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I used to work at a radio station on evenings and weekends, dubbing in commercials. It was an entry-level part-time gig, the shift nobody else wanted.
My boss was Moss –- a shy guy with a bald ponytail, lots of freckles and wrinkles, and dark, moist, soulful eyes swimming up at you behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He wasn’t what you’d call a sharp dresser, but he did care about a tweed jacket with elbow patches that he removed each morning and hung up on the hook behind the door.
The only time I ever saw him get agitated was when I moved that jacket. I can’t recall why I did it, but I never tried it again. He was great to work with, and I knew I was lucky to have such an easygoing boss.
On a certain day I went into his studio to check in before taking off for the night, and there was a woman in there with him. He introduced her as his wife, Gail. She was pretty and petite, older than me but not old enough to be my mother. He and I chatted about work stuff as she stared at me with obvious interest.
A few days later Moss told me Gail wanted to have lunch with me. I thought it was odd, because I don't have that girl gene that attracts other women on sight. Maybe, I thought, my social skills had improved recently? Was it possible I was making a better impression? The whole thing was a great big head-scratcher.
On lunch day, Gail picked me up in a big white hippie Volvo that was bigger than my apartment.
“You wear too much black,” she said. “Let's get you out of your shapeless black clothes and into something, well, better. It’s Spring after all. Okay?”
“Uh – ” I was nonplussed. “Could we possibly get some drive-through?”
“Fast food? Forget it, that’s crap. We’re going shopping.”
Suddenly it all made sense. Gail wanted to help me. For years I’d been an introvert, and others' reactions to that had fallen mainly into one of three categories: apathy, sadistic bullying, or charity. Gail was a charity-dispenser. She believed I was suffering, and she wanted to do what she could. I was steaming with silent anger. This broad didn’t even know me, and here she was judging me already? Judging me, and not permitting me to eat any food?
When you work part-time at a radio station, you are not a consumer. I was making just over $17,000 a year then. I lived on Dots, Baked Lays and ramen noodles, and whatever else I could scrounge from the desk drawers of the other employees when they weren’t around.
I wore the same black pants and one of three tops in my possession every day. I didn’t have money for shopping, but Gail was insistent. On the way to one of her favorite natural fiber shops, she talked to me about her fucked up family and said she had been sexually abused as a child. I checked my phone and realized I was going to be late getting back to work, but maybe it was cool – Moss knew it was his wife, after all, who was holding me hostage.
Gail stopped the van and went outside for a smoke. The car was covered in white dog’s hair and a lot of it had gotten on my black pants, so I sat there plucking it off and cursing my fate.
When we got to the natural fiber store – Threads n’ Dirt – she browsed without buying, but kept pushing stuff on me. “Why don’t you get this leather bracelet with the geode slice, it’s only fifty dollars!”
Fifty dollars might as well have been five thousand to me. She talked about her daughter Soleil who was super funky and fun, a real free spirit, and she looked AMAZING in clothes.
“Soleil is the one who started the trend of slip-dresses with chunky boots,” she said. “I’ll bet you didn’t know that!”
I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I just wanted to stuff all the filmy peasant dresses in the store into her big yammering maw and leave her there flailing among the sandalwood incense ashes and sad hemp blouses and hand-woven feed bags from Guatemala. But I just smiled and nodded.
“Moss’ll be furious if I don’t get back to work!” I said it jokingly. We both knew Moss never got furious about anything, but it was as good a pretext as any.
A few weeks went by, and I didn't hear from Gail. I figured I probably never would. So I failed the girl test, so what? Frankly I didn't give two fucks. Then on a Saturday morning when I was working alone and the whole building was empty, the studio line started ringing and I jumped out of my skin. It was Gail, and she was crying.
“He’s having an affair,” she sobbed. “You’ve got to tell me who it is!”
It's very weird to have your conception of someone, in this case my mild-mannered, sun-spotted, chain-smoking new-age boss, ratcheted up into a completely new category of being. He was a nice guy, but about as sexy as a tofu burger with sprouts. Would you suspect a soy vanilla milkshake of having an affair? Would you accuse an utterly inert organic bean burrito of infidelity?
“I don’t think so!”
Gail wailed and sobbed.
“Oh," I said. “You mean – you think he’s having an affair with me?”
She sobbed again, in the affirmative. I laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, but you’re wrong!”
