Small, Inadvertent Incursions
Sometimes after dinner when everything was quiet, and the phone had
finally stopped ringing, and there were no e-mails to answer, or
sketches to revise, or fabric swatches to look at, I‘d stand at my
kitchen window staring out at an empty, tumbleweed-filled lot and the
distant Sierra Nevadas and think about Roger and our years together. I
always missed him most after dinner because that‘s when he tended to
I could remember the many cozy evenings with him in my Santa Monica
condo. He‘d arrive around 7:30 or 8 with Chinese or Indian take-out,
flowers, and a pint of my favorite ice cream. (Like I said, he was the
man of my dreams.) And we‘d have these lovely, relaxing, casual
dinners, discussing something funny Carol had said that day, or the
celebrity who‘d rushed into the store that morning to buy a dozen
sweaters, or how his latest project was going, or where we might take
our next vacation. It was all very frivolous and delightful.
And after dinner, while I was standing at the sink rinsing plates,
he‘d come up behind me, wrap his arms around me, and kiss my neck. At
first, I‘d laugh, but eventually I‘d turn around and kiss him back.
Then things would get more heated and more passionate, and we‘d end up
in bed, making love. It was exciting and satisfying, the ultimate
release from everything. Afterward, we‘d lie there, naked and content,
bonded by the potent forces of food and sex. And then we‘d eat dessert
in bed and watch a movie before falling asleep.
It was all so effortless and uncomplicated back then. Our lives were
complementary. Everything flowed easily between us. There were no big
challenges to face or compromises to make. No unreasonable demands or
ugly disagreements. But that was before Houston and the chameleons.
Before Magnolia Crescent, Dan, Clare, and Lisa. Before Petticoat Palace,
Gary, and Kent.
The truth about Roger and me, the real truth, is that from the very
beginning we were more than friends and lovers. We were family. A safe
place to go, a place to belong, a cozy haven where you would always be
accepted, understood, cherished.
When we met, he was forty-three, I was thirty-eight, and we were both
alone – without spouses, parents, children, or siblings – at least
any that we spoke to. We became close because, on some level, we
realized we needed each other, as friends, as lovers, as family. Roger
was essential to my life; I was essential to his. With everyone else, my
parents, friends, ex- boyfriends, I was, ultimately, optional. But not
with Roger. This is one reason, I suppose, that I was reluctant to give
him up, even though I was a deadbeat wife at that point, a
long-distance, nonfunctional wife in a marriage on autopilot.
So, yes, there were moments when I wondered if Roger would be better off
with someone else. Someone more conventional and traditional. Someone
like Lisa. Maybe I was all wrong for him? Maybe he was all wrong for me?
Maybe Lisa had gotten it right at the Verandah when she said I was a
bolter and I should let him go?
I couldn‘t answer these questions. I didn‘t want to. But I wasn‘t
about to let go of the only family I had ever had. The only person I
ever felt I belonged with. Call me selfish. God knows I am. But I
wasn‘t about to let go of the only family I had ever known, even if it
was basically a dysfunctional relationship at that point.
Roger and I had had seven idyllic years together in L.A. That had to
count for something, didn‘t it? I loved looking back on the things we
did, the places we went, our vacations in London, and the times he
joined me in New York or Paris for fashion weeks. I also savored the
memory of other trips that were far less glamorous, but sweeter and more
spontaneous. Postcard-perfect weekends in Catalina, Palm Springs, San
Francisco, Lake Arrowhead.
I could even recall a sex-saturated three days in Solvang after we had
known each other only a few months, when we stayed at a bed and
breakfast and managed to miss every single breakfast. We lay there
instead, endlessly making love, and, afterward, tenderly entangled. My
chin nestled snugly in the nook of his shoulder, his arm around me, mine
draped languidly across his chest, my leg delicately, sinuously perched
between both of his. Equal parts possessive, protective, like a mother
lion with her cub. There was such intense intimacy between us. We were
so in love, wrapped in our own little cocoon, that it was impossible to
imagine the next five minutes, let alone the rest of our lives, without
You can miss the idea of someone, which means you miss something they
bring to your life, like wealth or social prestige or access to artistic
or intellectual circles. Or you can miss the reality of someone, which
means you miss the essence of that person, the way they make you feel,
the way they behave when they‘re with you. With Roger, I missed both.
