Exit Plan

Living in the moment is a very lovely sentiment. There’s a lot to be said for being present. However, it never hurts to plan ahead. A bit of strategic thinking is often a wise idea. Otherwise, it can easily happen that you wind up facing retirement at warp speed, without an exit plan. Visions of working at Walmart, or getting into elder porn start drifting through the mind. This usually happens due to a lack of planning, coupled with poor choices. But, of course circumstances and plain bad luck often play a huge role as well. This is a story about a woman in such a scenario, and how she handled her situation.

Let’s flash back to the beginning. Desiree came to LA at the tender age of nineteen. Typical story. She had been homecoming queen back in a small Iowa town, and she came to LA to become a movie star, model, or at least a tv sensation. Well, fast forward 10 years. 29 being a magic number in a mysogynistic place like LA. No longer young enough to play the “ingenue”, but she still looked good enough to continue getting roles as the ‘sexy’ so and so. Finally, Desiree landed a recurring role on a soap opera as a lonely housewife, where she was constantly getting entangled with hot young neighbors, and other women’s husbands. They say that life imitates art, or is it vice versa? I forget. Anyhow, jump ahead 5 years, and Desiree, now 34 is starting to wonder if she was ever going to find Mr. Right, amongst the string of Mr. Right Nows. Low and behold, on a commercial for vacuums, there he stood. The man of her dreams. Love at first sight. They chatted on set, he wooed her for weeks, and she knew, this was it. He was a director. Wealthy, a bit older and established. She had hit the jackpot. Not only was it love, but she, being an opportunistic gal, knew that he would be able to connect her and help her career. She was being strategic.

They married and honeymooned in Tahiti, her dream vacation. Champagne and caviar. She moved into his home in the Pacific Palisades and got so comfortable, she stopped working altogether, and focused on trying to have a baby. It seemed to be the next thing to do. Her husband, Dean, was a workaholic, but an excellent provider. He had a bit of a reputation as a ladies man, but Desiree knew that she held the keys to his heart, credit cards and castle. The following year, she had a baby boy. They named him Devon. Dean, Desiree and Devon lived their “perfect” life for many years. He lavished her with cash, gifts and cars. In return she tolerated his rumored infidelities. She had nannies and housekeepers. With more time on her hands than she knew what to do with, she felt she had achieved the life a princess would only dream of. Shopping, being pretty and well provided for. A blonde haired princess from Iowa. Just like her parents had always told her.

Fast forward 10 years. Desiree turned 39. Her years on tanning beds were beginning to surface. She looked in the mirror and noticed things she didn’t like. She began to get beauty “treatments” done by a famous Beverly Hills plastic surgeons. Just small tweaks here and there. The credit card had a high limit, and she just told her husband she needed a mole or two removed. Precancerous things, you know. Dean was oblivious, and told her to do whatever she needed to do. Their son was now in private school, and the nanny took him to his after school programs for hours. The only time they were together as a family was occasionally for a half hour or so at bedtime. Often, Dean would stay “on location”. Needless to say, Desiree started to get very lonely.

She started to go take yoga at a small private gym. This is where she met Mack. Yes, the personal trainer. So cliche, I know. Trust me, this is a scenario that plays out over and over and over again. She started to “train” daily. Her body felt better than ever, and she was glowing. One night when her husband came home, he commented on how great she looked. He made sexual advances in the kitchen, something he hadn’t done in a very long time. As he pressed her up against the counter, her cell phone received a text and then another. Her phone happened to be on the counter directly in his line of vision. Desiree wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and she had neglected to set her phone on private. Dean leaned closer to her, stroking her neck, while staring over her shoulder to view the incoming messages. Desiree squirmed, trying to get his attention. The stream of texts continued. Dean’s breathing got heavier. He pushed Desiree in front of him, grabbing her by her arms shaking her violently. He asked her what was going on. Who the hell was Mack? She started to shake and cry. She told him how sorry she was, but she had been so lonely. She cried a lot, but he just pushed her aside and stormed out, down the hall, into his office and slammed the door shut. Desiree sank down onto the kitchen floor, head in hands. She reached up to grab the cell phone and read the messages that Dean had viewed. They were completely incriminating. Explicitly sexual, and solid evidence of an affair. She turned off her phone and sat there bawling on the kitchen floor until she could drag herself to the plush white leather sofa where she fell asleep.

