Though I gah'd with gusto, I realized it was a gah for naught.
I knew that fact, I knew it, and yet I was powerless not to gah, loud
and long, out of frustration, temper, and the knowledge that I was
completely right and the people sprinting away from me were completely
“No, no, no, no! Yo! Hey! HEY! I saw you! I can identify you! Get BACK here! Right now! Gah!”
Dudes were long gone and there was no way in hell me bellowing “get
BACK here,” with BACK in all scary serious-bizness capital letters, was
going to make them return.
Not happening. Nope nope.
I knew this, I KNEW, but I kept on shouting, out of mild anger or
dismay or possibly some deep down desire to be running out with them, in
the soft Los Angeles fall night. “Dudes! Awwww, c’mon, I got advice for
you! Helpful! Damn you, helpful, I say!”
“It isn’t often
that ‘damn you’ proceeds ‘helpful,’” observed Gomery. He took a
contemplative bite of his sandwich, then walked over to motel's lobby
door and flipped the cardboard skeleton so it again faced out, the
proper direction. He fixed one of its jointed elbows, then the other.
“Fricka ggggg. Hooligans. Hooligans!”
“Hooligans happened?” He took another bite, and a piece of avocado fell out the bottom.
“Check it,” I pointed at the pool. Taking two strides at a time, I
barely paused long enough to grab the scoop on the way. “Gah. Give me a
break!” Dipping the scoop, I netted the two purple cubes floating in the
“What are those?” Gomery ate the final bit of
crust, then dusted his fingertips lightly against each other over the
trash bin nearest the Fairwil's lobby.
“Failure, is what they are. Pure failure, in convenient, easy-to-use detergent form.”
“Laundry cubes? Huh.”
“Yes, laundry cubes, Mr. Observation. Ack! I’m so disgusted I’m giving
you formal titles like ‘Mr. Observation.’ That’s how bad this
situation’s become. It's propering me up.”
My cousin placed
his hands on his hips and walked to the western edge of the property
line, where the Motel Fairwil parking lot met the pool deck. Staring
into the low, horizon-touching sun, the direction the miscreants had
fled, he paused and scratched his head. “They wanted to foam the pool.”
“I mean. Fraaaaaa!” I threw the scoop at the nearest lounger in
disgust, then picked up again, and began scooping random leaves in
Leaf-scoopery, a typically calm-minded chore, had
never met such a wound-up participant. “If you’re going to foam a pool,
you’re going to, what? Gaaaaaah.” Tossing the scoop again, I marched to
the diving board and sat down so hard a crack sounded from below.
Another shift of my hips produced the same noise: crrrrrrrrrrk.
“Don’t break the diving board,” advised Gomery.
I stewed, grimaced, and glowered, in that order, then started over again at stewed.
“Diving board. Diving board!” It was more mutter than response, and
without sense. Still, I wanted to underline and asterisk my unhappiness,
so I plunked my elbows on my knees and plunked my chin atop my fists,
the portrait of a petulant 20-year-old child if there ever was one. I
cared not. “I care not!” I shouted at no one. “I care not!” I shouted at
The Wilfair Hotel, as hulking and grand as ever.
“About the diving board? I kind of have a soft spot for it.” Gomery rehung the scooper.
“About kids trying to foam a pool with two measly miniature laundry
cubes. I. Care. Not. It’s wrong. Wrong! If you’re going to foam a pool,
then a) don’t use those little detergent cubes, and a) number two, use
liquid detergent and a lot of it.”
“Isn’t ‘a) number two’ actually b)?” asked Gomery.
“If you’re going to use those pre-formed detergent cubes, then you
need to use a damn boatload of ‘em to foam a 24,500-gallon monster like
this bad boy.” I swept my hand across the pool, then return to my
My cousin thought, in the way he often
thought: with too much ponder and not enough pounce. “If each detergent
cube has, say, a half cup of powdered soap, it would take, oh. Three
hundred cubes, all told? To make a significant top layer of bubble. And
there’s no churn.” He knelt on a single knee and dipped his hand in the
water. “You need churn, like an agitator. In a washing machine. So,
three hundred detergent cubes plus, er. Three swimmers? Powerful
swimmers, creating the needed pre-bubble momentum in the water. They’ll
need to push the detergent cubes beneath the water line to create
pressure, and in turn foaming action. For, hmm. Forty minutes?”
“That!” I shouted, standing. “That is what I wanted to tell those
hooligans. Vandals! If you’re going to foam a pool, think. THINK!” I
tapped my temple with emphasis. “Is that so much to ask? Think it
through. Don’t just throw a couple of measly detergent cubes and run
like scared wussy wuss wusses. See your plan through! Complete,
complete! Where’s my white board? I want to make a graph.” I raised my
hands, palms forward, to simulate a phantom board. “Over here, on the
low end of the graph? A person’s wussiness versus their willingness to
see a task through. It’s almost a numbers game, really, wussiness versus
“Following through is a positive.”
I hit my palm to my forehead. “Mer. I’ve got it!”
“So you hitting your palm against your forehead revealed,” said
Gomery. “That was pretty classic, as far as, er, traditional
telegraphing devices go. What do you got?”
“How many swimming pools do you think are in this neighborhood? One square mile? Starting at Wilshire and going north?”
My cousin rubbed his elbow, an act of contemplation, and considered
quietly and at length, a length I would have lopped in half if I’d been
in possession of a length-lopper. “Thirty houses per block, and maybe
thirty blocks total, before Third Street? Nine hundred houses, older
houses, so pools were rarer when they were built.”
on old buildings hating on pools.” I stuck out my tongue, grown-up
adult-style, at the large, lit-windowed tower across the way. As if to
counter my sneer, full-throated laughter clinkled from The Wilfair’s
Typical. I taunt, they flaunt.
“So… a hundred pools in the immediate vicinity? That’s generous. Maybe eighty,” guessed Gomery.
“Those miscreants aren’t done. It’s early yet. They’ve got a tub of
laundry cubes in tow and they’re planning on striking yet another
hapless pool owner. Hapless! A) We can stop the vandals or b) we can
advise them on the proper way to foam a pool. I vote b), because that’s
important science knowledge.”
“All right,” shrugged Gomery. “But there'll be trick-or-treaters out. Do we need costumes?”
He smoothed his necktie, something he often did without thinking,
and I considered that neckties might be the official anti-costume of
Halloween. He had to ditch those things, BIG TIME, because they were not
helping him in the romance department, or any of the divisions adjacent
to the romance department, including the getting-out-more department,
the getting-it-on division, and the aisle of having a life.
“Nah,” I waved, not fully convinced that our lack of outlandish outfits
would be a plus but wanting to split. “But we do need a bucket!”
Bounding for the motel lobby, I yanked the door wide, grabbed the
plastic orange pumpkin on the front desk, dumped the discounted
individually wrapped caramels inside, and walked out, pleased beyond
reason. “We’re scoring candy. We are scoring candied candy, hardcore up
and down and sideways and sprinkled with sugar. CANDY.”
“That’s what people want to see at their door. Two 20-year-old fools, no
costumes, asking for miniature chocolate bars.” Gomery thumbs-up’d my
plan and nodded with equal amounts of sageness and sarcasm. “We do have a
vending machine next to the diner. Perhaps you've seen it? Eight
dimes’ll net you a nougat chew way past its expiration date. That is, if
you want to break your teeth, of course.”
