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Authors: Tiffanie DeBartolo

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BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
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SEVENTEEN

The first time my ass ever touched a public toilet seat was the day I made the reservations for Jacob’s thirtieth birthday dinner. I should have recognized that as some kind of bad omen. I’m very particular about where I set my ass, so to allow that kind of mishap was beyond comprehension. It had never happened before, not even with those “for your protection” toilet-shaped tissues you’re supposed to lay down before you go. They don’t do a damn bit of good anyway—they just soak up the leftover pee that’s already on the seat. So I squat. I’ve always squatted, ever since I was a child and my mother told me there were microscopic germs on toilet seats that could give you elephantiasis. I didn’t even know what elephantiasis was, but it didn’t sound like anything I wanted.

Two hours before I called the restaurant to make our reservation, I went to pick up Jacob’s birthday present at the antique mart on Beverly Boulevard. I got him a clunky old silver watch, dated 1946. It wasn’t glitzy or anything, just something special that he’d have for a long time—forever if he didn’t lose it. I engraved it myself, but instead of writing something mushy, I put his name, address, and telephone number on it. Like a dog tag. Jacob had gone through three watches in the eight months I’d known him. I wasn’t taking any chances.

I drank half a bottle of water before I left the apartment. By the time I got to Beverly, I really had to go. Somehow I miscalculated the distance from my butt to the bowl and there was contact. Only for a second. Nevertheless, contact was made.

Jacob’s birthday fell on a Friday, so Pete and I decided to cancel our usual Sushi outing the following night and take him somewhere nice instead. It was a momentous occasion and we wanted to splurge. I called a pricey restaurant down on Ocean Avenue—the kind with amazing food and an unusual number of Mercedes in the valet—and I made a reservation for eight people.

“For when?” the lady said.

“Friday.”

“What time?”

“Seven-thirty.”

It was Monday. She acted like it would be no problem. She took my first name and my phone number, and everything was set.

Friday afternoon rolled around and I got a call from the restaurant. It was the same girl I’d spoken to before. She told me our party would have to be seated either at five-thirty or at ten.

“You can’t do that,” I said. “We have a reservation.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“You don’t sound sorry.”

“We have another group coming in. We made a mistake and can’t accommodate you. But we’d love to offer you a complimentary dinner for two the next time you dine with us.”

I told her to shove dinner for two up her vagina. That was the biggest bunch of bull I’d ever heard. After I hung up I ranted to Jacob about the injustices of Los Angeles, about how some people would sell their first born to kiss celebrity ass.

“Jacob, I’d bet your left testicle that some hot-shot actor called up and needed our table. There’s no Academy Award-winning Beatrice to speak of, so they figured it was safe to dump us.”

“Don’t be gambling with my balls,” he said. “So we’ll find another place to eat. Big deal. What’s a four-letter word for a baby kangaroo?”

Jacob was engrossed in his daily crossword puzzle. It was obvious that he didn’t think restaurant politics were nearly as controversial as I did. To me, it was unacceptable. There was principal involved. That, and the banana split the restaurant served for dessert. It cost fifteen dollars and was worth every cent: three scoops of homemade ice cream surrounded by two bananas, a handful of fresh strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, a dish of almonds, and a dollop of whipped cream. On the side, they gave you two little pitchers. One was filled with hot fudge, the other one was filled with hot, gooey caramel.

It was foreplay. We
had
to have one.

“Trixie, all this fuss over ice cream?”

I nodded.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Jacob said. He looked up the number of the restaurant and dialed. “But let me just say, if this works, I’m going to lose all hope in humanity.”

“Join the club,” I said. “Joey.”

Jacob spoke into the phone using his surfer voice. It was pretty close to his Greg impersonation, only a little deeper. He was extremely polite, telling the person on the other end of the line that he needed a table for eight people that night. He said he was getting ready to leave town to work on a film, and he really wanted to eat there before he left. He said his last name was Reeves.

“Uh-huh. Sure. Right on,” he said into the phone. “Seven-thirty? Great, thanks very much.” After he hung up, he said, “We’ve
got
to get out of here.”

“I told you.”

“Why did you call me Joey?”

“A baby kangaroo. Four letters. Joey.”

