Weaving through traffic in my ancient neon blue GEO,-bet you have not heard that brand in a while-I hear at least two horns honk and see one discourteous gesture given to me. I have to agree some women should not drive at all.
And I am certainly one of them.
I have road rage, it’s true, but I have to get to my ladies who lunch, lunch with my girls or they will kill me.
The term ‘ladies who lunch’ is mainly used to describe wealthy socialites who get together for long lunches during the work week to plan events or gossip. In all actuality, I am not exactly a socialite. I work for a living at a job I hate, because, well honestly I enjoy eating and my passion for writing does not pay for food or the rent.
Now the other ladies I eat with are more of the socialite level. There are five of us that get together once a week, usually after I escape my mindless job to gossip.
Today’s lunch or rather it’s now closer to dinner, was a little difficult for me to make in time because of the fact that it is Monday and the beginning of a new month.
Instead of writing great romance novels, becoming the next Nora, I work as an assistant to a crazy man who owns several high quality grocery stores that also deliver food. I do all the billing for the store, as well as the ordering, typing letters, fetching coffee, and teaching my boss things he should know like flushing the toilet; so basically I’m a girl Friday, extraordinaire.
I reach my destination of the 600 Restaurant, at the Watergate, only fifteen minutes late, which is excellent news because that means I am at least ten minutes early for our meeting.
Socialites do not have to be on time because the party never starts until they do.
Reaching the handsome maitre de I give my name, “Skylark Lockley,” and am shown to a sought after table in the back of the restaurant where I see Lucy James already there.
Lucy is a tad bit older than me at forty or at least that is what she admits to, but we get a long famously. She is more like me, as far as the whole class and status ideals go, because she always held a regular job, until her son started playing for the LA Lakers.
While Jamal did well for himself and now takes care of her; Lucy is forever surrounded by drama, including four other children, a crazy ex-girlfriend of Jamal’s and a vicious sibling rivalry between her and Yvonne or Beju-short for bourgeoisie.
At the table Lucy stands to greet me with the traditional kiss-kiss on both cheeks. Something she learned after having money.
“Lucy your hair grew!”
“Skylark, now you know you’re stupid.” She says rolling her eyes at me. “We saw each other last week and you know I had that Halle Berry cut; now my hair is down to my ass. You know it’s a weave.”
“It looks very nice.”
Lucy pats my hand to let me know it is ok that I do not know much about ethnic hair.
The waiter greets us and asks if I want anything to drink before the rest of our party gets there.
“Lucy what are you drinking?”
“Girl! You know I need alcohol in order to tell you the news.” She turns with a flirty smile at our waiter and orders a long island iced tea, and “Go easy on the tea.” She says with a wink.
“As bad as all that? All right then I will have the same.”
“Skylark let me tell you what Muffin has pulled now.” Muffin is the crazy ex-girlfriend, nicknamed because of her tight pants and the way her midsection ‘muffins’ over the waistband.
“She showed up at my door the other night at 1:30 drunk and stupid off her ass banging on my door. So I did not answer.”
“Lucy! Why would you not answer? I thought you liked Muffin.”
“Hmm. I like her when I am good and ready for her, 1:30 in the morning is not the time. Anyway, she starts yelling at the door like some crazy hyena, “Ma, I know you’re in there, I have news on Jamal.” Muffin has started to call Lucy ‘Ma’, as in mother-in-law. The girl is delusional.
I take my drink from the waiter and take a sip saying, “What was the news?”
“Well get this. I opened the door and her drunken ass fell flat into the apartment; she had passed out.”
“What did you do?”
“I let her lay there on the floor. The next morning I was up and out the door to meet Susan Katz for a breakfast meeting.”
I make a face at the name.
Susan Katz and I had grown up together going to the same church, the same schools, however as time went on she started moving in different circles than me. She was a social climber, who used and discarded people as if they were a snotty rag. We run into each other every once in a while and she pretends as if it was the first time meeting her. Susan is married to a senator that she cheats on every chance she can get. The magazines have a field day with her but she ignores them. I guess when you marry an eighty year old you can get a way with whatever you want.
Lucy met her one night at a charity event and they became luke-warm friends who often times are on the same charity committees. Lucy does charity because she never had much until Jamal started to make millions playing basketball and wants to help people. Susan does charity because she wants to be seen and meet people who can help her.
“I saw that look, Skylark, she is always nice to me.”
“You just do not know her well enough, one day she will ask you for a favor that is beyond a regular friendship, believe me. You never got the news on, Jamal did you?”
“The news is that Jamal does not want her. He might come into town and get a blow-job from her or something but besides that he wants nothing to do with her.”
