Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (10 page)

Dear Jimmy,

Dang, dog. You're quite the whale poet. You should meet my buddy Sash. He writes poems about stuff way weirder than whales.

Congrats on your successes in work and socializing. I'm doing better in the latter than the former. Soon after they dissed my Kafkaesque existential crisis whale plot, I sort of had my own Kafkaesque existential crisis. I started thinking about ending up like Rob/Bob years down the line and all the crap I'd have to go through just to get to that point, and one day Rob/Bob told me he wanted a pumpkin-spice latte, so I got him one, and when I brought it to him he didn't like it, so he made me go to a different coffee shop to get another one. As I returned to the studio, it was as if the warm cup in my hands and the smell of the pumpkin spice and cinnamon awakened my soul (thank you, Corporate Coffee Shop people!). I realized that this is not what my life is supposed to be. Bringing coffee to Rob/Bob et al is a fine job if one day you want to be him. But I don't! I really don't! I want to make cool documentaries for cool people, not moronic sitcoms for the masses where everything gets neatly tied up in the last few minutes of every episode and everyone kisses and makes up like it's nothing and then does it all over again next week. So the next day I quit. I even dropped the “moronic sitcoms for the masses” line on Rob/Bob as I did. It felt pretty good.

However, this news was not received well by my dad. He responded like a football coach berating his team at halftime of a big game. I'm pretty sure he was madder at me than he's ever been at one of his players, though, because no matter how dumb a thing his player did, or how lazy he was during practice, he hadn't spent
(the bold caps are meant to communicate that my dad yelled every time he mentioned this figure) sending the player to tackling school or whatever. However, that's how much he spent on my college education—which I thanked him for repeatedly during this conversation, but he didn't seem too appreciative of my appreciation at that moment. He goes, “When opportunity knocks, you invite him in and show him your best stuff! You don't ignore the doorbell because you're sitting on the couch smoking pot with your friends!”

And I'm like, “Wait, I'm confused, does opportunity ring or knock? I want to know so I can be prepared.”

“Don't be a smart-ass!”

“Fair enough, but what are you even talking about? I don't smoke pot.”

“It's just an example,” he says. “My point is that if you don't answer the door because you're stoned or you think you're too big for your britches, opportunity might just hop on back in the car and go somewhere else!”

I was this close to asking him what sort of car Opportunity drives so I could look out for it, but I knew this would have been a bad idea. And as weird as his metaphor was, I got his point. The thing is, he sees me quitting Testy Snobbin as me flushing those 80 Gs he spent down the toilet, whereas I saw Testy Snobbin as an insult to the education paid for by that money. Anyway, this is how it always works with us. We'll go a few weeks without speaking and then it'll all be fine. Luckily my mom was more supportive because she's my mom and that's how she rolls.

My roommate Luke keeps saying he could get me a job at the insurance company, but I'm just not sure if I could handle it. Apparently they have these sales meetings that last for hours where they try to get everyone fired up about selling and being a team, and they sound horrific. Cheering, raffles, company-made videos that make fun of the other insurance companies. A gauntlet of high-fiving, fist-bumping, backslapping teammates. The whole thing sounds really creepy. Luke pretty much admits that it is, but he sees it as just part of life's necessary crap. I
of get this, since almost everyone who makes movies has to do things like what I did at Testy Snobbin in order to get experience and meet the right people. But it's all in service of getting to that pot of gold eventually—a chance to make a movie or a show. The reward for selling insurance, seems to me, would be retiring so you don't have to sell any more insurance. But I shouldn't criticize. After all, he's the one with a car that has working air-conditioning and for whom mac 'n' cheese is a side dish instead of a thrice-weekly main course. We'll see.

Take care,


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 31, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Subject: You!