EIGHTEEN

When we got to the restaurant that night, Jacob announced us as “Reeves, party of eight.”

The hostess picked up a stack of menus and immediately lead us to our table, only she looked at each person suspiciously, trying to locate the illustrious Mr. Reeves in our crowd. She was horribly dubious but she didn’t say anything. What could she say without looking like a complete fool?

The walls of the restaurant were painted a pastel pink, all the dining chairs were made of wicker, and there were various ships hanging from the ceiling—a cruise ship, a battleship, a yacht, a catamaran, but miniature versions—the kind you can buy at a toy store and then build and paint in your basement. In the dim of the candlelight, the effect was nautically romantic. We were seated at a lovely table in the back, right across from a gigantic print of an old sailboat navigating rough waters. Across it said: Brave Men Run in My Family. It reminded me of the painting in the diner where Jacob and I first met, only this one was nicer. And five times as big. And it had a boat in it.

Not long after we sat down, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver came in with their kids. I heard Maria thank the maitre d’ for squeezing them in on such short notice. I was positive they were the ones who stole our original table. I almost went over and told them the whole story. They looked like normal enough people, and I thought they’d get a kick out of it, but Jacob said if I ever wanted to eat there again, I shouldn’t blow our cover.

“We’re Reeves, remember? Not Beatrice.”

The birthday party consisted of Jacob and I; Sara and Pete; Joanna Grace and her date, a shy schoolteacher with a heavy moustache, named Jim; plus Kat and her new boyfriend, Gopal. Gopal was a tall, lanky chap, originally from a small town in northern India. He spoke with a slight accent and was the only one at the table wearing a suit and tie. Kat said he never went out at night without a suit and tie on. She had a red rhinestone glued to her forehead, a pseudo bindi, obviously in his honor. Gopal had been in the United States for twelve years and he’d never heard of
The
Brady Bunch
. Kat, conversely, spent practically every waking moment of youth watching television. She cited bogus lessons from the Brady family as mantras, and she knew every episode by heart. I guessed it would never last.

Pete was on his third gin martini by the time we were ready to eat. He wanted to order for everyone at the table. He asked each of us, in turn, what we thought sounded good, then he took it upon himself to decide what we were going to have.

“No roe-sham-bo tonight, all right sweetie?” Sara said.

“Pipe down. It costs too much to order shitty food here,” he said. I didn’t like the way he barked at her. I made a mental note to mention it to Jacob when we got home.

Pete ordered grilled salmon for the birthday boy. “Because grilled salmon is something a thirty-year-old would order,” he said. He got me the grilled vegetable salad. He got Joanna and Jim pasta with vodka sauce. Kat ended up with a Cajun stew because Pete said she was spicy. Sara got lobster because it was an aphrodisiac, and Gopal got the mixed fish platter. I’m not sure why Pete ordered Gopal that, but I suspected it had something to do with the way Gopal pronounced the word
platter
. Pete got himself a T-bone. “Because that’s what Arnold’s eating,” he said.

For dessert, we ordered two of the famed banana splits to share. I pretended I had to go to the bathroom so I could ask our waiter to load them up with candles. Sara thought I really had to pee and she came with me—she did have to pee. Kat followed, so as not to miss anything.

On our way back to the table, I heard a strange, familiar voice.

“Beatrice?” he said.

When I turned around I almost hit the deck. He was sitting right there, had probably been sitting around the corner, about twenty feet away from me, all evening. A man with a face I hadn’t seen in almost a decade.

My father.

It was kind of funny, really, that I hadn’t run into him sooner. He only lived ten miles from my apartment. It was bound to happen eventually. But he didn’t exactly frequent the places I did so I never worried about it. The last time I’d seen him was the day he walked out on my mother. He’d been fucking around for eons, and I think we all figured he would just keep fucking around and she’d keep taking him back, and that’s the way life would continue to go, ’til death did them part. She would undoubtedly find divorce too embarrassing, and he wouldn’t want to hand over too much of his net-worth, at least that was my theory. Then one day he came home and dropped the bomb—he’d just purchased a house in Malibu, he wanted to marry a twenty-six-year-old real estate broker, and that was it. He was willing to give my mother half of everything, plus a nice chunk of change for each of the kids, just to get rid of her.