“That’s just lovely.”
“Hey if the girl asks to be treated like shit, why should the man say no? In fact men do not say no.” Narrowing her eyes at me she asks the question that all my friends ask, “How is Ben by the way? Spoken to any tomatoes lately?”
I feel myself blush as she brings up Ben and tomatoes. Ben is my boyfriend of, well, too many years to count and not really a boyfriend anymore. Ben is a long story as you will soon learn; speaking to tomatoes refers to how Lucy and I met.
About eight months ago at the height of my winter depression during the wonderful holiday of St. Valentine, my life changed.
Ben, my long time boyfriend, decided we should move in together. Which sounds all find and good but he did not tell me. Ben just showed up one night, ate dinner and moved some clothes into the closet. A couple of weeks later he moved his oceanic friends into the house while I was at work.
Fish were living in my house who expected crickets and food on a regular basis, which Ben conveniently forgot most of the time.
“Hey Skylark,” I would receive the call late in the afternoon, “I need to go do some errands, could you pick up some fish food?”
I never knew what those errands were exactly; of course I had my suspicions, as did all of my friends.
“Skylark you know he is stepping out on you, right?”
“Ben’s been spotted going into the Red Roof Inn and it is not with you, Skylark.”
My absolute favorite was after I meet Lucy, “Girl! Ben’s been spotted with Muffin at her local bar, you know the place she goes to find someone to get her freak on. You want me to cut one of them?”
It was during this time that with the stress of not knowing what Ben was up to, my mother, an aging former soap star always looking for a comeback, and the craziness at work, believe me the grocery store is a soap opera onto itself, -I had lost my mind.
I have heard of people having a nervous breakdown and dismissed them as not being able to control their lives. I took it all back when one day while food shopping, not at my store, because I refuse to give, Bill O’Malley any money when he makes my life a living hell, I realized that anyone could be stretched to their limit.
I remember the day very well.
My day had started out like all days do, a quick healthy breakfast consisting of a Diet Coke and a pack of M&Ms (the diet soda of course offsets any calories in the candy), get dressed, find out what Ben wanted for dinner and make my way out the door for another exciting day at work.
I arrived before Bill, my boss, and found the store manager Dottie in a panic.
“Skylark, look!” She said thrusting a colorful flyer into my hands.
There it was in big bold font letters LOBSTERS 2 FOR $1.00.
Wow, I thought, that’s a really good deal. I love lobster.
Then reality showed its ugly, little head as it so often does.
“Is this our flyer?” I asked with trepidation.
Dottie just nodded; I thanked her and moved slowly to the back of the store where Bill’s office and my desk were.
Standing in front of my chair at my desk I thought about grabbing Legs, my Beanie Baby frog that sits on top of my computer screen and walking out the door. I could just imagine what Bill would say when he walked in, even though technically the flyer was not my fault.
The one thing I was not in charge of was advertising; Bill had hired a marketing guru to take care of that. Or so he thought.
Jesse had come to work for Bill by being the wife of one of his friends. Because of the friendship she often more times than not got a way with murder. While I might sneak out early once a week to meet my friends, Jesse seemed to be out of the office more than she was in it.
And the excuses she gave!
“Skylark, I need to leave early today because there is an alligator in my house.”
“Apparently, the reptile has crawled up through the drain pipe, out of the toilet and now is sitting on my bed. My husband just does not know what to do!”
“Skylark, I must go now, right now because there are locusts in my house. I do not know when I will be returning.”
“My husband thinks he is having a heart-attack, I have to take him the hospital, and then we have dinner arrangements.”
At least when I left early I told a story closer to the truth. “Bill I have a meeting with my charity friends.”
Bill always just assumed I was on a charity committee. He has yet to ask what charity and I have not volunteered the information.
That day holding the flyer for practically free lobster might just be the one thing that got Jesse into trouble.
Bill O’Malley arrived a little less than half an hour after I did. I heard Dottie and several customers greet him, which he replied to with a grunt, as he made his way back to our offices.
“Skylark! Get your ass into my office, RIGHT NOW!” He yelled at me while passing my desk. I noticed as he stormed past me that his face had turned that lovely purple color it so often does when he was furious. Hmm, perhaps I’ll have eggplant for dinner, I thought making a mental note to myself.
I walked, slowly into his office, dreading what was to come next. When he noticed me standing in front of his desk he practically shoved the flyer into my face. I thought if he could get away with it, he would have rubbed my face with it.
