Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (2 page)

Spoiler alert: None of that happened.

Except for me getting my degree. Now I'm a PA (showbiz abbrev. of production assistant) on an absolutely wretched family sitcom here in the City of Angels, but I spend most of my time daydreaming topics for the great documentary I will someday make. Ironically, this gig makes the days of filming commercials for imaginary social-skill–enhancing drinks seem like the golden age of my filmmaking life. Contrary to popular belief, starting out in Hollywood isn't just about bringing coffee to important people. That's just the most interesting part.

So, about this whale. First, are you sure it was the janitor who answered the phone? That's not very common. If so, kudos to him for being what sounds to me like a pretty knowledgeable janitor, even if he proves incorrect about the fate of your whale friend. Unfortunately, I have no idea what your next step should be in this matter, other than calling and asking to speak to someone besides the suspiciously well-informed janitor. As far as the dot moving in the wrong direction, for now I'd have faith in Salt to find his right path. Sometimes the young have to wander lost for a while before eventually getting it all figured out (at least this is what I'm telling my mom right now to get her off my back about law school, but that's a different story). Also, don't pooh-pooh the idea of just kicking it solo for a while. Take it from Mr. Darren, the guy who has endured a maddening number of creepy moments with people he met from answering Craigslist roommate-needed ads. But in all seriousness, give it a few days, call back, and see what they say.



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 11, 2012 at 4:13 PM
Subject: RE: Help

Dear Darren,

I wanted to tell you that I called the Greater New England Whale Conservatory back like you suggested. The receptionist (who sounded suspiciously like the janitor I spoke with previously) put me through to the Development Department, then some woman asked me if I wanted to renew my adoption of Salt. Get this: the annual fee is $10 higher than the year before. I told the woman that I refused to open my wallet again until I got more information on Salt's current whereabouts and health from a marine researcher or scientist. Funny how then I got promptly transferred.

The scientist I spoke with confirmed my hunch that Salt is indeed separated from his pod. According to said scientist, there is some reason to be concerned. In the past two months, at least one other juvenile beached in the same area where Salt is currently swimming. The scientist said he is puzzled as to what is pulling the whales toward the dangerous shallows and the shore. I left the scientist my email and the scientist promised to update me. We shall see.

Sincerely yours,

James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 12, 2012 at 4:15 PM
Subject: Cease and Desist?

Dear Darren,

I hate to bother you again, especially because I think I may have misremembered your interest in whale poop. The thing is that, right now, I don't really have anyone else to bother. Still, bothering is bothering, so I will cease and desist if you just say the word.

Before I do so, you advised me to “move on” from my friendship with Sam. Since you seem to have experience in this arena, how exactly does one go about “moving on”?


James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 12, 2012 at 4:38 PM
Subject: Stanley Duckett from GNEWC


This is the first time in 10 years I'm using this email address they gave me. Took me 5 minutes just to type the subject. Sorry to bother you, especially with your father just passed and all. But Jan's been out with the flu and I'm covering the front desk in addition to all my normal stuff like fixing the AC in Howard's suite for the 50th time. Damn Indian summer. I guess the office wants to send you some flowers, trouble is I can't find your address in Jan's mess. Could you send? Also a box came in the mail for you. Should I just put it on your desk? Gotta go lock up.

—Stanley P. Duckett

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 12, 2012 at 4:56 PM
Subject: RE: Stanley Duckett from GNEWC

Dear Stanley,

Thanks for the condolences. My address is 712 Overlook Lane, Woods Hole, MA 02543. I'm out on leave, and of course, one of our echo sounders is malfunctioning right when we need to track a wayward juvenile in distress in the same area where we've had previous issues with beaching the past few weeks. Thanks to our real-time tracking feature, I'm getting calls from concerned donors like this one teenage kid who acts like Salt is his best friend. That box might contain the part we've been waiting for. Can you open it and let me know?

