Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (5 page)

There's got to be something to that ancient belief because my universe, at the very least, is in disorder. Big time. But I'm trying to make some sense of it all. The shells, most of all. I talked at length to Lauren Sheridan—who, as you discovered, is an amateur conchologist. She told me that some of the shells I received in the mail are prized by collectors and might fetch good prices online if not for some little marks on their glossy exteriors. I guess the animals that live inside shells have the ability to heal from wounds to the exoskeleton, although the wounds leave scars that affect a shell's value going forward. There's the olive you received with the note that looks like it's been glazed in egg white. Then Lauren identified the other two for me as well. The one is
Pterynotus phyllopterus
or the Leafy-Winged Murex. It has more ridges than a potato chip and glows a warm yellow. The other's the
Melongena corona
, which apparently is an unusual variant of the species because a double row of spines crowns the spire. This aberration would make it attractive to a collector, even with the tiny flaw on the shell.

Thanks again for your help. And I like that new lemon stuff you used on the floor in my office. It reminds me of summer.



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 27, 2012 at 7:50 PM
Subject: RE: Update

Hi Peter,

That's a new cleaner that a friend told me about at a bike rally last weekend. Made me think of that saying, how's it go? Make lemonade out of lemons. Something like that.

—Stanley P. Duckett

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: September 27, 2012 at 8:42 PM
Subject: Netflix Recs

Hey there James Jamerson (real guy, actually, you can look him up),

Not sure what you're into as far as movies. I bet you'd dig
Whale Rider
. It's an Australian flick, I think. Check it out.

Sounds like you've got a lot on your plate, which can be good when you're dealing with loss. Keep the mind busy until the wounds heal a bit. Nobody I know died recently, thank Deity, but Corinne's absence has been rough on me. You were asking what was so great about her. I could go on for hours, but I'll try to limit myself. First off, she's a badass upright bass player in a killer bluegrass band. The girl's five foot one, the bass is six feet tall, but watching the way she owns that thing, you'd think she was playing a violin standing on end. Simply ferocious. When she lays down that bassline (I'm not opposed to bass in all situations—just not electronic bass at shuttle-launch volumes), it's like she just spread out a giant tarp, and the rest of the band just glides on top of that thing. And the whole time, she's got this determined smile on her face. Only opens her eyes once or twice a song.

Also, she laughs really hard at her own terrible jokes. This is a trait I would hate in most people, but for some reason, with her? So. Effing. Adorable.

But what I loved maybe the most was the way that girl rode in the passenger seat of a car. I'd be driving, and usually we talked like crazy, but not always, and when we weren't, you wouldn't believe the way this girl looked out the window. Like there were dangflabbin' fairies and unicorns out there. Just pure fascination with the world. Billboards, signs, people, other cars, trees, dogs, birds, freaking construction equipment. You name it. It interested her. And not in some MPDG way (Manic Pixie Dream Girl; not sure if you've made it to M in the Urban Dictionary). She
about stuff. Everything. And then came to intelligent conclusions. Excuse me for a moment while I curse aloud at my fucking stupidity for ever fucking up so badly and letting her fucking get away. Fuck.

All that to say, it was a huge bummer to see her and some other dude try to inhale each other's faces on the dance floor. Ever since, I can't stop thinking about our first kiss, which was quite a bit tamer than what I saw the other night. We'd spent the day at the beach. We kept trying to get in the water, but it was freezing, so the whole time we were in there we howled like we'd just simultaneously whacked all of our fingers with a hammer. Then we'd clamber back to our towels, joking and laughing, and that moment kept coming where our laughter died down and our bare shoulders would touch and essentially every ideal first-kiss element was in place. But I couldn't do it. We were even there at sunset! It was like a freakin' commercial for OkCupid! But I just couldn't make the move.

So I'm driving her back into the city and I can't believe what a chump I am, and I have this extended interior monologue that I won't bore you with except for the conclusion, which was something like, “If you
want to be happy you're going to have to get it into your head that tomorrow is never a good time to start being the person you want to be. The time is now. And now again. And now again, until you die. At which point we
almost died because I was so lost in thought that I'd let the car drift toward oncoming traffic. I yanked the car back into our lane and immediately pulled over. “Are you all right?” she said.

Bam. Laid a gentle but firm kiss right on her lips. I sighed and said, “Now I am.”

And of course . . . now I'm not. But I've had a lot to do at work lately, which is good. I'm actually starting to enjoy it a bit. The Show That Shall Not Be Named is still too terrible to be named, but we did an outdoor scene the other day, which almost never happens, and I got to hold the boom mic because because the boom guy had an allergy attack and was sneezing too much to keep the mic steady. Holding a boom mic is no joke. I did it on a few of my classmates' senior films, and you have to have the thing in just the right place so you're off camera but can still pick up sound. I think they appreciated that I took it seriously. Woody Allen said that ninety percent of life is showing up. Showing up and caring bumps you up a good five percent more, I'd venture. Same goes for relationships.

That's why it still kills me that I managed to bumble my way into the last five percent with Corinne. And I still haven't quite figured out why. Things were all sorts of awesome for a while. Then I felt her start to pull away. I stretched out my arms and put out my hands, but she didn't want to take them.

As far as whether it was worth it, it's hard to say. The old saying is that it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Like that whole “many fish in the sea” thing, it sounds wise and encouraging and all that, but it doesn't really help much while you're actually going through something.

Well, c'est la vie. C'est my shitty vie.

Peace in the Entire East,



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 3:52 PM
Subject: RE: Netflix Recs

Dear Darren:

So I watched
Whale Rider
five times in a row marathon-style on Saturday, pausing only to nuke some ramen noodles for lunch/dinner. That's some heavy duty binge watching (Urban Dictionary, 2012) if you ask me. But a girl who saves an entire pod of beached whales by riding the largest one back into the sea like some sort of snake charmer? Unbelievable. IMO (the
Whale Rider
marathon set me back and I'm only at the I's in the Urban Dictionary), Corinne might have been your Pai.

Didn't you know how lucky you were?

As for Sophia and me, it's not what you might think. Girls aren't into me.

Yesterday, Sam sat down next to me at lunch wanting to talk. At first, I was psyched (Urban Dictionary, 2012). Sam asked me if I'd watched the latest season of
Whale Wars
on Animal Planet. Vintage Sam comment. I was pretty excited. I told him that, in my next life, I wanted to come back as conservationist (and Enemy #1 of Japanese whale poachers) Paul Watson. Then he said something about how I should do an internship on the
Sea Shepherd
someday. I said that I would have to get James Bond training somewhere first to learn how to fly a helicopter to do reconnaissance on the Japanese whale hunters like they do on
Whale Wars
. Sam nodded but his eyes were watching something over my head. And just like that, it was over. He said that he had to go, but first asked if I could put in a “good word” for him with Sophia Lucca since I'm her neighbor.

Sam's request was based on the assumption that I talk to Sophia on a regular basis. What he doesn't know and I wasn't about to tell him is that I probably talk to Mrs. D'Angelo more than to Sophia. Needless to say, I haven't had the chance to say anything to Sophia about Sam. But he is the kind of guy she would like. He's smart (especially with regards to arachnids—the kid can tell a giant house spider from a hobo spider a mile away) and he can pull off the whole Justin Bieber look thanks to his poker-straight hair. Plus, he looks legit (Urban Dictionary, 2012) in a soccer uniform and he knows a couple of cool magic tricks with a deck of cards.

Me? I like whales more than people 99 percent of the time, and I have this annoying cowlick that causes this one crazy curl to fall over my left eye (which, don't be fooled, does not make me look anything like Justin Bieber). Someday, I will do something important like discover that whale urine cures cancer, thereby saving an entire species. But right now, I am a fourteen-year-old guy whose life would make the world's most boring reality show.


James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 5:43 PM
Subject: Help!

Hi Ladies—

Okay, I need some advice. I've gone on a couple of dates with this guy, Albert Stevens, and I've been kind of embarrassed to talk about it in group. Stats: 45 years old, never married, no kids, dentist, medium build, dark complexion, slightly balding, bad teeth, good cheekbones, beautiful eyes with lashes as long as a fawn's. The thing is that I think I might like him.

He cultivates roses, does the Sunday crossword, and enjoys a good pinot noir. But I feel guilty like I need to go to confession or something. I still love my Peter. I do. And really, I'll never stop loving him. We would have been married 20 years this December. It's awkward after being with the same man all this time. I don't know how to do this dating thing; I've been out of the game so long. I mean, my fourteen-year-old daughter should be the one going out, not me, right?


Arianna Lucca

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM
Subject: RE: Help!

Um, seems like you're kind of “fishin' for permission” here, Arianna, and I'm just not sure if I can give any. Just being honest. Your little girl is fourteen and she has no dad but does have 8 million hormones raging at any given moment. I just don't think it's the time. This guy doesn't exactly seem like Paul Newman, no offense, so instead of introducing this stress into your little girl's life, why not hold off until she's getting ready to move out and go to college? In the meantime, spend time with her and when she's busy, pick up one of those hobbies we've all given up over the years! (For me, it's piano. I practice for an hour three days a week now.)

Ellen Crompton

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 6:17 PM
Subject: RE: Help!

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly! Completely set aside your own desires for fulfillment to become a parental robot that recharges by spending
three hours
doing something
fun enough that you've gone years without doing it. (Ooh, if only they had sarcasm font!) Look, A and E, happy kids have happy parents. Yes, you have to be careful about bringing this man into your daughter's life, and you're going to have some complicated feelings about your late husband, and dating is, no doubt, a royal pain in the ass. But you know what, difficult and complicated things sort of come with the territory of being . . . AN ADULT!

But that does not mean you have to be a lonely martyr. Love is for everyone, and a piano isn't a man (though I've met some pianos with a lot better personalities than some of the men I've met since Teddy passed).

Melissa Greenberg

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 8:54 PM
Subject: RE: Help!

Hi Arianna,

Um, not weighing in on either side here except on one thing. You said you “THINK you MIGHT like him.” But the sentence before that you used the phrase “beautiful eyes with lashes as long as a fawn's.” I'm no Sigmund Freud, but one thing's for sure, you like him! (What you do about that is your call, though.)

Karen Eastman

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 8:21 PM
Subject: RE: Help!

I'm not one to chime in on group emails, but I can't keep quiet. We've been talking a lot in group about the five stages of grief and how everyone moves through them at a different speed. Therefore, I don't think it is anyone's place to judge Arianna's decision to go on a couple of dates. I introduced David to my boys after our third dinner together. That's just me. I believe in being completely honest with children; they are little people after all. I didn't know then if David and I would spend the rest of our lives together. Heck, I still don't. But he's a good guy and the boys were actually relieved when he started hanging out with us on weekends. Life began to get back to normal again. We started to go to ball games, movies, water parks, synagogue, etc. as a family. My mom finally went home after a nine-month-long shiva and that was a good thing for all of us. She's the kind who would have kept the mirrors covered indefinitely.

I knew I made the right decision to let David into our lives back in June. David took us to the Devon Fair and my youngest was all smiles, holding this stuffed bear that David won for him. I could tell that something was on my LO's mind. So I asked if everything was okay. “I love Daddy,” he said, “but I don't want to be sad anymore.” And you know what? Neither do I.

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