I wrote a short story not long ago—I guess you could call it a tongue-in-cheek yarn that combines thoughts of “the salt & pepper fox” with “what if?”
But then Mr. Clooney totally wrecked my story by getting married this past October.
Even so, when I was invited to do a reading at a Music & Literary Event in Toronto on Saturday night, keeping in mind the typical length of most Hollywood marriages, I decided to go ahead and read this particular story anyway.
WARNING: If after reading this story your spouse comments later about a faraway look in your eyes that doesn’t seem to be disappearing, don’t be concerned. That’s normal.
Picking Up George Clooney
A decent looking divorcette stuck in the ‘burbs leads an insular life.
Romantic prospects are limited to those men at the supermarket who look positively predatory as they squeeze the overripe melons in the produce department.
When I was married to Richard Rolland, MD, neighbor women hungry for over-the-fence chitchat homed in on me like heat-seeking missiles as I puttered around the yard in my Bermuda shorts and polo shirts. Today those same women clamp themselves like bear traps onto the arms of their melon-squeezing husbands as they stride quickly by my house on their evening strolls. It behooves me to sit on my veranda every night after dinner, dressed in my Victoria’s Secret tee shirts with necklines that plunge deeper than the Grand Canyon. Despite the sudden frost, I remain cordial, always raising my Tom Collins in friendly response to their tight-lipped greetings.
I often consider throwing my hands up in resignation and just unloading my cozy gingerbread house with its white picket fence (won fair and square in the divorce settlement along with my rather large alimony payments—Richard’s comeuppance for choosing the Intern Whore over the Doctor’s Wife). And move to a six-hundred-square foot condo in the city, which is what divorcettes with still lustrous hair, still shapely legs, and still perky breasts are supposed to do, right?
The problem is that Karen and James were raised in this house. If I blot out past images of the Intern Whore’s Boyfriend, I’m left with the most wonderful memories of my life here with the twins from their birth up to the day they left for college. I don’t think I’m ready to say my final farewell yet.
When Maggie Albright—a checker at our town’s only grocery market who has four kids and a husband she’s been begging me to take off her hands for years now—tells me the big news, I roll my eyes.
Although we are more opposite than alike, Maggie is the only confidante I have in this one-horse town.
As she scans my items, she leans forward so that Mrs. Beaufort, who looms behind me like an oversize vampire bat in her black mohair cape and sour pucker, can’t listen in. “Guess who’s staying at the Rosewood Inn for the next couple of days while they shoot some scenes here in town for his latest movie? George Clooney! Can you imagine? A fancy pants like him sleeping at a sixty-dollar-a-night ordinary little Inn! You should go rent a room there! Imagine the possibilities if you could meet him?”
I pause bagging my items and peer at Maggie over the top of my first-ever pair of Prada sunglasses, which I refuse to remove from my face until they have paid for themselves through the envy of others. “Oh, yes, Mags! I hear my destiny calling! Should I ring up Donatella now so she can get started on my gown for next year’s red carpet?”
Maggie sniffs with a haughty lift of her chin. “Fine then. Excuse me for giving you the tip of the century.” She holds up the carton of Ben & Jerry’s that she’s just scanned. “Then again, going home with this must be so much more exciting.”
“Actually it is,” I reply, grabbing my container of Jamaican Me Crazy Sorbet from her. “I’ve been looking forward to nothing else but.”
Maggie sighs as she takes my debit card and swipes it on the register. “I wish I could say the same. There’s lots waiting at home to make me crazy but it ain’t that sweet.” She hands me my receipt. “Have an extra-huge scoop for me, ok?”
“Promise!” I chuckle over my shoulder as I exit the store.
Upon arriving home, my first mistake is to glance at the answering machine. Hitting the play button is my second mistake.
“Abby, it’s Richard. If you think for one minute that I’m paying for you and the twins to gallivant through Europe this summer, you have another think coming. My lawyer…” I hit erase before my ex’s voice can put a damper on an otherwise pleasant Monday evening.
After putting away the groceries, I set my carton of Ben & Jerry’s on the counter and dig an oversized serving spoon from the cutlery drawer. I step back, crossing my arms as I regard the frosty carton. Thanks to Maggie, thoughts of the Rosewood Inn are gnawing at my consciousness. Not because of the rumors that Mr. Big Movie Star is staying there but because (A) I am beginning to feel bored with the same old nightly view from my front porch, and (B) Of my scant warm memories of Richard, the best ones are of our date nights long ago in the Rosewood’s cozy little piano lounge, scattered with cushiony club chairs that you could sink into with the most luscious Hazelnut Chocolatini in the world.
