The Goddess Lounge
Penne Armour's bad day just keeps getting worse. First she has to visit The Goddess Lounge, the notorious LA coffee house/knitting salon/menstrual palace picketed by religious conservatives as a "man-hating elevator to hell." Then Penne is told that her "inner goddess" is Venus, the Roman goddess of love, the one goddess—if she even believed in goddesses—that she would want nothing to do with. Divorced Penne has no time for love. She has a preschool to run, an ever-expanding pack of dogs to nurture, and a daughter to raise—a demanding teenager who needs an accessible and focused parent upon whom to target her age-appropriate rage and fury.
But when Penne's ex-husband goes missing and she sets out to find him, maybe an inner Venus is just what Penne needs to face down a one-eyed fashionista, a boar-taming olive-oil rancher, a hypnotic lounge lizard, an ocean of traffic, and her own increasingly irrepressible feelings for a businessman with a dangerous secret.
A comic, gender-twisting riff on Homer's Odyssey, The Goddess Lounge asks the eternal question: Why be a hero when you can be a goddess?
"Smart, funny, and strangely comforting, Margaret Finnegan's The Goddess Lounge made me laugh out loud. Finnegan tackles the big subjects—Parenthood, Responsibly, Family, Divorce, Spirituality, Commitment, and more—with an open, disarmingly honest, and humorous touch."
"This Vacant Paradise"
"You've never read The Odyssey? Me neither. But if The Goddess Lounge, Margaret Finnegan's inventive take on The Odyssey, is any indication, it's a wild, hilarious and empowering adventure."
Pasadena Daily Photo
"The Goddess Lounge is a wonderful romp that took me on a gleeful adventure. Its wry humor, deft writing, and modern twist on a classic tale all kept me reading and pleading for more. Equal parts guilty and literary pleasure—thank you, Goddess Margaret."
"Human Cargo," Latinidad's Mystery Pick of 2011
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course."— Homer
“Oh, grow up!”— Joan Rivers
Ok. So I’m on my way to The Goddess Lounge, the coffee house/knitting salon/menstrual palace that Fox News calls, “A man-hating elevator to hell, another example of debauched LA, a sinful hideaway for modern-day polytheists and the Hollywood types who forever confuse spiritual wholeness with liberal narcissism.”
Yeah. It’s not a good morning.
Plus, it’s raining — crazy raining. Water is falling in thick sheets, like it does maybe once every five or six winters in LA. Naturally, we Angelenos are so stunned by the sheer presence of water under our tires that we can barely drive. It’s taken me an hour and a half to get here from Altadena, and that’s not even twenty miles. I’m feeling it, too. My calf is stiff. My foot is restless. My whole body wants to go all crazy Mel Gibson, and if I have to hear one more morning DJ make another joke about Noah’s Arc I’m going to jump out of my car and dive under an MTA bus.
Of course, this being Hollywood, there is no street parking either. When I finally reach The Goddess Lounge I have to pull into a lot half a block down, which means my loafers get soaked through as I make my way to the oversized brass doors carved with ornate reliefs.
Outside the doors stand three women. Protesters. Damn. I forgot there would be protesters.
Now, as the daughter of a left-wing Hollywood celebrity, I actually know a thing or two about dealing with protesters. For example, do not engage protesters. Treat them like your child’s messy bedroom. Walk away — just walk away — and know that one day, maybe eighteen years from now, that room will be turned into a guest room and the mess will be gone. The more you engage in the battle of the messy room, the more tension you will feel and the more misery you will endure. Similarly, the more you try to talk to protesters, the more people will call you names and throw things at you. It happens to Georgie every time. You’d think she’d learn, but when it comes to keeping her mouth shut my mother’s an addict. She just can’t stop herself.
Unfortunately, this apple doesn’t fall far from that tree. When I see the protesters, I assume my best road-rage fueled ‘don’t fuck with me’ stride. I look straight ahead, I set my jaw, and then, right when I reach the door, I go all stupid. I hesitate, just for a second, and my armor chinks right up. Forget it. It’s over. They know I’m marshmallow.
“God sees you,” says one of the women. “You can’t hide your shame from Him.”
I look down at the sidewalk stars bearing the names of actors and actresses that even I’ve never heard of, and, knowing all I know about ignoring protesters, I stammer, “My mom made me come.”
Snarl. Curse. Moan. “It’s your eternal damnation.”
With that friendly invitation, I enter The Goddess Lounge. And…surprise. Relief. This place seems nothing more than a funky/alternate universe sort of Starbucks with oak tables and chairs and a purple velvet couch. Women sit relaxed, chatting and knitting. A few of them browse a shelf full of colorful yarns. Really, it’s all very Small Worldy. I definitely don’t see how it could have spurred that Orthodox rabbi to say, “What over 5,000 years of Jewish law and tradition have done for monotheism, that viperous den threatens to destroy in one fell swoop.”