“What the fuck is this Skylark? Don’t you know this is my lively hood? How am I supposed to make any money when I give away lobster? LOBSTER for Christ sakes.” Breathing heavily he bent down to turn on his computer and once again sat back up and looked at me.
“How in the hell does this piece of shit work again.” Not saying anything I turned on the computer.
He grunted at me and said, “Well are you going to answer me or just stand there? How did this flyer get all over town? Who saw the proof?”
“Get her on the phone, NOW!”
A note about why I took this job working for the beast of Washington, DC.
First, of all I had been rejected for my fifth novel, Love by the Sea by every publisher imaginable. You know with all the crap that a certain publisher turns out every month they could have at least published mine. My crap was just as good as, Secret Love Child of the Prince and His Virgin Mistress or Accidentally Pregnant by the Billionaire Bad Boy Playboy. Now, don’t get me wrong I am an avid fan of these books; in fact I am a member of several of the series that come in mail every month. I just want mine published too.
Secondly, Grace, my mother told me she no longer would support me. Not that she really paid for so much, not like my friend Athena’s parents who still took care of her at twenty-seven. However, she had given me the down payment for my condo when I graduated college. Up to this point she had been taking care of the mortgage but her career taking a nose dive and a poor choice of husbands were costing her a fortune. Number five was going to cost her shared custody of the beach house in Laguna.
I was starting to get worried that I might not have food or be able to keep my home. Pouring over the help wanted ads I choose this job because it said light typing, assistant work, and some accounting.
In my interview I realized that I was interviewing with the man who had the cute little dancing fruit on white vans along with the famous slogan, “NO FOOD? NO PROBLEM!”, that I saw every where.
While dialing Jesse, I realized eight years later that choosing a job because of dancing fruit was perhaps not the wisest career move.
Later that evening I had finally left work after spending at least ten hours in the office and was trying to find something for dinner that was not potato chips and dip. Jesse of course did not get into trouble, blaming the newspaper for her mistake. I saw her type up the flyer the correct way on her computer, put the word proof at the top and tell Bill that was the flyer they had sent her. It was not her fault they did it wrong. Bill believed her and told me to inform the newspaper we would not be paying for the ad.
In front of the tomatoes while checking them for ripeness, I started talking to myself.
Out loud, apparently.
“Goddamn it! Bill’s expects me to get out of a bill that Jesse made the mistake on. Plus he has come up with at least six new complaints and wants me to type letters to manufactures.”
Bill comes up with these random letters to the food makers, such as the one to Hershey.
Chocolate is a dessert, while mint is an after dinner item. Why combine them in one bar?
How stupid is that? I suggest you learn to keep your food separate from each other the way they are supposed to be.
See how fun my job was?
While I started complaining to the tomatoes about Ben a woman came up to me and said, “Honey are you ok?”
“What?” I asked startled.
“You’ve been talking to the food, out loud. Are you losing your mind?”
The woman of course turned out to be Lucy, who after listening to my story told me hers over coffee at the local Starbucks.
Lucy told me she was from southern Virginia, divorced from an abusive relationship, raising five children on her own. She worked odd jobs, trying to make ends-meet, from working in a tobacco factory, retail at an adult video store, to being a pet psychic.
She said her favorite was the pet psychic, ‘do you know some people really think they can talk to their pet? Or communicate with them from the dead? Some people have a lot of time on their hands, girl.’ Lucy played Madame Woof-woof and set up this elaborate room in her office where she would bark, howl, or meow and in some cases chirp to contact Fluffy, Fido, or Elvis the parakeet from beyond the grave.
All of her hard work had finally paid off when her oldest, Jamal had been recruited by the Washington Redskins for football straight out of high school so that was how she wound up in our nation’s capital.
She told me it was a curse and blessing. For a change she had all the money she ever needed, especially since Jamal was looking into playing basketball too. According to Lucy, ‘my boy has mad skills, and can do anything on a sports field.’
Jamal, once famous started dating anyone and everyone and was often times in the gossip magazines taking a test to prove that he was indeed some random girl’s sperm donor.
Her other son, Fred, started thinking he was some big player and got himself into trouble often. When he reached eighteen, Lucy said she was done with him, she could not change him, and he would have to learn on his own.
She had twin girls, Ashanti and Nerissa who were gorgeous and knew it. They had started going to a private school in Georgetown where Lucy had hoped they would learn how to be ladies and maybe meet someone from a good family and get married. She had high hopes that the twins dashed when they started hanging with the Bush girls. The twins were often photo graphed with the Bush twins coming out of the downtown clubs at three in the morning.
The youngest at sixteen Yolanda, was Lucy’s final child, ‘after this one I was finished and got myself fixed.’ Lela had “issues” as the therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and Lucy’s gay best friend, Igor told her.
