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Meeting Polanski

I should have seen it coming. I should have known it was going to happen. I mean it’s not like I wasn’t forewarned. All the signs were there that this was going to be the worst day of my life, and the very best I could probably expect from it was an over-the-counter medication, and a quick cure for whatever it was that Ajay had given me.

“Betsey,” he whined to me over the telephone. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime-thing. I mean how many other chances am I going to get in my life to sleep with a Laker Girl?”

There I was, trying to hold down the reception desk at Phillum and Huston—an executive search firm that specializes in CPA’s and has lots of rules about office decorum, like no eating yogurt at your desk under any circumstances, and I had to deal with this very personal situation in a discreet way.

“You pig!” I screamed into the receiver.

Mr. Phillum was showing a client to the door. It was a man from Sony Pictures who needed someone really smart to count all their money. Mr. Phillum shot me a look full of poisoned daggers then turned to Mr. Zillions. “Benefits. Benefits. Benefits,” he said. “Just say the ‘B’ word, and our men are jello in your hands.”

“She wasn’t anything to get jealous over, Betsey.” Ajay told me. “Her breasts—I swear they were implants. I mean, my God, they were so firm.”

“I’m going to kill you!”

“Betsey, I want to see you in my office right now.”

“Betsey, she wasn’t even very clean. In fact—”

That’s when I hung up. I knew what he was going to say. Be a sport, go to the L.A. Free Clinic, get a prescription, and think of this experience as just one of the many ups and downs of being associated with Los Angeles’ premier basketball team.

“Betsey,” Mr. Phillum began as he shot his golf ball off the little tee on the miniature green he had installed in his office. “Are you familiar with the ‘p’ word?”

“The ‘p’ word?” I looked at him blankly. Truthfully I knew what the ‘p’ word was, but I was stalling for time, playing dumb—probably not the best tactic, since it hadn’t gotten me very far in life up to this point.

Mr. Phillum made a hole in one. “Okay, to be more precise. ‘PB’—do you know what that stands for?”

“Peanut Butter?”

“Betsey, did you not read the employee handbook. It says in there clearly and concisely, no pb’s allowed.”

“But I don’t know what a pb is.”

“And you didn’t take the time to look at the glossary of abbreviations in the back of the employee handbook?’

He had me there. “No,” I confessed. “But ‘B’ stands for benefits.” I said. This was probably not the right thing to say at that moment either since, all employees at Phillum and Huston are part time and therefore not eligible for any benefits.

“Personal Business!” He glared at me. “Betsey, I want you to know that I am letting you go NOT because you had the nerve to discuss your yeast infections while I was entertaining a client, but I am letting you go, because you never bothered to read the glossary. That, my dear Betsey expresses your problem in a nutshell. You just don’t care. In a word, you have an attitude problem.”

“You think it’s a yeast infection? But I’m not even itchy. Don’t they make you itchy?”

“Betsey, this conversation is terminated.” He stood up and shot another ball off the tee. It went off the green and rolled under his desk. I thought about getting it for him. I mean, it was actually sitting right there by my shoe, and I could have pushed it back out, but instead I kicked it further in, just so my last vision of Mr. Phillum would be of him crawling under his desk on his hands and knees.

Unfortunately, my triumph did not last long, because when I got downstairs to the parking garage, and loaded up my bruised ’79 Honda Accord LX hatchback with all the stuff I had accumulated at the office—an extra pair of black high heels, half a dozen romance novels, and a pile of resumes I kept ready at all times—I found that the car would not start. This was actually not incredibly surprising to me. I had been playing Russian Roulette with the car for weeks now. Sometimes it would start, and sometimes it wouldn’t. I tried to find clues. It seemed like it wouldn’t start if I was in a bad neighborhood late at night, and it was raining. Then it would start up with no problem if I was home and the sun was out, and I was only going to the supermarket. I said a prayer. Any religious inclinations I might exhibit can be attributed to my ’79 Honda. In fact, if it weren’t for this car, I would have probably long ago forgotten The Hail Mary.

“Betsey!” Ajay screamed at me. “Put her in neutral!”