I beamed. “You and
I, my friend, are about to be the recipients of some delicious candy
from kindly candy givers on this lovely Halloween night. And we shall
find justice when we find and calmly reason with those detergent
deviants. Don’t cross me or doubt or judge or be mean, because you'll
hurt my tender feelings. So. Are you in?”
to persuade my rule-abider of a cousin to help me find the wayward adolescents
who’d attempted to foam the Motel Fairwil pool with two measly detergent cubes
wouldn’t be a snap.
I figured it would be akin to coaxing the guy at the cinema
concession stand to refill my popcorn box for free. Upshot? There would be wary looks,
cocked eyebrows, extravagant sighing, and a mild, pointless squabble, though maybe not
in that exact order.
“I’m in!” Gomery exclaimed. His
declaration even came with an exclamation point in tow, an unusual addition I
attributed to the high feeling of Halloween night.
“I DON’T believe it. You’re not going to
argue about staying here to check in non-existent guests? Where's your unflagging commitment to duty, my man?”
“I register non-existent guests every
night," he shrugged. “Excuse me: Every damn night. A
break is welcome, even twenty minutes to pursue some vandals. Plus, it’s
Halloween. I’ve been meaning to walk over and check out some of the yard
displays. Let me tell Mom, hang on.”
My cousin jogged over to my aunt’s room
and knocked. Clinkly laughter from the across the way caught my attention, so
I ventured closer to the fruit trees near the hotel-motel property line. Two
costumed clowns, who weren’t actually wearing clown costumes but rather were acting
clownishly, had slipped out of The Wilfair and were currently standing beneath
the trees, canoodling and cooing in equally annoying parts. One was
Frankenstein’s Monster, or some approximation of the famous, bolt-necked creature, and the
other reveler rocked a Marie Antoinette pompadour.
Shouting “FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER” at the
make-outers tempted me, because every but every last person calls that big-foreheaded,
green-cheeked character Frankenstein, but he is NOT Frankenstein. Doctor Victor
Frankenstein created him but the character is only The Monster or
It briefly occurred to me that focusing on
matters like this a) simultaneously made me feel superior and b) hollow, much
like successfully negotiating for a free popcorn refill at my favorite
concession counter. More a), though, especially if I shared such knowledge with
someone who seemed impressed or at least gave me a “you don’t say?”
Gomery joined me. “What’s up?”
“Oh, people loving all over each other at
the love hotel, as usual. Probably needed a break from the masquerade ball and
all of the, all of the, the, chocolate goose fountains.”
“What’s a… chocolate goose fountain?”
“Fancy, pretentious crap! I don’t know.
Whatever the Finleys spend their suites packed with mountains of cold cash on.
Tickets were frickdickingdumb to that thing. Pricey beyond belief. Did you see?
A billboard on Fairfax? And for what? For one night. For one goose of a party.”
“They spend a lot of money. And they get
money back. Even odds.” Gomery stared at the hotel. “We should buy a ticket one
year and go.”
“Pah! For some fingerbowl food and some expensive jerk streamers
and a curtsy from Fair Finley at the end?”
“Why are the streamers jerks?”
“Because they are! Or, or, or... do you get a gold bar in your goodie bag? I
don’t know. I don’t KNOW!” I didn’t know, and I threw my hands above my head to
further telegraph the fact that I did not know.
The canoodlers, clearly startled by my
elaborate and vocal I-don’t-know-ing, scurried back inside the hotel.
“That wasn’t nice.” Gomery crossed his
arms. “You scared Frankenstein’s Monster and, er.” He peered. “Mary, Queen of
“I was on your side on the first one but
you’re centuries wrong on the second. CENTURIES. ‘Les Miserables’? ‘A Tale of
Two Cities’?” I tired of my list when I saw Gomery’s implacable face. “Be more
placable when I’m schooling you!”
been schooled. At school. I know both.” Gomery was lightly irritated. “I didn’t
get a good look at the second costume.” He removed his glasses, hot-breathed
the lenses, and cleaned them on his shirt sleeve. “Anyway, stop shouting at the
hotel’s guests. Shout at our guests, for their many daily infractions. Towel
stealing. Night bell ringing. Not staying here in the appropriate numbers to
keep us open.”
“Don't pardon what's unpardonable. Those
kissing kissers’ll be in
our pool the moment we leave, guaranteed, making the water churn, and
some laundry detergent, either. Just. Gggggffff.” I searched for the
still heated. “Have we ever been once, to anything fun over that hotel?
Or not fun? Or anything that's anything? I’ll
tell you, if you’re dying to know. The answer is no. I’ve slept
feet from that ballroom for two decades and I’ve never been to a party
ever. I’m making that my personal priority this year: Crash a Wilfair
Maybe the big one. New Year’s Eve! Watch me. I’m goin’ large. Do you
top hat is too much? I can rent one from the costume shop on campus.
Also, I'll need a cat to hold and stroke, as I take on a mysterious air,
or, better yet, a cat doll, which is way weirder. A millionaire's
“Fair Finley dealing with your interloping
is exactly what she needs on New Year’s Eve.” My cousin glanced at the hotel’s
“Fair Finley, Fair Finley this, Fair
Finley, that.” I cupped my hands around my mouth. “Faaaaaair Finley!” It was a
shout toward her darkened window, full-throated to match the full-throated
laughter clinkling from the hotel’s ballroom.
When no light came on and no curious,
slightly appalled heiress appeared at the curtains, I frowned. “Too bad. She
promised to sail to the continent with me at midnight, in a private cabin lined
with ermine and emeralds. Guess she found a richer beau, though what living man
is richer than me I can’t imagine. Can you?”
“Do comebacks count as currency?”
“Shyeah they do!” I confirmed. “And
mouthiness is next to moneyness, at least in my personal moral code.”
Gomery clapped my back. “You’re the
richest man I know, then. But my sympathy, to you, regarding your cancelled midnight
“Not flight. Sail. Not cancelled. Postponed.”
“Your postponed midnight sail with Fair Finley
in a cabin lined with, er, jewels? Hmm. Now, our detergent-packing miscreants
are getting away. Which direction are we headed to enact soapy justice and extract
candy in gratitude for our, er. Our Halloween heroism?”
clapped his back back. “Aw, Mer! There's the unflagging commitment to
hopeless enterprises I know and admire! Let's split, before your
And with that, we headed deep into the
tree-lined historic neighborhood north of Wilshire and Fairfax, the two
charter members of Unflaggability Incorporated.
Ferreting out unpracticed Halloween pranksters intent on foaming our
motel's pool with two puny detergent cubes was NOT how I thought I'd be
spending the final day of the October of my 20th year.
thought I'd be working the front desk, or rather studying while I
watched Gomery work, or rather working on my script instead of studying.
But I was glad to be off our corner and out among people.
I like people. So much. I really, really do. Sarcasm? Zilch.
For sure, no doubt about it, and absolute truth: People are a funny
thing. They all have their interior dialogue machines whirring on high
at all times, and I know I'm only a passing player in their days, even
if we share a friendly interaction and a meaningful moment. Then they
leave, silently going over what happened between us, but that's not my
style, no way, no how, nope nope.
