The Movie Star’s Shoe

shoe

New York has some pretty big rats. (I mean the ones waddling along the stone walls of the Park at night, not the ones showing up on the front page of the Post.)  When my husband took a job running a Hollywood film production facility I presumed we had left New York’s rats, pigeons, cockroaches, waterbugs, and the rest of the gritty zoologica behind; we were going to live in ocean-fresh Santa Monica with California brown pelicans and Pacific spinner dolphins just outside our door.  It never occurred to me that rats would also share our So Cal paradise until our neighbor, Debbie, told me how relieved she was that Jean Pierre, another neighbor, was having his twenty-foot tall Washingtonia filifera palms pruned.  Not understanding, I asked why.  “Ask the tree guy when he gets here” she replied knowingly.

Later that day I had a long discussion with the man pruning; he told me that rats like to live in untidy palms, the ones with the dead fronds hanging down; they enjoy the protection from the elements and the close food source that unwary humans provide.  To forestall this, the trees must be pruned twice yearly.  Chilled, I spent the rest of the day grateful for Jean Pierre’s garden diligence.

That night sitting at an outside table at The Blue Plate Oysterette, watching the sun slip behind the forty-foot King Palms lining Ocean Avenue, I idly relayed the conversation to my husband, Jamie, as he perused financial statements from the studio.  The idea so captured his imagination that for the entire time we lived there – literally, until we returned to the East Coast – every time we passed a palm tree he’d grab my arm and yell “rat!”  At first it creeped me out, but since I never saw one, eventually I concluded that there couldn’t possibly be rats in every tree. Nevertheless, those invisible rodents remained secreted inside a small, dark sliver of my mind and I cut all palm trees a wide berth .

Still rat-less, weeks later, in mid-July we were lying on our bed watching the 11 o’clock news when I heard a loud thwack. I turned to Jamie.  “Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“A smacking noise outside, like a bird hit the window.”

“So maybe a bird hit the window.”

“Jame, it’s . . . what, 11:20; what bird flies at that time of night?”

“Maybe it’s a bat.”

“Oooooh, do we have bats here?”

“Maybe it’s a rat jumping out of Jean Pierre’s palm tree.  Remember what the tree guy said.”

“Ewwwwwwwww.”

“He’s coming to get you!”  Jamie grabbed my arm.  This time I did shriek.  What if the much anticipated, palm-tree-rodent had finally arrived?  He laughed.  “If you really want to know, look out the window.”

Ours is a small house, a landmarked turn-of-the-twentieth-century beach cottage, barely ten feet away from an identical landmarked house, across the paved walkstreet that forms the center spine of the historic bungalow colony.  If that long-expected rat had appeared, he was sprawled on the porch roof, really close, maybe four feet away from the mattress.  I slid Spencer, our marmalade tabby, off my lap and faced the windows; approaching warily, I poked one finger tentatively through the blinds.

Peering through the slats, I saw that something sat in the center of the pitched porch roof; it was sleek-looking with a long slender growth from one end, too sleek-looking to be a rat, even one in overly groomed LA.   And while it was kind of rodenty in color, it appeared to have a red stomach. Was it a bloody rat?

Grabbing a long plastic back scratcher I yanked at the blind cord, then slid up the window sash and leaned out.  I poked at the object with the scratcher.  With a clunking noise, it rolled over and displayed more of its red stomach.  Feeling somewhat safer – rats don’t generally clunk and roll – I leaned out farther and tried to drag it toward me with the curled end of the scratcher.  It turned and clunked again, this time toward the edge.  Leaning out so far I feared tumbling out to join it on the small rooftop, I swatted again.  This time it caught.  I reeled it in.  It was a brown alligator Christian Louboutain stiletto.

Once I had the window closed, I sat on the rug examining my catch as it dangled expensively from the scratcher’s curved end.  It caught the light dully on its sable matte finish.  I lifted it gently and placed it beside me on the pale carpet.  It gleamed; it was a left pump, its sole smooth and crimson, not yet scratched from use.

