Me and Kinky were parked behind a couple of five-ways down at Skyline Chili in Clifton. Five-ways were to Cincinnati what cheesesteaks were to Philadelphia: its distinctive culinary contribution to the world. Kinky was poking his fork down through the layers of cheese, onions, beans, chili, and spaghetti, scowling.
“Don’t think of it as being in the same food group as Texas chili, Kinky,” I told him. “It’s East European.”
Kinky glanced up, then around, as if searching for evidence that this joint was an enclave of ethnic haute cuisine. Tell me another one, his eyes said.
We were interrupted by a waiter in a white jacket, hurrying to our booth with a white telephone.
“Telephone for Mr. Friedman,” the waiter said.
Now this should have tipped me off that something was amiss. Skyline Chili — or “Skillini’s,” as the local wags pronounce it — does not run to telephones, white or otherwise, or jacketed waiters for that matter. It was one in a chili parlor chain which featured downscale dining, even in the heart of one of Cincinnati’s more upscale neighborhoods. Both the telephone and the white jacket were splashed with tomato sauce, but still.
Kinky told me that the cat was calling to say that his building was burning down.
“How can she tell?” I asked. It was a reasonable question; Kinky was always complaining about the heat in his New York City loft.
But all of a sudden, I could feel it. A wave of heat washed over me and left me soaking wet. Goddamn, I’d heard of reaching out and touching somebody, but this was ridiculous! I dropped my fork.
And woke up.
I was sitting up in bed, scanning the darkness in confusion.
Goddamn, it wasn’t Kinky’s place that was on fire — it was mine!
I fumbled for the light and switched it on.
Sadie and Sophie, who were sacked out on the foot of the bed, raised their heads and gazed at me in sleepy feline confusion. Not a whisker twitched. I sniffed the air.
Hell, it wasn’t my place that was on fire — it was me!
I threw off the wet sheets and raced to the bathroom, nearly tripping over Sidney, who had heard the commotion and come running to investigate. By the time I got the water on, the heat was receding. Behind it came a chill like a Canadian cold front. I stood in the shower, my dripping nightgown clinging to me tight as a corpse’s fist. I sneezed and felt a tiny explosion of wet heat between my thighs.
Sidney was watching me curiously. I think it was gradually dawning on him that I was not up for a game of Kitty Tease.
Menopause. I love it.
Mind you, I’d waited for it long enough. For some time now, I’d found it downright embarrassing to be caught carrying tampons around. I’d felt like a goddamn gynecological miracle. Even so, the Change, when it came, kind of crept up on me. I thought my PMS had been lasting longer than usual, but I didn’t really keep track. I mean, what was the point? If I turned up pregnant — well, let’s just say that since I seemed an unlikely candidate for participation in the Second Coming, we’d have to consider the Rosemary’s Baby scenario.
When I finally realized what was happening, my sixtieth birthday party paled by comparison to the celebrating I did. Until I found out that there were things you could carry around that were even more embarrassing than tampons.
Not that I thought anybody should be embarrassed, if I listened to my rational self. This was 1985, for crissakes, and we seniors were fast becoming everybody’s favorite voting bloc and marketing target. Hell, judging from our president’s domestic policy, senile dementia was all the rage. I’d even thought about writing President Reagan and proposing that he do his bit for gray pride and appear on an Attends commercial. Then I remembered that I wasn’t speaking to Ronnie, for all sorts of reasons I won’t go into.
So anyway, there I stood, dripping wet, wishing a genie would show up and grant me three wishes. I’d use up one getting my estrogen back. That gave me two left to wish menopause on my worst enemies, and Ronald Reagan was high on the list. Maybe, out of deference to my upstairs neighbor Moses, I’d zap Marvin Warner, owner of Home State Savings Bank and chief culprit in its failure, while I was at it. Moses still had a good chunk of his life savings frozen at Home State while the Feds tried to sort out the mess. The whole ordeal had considerably soured his disposition.
Meanwhile, speaking of soured dispositions and freezing, I was now cold, wet, cranky — and wide awake. I went back to the Kinky Friedman mystery I’d been reading before I went to bed.