The next morning, Desiree woke up to her husband standing over her. He gave a weak smile and told her he understood. He confessed that he too had been having an affair, and in a way this was all kind of a relief. He had met an actress on set, and it had gotten quite serious. He was planning on telling her, but he just hadn’t had the opportune moment. Desiree felt her heart sink. She went numb. Sure, she had been having an affair, but it was just sex and she had never had the intention of getting more serious with Mack. However, her husband was telling her a different scenario. He told her that he would be going to his lawyer during the following week to file the divorce papers. He said that he was going for full custody of their son, with visitation rights for Desiree. He claimed that she was an unfit mother, focused on her plastic surgery more than on her son’s needs. He warned her not to contest it. He reminded her that he was a powerful man, with powerful connections. She was shocked and defeated. Her heart hurt. He told her she should start getting ready to move out. Devise an exit plan, he told her. Finally, he told her she would be able to have the BMW, and he would give her a sort of “severance” deal, but because she had racked up so much on his credit cards, she was lucky to get anything at all. She gasped, taking it all in.

During the next few weeks, she spent her time going through her clothes, and jewelry, bagging it up for consignment shops. She sold what she could, stashing the cash for emergencies. She started to look at apartments, and living situations, but they were all so expensive. She would only be able to survive for a few months on her finances. She had no concrete job skills, and no connections left. At this point, the idea of going out on auditions, facing rejection, seemed terrifying.

One day, while getting the mail, she saw a paper leaflet on the ground at the end of the gravel driveway. She picked it up. On the front was a photo of a handsome long haired man. “Divine Heights, A New Lifestyle” was printed in bold purple script. She opened the pamphlet and read inside. It described a permanent “retreat”, in the countryside, where it cost nothing, but you were provided with everything. A healthy cooperative community. Welcoming to all, no matter what financial status. There was a phone number at the bottom, underneath a photo of a group of laughing people in a tent. She went back inside, glanced around the huge luxurious white living room, walked over the the giant fur chair, plopped down and dialed the number.

A woman’s voice answered. Hello, Divine Heights, Althena speaking. Desiree paused. Then she started to ask questions. Where was this community, what was the lifestyle, and what was the cost to become a part of it. The woman explained that it was a healthy community in the hills of a remote town in central california. They welcomed all. Depending on budget, there was a nominal “buy-in”, but once in, the only cost was labor and participating in events. The founder, known as Chino, was a leader and a man of many talents. They practiced daily meditation, along with coop gardening, and cooking.

Desiree decided to take the “tour”. She drove her BMW up the coast and headed inland towards the dry desolate looking mountains. It seemed like a very long drive, hours and hours. Finally, down a long dirt road, she saw ahead, a compound. Looking like an old military camp, she noted people milling about, doing repairs. She parked at the end of the drive and got out of her car. A tall dark haired familiar looking man looked in her direction, waving her over. She walked towards him. As she got nearer, she noticed that this was the man on the cover of the pamphlet. The man introduced himself as Chino, reaching out his hand to hers. He gently pulled her in for a hug, whispering “welcome”, softly into her ear. She smiled. She told him she was there to take a look at the Lifestyle. He invited her into the building where there was a simple set up of rustic furnishings. He guided her to a small wicker couch and sat down right next to her. He was wore jeans and a loose fitting shirt. His scent was masculine and deep. He pressed his knee against hers. She felt chemistry. He was a powerful man. She liked him. He put his arm around her, holding her close. He told her he knew she was searching. He knew she needed shelter and love. She had to look no further. She smiled, and felt his lips kiss her neck. She pulled away. He looked her in the eyes, and told her she was welcome here. There would be no charge for her. She thought to herself, this was it. He got up and took her hand. He lead her down a long hall towards a small room. Through the tiny window, enough natural light streamed in to see a clean and simple setup. A single bed, sink and toilet. He told her this would be her personal quarters. The rest of the place was shared. He told her he felt the connection too. She smiled. It was her moment. A culmination of her life’s choices. This was it. She had her exit plan.

