Love is pain. Don’t let anyone tell you different. You may be surprised to learn that we’re in the pain business. It’s true. Love eats away at you like Murray’s homemade horseradish eats away at your stomach. Eats away until you cry and wonder why you wanted to find love in the first place. Eats away until you beg for mercy. But there is no mercy where love is concerned. It does what it wants, and you are powerless to stop it. So, you may have a couple of miserable clients, bubeleh. A couple miserable clients, in pain. They may even complain to you. Remind them this: pleasure and pain, they’re not so far apart. Like having your hair pulled. Sometimes, in the right context, having your hair pulled isn’t all that bad. It may feel a little good, even. John Schlumberger pulled my hair once, and I kind of liked it. Get used to the pain and you can enjoy the love. Get used to the pain and soon it won’t feel painful at all anymore.
Lesson 64, Matchmaking Advice from Your Grandma Zelda
“Don’t even think about going anywhere, Gladie. You can’t get away. I’ve got you where I want you.”
“Please. I’m scared,” I whimpered. My ears grew hot, and I saw little silver spots in front of my eyes. Her voice came at me in a booming echo, as if in a cave. A cave with no exit. A cave with no exit and not enough air.
Great, now I was terrified, and I was claustrophobic. I made a play for her sympathy. “Please. Let me go. Please, I want to go home,” I said.
“No way.” She was tall and muscular, in much better shape than I was. I hadn’t exercised in months, not since I worked at the juice bar at the Phoenix Women’s Gym for ten days. What was wrong with me? Would it have killed me to hop on a treadmill or at least try yoga? Yoga. Who was I kidding? One Downward-Facing Dog, and I would dislocate something important, like my spine or gallbladder.
“Don’t look at me like that, Gladie. There’s no way you can take me.”
I gulped air. “Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me,” I said.
“Gladie, at worst it will sting a little. This is bigger than the both of us. There’s no going back. Look at yourself.”
She turned my chair to give me a good look in the mirror. I looked just like I always did. My hair stood up in frizzy spikes around my head, mimicking my panicked mood. I shut my eyes tight.
“Fine,” I said. “Fine, Bird. Just do it.”
My hairdresser, Bird Gonzalez, clapped her hands together and hopped on her heels. “Oh, Gladie. Thank you, thank you. You won’t be sorry. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages. You’re going to be so happy. The Ecuadoran Erect will change your life. Straight hair, Gladie. Straight hair. You’ll be a new woman.”
Being a new woman wasn’t entirely a bad idea. After years of moving around from one temporary job to another in one city or another, I let my Grandma Zelda convince me to settle in with her in the small mountain town of Cannes, California, and work in her matchmaking business. I wasn’t a great success in my new career. So far I had made two matches, one on my own and the other with her help. Two matches in four months didn’t set any records, but Grandma said I was cooking with gas.
My personal life was going at an even slower pace. There had been a burst of interest in me a few weeks ago. My first client thought I was Angelina Jolie on a Ritz cracker, and the womanizing chief of police, Spencer Bolton, flirted with me nonstop, but then I matched my client with a clumsy waitress, and Spencer moved on to dating half the town. My hunky new neighbor, Arthur Holden, took me out a couple times, even called me his girlfriend. Then he disappeared. Not totally disappeared, but he was busy every night and day and never offered one explanation to me. I didn’t know where he was going, didn’t even know what he did for a living. And I didn’t think I had the right to ask him.
I knew one thing for certain. I was a woman with wild, out-of-control frizzy hair. Maybe change needed to start at the top—in my case, my head.
Bird squirted Ecuadoran Erect solution into a bowl, added water, and stirred. The salon was at once filled with a noxious smell.
“It doesn’t cause cancer, does it?” I asked Bird.
“Gladie, you are going to look just like Kate Hudson with boobs.”
“So it doesn’t cause cancer?”
Bird painted the solution onto my hair. “I don’t think that was proven,” she said. I held my breath and thought healthy thoughts. It was too late to change my mind. Half my head was covered in stinky Ecuadoran Erect.
“It’s starting to sting,” I said.
“That’s normal. It will go away in an hour or two.”
Two hours later, my hair was straight as a board. Dark blond hair fell flat down past my shoulders. I was unrecognizable, unless I really was Kate Hudson with boobs. Bird was thrilled with her work.
“Uh,” I said.
“You have twenty-year-old hair. You know what I mean?” she squealed. “It’s soft and supple and luxurious, just like you’re twenty years old again.”