Best wishes,


Peter Brammer, PhD

Marine Researcher

Greater New England Whale Conservancy

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected], (56 others)
Date: September 12, 2012 at 5:35 PM
Subject: Introduction

Dear Parents,

Please pardon my lateness in sending this letter. I apologize for waiting until two games into the season to formally introduce myself to you all. My name is Jack Olmstead, and I'm the new head football coach here at Henson Academy, I'm proud to say.

1-1 wasn't the start I had in mind, but Grover Cleveland was a tough squad, and some of our growing pains as a team made themselves extra painful during that game. I accept full responsibility for the loss. With the nonconference games behind us, we are ready to embark into conference play. Notice I say “we.” Because you guys are just as much a part of this team as me and the players are, even though you don't watch endless hours of game film and chart out X's and O's like me, and you don't put on pads and a helmet and put in a mouth guard and lace up your cleats like your kids. As parents, you guys are like my coaches off the field. Your actions and words shape the 35 young men (and 1 young lady) who step onto that field every Friday night for the next 10 weeks. (Notice that 10 more weeks of play assumes we reach the Florida Class A2 state championship game. Our goal is nothing less. We here at Henson Academy aim for greatness.)

I urge you to please do all you can to help your player be the best they can be this season. Now you're probably saying, “Whoa, Coach O, I don't know a bubble screen from a double read-option play.” Don't worry. Me and Coach Erickson have that covered. Where you come in is helping your player be mentally and physically prepared to succeed in practices and games. Here are some suggestions.

Diet: For the next 10 weeks, burgers should be eaten from a plate, no bread. Mac 'n' cheese will be deleted from your player's vocabulary. Mac 'n' chicken breast with two servings of leafy green vegetables and carrots? Sure. Mac 'n' cheese, no. Soda? Might as well call McDowell High now and let them know they can start printing up their repeat championship T-shirts.

Sleep: Your players need sleep. There's tons of research on this, which I would oblige to send you if you want. So if it's possible, please consider turning off all Wi-Fi after 10:30 p.m. on weeknights and consider purchasing an entertainment cabinet that can be equipped with a lock (to be locked after 10:30 p.m. on weeknights) to remove the temptation of video games. I can send links to items on eBay that fit this description, or if that is not a monetarily possible option, you could simply confiscate the video game systems after 10:30 p.m. on weeknights and store them in your bedroom until the next day.

Discipline: Lastly, it's important to your player's success that he or she feel supported in this journey we call a season. When your player messes up, in a game or in life, you must make it clear that, as regrettable as that mistake is, the next play or the next day supplies your player with another chance at success. I am not proposing that disobedience such as curfew breaking, backtalk, or the eating of processed carbohydrates should go unremarked. I am instead imploring you to help your player understand that the punishment for their infractions serves what I call an upfield-downfield purpose. The punishment is in response (upfield) to the infraction, but it also serves to help your player succeed when his or her next opportunity presents itself (downfield). Otherwise it would be pointless.

Please contact me if you have any further questions. As it is my first year as coach here at Henson, I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you and seeing you in the stands each week now that conference play has begun.

Thank you very much,

Jack Olmstead

Head Football Coach, Henson Academy

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 12, 2012 at 5:48 PM
RE: Cease and Desist?

Hola J-World,

Patience, young caterpillar. I ain't trying to blow you off. I just didn't know what to say about the whale. Still don't. But I'm glad you're fighting the powers that be by withholding that donation. I hope it gets their attention.

Look, I probably should never have said anything in the first place, but since you apparently actually seem to listen to what I say—a rarity for me these days given my employment and ex-girlfriend situations—let me clarify my suggestion regarding your friend Sam.

You guys used to be buddies, and you felt a connection with him because you guys were really into creatures; you knew absurd amounts of information about whales and he was obsessed with spiders. Your friendship surely included other elements, but the creature facts were something you guys fed off of, something that made you feel understood by the other. That's why people have friends: to feel understood by people they feel they can understand. That's why the teacher Mrs. Whatshername from that Social Skills group had you guys spend so much time paying attention to people's facial expressions, tone of voice, choice of words, posture and other body language, et cetera. It will help you understand them better and allow you to feel like you're part of the tribe. Or better yet, the pod. Which can be a nice thing, especially if you're on some big journey trying to swim a gazillion miles down to South America or whatever. That make sense?

So let's try to understand this Charlie Coxson character. Real good soccer player, apparently. And for some reason, be it a shared interest in soccer or something else, Sam feels a connection with him. That's something you can't control. You can't go around trying to break them up. Trust me. I know. Firsthand.

But I actually wasn't advising you to move on from your friendship with Sam, just to understand that it's an option. There are others. One would be to see if you can forge a connection with Charlie too, because by understanding Charlie, you might understand why Sam likes him, and thus understand Sam better, which, to review, makes you a better friend. (Bein' a friend ain't easy, eh?!)

Or you might not like Charlie. Then you have to decide whether it's worth putting up with Charlie in order to be around Sam. Either way, you also might consider trying to be a little more like Charlie. IMPORTANT: I'm not saying dress like him or burn your whale books and start watching YouTube clips of Messi and Ronaldo all day, but it might be worth emulating what attracts Sam to him, as long as you emulate good things and not bad ones. E.g., if Sam thinks it's cool that Charlie is a real pro at kitten-punching, don't go and do that. But giving soccer a chance or laughing when Charlie tells a good joke might not be a bad move. Is any of this making sense?

In summary: being open to Sam=good. Punching kittens=bad.

As for my own experience with moving on from a relationship, I don't want to get into it because, unfortunately, all this stuff gets even more complicated as you get older and participate in dramatically different kinds of sleepovers.



P.S. I'm sorry to hear about your whale buddy's predicament, but I must reiterate that, while I may know a little about teenage drama from my own wretched experience of it, I don't know nothin 'bout no teenage whales. Sorry I can't help there. Good luck.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 13, 2012 at 1:30 PM
RE: Stanley Duckett from GNEWC


Well, I opened the box. It's mostly bubble wrap. No sonar. Just a seashell with a note that says “Oliva reticularis. Netted Olive. Caribbean Islands.” Plays a sea song when you hold it up to your ear. Two more boxes came today. What should I do with them?

—Stanley P. Duckett

P.S. Actually kind of like this email thing. You can't hear my stutter or see that I'm 5'4" and probably need to lose around 60 lbs.

P.P.S. The real-time tracking feature for the donors is broken, I think, and IT Ron is in the Galápagos Islands on vacation.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 13, 2012 at 2:53 PM
RE: Stanley Duckett from GNEWC

Hi Stanley,

Thanks to everyone in the office for the cheerful bouquet. The lilies have my house smelling like my ex-wife. Sorry, I haven't returned many of the calls you forwarded to my cell. Too busy cleaning out my parents' apartment and fighting the urge to keep everything (Dad's bowling shoes that smell like his Gold Bond foot powder and Mom's botany books with pages dog-eared). Today, I found some old pictures of me and my kid sister, Elsie, taken in Oregon on vacation when we were just kids. In one, there's a clam on Elsie's palm and she's grinning like the shell is made from 14-karat gold. I can't remember the last time I saw Elsie smile like that. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I saw Elsie—period. Maybe two years ago after her third stint in rehab. I think we met at Friendly's or something and she ordered her favorite sundae—butterscotch (which she called “hopscotch” when we were kids). The person eating that sundae was the Old Elsie. My Elsie. Otherwise, I didn't know what to make of the woman in front of me, reeking of cigarette smoke and hairspray, talking about twelve steps, her latest tattoo, and plans to finish her college degree, and pulling at her shirt sleeves so I couldn't see the scars on her wrists. I don't know why I am telling you all this except that I don't know how to get in touch with her because her last known number is disconnected. And Elsie doesn't even know about Dad.

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