Cottage Tease

The new year swaggered in and bitch-slapped me hard — the kind of smackdown the universe delivers to tell a person to wake up or knock it off. Or something. I'm still not quite sure. All I know is it had my attention.

Let me break it down: I'd just returned from a vacation (another one) in Finland, where my man informed me he would be staying put indefinitely. My three best amigas just got 86ed from the social rotation (one gave birth to her first daughter; one got fired and took an interim night job; and the other proved herself a less-than-faithful friend.) And at the ol' day job, things were looking less than spiffy — pretty bleak, actually. And don't even get me started on the ten pounds I'd put on.

So feeling abandoned, unemployed, and fat on the first Saturday in 2007, I was glum. But not defeated. I was still the Night Rider, after all, so I strapped on my nifty Mary Janes, pasted a perma-smile on my face, and went to see friends Keith Michaud and Rob Nieminen (another Finn! Maybe I'm becoming a groupie?) play an acoustic gig at the Cottage.

And then did what I do best — insinuated myself into the crowd. I joined Keith's girlfriend, Chelcey, at the table just outside the French doors where the guys were set up. And Rob's girl, Charlene, and her friend Alexia claimed the other seats. Instant friends! Things were looking better already, especially when the girls provided me with some perspective.

"You don't know the rat lady?" Chelcey gasped, setting her empty tequila shot down, her brown eyes wide in disbelief when I asked who they were talking about.

"She goes around with two rats on her shoulder," Alexia explained excitedly, conjuring my memories of seeing such a woman several times as I drove down Federal Highway in Lake Worth. "She was telling me in the gas station that 'Daisy' got out and came home pregnant."

It was a great reminder to count my blessings. At least I wasn't looking at becoming a rat granny. Nor was I, as our waitress reminded me, the worst case this Lake Worth lounge had seen.

"A crackhead was in here for like five days last week," our server, Seabrin, said with a gentle laugh. "She was dancing with the heating lamp and ranting about all the crazy MFers in Lake Worth, and then she started to bend a fork to use it as a weapon to protect herself. She's not welcome back."

So as long as I didn't dance with appliances, molest the flatware, or carry morally irresolute vermin around, I figured I could pass myself off as someone who had it pretty much together. Tonight, at least, and that was reason to celebrate. So I ordered a beer — a light one — mindful of the calories despite the array of interesting drafts — a cherry wheat, a Belgian ale, a hefeweizen, a pear cider among them.

Keith was playing an original, singing "My compass cracked; it spins around" as the moon beamed at me through the fringe of the palm fronds and the ocean breeze inspired the votives to dance. Inside, the colors of the stained glass behind the bar reminded me of a dreamy Chagall, and the hanging candleholders above the bar made it feel like a place of worship. OK, so maybe I had no idea where I was going or what was coming next in my life, but I was living in the moment.

The roar of a motorcycle broke the reverie and inspired Alexia to talk about herself since her boyfriend builds custom bikes. I asked her what she did for work.

When she said she was an aesthetician whose specialty was eyelash extensions — a service that costs $300 — I asked, "Can I get some big ol' drag-queen eyelashes?" (Hey, for that kind of money, I'd want my peeper sweepers man-sized.)

I was joking, but she's serious about her work.

"Oh, no. It'd break your lashes," she said. "It's getting a bad rap because people don't know what they're doing, and they take two to three hours and put on lashes that are too long and break the clients' natural lashes."

"Do you think people getting boob implants are making a similar mistake?" I asked.

An eruption of feminine laughter filled the air. Then everyone shared a faux-globes encounter.

"I used to work at Blue Martini, and every time someone got her boobs done, they'd go to the bathroom and everyone would feel them," Charlene reported.

"I met a woman at Dada who had just gotten implants, and she made me feel them, and then like two months later, she tried to introduce herself to me again," Chelcey recalled. "I was like, 'Yeah, I know you. You had me feel your implants.' And she was like, 'No, I didn't.' And I was like 'No, you're right. Yeah, I made that up. '"

Pulling apart the lychee that garnished her martini with her fingers, Alexia chimed in, "Someone asked me once where I had mine done."

We all looked down at her healthy cleavage.

"They're real," she quickly added, causing Charlene to note that a friend had once reported that he'd never felt genuine big boobs.

At this point, I figured it was time to bust the estrogen bubble. As the band took a break, I called out, "Hey, Rob, what do you think about the '80s making a comeback?"

"I had a glorious mullet," he said, running a hand dramatically over the now-missing hair that had once grown past his shoulders. "Not just a mullet — a glorious one. It had the feathered sides."

"You gonna bring it back?"

"Not singlehandedly... although I probably could," he retorted, then shook his head. "I already have that stain on my record."

I understood. The mullet stain is a hard one to wash out.

Fortunately, some single guys showed up, including one in a pink shirt who introduced himself as Austin.

"I was just in Austin in August. It was hot... and fun," I said, searching for something to keep the conversation going. "Are you hot and fun?"

I was surprised that the universe didn't send me another divine bitch slap.

It did, however, send me Ginger — a woman I'd seen in the bathroom earlier with a pink T-shirt that read "You looked better on MySpace" — who was now standing on the sidewalk with a couple of friends.

My question "Where did you get that shirt?" launched a story.

"I have the ultimate bad MySpace date for you," she promised. "He said he was 45; he turned out to be 68. He said he owned his own place on the water. He lives in a trailer park on the Intracoastal. Then he asked me to drive to the bar, and he had no money. I had to have the bartender cover for me while I ducked out."

"So the T-shirt is real?" her friend Anthony interjected, surprised.

"Yes! I'm scarred for life," Ginger said, rolling her eyes.

And yet, she hadn't lost hope. She was still Internet dating.

It was probably just coincidence that Keith was soon playing "Faith" because he was also playing other cheesy covers to keep himself and his buddies entertained. Rob was twirling his sticks heavy-metal style for the same purpose (earlier, he had joked that the blood spatters on his drum kit were proof that he was "the best drummer this side of I-95").

Or maybe it was more than coincidence (it was past midnight and now officially the Lord's day.) Maybe the song's inspiration came from above. You know, like some post-smackdown comfort, a divine message sent via George Michael to Keith Michaud and then to our ears: "Hang in there, y'all, and in the meantime, have another beer."

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Marya Summers