LA CUESTA – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
LA CUESTA – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Eva woke to the sound of laughter. She rolled over and put a pillow over her head to muffle the noise. The pillow was too heavy, and her air supply was gone within a minute. She kicked off her comforter and pushed the pillow to the side. It was already getting hot. She rolled over on her back and stretched. “Time,” she said.
“It’s 8:22 Eva,” whispered the clock in the smooth, masculine voice she loved. “Do you want to get up now or do you want to go back to sleep?”
Eva opened her eyes. Her room was dark, but she could see streaks of sun on the granite floor. “Shades,” she said. The shades rolled up into a neat little tube, flooding her room with sunlight. She sat up in bed and stared at Los Angeles spread out before her. She had lived in the Hollywood Hills for 20 years, but she still marveled at view. Her clear blue pool sparkled outside her bedroom door. “I’m getting up,” she said to the camera on the ceiling.
She got out of bed and put on her new robe. It was black silk, embroidered in turquoise, green and gold peacock feathers, with gold fringe on the sleeves. Eva loved it, like she loved all things soft and beautiful. She slipped in on and admired herself in the full length mirror. She rubbed the smooth black sleeve across her cheek, smiled, and went to investigate the source of laughter.
Harold and Kai were in the kitchen drinking coffee. “Good morning, boys,” she said. “You look happy this morning.” She smiled at them and poured herself a cup. “I like happy” she said. “Any almond milk left?” Kai shook his head. “We’re out of almond, goat, and soy,” he said. “But it’s on the list. We thought we’d make a grocery run today. Laurel Canyon’s getting a delivery at ten, so Harold and I thought we’d get up early to get in line.”
“Good thinking Kai,” Eva said, rubbing his neck and shoulders. “You’re certainly resourceful. I like that” She studied his current outfit. Today he had his hair in a topknot, his beard was perfectly groomed and he was wearing tight skinny jeans and a vintage Black Keys tee shirt. Harold was also sporting skinny jeans and a wool plaid shirt with the sleeves cut off. Like a weathervane, the tips of his waxed mustache pointed due east and west.
“Are all the interns still addicted to ‘Girls’,” Eva asked, a slight smile on her lips. “You know, there are a lot of good new shows out there. Why is everybody obsessed with TV and movies from the depression? People dressed like that back then because they couldn’t afford anything nice.” She poured herself another cup of coffee. “I hated the teens. I got out of college up to my ass in debt and had to move back into my parents’ house in Long Beach.” Eva sipped her coffee and watched Kai and Harold exchange grins.
“I get it, way, way back in the ancient Long Beach days,” Eva said. “Before the earthquake and the ocean did everyone in LA County a favor and got rid of that dump. And now you don’t have to drive so far to the airport.”
“But wasn’t Malibu cool,” asked Harold. “And Santa Monica too? I heard Malibu was the greatest, the best waves, the best break, and it had all the cool houses. Didn’t everybody want to live there?”
Eva shook her head. “Harold, nostalgia will not get you anywhere. Trust me.” She walked out onto the terrace with her coffee. Harold and Kai followed. Eva turned around and smiled at them. “If I can teach you one thing, impart one bit of wisdom to you both today, it’s this: look forward, not back. Always move straight ahead. You can’t repeat the past.” She sipped her coffee, looking at them intently.
“Also, Malibu wasn’t that cool,” she added. “I was there. The waves were flat, the locals were assholes, and the PCH was a nightmare. Two hours to go five miles if you were lucky.” She set her coffee cup down and turned around to observe the house back-up system. “Let’s see what’s going here back here. I can still smell smoke. The Valley must be on fire again.”
Eva walked around the pool toward the stainless steel cistern that towered over the house. “Level,” she said. “37 percent,” the cistern murmured. Eva looked up at the trio of wind turbines mounted to the roof. Two were whirling, humming furiously, but the middle one was still, blade limp. Eva stared at Kai and Harold. “So what’s up?” she asked. “Looks like were running low on water and one of the machines isn’t working.”
“Santa Anas are blowing again today,” Harold said. “I called the turbine guys. I figured with the wind we’d have enough power until that one got fixed. I don’t think it’s a big deal, the blade isn’t talking to the motherboard. Easy fix.” Harold watched Eva’s face. “But the water level’s something else.”
Eva turned and looked at her neighbor’s house next door. It was a sleek iron and glass structure cantilevered over out the dry hillside. Poinsettias and gardenias bloomed red and white, and bright yellow lemons dotted the squat branches. “When did the Garcias get water?” she asked the boys. “I haven’t seen a truck up here in a while. I thought there wasn’t supposed to be a municipal water delivery until next week. ”
“Private delivery. Helicopter drop,” Kai said, nodding toward the concrete pad on the Garcia’s roof. “The last time you were in Detroit. I haven’t seen these guys before. Never heard of the company.”
“It was GNWS,” Harold interrupted. “Computer said it was Great Northwest Water Solutions. It was pretty expensive, a lot of money for one bladder. Supposedly from lake or a river, that’s what the delivery guy told me.”
