perrysplash

Drew Perry’s new novel, Kids These Days, is hilarious. I don’t say that about too many books. As Edmund Gwenn said on his deathbed: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Good comedy, above all, takes great pathos, along with a high degree of vulnerability, brutal honesty, a capacity for ventriloquism, and a uniquely skewed world view.  If you don’t possess all of the above, you won’t be able to pull off the sort outlandish set pieces Drew Perry pulls off.


15-views-v2-cover“As literary writers…we’re not supposed to just get the job done, we’re supposed to advance the conversation, and part of our challenge is to dig deeper and create something new, or at least approach an existing thing (such as setting) from a unique angle. Yes, our writing relies on social norms and cultural touchstones, but where genre writers tend to follow the old wrinkled tourist map, literary writers explore new territory.”

— Ryan Rivas

Hey Mom!

Paul.

Paul, your son.

I know, bad connection sometimes on the Bluetooth.

It’s a phone thing.

How are you?

I said, how are you. You good?

Good.

This is the second item in a sometimes chronological series called “Lovebirds.”  Each is intended to stand alone, but if you want to read the first part, go here:  “Lovebirds:  Hepatitis Hotel”



Shakubuku.  A Buddhist term meaning, literally, break-subdue.  Its idiomatic meaning is slightly different.

It can be found in Grosse Pointe Blank, in which Minnie Driver’s character describes it as “a swift spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.”

For my purposes, either of these definitions work.  In either case, Shakubuku indicates a fundamental, sudden shift in habit and consciousness.  A violent change in awareness.

I don’t know what prompted me to leave Florida.

I know what I pretended prompted me to leave Florida.

Kerry read my journal while I was at work.  I came home to find him flushed, angry, and interrogative.  He confronted me about what I’d written as if I’d done something wrong.

It was established that my writing was my business, that I needed private head space.  He consented that if he ever wanted to know what was in that book, he would ask.

I don’t remember exactly what was in it.  At least not all of what was in it.  The entry in question had to do with my anxiety about leaving for Florida and the remorse I’d been feeling since I’d gotten there.  He was waving the book around, shaking it at me like someone was dead and he’d uncovered the murder weapon.

In my defense, I can only offer that Florida has no seasons.  There, I worked at at Gap Outlet and went to nickle beer night every week at a place with black-lighting and bartenders in day-glo bikinis.  Virtually everyone was a tourist or otherwise a part-timer, and I couldn’t stop feeling like one.  My presence there, according to the journal, was an “all expenses-paid lifetime vacation.”

“Is this what I am to you?!?!?!?!  A vacation????”

I don’t know if it was the artless attempt at a guilt trip, or really, genuinely, the act of betrayal itself.  Had it been one or the other, I probably would have kept my cool, but together, they were too much, and I went the other way completely.  My chest burned. I started shaking.

“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU FUCKING FOUND! YOU DID IT TO YOURSELF!  FUCK YOU!!!!”

I was maybe crying, definitely screaming.  It went on for a while.  I was screaming so hard I made myself cough, then gag.  In snooping–in his attempt to understand why I was standing with one foot out the door–Kerry gave me the opportunity to step out completely. I told him to keep the journal.  Shove the journal up his ass.  I was leaving.


I tried like crazy to be happy there.  To be thrilled about a situation that was–or would be for anyone sane or even remotely practical–more or less idyllic.

I certainly had no reason to be exceptionally UNhappy.  My fiancee was good-looking and probably on his way to affluence.  He was considerate and funny and willing to do anything in the world to make me happy.  I was 21 and had my own house.  Or townhouse.  Or Kerry’s townhouse, but we were engaged, so it was as good as mine.

I lived three blocks from the ocean, and by dumb luck, a girl from my hometown, Nora, worked at a hotel down the road where I spent happy-hours with her on the beachfront bar patio, looking out at the gulf of Mexico.  Dolphin spotting was such a regular occurrence that it eventually ceased to be interesting, even to two girls from Minnesota.  We’d pack up roadies in front of her bartender boyfriend and sip our drinks as we drove down the Emerald Coast Highway and the 30A, flanked by white sand dunes, to Sunnyside, where we’d marvel at the rich people’s houses, many of which were painted in Caribbean pastels and stood up on stilts because they were just that close to the ocean.

Kerry and I even had a pet.  A charismatic lovebird named Paco.  Just the one.  “Aren’t you supposed to have two?” I’d asked him.

“Not necessarily.  If there’s only one, they’ll just fall in love with whatever they see.”



It’s worth explaining, probably, how I got to Florida.

Kerry and I had dated for about a year and a half beginning shortly before I graduated from high school.

