While Anna and Mimi roamed the Denver airport, fresh off a twenty-seater from Telluride, they continued on in their conversations about Max Lee Perdue and Rory “the cowcatcher” Vermillion. Eventually giving in to their appetites, and against their better judgment, they entered a cafeteria style restaurant and ordered two baked potatoes and two beers, the smallest yet most rewarding meal they could come up with. When the cashier, dressed in brown from head to toe, said “That’ll be $11.50, Mimi practically choked on the gum n her mouth. She would have returned everything except that the potato had been custom decorated as per her specifications — as had Anna’s — and they could not be returned. Wisely, they drank their beers first, burped loudly, then with a slight buzz on ate the potatoes in peace and tranquility.
Mimi had been filling Anna in on the status of herself anther main man Max. Anna, not having wanted to admit to the seriousness of this affair, was happy for her friend and sad for herself. “But this sex cut-off thing,” Anna was asking her. “Isn’t it kinda weird? I mean don’t you want it all the time for the simple reason that you’re denying yourselves?” She was referring to the arrangement they’d come up with after that first and memorable date, their arrangement to become better acquainted before indulging in ultimate physicality once more. “And when are you going to know when it’s time again? How long has it been now?”
“Well it’s been six weeks. And yes, we do want it all the time,” Mimi answered. Anna thought she detected the remotest blush rise to her friend’s cheeks. “But it seems to be working out. I mean I can understand the point about saving yourself now.” She lifted up one hand as if to cut off a predictable remark. “I know I know, me, hardly a virgin, not nearly hardly. But it’s given us a chance to court each other. To do little dances around each other, you know, and to become acquainted. It does seem very very stilted and I’d be the first to admit it. But it’s good for both of us right now. His last girlfriend– you know, with the Day-glo teeth — did a real number on him. And my last several dozen men have done as much to me. Especially the last one, Mr. Emmonds — “see the world’s beaches” — Marone. So we’re revisiting the fifties.”
“The question,” Anna repeated, “is when you’re going to do it again. Is it going to be anti-climactic — so to speak – or are all barriers or erotic pleasure going to be broken by Mimi and Max, founders of a new movement, the Sex Once And Then Stop Movement.
Mimi did not know the answer to this question. Max had been pressuring her lately and she, dutifully, had rejected his advances. She knew he felt he ought to pressure just as she felt she ought to protest. “Lately, we’ve sort of taken on the old roles,” she admitted, caught in the middle of an argument with herself. “Max persists and I say no. I want to say yes but think he’ll respect me less if I do. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for.” In fact, she had an idea what it was she wanted but was too embarrassed to say it. She didn’t have to.
“You’re waiting for the guy to get down on his knees and give you the ring. You’re waiting for him to come swooping by on his white horse and scoop you up. You’re waiting for him to say, “You and only you, forever.” You’re waiting, Miss O’Rourke, for the fairy tale you grew up believing in to come true.” Anna said none of this maliciously and Mimi knew she was not being criticized. Nevertheless, the latter could easily identify her own mortification.
“Oh geez,” she sighed. And sighing again, she added, “You’re probably right.”
“I’m probably right because I wait around for the same things myself. Even if I know they’re stupid and ridiculous – and even unfair because they hardly ever happen and we waste all this time dreaming and scheming and thinking that they will. I mean look at Rory “Bellevue” Vermillion.” She said this staring into the distance as if mourning the death of a family pet.
“Here, he rode in on a very expensive white horse more commonly known as a Lear jet. We courted, briefly, before going ahead with the consummate act — which did in fact consume me — and he pursued, and was about to present the customary rock to the woman of his dreams when the whole thing went haywire.” Her voice, normally well modulated, had risen in pitch and volume. “But what if he hadn’t suddenly gotten country like a religious fever? What if he’d stayed the ex-Wall Street real estate magnate and gone through this whole scenario I just described? Would I have said yes? Probably so. Because he played the part of Prince Charming, and I was raised to believe that anyone posing as Prince Charming was probably just that. Prince. Charming. Given my intelligence quotient, however, I understand that this is utter nonsense.” The voice fell again. “It makes you wonder if you have any free will at all or if you’re just a pawn in the dysfunctional family chess game.”
Anna, a therapy junkie and entirely capable of describing all problems in terms of their newest vocabulary, didn’t. “Yuk,” she added to this last sentence. “Bad metaphor.”
“Not such a bad metaphor,” answered Mimi, “if you don’t like chess. A pawn in an unending, overly complex, predetermined game of chess. Sounds awful. Except I don’t think you are one of those, at all. Think of Indian princesses and Japanese conservatives whose lives are laid out for them. Don’t you think their chess games are a little more intense? Where’s their free will? You’re not suffering from lack of free will, Anna, you’ve just got a slight case of confusion.”
