Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (6 page)

Regards,

Louisa

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 8:37 PM
Subject: RE: Help!

Dear Arianna—

I don't know how much I have to contribute to this discussion, given that I don't have any kids. But it does occur to me from my background in psychology that introducing someone to the kids who then ends up leaving their lives at some point could reactivate their grief and contribute to an ongoing sense of instability and loss in their worlds.

Sincerely,

Susan

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 9:02 PM
Subject: RE: Help!

As a reminder, one of the “ground rules” of group is non-judgment. I believe our listserv should follow the same rules as group.

Regards,

Louisa

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

Um, Louisa, Arianna
asked
for our opinions. Which requires us to “judge,” which everyone seems to think is a dirty word these days, but it's not.

Ellen

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 9:47 PM
Subject: RE: Help!

Hi Ladies—

Thanks for your emails. You echo some of my own concerns.

I am, of course, very worried about my girls, but the bigger issue might actually be my mother, believe it or not. She lives next door to us, and she's like Napoleon in an apron, lipstick, and sensible Italian-made shoes.

To give you a little background, my mother disapproved of me leaving home before I was married, let alone moving across the state to study painting at a college where boys and girls lived in the same dorm. I think she thought I would become a
zingara
, or gypsy (her term for “hippie”). Of course, once I escaped my mother's grasp and began painting nudes at college, I didn't just associate with bohemians, but I decided to marry one—Peter Frances Lucca, an ancient-history student who wore his hair long, addressed everyone as “man,” and smoked cigarettes. My mother was furious the first time I brought Peter Lucca home. The only thing that could be worse than the fact that Peter was a zingara was that he was also a third generation Sicilian. It really didn't matter that Abruzzo, the region where my mother was born, and Sicily are part of the same country; she assumed that southerners were either poor backwards farmers or slick gangsters flashing their overinflated bravado at every chance they got. “Not that I have anyting against
siciliani
,” my mother once said to me, “but most turn out to be
mafiosi
or
contadini
, take your pick.”

Of course, Peter turned out to be neither, and over the years, my mother slowly warmed up to him. She liked how he still made his own homemade sausages and red wine and how he respected the ancient Romans, studying their culture and marveling at how modern life, from our calendar to our use of roads, was founded on their early contributions. After Peter's wake last year, my mother even camped out in the funeral home overnight, refusing to end her vigil, even after the coffeepot ran dry and crumbs were all that remained of the tray of nutty pignoli cookies.

I share all of this for a reason. If it took my mother so long to warm up to Peter, who actually WAS Italian, what will she think of someone like Albert who is a complete nutt?

Best,

Arianna

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 2, 2012 at 9:54 PM
Subject: Oops!

In my last email, there was a typo. I meant to write “mutt” not “nutt.”

Best,

Arianna

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 4, 2012 at 7:56 PM
Subject: RE: Netflix Recs

Dear J-Turtle,

Glad you dug
Whale Rider
. I haven't actually seen it, but I think I might now. I just guessed based on the title. Even without having seen the movie, I can safely say that Corinne was my Pai. I was a total wreck a lot of the time I was working with you in the Resource Room. Did my best to hide it, but I wasn't sleeping much at that time, and on occasion I was just downright loopy. I don't know if you remember, but this one time I showed up and I'd shaved only the left side of my face. I noticed during a trip to the bathroom. In the morning, this wasn't so bad, but my beard grows in pretty quick, so by the end of the day, I had this Jekyll-and-Hyde thing happening, which actually sort of matched my feelings at that time. The whole last hour, I was trying to creep along the wall so Mrs. Whatshername didn't notice. She asked me to check on some kid's worksheet, and I actually walked backward about ten steps to keep my right cheek facing the wall. Never forget that you've taken up correspondence with an absolute idiot.

Speaking of me being an idiot, have you been listening to anything I say about girls? If so, please stop. My advice should be considered downright dangerous. Listen to that Mrs. D'Angelo. She sounds like she's got spunk, and no one knows the secrets of women like a woman.

I won't try to give you much career advice either, other than not worrying too much about it right now. When I was your age, I wanted to be a sports writer. I imagined someday my dad, who's a high school football coach, would become the coach for a major college program, and I'd go to school there and then become their beat writer. But that was still two years before I saw
Seven Up
—the documentary, not the soda—and my life was changed forever. I don't think I've mentioned it before, but
Seven Up
is the greatest documentary series of all time. Back in the '60s, this British dude got the idea to interview a bunch of seven-year-olds about their lives.

You: “Uh, so what?”

Me: “Hold your horses there, horse-holder.”

Because it turns out that the plan was they'd interview all the kids every seven years after that! Forever! Well, until they all die, I guess. And they're still doing it today! They're all the way up to
56 Up
! I mean, can you imagine? A lifelong documentary project? Documenting people becoming who they are, changing and struggling and learning. I can't imagine anything better. That's what I want to do in my documentaries.

But that's just me. I love documentaries. All I'm saying is that if there's such a thing as a whaleologist, you might want to look into that.

Or you could do like my roommate, Luke. He sells life insurance. So what, right? But we happen to live in LA, the only town where selling life insurance helps him meet women. He's a handsome dude, and everyone here's an actor, so the girls assume he is too. Then he tells them, no, he sells life insurance. And then he
really
surprises them by telling them how great it is. They're like, “What?” And he starts mentioning how he always knows he's going to have money, health insurance, etc. These girls are so used to getting hit on by aspiring actors who wait tables and make lattes that this actually sounds fascinating. He continues: “Yeah, it's really freeing knowing that in a few years I'll be able to own a house and support my family . . .” Notice how smart he is, how he keeps it vague: support his
family
. He doesn't come right out and say “support my actress wife as she navigates the incredibly uncertain and stressful waters of Hollywood,” but he might as well. At this point, they always give him their number at least. It's amazing. Nice work if you can get it.