Eventually things fell apart, and Kerry moved to Chicago.  I can’t remember why.  We remained friends, and every now and again, I’d drive down to visit him.  I did it for an excuse to go on a road trip, to see a friend, to do something exciting.  It was always strictly platonic.

Then he moved to Gainesville, Florida, and I went to visit him there.  Then Destin.

I was thinking about going back to school, about getting out of Minnesota.  I never had the itching need to escape or to get away permanently. I just wanted to do something else for a while.

There was a community college not far from Destin.  Faced with the choice of staying where I was and going to community college or or moving to Destin, being Kerry’s roommate, and going to community college, I chose the latter.

Kerry was in Minnesota for the turn of the millennium.  A large group of us went up to a friend’s parents’ cabin in northern Minnesota.  If the world was going to end, that was where we wanted to be.  Drunk and together, blowing noise makers across a frozen lake as close to the arctic circle as we could muster.

It made sense at the time.

Shortly after midnight (or maybe shortly before), Kerry brought me into the walk-out basement of the cabin, sat me down, and got down on one knee.

I had no idea it was coming.  None. We were not dating and had not been dating–not dating, not sleeping together, not even kissing, not so much as holding hands–for almost 3 years.  I was sitting there in snow pants, sniffing, my thawing snot trying to run out over my frozen lips.  I was not prepared.  In any sense of the word.

I remember being intensely confused and flattered.  And drunk.  I remember my brain saying “No!” immediately but my mouth saying something more tactful.  Like, “I need to think about this.”

In my memory, the remainder of the trip was an uncomfortable blur of trying-to-be-normal interactions with Kerry.  He’d told everyone there what he was going to do, so to their head-tipped, pursed-lipped, nodding sympathy faces, I had to relate the story of my answer and my rationale for not accepting that instant.

These explanations to the same people who had kept their foreknowledge of this violent turn of events from me, at least one of whom, I was fully aware, knew the full gravity of the situation and how poorly I was likely to react.  I was unprotected and set adrift by friends in the interest of a relative stranger and a “surprise” that was a surprise like a mail bomb is a surprise.  This was reality of adulthood, though.  I certainly couldn’t get mad at them.  Could I?  Surely not.  “Just be graceful.  Be a grown-up.  Stiffen your lip,” I told myself.  There would be no hiding behind John or Jake.  Their girlfriends were there.  Girlfriends frown upon boyfriends propping up other girls.

John and I ended up alone in the kitchen at some point.  “Big day!” he said, knowing full well what it meant and per his habit, refusing to speak it out loud.

“Did you know about this?”  I pointed in a general way towards the backyard, where everyone was still stumbling around the fire pit and hooting across the lake.  Where Kerry was, somewhere.

He nodded silently, pursing his lips, again pressing back words.  He extended the bottle of champagne he held in his hand and raised his eyebrows in a gesture that was equal parts defiance and resignation.

“Cheers.”

The next day, Kerry and I made the 4-hour drive home.

When we pulled into my hometown, we went directly to a bar to meet our respective best friends, who just happened to be married.  They, too, knew he was going to do this.  My indecision was exhausting us both.  Kerry moped.  I felt guilty.  I couldn’t bear to tell the story to any more sympathy faces.

Something came over me.  A panic, maybe, that this might be my ticket to adventure.  I’d never dated anyone as ambitious as Kerry.  Or (I thought) as normal.  Maybe I was doing a remarkably stupid thing by not saying yes.  Maybe no one told me because they thought it was a good idea.  Our best friends were inside.  We could be four married best friends.  How bad could it be to be married to a smart, good-looking, ambitious guy who lived three blocks from the ocean?  We got along well, apparently he adored me…not accepting his proposal was surely self-sabotage.  What or who was I waiting around for, anyway?

It was a thought progression that was familiar to me, but there in the car, outside the bar, was the first time I was ever consciously aware of it.

The crippling terror of limitless possibility lies in time’s march straight through, disregardful.  No rewind. While numerous potentialities can exist comfortably and simultaneously in one’s head, in reality, you’ve got to choose.

Do this or do that; you will regret both

So just before we went inside, I accepted.

And I moved to Florida.

And I was miserable.

In Destin, a week or so prior to the journal incident, I awoke to the ceiling fan buzzing and watched it.  It cast a pulse against the venetian blind shadows on the wall.  Shadows upon shadows.  Beating like a drum or a heart or whatever you prefer.  Kerry lay, snoring lightly, to my right.  It had been months and I still hadn’t totally unpacked.  There were boxes everywhere.  The house was a mess and I didn’t care.  Out on the patio, there was a decrepit lawn chair, some trash, a small family of geckos, and lots of weeds.  All had come with the house.

It was March, maybe 7 AM, and I could already smell the oppressive, sucking, steaming gulf air outside.  At that moment, something changed, and my mind was made up.  I slipped into the spare bedroom that would have been my bedroom had things gone according to the original plan. I slept there for the rest of my nights in Destin.

