My motto has always been the same as Caresse Crosby, that fabulous expatriate of 1920’s Paris: “Take care of the luxuries, the necessities will take care of themselves.” Whether this has served me well or not is a matter of opinion. I’m not going to win any financial acumen awards—I haven’t done “wise” things like sock away my money in real estate or stocks, but I have traveled the world as what I like to call a “poverty jetsetter.” Highlights of my jetsetting days include playing my harmonica for food in Greece, sleeping on bus station floors in Italy, being awakened before dawn by sprinklers while sleeping in the grass in Spain and missing the running of the bulls because I chose the wrong time to brush my teeth. I bought a disposable camera to record my safari to Africa and while National Geographic will most definitely not be contacting me for my shots of lions in the grass, I had an unforgettable time.
Taking care of the luxuries without a steady job has been quite an adventure for me. I will confess that in my quest for prosperity (which keeps eluding me) I have done some rather odd jobs. Let’s see, there was the time I was hired to be a flower child at a BelAir mansion garden party where Crosby Stills and Nash were playing in the backyard and I decided it would be a good idea if I was a “real” flower child and took magic mushrooms before going to work. Excellent idea. Flowers were growing and shrinking, all the plastic surgery on the guests was dripping down their faces and I got stuck in a room of cream puffs for over an hour. And then there were the daily trips to Vegas for an academy award-winning director with a gambling problem.
And then there was the time I was called to see if I knew a professional hula hooper. “I sure do—me,” I blurted before really thinking. My rent was due. The party booker was surprised and said he would drop by later that afternoon to have me sign a contract. I went directly to the toy store and bought two lime green hula-hoops. I was trying to renew my childhood hula-hoop skills when he knocked. “So,” he said, “Can I see some of your moves?” “Sure,” I answered, as I maneuvered the hula-hoops behind my back and tore the tags off so he wouldn’t see I had just bought them. Now, I can do some basic hula-hooping but not a whole lot more than the average seven-year-old. I put both hoops on my hips at the same time, a rather impressive trick to those who don’t know how to hula-hoop, and spun them around while telling the booker I couldn’t show him my real tricks because there just wasn’t enough room in my living room. He fell for my blatant lies and left. I must confess I felt terribly guilty, lying about my hula-hooping skills, but I was determined to make my rent. This would do the trick.
I had no idea what a professional hula-hooper might do, so I spent the rest of the day trying to invent some tricks. I spun those damn things on my hips, my feet, my arms, and even my neck, but my windpipe protested that one. The most dazzling trick I invented was spinning one hula-hoop on each arm while bending my head back in a sort of back bend. While it gave me vertigo and I had to lie down whenever I tried it, it would have to do. I dressed up in a 1950’s outfit—black pants, white socks, a pink angora sweater–and arrived at the fancy hotel where the party would be held with my hoops in tow. When I walked backstage, a hush fell over the room. I tried to ignore everyone and staked out my own little space. I could hear the other dancers whispering, “The hula-hooper is here! I can’t wait to see the hula-hooper!” I felt my face grow hot and wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into now as I laid my hula- hoops on the floor. I figured I better do something as they all cleared out of my way, so I acted like I thought a professional athlete would act and started to stretch with a very serious expression on my face. I did a cartwheel over my hoops, touched my toes, did the splits—all the things I learned in Dessa Hepler’s backyard acrobatics class when I was eight years old. The party started and I started to panic. I went to a corner and called my best friend. “Kim,” I whispered. “SOS. They expect me to do something amazing here. They think I’m a professional hula-hooper. They’re relying on me.” “Look,” she said, always my voice of reason, “it’s a corporate party. Most of them can’t even do the splits. They’ll be impressed with anything you do. Just smile and have fun. They’ll love it.” “OK, you’re right. I’ll dazzle them with my illusions of grandeur.” I replied, feeling like I might vomit at any moment.
My music started and I glued a big smile on my face and skipped out onto the stage spinning both hula-hoops on each arm. I dropped the hoops and did a few cartwheels through them hoping no one would notice I had no idea what I was doing. It didn’t help that the other dancers had all run to the wings, whispering and watching me, waiting for my big tricks. I went for the old performing standby—get Uncle Joe up there onstage and everyone will be so thrilled they won’t even watch you. I skipped out into the audience and dragged the big boss onstage. The drunk audience roared with approval and it turned out I was the highlight of the evening (all because the boss did the Robot and the Cabbage Patch, delighting the entire party.) I collected my rent money and went home and into a hot tub, nursing my humiliated yet triumphant ass.
The next day however, I kept experiencing serious dizzy spells. I finally went to the health clinic at UCLA. I was fairly convinced I had a brain tumor and it was with a heavy heart and a quiet voice I told the doctor about my spells. I also told her there was a slim possibility the dizziness was caused by the hula-hoop routine I had done the night before. I believed the combination of spinning hoops in my peripheral vision combined with being upside down in a back bend had somehow messed up my equilibrium. The doctor tapped her finger on her chin and said, “I’ll be right back.” She returned with two other doctors and asked me to repeat the hula-hoop story. They all laughed heartily, which I thought was a bit insensitive considering I might be dying of a brain tumor, but it turned out the dizziness faded after a day or two (as they predicted) and I was fine. I guess it was the hula-hoops.
Who knew rent could be paid with hula-hoops? At this stage in my life, however, I’ve noticed a distinct trend among wealthy people–they all work really hard. I think I’m going to try that next. And find a way to take care of the luxuries and the necessities. In any case, luxuries for me have changed pretty drastically. In the past, luxuries meant buying velvet capes and evening gowns. Now I find my most luxurious moments are free. My best moments this week consisted of sitting in a field of clover, holding the round little body of my ten-month-old son while his tiny pudgy hands grabbed fistfuls of clover flowers. We were watching my two-year-old hold up her dress and stomp and skip through a mud puddle the size of a small lake, while she screamed a
nd giggled with delight. It had rained earlier in the day and the air was shimmering with that ethereal light that only happens when the sun is shining through the raindrops quivering on the leaves of the big old oaks with arms like magicians. These were moments so exquisite, more precious than anything money could ever buy.