He had hooked the front of my Honda to the back of his Porsche and was planning on towing me all the way from Westwood up the canyon to Studio City, where I live with my two roommates in an overpriced single apartment. The Porsche made this awful grinding noise, and I took the stick shift out of reverse and put it in neutral. The grinding noise stopped and Ajay slowly took me up to Sunset and over Beverly Glen. Uphill was okay, but downhill was a nightmare. My Honda kept bumping into the back of the Porsche, and I could tell that Ajay had already calculated the price of this fiasco, and decided that even if I did forgive him for the Laker Girl, he wasn’t going to forgive me.

It was past eight o’clock by the time we made it to my mechanic’s garage. Chester, my Australian mechanic, was waiting for me. He didn’t look very happy.

“What the hell took you so long, Dolly?!” Chester had long ago decided my name was Dolly, and I had given up correcting him. Besides, it seemed like a small enough favor in return for which Chester charged me half what other mechanics charged—just so long as I put up with him pinching my cheeks and caressing my thigh whenever he felt a test drive in my Honda was necessary. But Chester was annoyed to see Ajay. And Ajay seemed annoyed to see Chester.

“What’s this bloke doing here?” he said. “You got a fuel injector on that piece of shit?”

Ajay glared at him. “Keep your hands off my ex-girlfriend,” he told him.

That’s how I found out we were breaking up. Ajay’s parting gift to me, before he screeched out of the place, making the kind of spectacularly rude U-turn that has made the Porsche’s reputation, was a business card for a woman’s doctor in Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave me a check to pay the bill, but then I realized that even if he had left me a check, I probably would go to the Free Clinic anyway, and use the money on luxuries—like food and rent.

“It’s the carburetor, Dolly.” Chester told me. “You need a new one. It’s going to run you about three hundred bucks.”

I walked home from the garage, thinking where in the world was I going to get three hundred dollars. Not only had I lost my job, but the rent was due in a week, and there was no way I could call Ajay and his bumped up Porsche. I crossed Ventura Boulevard and passed a homeless couple with a sign that read “will work for food.” I stopped to wait for the walk signal, and the woman came up to me.

“Can you help me?” she held her hand out, while I searched the bottom of my pocketbook for loose change. I really scratched the bottom of my bag, but all I could come up with was two thin dimes, three pennies and a stick of Carefree Sugarless Bubblegum. I gave it all to her, including the bubblegum, and that’s when our eyes met. The scary thing about her was that she was about my age—twenty-seven, and she was really pretty. And thin, and had these great cheekbones, and I thought, my God, this woman could be a fashion model. Clean her up, give her a good haircut and you could put her on the cover of Vogue. She bowed her head and thanked me, and then her husband came over and shook my hand, like I was Princess Di, and then even their dog—a labrador mix came over and licked my hand.

When I got home, my roommates, Carla and Sharika were in a panic. Apparently, Sharika had met a man. Sharika works as an agent’s assistant, and she makes even less than me, had no medical benefits, but she does get to meet a lot of men.

“Not just any man, Betsey. Kevin Costner’s younger brother.”

“Great,” I said, and dragged myself to my corner of the apartment. “Where are my Cheerios?” I asked her.

Carla looked guilty. “Oh, were those your Cheerios?”

“What do you mean ‘were’?”

Sharika came out of the bathroom, her hair all teased up, wearing a micro mini spandex dress. “You should have labeled it, Betsey.”

“Since when do we label food?”

Sharika tossed her head down between her legs, then jerked it up again and fluffed it up even higher. “Since when do we have food, Betsey?”

“Betsey, he owns Cafe La GaGa.”

Carla shook her head. “This isn’t just some celebrity hunt, we’re talking food, Betsey. Free food with Kevin Costner’s brother. For God’s sake, Betsey, they come from the exact same gene pool.”

Cafe La GaGa was filled to capacity—so jam packed with real Hollywood stars and real live celebrities, that not only was it a fire hazard, but it was much too crowded to let girls like us in. It was for our own protection—at least this is what the doorman told Sharika, as she stood there shivering in her micro mini, offering him a lot of empty promises about her making it worth his while to let us in.

“Tell him about Kevin Costner’s brother!” I screamed at her from the ropes.

“Kevin who?!” the doorman yelled at me like I was speaking Swahili or something.

“Kevin Costner!” I screamed again.

Carla grabbed my arm. “God, Betsey,” she said. “Don’t sound like so desperate, or they’ll never let us in.”

