Wednesday, March 8, 1989
Debora the Decorator is a half hour late meeting me at her shop in Los Altos, a shop where she purveys suspiciously clean-looking antiques along with brand new paintings of fox hunts in old-looking frames. Driving a beat-up van, she leads me to the toniest section of Saratoga, a tony town, and to the sprawling ranch house of Mrs. Truckley.
In the driveway Debora says, "These people are rich, rich, rich. Be careful."
The sizable front yard - must be an acre - is pleasingly dense with trees and flowering bushes, placed and manicured as if it were an arboretum. Somebody here appreciates nature while controlling it with an iron hand.
Debora collects a rather sizable check, and then she departs.
As soon as the van is gone, Mrs. Truckley says, "Debora is always late. Don't you just hate that?"
I don't answer.
"You're a diplomat," Mrs. Truckley says, raising her eyebrows. "I like that. And now it's only fair to warn you that I'm a perfectionist."
With some clients, rich or poor, I feel an instant rapport. With Mrs. Truckley I don't. There's a wall. Maybe it's chemistry. Maybe it's taste.
My first job is to hang a hideous gilt-edged mirror (supplied by Debora). Unfortunately, while I'm using a spirit level to demonstrate to the perfectionist that the mirror is straight, a screwdriver point hanging from my toolbelt accidentally scratches the gilt frame. A tiny scratch.
"You're distressing my mirror," Mrs. Truckley says.
"Sorry." I could lose a day's pay here. Possibly a week's pay. "I'll get some touch-up paint. I can make it so you'd never know."
"I'd always know." She studies the mirror, sighing. "Don't bother." She squints. "How do you like it?"
"If you're happy, I'm happy."
"But would you hang it in your own home?"
I don't answer.
Mrs. Truckley raises her eyebrows, studying me with an amused smile. She says nothing.
Next, while moving wires to hang a sparkly crystal chandelier (also supplied by Debora), I find a dead rat in the attic. I don't mention the rat to Mrs. Truckley.
When the work is completed, Mrs. Truckley asks me to look at her garage. It's a four-car cavern containing at the moment only one vehicle: a Porsche 911. "I want to install a ping pong table in here," she says. "And hang some lights over it. Could you do that?"
She doesn't ask how much it will cost.
"Do you play ping pong?" I ask.
"Oh no. It's for my little boy. He needs some exercise. You know how it is. They'll just sit around all day if you don't give them something to do."
"How old is your boy?"
I point at the Porsche. "Is that his car?"
"Mine. He doesn't have a car."
"Then he must walk. Isn't that a little exercise?"
"The motorcycle. He's out on it right now."
"What kind of motorcycle?"
"I'll get the very best ping pong table I can find."
"Thank you." She puts a finger to her cheek, thinking. "You think I'm a fool, don't you?"
"Did you find any rats in the attic?"
"One. It was dead."
"Would you mind getting it? I'll give you a bag."
"At you service, ma'am."
"Please don't ma'am me."
"Please fetch the rat. We'll forget the ping pong table. Not all of my ideas are brilliant ones. Like hiring Debora. That awful mirror. Will you take it down?"
"Whatever you wish."
"What I wish is for somebody to tell the empress the truth about her clothes. Or lack thereof. The chandelier can stay. My husband will like it. Me, I prefer the more natural environment." In the back yard there's a rock-lined swimming pool fed by two painstakingly natural-looking waterfalls. "May I call you again if more projects come up? Call you directly? Let's bypass Debora."
"Now am I less stupid than you thought?"
"I never thought - "
I don't answer.
She smiles. "But of course you'd say that."