I’ve been going to a lot of concerts lately, or at least by my standards…perhaps this is sad, but two in a month is a lot for me.
A day after Prince Day this year (June 7th), my friend Abigail & I went to see Princess, Maya Rudolph’s Prince cover band. I wasn’t sure what to expect but she and her partner Gretchen Lieberum were absolutely wonderful. One of the most uplifting concerts I’ve ever been to, excluding the ones given by the Purple One himself. It was an intimate venue, the music was awesome and Rudolph’s stage presence is simply perfect. She blended in moments of light comedy into her performance, engaged the audience, had us all singing and dancing and having the time of our lives. A guy behind me, there with his buddies celebrating Gay Pride month, at one point bet me a drink that the next song would be Purple Rain. It wasn’t, and he and his friends honored his commitment by taking Abigail and I out to drinks afterwards to a cool little divey bar with a DJ open to requests. So Abigail and I had new gay boyfriends that night. It was a total blast and it felt…well, a little like college…except I didn’t end up dancing on the bar (missed opportunity?).
Last night I went to see Queen + Adam Lambert at the Hollywood Bowl (which, as always, is the best large music venue EVER). Every single seat was filled. That said, I had heard beforehand that Adam was…well, not Freddie Mercury. And during the concert he acknowledged the same, saying that “Freddie Mercury is a God and I only aspire to the heights he was able to take you to with his music.” All that said, I don’t think anyone can claim that Adam Lambert doesn’t have an AMAZING voice and I actually thought his performance was a joy. He camped it up, didn’t try to pretend he was anyone other than who he is, gave great deference to the original band members, particularly the guitarist, Brian May and was just sort of great. And speaking of the original band members, they were On. Point. If you’re one of those people who likes to say you’re too old to do this or that, take a look at May or Queen’s drummer, Roger Taylor, still killing it over 47 years after they got the band together.
It all was a reminder that no matter how stressed we are, no matter how much we have on our plate, no matter how old we get, we have to remember to be young every once in a while and experience life with that same joie de vivre (but with a little more wisdom). Find the things that make you sing and dance and laugh and live in the moment, and go a little crazy and then do them. That will keep you younger than any skincare product.
And now, the reason you’ve all come here, I have a more Sophie pages (applause please). If you haven’t read the earlier chapters of my next Sophie novel, Chaos, Deceit & A Kick-Ass Cupcake you can check them out here. And if you are caught up, enjoy the latest installment right here! Happy Wednesday everyone!:
“We each have to decide, do we crave the feeling of vitality we get from taking great risks more than we fear the potential consequences. You can’t achieve greatness if the fear is greater, but you’ll probably live a longer life.”
–Dying To Laugh
London’s place turned out to be a fourplex two blocks from the beach in the outer sunset district. As we pulled into a parallel spot across the street we noted there were lights on in three out of the four apartments.
“It doesn’t mean the dark one’s his,” Dena noted. She was sitting in the backseat. Mary Ann was sitting behind the wheel tapping her fingers to Kelly Clarkson which, according to the deal she struck with Dena, she was allowed to play after every two Kendrick Lamar songs. “His wife and daughter really could be home. Or maybe they’re in the dark apartment but went to sleep.”
“It’s not that late,” I said, uncertainly.
“It’s not that early either,” Dena reminded me. “Besides, they’re in mourning. They have reason to just crawl under the covers and black out the world. Just drop the ring off by the front door and let’s go.”
“But…what if the wrong person finds it,” I asked. “What if they take it?”
“Sophie, this is your plan,” Dena reminded me. “If someone steals the wedding ring they’ll have bad juju for the rest of their lives. Let’s do this and move on.”
I nodded. Sobriety was making a very gradual and unwelcome comeback. Time was of the essence.
“Okay, you guys stay here for a minute. I’m going to look around to see if there’s a good spot for it, if not…” my voice trailed off.
“If not?” Mary Ann repeated, urging me to finish my thought.
But I didn’t have a finish for that thought. I shook my head, uncertain and then opened the car door. “Just five minutes you guys.”