“When I was twenty, I was growing out a pixie cut. I looked like a cotton ball after it was plugged into a light socket.”
“But it was soft, right?”
“I don’t know. I was scared to touch it.”
I ran my hand over my new hair. It was soft.
“You look bitchin’,” Bird said. “Men are going to chase you down the street. Oh, speaking of that, I have something for you.”
She handed me a box. “Chinese tea,” she explained. “Special diet tea. Imported. Shh—don’t tell anyone I gave it to you. I’ve got a waiting list.”
“Diet tea?” I sucked in my stomach.
“Don’t give me that face, Gladie. You told me you wanted to lose a couple pounds. I know what you’re up against in that house with your grandma and her junk food habit. The tea works. Trust me.”
She was right. I had turned mushy in the four months I had been living with my french-fry-loving grandma.
My hair swished against my shoulders as I stuffed the tea into my purse. I paid Bird, emptying my bank account with the one check. Ecuadoran Erect and Chinese diet tea did not come cheap. I would have to make another match, quickly. Luckily, I was on my way to see Belinda Womble. Belinda had curly hair and heaps of disposable income. And best of all, she wanted me to match her.
Bliss Dental was located in the old Cannes Small Animal Hospital building on Pear Lane, just outside the historic district. Dr. Simon Dulur bought the building about twenty years ago and transformed it into a cutting-edge dental practice.
I had a phobia of all things medical. I couldn’t even watch medical shows, so I never set foot in the Bliss Dental building. The idea of X-rays raised my blood pressure. The idea of a routine teeth cleaning made my gums bleed. No way was I getting near any possible root canals. Now I had no choice. Belinda Womble, the receptionist at Bliss Dental, was my new client. A job was a job, and Belinda had requested me as her matchmaker. It was my first request. Normally, clients wanted my grandma, and why wouldn’t they? She knew what she was doing.
I had to overcome my fears and the sympathy pains I experienced every time I was near suffering or disease. Successful matchmakers didn’t think they had tuberculosis every time someone near them coughed. Successful matchmakers didn’t imagine they had leprosy every time their foot fell asleep.
Sure enough, two blocks away from the Bliss Dental building, a searing pain shot from my upper right bicuspid through my nerve endings and into my brain. I grimaced in agony and gripped the wheel, swerving into traffic.
I narrowly missed a Toyota Camry and a Chevy Malibu, driving my ancient Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme up onto the sidewalk. I came to a screeching stop inches away from a fire hydrant and a group of backpackers who were walking down the street wearing tin pyramid hats and T-shirts with aliens, take me first! written in pink neon.
I stumbled out of my car and closed the rusty door with a creak. I gripped my face, willing the pain in my tooth to subside.
“You’re breaking the chakras of the path.”
The head backpacker tugged at my sleeve. He was tall and good-looking, about fifty years old, and smelled of old money. His T-shirt was tucked into perfectly tailored slacks cuffed over Prada loafers. He wagged his finger at me, his wrist wrapped in a gold Rolex watch.
“Excuse me?” I asked. The pain in my mouth cooled to a throb. The backpackers gathered in a group around us, the better to hear what their leader was saying.
“The chakras of the path. You’re in the way. You’re blocking the chakras and putting the Arrival in jeopardy,” he said.
“The Arrival,” echoed several of the backpackers.
“I’m sorry?” I said. “Did I hit you with my car?” I looked over at my Cutlass. The front bumper hung at a weird angle. That didn’t mean anything. My car was built during Clinton’s first term. It was a miracle it still had a bumper. I would have sworn I hadn’t hit anything. Besides, nobody was bleeding, as far as I could tell.
“The energies of tomorrow,” shouted one of the backpackers.
“The Arrival,” the others said.
“The arrival?” I asked.
The hair on the back of my neck tingled, and my palms got sweaty. I took stock of the situation. I was surrounded. Strangers speaking in unison had me cornered between the fire hydrant and Andy Gilmore’s closed hardware store. Cannes was a very small town. The only strangers were tourists who came up the mountain to hunt for antiques, sit in tea shops, and eat apple pie in the fall. We didn’t get a lot of strangers wearing pyramid hats, shouting about chakras of the path and the energies of tomorrow.
“Did you hear?” the leader demanded. “You’re blocking the chakras. Chakras. It’s simple.”
“The Arrival!” the others announced a little more forcefully.
“Terribly sorry about your chakras,” I said, sweeping the ground with the bottom of my shoe to clear away any bad chakras. “I’ll just be on my way.”