If I narrate or observe the
moment as it happening, either to them or Gomery later on or I write
about it, it doesn't clog up my interior dialogue machine too much, and
keeping that all-important head device ungunked up by baseless worrying
is job #1 for this guy.
My mom says I've always done this,
put everything I've got on the outside, a show of easy amity and easier
confidence. Gomery has called me the human equivalent of the old-time
magician's promise to his audience, the one that goes “I've got nothing
up my sleeves.”
I don't. Any person interacting with me is
going to immediately see up my sleeves and inside my jacket and inside
my heart, for that matter, pretty damn quickly. Call it honesty or
candor or putting everything I've got on the outside.
people accept that part of me is up to them. I expect they'll feed all
of my data and statistics into their own whirring interior dialogue
machines and find out if the person who is me delivers a positive
read-out to the person who is them.
Whether I accept the
person who is them isn't ever a question, because I always do. Even the
ones who drive me squirrelly. Maybe especially the ones who drive me
Because I like people, even the ones I don't.
But while I've got nothing up this sleeve, and nothing up that sleeve, I do actually happen to have a rabbit in my hat.
The rabbit isn't a rabbit, of course. It represents surprise. It's how
keyed up and bowled over and pulled round I get by it all, by life, how
charged up and hung out. It's the exact bottom-dropping-out-feeling of
the swing you're on nearly going over the top of the swing set.
By “it all” I just mean how a certain shade of green and a certain line
in a song and the way a car tire hits a puddle can all come together
and seem SO damn cinematic. So cinematic it sets my typically dormant
interior dialogue machine whirring.
That happened now, as my
cousin and I walked up Fairfax Avenue. I noted how a beer sign in a
tavern doorway and the wind-flapping holiday decorations and the soft
street lights created a sudden shimmery tableau that set my internal
rabbit leaping out its hat and ALL over the crown of my head.
“Mer, do you think we all have a rabbit in our hat?” I asked as we
passed the tavern, glancing inside at the place we'd likely start
visiting next year. "The rabbit being the sort of ability to admire
intangibles as they come together, randomly, and you get randomly filled
with this amazing but just insane crapload of connection? For an
We walked in silence for a half block, as the
person who puts everything on the outside awaited his inside-dwelling
“The question isn't whether we have a
rabbit in our hat,” observed Gomery. “It's how many hats we have. Maybe,
even, how many hat racks.”
“I hate to brag, but some days I
own a whole hat shop, and. And. It sits over a warren full of rabbits
and they're all ideas and things I'm seeing and it's like pow pow pow,
all over my mind.”
“You never hate to brag,” he said. He was right.
Then we turned onto Drexel Avenue, but whether our detergent-wielding
hooligans were still in the vicinity was a sticky wicket of a twizzle,
as far as unknowns go.
The block was cordoned off
to let trick-or-treaters roam in the middle of the street, a new
addition from when me and Mer were boys. We had to dodge city traffic,
basically, to get ANY quality trick-or-treating in, and even then we
hated being away from the motel for any length of time, in case some
jokesters decided to hit our swimming pool for a lame-o, Halloween-style
“They’re gone, the detergent throwers, I bet.
Long, long gone,” guessed Gomery. “But check it out, over there. That
spiderweb between two palm trees. Nice. Why do we only hang up that
cardboard skeleton, year after year? We could go bigger. Scarier.
Scaaaarier.” His second “scarier,” which was scarier than the first,
revealed he was feeling lighter, away from work.
Who for? We don’t get any kids coming by the motel. Only the kids from
The Wilfair, and they want to lift our entire vending machine in the
night just to score the cookies in slot C4 or, or steal the van for a
“Fair Finley wants to steal our van?”
“Her brothers. The hotel’s little kids. Not the big girl kid.”
He knew what I meant.
“I know what you meant,” he said, irritated.
kind of kicking it super sour tonight. All…” I made a face. I’d made it
my silent mission to irritate Gomery on smaller matters, then
incrementally bigger matters, for a few months now. Irritability, I
found, was ESSENTIAL for creating greater discontentment. And
discontentment was SO important for casting off the life stuff that was
not working anymore. And if there was someone who hoarded stuff that
absolutely wasn't working anymore, out of a desire to not create waves
in our already overloaded lives, and not for any love of the stuff
itself, it was the person who was more brother to me than cousin.
“Getting fed up has its pluses, but… You’re being kind of a jackass.”
He gazed at the over-sized rope tangle between the palms, ignoring me
in all the ways he could. “That is a very fine web. Strong center,
excellent octagonal form. And don’t you get sick of it, sometimes?”
“Halloween decorations? Totally. Hate. They deliver awful, awful mirth
to joyful children every autumn. Horrible happy laughter.” I shrugged as
a group of children skipped by us. Four of them were dressed as
superheroes, and the kid at the rear was a cloud, or maybe cotton candy.
Gomery’s forehead lined. “The web. The one we’re in, not this one. I’m
sick of it. We’re not the spiders, either. We’re the flies.” My cousin
pointed at the rope web, where a fake insect sat looking fairly dead
beside the deadly but decorative spider. “Another Halloween chasing
people away from the pool. Same as last year. Same as the year before.
Same as next year, which hasn't even happened yet, but it might as well
“It's not exactly the same every year. Last year
some roving band of teenagers attempted, SADLY attempted, to t.p. the
motel sign,” I recalled. “Failure. Remember? Not enough toilet paper.
Plus, a roving band. That was their first mistake. The roving. Who roves
these days? Damn youngsters.”
My cousin returned to his
thinking tic, a hand placed on the back of his neck. “Monty, why didn’t
you just let them try to foam the pool? Why are we even out here?”
“Uh-oh, I’m getting Monty’d! Look, I WANTED those hooligans to foam our
pool, but if they’re going to do something, they’ve got to do it
correctly. Two detergent cubes! No planning. No foresight.”
“It’s not even that nothing ever happens, it’s that the same damn thing
happens over and over and over…” Gomery waved his hand in front of his
chest, a perpetual wave maker, the kind that surfers use in artificial
ocean tanks. “Zero percent of anything ever changes on that corner. Zero
equals nothing, though not always, but in this case, majorly. It’s
Halloween night and we’re back on the same street we were on when we
were barely out of diapers.”
“Wait. You're already out of diapers? You didn't tell me! Congrats!”
He continued. “How many people tonight, people our age, Monty, are back
on the same damn street they were on when they were five or six?”
“Well, her.” I pointed at a house across the street.
A sparkly orange dress and long white gloves, the kind of gloves women
wore to the opera in old movies, gleamed beneath a porchlight.
My cousin hipped his hands. “What were you saying about a 'crapload of connection' before?”
“Hats, rabbits, something, something,” I said, madly pumping the brake
on my interior dialogue machine as it attempted to whir to life.
And then she turned and saw us.
Fair Finley of The Wilfair Hotel Finleys wore a lot of
I’d found this near-constant sartorial choice to be
affected. So affected it bordered on annoying and flirted with
infuriating, principally because
it was the color found throughout her family’s hotel and hotel-related
marketing materials. Brochures, postcards, billboards, advertising? They
all contained that special Finley hue. The whole
citrus-California-fruit-sunshine connection was a hand they played too
hard, I'd always said, when anyone would listen, and by anyone I mean
Gomery and occasionally our moms.