“Wait, you went from a minute to five minutes in less than three sentences,” Dena protested. “Five minutes is not–”
I jumped out of the car and closed the door before she could finish her sentence. As I walked up to London’s building I could hear the muffled sound of a dog barking from somewhere inside. The apartment numbers were listed by the various buzzers. Living so close to the beach in San Francisco meant living in a fog bank for approximately 360 days of every year. But then London didn’t seem like a man who longed for the sun and perhaps his daughter enjoyed holding beach bonfires with friends like I did when I was her age. As for Anita…I didn’t have much of a read on her at all.
I ran my fingers lightly over the buzzers. Were Anita and Cathy home? At a friend’s? A loving family member’s? I lowered my gaze to study the steps leading up to the building, then the walkway…surely there was some place to plant this stupid thing. But of course there wasn’t.
But if they weren’t home, and the key really was for their apartment…
I gave my head an energetic shake to clear it. Dena was right, breaking into the apartment wasn’t a good idea.
But what if I just broke into the apartment building? Like maybe the ring could have slipped off his finger while he was clinging to the banister, or fiddling with his mail after collecting it? I could go in and just drop it in a plausible location.
My little voice, which was apparently a lot more sober than I was, told me that was a ridiculous and reckless idea.
I glanced over my shoulder at Mary Ann’s car, still parked serenely across the street and gave them a little wave, letting them know I was fine. Not that they couldn’t see that for themselves. The only thing they could be worried about was that I might be thinking about doing exactly what I was thinking about doing.
I reached into my bag, as subtlety as possible, and fished out the keys. I sort of strolled up to the front door, keeping my head bent toward the ground as if looking for a place to drop the ring. Keeping my body angled so Dena and Mary Ann couldn’t see exactly what I was up to, I tried one of the keys. It fit into the lock, but didn’t turn.
By that point, there was no way Dena and Mary Ann hadn’t caught on to what was up. Quickly my fingers closed around the other key, just as Dena was opening the car door and started crossing the street toward me. I fumbled with it as I tried, then succeeded, to get it into the lock. It turned. This was the key! I was about to triumphantly push open the door when it swung open on its own, pulling away from me.
I squealed and jumped back, into Dena who had caught up with me and she fell back into Mary Ann who let out an even louder squeal. We all stood there, regaining our balance as a man wearing sweats, a t-shirt, Vans and spikey black hair, gelled to an inch of its life, stared down at us from the now open doorway.
“Can I help you?” he asked, irritably.
I blinked, a little stunned.
“I’m really sorry,” Dena began. “We have the wrong–”
“We’re friends of Aaron London in unit 4,” I interrupted, straightening my spine, pulling out a smile. “We’re expected. His wife gave me the key.” I held up the keys as evidence.
The man barely even looked at them. “Bullshit.”
My smile disappeared. I hadn’t expected to be called out that fast. Behind me I heard Mary Ann squeak out an uh-oh.
“No, really,” I said, trying to maintain at least the façade of confidence. “She gave it to me this afternoon. I don’t think she’s home yet…or, she may be sleeping…”
“Look, I don’t know who you are, but you didn’t get those keys from his wife,” he retorted.
I took a sharp breath, tasted the salt in the air. “What makes you say that?”
“Unit 4 guy? Aaron London? He’s in the apartment right next to mine and he doesn’t have a wife.”
For a few seconds I just stared at him, unsure if I had heard him correctly. When I finally glanced back at my friends they looked every bit as taken aback as I felt. My hand went to my purse where the ring was. It was a wedding ring. I mean, it looked like a wedding ring. Anita was London’s wife. That’s what made sense. “He…doesn’t have a wife,” I repeated, slowly.
“No, that dude lives alone…except for the dog. Is he married to the dog? Is that the bitch you’re talking about? Because if it is, I wish you could get her to shut the hell up.”
It was everything I could do not to pull the wedding ring out of my purse and shove it in Gel-Head’s face. He had to be wrong. And Anita must have been listed as an emergency contact in London’s wallet or something otherwise how would the hospital know to call her?
Mary Ann raised her hand as if she was a student in a classroom. “Um, sorry, I’m a little lost. Is the bitch that won’t shut up, like, a dog-dog? Or are you just being really mean about a woman you don’t find attractive?”