He looked older than I remembered, mainly because his thick black hair had grayed a bit, but he was still in decent shape. My father was a handsome man. He was tall—well over six feet—and he had a geometric face, made of nothing but severe lines and sharp angels.

He was with a woman I assumed to be the one he married. All I knew about her was what my mother told me: she wasn’t much older than I was and she had fake tits. That night was the first time I’d ever seen her. She reminded me of a Yorkshire Terrier.

“Beatrice? Honey, is that you?” my father said.

Please tell me he didn’t just call me honey, I thought. Tell me I made that up.

I figured if I didn’t respond, if I just kept walking, he’d think he was mistaken. Maybe I was just someone who resembled that girl called Beatrice. I think it would have worked too, had Kat not been there.

“Blanca, do you know that guy? He’s calling you,” she said.

I only vaguely remember the events that took place over the course of the next thirty minutes. Apparently I stared blank-faced at my father and walked back to our table, catatonic. When I sat down, Jacob told me I looked weird. He asked me if I was sick.

“You’re white as a sheet,” he said. I recall thinking that was a funny expression. Kind of cliché for a writer. And it didn’t really hold water for me. The sheets on our bed were a minty shade of green.

Jacob put his palm on my forehead like my mother used to do when she was taking my temperature. “Are you sure you’re
okay
?”

I didn’t even enjoy the
okay
that time.

“She just ran into her father,” Kat said. Kat had stayed and chatted with the stranger long enough to find out who he was.

“Beatrice, your Dad’s here?” Pete yelled. “Hell, ask him to join us!”

Someone kicked Pete under the table.

“What? What’d I do?” Pete said. Sara yanked on his shirt and told him to shut up.

“Hey, Grace, here he comes,” Kat shouted. “The good-looking guy in the beige shirt. Blanca, your dad’s kind of
hot
.”

Why was she shouting? Why did she have to say he was
hot
? And why did she always call Jacob by his last name?

I assumed that if I ignored my father he’d vanish as fast as he appeared. I saw the shape of him, like an apparition, floating toward the back of the restaurant. He was levitating my way. He was coming to haunt me. I turned away from him and tried to start a conversation with whoever was on my right. I faintly identified Joanna as that person.

When my father reached our table, he looked straight at me. I didn’t
see
him looking—I never moved my head in his direction—but I felt him.

Jacob stood up from his chair and introduced himself as my boyfriend. My father was almost a head taller than Jacob. I saw it all through the corner of my eye. I saw them shake hands, as if they were shaking on me. Signed, sealed, delivered; she’s yours.

“Jacob Grace,” he said.

“Curtis Jordan,” said the stranger. “It’s good to meet you.”

I’d forgotten my father’s first name. I don’t think I would have even been able to think of it unless he’d said it. He seemed a little uncomfortable, but he still sounded like a lawyer when he talked.

“This is my wife, Tara,” he said.

Tara had followed him over. I bet she followed him everywhere. That’s what little Yorkies do, I said to myself. I think Jacob shook her paw too, but I’m not sure because I still wasn’t looking. My lips were moving and I was trying to say something to Joanna, only I didn’t hear the sound when it came out of my mouth. It was too noisy there, in my head, where Bono was singing a song to me–a song about wanting so much, but being left with nothing.

Thank heaven for the wisdom of the prophets of rock ‘n’ roll. They’re the ones who saved me back then, when my father ran off and my mother threatened to kill herself to make him stay, even though she never would have done it because my mother’s a big coward and there’s no way she would have died unless she’d given us explicit instructions regarding which designer we were to bury her in.

“Most likely Chanel,” she always says. But it depends on who’s at the helm, and during which season she croaks.

Jacob spoke to my father for a few more minutes. I didn’t hear what they said, even though Jacob was right next to me, and Curtis Jordan was diagonal from my fucking face. It was all a big blur until Curtis and Tara wafted away. I saw them go. I saw them exit the restaurant. I saw Curtis hand his ticket to the valet guy. He looked back at me through the window as if he were looking at someone he loved laying dead in an open casket. Then he helped Tara into their brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee. She had a wide ass. From the front she looked small but her backside was a different story. I couldn’t wait to tell my mother Tara was a yappy dog with a wide ass. I never had anything to talk to my mother about, but I knew she’d think that was the greatest thing since online shopping.