“You’re only as free as you think you are,” Anna answered. “And even then, it may just be an illusion of freedom.”
Mimi, heading off a friend on the verge of rapid waters, scoffed. “You need a few nights out on the town, and you need to forget about Prince Kay Yippee Kay Yay. He messed with your head, but his own head is obviously the one in need of a tune up. Or perhaps a new transmission.” Putting an arm around Anna’s shoulder, she squeezed. “We’ll have lots of fun in LA and we’ll also see if we can’t talk with Trip Quite and get a psychological profile on the Wall Street Cowboy. You’ll feel better then. Just wait.” It had become a habit between them to refer to Vermillion with as many different names as they could come up with. The Wall Street Cowboy, Stocks-n-boots, the Ranchmeister, the Vermillionaire and lots of others.
When their flight number was announced, Mimi and Anna moved toward the gate loaded down with magazines, and the New York Times, and a thermos of decaf with cream made earlier. At row fourteen they stopped, stowed their big carry-ons above the seat and proceeded to squeeze by a very bald man already seated in aisle seat C. He didn’t stand up or move out of the way but continued to read whatever he held in his hands, forcing Mimi and Anna to hop then dive over him to their seats. When they were settled the extra bald man turned to them and said, as if to children, “If you have to use the bathroom better do it now. I sleep like a log on planes from the time they take off until the time they land. Self hypnosis.” He closed his book and focused on them for the first time. “I have fear of flying,” he added. Mimi and Anna feigned sympathy , and as Anna stared at his face, Mimi noted what he was reading. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.
“So if you’ll excuse me for not being sociable, I’ll just doze off now. Have a nice trip.” With this, he closed his book, then his eyes, then folded his hands gently in front of him. “You can talk all you want,” he added, “I go out like a light.”
The women beside him looked at each other and simultaneously retrieved magazines to flip through until he was indeed asleep. Which didn’t take long. Within three minutes he was snoring lightly and sure enough did not wake up until the wheels hit the runway at LAX. But this time, after exhaustively telling their respective stories to each other regarding Max, the professor, Rory and Anna’s hopes for herself, they’d also decided who their row-mate was: a realtor fast approaching a change of life at the age of, say, 40.Newly athletic and partially new age. Possibly divorced, and trying to better himself.
Mimi had taught the game of occupations to Anna who picked right up on it like an old hand. They’d find a good people watching place and count they people off, guessing as much as they could about the person walking by. In an airplane, however, next to a sleeping man, it was as if they had been given too big a handicap, too much time, and an unhindered microscopic view of this guy. As he opened his eyes and looked around, Mimi and Anna felt they’d intruded by studying him so closely and at such length. “Welcome to LA,” he said smiling and with a stretch of this arms overhead. “Just visiting?”
Obviously relieved to be at this destination, the bald man becamse a friendly bald man, asking all kinds of questions abou ttheir stay, their business in LA, their home. After five minutes he seemed to recall his earlier behavior and apologized for it, just as he’d apologized for it before.
“I’m really sorry about my former self.” Wending their way toward baggage claim, he used his hands to express himself. “I tend toward the uncommunicative at the beginning and then I always feel just terrible about it. Flying does do quite the number on me.” Extending his hand, he shook with both Mimi and Anna, congratulating Mimi again on her new book, which she’d naturally mentioned, adding, “If you find yourself in need of any legal advice, feel free to call me. It’ll be under Quine, Andrietti, and Associates.”
Mimi and Anna froze like salt statues, zapped into attention by the higher and more interesting powers at work in front of their very eyes.
“Um, are you Mr. Quine then?” Mimi inquired politely.
“Nope, other way around. Felix Andrietti at your service.” He smiled a genuine and welcoming smile and passed his hand over the entirety of his head as if a mane of hair were there to catch it.
As they walked briskly toward baggage claim, Mimi made the introductions. “Felix Andrietti,”said Mimi, “This is Anna Ortiz Kidd and I’m Mimi O’Rourke. Very nice to meet you.” Mimi noted her lips were dry and her palms were sweating. “I don’t suppose the Quine in your firm is called “Trip Quine?”
She found herself staring at Felix’s attire and thinking how different LA was than other urban environments. He was wearing loose black pants and a tee-shirt with the words “Nirvana Water Bar” scrawled across it.
“You know them?” Felix said, wearing his surprise without any inhibition. His whole face turned into a question mark.
“Them” Mimi and Anna both echoed.
“Trip and Trip Senior. The old man — well, he’s really only 65 — move out to LA when his wife died a couple of years ago. Excellent litigator. And flamboyant enough to feel right at home in Los Angeles. But more to the point, how do you know Trip — I assume the younger?”
