Before I left for Portland, a friend who had worked with Wendy on promoting her speeches, warned me: “Be careful. She’s treacherous.”
That much I knew from four years as her employee. My ex-husband, no great fan of the truth himself, had taken to calling her “Wendacious” to rhyme with “mendacious.” But I was, nonetheless, a great admirer of her chutzpah. With no real editorial skills or writing ability, she had talked her way into the job of editor-in-chief of a slick national magazine that eventually grew to about 400,000 in circulation. The nitty gritty of assigning and pulling articles together she left to others, while she went on the hustings to drum up advertisers and audience support. The fine-toothed-comb business of making a manuscript publishable did not interest her at all (I was good at this, and at polishing her editor’s notes until they made sense), but she loved meetings and hiring and firing and office intrigue. And she did have a talent for public speaking, which served her well in her role as head of the National Association of Female Executives. In some ways Wendy seemed to me a direct descendant of those feisty women who once stormed a young nation, advocating temperance or women’s suffrage. Later I would be chilled to the bone to see the same talents, twisted to different ends, in Sarah Palin.
We had stayed in touch in the dozen or so years since the magazine’s dissolution, and I had followed her peregrination cross country from Connecticut to Oregon after meeting husband number three, as she had followed my trailing-spouse odyssey from New York to Massachusetts to California and back again. We weren’t really soul sisters but we were shoulders to cry on or stalwart cheerleaders as life’s little ups-and-downs dictated.
So before I got to Portland I was somewhat prepared for her bitterness as the third marriage dissolved (he was unable to give up monthly “conjugal visits” with a former wife), but I wasn’t ready for other developments in her life. Namely, the breasts. Or let us say, she had told me about the breast implants acquired at the behest of husband number three, but I was not ready for the double-D reality of the cannonballs that now occupied significant real estate between her waist and her collarbone.
“Well, what do you think?” she wanted to know after collecting me at the airport and briefly flashing a bit of cleavage under her trench coat. Even under wraps, I could tell they were, um, impressive.
“They totally changed my life!”
“Yeah. I’ll bet.” I tried to sound both enthusiastic and understanding.
I would see much more of “The Twins,” as she called them, in the days to come. They accompanied her to the breakfast table, barely restrained beneath filmy negligees, openly competing with the grapefruit and cantaloupes. They loved the open air, thrusting above extreme decolletage to soak up Portland’s moist atmosphere, but they were equally happy under clingy sweaters because no matter how you dressed them up or down, they would not be ignored.
Was I, with my modest barely B cups, perhaps a little jealous? I don’t think so—they went well with Wendy’s brassy personality and seemed to make her absurdly happy.
As did the prospect of the radio show. Apparently no audition was necessary, not even a tape of the two of us riffing, But this was an embarrassingly low-stakes game. We would be given a Sunday-morning slot from 10 to noon—probably a dead zone for AM radio since anyone interested in news would be tuned in to cable shows and other people would be reading the Sunday papers or in church or cruising the infant Internet. We would each be paid $50 week, so I doubt we were straining the station’s budget. Wendy’s lawyer drew up a rudimentary contract of some kind, having to do with intellectual property rights, but if the station asked us to sign any serious papers, I don’t remember doing so.
Nonetheless we took our program seriously and held more-or-less formal meetings to hash out the contents and format. Who came up with what I can hardly remember, though I know we easily agreed that “Anything Goes” would be a swell name for the show, and we would use Cole Porter singing the theme from his musical as the introduction. I believe it was my idea to pull together a “studio orchestra” made up of a child’s xylophone, some toy drums, and a kazoo, and we would mix up the content with both serious and frivolous material, like contests, interviews, and call-in portions.
We first met in early June to cement the deal with the station and brainstorm ideas. Our launch would not be till late August, which left plenty of time to develop grandiose notions of how quickly we might catapult to big-time radio stars (Wendy had a vision of our likenesses plastered on the sides of local buses, with the words “The Freshest Mouths in Portland”). The station manager let us borrow a studio to “practice,” and we spent time getting accustomed to using headphones and mics and chattering back and forth about events of the day.
Through her speeches to local businesswomen, Wendy had worked up a network in Portland, and we held a party to introduce ourselves—a rather awkward gathering in which I tried to explain how I was segueing from art journalist to radio talk-show host, smiling and cracking jokes about midlife crises, venturing that it was sort of like transitioning from gossip columnist to air-traffic controller. But we were undaunted by lack of experience and talked up the show whenever and wherever possible, though our debut was still weeks away.
I spent about ten days in Portland, where I had also landed a gig to write about a revamped Tudor house in a high-end neighborhood for Architectural Digest. Peter and I stayed in touch mostly via email, though I think by then he was finally sensing how thin the bond had grown between us. We never talked on the phone because he seldom had much to say. As tiring as Wendy and The Twins could be at times—both of them possessed inexhaustible oomph—I was not at all eager to return to New York. In a few months I knew I would have to give up my apartment because the landlord wanted to turn it over to his mother, and the prospect of looking for housing again in Manhattan sent prickles of fear down my spine.
Then toward the end of my visit, Wendy announced, “My friend Jeff is in town from Seattle. I think you ought to meet him.”
“I think he might be your type.”
To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never really had a type. “What is my type?”
“Complicated,” she answered, which was not without a grain of truth.
“And what does this Jeff look like?”
“Like a cross between Gary Cooper and a serial killer.”
“Yup.” I nodded sagely. “That sounds right up my alley.”