Friday, December 15, 2006

But If You Try Sometime, You Just Might Find, You Get What You Need

After moving to San Diego in my twenties, I looked for a roommate situation on the beach. I found Rene. During our first meeting at her house, she reclined languidly on the couch, as she asked me questions about how I'd come to San Diego, where I worked, if I was a party person, my standards of housecleaning. Our ideas and interests meshed, and she invited me to move in that week, which I did.

Living with Rene also meant joining her circle of friends (which were legion) and to happily participate in the quintessential beach lifestyle of people our age-- sitting in lawn chairs in our front yard, watching the world go by while drinking many, many beers; going to the beach to work on the tan; bar-hopping; nursing hangovers; going to parties; giving parties. Housework- once a week, if that. Venturing out to the livingroom on a Sunday morning and seeing various people asleep on the couch, the floor, the loveseat-- a guarantee.

Rene had an amused and pragmatic view of the world as a result of her upbringing by her mother, a young widow, who prioritized her wants and needs over those of her children’s. Rene realized if she wanted anything out of life, she was going to have to get it herself. Thus, Rene became a Machiavellian character.

For Rene, the primary method of getting what she wanted was keeping a circle of adoring men around her, all of them dazzled by her looks and charm. They bought her gifts, gave her money, took her out for dinner. For three years I lived with her while a succession of unsuspecting men marched in and out of our house. One day they were there, the next day they'd be crying in their drinks over Rene. Poor bastards-- they never knew what hit 'em.

Then she met Mick, a native of London, and he came to live with us. Mick's friends blended with our group. There was Junior, Sean, John, Scottish John, and a host of others. These guys were tough, sharp-tongued, hilarious and a little dangerous.

Mick had been living with us for several months when Rene realized she was really attracted to the dashing and aristocratic Scottish John. They flirted with one another openly, but Mick didn’t mind this. He was confident that Rene wouldn't cross that line, so to him it was a non-issue.

One night, the Brits and Rene went out, and for reasons I can't remember, I stayed home. I awoke late to the sound of the front door slamming. I heard Rene and Scottish John talking out in our living room, Rene's little musical voice and Scottish John's unintelligible brogue. Laugh, laugh, giggle, ice clinking in glasses. Then silence.

Oh, Jesus, I thought. Where the hell is Mick? He's gonna walk in on them. I itched to check on what was going on out there. I got out of bed, opened my door and peeked around the corner into the living room.

Scottish John lay on the floor, zipper down, passed out. Rene was on the couch, unconscious, skirt hiked up, garters showing. I poked Rene on the shoulder. "Rene. Wake up. Mick's gonna be home soon." Rene, eyes still closed, smiled. "Oh well! Not my problem," she said in her little voice.

Just then, the door opened and Mick came in.

"Hey, Mick," I said nervously.

"Hey," said Mick, in a flat, deadly tone, surveying the scene.

"Would you like me to fix you a cup of tea?" I asked impotently.

Mick walked over to the prone Scottish John, dragged him out into the front yard, and proceeded to give him an old-fashioned ass-whipping. Rene stumbled over the coffee table, launching herself out the front door to stop the fight. Mick yelling, Rene crying, they came back into the house and retired to Rene’s room, where they argued for a couple of hours.

The next morning, Mick tenderly nursed Rene's hangover. You do the math.

A couple of months went by. Mick was a household memory and Rene, who was facing some financial difficulties, decided she needed a boost to her income. To do so, she set her sights on Navy John. After a whirlwind of three or four dates, they traveled to Vegas to make it all legal. Rene figured as a Navy spouse, John would get extra money each month, then give it to her off the top (which he did, faithfully). “It’s purely a business arrangement,” Rene explained airily. They kept separate quarters for over a year—Rene lived in our house, and John lived on base. They saw each other a couple times a week. It was an ideal arrangement.

Bored with San Diego, Rene decided to take a trip to Hawaii to visit friends. She was gone for two weeks. Upon her return, she said, “I’ve met a wonderful guy! I’m in love! I’m moving to Hawaii!” She and Navy John got a quicky divorce, she sold her belongings, packed her clothes, and left. She sent a picture of she and the groom on their wedding day. Rene wore a black evening dress, white gloves and carried a bouquet of orchids. The groom looked happy too-- considering.

Today, Rene has three beautiful children with D., the nuclear engineer, and a lovely home in California. Rene doesn’t work, of course, because she never has. Rene has what she always wanted—a beautiful life, a beautiful husband, and together, they've had beautiful children. I'm certain she's the coolest mom on the planet. She used everything she could to get these things. It being Rene, I never-- EVER-- doubted for a moment that she would go without.

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