Once again, I'm the only male at the table. Also, lesbians outnumber straights 3-1 (one abstention), and bisexuals by the same ratio. Considering how much time I spend in the company of women, I should be a pussy magnet like Roach.... Except I have enough self-awareness to know I lack his charm and charisma. If I was single, I'd pay Roach to give me lessons.
We're all seated at Big Vinny's California Cuisine, on Wilshire Blvd. It's me, Bekka, Jill, Mallory, and Gladys. I have to force myself to not stare at Gladys. Her face and arms have color, and healthy color. Instead of her usual plain dress, she's in a t-shirt and somewhat tight sweat pants, plus a new pair of Nikes. She is dressed like thousands of other women her age in Southern California, with one variant: the t-shirt is black, except for a pink triangle silk-screened over the left breast. No text at all. If you know the significance of that triangle, you'll probably smile and nod at Gladys as you walk past her. If you don't know the significance, it doesn't matter, and you'd be bugged if you did know.
Gladys would be leaving for home in three days. Jill was being apologetic with her, explaining that neither her or Mallory had been at their jobs long enough to try and claim a personal day or two. Gladys dismissed that with her warm smile. "Oh heck, I've been having a dilly of a time all by myself! In fact, I've got a new hobby."
"What's that?" asked Bekka.
"Engaging with strangers," Gladys answered. "Talking with people I've never met, and with no one making an introduction besides myself. I don't know if it's because this is California, or just that I've never tried it, but everyone I meet seems to have a truly unique personality, their thoughts are original. And they've all been nice people. Some of the people on the beach walkway in Venice and Santa Monica, oh boy. Minnesotans would walk three blocks out of their way to avoid having to be too close to them. Roy would be calling the police and asking why they haven't been arrested yet. But you talk to them and realize there's nothing wrong with them, they're just people, and they have a different way of ;looking at things." She paused and looked a bit embarrassed. "To be honest? The only place I didn't have much luck engaging with people --- I hate to say this, Jill --- was at Muscle Beach. Not to be mean, but the men I talked to there all seemed to be at, well, a lower wattage than the rest of us, ya know."
I suppressed the urge to launch into hysterical laughter. Instead, I asked, "What lines of conversation would you pursue?"
"Simple enough things, I thought. How did they first become interested in bodybuilding, where was their hometown, like that.... Although. Oh boy! Jill, you've talked about bodybuilding being an art form. You said you wanted to be an M.C. Escher print, or design, and how most bodybuilders end up being the Sistine Chapel. So, I'd ask the men I talked to, if their bodies were works of art, who was the artist that created it? I'm afraid to say I just plain confused the heck out of most of those young men, they just couldn't wrap their brains around the idea, I guess. Only one young man answered clearly and immediately, and I didn't understand his answer. He said his artist would be 'Tom of Finland.' Does that make sense to any of you?"
All three girls and myself turned a bit pink, and found interesting spots on the floor to stare at. I finally said, "Uh, Tom of Finland is an illustrator who creates a lot of gay imagery. Some of his art is rated PG, some is rated X.... It's all very homoerotic, muscle men in chaps and huge penises, stuff like that. His style is very identifiable, you'll recognize his work anywhere, once you have a basic familiarity. A bodybuilder, gay or straight, would do worse than aspiring to look like a Tom of Finland illustration."
"Some of his stuff is a bit disturbing," commented Mallory. "He'll randomly throw in Nazi imagery, for no apparent reason. Okay, a handsome, well-muscled man with a huge penis and a shaved head.... And his only clothing will be an SS uniform jacket. If this weird little fetish of Tom's has any meaning, Tom is the only one who knows it, and he's not telling."
"I'll never make friends in a gay bar with this comment, but here goes," said Bekka. "Tom of Finland had done the same style of artwork for so long, and so often, it's become a caricature of itself. Yes Tom, big muscles, big cocks, blah blah blah, we know. Now, what would be fun would be to find an illustrator who can imitate Tom of Finland's style, and have him create nearly identical art.... Only in these illustrations, all the muscly big-cocked men are also amputees, missing at least part of one limb. A standard Tom of Finland sex god, only one leg is one of those narrow, rod-like sports prosthetics. Just hearing the theories for why these pictures are coming out would be hilarious to listen to."
