It was late at the Jitterbug Perfume Parlor on Hollywood Boulevard after yet another roaring launch, and the only ones left at this hour were Tiger Powers and yours truly, parked upon a chaise with our feet up on the table.
“We should do something,” said Tiger. “You’ll be going home soon, and we do want to make sure you don’t forget us in a hurry.”
“I could never do that,” I answered. “Haven’t had such a blast in years.” True story. Whatever occurred could never be too bad. I was in Hollywood. Where anything could happen and all too often did.
“Fun! How could I forget?” he exclaimed. “It so happens I have just the thing…” He walked off toward the back and returned a few minutes later brandishing a very distinctive champagne bottle by the neck as jauntily as any Stratocaster.
“Perrier Jouët Belle Epoque!” I was floored he remembered. “My favorite champagne! How sweet.”
“Not at all!” His grin was as wide as Sunset Boulevard. “This was sold to me by a gypsy on Sunset who claimed it was magic and should be saved for something really special. Or someone. You. Let’s open it, I say.”
“Such a flatterer you are,” I sighed happily. Did I tell you the man was devastating?
He was certainly devastating the foil on that champagne bottle. “Flattery gets you everywhere in this town, sweet!” The cork popped off with a small, expensive sigh. Out of nowhere, two champagne flutes materialized. He poured. “Now.” He pulled me to my feet and turned me around to face the mirror. I saw the Parlor with its velvet, fringe and flocked wallpaper, and right in front of me, the reflections of our Friday night Hollywood selves. “Before you drink, I want you to make a wish. Think of what you would like to happen – anything at all.”
“Should I click my heels together three times first?”
“Wrong movie, sweetheart. You’re not in Kansas any more.” He bent down and whispered in my ear. “Close your eyes. Make a wish.”
“Bottoms up?” I winked at his reflection in the mirror.
“Absoeffinglutely!” He laughed back at me.
I could think of a lot of things to wish for, but finally, I made a wish, drank down that glass of delicious bubbles and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I was utterly amazed to see that Tiger was now wearing a tux, and I was wearing a 20s dress of rose devoré silk with a tulle neckline and sleeves, cut on the bias so I felt about eight inches taller and at least sixteen times more fabulous than before. My hair, usually loose over my shoulders, was now elegantly twisted into a marcelled, loose chignon accented with roses at the nape in the same sunrise shade as the dress. Even my makeup had that same 1920s look, with a shade of dark red lipstick I hadn’t worn since my Gothadelic glory days.
“Fess up, Tiger. What did you put in that champagne?” He winked at me in the mirror. That man could wear anything and make it his own.
“Bubbles, sweetheart! Nothing but bubbles and all my most dishonorable intentions!”
“My kind of guy!” I breathed into the mirror. A shimmer of light near the floor made me look down, and I saw the distinctive flash of sunrise pink Mary Janes and, ohmygawd, silk stockings! This could not be happening, but it was. Roll with it, I thought, just for one night. Roll with it!
Perfume! How could I forget! I had been wearing Absinthia all night. I reached for another spray with the words “Et in Absinthia ego.”
“Et in absentia ego,” he quipped back. “Come on, Cinderella. Your pumpkin awaits outside!” And he whirled me around and away, through the room and out the door.
On the street, nothing was the same. It wasn’t even night any longer, but a long, slow burn of a sunset over the Pacific in the distance. I saw orange groves towards Santa Monica, and I saw…a dark green Duesenberg parked right outside, a uniformed driver standing to attention by the back door. A Duesenberg. I turned to Tiger, but he was already whispering something in the driver’s ear.
“Whatever you do,” he murmured as I slid across a few acres of glove soft leather in the backseat, “just remember a few things. One, so long as there’s still champagne in this bottle, tonight will never end. Two…you’re not in Kansas any more.” He refilled my glass. “We’ve fallen down a rabbit hole! And three…” he lowered his voice and looked me right in the eyes as the Duesenberg slithered in all its awesome glory up Hollywood Boulevard toward the Hollywood Hills to the east, “whatever else you do, don’t call me dude! Got that?”
“And champagne, even!” I lifted my glass. “So where are we going?” So long as I had champagne, everything could happen. And perfume. Et in Absinthia ego. I drank those bubbles down.
“A party of course. Invitation only. You’ll see.” He winked again, and as I sat back and wondered. What kind of night would it be? What misadventures could happen? With Tiger, who the hell knew?
