Saturday

PAJAMA PARTY

I was stepping into my pajama bottoms when Alex stuck his head in the doorway of my closet. That afternoon I had bought us matching black silk pajamas with silver piping at Nordstrom’s. He already had his on.
“Aren’t you wearing underwear?” he asked.
“Why should I wear underwear?”
“I don’t know, you’ll be moving around kissing and hugging dozens of people you hardly know.”
“It’s a pajama party, Alex.”
“My point exactly.”
“You know who wears underwear under his pajamas?”
“I know, I know, you’ve got to let everything breathe down there.”
“Your cousin Ira.”
I began buttoning my pajama top.
“No bra, either?”
“Are you wearing any underwear?”
“No. I was just wondering if you were.”
A few weeks ago an invitation arrived in the mail to the annual New Year’s Eve party at the Rivertons. Guests were to wear pajamas. If you didn’t bring your own, they’d have some there for you.
The Rivertons, Claire and Ben, have only been married three years. Each has been married twice before. They have tons of money, no children, and to the uninformed observer leave a pretty unfettered life. No one lives an unfettered life, of course; and those who do usually find a way to add fettering. The Rivertons have recently purchased two enormous and incredibly skittish Rhodesian ridgebacks who, when left alone for more than an hour, shit on the Rivertons’ bed.
I have never come right out and said it, even to Alex, but it is quite clear to me that the Rivertons are promoting sexual relations among their various friends, hoping, of course, to get into the mix themselves. If not, then why the pajamas? Why the lethally spiked punches? Why the dancing to slow songs from the fifties? And, of course, it’s not like the Rivertons are alone in this pursuit. An invitation to their parties is one of the hottest tickets in all of Desert Vistas. Not getting a ticket is either a sign the Rivertons think you’re too ugly – and their standards are fairly inclusive – or maybe just not the kind of person who wants to smooch someone else’s spouse.
The party was pretty typical of past evenings at the Rivertons. A chef and his staff had taken over the enormous kitchen and were turning out an endless profusion of hors d’oeuvres, pastas, and roasts. There were three separate bars manned by good-looking, Vegas-styled lady bartenders. A young wait staff, college boys and girls dressed alike in striped blue and white shirts and khaki pants, snaked through the party with appetizers of tuna tartar and spinach dem sem.
As the clock struck twelve, Alex and I kissed, declared our love for each other, and set out in opposite directions. Somewhere around eighty people in sleeping attire were wandering through every room of the Riverton’s large, sprawling house giving each other New Years Eve kisses.
Several of the guests were part of my and Alex’s particular clique. Our closest friend, the striking, silver-haired Raymond Phayer, whose wife Miranda died last year, was there with a woman much younger than himself. Then there were the Hanrattys, Emily and Tim. He lost his prostate to cancer about eight years ago, Emily her left breast to cancer last year. The Hanrattys are clearly the most symbiotic couple in our circle. You will see them at various Desert Vista functions with their backs to each other in intense conversation with other people; but when you survey the crowd you will discover that they are almost never more than ten feet apart. Rounding out the group are Sarah and Ethan Lerner. She’s a psychoanalyst back in New York, he an ad guy with one of the big mega-agencies. I think all of the women in our group have had a crush on Raymond at one time or another, but Sarah is the only one who has fooled around with him. Or at least that’s the rumor.
I lost sight of Alex, and I assume he of me. Often at an affair like this I’ll find Alex in the den or squirreled away on the second floor landing, chatting up someone much younger than himself, an angry look creasing his face as I come upon the scene. But the one thing I’ve learned about myself over the years, which has surprised me given the extreme passivity of my first two decades of life, is that I’ll be damned if I’m going to be one of those compliant, mousey wives who lets her husband ride roughshod over her. I fight back.
Having just kissed a heavy set old codger in the media room, I was turning to head back upstairs when a tall man in striped pajamas stepped in front of me. “My turn,” he said. I looked up and recognized him as one of the many assistant golf pros on staff here at Desert Vistas. The Rivertons like to mix attractive, young members of the staff in with their friends who, like the Rivertons themselves, tend to be fifty-five and up.