“What?” the guy shook his head. “I’m talking about a dog. I think it’s a Lab or something…maybe part pit. I don’t know, but it’s got a pink collar so I’m guessing she’s a girl, and do not tell me I’m gender stereotyping. People have been trying to lay that shit on me ever since I moved to San Francisco. It’s like everything I say here is sexist.”
My eyes moved past him to the apartment building. I could see the lobby painted a utilitarian beige, metal mailboxes lined up neatly on the wall, the frayed carpet on the steps that led tenants up to their apartments. I tried to imagine the angry woman I met at the hospital latching on her pearls before descending those steps. But it was like trying to picture Audrey Hepburn in an Adam Sandler film.
“Um, how long have you lived here?” I asked. Maybe he had just moved in a few days ago. Maybe Anita and Catherine had been away, visiting potential colleges or ailing grandparents.
“I moved in four months ago. And…look, I don’t know what your relationship is with Unit 4 but there’s something wrong with that dog. She’s been barking since I got back from work. I have to be on the Google bus at six-thirty tomorrow morning and now I gotta go out and buy earplugs just so I can sleep!”
But it was like the quiet roar of the ocean was pulling his words away from me. I could barely hear them, or anything other than my own screaming thoughts. Had the hospital called Anita? Or had she just shown up, because maybe, just maybe, she knew he was going to end up in the hospital.
Or maybe she had been following him. In a Zipcar.
But that was crazy…wasn’t it? Of course it was. It had to be crazy.
Gel-head was still talking. It took effort to drag my attention back to him.
“Barking, whining, then barking again,” he was saying. “There is no sound insolation in this place. Maybe she’s in distress or something, I dunno. I haven’t heard her do this before.” He sucked in his lower lip, revealing a wisp of a soul patch. “Look, if you think you can get it to shut up and you really have a key just give me some plausible story about how you got it. Something so when the cops ask me why I didn’t report a bunch of suspicious looking women entering my neighbor’s apartment I’ll have an out. Seriously, I don’t care. I just need that thing to be quiet.”
“You really shouldn’t call living creatures things,” Mary Ann scolded.
Gel-head’s mouth curled down into a cartoonishly frustrated glare. “I really hate this city.”
“Aaron London was admitted into Mercy Hospital today,” I said, choosing my words with obvious deliberation. The wind picked up, brushing wet air against my face. “He gave us his keys so we could get some stuff for him and take care of the dog.”
Gel-head studied me as a new force of wind tried and failed to tousle his hair. “That’s your plausible story?”
He considered it, then shrugged. “It’ll do. Just keep in mind, if the dog doesn’t shut up in the next fifteen minutes I really am calling the police.”
“Fair,” I agreed. Gel-head stood back and held open the door for us. I went in right away but Dena and Mary Ann hung back.
“Guys,” I said, impatiently, gesturing for them to follow.
“Sophie, we don’t know what we’re walking into,” Dena pointed out.
“She’s right,” Mary Ann agreed. “I do want to help the dog but…what if it’s a scary dog?”
“Yeah,” Dena agreed then narrowed her eyes and faced Gel-head. “Is the barking bitch Lassie or Cujo?”
“I don’t know,” he said, clearly exacerbated. “Neither? Maybe more like that dog in Marley and Me?”
“Oh, I loved that movie!” Mary Ann cooed. “I cried so much at the end.”
“Are you guys going to do this or what?” Gel-head snapped.
I gave my friends an imploring look. “Please?” I asked. “If not for me, then for Marley.”
Mary Ann gave me a firm nod and marched past Dena into the building. “For Marley.”
Dena exhaled loudly and followed. “This is so fucking crazy.”
She was right. It was. But it was the kind of fucking crazy I used to love and maybe, just maybe still did. This was a Sophie kind of crazy.
In the minute that it took us to get to the apartment the dog had gone from barking to whimpering and scratching at the door. Mary Ann placed her flat palm next to the peephole. “That poor thing! Do you think she’s psychic?”
Both Dena and I looked at her as Gel-Head, who had been trailing behind us, let himself into the apartment on the other end of the hall and slammed his door closed.