We all sang Happy Birthday and ate the banana splits. Jacob even opened a couple of gifts. Pete gave him some rare Miles Davis import record, Kat and Gopal gave him a bright yellow T-shirt that said Cheerios on it, and Joanna gave him a tattered, first edition copy of
Tropic of Cancer
. Jacob drooled all over that and told Joanna she shouldn’t have, but she gave him a loud smooch on the cheek and demanded that he give her a break.

“My only son doesn’t turn thirty every day, you know.”

I don’t remember any of this, mind you. It was all relayed back to me later, with the kind of intimate details only a writer could supply.

I didn’t become conscious again until we got in the car. Jacob was in the right lane, getting ready to turn down our street, when I sprang back to life.

“Can we not go home right now?” I said.

Jacob floored it when the light turned green, and we zoomed past all the other cars. Then he swerved left, took the incline down to PCH, and drove north. When we got to Topanga Canyon, he made a right.

“Where are we going?”

“To the park,” he said.

There’s a state park in Topanga Canyon, right in the heart of the Santa Monica mountains. Getting there was like driving into another world—it didn’t look anything like you picture L.A. to look at all. It was dry, woodsy land, filled with trees, and brush, and sprinkled with granola. I guessed the people who lived there pretended they weren’t anywhere near Los Angeles. I was sure they played a lot of Crosby Stills and Nash records and let their kids walk around barefoot and acted like it was summertime in Woodstock every day of the year.

“Jacob, how much longer until you finish your book?”

“Soon,” he said. “I promise.”

He drove up to the park entrance. The sign said it was closed from sundown to sunrise, but there was no ranger around to stop us from going in. Instead of parking in the lot, Jacob hammered right onto the fire trail. We went up a mile or so and stopped on an overlook where we could see the Palisades to our left and the entire canyon on our right. We hopped into the backseat and huddled together to keep warm. The car smelled musty, like damp newspapers and stale cola. Jacob’s car always smelled like it needed a good cleaning.

We said and heard nothing for a good five minutes, until a couple of coyotes started howling. They sang back and forth, then together at the same time, like they were performing a tragic duet. I couldn’t decide if it was a soothing sound, or if it reminded me of a horror movie, the moment right before the ax falls.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Jacob said.

I was thinking about a family vacation we took when I was in high school. The coyote cries made me remember it. The Honolulu Nightmare, that’s what I called this particular holiday. The travelers included, in alphabetical order, me, Cole, my father, my mother, and some other woman my dad thought I was too stupid to notice because he got her a room on a different floor. Chip was already off at college so he was spared the torture.

For a week straight, I had the daily choice of sunbathing by the pool with my mother, golfing with my brother, or tailing my father. He claimed he had meetings, and he usually did, but not at seven o’clock in the morning in another woman’s hotel room. Following him around was usually the most interesting option. It was also the most depressing. I blew it off after the second day and signed up for a scuba certification class instead.

The first time the instructor took me down, I’d been underwater for maybe ten minutes when the ocean started to echo with a blaring, high-pitched squeal. An aqua-opera. It sounded like the most beautiful music I’d ever heard, like a hundred babies with three-octave ranges. I had no idea what it was, but I prayed that it was a choir of sea nymphs coming to drag me to Atlantis.

When I surfaced, my instructor told me the sounds I’d heard were Humpback whales. It was mating season, and they were singing to attract their lovers. I asked him why we could hear them but not see them.

“They’re a thousand miles away,” the instructor said.

The coyotes went silent, and I wondered if they were screwing.

“Jacob, what did my father say to you?”

He explained the whole night to me, all the stuff I’d blacked out. My father asked him where we were living, and if I was still making jewelry, and how business was going. All the usual stuff a father would ask his daughter’s boyfriend if he hadn’t seen her in nine years. He noticed that I’d cut my hair and said he liked it. Before he walked away, he gave Jacob his business card. He told Jacob he wanted to have us up for Thanksgiving dinner the following week. They lived right on the beach. They always had a nice breeze. He said we’d love it.

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