Shawn was far from the best-looking of the pros, who, in general, tend to be a handsome lot. But he was slender and clean shaven, with a nice smile and lively eyes, and couldn’t have been more than thirty-five.
I must tell you that for a woman of sixty-four, I look quite good for my age. Not, of course, without a considerable amount of help from one Park Avenue surgeon named Saul Hoffman. The great thing about Saul is that he believes in understatement. If he does your eyes, he does just enough to freshen your appearance, keeping you well short of that look of perpetual astonishment. When he cleans up that awful turkey neck that gathers beneath your chin, he aims to take a decade off your age, not three. And he’s an absolute master sculptor with botox and collagen.
This isn’t to say I don’t have some natural charms of my own. My thick, lustrous mane of black hair has only recently begun to show a little gray. And I’ve always had a wonderful bosom, plump, round, soft, and surprisingly buoyant. Up until I was sixty I could still pass the pencil test.
So I was not surprised that a younger man had lined up to kiss me. Shawn brought his lips down to mine and held them there for several seconds and didn’t back away. His arms were around me, mine around him. We pulled our faces apart. “Happy New Year, Mrs. Posnick,” he said. The pros at Desert Vistas are forbidden to call any of the members by their first name.
“Happy New Year, Shawn,” I said. And then, quite naturally, we moved our lips back into place, and very gently he slid his tongue between my teeth. This excited me wildly, for it was the first time in over thirty years that a tongue other than Alex’s had been in my mouth. I pushed my tongue against Shawn’s and pictured two eels in a wild, frenzied wrestling match. We stayed like this for what felt like a full minute. Finally, breathless, I pulled away and glanced frantically around the room to see if Alex were watching, if anyone were watching. But for the most part, people were going about their own business, kissing and moving on, looking for the next person to kiss. Infidelity, such a fierce ingredient in our DNA, was being channeled here into a safe, institutionalized format.
“Have a great 2006, Mrs. Posnick,” Shawn said, and, reluctantly, we wandered away from each other. I walked upstairs and wondered vaguely where Alex was.
At around one o’clock, one of those reconstituted famous black rock and roll groups from the fifties – the Rivertons had flown them all the way out to Scottsdale from Chicago – began playing oldies. First, there were jitterbugs, “Get A Job” and Laverne Baker’s “Tweedle-y Dee.” I danced with Ethan Lerner and Tim Hanratty. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Alex talking with the widow Norsgaard, an older woman whose gentleman friend had keeled over dead on the golf course less than a month ago. His name was Swenson, and at one time he had been head of General Motors or something. She, rumor has it, gets over one hundred million dollars a year in royalties from the natural gas wells discovered quite by accident on the enormous ranch her deceased husband had bought somewhere in Louisiana. She drives a Bentley convertible that Alex always insists on pointing out to me. “The Gentiles,” he says, “they’re the ones with the real money.”
By two o’clock the band segued from fast songs to ballads. As they began to play “In The Still of The Night” just about everyone who could walk (we are at an age where several at the party were on walkers or in wheelchairs) migrated toward the dance floor. I looked up and there was Shawn, the assistant golf pro, making a beeline for me. I held up my arms and moved into his. As the song played on, we pressed our bodies closer. It was very sexy just wearing pajamas, and before long I could feel his erection pressing into my thigh.
As “In The Still Of The Night” ended, “Earth Angel” began, and Shawn and I held onto each other like a sailor and his girl saying good-by at the dock. I kept on peering from side to side to see if Alex were watching, but now he was dancing with the widow, cheek to cheek, which was not easy for in heels she was a good six inches taller than the pipsqueak. His eyes were closed, his color flushed, his face buried in the crook of her neck, as if he were somehow trying to crawl inside her. I was relieved. If he wants to press crotches with women in their seventies, I thought, have at it.
The band slipped into a rendition of an old Platters’ song. Shawn asked if I wanted to go outside and see the Riverton’s newly installed vanishing pool, but I said I’d prefer just to keep on dancing. It was now after two o’clock. Alex and the widow were no longer to be seen. I felt an impulse to excuse myself from Shawn and track down Alex to make sure he wasn’t stepping over the line. But I noticed one other couple still dancing, Raymond Phayer and his young date, Lily Blechner. I dragged Shawn over and introduced everybody.