Anna was first to respond. “We don’t exactly know him, but we were going to contact him to try to get some information on someone we do know. A man named Vermillion. Rory Vermillion.” Without the comfort of making fun of his name, Anna cringed and receded slightly at its sound.
“Vermillion?” Felix said too loudly and then lowered his voice. “What’s that no good, money-making devil up to now?” His tone was jocular and conspiratorial.”I heard it was real estate.”
“You KNOW him?’ came the chorus from the women.
“I know him through Trip Junior. They’re old old friends. Law school cronies. Fellow trustfunders, that sort of thing.”
Anna, amused by the reference to trustfunders, nevertheless could not help but begin a line of questioning. “Rory went to law school?”
“Hmmm. Just barely graduated, but got his degree. Then he went on to Wharton Business School where he did very well.” Anna had known about Wharton.
“Did he ever show any signs of psychological problems?” she continued.
“Yeah, like lunacy?” Mimi piped in.
Felix laughed. “We all show unequivocal signs of lunacy don’t we? But more to the point, did Rory? He’s always seemed distracted and restless.” The expression of good humor vanished from his face. “What — did he walk out on one of you?” He stopped moving to make his point. “He’s done that plenty of times before.”
“Actually, no,” Anna responded by taking his arm and leading him onward. “Just the opposite. “It’s such a long story though. Maybe we should just come to your office and tell you both the story at one time. You won’t believe it; it’s about cowboys.”
When they reached the baggage claim area, goodbyes were said. Felix Andrietti picked up a leather bag that looked as if it had seen and been through World War II, and told them he’d call their hotel to set up an appointment. He marched of jauntily, wearing huaraches on his feet and carrying a jean jacket over his shoulder.
“So much for Occupations, said Anna to Mimi.
“Way off,” Mimi answered. “Except the new age stuff. Maybe everyone in LA’s into that, though. maybe the papers here are written in “new age.” Maybe there’s a radio station that plays nothing but new age music. He could just be an average guy, expressing the only thing he knows.”
“Somehow I don’t think so,” said Anna.
“Yeah, me neither,” said Mimi.
As they readied to present their baggage claim tickets, Anna felt a sharp pain in her side where Mimi was in the process of jabbing her with her elbow. “Look,” she was saying and pointing her chin toward a very large man holding a sign that said “O. O’Rourke/Ortiz Kidd.”
“That has got to be Syd Renoir,” said Mimi as she waved to the dark-skinned man. “What an interesting look, after all. Really really interesting.” Lowering the sign, he approached them and smiled expectantly.
With the wild hair, you must be Mimi,” he said shaking her hand and telling her how good it was to meet her at last. They had spoken on the phone three or four times in the interim period, made some decent conversation, and gotten to know each other. Mimi liked Syd very much “This is my friend –” Mimi began. “Anna Ortiz Kidd,” finished Syd Renoir “Who else could it possible be?” Mimi watched them shaking hands and noted the strange lack of talk between them as they stared, evidently each taken by the other’s appearance.
“Well,” Syd Renoir concluded, snapping himself out of it. “Let me take some of your luggage for you.” He picked up two suitcases in one hand as if they were lunch boxes and headed the women through doors and through crowds to his car, a brand new silver Honda something or other that he claimed got 50 miles per gallon on the open road. He would drive them to the hotel, give them an hour and a half to relax, then he would pick them up for dinner at 7:30. Tex-Mexican. Like no other Tex-Mex they’d ever eaten, he said.
In the hotel room, a large arrangement with two single beds dressed in white and an extra-large TV, Mimi surreptitiously stared at her friend who was busying herself with unpacking a small, tightly stuffed suitcase. “He’s a nice man, isn’t he,” Mimi ventured casually.
“Yes, he is,” Anna answered softly, with her hands full of underwear.
“Interesting face, too,” said Mimi, now mimicking the motions of unpacking.
“Incredible face,” Anna emphasized. “Those eyes and cheekbones, then those lips.” Anna was wondering where he’d come from, what distant civilization, what race. “Where do you suppose he’s from? I mean background wise.”
“He said it was complicated — too complicated for a phone conversation. You might ask him at dinner.” Mimi was in the bathroom now, inhaling the smell of clean tile. “Isn’t it wonderful having a pristine bathroom? Oh, and look, a free razor! I wonder if I could get away with the shower curtain…. I don’t think I could face myself if I took it. Mine looks so dingy though.” With this she re-entered the bedroom and bounced on her bed. “He was looking at you with such absorption, Anna. And I believe it was you returning the gaze.”
Mimi grabbed the remote control and switched on the giant TV. “I thought you two would like each other. I had a peculiar feeling after that first phone conversation when he repeated your name as if it were a mantra or a magical word of something.”