I missed the idea of him, what he represented in terms of stability,
security, and respectability, and I also missed the reality of him,
snuggling with him in bed after making love, sharing a tub of popcorn at
the movies, taking a weekend trip to Palm Springs, having dinner with
If I missed him so much, why didn‘t I just get on a plane and go back
to Houston? Because I was enjoying my so-called life in wacky, tacky Las
Vegas, especially my budding design career, and I realized that being
with Roger in Houston would never be like being with him in L.A. It was
a different environment, a different situation, another world. We could
never recreate in Houston the life that we‘d had in L.A. Maybe it was
because, in Houston, Roger was obsessed with Magnolia Crescent and
winning the approval of Dan and Clare. Who did he think they were?
Reincarnations of Mummy and Daddy? Maybe that‘s what he wanted. His
parents all over again. Watching someone as brilliant and successful as
he was pander to them annoyed and angered me. I lost respect for him
when I saw that side of him, the approval-seeking side.
In L.A., Roger had also been a workaholic, but there were no Dans or
Clares to worry about. Life somehow seemed purer and more simple. I knew
I was Priority Number One to him, as he was to me. But In Houston, for
the first time, that wasn‘t the case. I realized he was consumed with
new, more important challenges, but I didn‘t want to adjust to being
anything less than Number One in Roger‘s life, on a temporary or
I wanted to wait a while longer and see what happened before I made any
hard decisions. I was afraid of going back to Houston because I thought
it might turn into one long fight-fest and we‘d end up divorced. At
least this way, although we were living in different cities, we were
both happy career-wise. And neither one of us had made a move to
formalize our separation. As far as I was concerned, there was still
hope our marriage would survive.
My relationship with Roger might have been up in the air, but there was
nothing uncertain about my design career. It was thriving. After drawing
raves with the Petticoat uniforms, I scored two more big jobs. One came
from Maxine, who asked me to create saloon-girl costumes for the lovely
chanteuses who sang atop the pianos in Petticoat‘s saloon.
For each of the ten singers, I came up with four ruffly TaffeLuxe
dresses in vibrant prints. It would be expensive, but I wanted matching
shoes made. And I felt that fishnet stockings were the only way to go,
but in multiple colors – brown, blue, pink, green – to complement
thedresses. Encircling the saloon girls‘ shapely thighs would be black
lace, silver-dollar garters, designed by moi.
The way I envisioned it, as the singers perched atop the pianos, the
cascade of white petticoat ruffles lining their long, deeply slit skirts
would be visible in the background. Flashing in the foreground would be
plenty of shapely thigh enveloped in fishnet, silver-dollar garters,
high heels, and major cleavage. A colorful, sexy, girly-girl look with
lots of petticoats. Maxine loved the ideas I submitted in July and,
before I knew it, we had budget approval from her bosses.
Then I landed another assignment to come up with new cocktail waitress
get-ups for Vegas Versailles, a colossus of a hotel-casino on the center
Strip. The drop-dead-gorgeous venue was a replica of Versailles, the
magnificent palace on the outskirts of Paris that was home to a slew of
French royals, including Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette during the
French Revolution. The casino brass had been so impressed with my work
at Petticoat that they offered me a generous fee to design new costumes
for their two hundred-fifty cocktailers.
Moving from Petticoat to Versailles was a giant step up on the status
ladder. Suddenly I was at the top of the food chain, working for the
crème de la crème of casinos, with a budget that was virtually
unlimited. What a heady feeling! I had arrived! Las Vegas, of course,
wasn‘t a major fashion capital like Paris, Milan, or New York, but
still, within the glitzy, scintillating world known as the Strip, I was
in the big leagues.