Softly chuckling, I said, "Oh honey, that is dark. I love it, too cool."
We all turned our attention back to our meals for a while. Then Gladys said, "So, tell me. If I were to return back to Los Angeles, to live permanently.... Where would I go?"
Me and the three girls frowned at each other in vague confusion. Bekka finally prodded, "Um, that's a very nebulous question, Gladys. Do you mean what city or area you should live in? Do you want to remain in the LA area, or try San Francisco?"
Gladys looked a little overwhelmed. "I guess.... I believe I'd like to live in the general area of Venice Beach and Santa Monica. The thing is, I have no idea how to rent an apartment, or have utilities turned on, or any of those things. When I was single and living in Saint Paul, home was a boarding house. I"d pay my twenty-seven dollars weekly in cash, and that was it. And that money even got me two meals a day. That was the only time I paid my own rent. I've had too many things done for me in my life, ya know?"
"It's not so hard," smiled Mallory. "Me and Jill got our place through a property management service. Heck, those places, you can just call them up, tell them which neighborhood you want to live in, the size of place you want, and some other stuff. They'll find listings for places that match you profile."
With a big grin, I said, "Sunset Property Services, the company Jill and Mallory used, is pretty good. In fact, if you contact them, deal with Rod Baxter, and tell him you're a friend of Lenny Schneider and Becky Page. You won't believe how helpful Rod can be."
Jill started giving me a look, and said, "Yeah.... Twice now that guy has come by the place, just to see if we're still happy with it, are there any problems.... It's like he really, really wants to make sure we like the place. Like he'll be sent to a firing squad if we're not satisfied." She paused, then said pointedly, "Lenny? Did you do something to Mr. Baxter, to make him so darn obliging?"
"Who, me?" I asked in mock surprise. "Of course not." I skipped a couple beats, then smiled wide. "Bekka did it."
With her own wide grin, Bekka said, "We needed to get from Sunset's offices to the cottagel Rod offered to drive, but we insisted on taking the Falcon, mostly because I'd parked it on the sidewalk at a ninety degree angle to traffic. Now, you know me, I don't like to dilly-dally. Well, the Falcon has good pick-up, so I took advantage of that. We saved quite a bit of commute time. Mr. Baxter does seem to be a nervous passenger, though."
Mallory was attempting a steely glare, but it was undercut by her muffled snickering. "What did you do, Bekka?" she demanded.
"Oh... Fifty or so on Santa Monica Boulevard, eighty-five on Lincoln Avenue, and sixty-five on Venice Boulevard. Also, I'd picked up a few little driving tricks from the professional drivers while making 'Succubus,' and showed them off some. Really, I was using the Falcon in the way it was designed and built for."
"And you made Baxter's month when you helped him with the racing harness," I pointed out. "Becky Page was resting her hand on his thigh. He's going to have the thigh bronzed and mounted."
Jill sighed and said, "So basically, Bekka, you alternately titillated and terrified our management company rep. What are you doing to still keep him so obliging?"
"Whenever we speak with Mr. Baxter, we'll suggest if there are problems which Sunset needs to fix at the cottage, we'll come pick him up and take him over so he can see for himself."
"It's a bit odd," I observed. "On a couple occasions, we've offered to take Mr. Baxter out to lunch, like at Angel's trattoria. A five star restaurant, for free, and he turns us down. We would even pick him up from his office, so he wouldn't worry about finding the place. We know where the trattoria is, no need for Mr. Baxter to study a map and hash out a route."
:"So, what 'little tricks' did you learn?" queried Mallory.
"Nothing special," Bekka replied. "How to do a moving reverse 180, four wheel drifts, things like that." Jill rubbed her temples and shook her head.
"So Gladys, that's your best bet for finding a place to live, in an area you like. Talk to Mr. Baxter and tell him you're a friend of Jill and Mallory, who love their cottage. Also, you're friends with Lenny and Becky. You're sure Mr. Baxter will have several properties you'll want to look at, and Becky is being very obliging. She's offered to do the driving when he shows you the places available. And mention that Becky just got a new set of tires, and they need to be broken in."
"Yes, Becky Page loves a leisurely drive around the local beach cities," Bekka grinned.