Eva laughed. “Oh, from a lake or river, sure it is,” she said. “That’s some great marketing. Everyone else in California has been drinking their own piss for years.” She looked at the lemons and the flowers. “Except for the Garcias. Only the plants get grey water over there.” She stared at sun reflecting off the steel beams. “It’s getting hot already.” She turned and looked at Harold and Kai, both pale and squinting in the bright sun. “Are you both wearing sunscreen? I can’t take anymore interns with skin cancer.”
She went back into the kitchen, Kai and Harold on her heels. Eva rinsed out her cup and set it on the counter. “When do think everybody wants to get up?” she asked.
“Well, we binge-watched ‘Girls’ till late last night,” Kai said. “So everybody was still sleeping when we got up.” He looked at Eva. “What time do you want us all up here?” he asked her.
Eva thought a minute. Before she met with the interns, she wanted to shower, get dressed, then conference in with the Detroit office. “Time,” she said, stroking her black silk robe. “It’s 9:11 Eva,” said the clock.
“God I love that voice,” she said, smiling at Harold and Kai. “It’s Khan’s. I still miss him. He was one of my best interns.” She looked intently at Kai and Harold. “Maybe one of you will take his place. It’ll get you out of the dorm.” Eva grabbed Harold’s hand and kissed his palm. “Tell everybody to meet me on the patio at 10:30.” She smiled and walked toward her bedroom.
Her intern’s lives were pretty good, Eva mused. They had it a hell of a lot better than she did when she graduated from college. Back when she was in school the colleges were either public – funded by the taxpayers – or private – funded by wealthy donors. Both public and private institutions made students pay outrageous amounts in tuition. Students were expected to come up with the tuition any way they could. If a student was short, it was easy to get loans with ridiculous interest rates. Eva, like the majority of college graduates in those days, left college with over $55,000 in debt. She had a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, but she was broke.
It wasn’t just the student loan problem. Job prospects for graduates in the teens were bleak. The unemployment rates and student debt was so high that the entire country breathed a sigh of relief when the corporations finally got involved. Eva remembered working a couple of jobs after she graduated, but the pay was so low that she finally broke down and moved back in with her parents until she got into grad school.
Eva entered grad school the same year President Obama left the White House. Although she would never admit this to her associates, she remembered him fondly, an intelligent man with a beautiful family. A Harvard Law School graduate. Everybody was so naive back then, all hope this and change that. It turned out to be a complete load of crap. The country didn’t want some nebulous philosophy, some Xanadu with citizen participation and universal healthcare. America wanted success.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Eva. As part of an experiment to reduce student debt, it was the year Pfizer took over operations at UCLA. Pfizer began managing everything from admissions to professor tenure to career counseling; UCLA was now run like a business. Majors considered useless to obtain gainful employment after college were eliminated. Pfizer expanded the lucrative departments like the medical school, law school, and business school, and consolidated the liberal arts into one department called simply “Non-Compulsory.”
Eva met with a Pfizer consultant on her second day at UCLA, a tall blonde woman with grey eyes. “I’m Lauren. Sit down,” she said, motioning Eva toward a small plastic chair. “I’ve been through your resume,” she said with a slight frown. “Philosophy? What were you thinking,” she asked, crossing her legs. “It was a mistake,” Eva said eagerly, “but I can learn from my mistakes. I’m here to get a degree in marketing.”
“That’s why we’re meeting,” Lauren said. “We want our students to get off on the right foot, so to speak. I’m here to show you how to choose the correct career path.” She handed Eva a package. “Here’s a way for you to get out of debt and to be successful. It’s an application for Pfizer. Every class you take will prepare you for working at Pfizer, for your life after grad school.” She looked at Lauren. “You’re here so you can get a job, right?” Eva nodded her head. “Good,” Lauren said. “We don’t want you to waste your time and our money.”
Just like Lauren promised, Eva went straight from grad school into a lucrative career for Pfizer. Her specialty was product branding, creating a name and image for the hundreds of new medications Pfizer released every year. It was one of the few accomplishments of the Obama administration, mandating health insurance for everyone. Business boomed. Demand for new medication, doctors, hospital equipment, and medical malpractice attorneys soared.
Eva signed a contract with Pfizer to be an intern for seven years after she graduated. Pfizer paid for her grad school tuition, room and board in exchange for her contractual services as an intern. Eva excelled in that environment; she was now one of Pfizer’s top marketing operatives with her own group of interns. The UCLA experiment proved to be successful and corporations now ran the majority of the colleges based on a simple philosophy: the only rational reason to go to school was to immediately obtain a corporate job.
Eva dropped her new robe on the bathroom floor and stepped into her glass-walled shower. “Water,” she said. “Three minutes,” barked her tiny shower head. Droplets of water popped and fizzed through the pinholes in the nozzle. Eva wrinkled her nose at the smell, a combination of the municipal chemical mix and good old chlorine. She hurriedly washed and rinsed her body. She had barely rinsed the conditioner from her hair when the water sputtered and stopped.
“Three minutes is bullshit,” Eva muttered, stepping out of the shower and reaching for a towel. She rubbed herself dry, tossed the towel on the counter, and studied the jars of scented creme. Eva reached for the tall blue crystal bottle, the one with the long neck and elaborate stopper. She opened it and sniffed. “Costa Rican Waterfall,” Eva laughed as she rubbed the lotion on her legs. “Not even close.”
TO BE CONTINUED….