I enunciated each word slowly. I took two steps backward and smiled. No sudden movements, I thought, easing into the car. I waved goodbye, bounced off the sidewalk, and made my way toward Bliss Dental. In the rearview mirror, the backpackers were studying the spot where the Cutlass ran off the road. From their expressions, I must have flattened the path’s chakras, and tomorrow’s energies would come at least a few hours late.
The Bliss Dental waiting room smelled like Lysol, dental putty impressions, and fear. Two women sat on plaid upholstered chairs, busily texting on their phones. My new client manned the front desk, separated from the waiting room by a sliding window.
Belinda was busy reading through patient files. I caught her eye and gave her a wave. She scowled and stuck her index finger up in the air, the international symbol to wait, and then pointed toward one of the plaid chairs.
I checked the time. Ten o’clock. Right on time. I had two hours before I was supposed to bring Grandma back a bucket from Chik’n Lik’n for lunch. Grandma usually wanted fried chicken after her Tuesday morning Second Chancers singles meeting, which I was missing to meet with Belinda.
I picked up an old copy of People magazine. I was behind on reality shows. Matchmakers-in-training don’t have a lot of downtime, and my grandma didn’t have cable. I was reading about a real housewife’s new breasts when one of the women in the waiting room screeched.
“What a jerk. I mean, what a total jerk.”
She flashed her phone at the other woman, who grabbed it to study it longer. Whatever was on the screen made the woman’s eyes bug out.
“What a jerk,” echoed the second woman.
“I have never seen anything like it. Not even at the zoo.”
I craned my head, but I couldn’t get a good look at the phone.
“Turns out he was screwing most of the town,” the first woman said.
“And telling them all he was in love with them, no doubt.”
“Well, obviously. Otherwise they wouldn’t go around talking about him like they were getting married.”
“Men are dogs,” the second woman said. “He made eyes at me, too, you know.”
The first woman looked doubtful. “Me too,” she said after a moment. “But I saw through his charm and good looks right down to his little mercenary heart.”
I craned my head a little more, but I was still getting nothing. I was about to move seats when Belinda opened the sliding window. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked in my direction.
“Yes, ten o’clock,” I said.
“With who? Dr. Dulur or Holly?”
I broke out in a sweat. I stumbled over to the sliding window. “No, Belinda. I don’t want to see the dentist. My teeth are fine. No dental work needed,” I said, flashing her my toothy smile.
“That’s what they all say. It’s called denial. I see it all the time. Whatever. It’s your mouth. But there’s a fifty-dollar fee for cancellations on such short notice.”
I didn’t have fifty dollars. All I had in my purse was three dollars, a maxed-out Visa card, a Hershey bar, two lipsticks, and a mascara wand. Besides, I didn’t have a dentist appointment. What was Belinda talking about?
“Belinda, what are you talking about?” I asked. “I don’t have a dentist appointment. Don’t you remember? We have an appointment. You and me. You called me.”
Belinda squinted and leaned forward. “Gladie? Is that you?”
“Of course it’s me. Who did you think it was?”
“I didn’t recognize you. You don’t look like yourself.” She pointed at me. “It’s your head. Your head is different. How did you give yourself a different head?”
“I had my hair straightened. Do I look that different?”
“You look like you got a new head. Not a Gladie head at all.”
I pictured someone taking my Gladie head off my shoulders and replacing it with a non-Gladie head. Maybe having a non-Gladie head would be an improvement. I flicked my soft hair back. It swished against my shoulder, falling in a cascade, before returning elegantly to its original position. Oh, nice. It was like a commercial for bouncing and behaving hair. My Gladie head would never have done that. It would have poofed out at some weird angle with renewed frizz, making me look like the Bride of Frankenstein.
“Come on back, Gladie. We’ll chat.” Belinda pushed a button, and the door to the back buzzed open. She sat behind an L-shaped desk that stretched along one wall. The other walls were lined from floor to ceiling with patient files.
It smelled wonderful, not like dentistry and torture at all, but like a botanical paradise. At least twenty flowerpots covered Belinda’s desk.
“Beautiful,” I said. “Someone must really like you.”
“Oh, these weren’t gifts. I grew them. I’m a flower enthusiast.”
I was honestly impressed. “My grandmother is proud of her roses, but she’s never grown anything this varied and exotic.”
At the mention of my grandmother, Belinda flinched and took a step back. “I’m glad you took my case, Gladie,” she said. “I saw what you did for Ruth’s niece, and it gave me hope for, you know, me.”