I knew this shoe.  I had wanted a pair like this but saleswomen in every shoe department from Barney’s to Saks had sighed unctuously and inquired why I had not visited them sooner.  After all, it was the most important shoe of the collection and my size, six, was the most common in all of LA.  Covetously, I slid my bare foot inside the foundling’s cool newness.  I hobbled around to Jamie’s side of the bed.  “Look at this.”

Intrigued by the news broadcast, he ignored me.  I removed the shoe from my foot and waved it in front of his face.  “Jame, look at this.  It wasn’t a rat; it was a shoe on the roof, a brand-new Louboutain.”

He glanced up distractedly and nodded.

Perching on the edge of the mattress I twirled the shoe by its five-inch spike heel.  “How would this get here?” I mused.  “It’s expensive.  It’s alone and they come in pairs.  It’s big, too, look . . . size . . . oooh, eleven.  Wow.  And, anyway, they can’t fly, so how . . .” My voice trailed off.

Jamie looked up from the Marie Callendar commercial and jerked his head to the right. “Her,” he said.

“Her who?”

He looked at me intently and spoke slowly, punctuating his words with a pointing index finger. “Her – across the walkstreet.”  Then, just before he returned his face to the TV screen, he added, “And they can fly, by the way.”

Her Across the Walkstreet was an Oscar-winning actress known to the tabloids as America’s Sweetheart, a Chiclet-toothed girl-next-door, who earned tens of millions of dollars for every movie she made.  None of the neighbors knew her any better than the average reader of Star or People because, while she and her manager-husband owned the bungalow opposite ours, they rarely stayed there, since they also had an estate in Malibu and another in the Palisades.

After waiting for the next commercial to begin, I asked, “What are you talking about? What does she have to do with a size eleven flying Louboutain?”

“It’s her shoe.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I have met some of its relatives.”

“You can’t have; it’s here alone.”

Jamie shook his head, amazed by my naïveté.  “More distant relatives, then – a red Jimmy Choo, a black Givenchy, and . . . I am pretty sure the first one was a crème Manolo.  And they all knew how to fly, although some didn’t land too well; I thought the last one was gonna break the living room window.”

My lips formed a little “o”.  He tapped my chin and grinned.  “Close your mouth or you may catch the next one.”

It transpired that our neighbor – America’s Sweetheart – possessed the interpersonal communication skills of a thirteenth century Mongol.  Whenever she didn’t get her way she threw a screaming tantrum.  “Threw” appeared to be the operative word, too, because a shoe often accompanied the shriek; she wound back and hurled, although with less precision than enthusiasm, apparently, since no one had admitted to seeing her husband with a black eye.  And as our house sat immediately opposite theirs on the narrow walkstreet, the shoes landed most often on our porch.

I was amazed at Jamie’s story.  “When does this happen?  Where have I been?”

“I don’t know where you are.  It happens at all different times.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t really think about it.”

“Where are they?”

Jamie swigged his Diet Coke.  “I gave ‘em back; what do you think, I kept ‘em?”

“How?” I envisioned his knocking on the door and bowing, ‘Your shoe, madam’ like some Post-Modern Hollywood Sir Walter Raleigh.

“Usually I leave them on their front steps on my way to work in the morning.”

“Really?”

He stared.  “What else could I do with them?”

I considered.  Fill them with lemonade and freeze them, making shoe-shaped granitas. Plant them with dill and tarragon for a fashionista herb garden. Amusing, yes, but highly impractical, and nothing that my husband would have thought of.

“I don’t know.  I just . . . wondered.”

“Yeah, well, toss it down by the front door and I’ll drop it off on my way out tomorrow.”

“Okay.  I guess.”  Somehow it seemed wrong to throw it again, so I carried the shoe to the narrow staircase and descended into the inky darkness.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to return the shoe, although I certainly couldn’t formulate a reason for keeping it.  It was . . . associated glory, of sorts, like bidding on a star’s detritus at those Hollywood auctions Julien’s in Beverly Hills was always promoting.  This shoe was my own little brush with celebrity, except in this case the celebrity’s Us Magazine life had been found wanting.  Stars!  They’re just like us!  They feed their kids and phone their therapists and argue with their spouses, but their nameless neighbors have to help them find their matching shoes after they have pitched them across courtyards.

