Myrna Loy Slept Here
The Blind Date party began as a joke. They were all single at the time, and Valentine's Day loomed ominously in front of them. February in Chicago is a bleak, dark time, a month of little daylight and even less to look forward to. They were creative people, Renee argued; why should they be lonely? They organized a group of their friends and drew names. When you picked someone's name, you brought a date for that person to the party. They told themselves it was a joke.
The first year, there were only twelve participants. Many of their friends turned them down, telling them that they were crazy, or pathetic. The party was at Renee's father's townhouse. He and his wife had, either out of kindness or profound idiocy or perhaps both, left for the weekend specifically so Renee could host the affair. Hundreds of people came. Everyone they knew was curious to see what would happen, and the party was a resounding success that was rehashed in certain circles for weeks. Of the twelve blind dates no lasting love matches were made, but some friendships were, and Rachel had spent the night with her date, an accounting co-worker of Adam's with large biceps and a laugh (Alice thought) like a sick cow.
The second year, there were 34 participants. Renee's father graciously left town again despite the ruination, the previous year, of a very expensive Persian rug and the use of a ceramic Cocopeli vase as an ashtray. This time, two of the couples involved actually dated for several weeks. One near disaster occurred when Rachel brought a man as a date for a person named Luke, assuming incorrectly that Luke was gay. Everyone involved was very gracious, and it was generally agreed that in the future, the participant questionnaires would include a line for sexual orientation.
This year, Renee reported at the initial planning meeting in mid-January that she had already fielded over 20 calls from potential new participants. It seemed that they were gaining a reputation.
"Blind Date Party 2001" said the block lettering at the top of the page on Renee's legal pad. The bar was smoky and loud, but at their corner table they focussed intently on their own conversation.
Alice sipped her beer and watched as Renee held her blond hair away from her face, and with her other hand jotted, "Need to remember - even numbers."
"What's the deadline for entering?" Adam asked, leaning in to be heard. "I've got three, maybe four co-workers who want in."
"I think we need some kind of instruction sheet for new people," Renee said, ignoring his question. "Folks who haven't been at the previous parties might think it's some kind of joke - they need to know that once you sign up, you're obligated to bring your person a date. You can't change your mind."
"What are you going to do, make them sign a commitment?" asked Rachel, her green eyes slitted. Rachel had had a boyfriend since the previous May and could not participate this year, which made her cranky.
"Also," Chris added, "We need to remind the new people that you can't reveal whose name you've drawn until you introduce your person to the blind date you've brought for them. They have to understand that the element of suspense is half the fun."
"I think February 1st for the entrance deadline, and February 6th to return your questionnaires to your person. We still need to work on the questions themselves. We forgot 'describe your physical appearance' last year, and that Jimmy kid ended up bringing Ms. Amazon for Mike, who's 5'3"." This was Adam.
"That's the point!" said Renee. "We're not running a dating service. It's a party. It's fun. We never started this to form marriages or anything. I'm not the fucking Reverend Sun-whoever that guy is, with the stadium weddings on the fucking loudspeaker."
"It's Reverend Moon," said Alice. Four pairs of eyes turned her direction, and she set down her mug with a thud.
"What's with you?" Adam asked, grinning. "You haven't offered one caustic opinion all night." He handed his empty bottle to the hovering waitress and leaned in toward Alice, resting his chin in his hand. "You're going to play, aren't you?"
"Of course I'm playing!" Alice said quickly, feeling her face turn bright red. "I always play."
"Alice is trying not to take the whole thing too seriously this year," Renee explained, placing her manicured hand lightly on Alice's forearm. "She gets her hopes up too much sometimes." Alice cringed, wishing Renee wouldn't try to help.
"Well, you can't expect Mr. Right at a party like this," said Rachel, still sullen. "All you can hope for is that he speaks English and doesn't drool."
"I'm fine!" Alice said crossly, looking around at all of them. "I'm playing, I'm fine, and my hopes are certainly not up. Case closed."
"All righty then!" said Renee brightly, turning her attention back to her notepad. "When are we going to draw names?"
