Gary Shteyngart’s vivid description of Mrs. Park:
“Mrs. Park had tweezed her brows to within an inch of their life…and her round lips had a trace of rouge, but that was the extent of her beautification project. A great spidery web of defeat spread across her face—as if there lived below her neck a parasitic creature that gradually but purposefully removed all the elements that in human beings combine to form satisfaction and contentment. She was pretty, the features economical, the eyes evenly spaced, the nose strong and straight, but seeing her reminded me of approaching a reassembled piece of Greek or Roman pottery. You had to draw out the beauty and elegance of the design, but your eyes kept returning to the seams and the cracks filled with some dark cohesive substance, the missing handles and random pockmarks. It was an act of the imagination to see Mrs. Park as the person she had been before she met Dr. Park.”
There are Ground Zeroes and Pearl Harbors and Dresdens, places where we collectively bow our heads and gasp at just how unfathomably barbaric life can be. And then there are our own private versions of these.
In 1987 I was traveling the world as a professional surfer, reveling in the heady buzz that comes from weekly contests, supreme physical fitness, fratboy-like camaraderie with my heroes, heart-thumping gropes with radiant 19-year-old girls in Capetown night clubs, when I received the news.
“Your brother’s dead.”
These words delivered by a kid I barely knew on the sand at Malibu Third Point in a moment when I was peacocking after a career-best finish in the Stubbies Pro not 24 hours earlier.
I ran to the pay phones, called Mom.
Yes, it was true.
Four years later I was profoundly in love, career nosediving, trying desperately to shake off LA, family, my own skin. I’d been in Brazil for a make-or-break pair of contests in which I choked.
Jetlagged, cocaine-deluded, I called my chocolate-hued baby after a long hiatus and—well, let’s just say that it would spell the end of my first love, the end of my career, the end of all I’d been dreaming about since I was 14.
It was not only the same pay phones but the same actual receiver that delivered me these life-changing blows.
Guy tells his girlfriend he wants to part ways. Girl has a hard time accepting this. In a ploy to get guy back, she offers to help him clean his apartment. On a Saturday morning, Starbucks iced coffees in hand, Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” blaring on the stereo, he in sweats, she in a mini skirt and an extra squirt of perfume, they dust, vacuum, scrub windows. She remembers their 4th of July in Montauk, his annoying niece who could never pronounce her name properly, the white roses he sent her on her birthday (“red’s just way too obvious,” he insisted with that crooked smile). Warm sunlight. Beaming optimism. With a box of his dusty LPs in her arms, her foot suddenly skids across the hardwood floor, as if on a banana peel. “FUCK!” she shouts, the records tumbling everywhere, her ACL severely wrenched. Under her shoe she finds a soiled condom. The new girl.
In New Orleans I couldn’t sleep, so I wandered down Bourbon Street, where goateed and paunchy tourists sipped daiquiris from hand grenade-shaped colored cups. A dominatrix-looking waif waved at me. I waved back. She waved me over. Two seconds later I was perched on a bar stool at Temptations. The bartender—tanned, muscled, shiny—was Southern friendly.
“I’m Bob,” he said. “What can I get you?”
“I’m Frank,” I replied. “I’d like a Heineken.”
A billow of bad perfume disguised as a large-breasted dancer approached. “Hi, I’m Melissa,” she said, offering her hand.
“Where you from, Frankie?” she asked, taking the seat next to me. She wore pink lace panties and pink pumps and a white wife-beater. I was reminded of the Good & Plentys I used to love as a kid.
“What brings you to New Orluns?”
“I’m with a friend, but he’s back at the hotel.”
She moved in close and placed her hand on my leg. “So what do you do, Frankie?”
I took a long pull from my beer. “I run a pool cleaning business out there in the San Fernando Valley.”
She skimmed her fingers over my wrist. “You married, Frankie?”
“Where’s your ring?”
“We don’t wear rings.”
She softened. “I have a three-year-old daughter,” she said, smiling. “How old are your boys?”
“Five and seven.”
“That’s such a fun age! What are their names?”
I looked off toward the stage. Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” blared. A row of Japanese businessmen fingered dollar bills. A topless blonde swallowed a man’s head with her breasts.
“Trace and Chad,” I said, trying to repress my smile.
“Aw, Frankie! Look at you! You’re such a proud daddy!”
I took her hand. “Trace is the oldest, a real terror. Katey and I made him a deal. You bring home a decent report card, and we’ll get you that skateboard you’ve been askin’ for…”
Of all my great achievements (trick-or-treating OJ Simpson’s house; five stitches to the chin after failed Evel Knievel-inspired launch over three Tonka trucks on Huffy BMXer; 7th place Meadow Oaks Summer School Hot Dog Eating Contest; tiles at Marina Dog Bowl; Tae Kwon Do yellow belt; stage dive Dead Kennedys Whiskey; cocaine seizure behind the wheel of powder blue ‘66 Karmann Ghia; back-to-back pizza deliveries to John McEnroe and Charlie Sheen in ‘86; premature ejaculation with Alexis from Heidi Fleiss’ stable ($800/hr, non-refundable); sushi with Madonna circa Like A Virgin; Mile High Club Pan Am Flt 104 JFK-DeGaulle; stalking, cornering, revelling in for maybe a year then killing perfectly good love, repeatedly; front row The Who reunion tour; on-time alimony payments seven months and counting; et al), this might be the sweetest: