Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (4 page)

Culver City 4eva,


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 22, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Subject: RE: My condolences

Dear Darren:

I've been pretty down about Salt lately. I keep listening to whale songs on CD, and I'll admit, sometimes the humpback voices are pretty ghostly sounding. I almost feel like Salt is trying to talk to me from the other side and it tears me apart.

Anyway, I guess you're right that I should talk about his death with someone, but I'm an only child. My dad is a pediatrician, and in med school he had to dissect cadavers. He still talks about this one—a six-year-old kid. My guess is that, given what he's seen, my dad wouldn't have much sympathy for a dead whale. Oh, and he's into seafood—big time. If we ever start serving whale on a bun like they do in Asia, he'll be all over it. Then there's my Mom. She'd probably send me to the school counselor, a psychiatrist, AND some kind of marine mammal grief support group. She believes in talking the way some people believe in prayer—the more you do it, the better you feel. You and Mom might get along, come to think about it. As you probably gathered from working with me on the Gabber Aid film, I don't subscribe to Mom's theory.

Anyway, I know you're busy and you've got bigger fish to fry (I actually hate that pun but I am deliriously tired and too lazy to delete) . . . Ceasing and desisting.


James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 25, 2012 at 11: 48 PM
Subject: Fish Fry

Well, you're in luck, Whale Boy.

You wanna talk about a dead whale? Let's talk. Let's talk about anything. Because as it turns out, I decidedly do
have any bigger fish to fry. I don't have freakin' shrimp to fry. Don't got dang krill to fry! You know why?

My ex.

Corinne. That relationship I was talking about moving on from? Her.

The day after I last emailed you, my roomie invited me out with him and some of his work buddies. I didn't have to be in until eleven the next morning, a rare reprieve, so I said sure. If you knew the crap (can I just say “shit”? I'm saying “shit,” you're 14) I go through on a daily basis, you'd understand how excited I was. I was going out on a Wednesday night! I haven't sniffed fun on a Wednesday night since I got out of school. Anyway, we went out to this dance club. Not my choice—I like to actually be able to hold a conversation at a reasonable volume when I'm socializing, call me crazy.

We arrive. Luke's buddies are a little odd, but they're nice guys. We order drinks. The place is deafeningly loud, but I'm feeling good. And life is good, as long as I ignore the bass that's thumping so hard my ears are about to bleed like poor Salt's. We're talking—yelling, rather—shooting the proverbial breeze. I'm looking around at all these pretty girls walking past, and at the packed dance floor, lights strobing over bodies, people's hands in the a-
like they just don't ca-
, and for the first time since Corinne and I broke up, I feel . . . shit, I'll just say it: I feel whole again. I feel like a regular person who has struggles like anyone else but is in general just going about his business, paying dues at his job, complaining about his boss. Normal, adult stuff. And as a functioning adult, albeit one with a few Jack 'n' Cokes in him, I decide what the hey, I'll hit the dance floor for a while and shake what my momma bequeathed to me. I don't know how to dance, but after seeing the bizarre convulsions of Luke's insurance company clan, I figured I'd probably look pretty decent in comparison.

So I head out there, start sidling by people to get toward the middle, and once I get there, I go all out for probably ten minutes. Just feeling it. In the zone. No room in my head for thoughts because all I can hear in there is the electronic bass drum and hi-hat going
Boom-tiss, boom-tiss, boom-tiss, boom-tiss
. All around me, there's people and their sweat and their smell. And I'm flailing to that beat:
Boom-tiss, boom-tiss, boom-tiss, boom-tiss

Then I open my eyes to see Corinne and her new boyfriend, right next to me on the dance floor. Corinne who supposedly hates techno. Corinne whom I would never expect to see—ever—at a dance club. She is totally oblivious, no idea that I'm there, because they're intertwined. Making out hard. So hard. Like they were both bulldogs and thought the other was a brand new bone.