“You never told me that, “Anna said quickly, coming over to her friend. “You never told me that you talked about me.”
“He liked your name right off the bat. He said he felt sure, with a name like that, you could get along. Then he gave me permission to bring you along.”
Anna raised a single eyebrow, a skill Mimi envied, and then turned toward the TV, not prepared to respond to the curious effect her name had had on a complete stranger, even an interesting one. Just recently another man had wanted this name for himself. Her name was beginning to bug her even though she treasured it.
In the nearly two months that had elapsed since Syd Renoir’s discover of the “The Mimi Papers” as he’d called them before the title had been chosen, he had lined up the illustrator of choice and had actually received five of the eight drawings commissioned. Wonderfully pleased with Isadora Bell’s ink impression, he’d awaited the cover with greed. When it finally came, he’d danced around the office sporting a Nerf football and holding his hands up, victorious. He’d called her instantly.
“Isadora? It’s Syd in LA. You are too good to be true. You are a genius, a paragon, a gem. The cover is perfect. Not only inspired but sell-able.”
“You sink?” she asked in her high-pitched slavic accent. “So glad you’re liking it Sydney. Oh just um moment, I have to let zee cats in.” He heard her muffled voice saying “Hello my little ones” in the background.
“The letters,” she continued, speaking forcefully into the phone as if trained by long distance calls, “I found zem charming; unt so did Rimsky. Reminded ma a little bit of me a long, long time ago.” Isadora was a middle-aged Czech refugee who had married Canadian playwright Rimsky Bell during the first of her transplanted years. Success had made quick friends with her but had not dulled her in the obvious ways. Still vivacious and enthusiastic, she produced terrific pieces, picking and choosing projects that pleased her. The drawings in question were done in brown ink and could best be called impressions of collages. The ink, uneven and splattered, freed the image; she then incorporated decorative elements – repetitive designs and symbols – that brought everything back to a lovely containment. It took on the look of lost art and artifact and story.
“Mimi will LOVE these, Isadora; she will want to weep at her good fortune. And she’ll be coming in not quite three weeks when most of the art work will be in.”
“You tell her I wish her the best of luck with her book and that I will expect a signed copy when it’s finally printed. I her to go now Syd, it’s time for me to make lunch for Rimsky and zee cats. ” As abruptly as she was in she was out. Sad said his goodbye but heard the phone click before he was quite done.
Now, in face, all the all the art work was in and everyone loved it, even those nonplussed by Syd’s little project. There were always those who disagreed with Syd’s choice in new titles. And as for the title, he was still stuck between Mimi’s Epistles to MNH and subtitled Clichés from a Grown Up Student — or Letters, with no subtitle, no explanation of any kind except near the author’s name: Yours Truly, Mimi O. O’Rourke.
Now that Mimi and Anna were in LA, Syd was fired up over his book again and finished up at the gym, doing abs and arms, before going home to his now apartment to change. He dressed in khaki pants and a vintage yellow rayon shirt, removing the signet ring so that he would not be tempted to twist it all night long. The image of Anna Ortiz Kidd kept coming to mind, as if he were being hailed by her on another frequency. Syd, a man who felt he had enough of the exotic in him for two persons, generally went for the classic American beauty ties. Blond haired, fair-skinned athletic women with long legs. His true loves, however, had been nothing like this. Gracine with her gap teeth and high forehead. Etta had ordinary features except for her eyes – violet pools shaded by lashes the length of her nose. Susannah, American enough in her beauty, nevertheless had a fierceness that made her face into something more severe than it was, something unusual and not always pretty.
Anna Ortiz Kidd had the face of a madonna, full and pale of skin, and leaning toward serenity but offset by a curious expression of worry. Syd thought the expression was that of a thinking person, a person caught in a web of words, caught in strings of sentences and thoughts too long to write own. He found this particular expression utterly disarming, even if he knew it meant a woman filled with anguish and a self-absorption not entirely unfamiliar to himself. What he felt now, however, was that he wanted to get to know her.
Mimi hadn’t mentioned her much in the letters, but the few characterizations were tack sharp and probably true. In one instance, Anna had been the friend whose mother had come for a birthday visit and thrown a semi-surprise party for her then 28-year-old. Whilst the mother, a reputedly eccentric figure, contacted Anna’s boss, another realtor, to find out whom to invite to the party. The realtor, unable to name her friends — yet just as unwilling to admit to ignorance — had given her a guest list comprised mostly of realtors and lawyers and their clients. Not many at the restaurant rented out for the occasion and decorated in white balloons and pots of hundreds of tulips knew Anna, most mistaking her for a newly landed representative of the local gentry, there to meet some of her wealthy land-owning neighbors. Not unlike that scene in the movie Giant where Liz Taylor has to meet all Riatta’s neighbors.
