All of a sudden there was a small business in the house that sat on the corner of Richmond Road and Hanover. It was the little bungalow-style place that had been home to a photo lab and before that a local bank with a drive-thru window along the side where the carport used to be. It was also, a few people say, headquarters for the Republicans in the last mayoral race. Even though that race was non-partisan, we all knew who was backing Berryman. But overnight, the way condos go up and churches are torn down, the way long-distance friends lose the ability to pick up where they left off, the eaves of the building were painted red, the white siding got whiter and a sign appeared: Decision Makers.
He called me from a payphone in New Hampshire. He didn’t like the mountains in New Hampshire. He didn’t realize there were so many of them or how they closed in on the village like a bully.
The kind of mountains that aren’t really mountains, he said. The kind you wouldn’t want to paint.
I don’t paint anymore, but he likes to believe I still paint, the way I like to believe he will make it big in L.A., so big he can come back here.
New HampshiretMassachussettsConnecticutNewYork and then Pennnnsssyyylllvaaaaaaannniiiaaaaaaa, he said. That’s what it felt like getting to Lancaster. There was nothing in Lancaster, he said. Except a buggy. It made him think. He had never once thought about the Amish, but now that he had, what the fuck? Why do they do that? The insides of the buggies looked cavernous, unsafe for the women, and who knew what kind of crimes were being committed inside those things.
The month Donny’s dialysis machine broke they both began to feel like their lives had settled somehow, like now the entire power grid could fail and only so much would change for them. Leanne used to spend evenings watching him prepare it and then they would both sleep twelve hours while it hummed and pumped warm sugar water into and out of his abdomen. In the daytime they were normal. Donny would sit with Jean in the kitchen and Leanne would think about how surrounding yourself with women seemed like a reasonable, appropriate kind of healing. They would drink small glasses of orange juice and eat lettuce and vegetables and different types of grilled meat and fish that Leanne shopped for every day. She would ride with Jean in her car and Donny would stay home reading medical journals online. At night Donny would summarize clinical trials and research studies done at universities.
The Koreatown mission started like any other sunny four o’clock in Las Vegas. Yes, the sky was clear, the traffic humming along Charleston, Martin Luther King. Yes, we were on to Lynchburg Lemonades at a table at the Four Queens but we all called it Dixon’s for no reason that I could remember. Yes. Captain Rick was telling jokes and counting quarters, our heads rattled with new speed and our mouths were puckered— it was a very positive feeling. And also, there was the cashier. Bosscat really liked her, the cashier girl with the natural red hair and the unpainted nails. She wouldn’t look at him. What’s her name, at least. At least give me that, he shouted. Nobody paid us any mind.
I waited for a long time for a voice to tell me not to quit my job, and when no voice came, I quit. If someone had asked me how I felt, I would have said I appreciated the finality of quitting, of having made a decision, finally, that I could not take back. But no one asked and so I had no one to lie to, and after a while I began to forget why I had done what I had done and to wish that I could undo it.
For the spring break of her thirty-eighth year, Rebecca Park went to Barcelona in search of a fuck.
That was her joke, anyway. She told it compulsively.
“I’m going to Spain,” she said, smiling hopelessly. “To find a man with whom I can be unfaithful. Hopefully a Spaniard, but honestly, I’d even take a Canadian.”
In response she received mirthless laughter, followed by delicate suggestions that avoided the subject of infidelity. Why Spain? Why cross the Atlantic for the five dismal mid-February days that Rebecca’s university chose for its spring break? Rebecca’s specialization was nineteenth-century women writers of the American West, but she had never seen the Pacific Ocean or Taos or Yosemite or Yellowstone. She should visit a place that made sense. If Europe was non-negotiable, better to choose some cold, dignified place: London, Edinburgh, Copenhagen if she wanted exotic.
When Lou Schultz got to the Avis desk at the Orlando airport, the compact car he’d reserved was not available, nor was there a midsized left on the lot. They’d had no choice but to upgrade him straight to the top: a brand-new 1973 Chrysler Imperial, white with cream interior. He decided to let the kids believe that he’d splurged and was kicking off their holiday in style. Jonathan, ten, was splayed out in the backseat with a map he’d gotten at the rental desk, and seven-year-old Kitty, winner of the coin toss, sat up front next to Lou playing with the radio dial. The three of them were cruising under a pale Florida sky, en route to Villa Serena, a real estate development in Winter Haven. Lou had planned their vacation around the coupons and discounts he’d been promised in return for touring one of the model homes.
“Doesn’t it sound grand, kids? Vee-ya Serena.”
The girl had an unusual talent. She could make noises with her mouth, like a door creaking open and slamming shut, or like an old man huffing up the stairs. When my back was turned she’d do it: the sound of breaking glass or something. Tall for her age, I thought. Why she wore such dirty white tennis shoes I couldn’t understand. You’d think a girl her age would opt for something prettier. Look down and you got pale freckled ankles cut off in dirty canvas, like she’d just crawled across a muddy lawn. Curly brown hair, silver braces with lime-green rubber bands, careful to tear the corner from her notebook and fold her gum inside before she started to tune.
She was a horrible violin student.
“Uh huh,” was her answer when I asked if she was happy with her progress.
“Amy, do you think Kabalevsky would be happy?”
Excerpted from the in-progress book RAD: a twisted memoir of a fierce teenage girl in 1982. Halpern’s latest film, with co-director Chris Quilty, is the documentary Llyn Foulkes One-Man Band, which premiered at the LA Film Festival.
I am 16 and not invited to my mom’s third wedding. Apparently, it’s a ‘no kids allowed’ affair, which is scandalous considering I menstruate, I have touched three penises (two with my eyes open), and tonight, I am pretty sure I will lose my virginity. When I march in my mom’s bedroom to tell her what I think, she laughs and says of course you’re invited. We said it to keep the Bialy kids from coming, the ones who always pee in the pool. That’s a relief, I say. I thought you guys didn’t want me there. My Stepdad-To-Be says nothing as he pulls on his shoes and leaves.