I think you’re talking about Jorga Borgas. I met him once in California. I spent a year there in 1980. 1980 was a fresh white tennis outfit. You felt the air on your legs. Then one morning toward the end, I’m in this long mansion driveway, loading my stuff into the back of a borrowed Toyota. This old lady kicked me out of her carriage house, this actress. California isn’t supposed to have carriage houses. It’s too young. She was old though and had been in movies about people who had carriage houses so it wasn’t illogical. I mean, she was the one who said it was anachronistic or whatever. Really she was pretty cool. I’d just stopped making rent and she was leaving for the Baltic and had to shake out the rugs.
It’s got to be eight a.m. I hear the sprinklers chittering on across the street as I’m loading, then the scuff of sandals. He just walks up the driveway, this stout little swarthy man in a terrycloth bathrobe and peach pajamas, these tall Virginia Slim palms behind him; behind them, the endless green lawn of the house across the street which you can’t even make out at the other side of the lawn through the haze of sprinklers. He strolls up to the back of my car, morning sun hard on his brow as he stares at me. It’s not even my car but this black guy from the restaurant’s, a white Datsun 240z. The trunk is ridiculous; I can’t fit the duffel, two crates, and all my hanging shit, which is lying there on top, tonguing out over the bumper. On top of it all lies a terrycloth bathrobe, splayed open like it was shot in a drive-by. It’s kind of like the old man’s, off-white. Only mine, when he gets closer, I can tell is a little thicker. It’s not newer looking—they both look pretty lived in, darkening at the hems—but mine’s somehow plusher.
He stops at the back of the Datsun and looks down at the robe, then up to me, then down at it again in a way that’s asking about it.
“You are taking all of this stuff away?”
I stand there, unpacking his thick accent.
“Are these things that you need?” he says.
I don’t need any of it, I tell him, which I’m not even sure what I mean. But he looks again at the robe and up at me, nodding and tilting his head as if to ask can he touch it. I shrug. He picks the robe up and steps back. He holds it up before him, and he’s short so he has to hoist it high, which looks funny, him in his bathrobe too, a fat little angel on his toes holding up a tall deflated angel, and something about the misty sprinklers behind him adding to the effect. He turns it around so he can look at the back of it. Holding one shoulder in his teeth, he slaps the hamstring area to knock off the soot from where it hung over the bumper. Then he lays the robe down over the mound of hanging shirts, spreading it, nipping out its corners fastidiously so he can look at the back.
I’ve never seen anyone examine the back of clothes like this before. It’s how I know he’s not American. I mean, any American can have a thick accent, but he’s running his fingers across the ridges, he’s appraising the texture, the cut—like they’re part of some utility we have forgotten about here. He looks up and says a syllable that’s a question, like “Key?” I just nod. He nods back, a corner of his mouth rising almost in a smile, then lifts the robe, gives it a little shake, folds it once lengthwise, folding in the arms, then folds the waistline over his forearm, and walks slowly back down the driveway. He doesn’t offer me his. He just has two bathrobes now. He’s really bowlegged and walks back on his heels. The old lady’s sprinklers are coming on now and spit at the hem of his robe, darkening the peach calf of his pajama pants before he reaches the sidewalk and disappears around the gate. The neighbors’ sprinklers have darkened pavement, the gutter over there glistening like mercury with run-off.
I’m sitting on the spoiler, trying to mash down the trunk, when the old actress comes out in her bathrobe. She’s smoking, her hair bunned, her face caked with pre-foundational powder, but she hasn’t done anything to her eyes or lips yet, which is how she usually walks around the house, and which is how I’ve for some reason, since, always imagined actors in movies must look at home. “Ah, you met Jorga Borgas.”
I laugh, sliding off the spoiler. It pops back up. “Who?”
“He’s at all the parties, they tell me. Cute car.” She runs a finger round the oval rim of the headlight tube.
“He parties? That guy in the robe?”
“They have him here for a movie. But he’s a literary person.” She looks above my head as she says this, then blows a cool tight exhale, her bottom lip opening in an upside-down triangle that reveals four dark bottom teeth within the powder mask. “Latin,” she says in a way that shows all of her bottom teeth.
She was great. One night the pool pump blew. This was a few weeks before. The cluster of thick PVC pipes behind the carriage house, up against the wall where my head slept, just went POW—it was like I woke without my skullcap on. Like the Earth’s ear had come unplugged.
Outside, water was treeing forty feet into the air, peeling off the siding—planks were fluttering into the neighbors’ yards, into their pools, fluttering down almost against their houses. Curtains of cold mist swung slowly through each other. I was walking around in it in my underwear, infused by millions of cold little alien life energies. I almost didn’t hear her voice. I turned and she was walking fast around the pool in her robe, a silken robe this time, a shift underneath. A black antebellum hurricane shutter floated in the water between us. She was swinging a portable phone at the air.
