Excerpt from Crossing California by Adam Langer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Crossing California

By Adam Langer

Crossing California
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2004,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: May 2005,
    512 pages.

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"I hope so," her mother said. "There are some people I'd sure like to see."

Which was the phrase that was jackhammering Jill Wasserstrom's skull when her sister returned to their bedroom and told her she had misspoken. She didn't have a "bulletin"; she had a "news flash." Michelle flopped down, then bounced briefly on Jill's bed--a girlish habit that seemed rehearsed to appear sisterly but to Jill seemed simply patronizing. Michelle jumped off the bed and sat on the desk. "Maybe it's not a news flash either," Michelle said. "Maybe it's really a white paper." Finally, she decided: "No, it's not that either. Actually, it's an edict."

Issuing an edict was as serious as it got. Michelle reserved the issuing of edicts for life-altering decisions. Breaking off relations with boys--or inviting them to "taste the salty brine in Davy Jones's locker," as Michelle referred to it--was rarely accorded edict status. When she relayed that sort of information, it only received the label of "bulletin." The last edict Jill recalled Michelle issuing concerned vowing to lose her virginity to the unfortunately named Eddie Pinkstaff. More recently, in a fit of rage, Michelle had issued another edict, declaring she would refuse to take the PSAT practice college entrance exam since she wasn't planning to go to college at all. Later, Michelle retracted that edict, declaring it, in the words of a Watergate-era White House press secretary, "inoperative."

"And you will witness this," Michelle said. "I am hereby resigning from all extracurricular drama activities. I am quitting the show and the club--I don't care if it sabotages them. That is it. Edict declared. Edict witnessed. Edict issued."

If this turned out to be true, it would doubtless prove to be the defining edict of Michelle's high school career. She had been involved with every Mather High production since she had arrived two years earlier, scoring the part of Anne Frank as a freshman, then nabbing virtually every lead role thereafter, except in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for which the director--a former TV actor now serving a jail sentence--insisted on an all-male cast and required each actor to slowdance with him during their audition. Michelle had played Eileen in Wonderful Town, Portia in Julius Caesar, and Emily in Our Town. This year, as a junior, she had served on the executive drama board for Coolshow!, the annual student-written musical variety show. And now she was just three weeks away from opening night for H.M.S. Pinafore. She was to play Buttercup. She had been offered the role of the Captain's daughter Josephine, but gracefully stepped aside so that her friend Myra Tuchbaum--a senior who had never been in a musical despite having auditioned for every single one, and who provided her and their mutual friend Gareth Overgaard, also a senior, with free pot--could play the part. As Buttercup, Michelle would sing a duet with the ladykilling Millard Schwartz, who had allegedly never been turned down for a date; Michelle's intent had been to provide him with his first no--a task she, no doubt, could have performed had she not wandered in late one Saturday night to Eastern Style Pizza right when Millard was getting off work and happened to have a jug of apple wine in the trunk of his rusted, olive-green Opel Manta, which, for once, wasn't in the shop.

Jill asked why Michelle was quitting. Everything had been cruising along just fine, Michelle said. Even Millard had been taking a surprisingly professional approach to rehearsals; he had vowed not to get high until the first cast party. Today had been the first rehearsal with orchestra, and Michelle had been eagerly anticipating working with the conductor, Douglas Sternberg. Sternberg was a Mather legend. He had graduated in 1972, and seven years later his pictures still adorned the walls outside of the auditorium. He had founded Coolshow! He had gone to state four straight years with the speech team, taking top honors at the state tournament in Normal, Illinois, in 1971 in Humorous Interpretation (inhabiting twelve characters in his edit of The Comedy of Errors). Little had been known about what had become of him. There were rumors he'd gone to Hollywood, that he was writing nudie musicals off-Broadway, that he'd written the original score to The Way We Were but had argued with Barbra Streisand, who insisted all his music be removed. Whatever the truth was, now he was back--subbing for Milner Geist, who had conducted every Mather musical since 1954 and, now that he was at home recovering from cracked ribs, had called upon one of his most celebrated students to replace him for Pinafore, after which Geist promised to return for Coolshow 1980!

From Crossing California by Adam Langer.  Copyright Adam Langer 2004.  All rights reserved.

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