The party was always held on the Saturday nearest to Valentine's Day. Alice arrived early, entering the front door without knocking and holding her head stiffly so as not to mar her heavily sprayed hair.
"Thank god you're here," Renee greeted her, bouncing down the front stairs in her bathrobe and grabbing Alice's leather jacket. "You're the first one. Help me decide what to wear."
Alice followed Renee up the oak staircase, glancing at the contemporary oil painting on the wall that always looked to her like three spoons having intercourse. The track lighting was so bright at the top of the staircase that it made her blink. She followed Renee down the hall past several dark bedrooms, loving the click-click that her new black boots made on the shiny wood floor.
Once in her parents' bedroom, Renee flopped down on the huge waterbed, showing no signs of getting ready. She patted the spot next to her, and Alice sat.
"Are you excited for tonight?" Renee asked her.
"Yes," Alice began with caution, knowing that more was expected of her. "I am excited. I'm just trying not to be too excited." And failing, she thought. Who am I kidding?
"Let yourself go, sweetie," Renee told her, rolling onto her back and raising one long, slender arm toward the ceiling. "Throw caution to the wind. This could be the Price Charming night."
"For you," Alice said, trying not to let the bitterness creep into her voice. She stood up and walked to the full-length mirror on the back of the closet door. She patted her bright red hair; carrot hair, her father called it. "I don't believe in that anymore."
"Don't start," Renee said, sitting up abruptly and sighing. "Yes, I meet more men than you do, but think of the way I act at parties, Alice! I'm out there, chatting with people, smiling!"
"I did that last year at the party, with my date, what's-his-face! And he went home with Chris' sister! I don't have a great track record at this event. And you know, party chatter is so fake! 'What do you do, where are you from?' All it really means is, do you want to have sex with me? Or worse, does your friend want to have sex with me?"
"Look, I know you don't want to get your hopes up again. But please let yourself have fun."
"Renee, I really do try. And I've gotten better. But you're kidding yourself if you think it's not mostly a matter of looks. Every time we go out, I have this weird little feeling. Like, I don't know - like you said. That this will be the Price Charming night. But you know what? It never is. And I'm tired of hoping."
"You're a beautiful girl, Alice." Renee dropped the bathrobe to the floor and began tugging on a pair of nylons. "It's true, you're in a dry spell. But you will meet the right one. And you never know, it could be tonight."
Alice looked at herself in the mirror. Her rosy cheeks glowed. Her eyes were large and green with long lashes. She squinted her eyes and ignored her flaming halo of hair and her too-tall, skinny body. You're a glutton for punishment, kid, she thought. She grinned at herself and winked.
Alice had spent the cold, gray day curled up on her couch with her film collection. It was her favorite winter activity, making a pot of lemon tea and watching old movies. The Thin Man series were her favorites. William Powell and Myrna Loy were the most glamorous couple that had ever lived, in Alice's opinion. She had seen the movies so many times that she knew them by heart, even their smooth, gliding movements across their gilded apartment, their evening clothes never wrinkling. Alice had a strange feeling that she had never shared with anyone; the vague notion that Powell, Loy and her other favorite golden era actors had never been real. She thought that deep down they were, in fact, something like cartoons, created by artists in movie studios. They were simply too perfect to ever have been actual people. She watched their smooth skin that never aged, their perfect makeup that never smudged, and tried to find evidence that they were human. A small vein visible in Myrna Loy's forehead as she threw herself down onto her bed, protesting her husband's untimely departure. A tic in Cary Grant's eye as he cursed Katherine Hepburn. Despite these small flaws that gave evidence of their humanity, Alice was never able to convince herself that they were real people with pimples and halitosis and bad tempers. It was true, she knew, that Katherine Hepburn was still alive somewhere in New York, her body eternally trembling, her true love dead for thirty years. But Alice couldn't link this mortal woman with her flawless celluloid image.
Once, Alice had found an exciting item on www.emem.com, an on-line auction site that specialized in old movie memorabilia.