I had fixed up Ruth’s danger-prone grandniece, Julie, with my client, a danger-prone police sergeant. It was my one real case and a resounding success, if the cooing I heard from them in the back of the dollar movie theater last Friday was any proof.
I took a long hard look at Belinda. She and Julie had nothing in common. Julie looked like a prepubescent boy in slouchy clothes with her hair perennially in her eyes. Belinda’s hair was curly but tamed in a tight bun. Her clothes were ironed and starched. Her no-nonsense, size-eighteen tan slacks met her glittery gold-and-black sweater, which was emblazoned with a lavender appliqué flower that took up most of her ample abdomen and flat chest, at about mid-thigh. Two little gold flower earrings adorned her ears, and her face was painted with thick layers of foundation and blush, her eyes draped in lavender—to match her sweater, I guessed.
“Maybe you have a police sergeant for me, too,” she said.
“At least a sergeant,” I said, trying to sound positive.
“Do you have pictures to show me so, you know, I can choose?”
We took a seat at her desk. “I thought I would first get to know you better, see what you’re interested in,” I said, taking out a notepad and a pen.
“Well, I’m looking for a man. Someone who appreciates me. And I’m losing weight! I have been drinking Chinese diet tea, and I’ve lost four pounds. These pants were tight on me last week. Usually I have a metabolism like sludge.”
I nodded. Maybe there was something to Bird’s diet tea. I promised myself to brew a cup when I got home. I had gotten soft since I moved in with my grandma. A woman could refuse only so many chili cheese fries before she caved.
“Where the hell are the brownies? Did you eat all the brownies?”
Belinda’s office was invaded by a woman in a tight miniskirt and camisole. There was something off about her face, as if I was seeing her through an altered Hollywood camera lens.
“I am on a diet, Holly. Of course I didn’t eat the brownies,” Belinda said, clearly upset by the woman.
“Yeah, right,” she sneered. Her lips were curved up unnaturally like the Joker’s, pulling at her taut skin. Everything about her was tight. Her body defied gravity like it was made of wax. I caught myself staring and looked away quickly, pretending to go over my notes about Belinda’s desires in a mate.
“Here they are,” Holly announced, pulling a Tupperware container filled with brownies from a drawer. She took a big bite of one and tossed the container on the desk, unconcerned about resealing it and unconcerned about apologizing to Belinda. I disliked her instantly.
“That was Holly the hygienist,” Belinda told me the moment Holly left the room. “She had fat from her ass put into her boobs, and she had Phil the plumber stick her with industrial Botox so her face never changes expression.”
I realized my mouth was open, and I snapped it closed. “Her face has been that way for four years,” Belinda continued. “When she won Sunday night bingo, her face stayed the same. Ditto the day a patient had a heart attack and died in her chair when she was flossing him. She’s a class A whore, too. I don’t want to tell tales, but she likes them young.”
She said “young” in a conspiratorial whisper that made me lean forward to hear more. But Belinda strayed from the topic. “She doesn’t need Chinese tea, that’s for sure. She’s got a metabolism like a hummingbird. She must eat ten times her weight. Of course, that’s only about ten pounds.” She found this uproariously funny and burst into hysterics. I had to slap her on the back for her to catch her breath.
When she came around, she described what she was looking for in a man, which sounded eerily similar to George Clooney. “How long do you think it will take?” she asked.
“Well, we can’t rush these things. Love, I mean.” It was the wrong thing to say. Belinda looked at me like I had told her Santa Claus didn’t exist. “Give me a week to look through my files,” I amended. “I’m sure Mr. Right is in there.”
What was I saying? I didn’t have files. Grandma had stacks of index cards I could pilfer and look through, but otherwise, I had no clue who to fix Belinda up with.
“Now, who do we have here? Hey, pretty lady, here for a checkup?”
I jumped three feet in the air. Dr. Simon Dulur stood in the doorway, a shiny dental instrument in his hand, pointing at me with it. The instrument was metal and long with a sharp hooked end. My eyes swirled in their sockets, and I saw stars.
“Whoa, we got a fainter! We got a fainter! Code Six!” Dr. Dulur waved his hands around and moved his head from side to side as he shouted, like a quarterback at a football game, calling the plays before the snap. He was moving the dental instrument around pretty good now, and it caught a glint of sun and shined in my eyes.
I wonder what Codes One through Five are, I thought just before I lost consciousness.
Excerpted from Matchpoint by Elise Sax. Copyright © 2013 by Elise Sax. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, 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.