Trader Joe’s Gigolo

Ever since he could remember, women had fawned over him. He was a real head turner, and he knew it. The ladies loved him, and he loved them back. Again, and again. And, again. Years passed. He fancied himself a player for life. Love ’em, and leave ’em was his motto. Even if it meant shacking up with one, while managing a few on the side. Sure it became work, but he preferred to consider it a “lifestyle”.  A few more years passed, and eventually, juggling so many women began to consume him. It became a full-time job. So much so, that his actual career as a science lab manager went into a downward spiral. He wound up with a menial position at a pet store, where he got fired for trying to seduce a customer by putting a snake inside her blouse. Fortunately, he was still living with a clueless “girlfriend”, and she was all too happy to support him, since it gave her a sick sense of self-control. Self-control was the very thing he lacked. Not long after he lost his job, she came home from work one day to find him in bed with a wealthy elderly neighbor. Needless to say, she kicked him out immediately. He vanished without a trace.

These days, you can find him lurking around Trader Joes parking lots. Wearing a fitted t-shirt and jeans,  pretending to be on his phone, he looks slightly lost and confused. But as soon as he sees a single lady headed to her car with grocery bags, he shifts into high gear, and heads towards her with a studied swagger. Giving her his hungry eyes, and a slight smile, he pauses, then says, “excuse me, but you are so beautiful, I just had to tell you.” Usually, the woman swiftly slides into the vehicle, and backs out at high speed. But, occasionally he has a lucky day, and she pauses long enough for him to engage her further. He runs his fingers through his albeit thinning hair, like he’s seen men in cologne ads do. He’s still got it. Trader Joe’s parking lot has been good to him. There are lots of single ladies. and they definitely have food and a car. Soon, he might need to find a new location. He’s considering Home Goods or TJMax.

 

Taco Bell Two Hundred

It was a sweltering summer afternoon, deep in the San Fernando Valley. Shauna stopped at the light, looking in the mirror to check her makeup. She swiftly applied some more lip-gloss and pulled her oversized sunglasses down to cover her heavily made up eyes. The traffic light turned green, and she continued north along the dingy avenue, passing by run down plazas all looking pretty much the same. Liquor stores, video rental shops, “caregivers” aka medical marijuana dispensaries, and few random restaurants, interspersed with the ubiquitous 7-11s.

The Jetta air conditioner had been broken for months. Driving with all of the windows rolled down,  the hot air whipped her long curly blonde hair around her head like a halo. She stopped at the next light. She pushed some of the hair out of her face, trying to put it back into place. She glanced over her ringing phone on the passenger seat, and as she looked in that direction, she noticed a man intently looking at her from a minivan on her right. He gave her a forced smile. She quickly looked away, glad she had her shades on. No eye contact was her cardinal rule.

Suddenly, Shauna felt hyper aware of her heavy makeup, lashes and glittery lip-gloss. She was on her way to her job as a dancer in a strip club, and she had gotten into the habit of doing her makeup at her apartment before leaving. It was easier for her than doing it at the club. She knew she looked out-of-place during daylight, but it was a routine she had gotten used to.

The stoplight was taking forever to change, and she could feel the man’s burning gaze. Suddenly, she heard a nasal voice through her car window, “Excuse me, miss?”… The light still hadn’t changed, so she turned to look in his direction. He had his arm on the window frame, and his hand was clenched into a fist. “Would you have a couple of minutes? Please, please miss. I’m desperate. Can you talk to me. Please.?” “About what? “ She barked in a sharp tone, glancing in his direction. Feeling annoyed with herself for responding,  and even more irritated that it was far too hot to roll up her windows.

He stared intensely at her, and slightly opened his fist, just enough to reveal a thick roll of bills. She noticed it, just as the light changed. She pressed the accelerator to pass him, but he paced his vehicle alongside of hers with his window down. He leaned out and shouted into her car “ please, if you can pull into the Taco Bell up ahead, I’ll give you 200 dollars, if you can just talk to me. We can park next to each other. No contact. I just need someone to talk to me. Please. Please.” Now Shauna was no dummy, but she had seen the cash in his hand and it was broad daylight after all.

