Monday, September 3, 2007

The flat with the 40-foot ceilings, ocean vu

She was impossibly glamorous, a famous actress, so renowned and so rich and so in charge and still handsome at her age. How I ever got a gig to house-sit for her is difficult to explain. I think the dream began after I was already ensconced. She professed herself charmed by my writing, by my personality. (People are, now and then.)

But never mind all that - let me tell you about the flat. Forty stories up in the air, off a small urban boulevard but high enough to realize that for 360 degrees there was nothing on view but ocean and sky and a few other similar towers. The ceilings were easily forty feet high. Great gauzy draperies hung down to shield us from dazzle. (How did they clean the windows?) The ballroom (nothing but a grand piano and a couple of sofas - I wouldn't swear I remember the sofas) gave onto her grand bedroom at one end (I barely glimpsed that) and her "office" at the other, which was much lower but still large -- and that view! And that was where I was to stay. It was much too distracting to get any work done, I can tell you. Not too much art on the walls, but what there was low down and classy and very elegantly spaced.

The months passed, the house-sit concluded, my hopes for a live-in job as her secretary, amanuensis, butler, stableboy, whathaveyou were in ashes, and I had returned unexpectedly to pick up my things. A cocktail party was in progress. I wasn't dressed for it. (At least I wasn't naked, which has happened in other dreams.) She was grand and elegant and polite; she introduced me around the room; everyone was someone you've heard of; I couldn't quite recall where I'd heard of them, but they were famous; not exactly my crowd. And something about the way she introduced me implied to them, "I'm just being polite; you don't have to notice this person at all." Whereupon they didn't. Even the servants were snooty. I got into a conversation with someone quite interesting in the office, my old room, but when the Lady returned I hit behind the drapes as I was supposed to have left. I did everything gauche and everything wrong, and she was exquisite about it, if at each time with a greater degree of "why doesn't he just GO?" behind her exquisitely tinted, weary old eyes. But I couldn't tear myself away from that fabulous view -- not at sunset. (It was winter now; it had been summer when I first saw it. But also with a thunderstorm happening, I now recalled. That thunderstorm through those windows, a I got off the elevator -- "That usually captivates them," she had smiled.)

A brief reflection on her career, rise from poverty, change of name (though she proudly admitted her original, Italian peasant name), and so on through journeyman to grande dame on everybody's short list. And now, that flat.

Downstairs, in the street, I overheard two women talking as they went past me towards the front of the building, and realized one was Carol Burnett and that I had something important or at any rate amusing to say to her. She appeared to be going into the building, so I dashed around the back and realized I could get into the elevator from there. I did so -- the elevator too was forty feet high and eighty feet wide -- this is all very Bruce McCall, isn't it? or just a memory of my own childhood when all the interesting people were enormous and inexplicable and I was trying to charm them and not be too destructive -- and Carol Burnett wasn't there. The two women in the center of the elevator were -- you guessed it -- my late hostess and someone she was chatting with. Again the faint, charming repression of annoyance. I couldn't escape. We rode up. The door to that ballroom opened again, once again with a magnificent thunderstorm (on cue, or perhaps she had ordered it up from room service) out the window. Only I had no right at all to be there now. A stranger. An intruder. An outcast.

1 comment:

m l c said...

John, you have a newly acquired fan and avid consumer of your ruminations. *Bows in veneration*
If you were here on the Northern Californian coast, I would invite you to Phillip Glass (as much he isn't the veritable Steve Reich).