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Chapter 1: Married, with Onion Rings
Cellulite massage is not for the faint of heart. Which is what Gracie Pollock was thinking as her thighs were pounded by the grunting Russian woman who left her bruised, swollen, and otherwise disfigured every other Monday at three o'clock for the last five years. Gracie's calendar was filled with benign-sounding yet brutal "treatments": Tuesdays were hair (blow-dry, cut, and highlights, if needed), Wednesdays were waxing or plucking, Thursdays belonged to dermabrasion or acid peels or any variety of activities involving needles and the hope of Insta-Youth, Fridays were off days, save for the second blow-dry of the week, when Gracie would compare her week of treatments to her friends' week of treatments over lunch at The Ivy.
You want irony? For the privilege of emerging from a session with Svetlana looking like she'd been locked in a freak dance with Mike Tyson, Gracie would write a check out to "Cash" for $250 and hand it over with shaking hands.
Svetlana left the room, leaving behind an imprint of garlic cloves and generations of suffering on the air. There were countless other Wives Of to punish, those who bought into the myth of defeating the onslaught of age with a pair of hardened Russian fists. Gracie groaned and leaned up from the damp, tacky massage table (a nice way of putting the modern equivalent of the rack) and onto her elbows. She willed her eyes open, her lids feeling like the only part of her body that had escaped Soviet vengeance. She slowly twisted her head to the side to assess the damage in the veined, mirrored tile lining the walls. Mirrored tile, Gracie thought, all the rage when Sylvester, the lisping Supreme Ruler of Disco, was at the top of the charts. "For a tax-free two-fifty a pop," Gracie muttered, "Svetlana the Terrible could swing a subscription to Elle Decor."
But the veined tile with the mirrored surface served its purpose. Here's the scoop. Gracie Pollock looked ridiculously good in that her polished exterior straddled the territories claimed by both adjectives, ridiculous and good. Each time Gracie peered at her reflection, she was startled, as though she had run into a formerly plain-wrapped high school friend who had transformed herself into a middle-aged version of Jessica Simpson. What are the odds of looking better at forty than at sixteen? Gracie thought to herself. About the same as crapping a gleaming pile of Krugerrands.
Let's start with the hair. Said hair being the color of that expensive European butter no one can pronounce. Domestic butter, according to Gracie's colorist, not being, well, buttery enough. And this hair was thick. Thick, as though somewhere in the Hamptons, Christie Brinkley had awakened looking like Michael Chiklis with hips. Gracie's original mousy brown, tongue-in-light-socket chicken wire had been colored and wrestled and yanked and stretched and stretched again into submission by a fine-boned man of unknown sexual and other identity named Yuko, then brightened with highlights every three weeks and lengthened with extensions, rewoven every twelve weeks. Her forehead was as unlined as the hood of a new Porsche, due to the same poison found in warped green bean cans she was warned about as a child. Her lips were soft and full. Thank you, the pitiless Collagen God. The teeth? Straight and white. The teeth were hers. The teeth, she'd grown herself.
I did grow those teeth myself, right? Gracie thought.
Yes, Gracie reassured herself as she bared her teeth like a rich blond rottweiler into the veined mirror. Those are my teeth.
She growled at her reflection.
Let's move on. The breasts were a perfect full B cup. Gracie had given birth and breast-fed -- and yet her nipples pointed due north. Nature? Or the magic hands of Dr. Barbara Hayden? You decide.
The tummy, save for the bumpy scar which Gracie had not yet "done" above her pubic bone, was hard and as hard earned as the diamond on her left hand. The arms, brown and muscular and hairless as newborn Chihuahuas. The legs, Gracie's bête noir throughout her teenage years, were as sleek and taut as the skin on an apple.
Just looking at them made her weary.
Maintenance was a Mother Fucker.
Gracie stuck her tongue out at her reflection. The blond, green-eyed, perky-breasted woman rudely assessing her was not related to the soft-fleshed, brown-eyed girl she'd been more or less satisfied with for thirty years.
This Gracie, by all accounts, appeared perfect. Media friendly. Easy on the eyes and hard on the 401(k).
Then she looked down at her hands. Good Lord, not the hands, Gracie thought. The dead giveaway. The Dorian Gray painting in the attic. The skin on her hands was changing. Freckles that had once been a badge of youth and vigor were now a sign of encroaching age -- the inevitable, inexorable spiraling into the Martha Raye Terra In-firma.
Gracie hadn't told anyone, not even her close friends, but in the last two years, she had failed the pinch test. Failing the pinch test is something best kept close to the bustier -- if Gracie pinched the back of her hand (which she did several times an hour), the skin no longer snapped back. It slid back.
And those freckles. What could blast them out? Gracie hovered over her hands with a critical eye. What could possibly eliminate the speckled insurgents? Laser, acid peel, that pricey SPF 1,000 Greek sunscreen, bleaching creams, fotofacial, collagen, harvested fat cell shots. She had tried everything. And still the pinch test failed. Still the freckles persisted.
Gracie tucked her hands away, hiding them like a dreaded family secret. She sighed. And then she thought about her elbows. Gravity is a bitch, she thought.
"Do not" -- she wagged her finger at her reflection -- "appraise the elbows!"
Gracie felt her body was a time bomb, just waiting to jump back into its normal state, should the narrowest opportunity appear. She lived in a world where people fought their natural condition on a daily basis -- every day in L.A. was Halloween. Those weren't masks she'd see in the women's dressing area at Saks or in the salon chairs at Cristophe or suspended over glass noodles at Mr. Chow -- those were faces. Gracie feared she'd wake up one day and the skin around her face would be pulled into a bow in the back of her head.
Gracie was on the precipice. Was she going to be the recently Asian Joan Rivers, or what once was Brigitte Bardot? She'd have to make a choice.
One pull of the pin, Gracie knew as she peered over her shoulder at her proto-human reflection, and the whole thing would blow.
The trouble started with the earring. This wasn't just any earring -- like that silver Celtic cross Gracie had lost in a public toilet at Santa Monica Beach because she was so freaked out by the thought of homeless people wandering in while she peed in a doorless stall. This wasn't one of the pair of pink diamond and platinum three-carat studs Gracie and every other stuck-in-a-loveless-marriage-but-with-a-generous-allowance Wife Of had her eye on at the Loree Rodkin case at Neiman Marcus, aka Needless Markup, just waiting for her husband to slip up for an excuse to buy. No, this wasn't just any earring. This was a delicate gold-wire hoop suddenly attached to her husband's heretofore unadorned, exhibiting middle-aged tendencies (more hair, additional length) right earlobe.
File Gracie Pollock's story under "hindsight is twenty-twenty," with the understanding that her sight was definitely up her hind end at the time. But how was Gracie to know that the demise of her nine-year, ten-month, three-day, eighteen-hour marriage could have been foretold mere weeks ago by a tiny piece of metal in a middle-aged man's ear?