I shove the carton into the freezer and consider calling one of my book club cohorts to drive out and join me, then reconsider. They all live in the city and it’s difficult getting anybody out to Monotony-ville on a Monday night. Besides, I’m not interested in an entire evening out, just a brief change of scenery along with a little something sweet to rinse away the bitter aftertaste of Richard’s phone call. I touch up my lip colour, slip into my new Cavalli leather jacket (thanks, Rich!), turn my answering machine off, and exit my front door, humming a Bacharach tune to get me in the mood.
Richard is nothing more than a fading canker sore. Aside from the ponytailed, bearded pianist who looks like a Hell’s Angel in a tux but plays like an angel from Heaven, I am all alone in the Rosewood Inn’s candlelit piano lounge. I have died and gone to the Pearly Gates. Nestled deep into a plush crimson club chair, nursing my third round of a drink that would have been forbidden in the Garden of Eden, my eyes drift closed as strains of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” eddy around me like a soothing breeze.
I feel rather than hear the presence of a body settling into the club chair beside mine. My eyes remain closed. I am away on vacation in my own little paradise with no desire to make small talk with any natives.
“Great song,” a male voice states. I ignore him, raising my martini glass to my lips for another sip of euphoria. Do closed eyes mean nothing to anyone these days?
He persists. “My associates were told that the only wild and crazy place in this town is a country and western bar called Mo’s Saloon, so that’s where they’ve all headed. Me, I prefer a nice quiet place like this with music to sip a fine scotch by.”
“Quiet being the key word here,” I retort, expelling an irritated sigh as I open my eyes and turn my head to glare at him.
Though half my blood is Irish, I’ve never been blessed with the luck of them. My life is really not that bad but the bottom line just never seems to go my way. Here’s an example: In college just before graduation, juggling exams while embroiled in a windstorm of wedding plans, it suddenly became clear to my high-school sweetheart—the one true love of my life—that he was gay. I was driving his car at the moment that he chose to blurt this revelation to me (he had actually been giving me driving lessons) and I was so stunned by the news, I had no memory of removing my hands from the steering wheel and turning to face him in open-mouthed shock.
The next thing I knew, he was encased in a full-body cast in the intensive care unit (the tree had hit his side of the car) and I was in a hospital ward bed with my left leg in traction. Then, wouldn’t you know it? My “good luck” at work again; that’s where I met Richard, who, thanks to my salary as an admin assistant to the atrociously rich, atrociously horny CEO of a Fortune 500 company, coasted through med school and surgical residency only to, in turn, ditch me after two babies and twenty years of marriage for a twenty-six year old bottle-blonde floozy in scrubs.
My twins—the two bright lights in my life—were born at a roadside recess for buses in the backseat of an old 1974 Toyota Corolla because of the good doctor’s insistence on finishing up a paper he’d been writing before taking me to the hospital. I will never forget how he quipped, “Not to worry! We have plenty of time to get there,” while I clawed deep gouges in our dining room table. I could go on but why bother? I’ll just jump ahead and begin with the fact that: here I am again, Lady Luck, alone in a bar on a Friday evening, acting like an obnoxious bitch with none other than George Clooney.
His expression is one of chagrin but I also catch a glimmer of amusement dancing in those dreamy dark eyes.
I stare at him, lost for words. They say that when you die your life flashes before you. In this case, after being incredibly snippy to an über celebrity—especially one who is often your co-star in dreams so sordid, they can never be described aloud to anyone—a similar flashback occurs except it plays out in emotions instead of images. I am surprised, mortified, annoyed, embarrassed, impressed, annoyed that I’m impressed, and every other emotion in between.
I suppose he can’t help but feel sorry for me, gentleman that he is. He sets his empty glass on the small round table in front of our chairs and leans forward. “May I get you a fresh drink?”
Gathering my wits, I suddenly transform my posture into one of indifference. “Sure. Why not. A scotch and soda would be nice. Please and thank you.”
I watch his back as he walks off to the bar, and think to myself, “Are you trying to catch flies?” in an effort to keep my mouth from dropping open and locking permanently into that position.