Alright, I better sign off. Another day of work awaits me.

Later,

D

P.S. Okay, I can't help myself. In answer to your question about Corinne and me, “Did you know how lucky you were?”, let me offer a brief answer that should get to the heart of my feelings on the matter:

NO! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I had no idea how lucky I was. Not a one. Having never really been in love before, our love at first seemed like a miracle. I mean, listen to some of the things this girl said to me:

on heavy metal music: “It makes me want to not have ears.”

on vegetarians: “I don't trust 'em. In a pinch, I want people on my side who are willing to bite into some flesh.”

on her boobs: “They're like roommates. We have some good times together, but a lot of the time I just wish they'd get out of the way so I could have some peace and quiet.”

A miracle, this girl.

But then, get this. Get the absolute insanity of
this
: I didn't listen to the miracle. The miracle spoke to me about problems in our relationship, needs not quite met, issues not quite resolved—and
I didn't listen!
(Massive facepalm. Followed by knuckle-bite. Followed by cheek-slap.)

Derpin

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 7, 2012 at 3:26 PM
Subject: RE: Status Update

Dear Darren:

I need to talk to you about my mom. After Salt's death, I decided to join the American Cetacean Society and devote some of my time to conservation efforts like sending emails to various individuals on the International Whaling Commission and elected officials making decisions about our seas. This, to me, was the best way to honor Salt's memory and save others from a similar fate.

The problem is that Mom keeps harassing me about sitting in my bedroom in front of the computer after school. My whale advocacy on the computer is WAY better than playing gory video games (which is what 99 percent of my classmates do on the computer and involves pretending to be a sniper in Afghanistan or smashing zombies with bats). Anyway, after the fifth day of my efforts on behalf of the American Cetacean Society, Mom comes into my room, sits on the edge of my bed, and tries to convince me for the fiftieth time to join the Baking Club at school. She claims that these brownies I made when I was five were the best she's ever tasted. (Since then, I've done a couple tortes, some French macaroons, worked with ganache.) Still, what Mom doesn't know about Baking Club is: 1) I'd be the only guy in the group (which Coxson and his gang would see as further evidence that I am shit-for-brains or whatnot), and 2) the best part of baking, for me, is a room so silent that you hear the flour shift in the bowl.

So for the fiftieth time, I tell her to forget about it. Well, she can't—no, won't—forget about it. She gives me about thirteen other suggestions for “school and community involvement”: volunteering in a soup kitchen, trying out for the fencing team, joining debate, blah, blah, blah. Each suggestion is an activity she thinks I like—or WISHES I liked. I say “no” thirteen times. She says that I can't stay at home in my room forever. That I have to get out and interact with people. (What does she think I do at school all day?) She tells me that if I don't want to get more involved at school, I have to get a job. I laugh at that suggestion. I mean, who would hire a fourteen-year-old with no work experience whatsoever, especially in this economy?

Well, it turns out lots of people. Mom insisted on driving me around yesterday to Sal's Sub Shop, #1 Dry Cleaners, Acme Grocery, and Star Arcade. All of them were accepting applications, and somewhat reluctantly, I filled them out. No bites yet, but I'll let you know what happens.

Sincerely,

James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 7, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Subject: RE: Status Update

Dear Jamesauce,

Re: your mom and her obsession with social baking, I'd pick out something she likes to do in relative privacy—fill out a crossword puzzle, watch a TV show, soak her feet—and start demanding she do it with a bunch of other people as a member of a club. See if Baking Club is so crucial then. Trust me on this one. I've made an art out of arguing with my parents.

I hope the job hunting goes well. All of those establishments you filled out job apps for sound primo. The arcade sounds like the most fun, but you always gotta eat, so slingin' subs (and getting free ones) might not be a bad racket either.

Long term, though, I wouldn't write off the whaleology thing. First of all, I'm pretty sure women dig guys who care about other living creatures besides themselves because it's actually not that common a thing. Second, I know for a
fact
that women love guys who are successful at what they do. The showrunner on The Show That Shall Not Be Named (from here on out referred to as T-S-T-S-N-B-N or “Testy Snobbin”) is a dude named Rob who actually looks more like a Bob (bald spot, pot belly, and these loose, drooping–flower-petal lips), and he gets all sorts of—ahem, has much success with females. He's not good-looking, and he definitely wasn't the captain of varsity anything when he was in high school. But he's top dog, and ladies like it. (Mind you, it's a small, confused, disgruntled pack of dogs, but he's still the dominant one.)

He seems to have taken a bit of a liking to me lately because I always bring him his skinny vanilla latte from the Corporate Coffee Shop exactly as he asks for it. What he doesn't know is that a while back I started tasting his drinks before I brought them to him and then checking out his reaction after his first sip. I would note whether he seemed to like it or not, so that after a while I learned how he liked them, and if they came out any different—too foamy, too sweet, whatever—I'd drink that one myself and order another one.

Just realized I'm a little bit proud of this. Oh, how what constitutes success has been blunted! I'm just trying to remember that it's only temporary. I will make the next
Seven Up
, but I've got to pay my dues, as they say. I'm sure the same will be true for you at wherever you end up landing a gig.

Later,

D-erring

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 10, 2012 at 9:45 PM
Subject: Job news

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