As for the famous red tent, maybe that’s just a myth.
Three young servers in bright-colored saris smile at me and, almost in harmonic unison, say, “Welcome.”
“Hi,” I say. “I have an appointment with Tamara.” This place may not be as bad as I thought, but I’m still not saying the words “goddess consultation.”
The tallest of the servers picks up a clipboard from the counter. “Name?”
She slides a finger down her page. “Hmmm…I’m not seeing you…you said Penny?”
“Actually, Penne, with an e, like the noodle.”
The shorter servers knit their brows and give matching tilts of the head, so I say what I always say, “Hippie parents.”
They smile. Honestly, they’re like little dolls. I want to enroll them in my preschool; they’re that adorable. I look back at the server with the clipboard. “You might look under Georgie Wile.”
“Ah! Geoooorgie,” says the girl, stretching my mother’s name out the way people do. “We love Geoooorgie. Of course, Georgie is on the list. You must be her daughter. We’ve been expecting you.”
She introduces herself as Uzume and her companions as Freyja and Bast. “We’ve each taken goddess names. Some of the more committed devotees do that,” she explains. “But you can keep your original name. The goddesses believe in choices.”
They lead me through a swishy beaded curtain and into a room the size of a backyard swimming pool. There, surrounded by potted palms, blooming orchids and maybe twenty enormous candle stands, each fitted with a gigantic, burning candle, is a scarlet tent.
Well, what do you know? There really is a menstrual tent. “Wow. People didn’t do it justice.”
“It is difficult,” says Uzume admiring the sight before us. “There’s no photography allowed, you know.”
“And what words do it justice?” asks Freyja.
“You could say it’s red or shiny or round — but so is a yo-yo,” says Bast.
“Words fail. You know?” says Uzume.
I know. But let me try. Think little baby circus tent. It’s about six feet in diameter. A bright bronze ball stands atop the highly pitched center of the tent, which is, otherwise, entirely covered in thick layers of gleaming, red silk that undulate softly as the air warmed by the candles rises and falls.
“May I take your coat?” asks Uzume. “We don’t want to get the tent wet, at least with ordinary LA rain water. We’d have to re-sanctify.”
“And we’ll need your shoes,” says Freyja.
“And your camera, cell phone, any kind of electronica. Those things are really toxic to good chi. We’d definitely have to re-sanctify,” adds Bast.
Far be it from me to toxify a tent’s chi. I hand my wet things to Uzume and begin pawing through my purse. Now, I know dusty pink is not the most fashionable color for purses these days. My daughter Grace Claire tells me that all the time. And I know some people would see the size of my purse and think carry-on luggage, but here’s the thing: I like my purse. I like how the shortish straps fit neatly into the crook of my elbow yet can slide up and rest on my shoulder. I like the spaciousness of my purse; I mean, if I found a Chihuahua on the street, I could plop it inside and still have room for all my stuff. Sure, my bag may cause me to list a little, but many women list. I’m not the only one. The point is, it’s a great bag, but it’s not always easy to find things in this bag. It’s a job less for the eyes and more for the fingers, which have developed a sort of sensory memory of the contents. I do my usual spider-crawl over the wallet, under the checkbook, behind the sunglasses and the mini first-aid kit and the anti-bacterial lotion and the Kleenex and the water bottle and the various crumpled papers and receipts, lipstick, sunscreen, Tic Tacs, and loose change. I search every inch of that bag: no phone, but I never leave home without my phone.
Uzume glances at her watch. “Isn’t your watch ‘electronica?’” I ask, adding a visual scan to my search.
“Oh, no. We all use wind up watches,” she says. “Better energy.”
“Tamara carries a whole line of them. All goddess inspired,” says Bast.
Freyja holds up her wrist to show a large-face analog watch attached to a silver chain bracelet. Painted in the center of the watch face is a blond woman wearing a fat gold necklace. “Freyja. See?” she says pointing to the necklace. “The gold necklace gives it away. Gold necklaces are her symbol. All goddesses have symbols. You’ll see.”
I close my purse and pull it up to my shoulder. “I guess I left my phone at home.” Then, more to myself than the others, I add, “I hope Grace Claire doesn’t need me,” because — after all — what’s the point of having a phone if Grace Claire can’t get a hold of me?
From the front room comes a door chime. Freyja and Bast nod and head back through the beaded curtain, which means only Uzume gets to escort me to the tent.
“Oh, my,” I say stepping inside.
“Is there a problem?”
“No. It’s just…there are a lot of burning candles in here. I’m just wondering…I don’t mean to be difficult, but that’s a lot of fire for a silk tent” — I look around — “especially one filled with big pillows.”
