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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2004, 448 pages
    May 2005, 512 pages

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Jill assumed the "good news" would concern the Bat Mitzvah, most likely something she'd heard before--Charlie often presented old news as revelation--something about how Mr. Alan Farbman from the restaurant would be donating a deli tray, something about how her rich great-aunt Beileh would not only match the most expensive gift but beat it by at least $10. But Charlie didn't mention any of that; instead, he said, "I bet you can't guess who came into the restaurant tonight." Jill said he was right, she couldn't guess. She asked who had come into It's in the Pot!, knowing full well that the restaurant's clientele was culled from a mere two groups--people who chain-smoked and people on respirators.

"Gail Schiffler-Bass," he said. The name made no impression and the additional information her father offered-"the gal from the paper"-didn't illuminate matters but did make Jill just a touch more intrigued until Charlie explained, "you know, from the Nortown Leader," at which point Jill regretted whatever enthusiasm she might have briefly displayed. The Nortown Leader, part of the chain of Schiffler Neighborhood Newspapers, was little more than a series of coupons--two-for-one dining at the Yenching Chinese restaurant; one free appetizer at Sally's Stage (featuring roller-skating waitresses); a free car wash with a fill-up at the Nortown Standard station--and advertisements ("Devon Bank Salutes Its Loyal Customers," "Rosel Hair Designers: A Cut Above The Rest"), occasionally interrupted by tepid articles about charity fund-raisers and community events ("New Basketball Courts at Lerner Park; Seniors Say It's No Slam-Dunk"), followed by pages of classifieds, display ads, and announcements: Las Vegas Night at K.I.N.S. Synagogue, a screening of The Canterville Ghost at the Nortown Library, free blood pressure testing, a JCC singles disco dance night led by Sandi Hirsch. There was a Lifestyle section with community theater and restaurant reviews, but the only part of the paper Jill ever read was the police blotter, and even it was unimpressive; the only crimes of note took place east of Western and they never involved anyone she knew.

"She's gonna give us a write-up," Charlie continued, then repeated her name for emphasis. "Gail Schiffler-Bass is gonna do a write-up. She talked to me for maybe fifteen minutes. She wanted to know everything I knew. Mr. Farbman said it was okay. So I told her everything I knew."

Jill wasn't certain why her father was so excited; he'd only been at It's in the Pot! for three weeks, and though managing that restaurant was a step up from his previous position (counterman at Fannie's Deli on Touhy: "We Specialize In Lox!"), until today Jill had not heard him say anything positive about it ("They water down the matzo ball soup; you're not gonna attract repeat customers that way," "They don't keep the chopped liver covered, and they come to me, angry 'cause there's flies," "Mr. Farbman said he doesn't believe in overtime; the hours are the hours"). The worst of it all was his obsequious tone whenever he referred to Mr. Farbman, as if Farbman were worthy of this sort of respect, as if he weren't ten years younger than her father, as if he didn't have a bad mustache, slick, black hair parted down the middle, a thick gold bracelet, and a gargantuan high school ring, as if he hadn't completely humiliated her father the one time she'd met him at the restaurant, calling him "Hey, Charlie," as if her father were retarded--"Hey, Charlie, where does toothpicks go?" "Hey, Charlie, where's the ashtrays?"--all the while, her father with that same obsequious tone: "Yes, Mr. Farbman; sorry, Mr. Farbman; I'll get right to that, Mr. Farbman; right away, sir, right away."

No doubt her father's excitement derived from some twisted idea that once the restaurant got reviewed it would attract more customers, then maybe "Mr. Farbman" would credit the restaurant's success to his loyal employee. Or maybe her father just wanted to see his name in print: "'We also serve an excellent variety of soups,' effused Charlie Wasserstrom, manager of It's in the Pot! and noted Thousand Island dressing enthusiast." "'We really hope to give Lincolnwood an eatery they can be proud of,' thundered the bumbling Wasserstrom, manager of It's in the Pot! and owner of Chicago's largest collection of Frank Sinatra records." It was all too grim to consider further. Jill told her father she had homework and went off to her bedroom, taking Romeo and Juliet with her, leaving her father to the couch, his beer, his leftover brisket, and his dreams of fame.

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

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