“Maybe that’s why she’s so upset,” Mary Ann explained, ignoring our enabler’s dramatic exit. “She knows her human died. Animals are different than us. They understand things we don’t.”
“We’re all animals, but I’m completely sure that dog understands things you don’t,” Dena grumbled.
“We don’t know how long she’s been alone in there.” I chewed on my lower lip, shifting my weight from foot to foot. “London was in bad shape when I saw him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he hadn’t been home the night before.”
“Oh that poor thing!” Mary Ann said again. “Open the door, Sophie.”
“Wait a minute, what’s the plan here,” Dena interjected. “Are we just going to take the dog out for a short walk, feed her and then leave her for someone who actually knows London to take care of her?”
“Maybe?” I said, uncertainly.
“Because you know we can’t just take the dog, right?” Dena asked. “We don’t have enough information about what’s going on here to do that.”
She was right, we had no idea what we were about to walk into. I still couldn’t get my head around Anita and Catherine being frauds…in fact I didn’t really believe it. It’s not like Gel-Head looked like the kind of guy who was particularly observant. And yet, not to notice the existence of two people who theoretically lived down the hall from you…
“Hold on a second.” I pulled out my phone and went through my recent call log. “His teenage daughter…or the person who might be his daughter, is the one who called me with the news.” I found the number and pressed call. I put it on speaker so we could all hear.
It went to voicemail after one ring. “Hi, I can’t get to the phone right now. You can leave a message which I probably won’t listen to or you could just be normal and text.”
“I don’t know if she’s his daughter or not, but she’s definitely a teenager,” Dena muttered. I shushed her right as the phone beeped.
“Hi, um, this is Sophie Katz. I…look, I’m so sorry about your dad. I only met him today,” I said, stressing the word today, “but he did mention that he had a dog and I….um, I guess I got the feeling he was the only one who took care of it. Not that I think you wouldn’t take care of a dog. I can totally see you as a dog person.”
Dena gave me a look that said What the hell are you doing?
I swallowed and tried to regroup. “Look, I just wanted to know if the dog lives with you guys or if London was keeping him…somewhere else. If it’s the latter, will someone be getting the dog? Just let me know. Thanks.”
I hung up as both Mary Ann and Dena looked at me with their mouths hanging open. Finally Dena let out a short laugh. “Well let’s hope she sticks to her word and ignores her voicemail.” She took my phone from me and after a few seconds of tapping away showed me the text message she had come up with:
I’m so sorry about your dad. Will you be taking care of his dog or do you need help with that?
“Not perfect but better, no?” Dena asked and then pressed send before I could weigh in.
The scratching at the door was getting frantic. What if the dog did bite?
“That animal needs help,” Mary Ann said, sternly. “Open the door, Sophie.”
Mary Ann could be a ditz at time but no one could say she wasn’t brave and efficient in the face of a crisis.
The doorknob trembled slightly with the efforts of the animal inside. “Here goes nothing.” Slowly, carefully, I slipped the key in the lock and inched open the door.
Immediately a black furry snout squeezed its way through the crack and forced the door all the way open.
The snout was attached to a large, pink-collared dog, built like a lab but with Richard Nixon jowls, wagging her stub of a tail as she sniffed my shoes and pant legs. Not even a whisper of hostility in her manner. I leaned down and scratched her behind her ears as she stared up at be with big, black, puppy dog eyes. She was strong and gorgeous…and smelly. In fact the stink was pretty intense.
The dog moved on to Mary Ann but the smell didn’t let up. That’s when I looked up and saw it. The majority of the stench was coming from the apartment. Although it looked a lot more like a toxic waste dump than anyone’s living quarters. There were dirty paper plates on the floor, a dog bowl inexplicably placed in the middle of the room that, even in the dim light, looked crusty. I spotted a cup on a pedestal table by the door, still partially filled with old, neglected coffee. Empty water bottles had been cast carelessly about.
But mostly there were papers. Papers and papers and papers. Printed out articles crumpled up on the floor, newspaper articles pinned to the walls with certain passages circled or highlighted, torn out pages of magazines piled on chairs. A waste basket overflowing with shreds of ripped up sentences. Pamphlets and business cards scattered across the coffee table. If someone set off a bomb in a Kinkos you’d have less paper and more order than you had here.