Uzume laughs. “Oh, Penne, you’re so funny. You must get that from Georgie.”
“Yeah. You know, silk is actually highly flammable.”
Uzume laughs again before stepping back outside the tent. “You just wait, Penne,” she says closing the door flap. “This will change your life.”
And thus I am dimmed to a plaintive red hue. The combustible-looking pillows are stacked around the edges of an oriental carpet, and in the center of the carpet stands a black lacquered table, oval and low. I step over the pillows and sit behind the table. I wait for maybe twenty minutes. Of course, since I do not have my phone, it could be five minutes. It could be an hour. Who’s to say? All I can really say is that, without that phone, I am totally disconnected from my life. At this exact moment, gunmen could be ransacking Grace Claire’s school. My dogs could be drowning in what I’m sure is now my waterlogged backyard. Who knows? Not me. Because I have no phone.
Just when I am really getting inventive predicting all manner of disasters going on without my knowledge, the beaded curtain gives a rattle and I hear the soft padding of feet. The door flap flutters and in walks an older woman with a short-cropped Afro and fantastic cheekbones, high, tight, and the color of cinnamon. She wears loose-fitting, apricot-colored yoga togs that match her neatly manicured apricot toenails. She even smells like an apricot. Extending her hand across the lacquered table and clasping mine, she says, “Penne. Penne, Penne, Penne, Penne, Penne. So nice to meet you. Finally. I’m Tamara.”
“Nice to meet you. Yes. It’s taken a while, hasn’t it?”
“It has,” says Tamara smiling her apricot lips. “So many cancellations. I’m glad your daughter is better, and your dogs. I didn’t know dogs could get the flu.”
“Well, we’re not exactly sure it was the flu, but they really suffered for a while. Fortunately, everyone is fine now.”
“I’m glad.” Tamara sits across from me. “You know, you’re not at all what I expected.”
“No,” I answer, returning to one of the conversations I’ve been having all my life. “People always expect me to look like my mother, but, you know, genes. Always two sets.”
“Oh,” says Tamara. “And your father is…?”
“No one famous. He died a long time ago. I didn’t really know him, but he was kind of a big guy. Good farmer stock. Big bones.”
Tamara narrows her eyes a little.
“You know, this is such a nice table. I’ve been looking for something like this for my daughter Grace Claire. She’s always leaving her nail polish lying around the house. I thought if she had a nice place for it —”
Uzume enters with two chamomile teas in pretty china cups and saucers. “Ah,” says Tamara. “Thank you, dear.”
Tamara takes a sip. Then, as Uzume leaves, she says, “So…where is Georgie?”
Now for the other conversation I’ve been having all my life. I speak quickly and with what I know sounds like forced good cheer. “Georgie’s — what — about twenty minutes late already, so that probably means she’s about ten minutes in any particular direction from here. Time is a relative phenomenon in my mother’s life. She runs thirty minutes late as a rule, but I’ve known her to run one or two hours, even one or two days, late.”
The words take control, as they so often do. I bite my tongue and try and stop, but still the words spill out. Worst yet, they are joined by anxious giggles that give every third or fifth word a high-pitched cackle. “I call it Georgie-time. It’s sort of legendary. It used to drive her directors and producers crazy, which is not to say that my mom is not a good actor. I’m very proud of her. Anyway, I’m sure this is just a routine case of Georgie-time. Like I said, I’d give her another ten minutes. Tops.”
Tamara’s apricot lips purse themselves into a round little apricot pit. I swallow and manage an unconvincing smile.
“I suppose we can begin without Georgie.”
And off I go again with the crazy, happy voice, “Hmmm. I wonder if that’s a good idea?”
Tamara’s apricot lips purse themselves into an even smaller apricot pit. “It’s your choice, of course.”
And now I must look like one of those perversely happy game-show people. I nod and pull my cheeks and eyes wide. Tamara sips more tea. “Your mother told me about your situation,” she says putting her cup back on the table.
“Oh, really?” That’s a little deflating. Not that I’m surprised, but still, Georgie promised.
“Please don’t blame Georgie. She meant well. The more I know, the more I can help. And you are menstruating right now?”
That deflates me even more. I look deep into my teacup and nod.
“Good. Our bodies are more open to the wisdom of the goddesses when the blood of life flows through us. It’s hormonal.”
“Because their hormone levels are more steady, postmenopausal women have an open channel to goddess knowledge. That’s why they’re comfortable speaking their minds. They implicitly understand that their opinions are informed by the divine.”
I study a thin, feather-like crack in my cup.
Finally, the tent flaps open once more, and there she is, my mom, Geooorgie Wile, a twig of a woman with buoyant breasts and a smile that melts glaciers. “How fucking fantastic is this?” she says.
