One. In high school Peggy Paula worked as a waitress at the Perkins. Night shifts were her favorite, students from her school would come in after games or dances with bleary eyes and messy hair and Peggy Paula knew they’d been drinking and smoking those flimsy joints she’d see them passing, the girls with smudged makeup and rats nests in the back of their heads, proud unblinking eyes, scanning the dining room like I dare you, I dare you to guess what I just let Jared or Steve or Casey do to me, I let him and I liked it and I don’t care, and Peggy Paula honored to be among these girls, envious, taking their orders for French fries and Ranch, keeping their secrets and the sticky lipgloss tubes they’d sometimes leave behind, watermelon and cherry and berry and once a spicy cinnamon that burned Peggy Paula’s lips for an hour, what kind of girl wanted burning lips, poison lips, Peggy Paula’s heart pounding at the thought of such a girl, of the boy who went after such a girl in the backseat of his father’s sedan, the girl stinging his lips, his neck, moving further down, burning that boy up with her mouth, Peggy Paula going into the bathroom stall and wanting to touch herself but not knowing where to begin, wanting to begin everywhere, standing with her fists clenched and breathing hard, and then needing to be out from the stall and moving and so going back to the dining room feeling every inch of her skin, her lips cherry red and raw when she saw her reflection in the toaster, and three weeks later asking the redheaded dishwasher to drive her home and directing him to the spot she knew those girls went to, her lips aflame, when he pulled up sliding over, the stick shift digging into her hip, putting her mouth on his freckled neck, it smelled like mashed potatoes and industrial soap and sweat, her hand first on his thigh and then crabcrawling to his zipper, it was already hardening under there despite him saying, Hey hey, what, and Peggy Paula saying, Just, please, and the dishwasher quiet after that, letting Peggy Paula, letting her, following her into the backseat, . . . Read More.
It was the summer of the dead nurses and that sniper in Texas and we were not allowed to walk on my grandparents’ lawn because of the frogs. I was nine years old, growing up in the San Fernando Valley, a place not unlike my grandparents’ yard, homelands for populations that had for various reasons exploded. In the Valley’s case, it was with millions of children, the famous baby boom generation; and in my grandparents’ yard, billions of tiny amphibians, refugees of that concrete eyesore known as the Los Angeles River.
Our neighborhood in North Hollywood was flat and heavy with trees. In the summer the air got dry and hot and dirty, and everywhere—in the leaves, on the driveways, and in our hair—was the faint smell of chlorine from all of our neighbors’ pools. We didn’t have a pool. It was one of those things my sister Evelyn and I would occasionally beg our father for, but he always said the same thing: “We don’t need a pool. We have the Houstons.”
The Houstons were our next-door neighbors and extremely generous with their swimming pool. We could use it whenever we wanted. Still, it wasn’t the same as having our own. We knew this. Our parents knew this. The difference was we cared, my sister and I. Our parents didn’t. But then one night that summer, the summer of 1966, when our father seemed to be in a particularly bad mood, quieter and less connected than usual, we asked if we could please, please, please put a swimming pool in our backyard and he stunned us by saying, “We’ll see.” . . . Read More.