Excerpt of Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
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Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Dad picked up women the way certain wool pants cant help but pick up lint.
For years I had a nickname for them, though I feel a little guilty using it now:
June Bugs (see Figeater Beetle, Ordinary Insects, Vol. 24).
There was Mona Letrovski, the actress from Chicago with wide-set eyes and
dark hair on her arms who liked to shout, Gareth, youre a fool, with her back
to him, Dads cue to run over to her, turn her around and see the Look of Bitter
Longing on her face. Only Dad never turned her around to see the Bitter Longing.
Instead, he stared at her back as if it was an abstract painting. Then he went
into the kitchen for a glass of bourbon. There was Connie Madison Parker, whose
perfume hung in the air like a battered piñata. There was Zula Pierce of Okush,
New Mexico, a black woman who was taller than he was, so whenever Dad kissed her
she had to bend down as if peeking through a peephole to see who was ringing her
bell. She started out calling me, Blue, honey, which, like her relationship
with Dad, slowly began to erode, becoming Bluehoney and then Blueoney,
ultimately ending with Baloney. (Baloney had it in for me from the very
beginning! she screamed.)
Dads romances could last anywhere between a platypus egg incubation (1921
days) and a squirrel pregnancy (2445 days). I admit sometimes I hated them,
especially the ones teeming with Ladies Tips, How-tos and Ways to Improve, the
ones like Connie Madison Parker, who muscled her way into my bathroom and
chastised me for hiding my merchandise (see Molluscs, Encyclopedia of Living
Things, 4th ed.).
Connie Madison Parker, age 36, on Merchandise: You got to put your goods on
display, babe. Otherwise, not only will the boys ignore you butan trust me on
this, my sisters flat as youwere talkin the Great Plains of East Texasno
landmarksone day youll look down and have no wares at all. Whatll you do
Sometimes June Bugs werent too terrible. Some of the sweeter, more docile
ones like poor, droopy-eyed Tally Meyerson, I actually felt sorry for, because
even though Dad made no attempt to hide the fact they were as temporary as
Scotch tape, most were blind to his indifference (see Basset Hound, Dictionary
of Dogs, Vol. 1).
Perhaps the June Bug understood Dad had felt that way about all the others,
but armed with three decades worth of Ladies Home Journal editorials, an
expertise in such publications as Getting Him to the Altar (Trask, 1990) and The
Chill Factor: How Not to Give a Damn (and Leave Him Wanting More) (Mars, 2000)
as well as her own personal history of soured relationships, most of them
believed (with the sort of unyielding insistence associated with religious
fanatics) that, when under the spell of her burnt-sugar aura, Dad wouldnt feel
that way about her. Within a few fun-filled dates, Dad would learn how
intoxicating she was in the kitchen, what an Old Sport she was in the bedroom,
how enjoyable during carpools. And so it always came as a complete surprise when
Dad turned out the lights, swatted her ruthlessly off his screen, and
subsequently drenched his entire porch in Raid Pest Control.
Dad and I were like the trade winds, blowing through town, bringing dry
weather wherever we went.
Sometimes the June Bugs tried to stop us, foolishly believing they could
reroute a Global Wind and permanently impact the worlds weather system. Two
days before we were scheduled to move to Harpsberg, Connecticut, Jessie Rose
Rubiman of Newton, Texas, heiress to the Rubiman Carpeting franchise, announced
to Dad she was pregnant with his child. She tearfully demanded she move with us
to Harpsberg or Dad would have to pay a One-time Initiation Fee of $100,000 with
an ongoing direct debit of $10,000 per month for the next eighteen years. Dad
didnt panic. When it came to such matters, he prided himself with having the
air of a maître d in a restaurant with an exorbitant wine list, preordered
soufflé, and roving cheese cart. He calmly asked for confirmation with blood.
Excerpted from Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Copyright (c) 2006 by Marisha Pessl. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.