HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
6 September 2002
I thought for a moment that I was in Stepford...or at the very least
watching Disneyland's Main Street parade.
She stood on the sidewalk outside the office with her
back to me. She had Laurie Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) hair--a bouffant do, spray painted
stiff, with flipped up ends. Her dress was an irridescent blue accented with bright
yellows and reds--the sort you'd find on a Disney cartoon, like Snow White. The skirt
stuck out as if she had a petticoat. She had electric blue shoes to match.
I thought for a moment she might be a sales person, in costume,
going door to door with a basket of wares, trying to get me to buy perfume or soap or a
myriad of the other things that salespersons try to hawk to office staff.
She was talking to a young man and the stiffened flipped ends of her
hair bounced up and down as she moved her head.
Eventually she said goodbye to the man, turned and
headed for our door. It was our next patient. She was in her mid-70s, her eyes and lips
were so heavily made up that she reminded me of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to
Baby Jane?. She had circles of pink on her cheeks where she'd laid a bit too heavily
with the rouge.
What was even worse: I knew her, though she didn't realize I knew
I've lived in this town too long. When you live in a town like this,
which is basically a small town (despite the fact that it's growing so rapidly now), and
when you are active in your children's events, you get to meet and know a lot of people.
As the children get older, those who have a talent for that sort of thing (not I) move
into public life and you suddenly discover that you know some of the town's more famous
(For example, the very first person with whom I ever had any
significant social interaction was someone I met when I was taking some sort of a women's
sensitivity class. She was lying on the floor and I was massaging her temples. We went on
to be nursery school parents together, Paul and her son were good friends, one of our
foreign students and another of her kids were good friends. She is now my state
This is a weird town and while it is not, on the surface, a
class-conscious place, it seems that you mostly meet people who are at your same place in
life and you kind of move forward in a body. When you are like me, and have friends
"on that level" but also work in the kind of jobs I've worked (secretarial jobs
as opposed to the "careers" that the people I know socially have) you meet
casual acquaintances on a different level and under different circumstances.
And so it is that I know "Baby Jane." I have known her
name for years--she is quite well known and has held public office here. I believe that we
crossed paths at schools (obviously her kids had already graduated). I meet her at a
social gathering once a year at the home of a mutual friend (but it's a large social
gathering, so she doesn't know who I am).
But mostly I remember 20 years ago, when a co-worker in a
secretarial office left that office to go to work for this woman, who has a business
office downtown. On a weekly basis, the new secretary would come back with horror stories
of Baby Jane's terrible temper (she was noted for being unable to keep clerical staff).
This woman managed to keep her job because she decided she was not going to let the temper
tantrums get to her. She had been a battered wife and had gained a lot of self-confidence
in the intervening years and she felt she was able to take the verbal assaults and let
them roll off her back.
However it all came to an end the day Baby Jane picked up a
typewriter and threw it at her secretary's head. That was when she decided her life might
be in danger if she remained and she, too, left the position. She lasted longer than most.
I thought of that this afternoon as I watched Baby Jane sit primly
on the edge of our one hard-back chair (she avoided the softer couch). Her appointment was
for 1 p.m. and the previous patient turned out to be a more complicated case than it had
appeared on the surface. (She had been in great pain, moving slowly and her exam lasted
longer than Dr. G anticipated.)
When I explained this to Baby Jane, I watched the red lips
narrow and she pursed them together in disapproval. She had been there on time. She
expected her doctor not to keep her waiting. The artificial red dots on her cheeks began
to get redder, the longer the wait was (it was actually 15 minutes--which, these days, is
almost "on time" by HMO standards!)
I wondered if Baby Jane realized how much I knew about her. And I
was very glad that the computer was too heavy to toss at my head.
When Dr. G finally came out to take her back to his
office for her own appointment, she tilted her head and widened her eyes and looked for
all the world like Gloria Swanson in the closing scene of "Sunset Blvd."
The thought flitted through my mind: when she has her ultrasound,
will she say "I'm ready for my close up now, Dr. G" ?