It was brand gone mad.
But my neighbor's particular shade of orange on this night, whether worn as a
tribute to Halloween or as a way to stand out in the dark, a full-body
flashlight, was more noticeable than usual. Then I knew who she was: Her
hotel’s famous, get-more-guests ghost, the Lady in Sequins.
Most ghost sightings were the products of jumpy, jonesing-for-fantasy
imaginations, but not The Wilfair Hotel's ghost. This otherworldly Lady
was no more than a brilliant stroke on the part of the Finley family.
I'm not saying the Lady in Sequins isn't real -- I keep a mind as open
as two ginormous barn doors with well-oiled hinges -- but far realer
than the ghost herself was the business-minded hotel firm that promoted
her as a mysterious and elegant symbol.
“Yo, Lady in Sequins!” I shouted at my neighbor, shouted without an iota of forethought or consultation with my cousin.
Everyone on the block turned in my
direction, including the portrayer of the Lady in Sequins herself. She briefly
stepped behind a large oleander bush, then, three seconds later, stepped out and
smiled a smile that didn’t have a shade of naturalness or warmth to it.
Those Finleys are so FAKE. Their fakeness is so fake it is almost
authentic, meaning they’ve come all the way 'round from their fake starting
place to almost being bearable in their unfettered fake-a-tude.
It looked as if she might step behind the shrub again, but she
instead waved. Her wave, a stiff-palmed royal wave of sorts, contained
no trace of fluttery finger action or natural wrist rotation. Her wave,
in fact, was no warmer than her smile, which was as warm as the motel swimming pool on
the frostiest December morning.
Still, her apple cheeks were
the pretty counterweight in the checks and balance system of her full
and often flushed face. Then her wide-cheeked grin suddenly outdid her
cold-swivel hand wave by a mile, and I determined, then and there, to
recant my wrong-headed opinion about her beams. The smile she smiled now
was more sunshine than snow, for once.
Breaking her hesitant hello with haste, she yelled after her
brothers. “Boys. Boys! Wil! Wil, tell Bo to stop. Boysssss! Listen to
me, please! You know how much I hate yelling!”
smaller male Finleys were halfway up the block and deep in the midst of a
costumed gaggle when they halted with apparent unwillingness.
“Hey Ladyyyyyyy. Can we go to that house?” Bo, the weirder of the two
weird boys, started up the walkway of a high-hedged corner duplex.
“Stop calling me ‘Lady,’” she yelled at her brother.
“It’s your first name, Lady in Sequins,” he shouted back. “Your
middle name is ‘of,’ too!” The gaggle burst into giggles. “And your last
“Sequins. Got it.” The puff of smoke above her
heavily sprayed updo was nearly visible. “Fine, fine. One more house.”
She up-palmed her hands in our direction, a feeble “sorry I gotta go what can ya do
Happy Halloween” shrug, then royal-waved us with a heaping dose of
“Wait, please,” shouted my cousin.
“Later,” she shouted at her brother Wil, who’d begun to consume candy
bars by the greedy fistful. “We’ll go through the whole bucket at home,
later on. Go keep an eye on your brother, please.” She swiveled and
again faced us. “Did you need, like... me?”
“I want to show you something,” called Gomery. He beckoned.
The apple-cheeked sequin-wearing fake fake ghost gave another
worried glance to the group of children down the block, then a group of
parents nearby, then lifted her skirt an inch, the better to expedite
fast walking and show off her orange-as-her-dress high heels.
Stepping off the sidewalk, she glanced right, for cars, forgetting that
the block at been cordoned off, and my cousin checked left. Almost
simultaneously and in near perfect unison, they swung their heads in the
opposite directions, my cousin watching right and Fair Finley left.
My friends in my film classes talk a lot about the hard-to-nail
concept of simpatico, at least when it comes to writing on-screen
lovers. Simpatico is what gives a twosome their sticky can-do glue.
Simpatico means the lovers are not only on the same page, but they own
the exact same book and maybe the same library.
Simpatico makes the heart go pat-i-co.
But I'm NEVER sure how exactly to convey that feeling in my own
scripts. Is it all-out swoon I want to show in my scenes? Those scenes
that aren't all car chases and heavy-browed dramas? Or maybe coyness
makes a couple? Flirting? Sexy sex-o-sity? And how does one best fold
that special magic into the everyday world that characters actually
Then I saw it, at least briefly: Maybe the idea of
“simpatico” has a hundred roads, or a thousand, and they're all roads
that seem fairly unimportant at first look, but taken as a whole all the
roads form a vast and complex map.
And maybe one of those
roads can be as simple as two people standing on the opposite sides of
an avenue looking in one direction, for traffic, at the very same time,
and then swinging their heads, in perfect precision, to check down the
other end of the street.
The moment this
realization alighted upon my head, another feisty rabbit springing from
a magician's top hat, it was gone, because my attractive and affected
neighbor stood before me, out of breath and sequin-shiny.
Gah. Damn it! What was it? The idea? Simpatico IS simple? Opposite sides of the road? Love maps? Damn.
Lady in Sequins get-up was the sexiest thing she’d ever worn. It was not
the hottest outfit I’d ever seen on a human being, nope nope, but for a
fussy heiress who only ever wore shoulder pads and hid inside retro blazers
and fussbudget capes, it was a choice she could clearly only make on
the dressiest dress-up play pretend day of the year.
had to enjoy this rare look now. Her complaint-riddled,
up-in-our-failing-business visits to the Fairwil were brief, and I
guessed this interaction would be even briefer, and, in fact, fully over
before I knew it had begun.
“Motel,” she breathed, lifting her dress hem and stepping up on our sidewalk. She then rolled her eyes a little.
“Hotel,” I answered, rolling my eyes in response, then stopped when I
realized she likely had rolled her eyes at herself, for her strange
single-word arrival greeting, and not at us.
“How are you?” Fair asked.
“Me?” I pointed at myself, then waved my thumb at my cousin. “Or
both of us? Is that a catch-all question, or specifically about me?
Because that might change the shading and content of my answer.”
“Um. Let’s start with you.” She picked a stray sequin off her bare shoulder and flicked it to the ground.
“Oh, school’s great, life’s great, great’s great, what’s not great isn’t great. I’m writing a film, stuff.”
She nodded and turned to my cousin. “How are you?” It was a polite
question, so stiff it sounded as if she'd soaked it in dry-cleaning
starch and steam-ironed it for extra measure. It was also a query
delivered more to his necktie knot than the tie wearer himself.
“Good,” said Gomery. “Things good your way?” He picked up a pebble
from the sidewalk and tossed it into the nearest flowerbed.
“Sure. Good,” Fair answered. “You?”
“Good,” Gomery confirmed. He stared down the block while Fair glanced at
the spot on the sidewalk where the pebble had very recently sat.
“Riveting,” I said, mostly not under my breath.
She caught my cousin’s eye. “Sorry, just, like. It seems like I
repeated myself, asking you twice, if you were good, but my first ‘how
are you’ was about, like, you, and then the later ‘you?’ was about
things your way, things in your life, uh, work and classes and the,
like, events going on. Just, two separate questions.”
both of my hands atop my chest, relieved. “That was going to keep us up
fretting through the wee smalls. Thanks for clarifying, Fair.”