“Two seven four”—she threw me the phone—these were heavy at the time. It was the first portable phone I ever held. “Two seven four—”
“Call those fuckers—Two seven four six eight six eight!”
“Call who?” I blinked away water, trying to dial the wet phone.
“The worthless pool people. Peterson whatever.” She walked past me into the white star of the rupture, hand out in front of her, head turned back, spitting water off her lips, her bun leveled and plastering across her face. Water shot out from the pump seals in intersecting white planes and was full-body assaulting her, knocking her off-balance. I could hear it stinging her legs. The silk robe whopped behind her like a cape. Her shift ripped back so that a meaty young breast hung out—the only part of her registering alarm. She eventually got hold of something and the water stopped, and for a second you could hear the last of it pelt our pool, like a handful of nails. The air went heavy again with silence, slick dripping off the lounge furniture, my ears still thick with the krrrrhhh of water. She was covered again when she turned around, but it was confusing because her hair was matted down her face so it was like her head was still facing behind her.
“You saw her boob?”
Chris and I stood in the server station, pounding lemons and limes through the slicer before the rush. We were pouring spoonfuls of Booker’s used for flambéing and taking it like cough syrup.
“Like, you could see it?”
“It really didn’t require much on my part.” I pounded a 1980 lemon through an asterisk of razors. Our fingers were white with lemon rot. “I mean, she’s pretty old, man.”
“So it was like”—he put the spoon in his mouth and made fast palpations with his hand to suggest a certain, I don’t know, lack of suppleness.
“No,” I said. “It wasn’t like that. I mean, she had something.”
Chris’s eyes became large and serious. “What’d it look like?”
She hadn’t acted in twenty years. During my five months living on her property I saw her less than ten times, and I think these were the last two. I don’t know if she ever came back from the Baltic. I drove by her house a couple of times, but the gate was closed. She never closed it when she was home. I left California before New Years.
I did see Jorga Borgas again. I was working then for this caterer. We got to go in the Hollywood people’s houses, which just looked like the country club people’s back east—potted pampas, glass coffee tables, the beige TV rooms—only with maybe a little more Mediterranean flash. One of my last gigs was way up in the hills, some movie business guy’s house, which you didn’t see from the road. You parked in this driveway and there was nothing in front of you but air. The house was built into the hillside below, like those Navajo cliff dwellings, except this house was three giant white boxes jammed into the earth, a stripe of flat black windows across each. You climbed down to it. When we’d carried the tables and steamers and booze down all the steps and suspended walkways our uniforms were drenched.
It was a small party for us, twenty-five or so. They were all older, I think, at the tail end of something that you could tell had been bigger than this world. You’d never get your head around their lives. The house had shag carpet and a medicinal smell that was sweetened by a baby-powder smell that was cut with gin. Jorga Borgas was in a tracksuit and sat all night by a sliding screen door, smoking. The host stood behind my table and helped himself to a drink. “Jorga Borgas,” I said, nodding toward the patio door. The guy had yellow pants and age spots and, like everyone in California, small teeth. He glanced around the room as he poured and stirred, then smiled at me, one eyebrow up and waiting for me to explain, the other up a little higher as if to appreciate that I might be on drugs. But he was taken away by an energetic freckled woman in her sixties who raised his arm and shouted at the room, “Back from the dead, to save us from the artists!” I laughed with everyone else. Jorga Borgas smoked.
I remember the police were there later—milling around on the shag like it was the Manson murders. A man at the party had reported his car stolen, but they found the Jag in a gully down the street. He hadn’t used his parking break. We’d already loaded out and I sat on the van’s gate while the boss wrapped up things in the cliff house. I was clammy under my black and white uniform and sleepily nursing a rum-dum. Then I caught the tracksuit stripes out of the corner of my eye. Jorgas Borgas was being helped to the top of the stairs by a tall, quiet, elderly man; they were just emerging from the horizon of the driveway, demarcated by accent lights—there presumably to keep anyone from driving over the cliff onto the house. The old fellows had been at it for a long time. I took a sip and watched them each palm a newel post and ascend the last step, then regard each other with gasping smiles. They looked behind them and were amused at seeing nothing over the cliff-side. I pushed the rum-dum behind a cooler. Jorga Borgas would find it funny to see me again loading things into the back of a vehicle. But the men shook their heads and stepped carefully past the van, making their way out to the street, and I took a pleasure in recognizing the scuff of his footsteps and forgot about my drink and my tiredness and took a long gentle breath into my lungs and stomach, holding in my year like a dream and letting the rest of California crumble into the sea.
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