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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Author Guest Post: Irene Woodbury, Author of A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis

In association with Chick Lit Plus (CLP), Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes Irene Woodbury, author of A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis!

Carol and Wendy:  Best Friends Forever?  

“A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis”

Irene Woodbury

                Have you ever lost your best friend?  Maybe they moved away, or got married or divorced, or took on a second job, or found another best friend?  Whatever the reason, it hurts.  It’s always sad to lose a safe place.  I know what this feels like.  So does Wendy.
                Carol, her best friend and boss at Panache, has sold the store and taken off for an extended stay in Hong Kong with her husband.   She’s not answering e-mails and is unreachable by phone.  She has basically dropped off the planet, and this hurts Wendy because they were close for 25 years.  She is dealing with the loss of a job she loved and a separation from her best friend at the same time.  In the following passage, deleted from the book because of length, Wendy wonders if their friendship meant as much to Carol as it did to her.
I’d always believed our friendship was important to both of us, but as I was now realizing, things were slightly different from Carol’s perspective.  She’d always had a lot more on her plate.  Not only was she an in-demand designer and the co-owner of a wildly successful retail chain, but also a wife and mother.   Her priorities were different from mine.   Plus, she had a mom, a sister and two daughters, so she was surrounded by warm, nurturing, estrogen-bearing types.  A card-carrying member of the sandwich generation.  Bottom line:  she never needed me the way I needed  her.  It wasn’t her fault.  That’s just the way the cookie crumbled.   And now that she’d sold the store and arranged my severance, she needed me even less.   Overnight, I’d become a former employee--a much liked former employee for sure--but still, a former one. 
Yes, clearly, Carol had moved on.   As she and Paul traveled, I knew she’d keep in touch, but only on a casual basis.    A short e-mail here, a brief postcard there, a last-minute birthday card with a few lines scrawled across it.   That sort of thing.    No more just-checking-in girly-girl phone calls; long, gossipy lunches at the Ivy, or cozy chitchats in each other’s offices.  As time went by, we’d morph into casual acquaintances who used to work together and now think of each other fondly sometimes.

                Wendy is clearly having a hard time dealing with the fact that Carol is inaccessible to her at this difficult time in her life.  Carol was, in many ways, like a mother to her.   When they met, Wendy was 20 and on her own in L.A.  Carol was 35, a successful designer and business woman who was surrounded by family, friends, and admirers.  She gladly takes Wendy under her wing and nurtures her personally while mentoring her professionally.   I don’t think Carol is aware of how important she is to Wendy, who becomes overly attached to her because she was never close to her own mother.  As the following poignant passage reveals, Wendy, in her heart of hearts, is a motherless daughter searching for a kind of nurturing and comfort she has never known.
Our new, distant relationship hurt even more because it brought back painful memories of my remote relationship with my mother and how I’d always searched, consciously or otherwise, for a warm and loving substitute.   I was endlessly fascinated by my friends’ relationships with their mothers.  I found it incredibly interesting that two people could be so involved with, and connected to, each other.   Extensions of each other, really.   Mothers, older versions of daughters.  Daughters, younger versions of mothers.  The two forming one complete cycle of life.
I’d experienced bits and pieces of the mother-daughter bond over the years, but it was fragmented and inconsistent.  I never completed the “cycle” with my mother, who died in 1989, and it left a permanent void, an emptiness that could never be filled.   I was intrigued by, and curious about, what I had missed.
At Panache, I couldn’t help noticing mothers and daughters shopping together.   Sometimes I’d drop whatever I was doing and discreetly follow them from one department to another.   I often marveled at the similarities in their body types:  the same drooping shoulders, squared-off butts, stocky legs, long waists.   I also observed the behavioral dynamics between them:  the ongoing tension, the overwhelming bond.  
Concealed behind a rack of designer jeans or a potted palm, I’d eavesdrop on their endless discussions about whether or not the dress was too short, the pants too tight, the boots too expensive, or the purse the right shade of taupe.   These often tense exchanges might have sounded trite and trivial to the casual observer, but to me they were part of some sacred ritual, some primitive behavioral pattern established early in the evolution of the human species--when mothers and daughters sparred over which dinosaur bones, rocks and animal skins to drag back to the cave. 
It was ridiculous, really, this odd habit of mine, but I couldn’t stop myself.   I was intrigued by the mother-daughter dynamic and drawn to it because I lacked it in my own life.   Taking in these poignant retail vignettes from the warm and fuzzy lives of others somehow comforted, yet also disturbed me.

                The funeral scene at the end of the book, where Wendy runs to a corner of the church because she can’t face the pain in the newly-widowed Carol’s eyes, makes more sense when we understand how much Wendy loves her.  Maybe Carol is aware of it, maybe not. 
                Most likely Not, because Carol grew up in a completely different background from Wendy’s.  She was an only child to parents who doted on her.  Her mother designed gowns for some of Hollywood’s most elite, glamorous actresses.  Her father was the wardrobe supervisor at MGM.  When Carol’s parents invited famous designers to their home for dinner parties or cocktails, Carol got to meet them.   She became a successful designer, married Paul, who was in real estate in Beverly Hills, and opened Panache in the late 1970s.
                Wendy arrived in L.A. in 1980.  She wanted to be an actress, and got a few roles on soaps and in commercials.  To have a steady source of income, she applied for a job at Panache.  In the following excerpt, Wendy recalls her job interview with Carol, who is nine months pregnant with her first baby.
For a half hour, we sipped tea and talked fashion, everything from casual sportswear to haute couture.  Then suddenly, Carol leaned forward in her chair and gasped.  She was cradling her belly and rocking back and forth.   “Oh my God,” she whimpered, looking up, eyes wide open.   “This is so embarrassing!   My water just broke!   Go find my husband Paul--he’s here somewhere.  Tell him we need to get to Cedars right away.    I’m going into labor--this is my first baby--I don’t know what to do.   Go find Paul!   Please hurry!”   
Can you imagine?  I was 20 years old and in the middle of a job interview.  I felt like Prissy in “Gone With The Wind.”  I wanted to jump out of my chair and wail,  “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies Miss Scarlett!” 

I tore out of that office, grabbed the first assistant I could find and shrieked that Carol was in labor--I needed to find Paul!   She pointed to his office.   I darted in.  He was on the phone, so I started waving my arms frantically like a deranged castaway on a deserted island trying to flag down a rescue helicopter.   His head jerked up.   “Excuse me, mister,” I babbled, “I was in a job interview with your wife--can you come right away--her water just broke--she needs to get to the hospital!”  
Paul slammed down the phone and leapt out of his chair.   “Holy Christ!” he blurted as we sprinted down the hall to Carol’s office.   She was panting hard by then--like a racehorse about to cross the finish line at the Kentucky Derby--and straining to drag herself out of a chair to retrieve an overnight bag plopped on a bolt of fabric.   Paul grabbed it, slung his arm around her, and slowly they eased their way out of her office.
In the hall, Carol put out a trembling hand, clutched my arm, and murmured, "Go find Maggie in Design Sportswear and tell her I just hired you." Those few, audible words launched my illustrious 25-year career at Panache.

Wendy and Carol clearly needed each other in the beginning. In the last chapter of the book, Carol is planning to come to Paris to spend time with Wendy during Fashion Week, like they used to. Let's hope they both find a way to need each other again.


Buy The Book: A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis
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Win a $10 Gift Card: Virtual Book Tour Giveaway: November 14 - December 4, 2011

1 comment:

  1. Great guest post Irene! Thanks for coming on tour with us Kathleen :)