His hair is more salt than pepper in the dim light of the lounge and he’s taller in the flesh than he seems in photographs. He’s wearing an ordinary, pale blue button-down shirt under a black sports jacket, and looks like a regular guy. Except that he’s only a hundred thousand million trillion times more gorgeous. So many times I’ve paged through the various tabloids, examining shots of him with women draped around his shoulders like starving Boa constrictors. All of them young and beautiful, much like the Intern Whore. I decide I want to hate George Clooney on sight.
My palms are sweating and I rub them dry over my new low rider jeans that make my ass look fabulous, if I do say so myself. The dialogue that surges through my head makes me want to scream: just shut up, already! “…Thank God I wore makeup! Just look at me, getting liquored up with GC! But I was so rude to him! I should probably apologize. Hey, why the hell should I? Who does he think he is? Just look at him. We all know he’s a player. He’s probably dropping date rape drugs in my drink right now! Don’t be ridiculous! He can have any woman he wants. Why would he want to incapacitate and rape me? Then again…He should be so lucky! He…”
“Your scotch and soda.” I jump slightly as I notice the glass held out in front of me.
“Thank you.” I make a show of swirling the liquid in my glass, one eye on him, the other on alert for any foreign objects floating around.
He settles back into the chair beside me and holds out his hand. “I’m George, by the way.”
I place my hand firmly in the grip of his large one, then pull away from him as if I’ve touched a leper. “Oh for Heaven’s sake. I know who you are. A shaman from the depths of the Brazilian rainforest would know who you are.” I snuggle back down into my chair and take a good, healthy gulp of my scotch. “And don’t for one minute think I’m some groupie who flings herself at any movie star who rides into town. As a matter of fact, I don’t care if you’re the Sultan of Brunei—if you’re a male, then you’re at the top of my shit list.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Sorry to have offended you. I am a male, but I’m just being sociable. Not trying to get into your pants or anything like that.” He takes a pull from his glass and grins. “By the way, I’ve met the Sultan. He’s a pig. You’d hate him.”
I am thankful that the lounge is dim because my face is on fire and, I’m pretty sure, the color of a really ripe tomato. I deflate into my chair, hold out my hand, and we shake again. “I’m Abby. A bitter divorcee. And I’m truly sorry to have taken your head off like that.”
George leans back and stretches out his legs. “Ah, another member of the been-there-never-gonna-do-that-again-in-this-lifetime club. I completely understand. Though you probably already know that about me.”
I laugh. “Touché, George.” Honest to God, he’s so smooth. “That’s one thing we most definitely have in common. I don’t believe I’ll ever get married again.”
He and I fall into a comfortable exchange. I begin to relax. He prompts me to tell him about the divorce and it feels really good to unleash the load. The big old movie star begins to dissolve faster than an effervescent tablet dropped in water. By the time I’ve drained three more glasses, he’s a dear old friend.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Michelle Pfeiffer?” We’re each nursing our fourth scotch and soda and although I’m not yet completely blotto, I am feeling rather merry. Laughter bubbles from my throat as I lean forward, touching my forehead to his.
“As a matter of fact, yes they have. But you’re still not getting into my pants, George Clooney.”
By two-thirty in the morning, closing time, our foreheads are still touching and so are our lips. And our tongues. And our hands. George is as great a kisser as you would imagine. The question of whether or not he’ll be able to get me up to his room is no longer in dispute. It’s a done deal.
Gradually, I become aware of warm sunlight bathing my eyelids like liquid fire. While logic tells me that I’m on solid land, my innards have sailed out to sea, tossing and churning in the boiling waves. I know I need to open my eyes, but I’m afraid that I’ll throw up if I move an eyelash. I haven’t felt this bad since college.
Through the fog, bits of an incredible dream I was having of myself with George Clooney drift into my consciousness. Such a lovely dream. So realistic. I roll onto my other side and my hand brushes against paper. I raise an eyelid and focus somewhat on a large post-it note that’s stuck to the top of the pillow beside me. Wait a minute. That’s not my pillow. And these aren’t my sheets. Where the hell am I? With a sickly groan, I pull myself up on an elbow and raise the note up to my eyes.
You are a goddess! Please have dinner with me tonight. Can I pick you up at your house at eight? My cell number is below if you need to call, though I turn it off whenever I’m on set. See you tonight?
The note flutters from my hand to the floor like an autumn leaf.
That’s when all the memories come flooding back.
And they are good.
They are very, very good.