“Young man,” said Raymond to Shawn, “would you be so kind as to lead my friend here in something a little more akin to your generation. I’m afraid I’m boring her to death.” Raymond ushered Lily toward Shawn, who eagerly led her to the center of the floor. Raymond fixed me with his bottomless blue eyes. “That was such a moving eulogy you gave for Miranda,” he said, taking my left hand between his two. “I’ve never really thanked you properly.”
I must tell you that almost instantly my feelings for Shawn began to ebb and be replaced, a hundredfold, with feelings for Raymond. He lifted my right hand with his left hand, put his arm around my waist, and pulled me to the dance floor with an extraordinary sense of comfort and ease. I pressed my torso to him, my cheek against his chest. If there was a fevered quality in the way Shawn and I held each other, this was somehow warmer, more comforting. I preferred the smell of Raymond’s cologne, the touch of his silk pajamas, even the softer feel of his body. It was more familiar and, in its imperfectness, more sensuousness. It took Alex and I a decade of fucking to realize you can’t buck an orgasm out of a woman, you have to knead it out of her.
The song ended, Lily led Shawn back to my side and told Raymond that she really wanted to be going. “How do you like that,” he said, “the young unable to keep up with the silver generation.” He took my hand again. “Do call me, Stella,” he said. “I’d love somehow to repay you for that lovely speech. Perhaps dinner one night.” He bent down and placed the softest of kisses on my lips.
By three o’clock, the lateness of the hour, the band closing up shop, my suddenly waning interest in the assistant pro, and the rapid thinning of the crowd all conspired to leave me hanging around in the front vestibule wondering where my fucking husband was. It was getting embarrassing saying good-night to couple after couple, many of whom seemed to feel it necessary to ask if I wanted a ride home. “Just waiting for the husband,” I said in the comedic role of long-suffering wife waiting for flirtatious hard-drinking hubby.
Indeed, Alex has had his flirtations over the years, I’m sure even a few little flings; but he had never left me at a party, nor could I imagine his doing so. I wandered from room to room, going so far as to look into closets, under tables.
By four, the party was officially over. The Rivertons asked if I wanted to stay over. “You’re already in your pajamas,” cracked Ben. Instead, I hitched a ride with the Levins, who live down the block from us in Palla Verde Forest. I kept my fear under wraps, and, thankfully, they didn’t ask any questions.
I was hoping when I got home that I’d find that Alex, having grown utterly bored being stuck with the widow and pissed off at me for dirty dancing with Shawn, had left in a snit, assuming I’d get a ride with somebody else. But he was nowhere to be found.
It was now twenty minutes after five. New Year’s Day. And my husband had not come home. He was a missing person. I picked up the phone but was too embarrassed to call the police. If there’s one thing I know about Alex, he knows how to take care of himself. I did not suspect foul play.
I rummaged through the kitchen drawers and found a Desert Vistas Members Directory from way back in 1999. There was only one Norsgaard: Edward and Joelle Norsgaard. Edward, the natural gas man, has been dead since 2000.
I phoned the number in the book, half expecting to get a recorded voice telling me the number was no longer in service, but after what felt like a dozen rings a man answered. “Ma’am, do you know what time it is?” he asked in a hoarse, sleep-befogged, southern-accented voice.
“Yes, I’m terribly sorry, but my husband was chatting with Mrs. Norsgaard for quite some time at the Rivertons’ New Year’s Eve party, and I was wondering if they possibly carried the conversation to her house.”
“What the hell?” he said rather gruffly.
Summoning my courage, I repeated the story.
“Hold on,” he said. I could hear him lay the phone down, then his footsteps retreating, then his voice bellowing, “Mama!”
It must have been a full five minutes before Alex picked up the receiver. “Stella?”
“Where the hell are you?”
“How dare you call me here. You woke Joelle’s son.”
“Are you fucking kidding! I was worried to death about you.”
