The air hangs heavy this particular April afternoon as Paulina Rabinovich parks her orange Volvo on Bonita Street.
Bonita Street with its gardens, its trees .... its wind chimes. A green, leafy, genteel Bohemia. Paulina notices a daisy standing alone in the mist. She picks the daisy, brings it to her nose. Paulina is 54 years old, her petals are drooping, perhaps her pheromones are not as they were, maybe that’s why she can’t close the deal with Vincente. She is on her way to the North Berkeley Senior Center, where her writing class meets. Paulina is writing a novel, which takes the form of an erotic diary kept by an immigrant from the Ukraine who writes of her husband’s inadequacies and her longing for romance, sex, and intimacy.
Like a bad roll of the dice, Paulina met her husband, Dr. André Wingate, 25 years earlier in Las Vegas. She was working as a Charo impersonator. He was attending an anesthesiologist convention.
Paulina peers into the mirror of the bathroom at the North Berkeley Senior Center. The handicapped bathroom— she needs her privacy, she needs her space. She needs to look just right for Vincente with the long, dyed, relaxed and moussed hair, which he combs straight back from his radically receding hairline. Vincente, with the brush under his nose and his blue-tinted shades, looks like a retired Columbian hit man, though he writes gentle tales about an angel that comes down to earth in the guise of a street performer only to become disillusioned, strung out on cheap laughs and empty sentiments.
Paulina gave it her all the week before. She and Vincente were in the Café of the French Hotel. They were tete a tete, over their cappuccinos, Paulina’s breasts resting on the tiny café table, her face framed by her hand. This was her deal closing face. It made her look knowing, full of mischief and hi-jinks. The air between them became palpable. Out of the chaos of life, a totality of conscious choices and mere accident had conspired to bring their lips one inch apart.
“What about my wife?” Vincente spoke in that odd English of his that was accented not only by his Hispanic mother and his Brooklyn father, but also by his first 10 years spent in Seoul, South Korea. This too was part of the mystique; there was even an Asian cast to his eyes, and a slow deep wisdom to his remarks.
“We won’t tell your wife!” Paulina was aware of heads turning. “That’s the idea!”
“Hashem would know!”
“Not if you keep your mouth closed.”
“Hashem knows all!”
Paulina had spent her first 10 years behind the Iron Curtain, believing in God was no different from believing in the Easter Bunny or the efficacy of Dr. Phil’s advice.
“I’m a Yid!”
“I thought you were Columbian!”
“Your problem, Paulina, is that you cannot understand the Latin male!”
“You’re problem, Vincente, is that you’re afraid of assertive women!”
“I fear no one but Hashem!” Vincente slapped his attaché case on the table. Everyone hit the floor. “I have something for you, Paulina!”
People were praying in four languages as Vincente popped open his attaché case. He reached in and pulled out a book. Kabala for Dummies, it said on the cover, in faux Hebrew characters.
Paulina in the handicapped bathroom of the North Berkeley Senior Center looks in the mirror one last time and is out the door, finding to her embarrassment a line of people in wheelchairs and crutches patiently waiting. She mumbles an apology and then heads for class.
Alas, Vincente has not saved a seat for her. He smiles his Vincente smile, waves from across the room, goes back to his flirting. The petals were right, he does not love her, and it is plain to see.
There is no way she can keep her game face on. She flees down Bonita Street in her pedal pushers and off the shoulder blouse. She gets in her Volvo.
It is then that the clouds that had been building for hours on this muggy April afternoon finally overflow. It isn’t the lightning that rouses Paulina from her slumber. It is that first crack of thunder rattling her Volvo that rocks her soul. She thinks of Vincente pointing toward the heavens that day he caused such a commotion at the French Hotel. She reaches for her Kabala for Dummies where she had tossed it. Then the tears. What a low, vile, creature, she is. How cruel to her André, who loved her unconditionally.
Paulina opens her glove compartment, gets out her emergency sewing kit. Sure enough, there is a tiny spool of red thread. She ties a piece around her wrist. Formerly this would have been a fashion statement, now it is her I-thou statement. Like Madonna, Paulina Rabinovich would reconnect with her Jewish roots.