Are you stupid?” the man behind the counter at the garage yelled at me. “Just how stupid are you? How could you be so stupid?”
Honestly, I just stood there, too shocked to say anything.
“Are you an idiot?” he asked, shaking his hand at me.
“Funny you should ask that,” I said, trying to make a joke as I reached into my purse. “As a matter of fact . . .”
I slid the book across the counter toward him.
“What’s this?” he asked, looking over the rim of his grimy circa-1970s glasses. “Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure . . . what? Club? Is that Club? You one of these idiots?”
“Yeah,” I said and tried to laugh. “Pretty much. Guess you could say I wrote the book.”
And to tell the truth, that was no lie.
In fact, I was only a matter of days into my book tour and I had already been called an idiot numerous times.
“I think if you get on a plane right now you’re an idiot,” my mother warmly informed me a week before my plane left for New York. “It’s an ORANGE ALERT, you know. ORANGE. Orange isn’t something to fool around with! Fool around with yellow, green, or purple, but don’t mess with orange! Because I’ll tell you right now, if the orange terrorist gets on a plane, it’s going to be the one you’re on.”
“I know,” I said, trying to reassure her. “At least if it was the purple terrorist, he’d be easy to spot. He can sing ‘I Love You’ all he wants, but when that giant eggplant marches down the aisle, no one loves Barney if he’s gonna be sitting in your row.”
“You shouldn’t be kidding around, you should be scared,” my mother said, simply because she was.
“Scared?” I questioned bravely. “Listen, I’ve got a freckle on my arm that’s changing colors more frequently than a Rainbow Brite, I have a tooth in the back of my mouth that’s thumping louder than a stereo in a ’79 Monte Carlo with a chain steering wheel, and either the zipper on the back of my sweater got bent at the dry cleaner’s or I now have a neck hump the size of a bagel. I ran out of fear before I even left the house this morning.”
But honestly, even I didn’t believe myself.
Although I was determined not to let a silly old orange alert keep me from my long-awaited book tour, my mother had planted a seed. In fact, I had caught my imagination wandering about such an event. I had even choreographed scenarios in my head of lunging at the terrorist with a Vulcan grip and a swift kick where it counts. Then I would throw the weeping, bruised evildoer to the ground and shout, “You tell Osama Yo Mama to bring it on with the chicks who simultaneously have acne, gray hair, and suspicious moles, buddy! Because THAT is anger, Captain Cave, THAT IS ANGER!”
Suddenly, I look down and am dressed in a denim jumpsuit unzipped to my sternum, and behind me, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith (please, don’t talk Drew Barrymore to me—I was a teenager in the seventies and eighties, and as a result spent nearly a decade of my life with curling-iron burns on my ears, neck, and forehead, some of which matured into scars. Let me have my Farrah Fawcett dream—I have earned it) are ready to hand out free samples of Kickbutt Pie. Oh yeah, and my frosted, immaculately feathered hair ROCKS, making a majority of the other passengers visibly jealous. Now, despite the bravado of my Nick at Nite mind, I was days away from the date of my trip and I was trying very hard not to let my mother’s words sink into my brain and nest there. Typically before a big trip I am so excited that I head to the airport days in advance, eating Cinnabons like a bear heading into hibernation. This time, however, I hadn’t even started packing for the three-week-long trip.
I have to go, I told myself, it will be fun. This is your book tour! A trip around the country! Nice hotels, room service—that’s right, room service! Cheesecake and wine at your command! You’re going to great cities, I reminded myself—New York, Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor. It’s like being a rock star, well, without the rock, or the star, but still, you get to do America on your publisher’s dime! And right now, it’s not 117 degrees in any of those places.
But it is where you live.
And honestly, that alone was my inspiration to toss twenty-one pairs of underwear into the washing machine and then throw them into my suitcase. Once I realized that I could remove myself from a Phoenix summer—a place where a coin or safety pin left in the sun on a car seat for seven seconds becomes a glowing-red branding iron—for almost a month, I couldn’t pack fast enough. I even packed a sweater in case I encountered a cold trend and hit temperatures under eighty-five degrees.