There was a long pause, then, “You should be.”
“Are you okay, Alex? What’s the matter?”
“I am having the best sex of my life, Stella, the best.”
I knew that couldn’t be true. We’ve really had quite an excellent sex life. “I would have thought she’d be too dry to get it in.”
“That’s revolting.”
“Wait a second, you’ve just announced that you’re cheating on me, and I’m supposed to be refined.”
“I’ll be by to get some things in the morning. I’ll be staying with Joelle till I get a place of my own.”
“You’re insane,” I said, but I believe he’d already hung up.

Alex did indeed come by for some of his things later in the day. I followed him around the house as he tossed underpants and toiletries, shirts and papers into one of our giant-sized Tumis. “You’re sick,” I said. “I mean, some hot woman half your age, the cart lady with the great ass on Anastazie – I could understand. But a dried up old cunt over 80 – “
“Joelle just turned 75.”
“Are you trying to fuck your mother, Alex? Seriously, Freud writes about this stuff. You’re supposed to have outgrown your oedipal urge somewhere around the onset of puberty. Did you go down on her?”
Alex reverted to giving me the silent treatment. I followed him into the den. He put his laptop and a whole sheaf of file folders into the suitcase.
“What’s an 85 year old pussy taste like?” I asked. “Sawdust? Cobwebs? Vermont cheddar. You really need help. It’s one step away from necrophilia.”
Alex spun around and pointed at me. “I want you out now,” he screamed. “Now! Get out of my den!”
“Fuck you. This is my house, and I’ll put my ass down anywhere I want.” As if to prove the point, I went and sat on the couch.
“Get the fuck out!” he bellowed. His voice was frighteningly loud. I didn’t budge, just sat there with my arms folded in front of my chest and stared at him.
“Okay,” he said, “have it your way.”
He went over to the far wall, pulled back a curtain, and knelt in front of our safe. He hunkered in front of it, his back to me, blocking the combination wheel as he spun it this way and that. I couldn’t have cared less, since Alex had carefully written down the combination for me when we first moved in. I heard the door squeak open, then Alex sweep a whole bunch of stuff from the safe into the suitcase. I wasn’t worried in the least. I figured a good divorce lawyer could unravel this in an hour.
Alex stood and began wheeling the Tumi toward the front door. I scampered ahead of him and stood in his way. “So you finally got your tall blond Texas shickse, didn’t you. Only this one’s almost 80. How pathetic can you get, Alex, how despicably self-hating. ‘Oh, I so want a gentile girl I’ll take one who’s fifteen years older than I am, even though she has a shriveled pussy and tits that sag down to her waist. I hate myself so much for being a Jew that I’ll dump my Jew wife for a goy, any goy, no matter how old and decrepit’ – ”
Alex’s hand suddenly flew up from his side and slapped me across the face, solidly and hard. It felt good. I had really got to him. “You fucked Graham Harrison less than four months after marrying me. Four fucking months. Oh, you don’t know how I’ve waited for this day, Stella, you can’t imagine how satisfying this is.”
“I did not fuck Graham Harrison.”
“You did, you fucked him just as surely as I made love to Joelle three times last night. ”
“Made love! The image disgusts me.”
“I’m paying you back, Stella. You cheated on me in the worst possible way, and now I’m paying you back.”
Pulling his Tumi behind him, Alex headed for the door.
“That is such bullshit,” I screamed after him. “Such total bullshit. You’re just using that as an excuse. You’ve wished I was a tall blond shickse since the day you met me, and you’re using this Graham Harrison buba meiser as an excuse.” Alex pulled opened the front door, walked out without closing it, and hasn’t been back since.

Over the past five years or so I’ve known scores of middle-aged wives who have quite suddenly and unceremoniously been dumped for younger women. Looking for answers, they invariably begin reading voraciously on the subject. And, of course, they talk about almost nothing else. Here are some of the disquieting things I’ve learned about the abandoned middle-aged wife:
There is only a one in four chance she will marry again. There is a three in five chance she will never have sexual intercourse again. She will enter some form of psychotherapy. Her consumption of alcohol will double. Her weight will change dramatically – sometimes increasing but just as often dropping precipitously. Although she will console herself with the notion that her husband is merely going through a phase, only in the rarest of circumstances does the wandering husband ever return.
