One thing that I probably never mentioned to you — and don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not really proud of this, I'm just a little conflicted about it at the moment — is that I am good friends with Jennifer Garner. Really good friends. Really, pretty good friends, though I consider that something fluid and moving towards
'really good friends'. I want you to understand, it's hard being Jennifer Garner, really hard, in a complex way. I should know, I am her friend.
We met in New York which is weird, I know, because I don't live in New York and neither does she. We met at this spa that specializes in bikini line waxing, though you can get massages and other services too.
I was there for the weekend visiting a friend and on Saturday morning my friend planned to meet up with her cousin for pancakes and a tour of the public waterworks and I had a feeling it would be a lot of high-pitched giggling, which my friend does even on her own and which would be unbearable if it were doubled.
I opted out and went to get a bikini waxing for the first time. You see, I don't have a lot of hair down there. I was blessed. But I was planning on spending some time at the beach in subsequent weekends, so I made a decision: "Why should I shave when others do not have to?"
It was an upscale place, which is how I happened upon Jennifer Garner in the waiting area. I mean, I guess that was why Jennifer Garner was at that spa — the chichi factor. And now I have to ask myself, "What was I doing there?" I think my answer has to be, "Fate."
A little waterfall foot bath gurgled in the center of the waiting area and it was surrounded by small rooms with massage tables and, in some rooms, waxing accoutrement. Guests dip their feet in the water to relax before an attendant gently but firmly pulls the hair from their bodies.
I knew it was Jennifer Garner immediately. She has very, very amazing features which are even better in person. Her head is large, too. It's even slightly too big for her body, which is kind of what first alerted me to the fact that she was a movie star. Big heads mean special people, is an unspoken rule that we live by but don't think about. Since she kept bending down to splash the water onto her ankles, it appeared that at any moment she could topple over into the waterfall. I guess I felt protective of her because she could drown.
She made the first move of our friendship, because I didn't dare. It would have made me look stalker-ish and pathetic if I said to her what she said to me, but the other way around it was beautiful:
"Do you think this is just a mole?"
I loved the fact that she didn't start talking immediately about waxing. Still, she was totally bringing it right down to body issues and also ways that we are unhappy with our bodies. Right away! She didn't go straight for hair removal, an obvious choice, but she went to another level, really, which was medical. I had to be concerned about her health from the get-go.
I also had to look at her chest, which is where the mole is. Jen's chest is not big, but everything is well-proportioned. She was wearing a very light terry robe and the whole time I was looking at her mole, I could feel her breath on my face.
"That is definitely a mole," I said.
Then I brushed my finger over it and I could feel her let out a little sigh.
Was she attracted to me? Or was this just intimacy? I've never had much intimacy with women, so I didn't know for sure. It's something I am currently working on in therapy.
You see, I don't make a ton of platonic girlfriends. I've just gone from boyfriend to boyfriend, pretty much. I'm kind of a man's woman, if that's the way it's said, or am I a woman's woman? No, a man's. But I don't have a ton of male friends either. And when I say, "don't have a ton", I want you to know, I mean none. But that's exactly how Jen is too. We thought that was funny. Then I brought up Jessica Biel, because I had seen them in that movie together, Love to the Third Power I think was the name, and also in photo spreads in Allure and also Bazaar and come to think of it, Galore, if that is even a magazine.
It turned out the thing with Biel was totally fabricated.
"I didn't know they did that anymore. That sounds like some kind of publicity stunt from the thirties."
"Oh no," she assured me. "You would not believe how many fake friendships there are concocted for magazines or entertainment shows. I just wish they hadn't picked her for me. I actually do NOT like her. Her breath smells like tin."
I knew exactly that smell. It was probably just that Jessica Biel used Listerine Strips, which really make good breath smell bad, but I wasn't about to tell that to Jennifer. Let Jennifer think that Jessica's breath smelled like tin with no underlying reason. It was a lie of omission on my part, but I would tell that lie again.
