Spring 2008, Volume 4

Excerpt from Lost Paradise by Rhoda Greenstone

Chapter 2

Q.: Do you know how to tell the difference between yogurt and Los Angeles?

A.: Yogurt is the one that has a living culture.

Aaron was coming. No matter how Moneta busied herself to get the pottery safely packed, whenever she looked over at the clock, merely a few minutes had elapsed.

When she answered the phone, Moneta fully expected to hear her older boy making some elaborate excuse that something had gone wrong and he wouldn’t be able to make it after all. Hadn’t he been such a coward that he let more than six years go by, flying in and out of the States without speaking to her? Why wouldn’t he simply let the unbearable silence continue? She braced herself as she put the receiver to her ear.

But it wasn’t Aaron’s voice at the other end of the line. It was Pamela Perry’s almost masculine baritone.  Pam, sometimes Pammy, was always a breath of fresh air—breath? More like a tornado when she came to town. Always rushed, Pam calculated her entrance so both women would lift the other’s spirit.

Pam: I’m here, girl! She’s back in town! You know who this is, Moneta? (here comes that whiskey-marinated, infectious, raggedy, chesty laugh that is Pam Perry's signature). ”What? Did I wake you up? Answer me, girl!“
Moneta: “Aaiieee! Pam Perry! I thought you were in Phoenix.”
Pam: "No. Sedona last time. Wake up! Sedona clientele bathing their souls in spirituality during the day, but dipping into other urges at night..."
Moneta: "Right! So much on my mind! Didn't I just get a letter from you that you were thinking of moving to Sedona? That they're such great people, so spiritual? Didn't you say that?"
Pam: "Well, if you want, I can just turn around and go right back to Sedona, which, yes, which was spiritual, if you really want to know. Remember I wrote all about how some lady wanted to set me up in business in Sedona, but the bloody heat was enough to make hell look like a picnic!...I came, if you really want to know, because I knew you'd need me just about now."
Moneta: (breathless from excitement and delight) "Wait a minute. There's someone at the door. Forgive me, Pam. I'm just thrilled to hear your voice. The place is an absolute zoo right now. Workmen all over the place, boxes and shmutz wherever you look and, on top of it, Aaron is coming this afternoon; Aaron will be here any minute. Stop! Don't say it, Pam. Don't tell me what you're thinking. That might be him at the door right now..."

But when Moneta opened the front door, whom did she find? None other than Pamela Perry herself standing on her threshold, a petite woman who was stunning enough to grace a magazine cover, a cell phone in her beautifully manicured hand. Once inside, Pam slipped the phone into her Louis Vuitton handbag and grinned in toothy silence.  Pam was as short as Moneta, but that’s where the similarity ended. This taut-figured woman had the body of a runner, although it wasn’t completely clear how it got that way since she really didn’t run. Pam was about as fastidious a fashion plate and as evanescent as a human being could be before becoming annoying.

Pam slowly turned around in a circle so Moneta could fully appreciate the look. “Dressed to the nines, dahling? Is the king of the castle here so my getup won’t be a total loss? I just love to watch handsome, grown men like Rex turn to mush...”

“No, I sent our lord and master away. So Aaron and I could have some time alone together.” Pam kept turning slowly, her perfume making Moneta’s sinuses ache. Moneta guessed the designer Pam was modeling: it looked like high couture. “Chanel? I’m afraid to breathe on Chanel, let alone muck it up with the crap I have all over me. I can’t even hug you, Pam! Don’t you have something you could change into? Maybe I can dig up some jeans and a shirt, although my stuff will fall right off you. God, if you aren’t skin and bones.” Until she saw that sardonic smile on Pam’s impeccably made up face she hadn’t realized how much she had missed this source of warmth and energy whose mercurial yearly surprise visits were like transfusions of energy, shaking up while revitalizing her mundane existence. She didn’t know whether to yell or laugh or cry so Moneta did a little of all three, as she yanked the woman into a small, cleared area of the living room, opening up sheets of newspaper to lay down on the sofa so her friend could rest her Chanel.

