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That time I wanted to pass myself off as Joyce Carol Oates #TBT

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I submitted my first piece of writing when I was seventeen, a story about my first job, working at the employee cafeteria at General Telephone where my mother was a dispatcher. Rolling the 20# white bond backed by a sheet of thin blue carbon paper into my Smith Corona, I typed it out slowly, carefully, on a piece of erasable paper—and mailed it off to Cosmopolitan along with a cover letter. Not just to any editor at Cosmo, by the way, I sent it directly to Helen Gurley Brown. 

The piece itself, meant to be comical, was full of clumsy attempts at self-effacing humor.  I strived for a similar tone in the cover letter I addressed to Brown, completely clueless that the high powered editor in chief wasn’t the one reading unsolicited manuscripts. After I signed off I added the following PS. I could have said I was Joyce Carol Oates. What I thought that would accomplish I can’t imagine. That an unsatisfactory submission would get published because of a lame joke? 

No surprise, in the SASE I’d …

On Sunset [Listen FREE on iTunes and SoundCloud]

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#7 in the series of stories about that old boyfriend from the 1970's.


On Sunset


When you hear Sunset Blvd, you think of the Strip, the section of the boulevard that curves along the northern ridge of West Hollywood, snaking its way down Sunset from the Chateau Marmont at La Cienega to Doheny, past the clubs that in 1973, I’m still a year too young to get into and I’m too chicken to have a fake ID: the Comedy Store, the Rainbow Room, Gazarri’s, the Whiskey A Go Go. But Sunset doesn’t stop at the Strip. Sunset straightens up and leaves the Strip behind when it comes to Beverly Hills with its mansions and maids waiting for the eastbound bus that takes them home at days end. The road winds westward past the pink Beverly Hills Hotel where stars in convertibles turn in for drinks at the Polo Lounge, slides past the edge of the UCLA campus that I’ll transfer to in another year, swoops over the 405, beyond Bel Air and finally deep into the comfortably upscale neighborhood of Brentwood before it twists and curls its way to the ocean. That’s the Sunset I know best, the portion south of the 405, driving round the bends on warm summer nights in Derek’s GTO. 

Something isn’t right. We’re deep into that comfortably upscale neighborhood of Brentwood, on our way to a party at a friend of Derek’s but he looks away when I ask him ‘what friend?’ ‘whose place?’  

“You’ll see.” Like the location of the party is suddenly a surprise, a secret he’s guiltily guarding. 

We sit at the light at Sunset & Kenter, it’s so quiet along this stretch of Sunset—except for one understated motel on the corner there’s nothing but houses and trees all around—that the clicking of Derek’s left hand turn signal is like the ticking of a cartoon time bomb. It’s so loud it blocks out ‘Nights in White Satin’ playing in the background on Derek’s 8-track tape player. Derek slowly makes the turn then pulls over to the side of Kenter and parks. 

“Are we here?” I don’t see or hear a thing. No lines of parked cars indicating a party, no house alive with music and raucous laughter. Just darkness and a hush. “So where’s the party?”

“Shhh.” Derek takes my hand. “It’s here but we have to be quiet.” He leads me past some bushes down a driveway.

Looking around, I see where the party is. It’s the motel. Derek is taking me to a motel and the party is us. 

He takes a motel key out of his pocket, a blue plastic diamond shape with the number on it in white and makes sure we’re in the right spot. All the rooms look like little cabins, the kind of place I stayed at with my parents when we drove up the coast of California, through Oregon and Washington, to Canada. I’ve never been inside a motel room with anyone but my parents and my brother and sister in my entire life.

Derek pushes open the door and steps aside to let me in first. I half expect him to pick me up and carry me over the threshold but he doesn’t. Inside is an ordinary room, a double bed, a dark red spread. On the pillow a matching red rose. One gently glowing lamp on the bureau lights up the motel’s plastic ice bucket with a bottle of champagne in it. It’s cheap stuff, Andre, the champagne we drink at my house every holiday, laughing that it tastes like a fart, but drinking it anyway. A couple of plastic click-together champagne glasses are set out next to it. 

“When did you do this?!” 

I find I’m as blown away as if he’d strewn a thousand red rose petals in a path from the car to the bed, or hired a pilot to write my name in the sky. 

“Is it okay?”

“It’s more than okay,” and I close the door behind him.



•••••••••••••••••••••


I’ve been revisiting this old boyfriend in several posts.
Derek's story starts with Boys and Black Coffee.
 Or you can read the whole story in one piece. 

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