“He came home with glitter in his underwear!” she screamed. “And not just a few specks of the stuff, oh no! I’m talking, like, a full cup of gold glitter! It just came spilling right out of his shorts when I was doing the laundry! Now I grant you, we’ve done some kinky things in bed. I’m far from a prude, I’ll have you know.”
“I’m not arguing.”
“We use toys, and we’ve got masks! He likes me to use this Jelly Swirl Massager, have you seen those? They’re purple, you can get them online from the Pyramid Collection. We do some, you know, alternative stuff. But NOTHING we do involves glitter!”
“Gail, I’m at work right now, I’ll call you back.”
“Wait! Tawnee, Teepee, the afternoon girl on the air, what’s her name?”
“Tirza. No, it’s not her either.”
“How do you know? You sound very sure of yourself.”
“Tirza? She’s crazy. Moss never looks at her, believe me.”
My real thought was that an affair between Moss and Tirza wasn’t necessarily beyond the realm of possibility. Who knew? Lots of women had daddy issues.
“It’s her, it’s her, I just know it!”
“Tirza wears glasses, Gail. She’s, I don’t know, puffy.”
“Watery eyes, allergic to everything. I wouldn’t think glitter, unless it was hypo-allergenic.”
“Let me know if you see anything. Or hear anything! I’ll be calling you twice a week.”
I love being coerced into private investigative work without pay. The other amazing thing was how sure Gail was that her quite ordinary husband was in the supremely desirable category, just because he was hers.
Radio isn’t like it was in the eighties, when the mystique of the medium conferred star status on anyone even vaguely associated with it. Sure, back in the day even the janitors did lines of coke on the board with girls with no pants on, but things had changed. And Moss wasn’t even a jock. He spent all day voicing things like, “Pertwee Stay-Dri Adult Diapers and Pullons keep you worry-free!” I hated to burst her bubble, but production directors don’t have groupies.
Something about the weirdness of the whole thing intrigued me. What Gail had asked me to do was unethical, selfish and nutty. She was obsessed with her project, and couldn’t have cared less about how she was compromising me. Suddenly, though, I was curious. Maybe my milquetoast boss, a SNAG (sensitive new age guy) by day, was actually a smooth, charismatic Lothario by night. I wanted to know!
So I watched. I watched without watching – just looked up every now and then through my studio window, to see Moss staring at his computer as he checked his email. He talked into the microphone most of the day, and varied that with the occasional trip to the restroom. He took a smoke break at about forty-minute intervals.
Tirza was also not coming through for me. She would pop into the studio to record a few spots with Moss, and that was it. She left a couple of hours before he did. If they were having an affair, they were skillfully deflecting attention from it by behaving with scrupulous professionalism. And if Moss was having an affair with anybody else, I couldn’t possibly know. And it was none of my business anyway!
I told Gail I wasn’t going to spy on Moss anymore – I was done. I hung up on her, but she kept calling back. She called my phone dozens of times, but I never picked up. At work Moss behaved with his usual deadpan efficiency. I wondered how much he knew of what had been going on between me and Gail, but I figured it was best not to bring it up.
I was walking home on a muggy afternoon, wrapped up in my thoughts, when I looked up and saw that my path was obstructed by a big white hippie van. My stomach dropped as I realized she’d trapped me! An orange fog passed over my eyes, and everything was in slo-mo. Gail’s large red mouth surged toward me. She had rolled down the window and was screaming at me.
I think she was saying my name,“Maxine! Maxine! Maxine!” But it was like hearing Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven played backward and slowed down, so it sounded like: “So here’s to MY SWEET SATAN!”
“Get away from me!” I yelled. “GET AWAY FROM ME!”
Then I nearly had a hemorrhage when Moss popped up in the passenger seat. His sad eyes zinged at me behind their John Lennon glasses. He had apparently been reclining with the seat smooshed back as far as it would go. I realized it was possible that they actually lived in that van.
My face went hot – I felt covered with shame. I’d just yelled at my boss’ wife, and he’d heard me! I put my hand over my mouth. A normal person would have tried to have an adult conversation, repair the damage somehow. Not me. I turned and ran back up the hill, then darted behind a parked car and ducked down until the big white hippie van backed up, with lots of grumbling and screeching, and finally lumbered out of sight.
Moss took a couple of weeks off work, so I didn’t see him for a while. When he came back we both pretended nothing had happened, and neither of us ever referred to Gail again. She left me with some indelible memories, though, including a few unanswered questions. Were they really living in the big white hippie van? And just what had Moss been doing with all that glitter? I guess I’ll never know.