“I am desperate,” I told her. “I’m hungry and I’m tired and I’m a disgruntled recently fired employee.”

“Listen, worse comes to worse, we pool our resources—she went through her little Chanel bag and came up with three dollars and twenty one cents. “—how much do you have, again?”

“I spent all my money on Cheerios,” I told her with meaning.

“Okay, okay. So we have enough for a glass of wine. We can share a glass. We’re all friends, right? You don’t have a disease, right?”

I didn’t say anything. Sharika was running down the stairs towards us. “You’ll never believe this,” she said, breathing heavily. “Kevin Costner doesn’t even have a brother. That guy I met today—he lied to me. He made the whole thing up. Kevin Costner is an only child!”

“Well, it’s not like you slept with him, or something.”

“Betsey—I was thinking about the gene pool. I mean, they share the same gene pool. Can you blame me?”

Sharika dried her tears, and dabbed at the mascara stains on her cheeks. “I want to go to Chasen’s.” she announced. “I want to see Elizabeth Taylor and eat chili.”

“We have no money,” I reminded her.

“We have three dollars and twenty-one cents,” Carla corrected me.

“I have my American Express Card.” Sharika opened her purse and waved a gold card at me.

“I thought they cancelled that.”

Sharika smiled. “Well, they did, but I still have the card.”

“But if they cancelled it, that means you can’t use it. That would be like writing checks when you have no money in the bank.”

Carla’s eyes lit up. “We could do that too!”

We piled into Sharika’s mother’s old Mercedes and headed toward Chasen’s with the top rolled down. Sharika and Carla always made me sit in the back. I think it had something to do with my being from Minnesota and their being native Californians.

Chasen’s was also jammed packed, only the crowd was completely different. They were all older and richer and quieter and much more concerned with chili than they were with Kevin Costner look-a-likes. After a lot of bosom exposure and bending down to pick up several lipstick cases, Sharika finally convinced the maitre d’ to let us sit at the bar. They had to bring in an extra bar stool for me, which made things very crowded, but since I wasn’t actually going to buy anything, I thought it might be for the best to go unnoticed. Sure enough, Elizabeth Taylor was there, and I could see her with George Hamilton in the reflection from the mirror above the bar, eating chili and being very tanned.

“I’m going to go over and say hi to Liz,” Sharika announced. She was feeling good, having not only drunk the one glass of wine we could actually pay for, but two mai tai’s that a Roman Polanski look-a-like had sent over from the other side of the bar. He had been eyeing us from the moment we walked in, but apparently, didn’t want to actually talk to any of us, but just wanted to see what Sharika was like when she was completely soused.

“Please don’t talk to her,” I begged.

“She knows my mother.”

Carla agreed. “She knows her mother.”

“Her mother sold her a house back in 1973. That’s a long time ago,” I told her.

“Yes, but my mother always makes an unforgettable impression.” Sharika suddenly stood up, waved her hand, dramatically, and knocked over her empty mai tai glass. Three waiters ran to her and scrambled around her feet to pick up the shards of glass and place them delicately into white linen towels. Sharika lifted her high heeled feet and tiptoed over them.

“You hurt her feelings,” Carla told me.

“It was 1973.”

Carla picked up her mai tai. “You know, Betsey,” she announced. “Sometimes you really act like someone from Minnesota.” She shook her head and joined Sharika over at Liz’s table.

Then I was alone. Alone and very sober. And I started thinking about how it’s actually worse to be sober on an empty stomach, than drunk on an empty stomach, and that’s when another mai tai arrived. For me. Roman Polanski had sent me a mai tai. And I was grateful. I would have been more grateful if he had sent over a bowl of chili and some saltines, but a mai tai was a start in the right direction. I drank it down, quickly. And then another one appeared.

By the time I finished the third one, Roman Polanski was starting to look not unattractive. In fact, I decided he had a warm, sensitive face, and that I didn’t mind at all if he sat next to me and told me about how his wife left him for her personal trainer.

“You smoke?”

“No, I don’t.” I told him.

“Me neither,” he said, and put the pack of Gaulloises back in his jacket. “I just keep them for friends—you know, just to be sociable. I like to be sociable.” He said this as he put his arm around the back of my chair and moved closer. He smelled decidedly French, in a Polish-kind-of-way, and I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if he turned out to be some famous French director, and then Carla and Sharika would feel really stupid that they were spending all that time convincing Elizabeth Taylor that she remembered the decrepit Laurel Canyon bungalow Sharika’s mother had sold her and was eventually lost in a mud slide down the mountain—not with Liz actually in it, thank God—all the time while I was being wined and dined by a possibly famous French director.