“Monty,” said Gomery.
“Also, you dropped a sequin. Actually, you did the classic
index-finger-thumb shoulder lint flick, I stood right here and watched you, which
means you technically littered, knowingly. There are laws.” Squatting, I
pressed my fingertip against it, and handed it back to her.
“I didn’t think about it. We drop sequins at the hotel. The guests like it. Legend and all that.”
“Sequin litterer,” I sighed. "Also, ‘legend’ is a pretty toity word.
‘All that’ kind of minimizes it. I'd red-pencil ‘all that’ and stick
with legend. It's stronger.”
“Thank you?” she said as her pallor deepened.
Gomery hard-eyed me, then turned again to our fancied-up neighbor.
“Don't mind him, or, better yet, do. He's so wrapped up in reading
friends' scripts that he can be completely adorable and cute. Can I pet
him? Is he friendly? What's his name?”
Moments later my
cousin was on the sidewalk, visiting with a passing dog rocking a
surplus of gingham-checked cowboy gear. Lots of cowboy gear, in fact;
the ruddy pup's costume came complete with side lasso and dog-sized
ten-gallon hat. The hound's humans cooed a bit, clearly proud, then
proceeded to feed Gomery a steady waterfall of factoids about their
be-pawed pride and joy. "He's a super boy, he knows ten tricks, he's a
fantastic guard dog, a bed-hogger, a smoocher."
love,” Fair cooed back, petting the pooch in the places along his furry
back that Gomery wasn't. If I didn't know better, I'd guess that both
petters were taking special care to avoid each other's hands. Not that
the dog cared. His tail thumped with such happy ferocity at having two
people cuddle him that his side lasso came undone.
rose and bid the human-animal party goodbye, then returned his hands to
his pockets. “Hey Monty? Let's get one of those one day soon.”
“Maybe when we leave,” I pondered.
“You guys are leaving? The motel? When?” The Lady in Sequins seemed at once excited and concerned. “Not your moms, though?”
“No, not our moms. But us?” I pointed at my cousin, then myself. "We're
men now, off to see the world and be men. Men, I said! Men.” I muscled
an arm, then shrugged. I didn't buy into the tried-and-true symbols of
masculinity and why they supposedly conveyed all that they did. I mostly
used them out of winky irony or to get a laugh.
And it worked. My neighbor's apple cheeks broadened at the sight of my curled arm and her eyes? Merry as hell.
“Men,” she repeated, that steam-ironed, starch-soaked note returning to
her voice. The heiress then peeked over at her brothers as they tromped
with a dozen
other kids to the next house, treat buckets in hand. “So, like. What did
you guys -- um, men? -- want to show me?”
The neighborhood abutting the Motel Fairwil and its hulking hotel
neighbor was, in no particular order, historic, quirky, picturesque, and
easy to navigate. Most of the houses were built in the
1920s and ‘30s, which counts as “forever ago” in Los Angeles terms.
While LA is often said to be a city enamored of glittery and shiny and
new things -- detractors might call it a magpie taken metropolis form --
it also boasted
thousands of older homes and buildings croaching up to their century
marks. Croaching with a surfeit of character.
I liked it,
the oldness and the quirky, detail-laden houses. It gave my neighborhood
a movie feel, meaning
I’d often thought that I’d like to shoot my first film in the area.
Never let it be said that the good people of Southern California are
against doing their own thing, even if their own thing is lavishly
Especially if it is lavishly wacky, in fact. Freak-flag-flying is not
only a way
of life in my hometown, it is practically a mandatory civic duty.
But not everyone was letting it all hang out in my immediate vicinity.
Two quiet people hemmed and hawed while Halloween hubbub hubbub’d at the edge of the sidewalk where we stood.
“So, what was it? That I needed to see?” asked Fair Finley, the heiress-cum-fake-ghost for the night.
My cousin de-pocketed his talking-with-our-shoulder-baring-neighbor
hands and pointed at the nearest house, a Storybook job that gave
any ye olde fairy tale hovel a run for its turret-laden money. “The
decorations, on that house.” Gomery took off his glasses, cleaned the lenses
on his sleeve, and returned them to his face.
sequin-bedecked neighbor appled her cheeks. “I admire people who
try, really try. They just don’t coast when they should be, like. Up in
life’s business, you know?”
“Up in life’s business,” my cousin repeated, mulling.
Fair gestured at a jack o’ lantern sitting on a bench near the edge of the property. “Too bad the three of us don’t have a
front yard, right? I’d decorate the hell out of it.”
“Right?” Gomery agreed. “Lights and fog and a castle
scene, in one corner.” He stopped and laughed. “I have a thousand plans
for something I don’t have.”
“Right?” echoed our sequined neighbor.
“Right?” I chimed in, feeling left out, but not really.
“That witch up in that oak is pretty fierce.” Fair witched her face,
complete with lip curl and furrowed brow. “Although why witches or any
Halloween character always are, like, presented as so angry, or
villainous, is kind of a trope that needs to go. Why do we never see
witches, like, getting an email from an old friend? Or filling out their
taxes? Or running to the store for a quart of, uh, potion? Where are
the bored or mildly pleased witches in all of these decorations? They’re
all mad or cackling.” Her face softened. “This is my
witch-watching-television face. She’s watching a TV show she can’t
follow but all the other witches are watching it and she doesn’t want to
feel left out.”
“Nice witch-watching-TV face,” I agreed. “But can you cackle?”
She cackled on cue then stopped, mid-hee-hee-hee. “You got me to cackle.”
“And a fine cackle it was!” I grinned. It wasn’t a sarcastic
appraisal. She was pretty hot when she cackled, though I wasn’t sure
where the cackle ended and the hotness began.
“Anyway. An. Y. Way. Sorry.” The heiress again looked down the street, toward her brothers.
“It was the web you should see, actually, not the witch or
pumpkins,” my cousin said quickly, drawing closer to the netting strung
between the palm trees. “The best thing I’ve seen tonight. Or one of the
She approached the yard web, drawing nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with my cousin. “Agree.”
“What are you? Here? In this scene?” Gomery gestured, then smoothed his tie.
“What am I? I’m the email-answering witch. I thought I made that clear.”
“In the web. What are you? Monty and I have determined that we very
often feel like the flies, or whatever bug happens to be, er. Trapped
“Like mastodons in the tar pits. Trapped and scrambling to get out.” She curled her fingers and clawed air.
“And awaiting a slow death,” my cousin continued darkly.
Damn it all. He’s reaching out to our neighbor, in an honest way,
but rather than getting REAL and talking about the issues we have,
especially over the hotel’s complaints and them bugging the crap out of
us about our swimming pool, he’s chosen to speak in some sort of
annoying code about being a fly caught in a web.
He’s hopeless, sometimes. He’s hope-free, needing of hope, and desperately awaiting hope’s return text, which never comes.
“Gomery’s usually not this deep. Or obvious,” I said, joining the pair.
“I’m deep,” he protested.
