Saturday, October 10, 2015

Their Love's in Jeopardy

From 2007

“Ignore the girl in the mohair bikini,” I told myself, sitting down on the lounge chair and pulling the stack of vice presidents out of my purse. She was the only other person at the pool on this Tuesday afternoon, and she’d waved at me when I’d come out of the hotel onto the patio. She looked harmless enough in her hot-pink get-up and orangish spray tan, so I waved back.

She continued to wave.

“Just ignore her. You’ve got to study,” I thought as I rifled through the cards, but this became harder and harder to do as her gestures, which I could see out of the corner of my eye, began to look less like friendly how-dos and more like the kind of flailing a person does right before going under for the last time. Finally, I looked over at her.

“Hey!” she yelled. “I’m glad to see somebody. Would you like some wine?”

Would I like some wine…Well, yes, actually, I would like some wine. And what could it hurt, I thought. I’m sort of on vacation, and it is only 3:00. I’ll just have a glass of wine with this lonely, waving girl, 2 at the most, and then I’ll get right back to Elbridge Gerry (1813–1814) and Spiro Agnew (1969-1973). It was still early. I had plenty of time.

I stashed my notecards and went and sat down by the girl. She put aside the self-help book she was reading and signaled the waiter, who had emerged from inside when he saw me walk over. “I’ll have another,” she said, pointing at the almost-full glass of white wine she was holding, “And bring her one, too.”

We sat in silence for a minute, me waiting for her to ask me what I was doing at this hotel in Savanah so I could tell her. I couldn’t wait to tell her. I wanted to tell everybody.

“I’m trying out for Jeopardy!” I’d yell, clapping my hands. I’d tell her about how it was a lifelong dream of mine, to be on Jeopardy, and how exciting it was when I passed the online test and got the email inviting me to the regional auditions, which were being held the next day at the conference center.

I’d tell her about how I’d splurged on this fancy hotel we were sitting at now precisely because it had a pool, and how I had a strategy to be as prepared as possible. I’d rest by the pool during the afternoon, reviewing my state-flower notecards until it was time to take a long, relaxing bath and go to bed – early! I’d tell her how I’d wake up in the morning and eat some scrambled egg whites, or something, and then go for a long, peaceful walk to get my brain working.

I’d tell her that after a year of caring for an infant and thinking only about that, this was my big chance to get back out into the world and prove that I was still a person and not just an udder. “And hey,” I’d remind her, “Not just any person.  A person who is trying out for Jeopardy! Yes!”   

She’d be excited, too. Of course she would be! Everybody loves Jeopardy! And maybe in spite of her mohair-trimmed bikini and matching pumps and expensive tan, maybe she was a mom, too. Maybe after we finished discussing Jeopardy we could laugh about mom things together, about how hard it was, and how many bodily fluids were involved. There were tons of things we could talk about. It would be fun! Taking a break to drink wine by the pool with this stranger was a great idea, I decided.

But the girl didn’t say anything. She just sat in the sun in silence, taking long drinks of her wine. She seemed calmer now that she wasn’t alone. The waiter came back with full glasses for both of us and she still didn’t say anything. So finally, I said, “What are you doing here by yourself at 3:00 on a Tuesday afternoon?”   

She sighed and said, “I was on the way to Jacksonville from up north, but my car broke down. Last Friday.”

The patio. 
“You’ve been here, at this hotel, since Friday?” I looked over at the converted gothic mansion that loomed over the patio and pool. Through the big windows in one wing, I could see waiters putting fresh white cloths on tables. Later in the evening it would get crowded as people in sparkly clothes arrived for dinner. But by that time, I’d be in bed. “What have you been doing?”

“This,” she said, lighting a cigarette.

“Wow,” I said. “Why were you going to Jacksonville?”

She squinted at me as smoke got in her eye. “To start a line of wheatgrass stores.”

“Wheatgrass?”

“Yeah,” she said. “You know anything about wheatgrass?”

“No,” I admitted. I didn’t know anything at all about wheatgrass, but I did know something about Jacksonville. Should I tell her that I was pretty sure Jacksonville was not yet ready for even one wheatgrass store, much less a whole chain? I watched her as she launched into what would turn out to be approximately 90 minutes of talk directly and tangentially related to wheatgrass, and realized two things.

One: This girl, who I will call Julie, was in serious trouble. I cannot imagine what caliber of problems I’d have to have to make “move to Jacksonville and start a chain of wheatgrass stores” sound like a reasonable solution, but they’d have to pretty bad. Especially since she had never been to Jacksonville, had no friends or family there, and no experience running any kind of business. All she had was a broken-down BMW and a matching bikini set and a dream.

Two: This girl was very, very drunk.

How long has she been out here, I wondered as the waiter brought another 2 glasses of wine and Julie rambled on about the health benefits of raw green foods and the successes that awaited her in the place she’d never seen. It was now 5:00, and the early cocktail crowd was starting to gather at the bar inside. Someone had turned on the little white lights in the topiary trees next to the patio doors. I was tired of talking about wheatgrass, which was probably not even going to be asked about at the auditions tomorrow. It was time for me to go.

“Well, Julie,” I said, patting her naked shoulder, “I’m gonna head out.” I stood up. The two glasses of wine I’d had were making me feel dizzy, and sleepy. “I’ll settle up with the waiter inside.”

