The middleaged woman behind the wheel of the late-70s Cadillac lacking vanity plates had a dewlap that hung halfway down to her sternum, a smoker’s vocal huskiness, and the manner of one used to giving orders. When I leaned in her passenger window as I’d seen the girls do and asked what she wanted, she said, “Surprise me. Get in.” Her eyes, the color of lemonade in which much ice had melted, didn’t seem to twinkle, but of course I was seeing them mostly at a 90 degree angle, as she gave me only a brief once-over.
My understanding is that the girls traditionally host — if that’s the right word — their parties —if that’s the right word — right in their gentleman caller’s cars, often not bothering even to move into the back seat, but this woman — who I decided to think of as Joanne when, in response to my asking her name, grumbled, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” — had a suite at the Chateau Marmont.
As we drove toward it, I asked if she did this sort of thing often. She looked at me, enabling me to be able to say for sure that her eyes weren’t twinkling, and pointed out, “You ask a lot of questions for a whore.” I made no further attempts at small talk.
Once in her suite, she turned on the radio and disappeared into the bathroom. The Captain and Tennille’s "Love Will Keep Us Together," my hatred for which was exceeded in that bleak season only by my hatred for Elton John and Kiki Dee’s "Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart," came on. Joanne emerged from the bathroom smoking, and in a negligee, and seemed displeased that I hadn’t disrobed in her absence. I didn’t find her terribly attractive, and her brusqueness and dewlap made her even less so, and I was able to achieve erotic readiness only by thinking of Debbie Harry, though I imagined I’d find her too short for me if we were to meet in person. We partied, if that’s the right word, in the conventional way.
Afterward, Joanne seemed lost in thought. She asked me to fetch her cigarettes, and then lay there blowing smoke rings at the ceiling, completely oblivious to me. I had quit smoking 18 months before, and found the smell of her Virginia Slims very distasteful. Years later, Claire and I would buy a house in Ham, a leafy London exurb best known as where much of the rubble of the Luftwaffe bombings wound up buried. It had for many years been the home of a chainsmoker, and the whole place was an inch thick in nicotine scum, and stank. During a spirited debate with a semi-friend about whether the NHS should devote its limited resources to treating those who’d brought on their own lung cancer and emphysema with smoking, I expressed the view that they should announce a cutoff date, after which one continued smoking at his or her own risk. My semi-friend called me a fascist, and went out into the garden to enjoy a fag.
Joanne suddenly got confessional. She said she’d been trying to quit smoking for years, and had alarmingly high blood pressure, which she blamed on being a woman executive in an industry controlled not just by men, but by the sort of small-penised ones who felt terribly threatened by a woman with authority comparable to their own. She asked if it would be all right if she pretended I was one of them and beat me with a wire coat hanger. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but wasn’t earning very much as a freelance writer, and asked how much it was worth to her. She said, “Oh, just forget it then!” and burst into tears. I felt just awful.
It turned out she had no intention of driving me back to where we’d met. “It’s barely half a mile!” she said angrily. “Get a little exercise!” I was deeply troubled to think she couldn’t tell from my physique that I exercised regularly. When I asked if we would see each other again, she snickered, “Yeah, right.” Yeah, right is the only expression in English that means exactly the opposite of what it seems to mean, but only if so inflected.
We often think of English as uninflected, but no such thing is in fact the case.
[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]