"Satin sheets used by Myrna Loy during the filming of 'After the Thin Man'!" The item read. Alice's pulse had quickened instantly. "Previously owned by private collector! Excellent condition, only $125.00"!
When the box had arrived via UPS, Alice had lovingly removed the sheets from their tissue paper packaging and unfolded them carefully on her couch. I will never tell anyone how strange I am, she had thought with a breathless giggle as she popped the movie into the VCR. But once the movie started, she had lain her cheek against the cool, smooth surface and watched, with her hand on the remote control, as Myrna Loy threw herself back onto the soft sheets in feline, pouting exasperation, again and again, over and over.
When, several weeks later, she had received a letter in the mail from emem.com, she felt an awful sense of foreboding. She had opened the small yellow envelope just inside her front door, not even removing her coat. Hands shaking, she had seen the red-printed words, "Notice of Fraudulent Dealer." She had read no further, but ripped the letter to shreds and stuffed it all the way to the bottom of the trash.
"Oh Lord, there are 64 people playing," said Renee in Alice's ear, craning her neck to see who was at the front door. "God knows how many others will show up! My Dad's house is toast yet again."
"Oh, you love it," Alice told her, smiling. The cavernous living room was beginning to fill with guests. Adam and Chris had arrived with Rachel and her boyfriend, Tom, and the four of them were dipping into the many appetizers Renee had spread out on the oak table. Alice knew almost everyone who was there so far, and she wondered when her date would arrive. She sipped her wine quickly and stood against the white wall, watching.
When around 75 people had arrived, Alice began to get worried. Many of the players had already been introduced to their dates. Renee was grinning like an idiot into the eyes of a tall, muscular, Ken-doll type who a co-worker of Adam's had brought for her. Adam, on the other hand, was trying unsuccessfully to smile at a squat, bespectacled woman who Chris had brought for him.
"She works at the White Hen on the corner by my apartment," Chris explained to Alice in a whisper as he walked by. "She agreed to come at 4:00 this afternoon. I couldn't think of anyone he hadn't already bedded!"
"It's my fucking luck that my stupid best friend drew my name," Adam hissed to her as he was on his way to get a shot of something powerful. "The only things she can say in English are 'hello' and 'the milk is on sale'!"
Maybe I won't have a date this year, Alice told herself as she poured her third glass of Merlot. The bottle clanked against her glass loudly and she smiled at the blond stranger next to her. Slow down, she thought, looking at her watch. It was 9:30.
As she carefully replaced the wine bottle on its shelf, she felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Alice?" said a short, brown-haired man as she turned around. She nodded. "I'm Colin. I do Renee's taxes? Anyway, I drew your name, and this is your date, Rob. He's my co-worker."
Alice looked to Colin's left, up quite a way into a pair of wide gray eyes. He was taller than she was, which almost never happened. He had shaggy black hair that was graying prematurely at his temples. Broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He smiled and Alice stopped breathing.
"Hi," he said in a deep baritone, as Colin said, "Well, I'm going to go see if my date is here yet."
"Okay, man," Rob told him and clapped Colin on the back, but Alice was speechless.
"This is a great party!" Rob said. Alice smiled and took a large gulp of wine.
"So...how do you know Renee?" he asked, looking concerned at her lack of conversation.
She forced herself to speak.
"We've been friends since college."
"Great!" he said, looking relieved. "She's a funny girl. Renee, I mean. Wacky, you know. I met her at a party last weekend."
"Yes," Alice said, ignoring the warning bell in her head. "She's very funny."
"Well, I'm glad to meet you, Alice. I was scared I'd get paired off with an ugly chick or something - "
Here Alice beamed. He doesn't think I'm ugly!
"I'm going to go find the keg. Let's definitely catch up with each other in a bit, ok?"
Alice nodded and watched his perfectly rounded butt cheeks as he swaggered toward the patio door.
Renee appeared at her side.
"Yummy!" She said into Alice's ear, her breath thick with vodka and limes. "You go, girl!"
"Not my type," Alice told her.