A tiny part of me wanted to feel morally superior and be sorry for America’s Sweetheart, as though my life was somehow more meaningful than hers – after all, I didn’t throw shoes – but I couldn’t quite manage that level of hypocritical envy. Regardless, for the first time I considered that beneath the great clothes and red-carpet events it must be pretty weird to be her.  She may well do all those real-people things but she does them with an aging Sober Life Coach rolling along behind her and guiding her hand while a phalanx of photographers angles to capture every misstep for posterity.

No, she is nothing like me.  I teach high school English and worry about rats in palm trees, not rats clutching cameras waiting patiently for the unflattering money shot to define me to all of America.

I sat in the darkened living room thinking until the entire colony was silent, then gently opened the door.  I tiptoed across the paving stones and lay the shoe on the doormat.    Treading softly down the wooden steps I gazed up at Jean Pierre’s palms wondering how many eyes were observing me as I completed my stealthy mission.  However many there were, it was fewer than the number that watched my neighbor park her Prius in the Whole Foods parking lot.  Maybe all the rats in LA didn’t live in the trees.

Roses and the Snow

Rose and Snow

It was my twentieth wedding anniversary a few Thursdays ago and my husband Jamie and I went out to dinner. I went with two of his sisters to a restaurant in Manhattan and he joined his cousin and her husband at their house in Santa Monica. He flies home every Friday night and, like a 36-hour clock precisely wound, returns to Los Angeles on Sunday evening.

Sometimes I wonder if the ceramic bride and groom on our wedding cake were accidentally placed facing in opposite directions. While living in the same place at the same time has sometimes proved difficult, our marriage only became a cross-country relay event three years ago, when he became the President and CEO of The Culver Studios, known throughout the movie-going world as the big, white house seen in the introductory frame of every David O. Selznick film.

While living simultaneous lives on opposite coasts can be Hell, it also comes with unexpected moments of incomparable sweetness that I don’t think would be there if we were together all the time. Sometimes these moments are simultaneous. Sometimes they involve snow.

I really only like snow from a distance, like when Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney are singing as they walk through it, arm in arm. When I am faced with the reality of it, I hate it. It was on my mind from the moment Jamie accepted the job at Culver.

“What’ll I do when it snows?” I had asked in October, as he packed linen clothes for sunny L.A.

“We have that huge new snow blower. “

“I don’t know how to use it.”

“I’ll write it out. You’ll be fine.”

One day last February snow was forecast, a lot of snow, the kind of snowfall that made my student’s noses quiver with delight, as though, like rabbits, they could feel it coming. They were right, because at five a. m. it announced its arrival by a ringing phone.

“Laura, it’s Pam from the snow chain. We have a snow day today.”

I awakened a couple of hours later to a world smothered in snow. Enough snow for a day off is good, but what was piled outside my bedroom window was overkill. And it was still coming, tiny, crispy, little crystalline flakes floating happily to the ground covering trees, bushes, and trellises.   It seemed as if a giant Martha Stewart had gotten carried away with the sugar shaker.

Staring at it dolefully didn’t make it go away, so I decided to blow it. I didn’t want to spend the entire day and night marooned. How hard could it be? All manner of confidence-boosting mantras burbled in my brain as I dressed in multiple layers of sweatpants. Then I dialed our house in Santa Monica, the house near the beach where it doesn’t snow. I woke him.

“It’s snowing.”

“Oh.”

“I’m going to snow blow so I don’t have to stay here all day.”

“Oh.”

“Is it hard?”

“No, it’s pretty easy. It’s self-propelled, after all.”

Outside, actually standing next to it, the snow blower looked a lot bigger than it had when that nice man had delivered it from Wyckoff Power Equipment. I pulled off the note Jamie had taped to it. “Plug it in. Push the orange lever forward. Press the black button. It’s electric start so you’ll be fine.”