Now completely invigorated for my trip, I anticipated more security at the airport than usual due to the alert, and I was right. The security at the airport was heavier than the security at either of Madonna’s weddings, but I was prepared and had arrived almost three hours before my scheduled departure.
What I was not prepared for, however, was my conflict with the metal detector, but I really don’t believe that was my fault. See, the thing that was running through my head when I was getting dressed that morning was “comfort,” not “Don’t wear the pants that need a belt to keep them held up, because you just might have to take that belt off when you go through security. And when your wedding ring sets off the metal detector, the National Guard guy with the machine gun isn’t really going to care that when you hold both your arms out to your sides—including the one that’s clutching at your waistband—your pants will slide down to your fanny faster than a Kennedy getting off a bar stool after happy hour. He won’t care, even if the hysterical, uncontrolled laughter from all two hundred people in line behind you drowns out any beep the little wand might make as it goes over your bra hook and the guilty wedding ring. He won’t care. He’s too busy being mesmerized by the old-grandma panties you’re wearing, particularly the part where the white cotton separates from the elastic for about eight inches and forms what looks like a kangaroo pouch over the girth of your belly.”
“What an idiot,” I heard a man behind me say, and when I turned around I saw that he was shaking his head at me.
“Hey,” I whispered to the National Guard guy as he patted my paunch. “See this guy behind me with no belt? I heard him say he used to golf with Jose Padilla!!”
As if that wasn’t enough of a self-esteem buzzkill to last me for my whole tour, in a matter of hours I would find myself in a greasy, grimy New York City garage being called an idiot again by a guy with glasses so dirty they had turned green, a chip on his shoulder, and, directly underneath, armpit stains bigger than his head.
At least then, however, I was wearing a good percentage of my clothes.
Standing on the corner of Forty-ninth Street and Park in Manhattan, I was desperately trying to hail a cab. On Sex and the City hailing a cab is a piece of fat-free cake. All Sarah Jessica Parker needs to do is make a “Ta—” sound and, as if she just crossed her arms and nodded her head or wiggled her nose, a taxi comes rolling to a stop merely inches away from her sixty-four-pound body, which is draped in transparent clothes, most likely involving knickers and a tube top fashioned from Cling-Wrap.
It’s a snap.
At Forty-ninth and Park, however, Sarah Jessica was not hailing a cab; I was, and I wasn’t exactly having the luck of a fictional, fabulous, gorgeous television character. In the first place, once my hair met the humidity of New York City, I looked as if I was answering a casting call for a revival of Godspell. The hair that I have trouble controlling in the dry, arid desert had now exploded and grown, expanding to such unnatural proportions that I kept seeing this big brown cloud following me out of the corner of my eye. I kept thinking that New York had a desperate pollution issue until I realized that the thing blocking out the sun was my very own head. No one had warned me to bring the necessary hair-care products, but honestly, looking back on it now, I think the only thing that would have prevented my hair from becoming airborne was furniture paste or a net, like the ones dolphins get caught in.
Not having good looks to bank on—now, granted, hailing a taxi isn’t like hitchhiking, where flashing a leg and a bit of cleavage will certainly help you get from Orlando to Branson on fifteen bucks and a pack of GPC Lights—I was at a major disadvantage, because when faced with the choice of steering a vehicle toward Sarah Jessica Parker or Arlo Guthrie in a dress, who are you going to pick? Picking someone up in a taxi isn’t a marriage proposal, certainly, but when it comes to checking out the eye candy or the eyesore in the rearview mirror, well, I lose before the cards are even dealt.
Finally, when all of the more attractive, wealthier-looking people hailing a cab on Park were picked up, a straggler from the taxi herd thankfully took pity on me and pulled over. He was a husky, silver-haired, bulbous-nosed man eating a sandwich with excessive mayonnaise on it, but I hardly had room to be picky.
