Palm Springs is known to many as God’s Waiting Room. A not altogether unwarranted nickname as the average age of its inhabitants appears to be around 82. People seem to move here somewhere between old age and death. They are attracted by its easy lifestyle and desert climate where the sun shines 360 days a year, which seems to prolong the inevitable, causing the Waiting Room to fill up with healthy suntanned octogenarians who have no intention of moving on just yet. Is it just a coincidence that the towns initials, P.S. also stands for post script, the very last sentence before the end?
This is where Gordon and I decided to buy a second home, not you understand because we were anxious to get our seat in the Waiting Room. We are far too young for that. Of course everyone who moves here feels they are too young, but in our case it is obviously true! What attracted us was the weather and the huge gay population, not necessarily in that order. There are many guesstimates as to what percentage of the population of Palm Springs is gay, some of which put it at over fifty percent. Whatever the figures, it is a place where heterosexuals appear to be in the minority and have no choice but to accept the homosexuals. That’s a wonderful change from the rest of the world and sets the Fabulosity Meter ringing.
Palm Springs is also an amazingly friendly place where creating a social life is as easy as opening your front door and waving a bottle of vodka in the air. People come running, and as long as you keep refreshing the bottle, they are happy to be your friend. Most people are retired and looking to fill their lives with friends and social activities. Activities include, and often seem limited to, golf, in which we do not participate, and drinking, in which we might participate from time to time, just to be sociable you understand.
Another activity is Sunday Brunch. This seems particularly popular because it combines golf and drinking without requiring you to leave your chair. Many of the brunch restaurants are located in golf club houses affording lovely views of the course and of other more energetic people actually playing golf. Almost all of these restaurants (particularly the ones that want to thrive) offer all you can drink mimosas or champagne with brunch. Well you know me, I have never been one to turn down a glass of bubbles, particularly when it is followed by several more. This clever combination ensures that these wily restaurants are packed for at least three hours every week. Offering all you can drink champagne is a dangerous thing to do in Palm Springs and could easily bankrupt a place on their first Sunday, but the restaurants haven’t survived this long without figuring out how to make it work.
They have scoured the world for the cheapest bottle of bubbly on the market, and the one that most of them have found comes somewhat surprisingly in a screw top bottle. They then import it from some third world country, risk the wrath of France by calling it champagne, and mask its cheap slightly metallic taste by mixing it with ample quantities of orange juice. The classier restaurants have trained their sommeliers never to open the bottle in front of their diners and to carefully place their hand over the label as they pour. The cheaper establishments don’t have sommeliers and the waiters are blissfully unaware of the impression they are making, unscrewing the bottles in front of their customers. However as it is included in the price, nothing will stop the ageing patrons from drinking as much as they can, their taste buds already impaired by the Bloody Mary they had before leaving home.
We have just arrived in Palm Springs for a four month stay. On Sunday we set off to our favourite brunch spot, leaving home at 10.30, in an effort to beat the crowds. Escena is the restaurant we choose, not necessarily for the food, but for the fabulous views of the mountains that circle Palm Springs
We get there early enough to snag an outdoor table. This is of course one of the classier restaurants (why else would we go there) and the mimosas are pre mixed in large crystal jugs which the waiters bring to your table. This elegant presentation insures that the customer never sees the actual champagne bottle. We are immediately recognised and the crystal jug appears almost before we are seated, as they know that nothing makes me grumpier than having to wait for bubbles.
Soon after we are seated three women enter the restaurant and wait for the Maître D. They look like Charlie’s Angels on the run from an old people’s home. The breasts have drooped, the waist has thickened (but not by much) and the skin has weathered, but the hairstyles haven’t changed. They are still blondes with long nylon tresses carefully given the natural windblown treatment. They are wearing 6 inch heels and clinging sweaters with plunging necklines. Their deeply tanned and deeply wrinkled bosoms bravely on display with enormous necklaces nestling warmly between them.
There are two types of women in Palm Springs: those who have taken advantage of every possible medical procedure and surgeon’s knife to stretch and tighten their skin until you can beat it like a drum, and those who haven’t. These three women haven’t. It may be a decision they now regret. They have sat in the sun for decades, aiding the tanning process with ample applications of baby oil. Their skin is now deeply tanned with wrinkles which have become crevices that elephants would be proud to call their own.
They look like three Shar Pei’s out on the town.
We can’t take our eyes off them. They enter the room like stars, expecting everyone to recognise them. But this is Palm Springs. Everyone looks like them, even some of the men.
The Maître D sits them at the table next to ours and the mimosas appear. One of them waves the jug away announcing in a loud voice that they never add anything to champagne.
“Just bring me the bottle” she says, implying that she doesn’t even need a glass.
The bottle is emptied and the conversation gets louder.
Another bottle is ordered.
The conversation is now verging on the vulgar, a great place for conversation to verge, I always think. References to sex seep into every discussion a little surprising for ladies who are, to put it delicately, past their prime. Gordon and I are fascinated, our brunch long since forgotten, as we hang on every word.
