It’s New Year’s at Riddle Village…and Gam has decided she’d like to stop by the Thoroughbred Lounge for a drink.
The bartender stops what he’s doing and comes out from behind the bar to give Gam a big hug. She asks how his wife is feeling after the surgery, how the second job is coming and if work is treating him well. I can’t help but notice some raised-eyebrows from the other side of the room. The bartender notices, too, and quickly retreats behind the counter to finish stacking glasses.
Gam takes a dainty sip of her zinfandel and rests it classily on the table, never lifting her eyes from mine.
“We call them The Beautiful People.”
I look across the room to a table of uncomfortably well-dressed residents with silver styled hair and gaudy costume jewelry that I’m quickly reminded isn’t costume jewelry after all. The same table that had been giving us “the look” just a few minutes before.
White hair. WindSong. Way too much hairspray. Pressed white shirts with black suspenders; teased tresses and slick combovers. Chanel No. 5, Old Spice and color-stay lipstick feathering up through lines in tightly pursed lips.
“Gam,” Merry whispers. “You’re much hotter.”
“I know,” she answers matter-of-factly. “But they think they’re tops. They won’t talk to you unless you’re one of them. They keep to themselves.”
It was like a scene from Twilight, Senior Edition.
“And they’re all together. She’s with him. Don’t get me started on how much Viagra he’s on. And the little one? You didn’t hear it from me but she’s quite the room hopper after dark.”
I get the impression that this is a daily event–their happy hour–and that its quite hard to get on the invite list. It’s just the six of them, hob-nobbing over dirty martinis, a plate of fancy cheese, little toothpicks with cherries on them–with yellowed teeth and perfectly manicured hands wrapped arthritically around long-stemmed glasses and gold rings hanging on for dear life. Laughing obnoxiously. Trying too hard. It’s like high school. Only older. Sadder.
I look at my Gam and bite back a smile. She’s wearing the pink kitten-print socks I bought her for her birthday and her signature Keds. Merry and I bait her with our eyes. She’s not afraid to talk to anybody.
She takes a deep breath, a last sip, and straightens her shoulders.
“Come on, children. Watch this.”
She stands up and marches right over to The Beautiful People.
And I’m a admittedly a little nervous.
“Happy New Year, friends!” she shouts, sliding one arm around one of the ladies’ shoulders.
Good choice, I remember thinking. She did look the friendliest.
Gam pardons the interruption and proudly introduces her two beautiful granddaughters who have come for a visit. I see some sadness–even some envy–in their tolerating nods. Even as they exchange judging glances.
After a painfully awkward minute, she takes Mer’s arm and shouts “Well, we’re off!” She graciously bids farewell to the cool kids and throws a big, full-arm wave to the bartender, who thanks her for stopping by and winks.
Tonight, back at the apartment, we’ll pick the pecans out of cheap Entimenns’ coffee cake and peel Kraft singles from their plasticy jackets.
We’ll play with the cat and watch her favorite episodes of CSI.
We’ll kiss her goodnight about two dozen times before she finally stops coming back out of her bedroom for things she’s forgotten and drifts off to the Michael Savage cassettes my sweet Uncle records for her every week.
And I’ll sit on that same couch and flip through that same little photo album that I flip too every time I visit–the same photos that have been sitting on that same coffee table since I was five. I’ll think about how she took the time to talk to the Bartender, how she’s not afraid to challenge life, and how even the “popular crowd” wishes they could be a bit more like her–quirks and all.
Suddenly there’s no question who the beautiful people are.