Greetings and happy Scary/Sexy Costume Day, Melissa T.,

What's shaking? Those new purses flying off the shelf? So proud of you for going all in on this (though it sux dux how friggin' busy you are now!). I'm not insulted, though. I swear. (Sniffles, holds back tears.) But no, seriously, it's awesome. I don't think I'll ever go beyond my little Etsy page. Not a boss like you.

ErMahGerd, terrible news. My cute little latte-sipper stopped coming in. He was always kind of throwing it out there that he worked in TV but never mentioned what show, and I could tell he wanted me to ask which show but I wouldn't. (You wanna flirt with me, you make the small talk, I always say.) But the funny part was that he was always saying his boss was this total hard-ass about everything so that's why he had to taste-test the lattes, but if the boss ever found out he'd totally get fired. So I'm wondering if the boss found out he'd been sampling or, even worse, he FORGOT to sample the pumpkin spice latte I made him the other day and he totally got fired because of my latte skills. Oh, the guilt!

Let's get drinkies this w/e or we're not best friends anymore, 'kay?


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 31, 2012 at 5:25 PM
Subject: RE: You!

Hey Gigi!

Business is BOOMing over here. The bananas have been hitting the fan for like two weeks straight.

So YES, let's get together this weekend. Date with Tripp Friday but free Saturday. (Things have been a teensy bit weird with us lately. Must discuss.) Lemme know if that works.

Shame about the yappy latte cutie. But I'm sure he won't be the last showbiz guy to darken the door of your little beanery.

C U soon,



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 1, 2012 at 10:14 AM
Subject: After skool

In stdy hall, bord. Gud view tho . . . Sam Pick. Story: I bumped into Sam @ locker & he noticed my new haircut (“lokz nice”) then he

Srry hurts 2 much 2 finish. Can u hang out after skool w/ me & Becky? Tell u then.



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 2, 2012 at 9:07 PM
Subject: Sorry!!

Hey Sara,

Sorry! I just got your email. Nonna just got back from Italy and she insisted that I go to the cemetery for Il Giorno dei Morti, a holiday I didn't even know existed. My sister was at choir practice (lucky) and Mom had another date with Albert (gag). So I was the only one around and it's hard to avoid Nonna when she lives next door. Even though I'd rather have done anything else, even Bio homework, Nonna offered me no choice and so we lugged her shopping bags to the bus stop outside of our subdivision. No one I know other than Nonna takes the green Pace buses, and now I know why. Everyone on the bus had either gray hair, a walker, or both. Let's just say I now know the medical histories of every old woman in our ZIP code.

Anyway, the bus let us off in front of Saint Cecilia's and then we hiked back toward the cemetery. The last time I was back there was to bury Dad. We didn't even go to Dad's grave on the one-year anniversary of his death. Instead, Mom decided we should honor Dad's memory by doing something he loved. So Mom, Anna Maria, and I spent that afternoon looking at ancient Egyptian artifacts in Dad's favorite wing of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Mom even tried to imitate Dad's Rocky Balboa impression by running up the museum's front steps. But she ended up tripping and spraining her ankle. After, we drove to Chinatown and ate at the Three Happiness Restaurant near Temple where Dad used to teach. (Have you ever gone? Their sweet and sour pork is sooooo good.) The waiters, out of habit, left the usual four fortune cookies instead of three when they brought the bill.

So I haven't been to the cemetery in a while. Nonna seemed to feel at home there today. She just approached Dad's stone and kissed it. And even though I wanted to believe that Dad was anywhere but there, under that stone in that colorless field, I touched my lips to the marble too.

After a few prayers, Nonna Rita sprinkled Dad's grave with a little bottle of holy water. She told me that it's Italian tradition to clean ancestors' grave sites on All Souls' Day (who knew?) and so we got to work because it was starting to get dark. While Nonna weeded, I planted the mums she bought. All of them yellow, Dad's favorite color. The next part was pretty weird. Nonna Rita spread down a blanket from one of the shopping bags. She pulled out a tin of these hard cookies called “bones of the dead” and poured paper cups full of wine for Dad and her deceased family members in Italy.