The waiter is taking their order when one says “ I’ll have the poached eggs please. But remember I don’t like them soft. I like them hard.” Pausing for dramatic effect, she takes a deep breath to plump up her bosom and turning slightly to bat her eyes at us, announces in a loud voice “I like EVERYTHING hard!”
The three of them collapse into girlish giggles.
Three pairs of alcohol soaked eyes turn our way.
“Jeannie, Babs and Mimi. Born in 1933, 1935 and 1937” another says “ You decide which name goes with which date”
A breathtakingly honest introduction attached to a question that neither of us is going anywhere near.
Besides we are still taking in their names. Did they create the names to go with their look? They are perfect! I couldn’t have made up names that so closely matched the windswept nylon hair, the plunging necklines and the huge jewelry
Then, as if on a game show where they have to compete in the “can you shock the gay guys” competition, they take it in turns to tell us their life history as defined by the number of husbands they had. Each sentence is punctuated by a glass of champagne.
Jeannie starts. She has a huge ring collection which she was obviously reluctant to leave at home. Each finger is weighed down with numerous rings, every one of them gold and every one of them holding jewels that glitter in the sunlight. Her skin is as brittle as parchment which probably explains all the rings. If she tried to remove them, her skin would crack and peel off.
“I have had four husbands and divorced every one of them. That’s enough for one lifetime. Now I just have sex.” she cackles
Another bottle arrives at the table.
Babs is I suspect the oldest of the three, but is the most provocatively dressed. Her deeply tanned bosom is on full display, resplendent with wrinkles and age spots but still positively perky. It is shown off perfectly in a tight fitting low cut pink sweater carefully selected to match her pink nail polish. She could, I think, still devour most men she comes across, while washing them down with a Bloody Mary. She pushes her enormous white framed sunglasses up onto her forehead where they become caught in a mass of wrinkles.
“My first three husbands died on me” she says. I wonder how literally I should take that statement.
“So for my fourth husband, I selected one twelve years younger. He was the best sex I ever had. I thought he would stay the course, but he couldn’t stand the pace either. I just seem to wear men out” she sighs, taking another swig of champagne to console herself
Mimi has spent hours in front of the mirror before leaving the house, carefully applying makeup with a trowel. It is a wasted effort. The sun has done its damage years ago and nothing can mask that.
“I just had one husband” she says. “He was a complete bastard and useless in bed, but he had so much money I couldn’t make myself leave him”
It appears that Mimi is about to put a damper on the entertainment. But not for long.
Reaching for her glass, she says “My father used to encourage me by saying, remember you are sitting on a million dollars” The girls shriek with laughter again.
“ He was Jewish,” she continues, as if that explains everything “and now I’m Jewish by injection. It took many injections to work, because he was so bad at it.
“And then he died” she continues “and you know what the little shit had done. He had spent all his money. He made me Jewish and then left me with nothing. “
She empties her glass and then reaches out to me with her claw like hand, her fingers gripping my wrist with unexpected strength
“I love you guys” she says. Even in America, where the phrase “I Love you” is so overused it has become meaningless, this seems a little early in our friendship to make such a pronouncement
“My father was family” she continues using a term for gay men that has sprung up in recent years, for people who find the word “gay” too frivolous, the word “queer” too harsh and the word “homosexual” too clinical. But the word “family ”seems to me to be too obtuse and too wholesome.
“I remember at the age of twelve, my father woke us all up at two o’clock in the morning and said we had twenty minutes to collect our belongings and then we had to leave. He had been caught in the act and was terrified that he would be tarred and feathered by the townsfolk. I was so frightened, and so scared for my father. Ever since then I have loved all the boys”
“We all love you boys” Jeannie and Babs chime in.
“I have lots of gay boys as clients” says Babs
My mind reels. Babs is in her seventies. What service could she be offering that gay men would use.
I ask the question
She hands me her card.
“I am an agent for a famous skin cream” she says “it’s the most fabulous anti-aging treatment ever. I have used it for years. And just look at me. I am seventy five. Can you believe it”
Not only can I believe it, I could swear to it.
“You do look fabulous” I lie, lifting another glass of champagne to my lips.
“I used to think I inherited my wonderful skin” Babs continues. “When I was young my parents told me that I was part German, part Scottish, part Greek and part Cherokee. I was so excited. And you know the Indians have perfect skin that never wrinkles in the sun. “
There is a flaw in this story, I think
“I grew up feeling special” Babs says “ But later I learned that I misunderstood what they were telling me . I am actually part Czechoslovakian not Cherokee. I used to think I was exotic, but now I know I am just Eastern European”
A simple mistake, but surely one look in a mirror would have told her .
The girls are getting maudlin, the table is littered with empty bottles of screw top champagne, and the restaurant is empty. It is time to leave.
The girls promise to call. But we know they won’t. They want to be part of the family but when they return to their homes, all alone in front of the mirror, they will know that they aren’t.