That’s when I decided I should move on to the dining part. “Gee, I’m hungry,” I told him.

But somehow, he seemed to misinterpret this. “Me too,” he told me, and suddenly stuck his tongue in my mouth.

When I finally was able to come up for air, I noticed that not only had Liz and George disappeared, but so had Carla and Sharika. The maitre d’ came up to me and shook his head in disapproval. “Your friends left,” he told me. “You were busy so they asked me to say goodbye.”

Roman stroked my knee. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he said in a slurry European accent. “I give you a ride home.” His hand climbed higher up my leg.

“I don’t think so,” I removed his hand, and slowly, deliberately stood up. The room was spinning. “I’m going to the Ladies Room.”

“I’ll go with you,” he grabbed my elbow.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“You need some help, no?”

“No.” I got up and stumbled toward what I thought was the direction of the ladies room. Unfortunately, I found myself in some kind of employee lounge with a busboy who didn’t speak any English, and when I pantomimed my need to go to a ladies room to pee, he just shook his head and laughed. Finally, Roman found me, and I was actually glad.

“I want you badly,” he told me, and then he grabbed my right breast in the palm of his hand and pressed me against the wall. Out of one eye, I could see the busboy, still shaking his head, and still laughing. I squirmed to get away, but this Roman was very, very strong, and he really had me trapped. In fact, he started gyrating his hips against mine and sucking loudly on my neck. It wasn’t a completely unpleasant feeling. I mean, something primal was being coaxed awake in me, but unfortunately, the overwhelming need to pee won out, and I did—pee, that is—all over Roman Polanski’s leg. At first he just stopped sucking, and looked at me, kind of startled. We both heard the sound of water hitting linoleum, and I felt the warm liquid escaping, and truthfully, I immediately felt better. Relieved.

Then Roman stepped back, shook his wet trouser leg, and said something in French to me, or it might have been Polish, but I am sure was not very nice.

“I’m sorry. Really. I drank too much. Please.”

He narrowed his eyes, and for a moment, I thought he’s going to spit on me. He moved his lip. He was definitely thinking about it, but instead he spoke in slow English. “You American slut. You piss all over me like an animal. Like a pig!”

And then he turned around and was gone. The busboy was gone too. I finally found the ladies room, and in the dim blue light, I removed my underwear and pantihose, threw them away, and washed and dried my thighs off with paper towels.

When I got back to the bar, Roman was nowhere in sight. The waiter came up to me with a bill for seventeen mai tai’s and one white wine. It came to a total of one hundred and eleven dollars and twenty-one cents. I looked around. Surely, I thought, I am on “Totally Hidden Video.”

I asked the waiter where the gentleman with the French accent had gone, and he looked at me like I must be joking. “Flew the coop, babe,” he told me.

I took a deep breath. I tried to think what I was going to do next. Here I was with no money, no underwear. Chasen’s was about to close, and I was stuck holding a bill for over a hundred dollars, and no transportation home. I imagined myself washing dishes until dawn, then walking up the canyon, hitchhiking pantiless, and being picked up by the Ventura County Glass Eyed serial killer/rapist, who according to “Unsolved Mysteries” is still at large. I walked over to the maitre d’. “Listen,” I whispered. “I have a little problem here with this bill. I mean, I didn’t actually order any of these drinks. They just kind of appeared.”

“Did you drink them?”

“Well, yes. But I didn’t ask for them.”

He turned to the bartender. “Did she order these?”

“No, Roman ordered them.”

My God, I thought. It really was Roman Polanski. I really did pee on a famous director. Suddenly, the fact that he had left me holding an enormous tab didn’t seem so awful. It was a brush with greatness, after all.

The maitre d’ turned to me. “It’s okay. We’ll put it on his tab. He comes in here all the time.”

“But isn’t he a fugitive from justice? I mean, is he actually allowed into the United States?”

The maitre d’ gave me a weird look then. “You want me to call you a cab? I don’t think you should drive.”

“Yes.” I told him. “And could you put that on Roman’s bill too?”