Thank God no one saw us. What did you guys end up doing? Please don't tell me that you went to Forever 21 and got those matching sweaters without me.



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 2, 2012 at 9:35 PM
Subject: RE: Sorry!

Hey Soph-

U didn't miss anything b/c 4got bout PT appt. Apparently, ppl w/ JA don't have social lives. I c dr. > I c bestie.

Srry bout ur dad. Rmr how he let us stay up L8 @ camp & eat marshmallows? Gud man.

Life sux.

C U,


P.S. Found right color foundation 2 cover rash frm l8est flare. :)

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 17, 2012 at 4:31 PM
Subject: Party

Dear Darren,

Craziness is happening here. I have to type fast because I'm using Chin Piercing's computer while he's on break. Anyway, like an hour ago, Coxson, Sam, and the rest of the soccer guys walked toward me from the arcade parking lot. Here's how it went down:

Coxson: “What's shaking, Snowdude?”

(My throat started tightening the way it does at school whenever I see him. The noise that came out resembled a snort, I guess.)

Coxson: “What the hell was that?”

(I could tell that he was choosing from his vast stores of insults for the best way to make fun of me. The thing is that, as the Abominable Snowman, I am actually taller than Coxson. And somehow—don't ask me how—that helped me conjure up the following response.)

Me: “A huge hairball.”

Coxson: “Funny. You're funny, Snowdude.”

To make a long story short, for the next fifteen minutes, I told the guys some of my yeti jokes. And then we tried to see who can do the best Chewbacca (thanks to YouTube I now know who he is). Sam's impersonation was ridiculously high-pitched and Charlie said he sounded like a girl. My Chewbacca was the best, at least according to Charlie. He fist-bumped me and invited me to Smith's party right after my shift.

I think Sam was trying to redeem himself after the Chewbacca fail because he went, “But the invite only stands if you wear the Snowdude duds.”

To which I replied, “What else would I wear?”

All of this to say that in approximately forty-eight minutes, I am going to my first ever high school party dressed as an Abominable Snowman.


James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 17, 2012 at 5:05 PM
Subject: RE: Party

Dear James,

I should complete my LinkedIn profile. But before I do, I want to check in on your going as Snowdude to this party. I'm glad you feel comfortable talking to people when you wear it. Whatever works. Remember, though, it will be a lot hotter inside someone's house than standing outside in November. Wear deodorant. Lots of it. It'd be a shame to get ostracized from a party simply because you're covered in your own funk. It'd be even more of a shame if your name lent itself nicely to a little nickname, say BODO—short for Body Odor Darren Olmstead, for example—that ended up sticking with you for like a year after the infamous party at which you stunk up the joint because you'd timed your workout for just before the party so you'd still be a little swole when you got there and the girls would be like “daaaaaaayummm,” but then you lost track of time and next thing you knew your ride was in the driveway honking the horn and you decided “what the hey” and just went to the party sans showering.

Good luck!

Baron Von Darren

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 18, 2012 at 4:00 PM
Subject: Thank You

Dear Coach O,

I just wanted to thank you for all you did for Michael this season, and particularly for the play at the end of the game. I don't know if Michael can appreciate it right now, especially with all the other stuff he's dealing with at the moment, but some day he will be very grateful to you for giving him the opportunity.


Harriet Jenkins

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 19, 2012 at 3:45 AM
Subject: RE: Thank You

Hello Harriet,

Thanks for the kind words. It was a pleasure to coach Michael. As far as how he feels about the play against McDowell, it would be great if he ended up feeling thankful, but I would not blame him if he never did.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: November 22, 2012 at 7:35 PM
Subject: Thanksgiving

Hi Peter,

Happy Thanksgiving. I just finished my Hungry Man and turned on the tube. I watched football all day and lost my voice yelling at Andy Reid so I was cruising and there was this TV show on called
. Made me think of you. Any news on your sister?

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