It was a tall order, but Diana seemed up to the challenge.I expected Diana to know about things pertaining to glitter because she picked me up from school one day wearing a Tina Turner wig. I hadn't known until then that the Louise Jefferson hot roller do she had been sporting when we met was faux. Because Diana liked to associate her first name with the talents of a certain Ms. Ross, she didn't believe a word of Mary Wilson's tell-all tale Dreamgirl, My Life as a Supreme when it was published that year, 1986. Diana liked to avail herself to show business and sparkly things. Even at that age, I could relate to this desire. I could spot a starfucker before I knew there was such a thing. Stars were supposed to sparkle and I was a star in the making. Diana herself had confirmed it when she picked me up from play rehearsals one day and smiled, bleating, "a star is born.". Based on the Judy Garland version of the film, I knew that chorines like Esther Blodgett didn't turn out their Vicki Lester potential without the help of sparkle. That's why I was severely disappointed when the glittery hair gel didn't jazz. Diana implored that I simply wasn't using the product correctly. "You haven't even seen it in the light," she chided. "Now here you are thinking the product doesn't work....when I know damn well it does," she said. She punctuated the last point by popping a miniature Hershey's Mr. Goodbar into her mouth from where she had fished it out of the bowl that had been her constant companion since the previous Halloween. I remembered the pseudo-holiday well because I had laboriously polluted my shag with so much product that particular All Hallows Eve that it weighed more than my glasses. Knowing that kids from the surrounding neighborhood would be coming to our door in trick-or-treat mode, I had readied myself. When the bell went ding-dong, Diana casually shuffled by in her Tina Turner wig and talons with total disregard for the door. "You don't see me breakin' my neck," she said. Unlike me, who had dressed up in my most fashionable oversize Genera sweatshirt to greet the goblins and urchins, Diana made it clear she couldn't be bothered if it saved her life.
Back to the hair and sparkle crisis, I had made up my mind, albeit prematurely that the gel was no good and pouted accordingly. I was constantly pitting myself against the products I saw advertised on TV and had set my eyes on the latest consumerist want. The Studio line of hair products from L'Oreal would give me the star sparkle I needed to realize my Vicki Lester potential, I plotted. The commercials used actors dressed up as rock stars that I longed to align myself with. Screw the sparkle stuff, I want the Studio line, I wailed. It only took one instance of bitching before Diana pulled my dad's Blazer over to the beauty supply for me to get my fix. Without a concerted effort, I had achieved my goal. "You got your goddamn way. Don't say I never gave you anything," she said. Handing me a small, brown paper sack, she seemed satisfied. I'm not sure what I was expecting but whatever thrill I thought I would get from the product didn't come to be and I appeared crestfallen. "I try so hard," Diana cried. For a minute I felt sorry for her but knew that nothing she did would make me feel better. I had a secret that I dared not confide in her lest she spill the beans to my dad.
It was true that Diana had bent over backwards to win my good tidings from the first minute she met me. Having been hired the week of my 13th birthday, the previous September, she had presented me with a biography of Shirley Maclaine after I had expressed reverence for Charity Hope Valentine in our first conversation. My dad had given me the opportunity to "interview" Diana for myself after he had given her the layout of the land and brief job description. We had suffered through a few loony tunes who must have translated our request for "mature" to mean that they were suitable for mature viewers or something like it. "I just want a kindly old grandmother," my dad had repeatedly exclaimed. The ideal of Mrs. Doubtfire would not be realized but Diana's executive sophistication matched a close second. My dad had seemed relieved as he stood over my desk from where I was completing a report on the patron saint of the week for my 7th grade religion class at St. Mel's. "I think she'll make this a happy home," he said.
I didn't need much convincing after I encountered Diana myself. I was enraptured and instantly at ease. She told me about having worked for her previous family for just under a decade. It was there that she was able to showcase her vocal talents as a weekend chanteuse. I assured her that she would have weekends off in our house too. As the world of the stage seeped into my dad's study through our conversation, I was starstruck and amazed.
Diana was there the morning I was to turn in my saint report. I had adorned the punches of my 3-holes binder paper with bright red yarn that matched the magic marker I used for the cover.
"It's too juvenile. Take that shit off," she said. Then she told me about the adage coined by Coco Chanel that said one should always remove one accessory before leaving the house.
But that day in the car with the gel that wasn't right, I hated myself for turning a callous cheek to her outreach. How could I tell her every inroad we had made together to make my dad's house a happy home was a sham? I wouldn't be staying past Spring. My mother and I had been plotting my transition back to her house in Seattle before I had reluctantly unpacked my last box from my dad's white Angelo Electric pickup. I hated the bastion of blue collar serfdom that I associated with riding in the truck. Even though my father was head of a large electrical contracting company, I was easily mortified and grew terrified that I become associated with such proletariat means.
I managed to chirp a contrived thanks and escaped inward as I settled back into the seat. Relations between Diana and me were strained from that point on. She began to neglect the housework and shuffle around the house in too much perfume that reeked of stale cigarettes. When my dad complained, she hired a cleaning service to detail the house with the grocery money he left in the sugar bowl. I could see the writing on the wall then. There would be no more discussions about silver screen stars of Hollywood's golden age. "Jane Fonda was never a raving beauty," Diana would say. "She hated being known for that," I would counter and away we would go. "You can keep Janet Leigh," she would say about the coed from Merced. "Lana Turner's real name was Julia Jean," I would interject. Tidbits and trivia flooded my teenage neurons and cemented my sensibility as gay.
Because Diana's weekends were hers alone, she would go under the radar after dinner on Friday to breakfast on Monday. One random Saturday morning, I was pleased to have an opportunity to see her under the most delicious of circumstances. My dad's younger son had caught a strange man booking down the back steps with Diana's prized Norwegian blue fox fur jacket on his arm. From where I listened in my bottom bunk, I could hear the rumblings of chaos erupting as Diana peeled out of the driveway in my father's parked Blazer. As usual, he was at work and would never know of this activity.
When Diana finally returned, she whispered for me to meet her upstairs in her suite and launched into a tale I mined for details.
"Without going into great detail,...' she explained. Then she cut right to the chase. "Can I borrow $50?," she said.
I had conscientiously saved my allowance in my top bureau drawer for months and had more than that sum in $1 bills. "Later, Diana exclaimed with gratitude, "That was a real damn decent thing you did." We shared a tearful moment as I cautioned her against falling asleep with a guest in the room.
Keeping Diana's confidence was a tool I used to empower myself against my father and it taught me the value of loyalty in friendships.
One morning, I caught Diana staring through binoculars from where she stood off the kitchen deck. When I asked what she was doing, she pointed out the distant but definite view of a hunky guy taking a shower. As she explained, he did so like clockwork at a certain time every morning that we could see 150 yards across the epic, forest ravine that divided the neighborhood mini mansions. Handing me the binoculars, Diana sang, "LAWD, let him see what I see,". That was the last time we bonded before our time together was guarded and performed in code for the unsuspecting benefit of whatever third party was present.
When I came back from Thanksgiving break in Seattle, the only evidence left of Diana were the cigarette burns she had ground into the carpet and what was left over from a spilled bottle of nail polish all over the nightstand's patina.
Her hasty departure by nightfall would mark the last time my dad hired a live in to take over that hackneyed position. As soon as I met Diana's replacement, I warned her against getting too comfortable. "I'm not planning on sticking around. Keep it to yourself," I would say. As limited as I was within my father's world, I gained a steel inner reserve as I learned how to just keep holding on. In the end, I knew I would have my way. Just like Diana said.