“Aw, Hell! Chanel! Fehnel! This is off the rack. Not to worry. You’re such a Jewish Mama! While you’re at it, how abouts you dig up something to drink? Any wine left over from Thanksgiving? And where’s my man? Aren’t you gonna call the hubby so I can get a smooch?”

“The hubby is at the new place trying to get some kinks worked out of the plumbing...”

...kinks, Moneta checked herself, stopping, freezing in mid-sentence, envisioning Rex emerging from the bathroom, wrapped in a mothball scented shawl, his face a florid pink, almost always licking his lips as he lunged at her. He had learned to be graceful after years of practice in the huge feathery mules he special-ordered from The Monkey Ward catalog. Kinks: increased excitement of any kind uncorseted the man, letting it all hang out. To be precise, when Rex decked himself out, gussied up in satin and lace, a boa around his neck, his long, muscular legs cloaked in fishnet stockings, he got the greatest kick out of placing a hat on the Longfellow poking through the opening he had made in his garter belt. While he affected a Rockette chorusgirl strut around the boudoir, it almost always triggered off the giggles that often were part of their lovemaking.

Lately, though, Moneta wasn’t always able to tell when he was being serious or when he was trying to get a laugh out of her. Recently when Rex’s little bedroom kinks were set free, the same craziness that used to tickle her, wasn’t doing it for her lately—not with all this moving, all the stress of friends flying in from all over, all the pressure about press and rubbing elbows with potential (wealthy) matrons and patrons, plus the zillions of details she had to perfect. That his kinkiness had escalated was contributing to her feeling overwhelmed. Rex claimed her success had revved up his libido—he seemed so turned on by all the publicity and extra attention she was getting from the media and the press, she was at the point of screaming. Whenever he finished an article about his wife’s “overnight” fame, his voice took on that sing-song quality as he asked, “Isn’t it time you got ready for bed?” Even before that little crooked smile of his, or that little clicking sound he made with his false teeth when he was broadcasting he was feeling about as randy as a goat, she knew he wasn’t interested in her sleep schedule. Rex hadn’t been so insatiable since he had contracted t.b. as a young man.

“...some kinks ironed out in the plumbing, I think. Anyway, you know I don’t keep the stuff in the house, as if I could find wine at a time like this. The kitchen is just about all packed up, Pam.”

“Well,” Pam cackled, pulling a couple of miniature bottles of airplane liquor from her purse, handing one to her friend, “thank goodness I was a Girl Scout!  Wanna join me?”

Moneta gave it right back. “You know I don’t drink.”

“One day you’re gonna look back and kick yourself for giving up everything good just to set an example for those mmm-mmm sons of yours.”

“Watch it!” Moneta retorted good naturedly. Pam’s twinges of jealousy tugged at her heartstrings. Each time one more relationship “just didn’t work out,” Pam called to report “It’s time to get out of Dodge,” to let Moneta know which new city she was headed for. The latest man’s name was never mentioned, the split-up never alluded to, and neither would be mentioned until Pam was good and ready. Her relationships were not much like Moneta’s long-lived—often lifetime—associations.

In their design school days, Pam sometimes wore a t-shirt that spread the message of The Movement: A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. However, over the years, life taught both women that The Movement wasn’t infallible. Pam reminded Moneta of the unforgiving strain of being a fiercely independent woman. Moneta could see that not even a woman as strong as Pam could, nor should, remain fiercely independent one hundred percent of the time. 

BIO:  My poems have appeared in ABCtales, Samisdat Review, Wascana Review, The Rag, Verdad, and other journals. In an earlier life I contributed to many publications in Southern California, among them the Hollywood Reporter, Pico Post, Beverly Hills Independent, Malibu Times, Classics West magazine, and L.A. Times. A chapter I wrote deconstructing my poem, "Letter from L.A." will appear in Poem, Revised, edited by Robert Hartwell Fiske (Marion Street Press) later this year. For the last two decades I have instructed college students in the joys of language arts and humanities.