Column: Claudine, Johnny and the Price of Gas By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday August 16, 2005

I hadn’t seen the Scrabblettes in several weeks. Everyone was busy so we postponed lunch and playing Scrabble together until Pearl got back from barging in France and Rose returned from ferrying among Washington’s San Juan Islands. Louise stayed home but that didn’t mean she wasn’t otherwise engaged. There was gardening to do, plays and movies to see, friends to visit, and a trip down memory lane to West Oakland with her mother. 

We gathered around the Scrabble board at Pearl’s apartment. There was a new, life-size nude statue in the living room. It was difficult to ignore. 

“French art?” I asked. 

“Yes,” said Pearl. “From a flea market in Verdun-sur-le-Doubs, a town not far from Lyon.” 

“Nice,” said Rose. “How’d you get it back here?” 

“Carried her under my arm,” answered Pearl. “She’s not heavy.” 

“Mmmmm,” commented Louise. “Interesting.” 

“Have you thought about putting some clothes on it?” asked Rose. “You know, like Gloria over there.” Rose nodded to another mannequin in the room, this one covered in beads and polyester, circa 1969. 

“Maybe,” said Pearl. “But right now I prefer Claudine Bernardette in the buff.” 

“Claudine Bernardette?” asked Rose. “Is that what you call her?” 

“Yes,” said Pearl. “In honor of our guide, Bernard.” 

We all stared at Claudine Bernardette. It was hard to believe that Pearl had dragged her across Burgundy, carried her onto a trans-Atlantic flight, and shoved her into an overhead bin. Claudine didn’t have any arms or legs, but that’s not what made her noticeable. 

“I may move her in with Eunice,” said Pearl. 

“Eunice?” I asked. 

“Eunice from Brooklyn,” Pearl explained. “I keep her in the back bedroom, but she could use some company. Or maybe I’ll bring her out here. Make it a threesome with Gloria and Claudine B.” 

“How were the San Juans?” said Louise, giving her attention to Rose and 

changing the subject. 

“Beautiful. I love it up there.” 

“And the weather?” asked Pearl. 

“Wonderful. We drank cocktails every night along the water. Manhattans, 

martinis and cosmopolitans. I’m not a boozer, but I just love those cosmos.” 

“What was the price of gas?” asked Louise. 

I groaned. Louise always wants to know gas prices around the country. “Enough with the gas,” I said. “You can't afford to drive all the way to Washington just to fill your tank.” 

“It’s $2.49 per gallon for regular right now at Costco,” said Louise, 

ignoring me. “That’s high but not as high as downtown Berkeley.” 

“Costco is always three cents less than Arco,” said Pearl. “You can depend 

on that.” 

“What about toilet paper?” asked Rose. “Did you price it while you were in 


“Stop,” I said. “Let’s not go there again.” Everyone stared at me. 

“Not go where?” asked Rose. “To Costco?” 

“No,” I said. “You know we have this toilet paper/gas conversation every time we see one another. I'm tired of it.” 

“Suzy’s right,” said Pearl. “Let's change the subject to something else.” 

“I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” said Rose. “I loved it so much, I saw it twice.” 

“Johnny Depp,” sighed Louise. 

“Yes,” said Pearl. “Those cheekbones.” 

“Those eyes,” said Rose. 

“He lives with a French woman,” said Pearl. 

“Like Claudine Bernardette,” said Rose. 

“Kind of,” said Pearl. “But better looking.” 

“Did you see Johnny Depp in that other movie about chocolate? The one where 

he lives on a barge?” I asked. 

“Like Pearl’s barge?” asked Rose. 

“Not exactly,” I said. “But yeah, a barge in France. A small town. A lot of 


“Wasn’t that set in Mexico?” asked Louise. 

“No,” I said. “That was the other chocolate movie. The one where a girl 

rides a horse.” 

“Naked,” said Pearl, finishing my sentence. 

“Like Claudine,” said Rose. 

“Exactly,” said Louise. 

“Maybe we should go back to talking about toilet paper and gas prices,” I volunteered, but no one seemed to hear me.