the blood oranges I shipped to Florida. I’ll have to stay a few hours. No need to wait up.”
I realize how quickly a plot may thicken. “Uh huh, all right,” I say, and opt to chomp viciously on a crispy/soft plantain instead of giving her the usual hug-and-kiss goodbye combo.
At midnight, she has not returned. She does not show up at one either. A little after two, she comes into the bedroom, supposedly surprised to see me embroiled in a three-month-old issue of TV Guide.
“You still up?”
“How was work?” I ask.
“Fine. The Florida office found the blood oranges. One of our ubiquitous inept manchilden put them on the wrong dock.”
“How do you help them find blood oranges from three thousand miles away?” I ask, pretending awe while she undresses for bed.
“It’s magic,” she says. “It’s why I’m paid the big boodle.”
Her legs are shivering as she slides into bed next to me; the stubble chafes my hide. As I kiss her, I swear I smell another man’s scent. My animal instincts go into overdrive. In a restless dream, I find a sneaky way to scrape a culture off her tongue while she sleeps. I have it tested, in a mysterious lab, for foreign spittle. When I get the results, I run around the room naked and pee in the corners.
(A) Moral Dilemma
Kimberlee has been receiving letters from Increase. I decide to read one. She appears to be using it to mark her place inside her seventeenth diary. She is in the kitchen experimenting with vegetarian burritos, having decided one afternoon, six weeks ago, that vegetarianism sounded appealing. Of course, she is sticking to it like a born herbivore: Kimberlee must eat nothing but fruits and vegetables or die.
So there is that double taboo: a personal letter inside of a personal diary. I opt for what I consider the lesser of two evils. After all, if letters aren’t to be read, then why the hell do we send them to each other?
He wants her back. He is transforming into the ideal Increase. He has recently underlined passages in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. He has started his own business selling designer flags for nearly every holiday, including Secretary’s Day—a flag he describes as depicting a stoic female with a phone in one hand and a fax machine in the other. He writes that he’s sold a few, but has “a twitchy feeling” that his customers may consider it a joke. He still works forty hours a week at the bank. He’s been washing his back twice a day and nearly all of the boils have disappeared. This is the letter Kimberlee uses to hold the place inside of her seventeenth diary.
She tells me for the umpteenth time that she values my cucumber. I ask her if she realizes that cucumbers are green, cucumbers are for salads, cucumbers shrivel. She tells me she hadn’t thought of it that way, tells me she’s sorry, and tells me again, a few minutes later, that she values my cucumber. I wonder if she doesn’t have Increase’s cucumber confused with my own.
A Slip of the Tongue
She mentions Increase while we eat at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Our romantic hidey-hole. Our cozy this-is-where-we-first-knew-we-were-in-love eatery.
“Increase called me today,” she says.
“Good for Increase.”
“He got a promotion at the bank,” she says.
“Must be all that back washing,” I tell her, the words pitched out of my body by some horned, Dante-esque demon.
We stop chewing. Then I begin to pick Kung-Pao Chicken from my hair as she rushes from the restaurant without getting a to-go box for her vegetarian Mu-Shu Egg.
“God, am I ever sorry.
“I swear I didn’t read any of the diary.
“I know, I know. The letter was certainly off limits, too.
“Look, I’m rubbing your feet. I’m putting lotion on your piddies. I’m using the adorable, though nauseating, baby language we make fun of other couples for.
“I washed the dishes today. I vacuumed. I dusted. I cooked you some sort of eggplant patty thing the book says will taste like a Whopper with cheese.
“I’m pathetic without you.”
Leaves Turn Brown to Indicate the Passage of Time
“You’re pathetic,” she finally says, “with or without me.”
It is such a deep-cutting shot that a flag is waved.
After the eggplant patties, which taste very much like eggplant patties and very little like Whoppers with cheese, we cuddle and kiss and coo. Then the phone rings and a man who seems surprised to hear my voice asks for Kimberlee. She freshens her lipstick and rushes out the door to solve the mystery of the overripe Yucatan Hot-Tomatoes.
Fill the floor of a room wall to wall with cheap, wooden mouse traps. Carefully set each trap one after the other, creating stored energy within the springs by using the small metal pins to clamp down the killing bars. Stand in the doorway and carelessly toss in a ping-pong ball. Watch in awe while unconsciously curling your toes in an attitude of protection. Replay the moment over and over again in your imagination. Try to see it in slow motion and from all possible angles.
We drive north toward wine country. Wine makes blisters break out on my tongue, but who wants to argue? Our inability to come to a mutual decision leads us to circling the parking lot at Hearst’s Castle no fewer than three times. When we finally decide to take the tour it is too late. The trams have stopped running. It costs me twenty-five cents to look through a blurry telescope at the walls of the castle far off in the distance. She hogs the lens.