After dinner, we went back to the cottage and talked with Gladys more. She had thought and thought, and boy howdy, if she doesn't get to gettin' and move to the Coast, they'll be carrying her out of her last church service in a pine box, up the hill to the cemetery in her home town, and it will have all been for nothing.... Well, okay, there's the kids, but still. I asked about money: how would she support herself? "Oh, gosh. I've got inheritance money from both my folks, plus money from a trust that's just sat in the bank for years now." Gladys' smile got wider, but her eyes narrowed. "And I'm sure Roy will not be too contrary over the subject of alimony. I tell ya, when a divorcing couple starts haggling over money, you wouldn't believe the things that come out in court. A wife could tell those present about all sorts of shenanigans her soon-to-be ex-husband got into over the years. Even a solid citize
n like Roy." With the smile still in place, Gladys said more quietly, "Fucking drunk piece of shit."
"This is none of my business, but I've gotta know," I said. "Has Roy always been an alcoholic?"
Gladys' brow creased, and she stared off into the middle distance. "Going by what I understand as the technical description of alcoholism, yes. But his drinking didn't dominate his life, like it does now. When we first married, he'd have a few drinks in the late evening, he said it helped him to relax for going to bed. He was drinking more, and earlier, by the time both kids were born. When the kids were of school age, Roy would say he wouldn't drink until the kids were in bed. One night I caught him trying to convince them both that they were tired and ready to sleep at 6:30.
Once the kids were both out of the house, oh boy. He'd come home for lunch from the packing plant, and not go back to work. He'd tilt a glass a few too many times, then insist he was fine, he just needed to rest his eyes a bit before heading for the office. I'd wake him up so he could eat dinner. And it just became a constant thing, Roy and bourbon. He'd spike his coffee with bourbon. Then, after a while, he stopped bothering with the coffee, and would just fill his mug from the bottle.
"He has little excursions sometimes. He'll be at one of the bars he likes and gets a skinful. Then he gets out to the car to drive home, only he doesn't drive home. He'll just.... drive. And he'll end up in the darnedest places. The phone will ring at six in the morning, and it'll be Roy. He'll tell me he'd been taken by kidnappers, and now him and the car are.... O gosh, let's see, where has he ended up? Well, Roy has visited Marquette, Wisconsin, Elkhart Michigan, Beardstown Illinois, Kirksville Iowa, Winner South Dakota..... He'd get angry with me! He'd tell me I should have called the police, because my husband is hours late getting home and has been kidnapped and driven out of state, then abandoned, and the car will have dents on it that weren't there before.
"It was these little trips that got me started to using curse words, at least when talking to or about Roy. One morning he called from.... somewhere. The car was out of gas and had a big dent in a fender, his head hurt, why didn't I call the police when he didn't come home, he had no money so I'd need to wire him some.... I just got fed up. I told him, 'Fuck off, Roy, go back to the car and sleep off your fucking hangover, then call me back.' He just sort of panted into the phone and said, 'What did you say?' I told him, 'I said for you to fuck off, and get some fucking sleep.' He didn't say anything. I could hear birds and cars in the background, so i knew he hadn't hung up the phone, but he didn't talk. I finally just hung up on my end. Around three he called again. He was much more deferential now. I wired him some money, and he was home around ten that night. And gosh, his favorite local bar doesn't shut down until one, so why waste what evening is left? Off he went. At least that night he got the car home. Right onto the lawn.
"The Krebsbach family are big wheels in Saint Paul, have been for five generations. They were the rarest kind of Norskie, they showed up in this country with plenty of money, not starting from scratch like most of the Norskies and Germans and Swedes. Every Krebsbach I ever met drank, but Roy.... Oh boy. Now that it was just him and me, the kids gone, he delegated just about every task he had at work, which freed him up to drink whenever he felt. He has a cot in his office, for nights when he starts drinking while he's still at work, and can't even get out to the parking lot and get in his fucking car. Or be bothered to call his fucking wife.
"What are you going to tell him?" asked Jill.
With a shining smile, Gladys said, "Roy will be standing outside the terminal waiting for me when my plane lands. As soon as I see him, I'll give him our normal stiff hug. Then I'm going to tell him, 'Roy, I'm leaving you. Our marriage is over. I'm moving to Los Angeles, and I'm going to live near the beach, and make new friends, and be true to myself. I have to, Roy, if I don't do it now, I never will, and I'll go to my grave feeling like a coward.'"