We had our feet in the pool for a while. We bonded over the fact that neither of us wanted the Brazilian. "No one should be that close to my butthole but my man!" one of us said. I can't remember which one. That's the funny thing about Jenner (my nick for her) and me. She might be a Hollywood A-lister and married to Ben Affleck and lead this totally different life than me, but we think and talk the same. She likes to take the first name and the last name of a person and smoosh them together, too. Her name for me is Carbart. She isn't the first one to call me that. I mean, my name is Carolyn Hobart, so it's nothing new, but it's still pretty great coming from Jenner. I probably wouldn't have even been bold enough to nickname her, if I weren't fairly sure that our whole encounter was only going to last five or 10 minutes. Short spurts of interaction make me bold sometimes.
She got called in to have her waxing first. And, while she was walking in she turned around and looked confused, like she didn't want to end her hangout with me.
Then she mouthed, "See you after? Meet me back here?" I nodded.
I nodded like, "Of course, this is pretty standard to me. This is what I expected to happen." But, Jenner wanted to see me after? I didn't even want to go in to get the wax now. What if she didn't wait for me or our signals got crossed? I sat there asking myself, Is this really happening? Why? Why is it happening now? I had whitened my teeth two nights ago, but nothing this good ever came of that before.
What was I going to do, not go in and get my bikini line waxed, just to wait for her? That would be foolish. But what if she came out and I wasn't there? She wouldn't wait. She was Jennifer Garner. Even if she had nothing to do, Ben Affleck had more of a right to her time than me. Or her agent. Or the public, even, had more rights.
Then a voice inside my head (my voice from my future, more confident self, I think) said, C'mon, only Jenner owns Jenner's time, go get waxed. She would want you to. Go! Get your bikini line waxed! I made a note to tell my therapist about the voice from my future. I thought she'd be intrigued and we could spend a good hour on it, or 50 minutes.
Besides, the problem with not getting it done was that I didn't want to be just waiting out there when she came out and have her go, "Did you get yours done?" and me have to begin our relationship with a lie and go, "Yeah, my woman was quick! Yours took forever." There were all these implications, even in that little lie. Like, it implies that she's Jennifer Garner and just like with her extraordinary features, everyone wants to be around her pubic area too. And that I am just some nobody so I'm rushed in and out, with no lingering around mine. Screw that. I'm not telling that lie!
Then, also I had no idea where this relationship was actually going, what if we went to a sauna or some other thing together and she saw me naked? And I still had hair? No. I was getting it done.
A little Russian woman named Pravda or Mabla took me back and told me to disrobe and lay on the table. She mumbled and it was hard to tell for sure, but after she did the first strip and I made this hissing noise, breathing out through my mouth, I thought she said, "Leave Jennifer Garner alone." I couldn't hear because I was hissing, so I said, "What?" She looked up at me like she hadn't spoken. Then I wondered if I just heard those words because that was my own inner voice talking. Not my future voice.
I was starting to feel defeated. I don't belong with Jen. I'm no Ben Affleck of female friends. I'm more like the guy on Scrubs of female friends. Zach someone. Plus my skin was stinging and I felt itchy everywhere, not just in my bikini region. Then it was over and I wasn't sure, but Mabla seemed like she was looking at me like everything I did was disgusting.
When I went back to the waiting room, she wasn't there. I made a quick circle around the fountain just to be sure she hadn't pitched forward. But no luck. What was I thinking? That she was going to hang around and wait for me? I realized that when she said, "Wait for me?" like a question mark, it was probably just a trendy Hollywood way of saying "goodbye." You don't actually say goodbye, instead you just express confusion about how you will part ways and that covers any bad feelings for having parted.
I moved on to a large antechamber with mirrored walls and large single bud vases filled with bougainvillea and lilies everywhere. I put on my lip gloss and prepared for walking outside in the city – hair pulled back, sunglasses on head, sunblock, urban clogs, a scarf tied like the way the American soldiers do in Iraq and now also in MORE Magazine – though that tie really looks stupid on me, just a bunch of knots in disarray.
Anyway, in she walked!
"Hey, I thought you were going to wait? What did you think? My girl was new and really slow," she said, sidling right up to me, like no time had passed and my paranoid thoughts hadn't been thought.
