Then Thanksgiving arrived.  That was sort of awkward, everyone suddenly had plans and had made arrangements and as usual, I hadn’t even thought about it.  Amy Weissmann came to my rescue though and invited me to her house in New York.  As it turned out she lived in Rye which wasn’t actually in New York like she always made it sound.  It was more like a suburb.  But she said we could still go shopping and go to record stores and everything.  That sounded great.  Visiting New York was one of my all time dreams.

On Wednesday we drove down with another girl who also lived in Rye.  All the way there she and Amy talked about people they knew and prep schools and stuff in “The City” that I’d never heard of.  They were both sort of annoying.

We got dropped off at Amy’s.  She had all her laundry from the last month in the trunk so we had to unload that.  Her mom was there and she came out while we were lugging the laundry in.  But she didn’t seem that excited to see us.  Not like my mom would have been.  My mom would have died if I showed up with a friend from Wellington.  She would have cleaned the house for a month.  But Mrs. Weissman barely noticed.

So then we went inside.  It was a nice house, but not the mansion Amy had described.  It was actually kind of small, the actual rooms were small and the ceilings were low and the stairwell was narrow.  It was not super noticeable but I thought about it because Amy said the house was over a hundred years old and I was thinking maybe people were smaller back then.

We went upstairs to Amy’s room.  I was to stay in her older brother’s room.  He was living in Italy, taking a year off before going to Yale Drama School.  There were pictures of him in plays on the walls.  He looked gay.  And he had all this weird stuff in his closet, silk suits and old hats and shoe trees and stuff.

We had dinner that night with Dr. Weissman.  He was very distinguished looking, and unlike Mrs. Weissman, he seemed thrilled to meet me and asked me about myself and growing up in Oregon and my Dad being a dentist.  I was babbling about everything, maybe too long, because Amy was yawning and acting bored and as soon as the meal was over she wanted to go to a movie.

So we took her mom’s car and drove to the Cineplex in Rye.  Driving there I was thinking how Amy had made it seem like she lived right in New York City, like you could practically walk there from her house.  But Rye was a whole town to itself and not even that interesting, it wasn’t much different from Middletown.  At the movie, Amy got a huge popcorn and a diet coke but I didn’t want to spend the five bucks so I didn’t have anything.

Afterward, Amy seemed sort of distracted and didn’t want to talk.  I started to wonder if she even wanted me there but there was nothing I could do now.  And then before we went to bed she promised we’d go into the city on Friday.  So that was cool.  I couldn’t wait.

 

The next day was Thanksgiving.  The Weissmans were Jewish and very intellectual and academic so it wasn’t like my parents house where everyone just ate until they passed out and then watched football all day.  There was no TV.  Classical music played on the stereo.  They did have turkey though, which was amazingly good.  And fancy wine which Amy drank a lot of.  Amy’s Uncle and his family came and ate with us.  They had a boy in junior high and two girls in high school who were basically mini-versions of Amy, trendily dressed and bored with everything.  The boy, Adam, read a book about physics the whole time.  Everyone kept saying how smart he was and remarking on the physics book and how nobody could understand it except him.

Then other people started dropping in.  Relatives and friends and whole families would show up and everyone would sit around the fireplace and drink coffee and talk about politics or intellectual things.  And then someone named Dr. Steinberger came.  Everyone got so excited.  Amy whispered to me that he was a very famous psychologist.  Everyone was totally in awe of him.  The Weissmans were so thrilled he could come.  They flattered him and listened to every word he said.  But he could only stay a few minutes.  He probably had some other people he needed to visit and be flattered by.

I didn’t know what to do with myself through most of this.  I would get introduced to people but what could I say?  I tried to talk to Amy’s cousins a little, the ones in high school.  The older one wanted to know about Stanford, since I was from out west.  I explained that Portland wasn’t really near Stanford.  She didn’t really want to go to Stanford anyway, she wanted to go to Princeton.  Then she went upstairs to watch the DVD of the new Gwyneth Paltrow movie.

So the day was very grueling.  I mean, the Weissmans knew these people, so it was fun for them.  And Amy dealt with it by being temperamental and vaguely rude to everyone.  No one seemed to mind though.  One good thing: it was fun to watch Dr. Weissman.  He had the most interesting face.  And he was so polite and gracious with everyone.  He was a very sophisticated and worldly person.

 

That night Amy and her mom began a long painful-sounding discussion in the kitchen while they were cleaning up.  So I excused myself and went upstairs and tried to study.  I couldn’t concentrate though.  I finally gave up and sat by the window and watched the trees outside and the streetlight and the roof of the house across the street.  It was a very nice neighborhood, even if the houses weren’t super huge.  It was nice because of the kind of people that lived there.