“Oh, no, no!” slurred Julie, pulling on my hand. “Just have one more. Really, it’s on me. Just have one more and then I’ll take you to dinner!” She waved her arms in the direction of the restaurant and a different waiter emerged.

We’ve been here for two different shifts, I thought. This isn’t what Jeopardy champions do. Is it? I looked down at Julie, who was sitting there blinking up at me hopefully. The waiter stood there, waiting.

“OK,” I said, sitting back down. I looked at the waiter. “I’ll have one more, please, and will you bring the check when you come back?”

I don’t remember what we talked about while I drank my third and last glass of wine. The book she was reading, maybe? She was starting to become incoherent by this time, looking off into the middle distance and mumbling to herself. There was no way I was going to dinner with her, of course. Nobody was going to dinner. The thing to do was to pay the check, go upstairs, and go to bed as soon as possible. I could wake up early and review state capitals and still pull this whole thing off.    

I picked up the check and was horrified to see that the total was $198. I had had three glasses of wine, I realized, wine which cost $22 a glass. This meant that she had had…6 glasses of wine? “Uh, wow,” I said numbly, reaching down for my purse, “That was good wine.”

“No!” she batted my purse out of my hand and reached in her tote, pulling out a checkbook. “I got it. I told you, I got it.”

“Well that’s real nice, Julie, but I can’t let you do that. This is a huge bill.”

“Not to me,” she spat. “I’m the governor of XXXX’s daughter.” She named a large, important New England state that most of you have heard of.

 “What?” I said, stunned by the coincidence. Darn, I thought, if I had known this earlier I could have maybe avoided all the talk about wheatgrass. “Really? Well, you know, that is just an amazing coincidence. You probably know my friend, because she is dating your brother! Isn’t that crazy?”

It was crazy! A few months before, I had attended a wedding and had had a long conversation with one of the guests about how she was dating the governor of XXXX’s son. And now here I was, talking to the very same governor’s daughter! What an unbelievable coincidence! Even Julie, soused as she was, could not fail to be impressed by this.

“Did you hear what I said?” I repeated, reaching out and rocking Julie, who had an indecipherable look on her face, back and forth. “My friend is dating your brother!”

“Yes,” slurred Julie, looking at me murderously and staggering to her feet, “And my brother’s wife hates her.” Then, I guess, she tried to hit me.

“Oh no,” I thought as I watched her arm flop in my general direction. “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Instead of studying for Jeopardy I’m being assaulted by an orange drunk woman in a bikini who is also the governor of XXXX’s daughter, plus I’ve just found out that that Erin’s sister-in-law, who seemed so nice at the wedding, is dating a married man and going around bragging about it to everyone she meets. Should I tell Erin? Does she already know?” I felt confused over what to worry about first.

Julie failed to recover from her attempted strike. She lost her balance and pitched forward, toppling onto me.

“Oh no,” I said, struggling to remain standing. I locked my hands together and half-dragged half-carried her across the patio, towards the doors of the lobby. I could see some people standing there inside, at the entrance to the restaurant. They all stared at me.

When we got to the patio doors, the sight of the lighted topiaries temporarily revived Julie. She fought herself away from me and tottered on her feet for a second. “We’ve got to go to dinner!” she insisted. She swatted at me again and then pitched herself backwards into the topiary.

She was laying at a sort of angle to the ground, the small tree underneath her. I reached out and actually picked her up in my arms and carried her through the doors, which a terrified waiter was holding open for me. She was heavy, and boneless.

“I need to take her up to her room,” I said to the man behind the desk, gesturing with my chin at Julie, who was now completely unconscious. “But I don’t know which one it is.”

“Here,” said the desk man, handing me a key. “302.”

I carried Julie up to her room and laid her on her back on the bed. I got a glass of water from the sink and put it on the bedstand next to her. Then I sat down on the edge of the bed, my back to her. I tried to think. Should I roll her over? Was she OK? No, she was definitely not OK.

I heard her move behind me and turned so I was facing her. She sat up and looked at me blearily, like she didn’t recognize me.

And then she said, and if I read this in a blog post I would roll my eyes and go “oh please,” but I’m sorry, this is actually what she said. She said, “I had a son, once.” Then she kissed me on the mouth.

I pushed her gently backwards and she fell over, asleep again. I got up and let myself out.

The next morning I drank a cup of black coffee on the patio while taking a last look at popular arias.

 “Please don’t let them ask about governors,” I thought, as I stubbed out my cigarette and walked to the car.


IMPORTANT CODA

A few years after this happened, I told my friend Erin about this incident. I said, "Did you know that your sister-in-law's boyfriend, the son of the governor of XXXX, is married? Did you, huh, did you?"

And she burst out laughing and said, "Oh no, Robin, my sister-in-law is dating the son of the FORMER governor of XXXX. FORMER!"

"Is he married?" I wondered.

So it was all just a big, hilarious misunderstanding brought on by me leaving out that one little word (FORMER). And it was just a terrible, terrible coincidence that poor Julie's brother really was having an affair with someone, but not Erin's sister-in-law, thank heavens.

Diane Trapp
Sadly, I did not make it to Jeopardy, even though I won the practice game pretty handily. I think I must have looked...haunted, maybe, at the audition. Is that the word I'm looking for? Not TV ready, anyway.

I met the lady who did go on Jeopardy from our region, a really nice, very smart librarian at UGA named Diane Trapp. I was excited when she went on to win! Here's the story about her.

And don't worry, I'll try out for Jeopardy again one day. I've learned a lot since then.
    

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