The feeling from that Led Zeppelin song, I'm just a fool waiting on the wrong block, kind of swept over me. Jenner. She hadn't dumped me and she is not fake enough to pull off some weird ditching ploy. I immediately loved her.
I tried not be be too giddy.
I said, "My woman was Russian," which came out sounding xenophobic and I did get a little bit of a wince from Jenner on that one. But it wasn't too pronounced. It was filmic. And cool. Her scarf was tied like someone who had actually grown up in Iraq.
"Hey, I'm starving. Do you want to grab food?"
"Sure! Fun!" I said, minding my tone. I had to be excited, but not an idiot. And since part of me was nervous about a prolonged one-on-one interaction, I was also less than enthusiastic. This was hard work. I really just wanted to take a bath.
We went to a bistro she said she loves because they leave her alone. But when we arrived, no one left her alone. The chef spent like 25 minutes sending us stuff and then checking in to see what she thought. He kept squatting down next to her. He'd ask, "You like?" Occasionally he'd glance in my direction, but he didn't care what I liked. She liked it all. I was thinking how this relationship was going to be a challenge because I would just have to be the lesser person in significance. To some, not to all. Not to me! But, say, to the public. Finally, the chef went back into the kitchen for a while.
"Blame society. I do. Our patriarchy, the superficiality, women as objects," she said, spooning glass noodle raviolis infused with saffron bulgar into her mouth. The conversation was becoming harder for me once she'd shifted it from waxing. I agreed with her about all those words, but didn't she know she was preaching to the converted? And also, sort of yelling? But, just when I started to fear that this was going to be a thing where she just randomly pelted me with hot-button feminist buzzwords, she really did start to reveal. There is more pressure on Jennifer Garner than you'd ever imagined.
"The fact that I chose this field, acting. Or can I be more frank? Movie stardom. Ugh. When I could have been a designer of some sort. Because I'm good with flowers. And also branches and dried leaves. Also tea bags. I remove the dried tea and make a paste with it. I recycle and knit together the fiber from the bags. I've made a blouse and a blanket. That's a fact. Ben and lots of people have said they're amazing. I've put some up on Etsy under my artist's name. A Fleck of (Dand)Rough."
"A fleck of ... ?"
"I'll send you the link," she said. She seemed irritated that I didn't get the name on the first try.
She took a big swig of wine and lit up a cigarette. The place didn't allow smoking, but it was midafternoon, so not too crowded. We were near a window that was open a couple of inches and she kept bending down to blow her smoke out. Thoughtful. She talked about sticking with the stardom. Because it would be hard to get something else off the ground right now and be at the same level of success.
"Maybe when my looks start to fade I'll have the time." As if her looks would ever fade. Then I realized, she meant it. What was going on inside of me, at my level (not a celebrity), was going on inside of Jen too. I had that feeling that you have when you think, we're all the same. Only this was the first time I ever had it for anyone other than a homeless person or someone in a sociology class in college.
"It's striking how much your face changes, from year to year, yes, but also day to day and also, time of day to time of day. I look best in the midafternoon. In the a.m., I'm puffy. I don't have dark circles, my stylist has told me that." She seemed to be getting increasingly tense as she became more absorbed in what she was saying.
"Thank God," I said. I do have dark circles, but I didn't want to interrupt just to add that.
"I have a childlike voice, and that helps. Though lately, when Ben and I are talking especially, I notice that the way I sound is different. There aren't those soft sounds at the end of each word. There aren't those tiny little sweet grunts that I end every sentence on. Things sound less padded. I try to put my voice in the front of my face a bit more. In my nose, to be exact. But I end up sounding like Rudolph. I should sound like Clarissa. I'm not a male reindeer, for Christ's sake!"
She was doing it again with the yelling and I was doing that thing where I was feeling bad, like I made Jennifer Garner's voice change. I was trying to decide what to do because if we were ever truly going to be friends, I shouldn't feel this way around her. I was wondering if, to counteract her anger, I should try to get all loud too. I also have problems with the patriarchy, the society, the cumulative effects of oppression. God, do I ever.
"I hate how when my boyfriend gets gray hair, it's like he's a silver fox and I'm still dying my hair," I began. "Fuck it."
"Fuck what?" she asked, "I thought I just said all that?"