A Montage of Questions
Why does Kimberlee have a great job while mine is a gerbil on an exercise wheel? How/Why is Kimberlee able to manage her finances? How does Kimberlee finish what she starts? Besides a cucumber, what does Increase have that keeps Kimberlee interested? If you were to make an educated guess at the international exports of Yucatan, how far down on your list would you put hot-tomatoes?
Once Coitus is Routine
It all seems clear to me now. The yoga-necessary sexual positions are secretly murderous as arsenic. She hopes to kill me by sapping my strength to the point where I will have a heart attack performing a simple task. In a few weeks she will innocently ask for my assistance in reaching an object on a high shelf. I will crash down with a silent heart, a bottle of paprika death-gripped in my hands. Quincy, M.E., will be surprised to find myocardial infarction in such a young man, but there will be no trail leading to the vicious, and cruel, Origami Duck.
It is August, eleven months into whatever it is we are into, when she tells me Increase is moving back in with her.
I look up from the screenplay I’ve been working on—a thriller about a woman who looks like Greta Garbo but possesses the power to siphon the life force from inept manchildren—and ask Kimberlee if we could, instead, get a beagle.
“Don’t be obtuse,” she says. “Increase is having a hard time without me. He still loves me. You’ll just have to get that purple futon out of storage and find a new place.”
“I already live here,” I remind her. “My toothbrush is in the bathroom. I’m having a hard time with you. You never said anything about allowing jerks to move in because they profess their love.”
She looks at me with enough rise in her eyebrows for me to realize I should have seen this trudging down on me like a freight train.
“Remember his back,” I tell her. “The man has zits on his back, Kimberlee.”
She crosses her arms and widens her stance. It is her best stern mother look. “Not anymore, he doesn’t,” she says.
I am beaten, go for the sucker punch: “We looked at matching tattoos.”
Her face softens. Her body untangles. She says, “Oh, that romanticized tripe.”
How Her Words Could Be Poetic
“You were like the Fourth of July, Zeppo,” she tells me, while standing next to my packed Daihatsu. “All sparks and brilliant colors. But it’s the morning of the fifth now—burnt husks and the smell of sulfur.”
My Thought-Provoking Response
I say, “Kimberlee, stick it in your ass.”
A Boy and His Purple Futon
For months, the purple futon and myself are fused. I work only eight hours a week for the popular local author, and watch Oprah on my 12” black and white television while eating confetti-colored cereals straight from the box and pouring salt on my triple-beef burgers.
A doctor tells Oprah that men and women suffer from opposite paranoia. Men, he says, fear their partner will share her body with someone else; women, on the other hand, fear their partner will share his love with someone else.
I write Oprah a letter because that doctor is all mixed up. I tell her that Increase can keep Kimberlee’s body; it was dangerous to have around anyway. What I want back is the part of her that bursts out singing in the middle of the mall.
Two and a half years pass before we see each other at an auto parts store where I am searching for radio knobs. I had assumed she’d moved, considering it is our first run-in after so much time. She is comparing oil prices; her husband, Increase, looks over her shoulder.
There is little to catch up on. She still sells exotic vegetables and fruit; I still work for a popular local author (a different one who is just the same). I have also had a screenplay optioned for twenty-five hundred dollars with no expectations of ever seeing it produced. This has, however, led to my being asked by Starworks, Ltd., an offshore consortium, to write Psycho Astro-Cop VI for a small non-guild commission. She notices that I must still hate to shave, which appears to make Increase wince.
When we part, Increase hands me a business card, which makes Kimberlee chew her lower lip. The card has his beautifully strange name—Increase Wokowski—and phone number. In bold letters are the following words: FLAGS TODAY, FLAGS TOMORROW, FLAGS FOR HAPPINESS OR SORROW. FLAGS TODAY, FLAGS TOMORROW, FLAGS YOUR FRIENDS WILL WANT TO BORROW.
Two or three times since I last saw her, I have stood in the middle of a room and turned slowly in a circle. I do this so that at some point in the turning I am directly lined up with Kimberlee Wokowski. I don’t know which is more silly: that dumb little business card I keep in my wallet, or me spinning in circles to feel an instant of imagined contact.
I have dated other women since and will date again. This was not an earth-shattering event. But behind me is her hand on my valentine heart. Back there is that moment when she asked for the best ending. I just plan on keeping that business card and sneaking a peek at it once in a while. There is nobody here to keep me from that.
And this is what I learn about the conventions of romantic comedy: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy minds greatly for what seems like forever, but is not.