I am publishing Forty Bucks and A Dream: Stories of Los Angeles on Substack. New chapters drop Mondays. Below is the Table of Contents, with links to what’s posted before. If you like what you are reading, consider a subscription or one-time donation. And hello from Portland! Where I am doing more reporting. Dispatches coming your way in a trice - N.R.
FORTY BUCKS AND A DREAM: Stories of Los Angeles
1: Forty Bucks and a Dream: The lives of a Hollywood motel
2: The Camera and the Audience
3: Jena at 15: A childhood in Hollywood
4: The Waxer
5: The Biggest Dick in the World
6: Brown Dirt Cowboys: Meet your Mexican gardening crew
7: Punch Drunk
8: Us Versus Them: The code of the cop bar
9: Who She Took With Her: The husband, the son, the boyfriend… a drunk’s tale
10: Giving: the Hollywood way
11: No Exit Plan: The lies and follies of Laura Albert, a.k.a., J.T. Leroy
12: Porn for Women
13: Sanctuary: Days and nights at the King Edward Saloon
14: Why Not to Write About the Supreme Master of the Universe: A day with the disciples of Ching Hai
15: Playboy: The next generation
16: J. Lo in the House
17: The Marrying Room
18: Meet the Neighbors
19: The Pathos of Failing
20: Bite and Smile
“I WISH I'D LEARNED ABOUT WAXING when I was younger,” she says, running her hand over the stubble on your thigh and waiting, it seems, for you to ask when she learned the art of removing hair from women’s crotches.
“Not until I competed in beauty pageants, at nineteen,” she answers, when you do ask. Her statement is impossible to ignore, coming from who she is now, at thirty-six: tall and thick in the waist, with a florid, pretty face and an unkempt brown ponytail. Hers is a job so not in the spotlight that to seize your attention, she chatters nonstop.
She tests the temperature of the wax on her wrist and tells you that she won local pageants, moved up to state competitions, and “probably would have won California but my dad was very religious.”
Another bomblet of information that, in a different social setting, might spark a conversation. But in the tiny Beverly Hills salon treatment room -- which is barely big enough to hold her, the waxing unit, and the toweled table that holds the client, naked from the waist down -- it becomes clear that this session is not about you.
She mentions her many siblings, the fights with her father, the spankings and the dogmatic inflexibility in the house.
“My mother, she never talked back to him. She was weak,” she says as she smears warmed honey wax on your groin and barks out a laugh. What she’s telling you is perversely fascinating, a fevered monologue from someone both livid and impotent to do things over, to reinstate order. The latter she can do for you. For $65 and sixty minutes, she can make you -- or the genital representation of you -- hairless, youthful and perfect.
“I won't wax until I get a date!” she announces. She tells you about past employers and a sketchy-sounding lawsuit and the trouble she's having with her car. She tells you she’s “bored” by her job.
“Turn over,” she says, and proceeds to wax the back of you. She talks about the book she wants to write, “a coffee-table book about skin-care advice for the average woman,” and that she's been dictating her thoughts into a tape recorder. She is spreading your cheeks, and in truth, you appreciate the effort she is going to, though you sense that each wax-and-hair-covered muslin strip she pulls from you scrapes something from her soul. Still, you are selfish, and begin to think of your boyfriend, and whether he will notice how smooth you've been made, and whether he will like it.
“Hey,” she says, loud enough that you startle. She's detected your reverie, and there will be none of that, not on her time. She tells you to turn back over.
“For your next appointment, I can sculpt you, like this,” she says, drawing a heart shape on your pubic region. But her eyes are far away.
Once you are dressed, she walks you to the lobby, gives you two business cards and with her hand on your arm asks if you want to make another appointment. And you'd like to tell her yes, but you sense that seeing her again will be like seeing a friend constantly in crisis, and you don't know if you want to pay for that, or if you can take it. You tell her, you'll call. She nods and, with a bottle of cold water in one hand, lumbers back to the treatment room to wait for her 3:45.
Kind of sad … but good