Lilith Yarnold Kidd didn’t seem to notice that Anna was not happy since Anna, bred to the bone, had weathered through the ordeal with the grace of royalty. And since Lilith had been herself too busy socializing to pay much attention to her daughter. Lilith had been a big hit.
After the affair, however, and after having seen her mother off to her father’s family cottage on the edge of a small lake in Patagonia, Argentina, Anna avenged herself. In a very short time, she’d sent out notices to everyone at her party that Lilith Yarnold Kidd was having another get together, this time in honor of her own 56th birthday (she was in fact going to be 46), in one month at the same restaurant. An RSVP card was enclosed pre-addressed to the Ortiz’s current home in Seattle. Anna was sure most of the people would say yes. Then what would her mother do???
As it turned out, 62 people responded in the affirmative by mail; and Lilith Kidd, completely confused, and then angry and then horrified at the thought of returning for what everyone thought was her 56th, hired someone to cater the party but never showed up herself. Pneumonia, she said. The party happened; neither Lilith nor Anna were present; and no one really minded.
When mother and daughter finally had it out, i was not a pretty sight. Anna — who fought like a machine gun — called Lilith a selfish bitch who didn’t have a clue to her own daughter; Lilith — more of a submarine — retaliated by calling her daughter a wicked and frightened brat incapable of growing up. Mimi had incorporated this anecdote in her letters under the rubric, “Don’t get mad, get even.”
Syd admired Anna Ortiz Kidd’s imagination, one obviously sparked by circumstance and adversity and made fertile by an accumulation of detail and love of detective work. Mimi had mentioned this last affinity several times.
In a long letter on “To thine own self be true,’ one of the most self-effacing pieces Mimi had written, she had mentioned Anna’s own peculiar art of decorating her surroundings. What her place looked like, what the inside of her car looked like, what she did to offices she’d occupied. Syd, wanting to see these places for himself, wondered who was the more interesting, Mimi for observing Anna’s environment, or Anna for creating it. From what he had gleaned, though, Anna had most likely observed Mimi observing.
Dinner at Miguelita’s, a bit of a dive and not very close at all to Westwood that served truly great Tex-Mex food, began with Tecate beer and ended with Mexican coffee. In between were fresh torts as soft as velvet, black bean burritos smothered in sun-dried tomato salsa, chile rellenos and flan. Anna and Mimi, amazed at how far they’d come since noontime potatoes and beer, were in good spirits. Syd, noted Mimi, was in equally good spirits, especially when he got a rise, or a smile, out of Anna.
“So does Anna know,” he asked Mimi, ‘That she’s in the letters?”
“Not really,” answered Mimi, her eyes darting toward her friend whose glass of beer was at her lips again .”Not really, because I can’t remember everything that’s in those letters myself. I don’t remember what I’ve written.” Turning toward Anna, she said, “You have foam on your lip.”
Anna wanted to know how she had been portrayed.
“It’s not as if I went through all the people I knew and wrote down their deepest thoughts.” She pulled at her bangs. “I mean i just used people to make points I was trying to make. The Lilith Kidd party. I used that.”
“Oh, that,” said Anna turning immediately to Syd. “Was it funny at all, or did it sound as horrific as it was? My mother hasn’t been back to town since then, you know — which is fine with me. She doesn’t want people thinking she’s actually sixty years old!”
“It was funny and it was fine, too” answered Syd. “But it made me think that somewhere along the line the two of you, mother and daughter, should get together and open up a party-throwing business: you’re obviously equally talented at it!” All three of them took a moment, laughing but actually thinking, to consider Syd’s idea. “Do you get along with your father?” Syd could have only posed this question to Anna since he knew through the letters that Mimi’s father had died some years earlier.
“We get along pretty well, all things considered,” Anna said, who suddenly realized that he had taken the power of the interrogator and that they knew absolutely nothing about him. “But enough about me,” she added. “You are certainly at an advantage Mr Renoir. Why don’t you tell us something about yourself?”
“Yeah, Syd,” piped in Mimi.”What about you?” Mimi, one hundred percent relaxed from various beers downed with gusto, had a smile permanently smeared on her face. Life was good.
What followed was the abbreviated story of the life of Syd Renoir who began life in Jamaica. An only child, Syd was the son of Maurice and Joelle Renoir who had met in Jamaica at the close of World War II. Maurice, originally from Haiti, had skin the color of bittersweet chocolate. His family, connected to the rum industry somehow, had moved to Jamaica in the 30s where they found their niche as rum consultants and where they remained for the rest of their lives.