On top of her litter of children, her sister, Beju was jealous of her, not to mention pissed because Lucy stayed friends with Igor, who was her ex-husband. Beju was forever asking for money for something. More often times than not Lucy sent her some gift bag that she acquired by attending an event just to shut her up.
After meeting Lucy I realized that perhaps my little romantic and employment problems might not be that bad.
Now months later listening to Lucy tell me the incident with Muffin and the news that Beju was looking to get back together with Igor I wondered how I had ever gotten through without her.
If the romance writing never works out I at least have good story lines for a soap opera, which secretly is a dream of mine. I would call it ‘As the Vegetable Ripens’ based on Bill, Jesse, Lucy, and the other ladies I lunch with. There are enough stories in those people to have the soap running for years. Years, I tell you.
Finishing off my drink I signal for another as I say to Lucy, “I have not been speaking to tomatoes or fruit and have not even been abusing chocolate lately. Ben and I are just peachy keen.”
“Sarcasm is an ugly trait Skylark.”
“Come on Lucy, things are fine. Now I know Muffin falling dead drunk at your door is not the reason you needed a long island. Tell me the news because I just spotted Bianca and Zelda at the door.”
“Mmm, that Zelda is a piece of work. She called me the other night with financial advice and to ask how my aura was.” Lucy leans over the table and whispers hurriedly, “Well, here’s the dirt, Jamal knocked up some random skanky girl-again.”
“I thought you told him to stop sleeping with the girls hanging on the team.”
“Apparently, his dick speaks louder than I do. Fred, the little hoodlum that he is, got locked up for the fifth time this year.”
“Don’t get me lyin’, you know I don’t even know. Something stupid I’m sure such as trying to be a man playing with people he should not and getting into trouble. The twins are doing a playboy spread.”
“Mmm, hmm. I told them to stay away from that old fool, but they think this will help their career. What career, I ask you? And last but not least Yolanda has informed me that she is a lesbian.”
“That’s just lovely.”
“Isn’t that just a bitch? Do not tell Athena, I think she just enjoys having me around as her token ghetto friend, so she thinks she’s relevant.”
“Stop it!” I laugh at her. “She likes you. Athena’s just different.”
“Hello, ladies.” Lucy says loudly as Bianca and Zelda reach our table. I look up to see my two oldest friends, who I have known since college. Bianca greets me with a kiss first in all her blonde, blue eyed goddess likeness. She comes from an amazing pedigree of English land owners and the diva of the nineteen sixties. Francesca had a voice that rivaled Maria Callas. Bianca’s main goal in life had been to be bigger than her mother, who never had time for Bianca while she was growing up. Bianca was instead raised by a nanny, who only saw her mother on holidays-if and only if, she did not have a performance.
Inheriting her voice, Bianca dropped out of college to pursue her singing career. Her mentor was, Gloria Carbone, Francesca’s rival on stage, since the tragic death of Maria, as well as in love.
Letting Gloria train and guide her was Bianca’s passive aggressive way of getting back at her mother.
For two years Bianca was the new diva to contend with; just listening to her voice made you cry. The press loved her, not only for her talent but also for the extra drama she provided by not letting her mother manage her. Really the two of them get along very well, Bianca is just a little upset about her childhood.
Then everything changed when she married Markus and moved to some remote although breathtakingly beautiful island in the Caribbean. She gave up her career, for a man, to become a wife, mother, and housekeeper.
Do not get me wrong for some people that type of life is fine but not for Bianca someone with a God given talent.
On the other hand for someone like me, it would be fine and dandy. I would love to find a wealthy husband and give up my life being Bill’s fetch and go girl.
Amazingly enough Bianca was happy, cooking, cleaning, raising two daughters and doing charity work; her life was the unread portion of a Mills and Boon romance.
Then last year the fairy tale-happily ever after stopped. Just like that. Markus told her he was having a nervous breakdown (see how popular they are?), being married to Bianca was not what he expected, so she moved back to Washington. Unable to regain her voice, due to stress, she bought the old landmark Woodward and Lothrup building, and turned it into the Washington Opera House. Even though she might not be able to sing any longer she always felt that besides the Kennedy Center, Washington was severely lacking in culture.
When she started her project people shunned and made fun of her, who on earth wants to see the opera? Once the renovation started Bianca’s critics were silenced when well to do influential people started to open their check books and the money came pouring in. Bianca had relaunched her life and was happier than ever.
“I have news ladies.” She greets us happily, sitting down. “Where’s Athena?”