Dena stepped up next to me, peering into the space. “I think we have confirmation of Aaron London’s crazy.”
I felt Mary Ann come up behind me, the dog now nudging against the back of my legs. “It’s like an episode of Hoarders,” Mary Ann observed, “except…worse.”
“We can’t just leave this dog here,” I whispered.
“It’s not our dog!” Dena snapped.
I gestured to the junkyard London had made out of his apartment. “This is animal abuse.” I paused to think about how best to handle things before adding, “we have to go in there.”
Dena balked. “I think I’d rather spend a week in prison than a second in that hole.”
I squared my shoulders. “We have to take the dog out. So we need a leash. I’m sure there’s a leash in there.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake.” Dena dug into her oversized-bag and pulled out a short, chain-link leash. “If we truly have to take her, we can use this.”
Mary Ann did a quick double take. “You don’t have a dog.”
“I have a boyfriend,” Dena replied.
“Wait…” Mary Ann began but I cut her off.
“Please don’t ask her to explain that,” I requested.
Dena leaned down put the leash on the dog. As soon as she did the dog managed to give her a lick on the nose. “Chill,” Dena said sternly to the mutt. “I don’t even let Jason do that.”
“He definitely doesn’t live here with a woman,” I said quietly.
“It does seem unlikely,” Mary Ann agreed.
“Maybe they were separated,” I suggested. “Maybe he moved in here while they were taking a break and he sort of,” I glanced back at the apartment, “let the bachelor thing get out of control.”
“That’s highly likely,” Dena said with a sigh. “Can we go now?”
I swallowed hard and bit my lip. I was so curious. But the smell was not getting better with continued exposure. And there might be bugs in there. I wasn’t sure if I could handle a lot of bugs. Still… “Let me just place the ring.”
I took several steps away from the door, pulled out the ring, inhaled a deep breath and then, holding it, walked into the cesspool. I didn’t have the courage to turn on the light to see things more clearly. Instead I skirted around shadows and shapes as I made my way to the coffee table. On the couch was a pile of clothes, each item too dark to be distinguishable from the others in the dim light with the exception of a red, checkered winter scarf that seemed to be slithering off the pile as if attempting a slow moving escape.
I glanced down at the coffee table. Pamphlets touting holistic medicine and homeopathy were scattered about along with a few business cards. I picked one up and narrowed my eyes to make out the words. It was for a blogger for a site called Corporate Evil. Sounded like London’s cup of tea. Another business card was for the Founder Of Citizens Against (Legal) Drugs
The legal part, in parenthesis no less, made me want to smile. But I resisted just in case moving my mouth inadvertently led to my accidentally inhaling.
That breath I was holding was beginning to hurt. Still, I reached for one more business card.
Seriously? I put my hand on my chest, partially out of shock and partially because I really was going to have to inhale soon. Was this really the card of the Nolan Volz CEO? Or was it a fake? It had to be a fake, right? I mean, no one would really name their kid Gundrun Volz.
“Sophie!” Dena yelled from where she stood in the hall. “We can’t be hanging out here!”
She was right. Plus I really did have to breath. I put the Gundrun Volz card in my back pocket and carefully placed the ring in the center of the table where it could be easily seen before quickly walking out of the apartment. As I closed the door behind me I finally released my breath with a gasp, desperate for air that was wasn’t weighted down by the stench of moldy pizza boxes and dirty sox.
I looked over at Mary Ann, still holding her nose. “I think Dena’s right. Going would be good,” she said in a nasal voice.
“You did everything you wanted to do,” Dena pointed out. “You returned the ring and we’re rescuing the dog. Plus I’m pretty sure we have just confirmed that he wasn’t living with his wife. There’s no reason to hang out.”
“Oh, my God,” Mary Ann squealed. Dena and I both looked over to see Mary Ann, crouched down by the dog, studying her tags. “You won’t believe what her name is!”
“Marley?” I guessed.
“No!” she stood up, with a big, bright smile. “Her name is Sophie!”