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Happy?

Basic Storyline: A young ad writer romances a chilling super vixen. Ennui  and, alas, hilarity ensue.

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CHAPTER ONE
This is how I prefer to remember my friend, Grant “GG” Goldstein.

It’s winter 1976, his fifth birthday party. About twenty of us are in his living room. The atmosphere holds that spoiled stuffiness of running children and oil heat.

Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein have herded us together underneath a piñata, the focal point of a broader, politically conscientious party theme. Grant wears a napkin blindfold. He wears it proudly and helplessly, as if awaiting a firing squad. He holds a yardstick on his hip.

Mr. Goldstein’s big hands rest on his son’s narrow shoulders. He’s actually lecturing us on Daniel Ortega or something, as if we could possibly be distracted from the piñata, this beacon of radical joy in the sky.

Eventually, he finishes his commentary. He flicks on a tape of authentic Mexican music. As I remember it, it’s always too fast, too loud, and too happy. You can practically hear the tequila bottles shatter.

A number of events occur simultaneously, in a kind of Hitchcock pan. Jimmy Quintas punches Jimmy Reilly in the stomach. In the kitchen, Mrs. Goldstein drops a wine glass. Back in the living room, Mr. Goldstein barks “Wait!” as Grant shrugs out from under his dad’s hand. He steps past me in one long stride of his cuffed up jeans and gashes open the piñata. He does so with a kind of reverse golf swing that spins him around 390 degrees. He stumbles across to the other side of the pile and drops on his ass.

A shower of glittering hard candy. A volley of screams. Instantly there’s a little wiggling pile of hyena children. I can’t get in though. I’m too slow, and I actually have to reel back to avoid Grant, who’s already up and swinging wildly, at about shoulder-level, blindfold still on. The yardstick seems twice as tall as he is.

He pauses. His head tilts back and around to get his bearings. He sees me, his Dad, the carcass of the piñata. He looks down. His little hips wobble in all the action underfoot.

Now he argues with somebody below him, someone who won’t or can’t move. Suddenly, mid-sentence, he brings the stick over his head. There’s an arcing whistling blur, followed by a shag-muffled shriek.

Apparently this has its desired effect because he’s now free, swatting and kicking his way through the crowd. There are yelps and smacks. He seems to be trying to clear a path, and he’s heading straight for me. He keeps looking up but I can’t see his eyes. He’s just a napkin head and turtleneck body. He steps on Jeff Mercy. He saddles over Jenny Smythe.

My feet pull at the floor. I turn to Mr. Goldstein, but he’s fiddling around with his stereo. I turn back to find Grant and I suddenly face-to-face. I catch his eye under the blindfold. He’s startled briefly, like an animal caught in a shadow. His fat lips glisten. I reach for the yardstick, but his arms come to life like a jack-in-the box. He takes a broad, cross-cut swipe that pings the tip of my funnybone. It sings with fizzing pain as I stumble away.

There’s a tonal difference to the screaming now, and Mr. Goldstein tunes in and turns around. He’s turning left to right. Grant is swinging right to left. It’s the same stroke that came at me, but flat-edged this time. Mr. Goldstein’s glasses ricochet off his head, bouncing, spinning into the air.

“Jesus Christ!” he cries, with one hand groping for his glasses, the other trying to hold his eye together. Two rivulets of blood split fast around the knuckle of his index finger. I hear a yell from behind me and twist around, away from Grant, who’s brought the yardstick over his head again, like an axe.

Now I see Mrs. Goldstein, her hair in a handkerchief, running from the kitchen with both hands in front of her. I hear Mr. Goldstein cry out, and a slight diminishing of the kid riot.

Mrs. Goldstein shoves me into an armchair. I bounce off that, sting my other elbow on the windowsill, and twist to my knees. As I do so, I watch her hook an arm around Grant’s mid-section, yanking him away.

Mr. Goldstein is doubled over like an Arab in prayer. Some of the children, oblivious, still writhe all over the floor. Others just stare.

Grant nails him one last time, as his mother heaves, landing his little right heel hard on his Dad’s head. I remember our eyes again meeting as she hauls him into the air, his chin over his shoulder, that small dark face and heavy curve of hair.

After that, I remember station wagons, like squad cars, hurtling into the driveway.

I take two lessons from this. The first is that most of us live only to get back at our parents. The second, that life is ultimately a comedy.

Anyway, this is how I will remember my friend, GG.

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Download the PDF version of my novel, Happy?, here.

Why you may be here

I’m just a guy trying to write fiction that feels like reality – fiction that’s funny, grave, romantic, ugly, exhilarating and even predictable when and where it should be.

I like Shakespeare, but not really the comedies (except for As You Like It and Twelfth Night). I like Nabokov, but really only Lolita, though I think it probably should be illegal in some fashion. I sometimes try to make a point – usually after having been woefully overserved – that Western Literature ended with two books, Lolita and Ulysses.  I can’t recall the details, but it’s something about how simultaneously grand and vulgar they both are. In any event, had you been there on one of those occasions when I made that point, I’m confident you would have been really impressed.

I consider Hemingway’s short stories the great achievement in American literature; not sure what that says about me and/or American literature. I don’t really like his novels. I love Martin Amis. I love Elmore Leonard. I read P.G. Wodehouse probably every week and advise everyone to do the same.

I hope that gives you a sense for my perspective and doesn’t seem too obnoxious. I sincerely thank you for however much time you spend reading what I’ve written. That act, after all, is really just the two of us trying to tell one another that we’re not alone and not without a little grace.

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Drop me a line. I’d love to hear your take on my various literary canoodlings.

I’m around and waiting for your thoughts at jack@jackhowland.com.