"I know, but this is my boyfriend we're talking about. And me."
"What's the difference?" Then she had a new thought. "How about how when Ben gets a little belly it's kind of cute and sexy, but I can't gain any weight because I look bloated in the belly, like a snake that ate a mouse. I don't know what the answer is to that. God, the whole thing is ripping me apart inside, if I can just be completely honest!"
I didn't know where to look. When we made eye contact, I just felt berated. And then the chef came over and asked me, "How's everything for Jennifer?"
"Ask her," I said.
"Everything is great," she said, giggly. "Our bouches are amoozed!"
After the chef drifted off, I took a deep breath and launched into it. "There's an imbalance here."
"What do you mean?" she asked. "In society?"
"No, I'm saying, just — this is weird, a little, for me because I just met you today, about three hours ago. It's been great to hang out with you. I just — "
"You just love it, Carrrrbaaart?"
"Well, yes definitely, I mean, I really do, but I'm just saying that I also want you to realize that it's a little odd for me to be with a, pretty much a movie star and having lunch. To be pretty much on the sidelines in the conversation. There's just an unfair quality. I mean, you can see it with the people who come to the table, with the chef."
"I've been coming here for years," she said in a monotone, one I'd never heard her use in any of her films. I wanted to tell her she should try it in a movie because it might broaden her range, but I could tell she was too angry to hear that. I started to try to back off slightly, to laugh it off. But I'm not a very good actor. Also, was I not allowed to speak in this relationship?
"Am I just someone for you to yell at?" I asked.
"What?" Now she was really pissed. Her phone rang and she made a show of looking at me and then choosing to pick it up and walk away from the table.
I felt sick but also like, "Fuck you, Jennifer Garner, full name intended. I don't need to have a fake friend who yells at me about society and doesn't see the imbalance in front of her face. Please. I didn't create the patriarchy and I suffer under it too. Maybe more. Just not under the subgenre of Hollywood patriarchy. But so what? I don't need to get yelled at about it.
When she came back, she didn't seem angry anymore. But her speech was just slightly measured.
"What did you mean, Car? I'm not yelling at you. I'm commiserating." I had no answer because she had shifted positions and she seemed to be genuinely concerned about me. Then I saw her get an idea, in the exact same way that Jennifer Garner, the movie star, gets an idea. Her eyes got big and round and she licked her lips. "What are you, like, the youngest child or something?"
How could she tell? "Yes, why?" I answered.
"Oh God. Because you are all the most sensitive. I can't say anything to my youngest without this happening. I'm a middle, by the way. In case you are curious."
She did this thing where she raised her eyebrows and knitted them slightly and looked into my eyes. It had the effect of pleading, I think.
I didn't bring it up again. I brought it up once, which I was proud of, to bring up inequity to a movie star. I pictured telling my therapist. And I pictured my therapist nodding at me, and talking about my "great strides."
Jen and I shared a cab back to her hotel and I took it on to my friend's apartment. When I dropped her off she did look a little confused again. I am still wondering if this is just her parting gambit. Then she asked for my number.
"I'm calling you every day, Carbart."
"OK, my Jenner," I said, still trying to be nonchalant, and kissing each of her chiseled cheeks.
It's only been a day, but she hasn't called yet. That's OK though, because I have some trepidation about this friendship really starting. Right now I'm in the sweet spot — the ball's in her court. I guess I'm afraid of this relationship revealing something very real to me. I wonder if I am ready for it. Maybe it will be my own ugliness I'll see. Maybe Mabla was right; everything I do is disgusting. Or maybe Jenner is right. Maybe I'm worthy of being a very close friend of Jennifer Garner. And someday, my future voice tells me, I'll be more comfortable with it. After some talks on the phone and a few more bistros, if things keep going this way, it might feel sort of like being with a friend from college who is gorgeous and that that gorgeousness is understood between us, but totally OK for both of us. And not sad for me.
Judge's Comments: Wow, what a voice. And so many great, loopy moments ( i.e. "Fuck you, Jennifer Garner, full name intended"). This came very, very close to knocking "Blackout" out of the top position. —Duane Swierczynski