"Are you going to out yourself?" asked Bekka.
"Once we're in the car and moving, yes." Gladys paused, then said, "It's a little strange. For years and years, all the back to when the kids were in high school, I've made allusions to Roy about how I felt.... Who I really am. None of them sunk in, I guess. Or it's willful stupidity. I know if Roy actually grasped my allusions, he'd have let me know... Especially after becoming a fire and brimstone Christian. He'd have bellowed about how I was mocking God and had unnatural urges, and I had been perverted somehow. Probably at college.
"Gosh, I've fantasized bout running away from home for years. The day after the younger one's eighteenth birthday, I wanted to walk up to him and say, 'The kids are grown now, so we can do what we want. Well Roy, I want to leave you. You, Saint Paul, the state of Minnesota, and the whole Midwest. Roy, I'm a lesbian. I always have been. I've lied to myself, to you, and to everyone else for a long time now. I'm tired of lying, I'm moving to San Francisco, where I'll be around women just like me. Me and another woman will meet and fall in love, and we'll be together for the rest of our lives. The best part about it is, I'll be happy. I haven't been happy since college.
"'All our friends and family will be confused, but I can't help that. They can take me as I am, or they can go to heck. I've never loved you, Roy. I used to try and like you, but there's not much to like. I know I've hated you. Every time you approached me with your penis sticking out, saying things about wifely duties, I hated you. You would put your penis inside me, and I could feel small chunks of my soul die every time you did.
"We'll take care of the divorce, and I'll file for alimony. Don't be difficult when I do. I know how much you and the meat packing plant are worth, and I also know things about you that would be very difficult to explain to a judge. I've never told anyone about those things, because I would try to pretend I loved you, and didn't want to hurt you. But I'm through pretending, and while I'm not going to hurt you on purpose, I also don't care if you do get hurt. Just sign the papers and be happy I'm no longer around to nag you. Goodbye, Roy. You gave me two wonderful kids, and I appreciate that. But except for those two exceptions, there is absolutely nothing about our lives together I will miss.'"
We all sat silent for a bit. Just to keep the practical side of the talk in play, I asked, "What do you drive, Gladys?"
"I have a 1990 Lincoln Town Car." She chuckled. "Solid, comfortable, and not Japanese. And built by Ford, which was the deciding factor when Roy bought it for me."
Rubbing my chin, I offered, "I suggest you bring the car with you when you head this direction. For non-natives, LA freeways can be a bit, uh, intimidating. You'll feel safe having all that steel all around you."
With a sarcastic smirk, Jill said, "Hey Lenny, you should go car-shopping for Gladys! Get her something nice!" All the girls roared with laughter. I gave them, individually, rude gestures. Gladys had her "I have no idea what's going on, but I will be polite" smile on.
Bekka caught Gladys' expression and explained, "I will send Lenny out to buy a reliable, practical car, like a late model Honda. He will return with some flavor of muscle car from the late Sixties or early Seventies. Our girl Jane was expecting a Toyota. Lenny bought her a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442, a serious rager of a car. Mallory was expecting something along the lines of a Toyota or Honda, and Lenny picked up a 1968 Tempest."
"Does the Tempest have the 350 small block?" asked Gladys.
We all blinked briefly, than I said, "Uh, yes. And a four barrel Holly bolted on."
"Oh, good. My complaint with the Tempests from that year were the transmissions. Either a three-speed on the column, or one of those darn two-speed slush boxes."
"Check it," I smiled. "Thee previous owner yanked a three speed Hydramatic out of a '69 Tempest and bolted it in. Okay, the Tempest was never meant to be all that quick, but now at least Mallory's doesn't suck, either."
"You betcha," Gladys smiled at me. "Gosh, too many of the darned things ended up with the slant-six motors. Boy howdy, you'd have to flatten all the tires to make those darn things slower."
:"So, you appreciate American iron?" I asked.
With a modest look, Gladys simply said, "Oh, you know, I used to keep up on things. I was able to get a couple good cars out of Roy over the years, too."