Joelle Renoir was the only daughter of Laurent and Magali Jolard, owners of Cafe Jolard, a successful family business handed down by Lucien Jolard, Laurent’s father. This cafe,, on a side street in the small town of Soisy fifteen miles north of Paris, was vegetarian, something completely unheard of at the time and in that place. Lucien, smitten early by Indian civilization, spirituality and cuisine, eagerly became a vegetarian and converted his restaurant in the first part of the century. At Cafe Jolard you could always get good chapatis, dals, curries and chutneys. You could also get wonderful French soups, vegetable ragouts, cheeses, tarts and other desserts.
“Evidently, the French — not your foremost vegetarian population – thought he was out of his mind but learned to love his food and to love him,” Syd told his female audience, obviously still struck by the memory of Lucien Jolard, his great-grandfather, a picture of whom hung on Syd’s wall to this day. Lucien’s recipes were passed on to his son Laurent and daughter-in-law Magali who worked hard to make the business successful.
Joelle, Syd’s mother, grew up in the cafe –waiting tables, wiping down after hours, learning to cook French and Indian — and felt there could have been no happier, no more wonderful place to grow up. When the second world war broke out and foods were rationed, the cafe slowed down to a trickle but still managed to serve chapatis and dal every day. Joelle took a job in Paris at the age of fifteen, working through the war years to help make ends meet. Those years were difficult but not altogether unhappy, however much she missed being in the restaurant.
When the war ended and business resumed, Laurent and Magali rewarded themselves with a trip to Jamaica to visit an old friend of the family. Joelle, now a young woman, had blossomed into a ravishing beauty with light brown wavy hair and blue eyes, and an easiness of character that everyone found most lovable. Making friends quickly, she was never at a loss for company or conversation. She met Maurice — talking to him as if she’d never not known him — at an open market while picking over fruit. He had never met anyone so beautiful: she had never met anyone so beautifully dark skinned.
After they’d married both in France and in Jamaica (parents were shocked but liked each other, which helped), Joelle convinced Maurice that they should stay in Jamaica and open an Indian restaurant. Maurice, tickled by this peculiar but obvious idea, agreed, and they opened Jolard Jamaica, an instantaneous success. Vegetarianism was not, after all, unheard of on this Caribbean island.
Syd ended his story here, without further mention of himself.
“And then they had you?” Mimi prodded.
He went on reluctantly. “I was born in 1950 and lived in Jamaica as a child. The educational system was not what my parents wanted for me, their only child. I had an intellectual gift that they could not ignore, so they said, predominantly based on a tiny replica of Stonehenge I created at the age of 4, oriented toward the sun in precisely the same way the original was. I was sent to Paris as a youth, which was good except that I missed my mother terribly. I clung to Laurent and Magali who treated me like the son they never had. Then I went to boarding school in Connecticut at age 14. I’m still not sure how I became such an American, but it began to feel like home at NYU. You’d think I’d feel more Parisian, but it didn’t work out that way. So here I am.”
“Do you ever go back to Jamaica?” Anna wanted to know, sensing that even though the skeleton of this story was happy and interesting, the filler had sadness in it and in no small proportions. “I go back,” Syd answered simply, wanting it to remain at that. “I go back to Paris, too.”
“So you’re truly vegetarians for three generations, just like you said.” Mimi, delighted with this story of non-meat eaters, looked at him expectantly.
“I guess I’m a natural vegetarian,” he answered. “Never was given meat and never wanted it.”
“This is totally totally inspiring for me!” Mimi could not reign in her excitement. “Because I’m going to open a vegetarian cafe at La Sal Junction — which you probably know about through the letters. It’s going to be a beanery. I’m going to raise the status of the local Anasazi and pinto beans to greater heights, and serve them in every possible form. Bean burgers, bean stews, bean pancakes, bean sweets. Chile, soups, sandwiches. All made with beans. To tourists, and travelers, and commuters and especially …. to truck drivers. It just seems so prophetic that you’re the one making it possible AND your family was in the vegetarian cafe business.” She could not help or contain her excitement. “It just seems so — so very very prophetic.”
Anna, who hadn’t heard of her plans to put beans on such a pedestal, looked at her friend with surprise. “You never said anything about beans for the masses before. Just like you never said anything about those letters. All those letters. Am I detecting secrecy here, a hitherto unknown profound and yet submersed component to you personality?” Anna, a little wounded, was covering with verbiage.
“Nothing so wordy, I don’t think,” Mimi answered. “I haven’t really talked about the big picture of the cafe to anyone. This is the first time. It’s been in my head for a while — seriously since that one incident with the bag of beans — but I thought it would be bad luck to say anything until the outlook was good. I’m superstitious about stuff like this Anna. No, seriously.” She turned to Syd. “If your family can start up an Indian restaurant in France, one that doesn’t serve viande, I can certainly make a mainstay of beans in the southwestern United States of America.”