Georgie’s arrival changes everything. That’s just what Georgie’s presence does. That’s just who Georgie is. Where once the tent induced a quiet lull, now the silk sparkles like it’s been doused in ruby red glitter. Then again, that may be the reflection that Georgie’s mammoth silver pendant casts in the candlelight. It’s a flat disk the size of a fist, and it hangs from a chain of big silver beads.
“Fuck-a-duck,” Georgie sighs. “I thought you’d back out again, Penne. I thought maybe the goldfish would be sick this time — and you don’t even have a goldfish — but fuck-a-duck you’re here.” She grins, and, as if exulted by the good fortune of their sheer proximity, the candle flames shoot even higher. “I hope you haven’t started,” she says settling down next to Tamara.
“No,” says Tamara with only the slightest tone of annoyance. “We were waiting for you.”
“Crap! Am I late?”
“No matter,” says Tamara. “We’re all here now.” With a wooden mallet the size of an emery board, Tamara hits a silver gong, which calls to us Uzume, who enters with a silver tea tray. On one side of the tray burns an incense stick sticking out of what looks like a wad of Silly Putty. One inhale of its clovish-orangish-potish scent and I start to cough.
Her eyebrows raised, Tamara says, “Does the incense bother you?”
My mother waves. “Penne loves incense.”
“Georgie.” Tamara waits until my mother turns to face her. “This is Penne’s consultation. Penne can speak for herself.”
“Of course. You’re right,” says Georgie. “Sorry.”
“Does the incense bother you, Penne?”
“That’s not what I asked. I asked if it bothers you.”
I mean to say, “No.” I mean to say, “I love incense.” Because, really, I mean to just get through this experience so that I can go back to work, watch over my little preschoolers and know that thirty miles west of me, in her beautiful Santa Monica home, my crazy but well-intentioned mother is no longer scheming to improve my fucked-up life and is, instead, scheming to improve her own fucked-up life. Instead, unwittingly, thrown off by a steely glint in Tamara’s eyes, I blurt out, “Incense makes me a little nauseous.”
“No,” scoffs Georgie. “You love incense.”
Tamara turns to Uzume. “Why don’t you take the incense, Uzume. Just leave the cards.”
Uzume hands Tamara a thick deck of what look like over-sized playing cards, deep red with shiny golden edges, and retreats from the tent.
“Penne,” Tamara says placing the cards on the small lacquered table. “What do you know of the goddesses?”
“We studied Greek myths in junior high.”
“And that’s all?”
When I reply with an apologetic shrug, a hard look etches itself across Tamara’s face. “Typical. For over two thousand years, patriarchists have denied the golden history of womanhood. Fundamentalists. The religious right. So-called ‘traditional values’ sheep can’t stand to imagine a world that does not revolve around the all-precious phallus.
“The Goddess Lounge returns to women their sacred stories. It gives back to them their goddesses, the ancient and universal figures that glorify our eternal female power. All women are invested with this power. It grows out of our very bodies. It is made manifest monthly with each woman’s cycle — with the blood paid in holy tribute to our sex’s fertility. This Menstrual Tent: it is a holy place. It is the place where we join in communion to honor that tribute.”
Over the years, my mother has dragged me to more kooky places than I can count or remember, although several stand out for their sheer bizarreness. Last year’s “aura surgeon,” who waved her hands frantically around my body for forty-five minutes in order to cut out the “cancer of unhealthy energy that had insinuated itself into my karmic field” remains particularly noteworthy. But I think it’s fair to say that the menstrual tent is beginning to seem like the weirdest one of all. The weirdest and the grossest. Blood paid in holy tribute? Power made manifest in women’s periods? Ewww. Ewww. Ewww. No one wants to hear that.
I swear, Tamara reads my mind. She freezes. Disappointment washes across her face. “Penne, you don’t want to be here, do you? You think the Red Tent is vulgar…embarrassing.” Tamara speaks as serenely as ever, but this time with a sense of wonderment, a pitying disbelief that anyone could find her menstrual tent less than inspiring. “Did Georgie force you here against your will?”
“Penne loves this,” says Georgie. “She couldn’t wait to come. Once she realized how fun it would be.”
“I couldn’t wait. I’m very happy to be here.”
Tamara narrows her eyes. “I should warn you. I cannot help you find your inner goddess if you do not want me to. Goddesses are proud. If you are not committed to finding her, she will keep herself hidden. Worst yet, she’ll choose someone else. So, what will it be? Do you want your goddess?”
What can I say? I took a morning off of work for this. I drove an hour and a half in the rain for this. My mother, who lives for putting me through this sort of shit, is sitting right in front of me, her eyes so bright that you can see why strangers still send her valentines. What else can I say: “I do.”
And if I don’t really mean it, well, what harm done? My mother is happy and my life is simpler. In the end, white lies are a small price to pay for peace. Anyone who tells you otherwise knows nothing about family.