"Well..... in 1970 I let Roy know I just had my heart set on an AMC Javelin. I didn't, not at all, but I knew he'd never buy me what I really wanted. I drove the Javelin for two days, then told Roy there was something wrong with it, I was hearing a funny noise. I took it back to the dealership and told them I was upgrading, I wanted an AMX the same color. I paid them the difference, and Roy never noticed my little bait and switch. The AMX was a gosh darn hoot to drive, I tell ya. That 390 block could really push, especially with the four speed tranny." Gladys positively hooted with laughter. "That car proved how little Roy paid attention to me. He never noticed my new car now had a four speed manual, the rear seats had magically disappeared, the exhaust note was sharp, and I could leave black streaks for half a block. But it's the same darn color as the one he bought for me, so it must be the same."
I was suddenly struck with a glorious idea. I turned to Bekka and said, "I have an idea, dear. Why don't you give Gladys a ride in Ursula?"
At first, Bekka glared at me in shock and annoyance. Then she frowned briefly at the ceiling. And after that, she smiled widely. "What a lovely suggestion, darling. Gladys, I'm rather fond of my own daily driver. I'd like to give you a ride. I believe you'll appreciate my car."
Gladys brightened way up. ":Oh! is it the '64 Falcon sitting at the curb? Oh, you betcha, I'd love a ride. It's a hoot, how much pep you can get out of one of those 289 V8s. I noticed the scoop in the hood, are you supercharged?"
"It is," Bekka smiled. We all walked out to the curb, Bekka reciting the specs to Gladys, who nodded in genuine comprehension. When the subject of the gearing came up, Gladys heard the ratios and immediately said, "You're set up for the road, a high top speed. Real good, then."
Bekka and Gladys rumbled off. We could hear the exhaust note as they reached Venice Blvd.... And, faintly the sound of the engine roaring as Bekka activated the supercharger. I turned to Jill and Mallory and said, "Oh my God. Oh my fucking God. Gladys Krebsbach has got to be the most amazing woman I've ever met in my life."
Bekka and Gladys returned about fifteen minutes later. When they pulled up, I could smell the tires. Bekka had been putting Ursula through her paces. After a bit of assistance in getting the harness off, Gladys emerged from the Falcon with a look of genuine elation on her face. She walked up to me and said, "Boy howdy! That's quite the little rocket you two have!"
"No, it's Bekka's," I smiled at her. "She lets me drive it sometimes, but that is Bekka's car. It was built by hand with her in mind. So, you like it?"
"Oh boy. I tell ya, it's nice to know there's still people around who appreciate a car with a bit of pep, don'tcha know."
I asked, "Tell me, Gladys. If you could have any car you wanted, what would it be?"
There was no hesitation. She replied, "A 1970 Chevelle SS, with the 454 motor. Either automatic or four speed, they both do the job. And I'd modify the suspension some, make it a bit friendlier for open road, not just drag." She stared off briefly. "I like to read Hemmings Motor News. I'll see what's being offered for sale, and dream. I tried to coax Roy into an interest in cars. I was wagering he'd have the teenage boy that still lives inside every man come to the surface a bit, and start taking an interest in muscle cars. Nope. He'd look at a beauty like the 1968 GTO, and the only thing he'd think of was, 'How much does it cost to fill the tank?'
Gladys chuckled and said, "The late 1970s were hell to me. A second oil crisis and gas rationing were convincing everybody to sell off their muscle cars. You'd look at the classified ads and see someone selling a 1971 Nova SS for a thousand dollars. It was frustrating to me because.... Well, the processed meat business has been good to the Krebsbach family, especially Roy. We were rich. too much darn money to spend, you know? I'd see all these beautiful cars for sale at bargain basement prices, and I couldn't talk Roy out of dime. Especially to spend on cars he thought were symptoms of America's moral decay, or some such hooey.
"Once I'm out here for the long run, I would love to own several cars. I'm not going to be a collector, but there are cars in the world I've always wanted to own and drive. If I can find them for sale without breaking the bank, I'd like to own them. If I have to, I'll pay for storage, just switch what I drive every week."
We went back inside. Bekka announced, "I believe, since we are five intelligent adults, we should sit down and help Gladys make some plans, sort out the nuts and bolts of her moving to LA. Mallory, do you have a notepad or legal pad?"