Maybe it was the heat, or simply the fact that she was broke, but for whatever reason, she said ok. He told her to follow him, which she did. Ahead she saw the run down looking Taco Bell. He pulled into a parking area alongside of the building. It wasn’t desolate, but there weren’t people walking around either. She made sure her doors were locked and rolled up all of her windows, except for the one on the passenger side, only keeping it partially rolled down, just enough to see and hear. He was parked to her right in his minivan, and now, upon closer inspection, she could see his red splotchy face, bloodshot blue eyes, and a yellowed blonde fringe of fine hair around his balding head. She could make out the silhouette of an empty child seat through the lightly tinted back window of the van. She took a deep breath, feeling nervous and on edge. He held out a fist of cash towards her window. “Take it” he said. “Take it. It’s two hundred dollars.” “Take it first, you can count it if you want. I just need you to tell me how bad I am. Tell me what you think of me. Say mean things to me. Don’t hold back!” His tone was desperate. She snatched the wad of money, swiftly counting two hundred dollars. He leaned his seat back with his window open, as he watched her. She didn’t really know what to say, but the money pleased her, so she just started rambling in a loud staccatto voice, staring straight ahead. “You’re a piece of shit. What a pathetic little bitch. You look like a fat pig…..you don’t deserve to live. You make me sick!! ” She could hear him moaning and she glanced over to see that he was obviously jerking off. Now she yelled louder “you filthy slut you disgust me!”. He particularly liked that one, and he moaned loudly as he slid down in his seat. She yelled, “you nasty scumbag, how dare you even try to talk to me! You make me sick! I should make you kneel before me and lick the bottom of my shoes!”. She smiled, trying not to laugh, and felt a sense of relief. She thought to herself how much fun this was. Maybe she had missed her true calling. Finally looking over towards the van, she saw that he had disappeared from view,  except for the tuft of the blonde hair moving up and down. It was almost comical, in a surreal way. Finally, he got quiet, and when she looked back in his direction, she could see him sitting up and composing himself. As he smoothed back the few stray hairs off of his forehead. Red faced and short of breath, he repeated over and over,  “Thank you, thank you, so much. Thank you.” She quickly rolled up the window, even though her thighs were stuck to the seat because of the heat. Shauna felt a wave of adrenaline mixed with nausea. Backing up the Jetta fast, she spun the wheels to make a fast exit out of the parking lot. Disoriented, she drove around a block, and rerouted herself in the direction of the club.

Exhaling, she laughed aloud to herself, and reached over to stuff the cash into the side inner pocket of her purse. She grabbed a canister of air freshener, and misted it in the direction of the passenger seat. At the next light she looked in the mirror, half expecting to see someone different. She felt like she had committed a crime. She had crossed a threshold with this random incident. Surprisingly, the face looking back was still hers, nothing changed. Just a few tiny beads of sweat that had formed on her downy upper lip. She wiped the sweat and laughed again to herself shaking her head.

Entering the parking lot, there were only a handful of cars, and all of them belonged to other dancers or staff. The parking attendant made his way over to her car. They exchanged the usual banter, and he helped her take her suitcase through the back entrance. Walking into the club, she felt the wave of cool air rush over her. Her eyes needed to adjust to the dark after being out in the summer sun. It was empty inside. Just the bartender setting up. Backstage a few girls sat applying their makeup, or on their phones. She went to her locker and began the process of getting ready, putting on a shiny black bikini and her go-to black lacquered spike heeled platforms. Work was pretty slow that afternoon, only a few random cheap customers. After a few hours, she decided to call it a night. She did have the Taco Bell Two Hundred after all. It had cooled off a bit since the sun had gone down, enough so that she could keep the Jetta windows rolled up. Exiting through the side alley of the lot, she turned onto a busy boulevard. As she drove home, turning the radio dial, she settled on a classical music station. Shauna let her mind drift away on the notes of the violin, and daydreamed of escaping to somewhere far far away.