The next day I woke up and I was so excited.  It was Friday.  I was going to New York City!  I went through my pack and got my best skirt and this cute blue sweater to wear under my P-Coat.  But then I listened and no one else was up.  I went downstairs and Mrs. Weissman was reading the New York Times and drinking coffee.  Amy was still asleep.  So I got some coffee and read the paper.  Mrs. Weissman never said a word.  After a while I went back upstairs.  I laid on my bed.  Where was Amy, it was almost 10:30!  I waited until I heard something downstairs and went back down.  Amy was making herself breakfast.  But she was barely moving, as if she wasn’t even thinking about going to New York.  And then Amy’s mom asked us what we were doing today and Amy shrugged and said she had to study for finals.  I was so shocked.  “I thought we were going to the city,” I said.  Amy didn’t even look up.  She said she didn’t feel like it.  “Well, can I go?” I said, without even caring if I sounded pissed.  But then Mrs. Weissman said we should both go and how nice it was there, and how the shops on Fifth Avenue had their Christmas displays up already.  Amy sighed and finally agreed.

An hour later we boarded the train to New York.  But the whole ride down, Amy was whining and complaining and being a terrible travel companion.  I started thinking I should ditch her somehow when we got there.  But after a while she shut up.  And then I watched these two businessmen talk about the Knicks.  And then I watched this elegant black woman talking to someone about “clients” on her cell phone.  By the time we pulled into Grand Central I wasn’t mad anymore.  I was totally excited.

 

Our first stop was going to be the East Village so we walked through Grand Central to the subway.  But even just walking through the station you could feel the buzz of New York and how fast things moved and how international everyone seemed.  We got on the subway and it was packed with people talking and reading and hurrying to their jobs.  Everyone was very serious looking and there were bums and business people and students and foreigners of every imaginable type.  We rode for a while and then got off at Astor Place.  It was totally crowded on the platform but Amy led me through the people and up the stairs.  As we approached street level my heart started pounding, I could see the sky and then the buildings and then I was there, I was standing on the sidewalk in New York City!

It was like a blast of pure energy.  There were a million people and they all looked totally cool and interesting and everyone was young and exciting and totally intent on what they were doing.  You wanted to look at everyone, at everything, but you couldn’t.  It was so much.  It was too much.  Taxis were flying by and people were rushing across the streets and flocks of pigeons were exploding up into the sky.  It was just like a movie except you were standing right in the middle of it!

Amy started walking.  I practically had to run to keep up.  It was New York speed!  We walked down a long street full of shops and street vendors.  All around us was a parade of the wildest looking people you ever saw.  There were super-style Japanese girls and grungy rockstar guys and snotty looking hipster types and even the most normal people had funny hats or trendy glasses or some cool thing that set them apart.

Amy was less impressed, but you could tell she enjoyed watching my eyes pop out of my head.  We walked for a while more and then she led me down some stairs into a tiny café.  I never would have seen it myself.  It was so cool though, it was this tiny room with crooked wood floors and the warm smell of coffee beans and people smoking cigarettes and chattering in their hauty New York voices.  Then the waitress came.  She was only the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life!  And there was an older woman across from us, with a hat and lipstick.  I tried to smile at her but she was so above me.  She was so New York!  We drank our coffees and tried to relax for a second but I couldn’t wait to get outside again.

After that we went to some shops Amy knew about.  They were so chic I could barely stand to be there.  But Amy was being really nice and including me now.  She even made me try on a skirt at one place and it looked so bizarre my eyes couldn’t digest it.  At another place Amy bought some new shoes and some summer sandals that were on sale.  That place was great too, this amazing woman who was Turkish or something was helping us and she was so elegant and graceful and every time she would hand Amy a new shoe it was like the most precious, queenly gesture.

What else:  half the guys were gay.  At least it seemed like it but that’s probably because everyone was so fashionable.  There were more punks and indie rocker types then I had ever seen in one place.  But the thing was:  when you saw some skinny guy with messy hair and sunglasses, he looked so much grittier and real than in Portland.  It was like everyone in New York was really what they were.  They weren’t just trying to be something.  It made you wonder if some of the people you were seeing were famous.  They looked like they were.  They should have been.  I tried to tell Amy this but she said I was wrong.  She said that St. Marks was considered a joke and most of the people we were seeing were just living off their parents money pretending to be artistic.

For some reason that made me feel better.  In general I liked Amy’s observations about things.  She was very much a New Yorker after all.  By the end of the day I felt bad I’d wanted to ditch her.  She had been very cool and a great guide.

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BLAKE NELSON began his career writing humor pieces for Details magazine. His first novel, Girl, was serialized in Sassy magazine and was made into a film starring Selma Blaire and Summer Phoenix.

Nelson has since published ten more novels, including Recovery Road and Destroy All Cars, which the The New York Times called: “Smart and entertaining.” His 2006 novel Paranoid Park was made into a film by Gus Van Sant, which won the Cannes Special Anniversary Prize Award in 2006, as well as Italy's Grinzane Literary award.

His newest novel, Dream School, was released this month. Vanity Fair calls its heroine: “A bright, sensitive, Sassy-era Holden Caulfield.”

2 responses to “Excerpt from Dream School

  1. Pete DeLorean says:

    Blake there was something about this that was really vivid for me. It felt like my first several trips to the city. Thanks!

  2. […] Read an excerpt from the novel here: “Then Thanksgiving arrived.  That was sort of awkward, everyone suddenly had plans and had made arrangements and as usual, I hadn’t even thought about it.  Amy Weissmann came to my rescue though and invited me to her house in New York.  As it turned out she lived in Rye which wasn’t actually in New York like she always made it sound.  It was more like a suburb.” […]

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