Nora was moving to Louisville in two weeks, and I was right behind her.  To Kentucky, to Derby week, to a place that had seasons–to a place that had another guy named Kerry.


1991, I am 13 years old.

My mom and I are on our way to the mall after school one day. We live in Destin, Florida and the only nearby mall is located in Ft. Walton Beach, where I am in the 8th grade at Max Bruner Jr. Middle School. So, on this particular day, instead of riding the school bus home like I usually do, my mother picks me up at the end of the day, waiting patiently in her black Volvo in the carpool line with the other parents.

LEAD GUITARIST WANTED for local Land O Lakes rawk band. Male or female, 18 – 50. MUST BE NUDE. All original music, which means the vocalist would have to be able to collaborate and work out their vocal harmonies. Looking to add keys, and eventually horns and other nude people down the road. Contact Lenny V. at X1113

Jackie was from Newport, Rhode Island, which as far as Franny knew was Nowhere, Rhode Island, and even though she was from Brooklyn, they both felt like total rubes at Barnard, where all the city girls wore going-out clothes to English class just because they felt like it. Their dormitory room was exactly the same as all the others on the hall, narrow and Spartan, perfect for two eighteen-year-old nuns. Jackie tried to spruce it up with some pictures she’d cut out of magazines, mostly models dressed up to look like Ali MacGraw. The two girls tried to do the same—sweeping bell-bottoms and collegiate sweaters. The effect was not great on Jackie, with shoulders as wide as an Iowan football player or on Fran, who stood just over five feet and had to hem every pair of pants by several inches, sometimes cutting off the bells entirely.

In photos from his youth he looked like a porcelain doll, a severely myopic puppet. When I knew him, he was in constant motion, a coiled spring: knee bouncing, fingers grasping and lighting cigarettes, eyes darting, lips moving and always talking sports. I couldn’t keep up with him though I knew I was smarter.

He was my mother’s only sibling, born when my grandmother was in her 40s, eventually becoming too much for her to care for. Back then my Uncle Billy had a sweeping range of unspecified mental issues (widely ignored by all around him), yet he possessed an eidetic memory for sports trivia. (Asperger’s Syndrome wouldn’t be recognized until 1944 and only officially named for Hans Asperger in 1981, a year after the good doctor’s death.) He was hyperactive, displayed attention deficit tendencies, was susceptible to stimulants and depressants alike. We merely called him Silly Billy, but not to his face. Billy was simply complicated.

People are always asking me for directions.

My body language must exude confidence. Or maybe it’s my face: steel-eyed determination successfully masking utter cluelessness. Then again, maybe not, because a blind office worker once asked me to guide him to his building from Grand Central Station.

Really. I kid you not.

Two previous generations of my family hail from New York and my sister was born in Brooklyn Heights. My brother and I were the only two schmucks born in Florida (and not even Miami!).

In our room that morning as we changed into our bathing suits, stuffing towels and Coppertone into the souvenir Pan Am flight bags our father had gotten for us on a business trip, Glen told me how it would go.

“Answer her questions, but don’t start a conversation.”

“But Dad told us what to say last week. Remember? He said when we meet her to smile and say, ‘I’m state your name, very pleased to meet you, Kate.’ ”

“Yeah, I remember,” said Glen. “You can say it, but you don’t have to mean it.”

“Okay.” I watched him put a book into the bag and then slip a small white bottle of roll-on deodorant in after it. “Why are you taking that to the beach?”

“Don’t want my pits to stink.”

“You think girls from school will be there?”

Glen’s face went red as he zipped up the bag, then mumbled, “You never know.”

“I think she’ll be tall,” I said. “Taller than Mom, probably.”

“If you’re nice to her I’ll punch you,” Glen said, tucking the towel under his arm. “Hard.”

The snow was piling up outside, a white blanket six inches thick and gleaming in the moonlight, reflected up through Darla’s bedroom window. I had just finished reading a story to the girls from Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Treasury about sledding down a steep hill. Toad, the pessimist, is leery of such a dangerous undertaking, but the eternally optimistic Frog assures him they will be safe and have lots of fun.

Flying down the hill they hit a bump and Frog falls off. Toad keeps talking as if Frog were still on the sled, but a passing crow tells him he’s talking to himself. Toad looks back at the empty sled, freaks out and quickly crashes into a snow bank. Later, he tells Frog winter is fun, but staying in bed is much better. Safer too.

“I like that one, but it makes me cold,” says Emma, hugging her shoulders. “Can you tell us a Florida story?”

“Yeah, a Florida story!” Darla says, scrunching down under the covers.

So I begin as I always do.