“So there we have it, The Dream.” Syd was smiling again, after a brief and obvious struggle with memories of his own. “A militant vegetarian in the middle of nowhere feeding beans to unsuspecting meat-eaters. Soon they are complete vegetarians preaching non-violence. They become recyclers and members of the Green Party. They give their children Tibetan names. It sounds like it might work. Anna, your thoughts?
“I think it could work, Syd,” she said, rising to his television newscaster’s voice. “I think with a vision like Mimi’s — and some decent recipes of course — that things could really turn around in southwestern Utah, not to mention the other corner states. But let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, Syd. Mimi?”
“You guys are just jealous because I have a vision,” she said indignantly. “You of all people, Syd, should recognize how important the vegetarian issue is these days and you should be telling people about it.” With this, she rapped her hand on the table making the coffee cups jingle and the flan jiggle. “Or can’t you live up to your principles? Maybe you’re just one of those people who goes along with the principles mom and dad hand down, shrugs and says “I was just raised that way” when asked to defend them. Usually a rather Wasp-ish trait; but then you went to boarding school in Connecticut. And Anna, my best friend, pissed off because I’ve kept some of my dreams to myself, and quick to gang up on me when it comes down to the wire. She believes in vegetarianism but won’t make that final commitment because too many people would have to re-evaluate her, put her in a different box. Come ON you guys, gimme a break. I’m the one who wants, simply, to live a more imaginative life, one that might make a difference in the end. Or might not. What’s so wrong with that?”
Having said her piece with characteristic candor and very little regard for the feelings of others, Mimi shrugged a shrug of apology. “I mean what a thrill: converting the hardiest meat-eaters happily to beans and rice and recycling. Or even just beans would be fine.” Sensing their ostracism, she pleaded. “Please, gimme a break? I take back the stuff about the principles; but you started picking on me.”
“OK, we’ll cut you some slack, Ms Another Roadside Attraction.” Syd had discovered that the best way to handle Mimi was offensively. “It sounds as though you’ve been too heavily into the Tom Robbins.”
Anna Ortiz Kidd was quick to jump in. “How did you know? She worships the man, has a fan letter from him on her wall. Like millions of other women all over the world, she’s obsessed.”
“Tom Robbins has nothing to do with this This is MY life dammit, my idea for the La Sal Junction Cafe. I mean, shit. I’m not trying to imitate one of his characters: they’re made up! Bigger than life! Not real! I’m real. My cafe is real. My beans aren’t magical, they’re just beans. Anyway,” she faced Syd Renoir contorting her mouth into something defensive and squished, “You got a problem with Tom Robbins?”
“As an ex-academic, I have all sorts of problems with him.” Syd shrugged. “He’s too silly. It goes all over the place. But since when has that every gotten in my way? You’re talking to the guy who discovered “Meditations for Golfers!” for god’s sake. I liked Jitterbug Perfume.”
“Me, too,” Mimi sighed.
“Don’t either of you read anything more substantial than that?” Anna had her head propped on her hands, weakly supported by elbows on the table. A strong Mexican coffee had finally kicked in. “I mean what ever happened to reading the good stuff, like history and philosophy — and like great novels. What is happening to our culture when good minds choose not to advance themselves?”
“That’s when you get popular culture,” answered Syd as if she’d walked right into a trap. “Which is sometimes more interesting that what the geniuses have to say. It’s a reflection of our times. How fascinating is that?”
“And excellence isn’t?” Mimi was itching to play devil’s advocate.
“Excellence,” Syd’s tone was conciliatory even though his words weren’t, “helps civilization progress overall and it reflects that progress. Popular culture represents — sometimes most excellently — the growing pains, and he sidebars, and the dilutions of progress.”
Anna’s chin had lowered itself to hands folded demurely on the table. “You’ve obviously thought a lot about this, Syd Renoir, son of Joelle, grandson of Magali. ” Her lids drooped noticeably and Syd felt a pang of devotion for this woman whom, he noted, had a two-inch scar above her left eyebrow.
“I had to think about it, Mademoiselle Kidd,” he motioned the waitress for a little regular coffee, sensing that Anna would otherwise not make it. “I had a classic education, complete with Latin, and geography, and philosophy; and with all this background, I found I was more interested in pop culture, many rungs lower on the great ladder of excellence. I had to defend myself to everyone; and finally, I just got out of the professing business altogether. It’s more respectable being in the real world with an education behind you than being in the world of academics without utter commitment to it.”
“And are you happy?” Anna languidly asked the question Mimi was about to ask herself.