Mallory grabbed a legal pad from the office/guest room. "Okay, Gladys, how big of a place would you like?" asked Bekka.
"Oh, not too big," Gladys replied. "Its' just gonna be me.... Although a spare room could be useful. Okay, a two bedroom, like this little house."
"Do you want a house or cottage, or would you be okay with an apartment?"
Gladys paused in thought, then answered, "You know what? An apartment makes more sense. I've never taken any pleasure out of yard work, so why have a yard? Although I'd prefer a ground floor unit, if I am in an apartment building. Stairs wreak hob on my hip."
"How close to the beach do you want to be?" asked Jill.
It doesn't have to be right on the beach, or even as close as your place. The general neighborhood will be fine. Oh! I will say, I'll probably want a quiet complex. All these years of being in a big house by myself, I'd find a lot of noise, kids or traffic or what have ya, that would be real distracting."
"By yourself?" I asked. "You and Roy, right?"
With her church lady smile, Gladys said, "Yes. All by myself."
Ninety minutes later, we'd worked out a game plan for Gladys. She would let Roy know they were divorcing while they were still walking to the car at the airport, and she would tell him exactly why. Their home had a guest house, and she'd move into it while going through the divorce. Gladys knew Roy well enough that she wanted to be nearby while they went through the courts. She didn't like Roy, but didn't hate him either, and basic human decency said he'd need someone around. Gladys said his drinking would probably spike to near-suicidal levels for a little while, and she didn't wish Roy dead. So, she'd keep half an eye on him.
As far as alimony went, she knew there would be some push-back over that. Roy was very wealthy, but also cheap. He'd balk at giving Gladys a sizable amount of alimony. She wasn't too worried, though. "Roy can squeeze a quarter until you hear George squawk," she said. "The idea of having to send me --- or anyone --- money each month without seeing anything back won't set well with him, gosh no. But just the same, he'll agree to a fair amount. First off, I'll remind him I know things he'd like to stay secret, certainly things he wouldn't want discussed in a courtroom. Also, the judge will look at Roy's finances and tell him to loosen the purse strings, Roy has plenty of money, he can make an alimony payment each month without having to sell his plasma. Roy will settle."
Gladys will wait until her and Roy were completely done with the courts before moving to California, even if it meant paying rent on a place out here that would be sitting empty for a couple months. That way, she'd not be going through the rigmarole of getting a place, having utilities turned on, buying furniture, and all the other happy horseshit involved with moving. She knew she couldn't stay in the guest house after everything was finalized, and didn't want to have a temporary place in the Twin Cities. The final court date would happen, everything would be signed and settled, and the next day she'd get in her Lincoln and start driving to California. Gladys claimed there was very little she would be bringing with her. "I'm not taking any furniture, I'm only taking a few clothes --- if I never wear a dress again, it'll be too soon --- and I have just a few personal things I'll want with me, a couple scrapbooks, some knick-knacks, some records and video tapes."
"Any jewelry?" asked Mallory.
"Have you ever seen me wearing much?" Gladys smiled. "No, Roy felt jewelry was too flashy, you were being a show-off if you wore lots of jewelry, and God doesn't like a show-off, no sirree Bob. I have my pearls, a couple rings, and that's it." She gazed up at the ceiling. "I'm getting my ears pierced when I'm out here. And more than just my lobes, too. I like Bekka's ear piercings, a whole row of silver rings going up her ear. Heck, I may take the plunge and get a ring in my nose like Mallory!" she giggled.
"Sure you don't want a ring in your nose like mine?" I asked.
Gladys smiled at me and said, "Oh, I do. Just not on my first week in a new home."
Our estimate was that Gladys would be moving sometime in March, maybe April. Minnesota courts have a reputation for lethargy. Much of the divorce process would be simplified in that assets would not be split: Roy could pretty much just have everything, except for a few personal effects. The tussle over alimony wouldn't take too long, both the judge and Gladys would be pointing out she wasn't trying to bleed Roy, just get an acceptable payment, and Roy could afford it quite easily. Roy's objection wouldn't be the money going for alimony, it would be it was going, period. "Roy likes to save," Gladys said. "There is no reason for saving, he just wants to know all that money is sitting there, safe and secure, and not doing any good for anyone." A pause. "Fucking cheapskate booze-hound."