Versailles‘ general manager, a reed-thin, chain-smoking,
chestnut-haired Parisian of a certain age, named Chloe Royant, gave me
free rein to create anything that would excite customers. I came up with
luxurious designs resonating with decadence: two suits for each waitress
consisting of jackets in silver or gold metallic fabric and short,
tight, black lace skirts with a four-inch slit in back. The girls would
wear black or glittery-nude stockings, and their low- heeled pumps,
replicas of 18th century French court shoes, would be handmade and
covered in silver or gold fabric.
But the most over-the-top accessory of all would be the long,
platinum-blonde Marie- Antoinette headdresses, called poufs, to be worn
by each waitress. This nine-inch-tall flowing cascade of lush waves and
curls would be kept in place with glittery hairpins embellished with
gold dice and multi-colored chips. I just loved the idea! And I knew
Desert Dolls could handle the technical stuff and manufacturing end. (In
Marie Antoinette‘s day, 1770s France, outrageously big horsehair poufs
were built on wire foundations and elaborately decorated with fruits,
vegetables, ribbons, jewels, and miniature snakes, parrots, ships,
cannons, windmills, and trees. Ours would be downsized versions of these
18th century Carmen Miranda-ish extravaganzas. But the upside was they
wouldn‘t attract the vermin – disease-carrying flies, rats, lice,
and weasels – that the French court ones did. Not that anyone needed
to worry. When was the last time you saw a rat or weasel on the Strip?
The cad who sneaked out of your room without leaving a note after that
steamy one-nighter at Mirage, and those nasty teenyboppers who stiffed
the waitress at Denny‘s the other morning don‘t count.)
Two weeks after I submitted sketches, Chloe called to say her bosses had
green-lighted my design package! They were impressed with the glitzy
suits, but even more excited about the poufs, an exotic, ultra-glam
touch that would have customers pouring into Vegas Versailles. No other
casino on the Strip had headdresses or wigs adorning its cocktailers.
(As far as I knew, Caesar‘s was one of the few that had boasted them
in the past. From the late 1960s to the seventies, its cocktail
goddesses were crowned with coneheads. These bizarre, beehive-shaped
devices, worn high on the back of the head, had long, voluminous
ponytails spilling out of them.
A Star-Trek-meets-I-Dream-Of-Jeannie-in-Ancient-Rome kind of look.
Striking, yes, but much more sparse and Spartan than the elaborate
Before we hung up, Chloe paid me the ultimate compliment, whispering in
her sultry voice, ―Your sketches make me feel like I‘m back home in
the fashion district, gazing at the designer ateliers and boutiques on
Avenue Montaigne and Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré.‖ A contract was soon
drawn up for me, and a separate one for Desert Dolls, to cover the terms
for manufacturing the uniforms and wigs.
It was easy to forget about the tensions in my marriage when I was
caught up in such thrilling projects. My design career wasn‘t going to
be a one-hit wonder! I was moving on up to newer and fresher challenges
that would establish me as an innovative designer with versatility and
Work was my major focus, but not my sole one. My social life was rolling
right along. Gary and I remained friends. He still did handyman stuff
around the apartment, and a few times a week we worked out and had
breakfast while his main squeeze, Keely, was sleeping in or at Crazy
Girls rehearsals. We all seemed to coexist somehow. I got the feeling
that neither Gary nor Keely knew where their relationship was headed,
which is probably why it worked. She was as laid back and noncommittal
as he was, and the two of us got along okay because she didn‘t
consider me a threat.
Early on, Gary seemed jealous of my friendship with Kent, but eventually
he got used to the idea and even helped things along. Because we were
neighbors and saw each other all the time, he would pass along harmless
little tidbits to Kent about what I was up to. Then Kent would call and
mention things I‘d never told him. Like my visits to the Valley of
Fire and Bonnie Springs with the girls, or the flat tire Gary fixed on
my car, or the furniture delivery I‘d gotten from L.A. I never asked
how he knew about these things. I thought it was cute that he was
interested in the mundane details of my life, so I just played along.