"Whatever, Alice! He's everyone's type. Stop protecting yourself! Wow, he is really hot. He's no dummy either, I met him last weekend."
"So he said," Alice replied, keeping her tone neutral. "Where's your date?"
"Get this! He's a fireman, and he had to go to work! He was only here for half an hour. Still, it was worth it. He has my number."
She scuttled off to greet a new guest, and Alice poured herself a fresh glass of wine, realizing that she did not remember finishing the last one. She was still standing in front of the liquor cabinet.
Alice talked herself into a state of giddy cheerfulness. The night was young, the possibilities, as yet, had not been eliminated. This was the stage of her drinking where she became loquacious, flirty, popular. Keeping Rob in sight, she posed for photographs, vamping for the camera and forgetting that when she saw the developed pictures later on she would be embarrassed by her snaky thinness and her frizzy red hair. She quoted Fitzgerald aloud in conversation, confidently, appropriately. She was smart, she loved her own smartness, and she could allow herself to forget, for the moment, that they didn't want smart.
If Alice stuck to her pattern, this would be the high point of her evening. Later at home, with the heavy tickle of too many cigarettes at the back of her throat and her head just beginning its dull throb, she would pull out some music, something old and deep, something from the back of her cabinet which would have to be dusted with the corner of her nightshirt, maybe The Smiths. And she would listen in the dark and understand every breath and note and perhaps eke out one very small tear. Then she would take her journal and in a slanting, semi-legible scrawl, write something she would recognize as soulful and brilliant, maybe even revolutionary, her finger on the pulse of Generation X, something so awful that when she read it the next morning it would not do to simply throw it away; it would need to be shredded into dozens of tiny pieces so that she would never have to confront it again.
She took the sip of wine that made her drunk. Coming in from having a cigarette on the patio with Adam and Rachel, she spotted Rob waiting in line for the bathroom.
"Hi," she said as she walked over to him, her tongue considerably loosened. "I haven't seen you for a while."
"Oh? I've been hanging around. Mingling, you know." He glanced at the closed bathroom door. "This chick in front of me is taking forever. What takes you girls so damn long, is it your tampons?" He grinned crudely, revealing even, white teeth.
Alice flinched, her wine-soaked mind registering the vulgarity. She rocked slightly on her heels.
"There's a line, and you aren't in it," said a petite brunette from behind her.
"Relax, I'm talking to a friend", said Alice, turning toward her.
"Oh, really?" The girl smirked. Alice turned back to where Rob had been standing in time to see the bathroom door close in her face.
Alice moved back toward the patio door, stumbling slightly. "Do you like Myrna Loy, Rob?" She said to herself. "Oh, really? Yes, I do too. I have her bed sheets! Oh, we have so much in common!" She giggled mirthlessly.
"Girl, you are talking to yourself. Out loud," Renee said, grabbing her from behind the kitchen counter and pulling her close. "Listen...I've gotta tell you something."
"What?" Alice focused her eyes on Renee's.
"Well, I'm really sorry, but Rob asked for my phone number. I wanted you to know."
Alice's stomach contracted. "I saw that coming," she said. "Don't worry about it. Not the aforementioned Prince Charming." She tried to smile.
"Oh good," Renee told her. "I was so worried you'd be upset."
"No," said Alice, half believing it herself. "He really isn't my type. He just made some disgusting remark about menstruation. Very tacky."
"Men are pigs," Renee said vaguely, looking over Alice's shoulder in the direction of the bathroom.
"Anyway," Alice continued, "He told me earlier that I wasn't ugly, sort of, and I actually felt complimented! That was really pathetic. I don't know what's wrong with me. Ugh. I'm so glad you didn't give him your number."
Renee's eyes snapped back to Alice's. "Oh..." she said. That was all.
"I see," said Alice. She considered Renee, her blond pertness, her small, perfect lips. The lines around her pale blue eyes a bit deeper than they were last year. Renee, who got all the desirable men. Who had a new one every weekend, because they lost interest quickly once they had slept with her a couple of times. Who, Alice thought, would never know she was just as lonely as everyone else.