Seeing her kiss someone besides me would have been heart-stompingly traumatic on its own, but the thing that's freaking me out even more, the most—what's the word?—terrifying thing about it is how little it resembled our kissing. It's like she was a different person. I know you probably have no interest in hearing this (not that that ever stops me from talking), but we almost always kissed softly. Gently. Even at our most passionate, whatever rough-and-tumble might have been happening with the rest of our bodies, we weren't lip-slammers or tongue-wrestlers. We talked about how awesome our kissing was. It was special. Sacred, I even thought. Seeing her so roughly and enthusiastically making out with this dude in a way so different from how we would have makes me feel like it wasn't that special. That the whole time, whether she knew it or not, she wanted to be kissing someone else and in some other way. So when I said and did a couple things that, no doubt, weren't the best things, rather than try to work through it she just kicked me to the curb.

At this point, watching the girl I love engage in public heavy petting, I'm out of the zone. Way out. Light-years away from the zone. The zone and I have suspended all diplomatic relations. I push a bunch of people out of the way, and the music is loud and frantic now instead of fun and exciting. The strobe light's flashing in my eyes. I fumble my way through the dance floor and head for the exit. Couldn't even hold my tears back until I got past the bouncer.

I've been lying real low ever since, Netflixin' and eating. Since you got through F in the Urban Dictionary, you'll know this one: FML.

I've been trying to remind myself (and have been getting plenty of help from my mom and my sister) that there are many fish in the sea, but it ain't helping as of now.

So feel free to drop me a line. I'm going to be streaming every documentary on Netflix until further notice.

Misery loves company,

The Old Darren and the Stream

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 26, 2012 at 9:49 AM
Subject: Please read carefully and absorb fully.

Remember that old Head & Shoulders shampoo commercial that said you never get a second chance to make a first impression? Well, it's true. You don't. Depending on your view, it's either ironic or appropriate that that was their slogan, because they're just the sort of advertiser that is threatening to pull their ads if we don't start getting some people to tune in, first of all, and then STAY tuned in past the commercial break. The commercial break, as you'll recall, is the sole purpose for the existence of our medium. Without it, you and I don't exist.

The fickleness of advertisers is my problem to deal with, not yours, but I must remind you that for me to have any chance at all, I need YOU (I swore I wasn't going to resort to using all caps, but I can only restrain so much anger, though I'll try not to resort to heavy use of italics, bold print, and multiple exclamation points) to get your writers on the same page and start churning out some more stories that people can connect with. No one likes to get canceled. So don't let it happen to you. This is a three-camera Friday night family sitcom, Rob, not rocket science.

Please don't respond to this.
JUST WRITE ME A GOOD SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Sorry, but it really does feel so much better to let out that alphabetic scream.)


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 26, 2012 at 10:27 AM
Subject: RE: Introduction

Dear Coach Olmstead,

I am just now seeing this letter because there are so many emails from the school that sometimes I miss one. My name is Harriet Jenkins, mother of Michael Nguyen. I am writing because I think you made some assumptions about the kinds of people that send their kids to Henson due to you being new here. Sure, plenty of people at Henson have money, but I am a single mom who spends every dime I have to send Michael there because I want him to have a good education and be successful, which I know he can do at public school but it's so much harder there. If we lived somewhere else he would be in public school but the school we live by lost its accreditation two years ago and is a place where I think Michael would be susceptible to falling in with the wrong crowd.

I do my best to raise my son, but ain't no way I can “coach” him too. Nor would I want to, at least not the way you talk about doing it. If my son wants to stay up and play video games he's gonna do it. He's 17 years old. He needs to make decisions like that by himself. I can remind him about food too but I don't cook every meal he eats. But even if I had a rich husband and was around the house all day I wouldn't be like that with him because I think it would make him not learn to grow up.

I apologize if I sound angry, but I just want to let you know our situation is not like you seem to think it is.