“He’s making analogies in lieu of saying we’re bored, sometimes,
with life at dear ol’ Wilshire and Fairfax.” Leaning back, behind Fair, I
shot him a look. “Analogy maker!” My accusation was epithet-like.
“Oh, well, if we’re making analogies, about the web, then I’m the.
I’m the…” She leaned to her left, across my cousin, peering at the
decoration. “I’m the window.”
“What window?” I stood on tiptoe, peering.
“The house’s front window. See, you can see it perfectly through the
web’s, uh. The web’s… Hmm. What are the spaces in web called that
aren’t actually spider silk or, like, web material?” She rubbed her
“I don’t know that there’s a word for the negative,
er, free spaces between a web’s threads.” Gomery pondered. “The outside of
a web is the frame, and then there are the web’s various spines, and
center, where the spider chillaxes.”
“Did you just say ‘chillaxes’?” I asked. He gave me a hard look.
“I’m the window, in this case, or whatever you can see through the
web.” Fair pointed. “I’m whatever’s on the web’s
opposite side that you can see through it. How’s that?”
“Odd. But interesting,” said Gomery. “Why?”
The ghost impersonator thought. “Because if I get bogged down in sticky thoughts, then I stay
sticky. But I want to be past the web, like. The spider didn’t get me.
I’m on the other side. So two purposes are served. Like I didn’t
get caught and, and, and I get to be whatever shows the web off, because
you can’t admire a web without some object in the background as
reference. Although saying I’m just the reference to the main player
sounds sort of lame, too. Let’s just say my goal is to always to make it by
whatever wants to drain me of my life force. I’m nobody’s dinner.”
Something blurred by me, a streak of jeans and hair, just out of
range, and a thousand rabbits started popping all over my head.
“Hey! HEY! You! Get back here!” I ripped.
The detergent-wielding, pool-messing-with miscreants had appeared
out of the Storybook house’s backyard, fast and on the run.
I was determined to shout them back, my voice a vandal-grabbing lasso,
though a lasso far larger than the one that dressed-up dog wore on its
“What’s going on?” Our fancy-gowned neighbor was
“Those guys! Get them, somebody
get them, hey! Guys! Guys, I want to HELP you, not have you arrested and
thrown in the pokey.”
“Pokey?” asked an amused Gomery, who shared a look with our equally amused neighbor.
I considered the best course of action as the detergent-throwers
headed west at an impressive speed. Should I shout my head off or shout my head
off and weave in a few colorful expletives or shout my head off and
stomp off for home, wishing I’d shouted off my head just a little bit
The vandals sprinted into the night in the manner of proverbial
bats departing their proverbial hellish home address. But while the
group’s swift departure was certainly attention-grabbing it was what
Fair Finley had done during the pranksters' escape that had captured my full notice.
She’d stepped out of her high heels.
“Huh.” I stared down.
Her face was full of heat. “Sorry, just. I had the weirdest pre-feeling we were about to run. Like, just for a second.”
“Huh,” I repeated.
“Do you ever get the weirdest pre-feelings? Or feelings, for that matter?” she asked us.
“That’s kind of my factory setting,” admitted Gomery. “I only occasionally get the normalest feelings.”
The normalest feelings. What were those, even? I didn't want to know.
Others might flatline their way through existence, but not this guy.
Nope nope. If my whole damn life looked like a heartbeat machine, big
ups, occasional downs, well, that would be aces, real jake.
I'd offer to teach detergent-throwers the correct pool-foaming method
and I'd get flipped and blown away over by sudden cinematic moments and
I'd chat with my nutty neighbor and I'd call my deep-thinky cousin out
of his interior rooms whenever required.
Everything on the outside. EVERYTHING.
If only I could needlepoint that on a pillow.
The failed foamers had been thoroughly and completely swallowed by the night.
“Why didn’t we go after them? What did they do?” Fair Finley reluctantly stepped back into her high-heeled shoes.
“Them? Not worth breaking a sweat over. If they don’t want my good
and helpful and ADULT advice, then I’m not chasing after them to shout
it. My vocal cords and my sprinting feet and all that is me is too
valuable.” I shook my head with extra woe.
“What advice?” she asked, pausing to greet a couple of passing adults she clearly knew, before again facing me.
“They threw a couple of laundry detergent cubes in our pool,” said
Gomery. “It would take hundreds of cubes to foam the water, which is
what Monty wanted to tell them before they took off.”
the water? I’d like to see that,” said the heiress. “But hundreds? Those
detergent cubes are pricey. We use them at The Wilfair, but buy in
bulk. Maybe all those kids could afford was a couple.”
“Taking their side,” I complained.
“You, too, though. You wanted to help them. Which is, like, kind of great and kind of strange.”
“This is why the damn spider gets us every time, Gomery,” I clucked.
“We’re NEVER the runners but the runners-after, and not even those,
because we can’t be bothered, because we’re bored and sick of it all.” I
paced up the sidewalk a few feet, then back. “I wanted a resolution.”
“Sorry, but you got it,” said my neighbor. “Resolution doesn’t
always mean things get tied up neatly at the end. Or that a situation
ends like you think it will. Maybe it was luck you didn’t come
face-to-face with those guys. It might have turned out, like. Just
badly, or something. Be grateful for what didn’t happen.”
grateful for what didn’t happen seemed like the opposite of grateful,
like matter and anti-matter or loudness and silence or peanut butter and
Wait. Were peanut butter and jelly actually opposites or the best of friends? Hmm.
Still, Fair Finley had a point: I’d pictured the
miscreants as people who'd be happy to share in my knowledge of how to make a pool bubble over with foam.
That prediction was certainly way off. Because so far, in my two
decades and change on this planet, the only endings that have played
out exactly as I planned have been in the screenplays I’ve written.
But in real life? The only time things didn't turn out differently than I'd predicted is when they turned out very, very differently.
“Fair! Fairrrrrr!” The Finley twins skipped up. “Can we do another
block? Trick-or-treat? Pleeeeeeease? Fair, did you
see the dog that’s a cowboy? Can we get a dog? I want him! Fair, Fair,
one more street, twelve more houses, pleeeeeease?”
Did you say ‘good evening’ to our neighbors here? Less
wheedling and more good-evening-ing, please.” She placed a hand on Wil’s hair,
hair that was hardened by some sort of old-fashioned globby paste.
How and why the Finleys let their children live inside some sort of
cut-crystal, highly polished vintage snowglobe of a life was beyond me. I’d sit those kids right down and make
‘em play video games ten hours a day, if they were my brothers, and
subsist on salty vending machine snacks.
The Finley twins, especially Wil, looked embarrassed. “Yes, hi, hello, Gomery, Monty!”
“They would have been much more civilized,” their sister explained. “But they’re currently…”
“Candy crazy!” explained Bo, matter-of-factly.
“Behaving in a manner young gentlemen normally disdain,” followed Wil.
“These kids,” I muttered.
“So, trick-or-treating for another block. Hmm.” Fair counted the kids who stood nearby. “What’s the consensus, boys?”
The twins stared at their sister.
“Consensus,” she repeated. “What does everyone want to do? Not just
you? What’s the whole group’s decision?” The heiress asked the
“ERERYBODY! We need a ConSenSus. One more
street?” called a werewolf-costumed Bo. The question caused the children
to erupt in cheers and synchronous jumping. Truth be
told, they hadn’t stopped jumping, from the moment they’d arrived on our
side of the street, but they jumped higher at the news that the
treat-procurement would continue.