"I'm sorry, Alice," Renee told her. "You said he wasn't your type."
"That's true," Alice replied, suddenly feeling very tired. "He isn't. I hope you have a great time. But be careful."
"Are you sure?" Renee asked, ecstatic at getting her best friend's permission. "Thank you! Do you have a condom?"
Alice shook her head no, and walked slowly across the living room to the patio doors. The crowd was thinning; it was late. Most of the people remaining now were the ones who probably weren't going to get lucky tonight; the ones who either didn't want to go home alone and face late-night television, or the ones who were still holding out an unrealistic hope that someone halfway acceptable would go home with them.
Alice stepped outside. It was cold, and she had no coat. She pulled her arms around herself and walked over to the thick cement ledge, feeling the chill night air clear her mind. She breathed out hot air and watched the white puff that her exhalation made on the atmosphere.
"Did I hear you say you like Myrna Loy a few minutes ago?" said a male voice off to her left. She turned; it was Colin, Renee's accountant.
"I didn't know anyone was out here," Alice said. "It's so late."
"I needed some air, too," he told her, and smiled. He was so short he only came up to Alice's chin. "Anyway, you're a fan of Myrna Loy?"
"Yes," said Alice, and smiled back, relaxing. "I adore her. She was so beautiful. But I always feel like she never really existed, do you know what I mean? She's too perfect. It's almost troubling."
"Yes," Colin agreed. "It's hard to imagine her picking up her kids from day care, or peeing."
Alice nodded, pleased.
"You know, though," Colin said, "I think that's why she's so great. Because she was so perfect, because she could never really exist. That's why I like her so much."
"You're right," Alice thought, and pictured the smiling Myrna Loy in her element, sipping champagne from a Waterford goblet. "We should leave her in Perfect World, where she belongs."
"Hey, I'm sorry about Rob," Colin told her. "He's sort of an asshole. We work together and eat lunch out sometimes. I just couldn't think of anyone else."
"That's quite all right," Alice told him, suddenly realizing that it was. "He's with Renee."
"Yeah. Will she be all right?"
Alice turned and, following Colin's gaze, looked inside to the brightly lit kitchen, where they could see Rob's hand gripping Renee's ass tightly as she walked some of her few remaining guests to the door.
"She will be all right," Alice said firmly, and turned back to face Colin. "Her all right is different than my all right."
"I get you," Colin said, and Alice could see that he did. "Alice, would you like to go on a date with me sometime?"
Alice smiled, knowing sadly that she could never be attracted to him.
"Never mind," he said quickly. "Don't give me the pity smile." He turned away.
"I don't pity you, Colin," Alice said, and then fell silent.
There was a pause. A horn honked in the distance, and Alice shivered.
"Do you think," Colin began, "that this is what's in store for people like us? Liking someone who likes someone else, or just plain isn't interested, and not liking the people who are interested? I sometimes feel like my whole life will be a series of romantic near misses. That I'll never feel good enough."
"Oh, but we are both good enough," Alice said firmly, sincerely. "I just realized that tonight, and I'm going to tryand believe it full-time. Not getting what you want doesn't mean that you don't deserve it. Or even that you really need it. We just need to launder our karma, that's all."
"Launder our karma?" Colin looked puzzled.
"Yeah, I heard that in a song once," Alice told him, slightly embarrassed at speaking so freely. "It just popped into my head. But it seems to apply." She turned and spread her hands out on the wide cement ledge overlooking the barren backyard, lit at night by a single, pale bulb.
"I like it," Colin said. "Launder our karma." He smiled thoughtfully and walked over to stand next to her, spreading his own hands out on the ledge and holding it tight.
"Maybe we can help each other," Alice said, and he nodded.
"Maybe we can."
Alice looked down at their four sets of white knuckles gripping rocky concrete, not moving, not letting go.
About the author:
Rosemary Frenza was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, attended Michigan State University and has lived in Chicago for five years. During the day, she performs tedious administrative tasks while pursuing her literary ambitions when her boss isn't looking. She is twenty-seven years old.