Twenty minutes later, the Duesenberg rolled though the gates of a long driveway on a steep, wooded street and finally came to a stop just as a valet jumped forward and opened the door. Tiger jumped out first, and took great care not a drop of champagne was spilt in his glass or his bottle, and I hastily grabbed a velvet wrap and beaded evening bag I found on the seat beside me. He kissed my hand and winked again as I got out. “Leave the introductions to me,” he whispered.
What had I got myself into? “Whyever not?” I took a deep, deep breath, a breath full of all my hopes and dreams and all the fun I had yet to have. Might as well start it here.
“Who may I announce has arrived?” asked a very grand, very chilly British butler at the top of the steps of an opulent Mediterranean-style house at least the size of my ambitions.
Tiger rose to his full and very imposing height and stated grandly, “Count Vlad Izmir and Countess Giulietta Moovonova.”
After two glasses of champagne and that build up, it was all I could do to keep a straight face. I glared at the butler. Haughtily, I could hope.
At that precise moment, a Packard convertible roadster came roaring up the graveled driveway and to a screeching halt a few inches behind our Duesenberg. Seven lovelies and two dashing youngbloods with slicked-back hair in white tie and tails poured out of the car like nine sparkling champagne bubbles.
“Darlings!” exclaimed a vivacious, saucy blonde all in white with an orange blossom corsage. “Have you missed us, since the last time?” She ran up the stairs as if she had done it a thousand times before. “Well, come on you slowpokes! The party won’t start without us!” She giggled, an infectious, musical laugh that made everyone laugh with her, even me.
In they went, these bright young things all in a laughing conga line, a dark, devastating beauty in a beaded violet dress, a sultry redhead in gold, another brunette all in white, an exotic beauty in purple velvet, a glorious girl all in green, a blonde in yellow who seemed to redefine the very word, and the two young men, one a prototype California blond who cleaned up very well, the other a dead ringer for Valentino, with those same smoldering eyes.
Inside was a grand, tiled foyer full of potted palms and party people in party clothes, draped over the stairs in conversations, milling in and out of the rooms opening off the foyer with glasses in their hands. There must have been quite a crowd at this party. Off on our left was a ballroom with a dance floor and a tango orchestra, up ahead was another room, and beyond, a glimpse of a garden with a boarded over area and yet another orchestra playing jazz tunes. Already, couples were jitterbugging in the twilight outside, glimpses of silk and satin flashing under the lights strung up in the trees around it. On my right was a library, where a roaring game of poker must have been in progress, because I heard a voice that could only come from Brooklyn exclaiming “Whaddaya mean, the pot has a limit of five hundred dollars? That’s pocket money where I come from!”
“So, mister,” Tiger turned around and saw the girl in green beside him, a breath of jasmine in her wake, “did you bring your big sister with you or what?”
“Certainly not!” I heard myself saying. “He’s with me to ensure I get into the maximum amount of trouble…”
“With the minimum amount of fuss…” Tiger continued. “So I heard you were a count…” She grabbed his arm and hauled him off in a cloud of heady tuberose toward the dance floor in the garden to show off his jitterbug skills. “So what are you counting?” They walked off and away.
“Where’s Flapper?” I heard a voice say behind me as the giggly blonde took her own glass of champagne from a passing waiter. She drank it down, reached for another, and gave a contagious giggle. “Can you believe it?” she exclaimed, “Flapper had a date tonight at the Roosevelt, some producer fella who said she should be in movies…Wonder if he’ll survive the night?”
The admiring throng that surrounded this orange blossom special roared their approval and carried her away.
I walked into the ballroom, where a whole florists’ bouquet of couples were tangoing across the tiles. The room was so large and so beautifully appointed, it had the feel of a movie set, with a crowd of dress extras showing off how well they could dance the night away to the latest Buenos Aires Pugliese tunes. There was that devastating girl in violet with a sultry swing in her hips as she followed a beau around the other dancers, I caught glimpses of the redhead and the California blond on the floor, and on my right the blonde in yellow chatted up an older man who seemed quite taken with her charms. Right when I was about to move through the crush to look for Tiger and that third glass of Belle Epoque that would really get me in trouble, I heard a voice behind me.
“Care to dance?” it said.
(To be continued…)
With profound thanks to Kedra Hart and a certain Twitter conversation that planted the seed of this idea…