Like the diligent student I’ve always been, I followed the directions to the letter. Vrooooom! It roared to life. I had planned to aim the Zamboni-sized monstrosity up the hill toward the road, but I couldn’t move it. It weighed two tons. Thinking the self-propulsion would help, I squeezed the handle and gave it gas. Pow! It jumped and dragged me into the garage wall. This was harder than I thought. Inch by inch I turned the snow blower until it pointed mostly uphill toward the road, definitely away from the garage. Squeezing the gas handle again and holding on tight simultaneously proved to be the key. It chugged up the hill projectile-vomiting all the snow in its path. It was huge, though, and heavy, and despite the self-propulsion or maybe because of it, I ended up with a really crooked furrow. Regardless of what propelled it, it still had to be pushed low to the ground and guided. It looked like a nearsighted groundhog with faulty GPS had tried to burrow uphill in the dark. My confidence ebbed.   One badly plowed trough in the snow wasn’t going to solve the driveway problem. At the top of the hill, I let off the gas and, again, inched it into the correct position. By now I was sweating profusely in my down jacket so I ripped it off and tossed it over the stone pillar that frames my driveway and continued in my sweats. Downhill was easier (the self-propulsion, again) but since it was downhill and I am just over 100 pounds, I lost control of the machine and it thumped along with me clinging to it. Nearing the end of the hill, and trying to hold onto it, I forgot to stop squeezing the gas lever and crashed into the garage wall again.

My spirit of adventure left as I landed on my butt in the cold, steadily deepening snow. My ego was completely deflated. Obviously, I couldn’t do this. There was too much snow, it was snowing too hard still, and I was just not big or strong enough to handle the machine. I began to feel sorry for myself. My rotten husband went to Los Angeles and left me here in the Arctic. My nose started to dribble and fat, hot tears welled in my eyes. Too stubborn to surrender, I tugged on the giant machine until it faced uphill again. I began a new channel next to the previous one. Suddenly it got harder to push the machine and it looked like less snow was being churned up and spewed out. I released the gas and shoved the lever into Park. Crouching in front of the behemoth I saw that one of the churning blades, the far left one, was spinning lazily. I touched it. It twirled like a Texas cheerleader’s baton. It was broken. Something had broken it. Pushing away the caked snow I saw that a twig stuck out at a weird angle, like a broken arm. I realized exactly what was wrong because it had happened before. The rigid twig had jammed the blades causing the shear bolt to snap.

Fury crashed over me like a tidal wave. I stumbled through the slippery mess into the garage and grabbed the extension phone. Wiping my nose with my left sweatshirt sleeve, I dialed L.A. with my right hand. Jamie answered.

“It’s broken!” I sobbed.

“What?”

“It’s broken. The damn snow blower is broken. The snow is so heavy it snapped a little branch from the maple tree near the well house and it’s still snowing so it got buried by the snow and I didn’t see it so I ran over it and it wedged in the blade and broke the shear bolt again and now the stupid thing’s broken and I’m stuck here in eight inches of snow all by myself and it’s seventy-five degrees where you are and you left me here all alone and I want a divorce.”

Silence. Then, “I’ll call you back.”

Heaving with sobs at life’s unfairness and the relentless snow and my husband’s selfishness and, truth be told, my own incompetence, I stomped into the house, kicked off my boots and threw myself onto the kitchen window seat to cry. After about twenty minutes I felt a bit better and decided to make a cup of tea. I unfolded my legs to rise from the seat, and a red SUV appeared at the top of my driveway. “Oh, great. He’s broken down right there so even if I could get someone to plow he’d be blocking the driveway,” I mumbled.   Just as I was about to pull on my boots to go back outside I realized whose car it was. It was Jamie’s friend Kurt. He strode down the driveway. The snow seemed to part in front of his 6’4’ frame.

I opened the back door.

“Hey, Jamie called me from California and said you needed help with the snow blower so I brought an extra bolt from my house. Those darn things break so easily, don’t they?”

Kurt fixed the snow blower and cleaned the entire driveway. Then he had a cup of hot tea with me in the warm kitchen and drove to his own house. I had a clean driveway and didn’t have to stay home all day if I didn’t want to. I didn’t go anywhere, though, once the driveway was plowed. I snuggled on the couch with the dog and watched Turner Classic Movies. And it’s a good thing because if I had, I might not have been there to open the door when the truck arrived from The Little Flower Shoppe in Ridgewood bringing a dozen snow colored roses. The card read “Happy Snow Day. Your worthless husband.”