“These are all yours?” asked Gomery, perplexed. A dozen small pirates and ghosts milled in the general area.
Fair nodded. “For tonight, yes. Their parents are working the masquerade ball.” She chin-pointed at the gaggle.
“Employees’ kids?” Gomery asked
“We always take out the
kids of any staffer who has to work a Halloween shift. Group
trick-or-treating is a Wilfair tradition. So is cider and pumpkin
pretzels in the Faraway Passageway, after trick-or-treating. That is a
very loud tradition, though, as the kids are pretty well
human-shaped sugar jars by that point. But it’s a blast.” The heiress
started to say something, then stopped, pressing her lips together and
staring past our shoulders. “Anyway, it’s a thing. You never saw me,
out, when I was little, with a bunch of other trick-or-treaters?”
“I made it a point to never know you existed,” I shrugged.
She shrugged back. “My mom’s working
the ball tonight, so I’m out here, both supervising and serving as a
walking billboard for our hotel’s most famous legend.” Fair fanned her
gloved hands before her dress. “We Finleys are not that benevolent or
without agenda, believe it, and definitely not me. I’m pretty selfish. I cannot
wait to be home in my bath, in fact.”
“Me, too,” said Gomery.
His short and perfectly constructed statement hung in the air,
glinting in the moonlight, attracting night dew and flitting insects,
while I determined what I wanted to do with it. The options were
tempting and plentiful and I found myself delightfully overwhelmed with
indecision. So I ultimately chose to let his response be.
cousin straightened his tie knot, a slightly nervous lifelong habit,
and it occurred to me that he awaited whatever quadruple entendre I
intended to launch.
And was maybe a little disappointed that I didn’t.
The evening had grown chillier and we stood before a babysitting,
ghost sequin-wearing heiress who only wanted to be home at her big hotel
in her big ermine-and-emerald-lined bathtub, which was likely also big.
“Well,” she said. “Be seeing you guys. Men.”
One of her employee’s children, a girl in fairy garb, pulled on
her hand as she repeated “Miss Finley” over and over and over. The heiress smiled. “Time
stands still for no fairy. Nor tired fake sequin ghost.”
“See you.” Gomery smoothed his tie.
“Good luck with your young charges, Fairy Poppins.”
“Good luck with your detergent thieves. Hope you collar ‘em and show them the proper way to mess up
someone’s pool.” She stopped, pursed her lips, started to speak, stopped
again, and then blurted her next sentence. “And if you ever want to
talk about the pool…”
“Nope. Not on Halloween. I’m enjoying
myself.” I said, a distinct note
of glower in my voice.
She nodded, a little sad.
“Hey, your little brothers are old-school werewolves, from early
movies. I approve.” I crossed my arms.
were so dapper,” said Fair.
“They were still werewolves, but at least they kept it classy as
they pursued a potential victim through the moors,” laughed Gomery.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “Well. I should talk. We live in the past,
pretty much, at the famous Wilfair Hotel.” She laughed again, a little
Which gave me an idea. “Say, Fair. See that kid over there, with the green head and neck bolts? Who is that?”
Our neighbor followed my gaze. “Scott Junior. Our head chef’s son.”
“But who is Scott Junior, at least tonight?”
“Duh. Frankenstein’s monster! Everyone says ‘Frankenstein’ but
everyone is wrong. ‘Frankenstein’ is wrong, wrong, wrong.” The heiress
Frankenstein’d her arms, complete with hangy dead hands, then held up a
single finger and tick-tocked it, the international sign for “nope,
I held up a high-fiving hand. “Yes. YES. Total Hollywood girl!”
She witched-out her face. “Or, uh, a girl who loves to read. Mary
Shelley, holler! Plus, I’m no girl. I’m a Lady, at least tonight.” She
passed her hands stiffly before her dress, the way a car model might
over a brand-new showroom convertible. “Anyway. Best get more, like,
sugary hyper goo into these goblins' pails.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, turning over our completely candy-less bucket.
She stared at it. “Your bucket is empty because you’re not in
costume. Also, you’re like a decade past trick-or-treating age, which
“Creepy.” I suggested. “But I wanted some delicious confections to offset the pain of being unsuccessfully pool-foamed.”
“Emotional eating,” she nodded, like she knew the concept all too
well. “Hey!” She waved at the jumping gaggle. “Kids. Who has the fullest
“I do, I do!” The small superheroes and wee ghosts bragged, all wanting to outdo each other.
“No. That is not correct,” tsked Fair. “You all do. I see ‘em. Please reach in your
buckets and locate your very worst piece of candy. I mean,
the grossest, most barfy piece of candy you’ve got. The one you’ll
never eat. The one that’s going to stay at the bottom of your pumpkin
pail for the next year. The one you’ll find next Halloween afternoon,
all crumbly and dry inside its wrapper. Once found, please donate that piece of
candy to Mr. Overbove and Mr. Overbove here, who are far too old to be
out with a candy bucket and far too uncostumed to be rewarded for it.”
“Fair Finley! You are evil!” I clapped, then held out my bucket.
“Choose the baddest stuff you got,” she advised the pail-digging
gaggle while ignoring me. “Like, who has those teeth-pulling chews that claim
they’re blueberry-flavored but actually taste like carpet? Those. I want
those inside these guys’ bucket, pronto.”
The kids, who
initially eyed her with extreme wariness at the idea of giving up a
piece of candy, each dug eagerly to find the piece of candy they’d
never, ever eat, even out of sugar-seeking desperation.
“I’ve got the awfulest!” “No, me, the worst!” “No, I found it!”
Moments later, the bottom of the Motel Fairwil bucket held some
truly objectionable sweets and the kids jumped higher, excited at the kooky competition.
“There you go,” said the heiress with a
half-twirl. “I saved these adorable children from biting into a terrible
piece of candy and further tooth decay. I prevented the good
homeowners of the Wilshire district from having to encounter the sight
of you two showing up at their door, all full grown and without proper
costumes, unless you count five o'clock shadows. And you got your candy. Everyone wins, no one is sad, happy
“Happy Halloween!” I clapped. “Deviousness gets applauded in my world.”
“In your world,” she repeated, giving me a longer look before
swiveling again. “Say, Wil, sweetheart? Can I see your pail again?”
The small Finley
lifted his treat carrier and the heiress reached inside. Moments later,
she’d dropped a popcorn ball, wrapped in clear cellophane, in my bucket.
“That seems like something you’d like.”
quintessential movie food,” I agreed. “What about my cousin, though? No
treat chosen especially for him? That's cold, Fair.”
She glanced in the bucket, then frowned at Gomery's tie knot. “Sorry. What sort of thing do you like?”
“A sense of humor, an optimist...” I listed. “Oh HOLD on. Did you mean candy?”
Gomery reached in our bucket, extracted a lollipop, unwrapped it,
and stuck it in his mouth. “I actually enjoy these. They’ve got licorice
root, a key ingredient in sarsaparilla and root beer.”
waved my palm at my cousin, in Exhibit A fashion. “Uh-oh. Your terrible
candy plot didn’t work. We have a satisfied customer, Miss Finley.”