I was determined not to suffer one of these fates. Toward that end, I called up Raymond Phayer and invited him to dinner. This was on the fourth day after Alex’s departure. The Desert Vistas grapevine being as viral as it is, particularly since the advent of yenta-mail, I was pretty sure Raymond would know by now that Alex had split. And if he didn’t, well, what a delicious surprise would be sprung upon him.
I spent the day cleaning and dusting. I bought flowers, had my hair washed and blown dry, drove all the way down to Whole Foods to get an organic steak. Pushing the dining table into the darkest corner of the room, I set the table amidst a sea of Swedish candle holders. I put Sade on the CD player. In the refrigerator were two bottles of pinot gris from a wonderful Wilamette winery that Alex had discovered several years ago.
I decanted a bottle of 2001 Telegraphe Chateauneuf. Then I took a long hot bath to relax myself. I shaved my legs and under my arms. Standing in front of the full length mirror in our bathroom, I leaned way over and gave myself a bit of a bikini trim. It was taxing, nervous work, and bending over like that I felt a powerful hot flash welling up inside me. It wouldn’t subside, and I could just imagine what the perspiration was doing to my hair.
It was getting dark as I stepped naked onto the patio just outside our bedroom. As soon as the sun drops, the desert gets deliciously cool….and the night breeze wafting across my body was soothing, drying, bracing. There was something very liberating and sexy about being outside naked in the night. I’m not sure why, but it isn’t the kind of thing I would have done if Alex were around.
I came back inside and studied myself in the mirror. Outside in the dark I had imagined my body as somehow longer, thinner – voluptuous and soft, yes, but muscular and sinewy as well. The reality of my sagging flesh and burgeoning belly made me close my eyes.
I looked at the clock. Ten minutes after seven. I had twenty minutes to get dressed. My mood was suddenly despairing. I just couldn’t imagine my evening with Raymond getting beyond a formal patter. He simply wouldn’t find me attractive enough.
I lay down on the bed and took my vibrator out of my night table drawer. Placing it between my legs, I tried to find a certain spark. I pictured Raymond sneaking glances at my bosom over dinner. I imagined reaching over him to fill his wine glass, pressing my breasts against his back.
Nothing was working. I cast about for other imagery and pulled up the visage of Shawn, the assistant golf pro. Once again I could feel his tongue slipping between my lips. As I massaged myself, I recalled his aroma, the feel of his hard on through our pajamas. In just a minute or two, I was perilously close to an orgasm. I shut off the vibrator and slipped it under my pillow, now feeling quite optimistic that Raymond and I would wind up in bed.
I pulled my black dress over my shoulders and re-examined myself in the mirror. I was pleased with the color in my cheeks, the strong amorous feelings surging through my body.
The doorbell rang. “Hold on a second,” I hollered. I smoothed my dress over my backside, took a deep breath, and swept open the door.
“Good evening, Stella,” said Raymond in his slightly theatrical voice. He handed me a bouquet of flowers. “You’ve met Lily, haven’t you?” Standing next to him was the tall young woman he had brought to the pajama party. “We’re not late, are we?” she asked.
“No, not at all. Come in, I was just setting the table.”
Instead of the living room, as I had originally planned, I led them into the den, from where it was impossible to look into the dining room. I poured them each a glass of wine. “Excuse me just one minute,” I said. “I’ve got a few last minute things to do in the kitchen.”
I grabbed a glass, a plate, silverware and rushed into the dining room. I hurriedly added a third place setting, then dragged a chair to the table. Raymond must have suspected something because he hollered out from the den, “Stella? You’ve heard that Lily and I are officially an item now, haven’t you?”
“Of course,” I yelled back. “All of Desert Vistas knows.”
“It’s wonderful. She takes such good care of me.”
“That is so great,” I shouted back. And all I could think was, Boy, am I glad I fucked Graham Harrison, my first boss out of secretary school, all those years ago.

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