The large man stretched, as if to postpone answering. “I’m bored now. It seems to be time to move on, although I haven’t any idea what it’s going to be.” He touched Mimi’s arm and whispered, “It’s also time to get home; Anna Ortiz Kidd appears to be approaching the REM cycle.” Her eyes had indeed closed altogether and parts of her body were twitching lightly.
In the four days Mimi and Anna had in Los Angeles, they spent much of it with Syd Renoir. He and Anna were falling in love, yes they were. Slowly but assuredly. Mimi took it in with the gratification of knowing two good and great and quirky people had found each other. Anna, not under the spell of infatuation, was able to enjoy herself and be herself, while Syd Renoir sang little songs all day long. “I’ve grown accustomed to her face; it’s second nature to me now.”
The women did lunch with Felix Andretti and Trip Quine Jr., both of whom were highly entertaining and ever-so LA. Trip Jr., who had the look of a California boy — a look Mimi recognized instantly — did not find the story of Rory V as he called him, terribly surprising. “The guy’s always been strange that way, right? If he does something, he does it all the way. Except law school: his father wanted him to do that, and he simply balked and partied all the way. Drugs, rock-and-roll, self-destruction, the whole nine yards. Graduated with the lowest possible passing grades, and then went to Wharton — where his father didn’t want him to go — and aced virtually everything.
“On Wall Street, he was Mr. Financier, down to the custom-made suits. He lived and breathed money, money, money. Then I didn’t hear from him for a long time after he quit that gig. I’d wondered – often thought of Rory because you just never knew what he was going to do next.Suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, I get a call from him saying he’s moving permanently to his ranch in Montana to raise cattle. I agree to come for a little visit. This is sounding pretty much like the Rory V I’ve known.”
Intermittently, Trip would run his hand through a head of sun-bleached blond hair, a habit Mimi figured Felix may have picked up despite the fact that he had no hair. “Are you a surfer by any chance, or were you ever a lifeguard, or … a ski bum?” Mimi could not believe this guy was a lawyer. “I’m a weekend surfer,” he said. “I grew up surfing.” He was sheepish but not too. “Hard to give it up. ”
“I am well aware of this fact,” said Mimi, prejudiced now against him. I have known other surfers.” As well as ski bums, she added silently, thinking of Max now, the Max who skied as often as e could, the man who dreamed skiing and breathed skiing
“Said with disdain,” was the answer Trip gave without malice. “My wife puts up with it but not too cheerfully sometimes. Anyway, back to Rory V. Are you worried about him?”
Anna , fairly quiet in the course of lunch, took her cue. “He asked me to marry him and wanted to change his name to mine. He talks like a redneck, acts like a gentleman cowpoke, and has remodeled his condo to speak the language of the West. I’ve watched him turn into a shadow of his former self. Or maybe his former self was a foreshadowing of this. Now there’s a thought.”
“And what was it that he was?” asked Trip.
“An ex financier in cowboy boots who still liked to fly to Tucson for a weekend by the pool, who was pretty smart, and sarcastic and confident. That lasted about a week, before the onset of acute metamorphosis. I’ve never seen anything like it. He waxes his mustache. Wears Aqua-Velva. And you’re telling me it sounds just like him. What’s it going to be next, learning the trapeze and joining the circus?” Anna had gained some perspective on her problem now that she was safely in LA and falling in love with someone else.
“I’ll tell you what,” Trip offered. “I’ll give the guy another call today, just to check up on him. No mention of our having met. I’ll scope him out, bring up the old days, ask him about his love life. If, after this evaluation, I sense that something might be wrong, we’ll talk further. Deal?” Anna agreed to this. And frankly, Mimi and Felix were relieved that she had been mollified. Before they said their goodbyes, Felix gave Mimi his business card, promising to come in handy someday when she needed legal advice. High quality navy card stock embossed in bring pink. Somehow very classy but not boring.
The night before their return to Telluride, Trip Quine rang their room in the hotel. “Anna?” he said to Mimi who handed the phone over mouthing the name “Trip.” As Anna put the phone to her ear delicately and with dread, she heard him say, “Yup, he’s gone off the deep end alright. Wouldn’t talk about old times. Hello?”
“I’m here,” she said, resigned to her nightmare.
“And he’s flipped out over you.”
“I know that, Trip,” she said to him, irritated by the whole thing. “What do you think I should do? What can I do?”
“I think you should get out of his life. He’s obviously not about to get out of yours.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” she asked, exasperated and looking up at the pale blue paint on the ceiling. She had an aversion to pastel colors, but in this moment, she found it calming. “Move?”
“Quite possibly,” was his quick response, delivered in utter seriousness. “In fact — run, don’t walk.”