But I was satisfied, too. The night hadn't gone how I predicted it might, but it had gone much better.
I considered pondering the surprising nature of resolution, but
decided pondering was far too cerebral for an evening built on the
silly, the strange, and the sugary. Instead, I scrounged for the popcorn
ball, peeled off the cellophane, and bit into the chewy treat,
satisfied even further.
Pool-foamers caught: 0. Popcorn balls procured: 1.
Licorice-sassafras-bark root-horrible-tongue numbing lollipops enjoyed
by Gomery: 1. Number of small, costumed candy-donating good-deeders: 12.
Orange sequins covering every inch of Fair Finley's Lady in Sequins
gown: 2,000, give or take. A pretty satisfying Halloween night with a
resolution I didn't want but now kind of like: 1.
Finley,” I started. “When are we going to get an invitation to
The Wilfair’s masquerade? I’d buy a ticket but I don’t have that sort of
cash. I saw your billboard. One billion dollars is a lot to charge for
“You misread the ad. Tickets
to The Wilfair Halloween Ball are only a million dollars,” she corrected. “But I’m sure I
can get you in for a little less.”
“Let’s gooooooooo.” The tiny trick-or-treating fairy had returned to pull on our neighbor’s sparkly gown.
Fair smoothed her young charge's wings, then apple-cheeked in our
direction. “Bye now. Um. Ummmm. I'm sorry, you are...” The heiress
frowned, her forehead crinkling.
“Monty,” I pointed at myself. “Gomery.” I pointed at my cousin.
“Right! How embarrassing. You look exactly like the two guys
who’ve lived next door to me forever. Awesome costumes. You could
practically be them.” She witched her face and cackled a farewell. A
royal, frozen-palm wave followed. The giddy group soon slipped around
the corner and into the ever-gloamier LA night.
“What just happened?” I asked as we turned for home.
“We got bad-candied and good-neighbored,” explained my cousin.
“That wave, though. SO fake. If only she’d fake down and, and. Wear that dress more.”
“That she’s fake?”
“Monty, how is someone who cackles at will and says ‘Mary
Shelley, holler’ and gets a bunch of children to give up their worst
pieces of candy not being authentically herself? In what way?”
“And she stepped out of her shoes, in order to run.” Gomery
voice held a note of marvel and bewilderment. “I’m not sure I ever
considered her someone who’d so readily take her runner’s mark when the moment
called for it. But I will now.”
“Still. She has to drop the swimming pool issue.”
“That’s got to come to some sort of head, soon,” Gomery agreed. “But
you, too. Move past it.” We turned back onto Fairfax Avenue and
strolled south. The tavern was livelier than before, as evidenced by a
long-tailed sparkle dragon and a half-and-half Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde
sharing a pint on the curb.
“You think I’m not moving past the pool?” I acted twice as indignant as I felt.
“The next time you try and irritate me – don’t act shocked, I know
what you’re up to – remember the
much larger thing you yourself won’t move past. And consider why the
motel and its pool are so damn
important to you, even as they’re the incredibly heavy lodestone our
family wears each day. Wears in the proverbial deep end of our lives.”
“Because the Fairwil and the pool are ours, not theirs. Ours.”
“I’m sick of it, frankly. This old argument.”
“You’re sick of everything lately, so add it to the list,” I offered.
“Not so much, now,” he said. “Getting bad-candied has a way of
turning a day around.” He smoothed his tie. “I can’t believe I’m in my
21st year on this planet and I’m still talking about that pool. The pool,
the pool, the pool, every single day the pool.”
“WHAT. We’re in our 21st year? Not our 20th?”
“We’re 20 now, so it's our 21st year.”
I calculated in my head. “Huh. You’re RIGHT! Can’t argue with the
gifted math student.”
“Oh, I'm gifted in several areas,”
said my cousin. “Random world knowledge, for one. Did you know, for
example, that pumpkins in Australia are harder than they are here? Very
difficult to carve.” He gestured at a lit gourd sitting in a shop
“Show off. Math's still your stronger suit. Too bad Fair Finley didn’t give you a math candy,
like me and my movie treat.”
“What in the hell is ‘math candy’?” Gomery asked, half-testy, half-laughing.
Ignoring him, I continued. “And since you're so big-brained at math,
you can figure out how we can keep the motel without making any money on
it. Is there a special algebra formula for that problem?”
Ignoring me, he reached down and picked up an
errant orange sequin. “Let’s get home and see if the pool got properly
foamed in our absence. Plus, I want a bath.”
A firm, cousin-like door knock woke me the following morning
“Monty. You have a present. Get up.”
“Whaaa?” I rolled onto an empty piece of gooey cellophane, a wrapper
that had held a delicious popcorn ball only hours before.
I stood, stretched, then stepped outside in my thinnest boxers, forgetting
that it was now November and the mornings were on the goosebump-making side. The motel's sole guests
walked by just as I opened my door, giving me a strange once-over. “Hey, how goes it?” I waved,
only barely concerned they were basically viewing me in the
But I forgot that and the nippy temperature
when I saw the gift my cousin meant. An industrial cardboard carton blocked
my door, or nearly. It was large and brown and a washing machine illustration appeared on the top.
Stranger still, though, were the handful of truly wretched Gomery-approved licorice
lollipops that were taped to the sides, here and there.
I bent on one knee to get a closer look. “One thousand super-strength industrial detergent cubes,” I read aloud. “Cleans every stain with power zapping action.”
“And foams every swimming pool,” Gomery added. “It doesn’t actually
say that, on the box. Maybe it should, in the fine print.”
“Wow. A)? She completely stole this from The Wilfair’s laundry room.”
“Completely,” my cousin confirmed.
“And b)? How’d she get it here? It weighs slightly less than that
blasted Ferris wheel. I'm sure I couldn't lift it. Her brothers help?”
“No upper body strength.”
“Hmm. Power zapping action.” I beamed. “I do believe, my good lad,
that there was an heiress huffing and puffing her heart out out here
while we slept. Remind me never to get into a wrestling match with the
baroness of industry next door, because she'll clearly kick my can.”
“So, are you dumping them? Bet she’s watching.” Gomery pointed at the hotel’s third floor.
“A foamed pool is A LOT of clean-up. Bubbles freaking everywhere. You know, I kind of want to use
these to do my own laundry, for the next, uh, half century? Still, it’s a
nice gift for a fakey fake person to give. I accept her gesture and these
bajillion purple power zapping action detergent cubes.”
“A fakey fake person who hollers ‘Mary Shelley’ and steps out of high heels to run,” Gomery added. “Plus, there’s this.”
He pulled something off the opposite side of the carton.
It was fancy embossed intimidating annoying Wilfair stationery,
complete with raised letterhead. But far more interesting than the
expensive piece of paper was the hand-penned note found just below the
letterhead. It was a missive written in perfect cursive, so perfect that
even the question mark boasted a curlicue flourish at its curved top.
Are you the flies or are you the spider?
Sincerely, The Window
Gomery smiled, peeled a lollipop off, unwrapped it, and stuck it in his mouth.
There was nothing else to do but follow sweet suit. The lollipop was
absolutely awful, nearly inedible, but everything else could qualify, on
some level, as Halloween magic.