Harriet Jenkins

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 27, 2012 at 5:48 AM
Subject: RE: Introduction

Dear Ms. Jenkins,

I'm sorry if my letter did not take into effect your circumstances. It was meant to serve as a general letter to parents and promote high expectations. As a coach I often present situations on and off the field in their ideal way, by which I mean how they would go if everything went perfect. As both a coach and a parent, I know that obviously things don't always go perfect. But I still want my players pursuing perfection even if it's sort of an impossible thing to actually get. I'm sorry I didn't make that clear in my original letter to the parents.

Irregardless, I have enjoyed working with Michael so far this season. He has a natural knack for the game, and I believe he will be a great asset as a tight end this season. He sometimes makes costly mental mistakes, but that is part of learning the game and to be expected.

Thank you for reaching out and expressing your concern,

Jack Olmstead

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 27, 2012 at 3:37 PM
Subject: Status Update

Dear Darren,

I don't know what to say about your situation, but I do have a movie suggestion. There's an awesome documentary,
The Whale
, about an orca (hate the “killer whale” moniker)—uplifting, friendship and rainbows kind of stuff. Maybe that will help?

Things here are actually somewhat better. Just when I'd resigned myself to mourning in private (more whale songs on CD, Pop-Tarts in bed, etc.), today on the bus home, my neighbor, Sophia Lucca, sat down next to me. Sophia and I don't usually talk very much (recall completely awkward phone call), but I went with my parents to her father's wake last year. In the receiving line, I offered my condolences (only after my mom elbowed me twice) and Sophia threw her arms around me. Her blouse was damp from tears or sweat and I felt her bite down on a funeral home breath mint, she was so close. Curls loosened from her ponytail brushed my cheek. I felt bad for getting giddy about that hug. But a hug? From a girl not related to me? That was my first. Her mascara ruined my best dress shirt. And you know what? I didn't really care. She was clinging to me like I was going to save her, and for a nanosecond, I wondered if I could. Also, it just so happened that Sophia was unloading her books at her locker on the awful day when Sam and the rest of the soccer team destroyed my Biology diorama and trashed my only picture of Salt.

But then today, there she was next to me on the bus. Smelling like flowers and licorice and clutching her violin case. She wanted to know if I found Salt. It didn't occur to me at the time that she was asking about the picture the soccer team dumped in the trash, not the actual humpback whale himself. And so I told her the whole story: tracking the dot, alerting the cetologist, and how my efforts were too little, too late. He was beached. Dead. As I said that last word, she sucked in a breath and I thought about her father, worried I'd said too much. Man, my pulse sounded so hard in my ears, there was no way she couldn't hear the drumming. But Sophia just said, “It's hard when you lose someone you love.”

Now, I don't know much (okay, anything) about girls, but it occurs to me that what Sophia said to me on the bus today might apply to your situation with Corinne. I won't offer you any words of sympathy. You obviously cared for Corinne. What was so great about her? I'm not criticizing, believe me. I never even met Salt, and his death is eating away at me. It all just sort of makes me wonder: Is it worth it to like someone so much if there is a chance of ending up alone again anyway?


James Turner

P.S. Any Netflix recommendations?

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 27, 2012 at 6:30 PM
Subject: Update

Hi Stanley:

Thanks for all of the help while I was out of the office. As expected, it's a little hard getting back in the swing of things. I never heard from my sister Elsie, even though I sent Dad's obit to her last known address, this halfway house in New York. Then I get back here and I have an email (one of 143 I received while out of the office) from a teenage kid wanting a full report on the latest loss of a young whale and a whole team in mourning about Salt, too. It's rough. I grew up in Alaska near this Inuit community. Inuit hunt whales, but they have a deep, spiritual respect for the creatures. There's this belief that the Earth is carried on the back of a whale, and the Seven Seas can fit into a whale's nostrils so that a single sneeze can cause an earthquake or flood. Any time a whale beaches, it's considered a sign that the universe is in disorder.

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