The Trickster Diaries/Chapter 25
Don and I rarely saw each other. I had the downstairs (large bedroom and bath) all to myself and was usually asleep before he got home and gone before he got up. It was a nice and natural arrangement given our sometimes volatile friendship.
More importantly, I loved this new gig. Happy to get there early, open up, get things going in the office, showroom, greenhouse. The man whose concept had come to life here, the owner, Steve, was a rare fellow: a real pro, a soulful spirit, a brilliant and uniquely gifted designer. It came as naturally to him as blinking.
Once, driving back together from an exterior installation on Rodeo Drive, Steve commented on how it had always been his wish to excel in some art form, to feel one with it, lost in the process itself.
Me: Brother, from what I just witnessed, your wish has been granted.
Steve: Maybe. Maybe design isn’t the pure artform painting is, or composing and performing music is. But maybe.
Steve’s business was flourishing. He had the corporate and retail exposure plus the high profile Hollywood clientele to insure it. The only real question was whether his current staff was up to the ever ascending sophistication level.
For his top floral designer, Judith, the answer was yes, though her role would necessarily change. For Bill, Gloria, very doubtful. For Arturo and Carlos, the main installation guys, yes, they most definitely fit into the future.
For myself and Shana? Ah, well, that’s where things got a little tricky. For us it was a matter of desire and commitment coming into perfect synchronization. Steve wanted us. We could handle the jump up in class. But what did WE want, personally? We each loved and respected Steve too much to sign on, then walk away because of some bullshit we’d talked ourselves into.
Shana, only 26, had a wildness and freedom and a sense of the absurd about her that made it an even trickier question, meaning, (though she knew and cared almost nothing about design, even less about plants), her energy and charisma made her the perfect maintenance tech. Back in the showroom, or during a consult with a potential client at the client’s location, wearing high heels, lipstick, anything black and clinging, her value quadrupled.
But what did SHE want?
What did I want?
At 47, I must have appeared as sure lifer material, at least to those who didn’t know me well. Only Shana, among the people I worked with, was aware of the truth. We’d caught on to each other very early in the game, then crossed a threshold one day while on assignment together.
An existing residential client in the Beverly Hills lowlands wanted a redo. Shana had a relationship with the client, I had the plant and design expertise. It was one of the more unsettling moments I’d witnessed, or played a role in. Once Shana had introduced us, she instantaneously shape-shifted into a completely different person. She immediately lost her Valley Girl speech mannerisms and her posture flash morphed from laid back slinky to finishing school grad. Mysteriously, the client, a housewife in her late 30’s, two kids, seemed to know this “other” Shana so well. They shared a fun, upbeat, former college roomie rapport.
I felt lost, everything out of focus.
Back in the car, engine idling, I stared at her: “Who ARE you?”
Me: Who was that in there?
Shana: It was me dealing with a client, making the sale, silly.
Me: Right, I know, I do it too, but are you aware of how radically different you were?
Shana: Well yeah. I’m different with everybody. It’s what I’m good at.
Me: OK. So wait. Who are you now?
Shana: Me. Just me, Robert, I swear.
Me: (Staring through the windshield, thinking of how to say it) Do you like doing what you’re good at?
Shana: (Head suddenly spinning to look at me, body stiffening) OH MY GOD Robert! No one’s ever asked me that before! Shit! What time is it?!
Me: Closing time, baby. We’re done.
Shana: Can we go back to your place, smoke a bowl? I can’t believe you asked me that! Fuck! I so totally need to get stoned right now.
Shana’s genuine shock reaction to my question would become a kind of reoccurring pattern with us. And my reaction to it, which I kept secret for a time—perhaps the most surprising, most intimate, inside joke of all time, once revealed.