“Vertigo,” he grunted in what I understood to be a thick Eastern European accent as I plopped myself into the backseat, which smelled like a deli that had been shut down by the city health inspector.
“I’m sorry?” I said, trying to breathe through my nose.
“VERTIGO,” he said louder, and this time shook his hand toward me.
I shook my head. I had no idea, although I was about to inform him that as a passenger, I had the right to a clean taxi that did not smell like a storage unit for dried, salted meats, as well as an English-speaking driver, and, if Mr. Salami needed reminding, I would be more than happy to pull out the Passenger Bill of Rights that I had received from the taxi monitor at JFK and show him precisely where he was in violation.
Instead, Mr. Salami yelled at me again, “VERE TO GO?”
“Oh,” I replied with relief and a chuckle. “Oh! I thought you were talking about the movie, or got the translation for ‘car sickness’ wrong.”
Mr. Salami just stared at me. He did not chuckle.
“Fifty-first and Eighth,” I delivered quickly.
Six minutes later, I was at the corner of Fifty-first and Eighth. Remembering my mother’s words of caution, apart from her Orange Alert advice, I felt for my wallet before I got out. “You’re going to get mugged. Count on it. I’m a New Yorker. I know. Don’t look up at the tall buildings, everyone will think you’re an asshole and then they’ll mug you because of it. Keep your hands on your wallet at all times, unless you’re getting mugged, and when you do finally meet your muggers, just hand it over. Muggers are very sick individuals. Give them what they want. Unless it’s dirty and depraved, that’s something you just can’t come back from. And keep your driver’s license someplace different. If a mugger takes it, you’ll never get on another plane without it. It’s an Orange Alert, you know.”
With my hands reassuredly feeling my wallet in my purse, I got out of the cab and then quickly remembered to ask for a receipt.
Mr. Salami grunted again and then tore it off the meter.
He was almost out of sight when a little, nasally maternal voice in a New York accent inside my head told me to feel for my wallet one more time, just to be sure. So I did, and I felt it again, breathed a sigh of relief, then pulled it out to prove it to myself.
In my hand was my cell phone inside the cell-phone case that my husband had bought me especially for this trip after he gave my phone a “tune-up,” which, I’d just noticed, was of about the same size and feel as my wallet.
My wallet was gone. Absolutely gone.
I suddenly felt as if my stomach had been quickly sucked out of my body by an Electrolux.
“Your wallet is gone?” my agent Jenny screamed as I stumbled through her office door. “Oh my God, you’ll never be able to get on another plane. It’s an Orange Alert! You have five more cities to go to!”
“I know,” I said, still stunned. “All I really want to do right now is throw up or cry. I can’t decide which one to do first.”
“Where is the last place you had it?” Jenny asked.
“In Mr. Salami’s cab,” I said. “I’m thinking I should throw up first and then cry. This way, when I start to hyperventilate, there’s no danger of a Jimi Hendrix–like death.”
“Did you get a receipt?” Jenny said, and I nodded and handed it over. “Thank God. Now at least we have the medallion number of the cab. I’ll call the taxi commission now.”
When Jenny finally got through to the dispatch office, they said they would try to find Mr. Salami but that the chances of getting my wallet back were little to none. Who knew how many other fares he had picked up after me, any of whom could have helped themselves to it.
I didn’t know what to do. I had no money, no credit cards, no bank card to get more money, no ID, and no hotel key card.
I had lost my wallet in New York City, and without any assistance from a mugger, robber, pickpocket, or thief. My mother gave me a lot of credit, I thought to myself. She never even entertained the possibility that I would end up simply mugging myself.
I was stupid. I was broke.
I was stranded.
So I threw up.
Excerpted from We Thought You Would Be Prettier by Laurie Notaro. Copyright © 2005 by Laurie Notaro. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.