Kent was still busy in New York, organizing his talent company‘s new
office in Times Square. But he made it to Vegas once a month to watch
Posse perform and spend time with me. It was done in the most innocent,
subtle way. We would go on day-long trips with Gary and Keely, Brian and
Paige, Serena and Daryl. On one outing, Gary took us all on a
jaw-dropping trip to the Grand Canyon.
After a one-hour flight that turned bumpy over Lake Mead, we landed at
Grand Canyon Village Airport. Our first stop was El Tovar, a ruggedly
handsome hotel modeled after a European hunting lodge. Between forkfuls
of big, puffy Duke Wayne omelets (one or two of his movies were filmed
nearby) in the rustic dining room, we ventured out to the deck to gaze a
mile deep into the stunningly beautiful Grand Canyon. Stretching before
us for hundreds of miles were seventeen million years‘ worth of
layered limestone, sandstone, granite, and shale, compressed into
red-brown or grayish-green canyons, pyramids, plateaus, and peaks.
Overwhelming! No neon signs or slot machines tarting up the place.
Afterward, the eight of us hiked down Bright Angel Trail to the very
bottom of the Canyon. We only got partway, but the views in every
direction were spectacular.
On the return flight to Vegas, Kent and I sat quietly in back, drinking
in the grandeur of the rugged desert-mountain landscape below. When the
plane suddenly lurched over Boulder City, I gasped and grabbed his arm.
After a minute or two, he gently took my hand (the one with the wedding
ring on it), squeezed it in both of his, and kissed it. My heart melted
like a lump of butter in a hot cast iron skillet. I couldn‘t look at
him, so I just stared straight ahead, feeling exhilarated but sad. I
didn‘t want to hurt him. I didn‘t want to have an affair with him. I
want to get too close to him. I didn‘t want him to go away. I didn‘t
know what I wanted from him, and I tried to not think about it too much.
I just took it day by day and told myself it was all in the name of
friendship. But I don‘t really know how he saw it.
One weekend, for a change of pace, Kent and I flew to Reno with Gary and
Keely to see the Dave Matthews Band, gamble a bit, and eat incredible
Chinese. It was relaxing, more blue jeans and tees than sequins and
lace. Back in Sin City, the four of us slipped into one of Gary‘s
favorite haunts, the retro-seventies Peppermill Fireside Lounge, over by
the Sahara, for drinks. As we shuffled in, I noticed framed stills on
the wall of Robert DeNiro (―Ace‖) cozying up to Sharon Stone
(―Ginger‖) in scenes from the 1995 movie, Casino, that were shot
here. Right beside them were plaques proclaiming this the most romantic
bar on the Strip.
I didn‘t think anything of it till we got inside. So dark and
intimate, with pink fluorescent tube lights (remember those?), purple
carpets, floor-to-ceiling mirrors everywhere, and fake bougainvillea
sprawling all over the place. A few guys were playing video poker at
terminals lodged in the black-and-white marble bar, while sipping
Mai-Tais adorned with little pink umbrellas. Tapes of Whitney
Houston‘s pashy ―Saving All My Love for You‖ blared from multiple
TV screens mounted around the pint-size 24/7 joint. A retro-seventies
scene right out of The Deer Hunter. And I wasn‘t too crazy about the
seventies – were you?
As we sank into a circular, rose-colored banquette, pink-marshmellowy
pillows engulfed us on all sides. Kent and I got squished together,
couple-like, on a double cushion, while Gary and Keely squeezed onto
another. Before us was a round pool of bubbling water with fiery flames
shooting out of its center. It was a hypnotic, romantic sight, conjuring
up all sorts of volcanic, carnal-orgasmic images. Very
Excerpted from "A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis [Kindle Edition}" by Irene Woodbury. Copyright © 2011 by Irene Woodbury. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.