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Friday, December 25, 2009



Characters (in order of appearance):
Francoise Hamm Solange: She has a cheerleaderish ponytail, a tight Southern accent, and a Very Romantic Bedroom. Reminiscent of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, but NOT SINGLE. And, to her credit, a little less embonpoint in the face.

Me/I: She is cleaning Francoise's house in the Level 99 jeans she thought she was too fat for but it turns out they actually fit.

Props: Rags, fingerprints, one granola bar that never comes out of the bag.

This isn't a play.



Francoise is showing me how to make the bed. It’s giant, the kind where if you were to make it alone you would have to crawl onto the bed and not be able to avoid a sexual fantasy while adjusting the fitted sheet. She says, Ok now grab the toile and I’m thinking crinoline, the puffy underskirts of so many high school musicals, a pseudo-frustrated costume designer tugging at the hem of the leading lady’s dress, her mouth full of pins like a metal scarecrow mumbling, She just needs some crinoline, and the “assistant costume designer”, a student with an accidentally rigid perm, writes NEED TULLE in the center of a wide-ruled page of the notebook with the electric pink dog on the cover that she got at Target thinking it was what she wanted, got to school the first day and realized she didn’t want it, and learned that humility can come so soon after pride.

So we’re making the bed and she says, Ok now grab the toile, and I say, I think I’ve always confused tulle with toile. Turns out tulle is the crunchy tutu stuff and toile is a fabric that depicts a complex scene. But then I start wondering, Well, what makes a scene? If it’s a floral printed duvet, how do we know there’s not some conflict amongst the flowers, or that an orchid just died because the owner watered it too much instead of putting in just one ice cube a week?

Or what about a comforter that depicts a domestic abuse scene (i.e. a man is looking at a credit card bill in one picture, then backhanding his wife in the other)?

That could be toile, especially if it had the classic off-white background; and, of course, a nearby well.

In this case, it’s a print I’ve seen before. The same story I used to sell on duvet covers at The Pottery Barn. This is a story about a man pulling an ox toward a red or black or blue barn. Depends on what you ask for in your registry. The storyline is pretty vague. I have no idea what will happen in the barn. Or why the man is pulling with such intensity. Maybe a day full of so many personal failures that he now is taking it all out on this poor ox. I don’t see his boss anywhere on the bedspread. I think he’s self-employed.

Or maybe when he was twenty-one he was pressured by a coworker to read Diet for a New America and, as a result, became and stayed a vegetarian for seven years, showing everyone pictures of pigs in cages and announcing, See? They are crammed so closely together they bite each other's tails off! ...until one New Year’s Eve his friend popped a meatball in his mouth and it changed his whole perspective and now his sole desire is to consume a burger made from the flesh of this very animal. But first he desperately needs for this very ox to listen to his problems: No one understands my art! he cries, as he places the final piece of straw on his all-straw statue of a man who, instead of wearing his heart on his sleeve, wears his socks over his shoes.

This Manual Labor story is the only one I’ve ever seen on a bedspread. It countervails so perfectly a quiet night of lying in bed sucking on diamonds.

I want to ask Francoise, Is it always this same story? but I know it's not, and I hate when I ask questions I know the answers to, and I know that by admitting I've seen this toile before that I am just bringing up the fact that this bedding, the selfsame bedding where she tosses and turns and drools and stirs and then starts a diary entry and then stops and then brings herself to a teary orgasm while her husband is still away doing business in Thailand, on this very spread, under the canopy and next to the velvet heart-shaped ottoman, next to the clinquant antique hairbrushes laid carefully like little dolls on the mirrored vanity, where she's fantasized about brushing her hair in front of her husband like the mom did on Little House on the Prairie, and where she has her husband’s photo encased in a gilded frame that says "Amore," and so many musky perfumes...

…that I am taking this symbol of her very sacred lust and saying, “I saw your passion on sale last week for 89.99.”

Today Francoise is obviously thinking about getting everything in order for her husband to come. We only have a couple hours. The house is brewing with cinnamon smells, almost cartoonish, like you can see faint red swirls in the air. This is the day she’s been waiting for, yet sometimes don’t you ever build yourself up for a big event then the day of the event you find you can’t pull yourself out of bed? But there seems something deeper in the corner of her mind, something she’s not telling anyone. A problem. The beginning of the problem goes, How am I going to tell him about the…. But I don’t know how it ends. It ends in a land somewhere beyond her pink headband and rigid sense of obligation, disguised by holiday cheer, past the Vision Board she has in the master bathroom, the one plastered in pictures of Valerie Bertinelli in an alarming green bikini saying I LOST 50 lbs, (and I plan to lose more in the few hours I have before my husband comes back from Thailand)!!

So we’ve moved on to the pillows and she asks me a question, So what are you doing for the holidays? And right before I answer she says, Oh no no, these pillows actually go diagonally, like THIS….

I am learning so much about the layering of pillows. From my recent experience, this is the Proper Pillow-Layering Order:
1. The ones you actually use. (The ones to be ashamed of.)
2. The ones that are slightly decorative, at least enough to mask the (horrifying!) ones you actually use.
3. The Giant Square Ones. Usually a solid color to complement the duvet.
4. The rectangular ones you place horizontally to offset the Giant Square Ones. Usually solid with a hint of the print from the duvet (in this case, toile), to offset the Giant Square ones.
5. The slightly smaller square ones (optional, excessive, and completely useless)
6. The Lame Centerpiece One With Possible Bow Adornment.

I’ve also learned about monochromatic Christmas Tree decoration. This woman has a tree in the dining room festooned in all green lights, as if she took a tip from a fashion magazine, “Green will ACCENTUATE and not DETRACT from the tree’s natural beauty!”

And then in the Very Romantic Bedroom, which by the way also has a giant mirror I scrub and scrub and the rag leaves dots of dust then I go back and scrub THEM then I’m kneeling, rag in hand, looking at myself in the mirror and wondering if my Dove Gradual Build Self-Tan is really building, I find myself eventually casting wishes out to some kind of I DON’T KNOW, A GOD WHO LIVES IN A CAVE, a God who lives in Very Romantic Bedrooms, who crawls through the insides of mirrors just so He can look back at you as a piece of glass and say, It's time to take an extension class.

So, this room has a white tree with all pink lights. This tree is a girl with fair skin who took some bad advice to use cream rouge instead of powder. To myself, I call it the Sweet-N-Low Tree.

I think I’m speaking to God then I realize I’m not that important…I mean, in my own life I am…but that we are all of equal importance, and that becomes sad and comforting at the same time. I’m kneeling on this floor next to tiny piles of children’s laundry, little corduroy skirts, and I turn and one of Francoise’s daughters is leaning in the doorway, watching me. I turn and say hi and she asks, So when did you decide to be a housecleaner?

My LA side wants to say, I get great material!

But the real me, and instead, I say, It kind of chose me.

I keep thinking things like Work With Love, and then eventually, as I’m using a special rag to wipe her daughter’s fingerprints like little oval ghosts from the plasma screen television, I find I’m trying to romanticize the fingerprints: O that you POINTED at the television with your small fingers while trying out your new Nintendo Wii, O LIFE, a MIRACLE!