The Whole World Can See You

April may well be the cruelest month, but I’d also argue that it’s the sneakiest. I feel like it just came out of nowhere — and just when I was getting used to March. Needless to say, May is just around the corner, which also means that the print edition of The Grievers will be available fairly soon. To celebrate, I’m continuing with my series of occasional samples from the cutting room floor — bits of narrative that didn’t quite make it into the final version of the novel. In this one, I think I was trying to reveal my protagonist Charley Schwartz for the exhibitionist he truly is, a man who, despite his claims to the contrary, likes being the center of attention. I ultimately cut the passage because it interrupted the flow of the larger narrative, but if you really like it, you can splice it into the novel somewhere around page 90.

The Whole World Can See You

Karen and I lived on a narrow, unpaved road that was sandwiched between Route 30 and the railroad tracks that carried me to and from work every day. There were three sets of twin homes on our block, all on the same side of the street. Across the street from us was an empty lot that was overrun with weeds and tall grass. Next to that was another lot, which Karen called the poopy lot because a doggy daycare center on Route 30 used it as a toilet.

Technically the area where we lived was called the Main Line, so named for the tracks that hemmed us in on one side, but our little corner of the world bore no resemblance to the land of massive homes and manicured lawns people imagined when we told them where we lived. Which isn’t to say that we lived in a bad neighborhood at all, only that our zip code gave telemarketers and mass-mail hucksters the mistaken impression that Karen and I had somehow managed to ascend to the status of landed gentry on the combined salaries of a high school teacher and a grad student.

For as long as we’d been together, Karen and I had been engaged in an ongoing debate as to how much of the neighborhood could see me when I forgot to close the blinds before undressing. According to Karen, the answer to this question was that no less than everyone on our block—both residents and passers by—could catch a glimpse of me and my particulars every night between ten and eleven-thirty as I got ready for bed.

While there was certainly merit to this argument, I was respectfully inclined to disagree. First of all, every house on our block was adjacent to our own, so the only way our neighbors could possibly spot me naked would be to set up a meticulously angled system of mirrors in the empty lot across the street; if that were the case, I added, how could I, in good conscience, deprive them of the view they worked so hard and inventively to obtain? Second, the people who passed through our neighborhood at that hour—and by this I mean the drunken college students who wandered in a perpetual haze from bar to bar along Route 30—were usually too far gone to ever notice what was going on right under their noses, let alone in the narrow window of a second floor bedroom in a quiet house on an unpaved street on the fringes of their parochial little maps of the world. Third (and perhaps most important), regardless of whether I closed the blinds, I always undressed with the lights off; as a result, our bedroom window operated on the same principles as the one-way glass in a police lineup: I could see them, but they couldn’t see me.

Despite the fact that science was on my side, however, Karen persisted in her belief that my subconscious refusal to close the blinds was a sure sign that she had married a pervert.

“I know what you’re thinking,” I said, preempting her first strike as I undressed that night. “And I’m no pervert.”

“I’m not saying anything,” Karen said.

“But you’re thinking it.”

“The whole world can see you, Charley.”

“I told you before, this is science.”

My shadow stretched across the wall as a passing car lit up the room with its headlights.

“Science,” Karen said.

“If they’d seen anything they would have honked.”

“Would you just get in bed, please? I’m cold.”

He Walked the Halls

As the release date for The Grievers draws near, I thought I’d start sharing some of the passages that didn’t make it into the final draft. In some cases, these passages were false starts that didn’t quite go anywhere. In other cases, I eventually decided that they interrupted the flow of the narrative or simply didn’t fit with the bigger story I was trying to tell. In most cases, I’m still pretty happy with the writing itself, and since books (unlike CDs and DVDs) don’t come with outtakes and other bonus materials (yet!), I thought my blog would be the perfect forum in which to share them.

He Walked the Halls

He walked the halls with a bag slung over his shoulder—every day, pacing, shuffling his feet on the scuffed marble floors. The walls at the Academy were a creamy shade of yellow and lined with black and white photos of all the classes that had gone before us—teenage boys who had long since turned to men or even died, grinning as if they had the world by the balls as they watched Billy make his lonely way up and down the halls, skinny and frail and leaning forward to counterbalance the weight of his books.

He was the kind of kid who never went to his locker, never spoke out of turn, never picked a fight, never glanced sideways during a test or a quiz, and never argued with anyone. I wish I could tell you about the first time I met him or what his life was like or what he did when he wasn’t pacing the halls, but all I can say is that he was always just there, a fixture, like the cubist statue of Saint Leonard that stood guard over the school parking lot.

The statue was a gift from the grandfather of an alum named Buddy Dever who was admitted to the Academy the same year as my father. Technically, Buddy should have flunked out by the end of his first semester, but the constant stream of cash flowing from his family was enough to make everyone look the other way whenever he set fire to the chemistry lab or ran naked through the gymnasium because the other guys stole his gym shorts.

To be fair, my dad said, Buddy was a really nice guy, and chances were good that he had nothing to do with the particular fire that gutted the school a year before they graduated. Even so, Buddy’s grandfather felt compelled to commission the statue by way of compensation, and some rumors had it costing in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand dollars. Which was a shame not only because of all the gum the statue tended to accumulate over the course of a week, but also because you would never in a million years guess what it could possibly be.

From the street, the statue was hard to distinguish from an erect penis, and the neighborhood kids used to taunt us by calling the school Saint Penis Prep. Up close, it looked like a skinny pile of rocks balanced precariously atop a fat pile. The skinny pile was Saint Leonard, and the fat pile was his donkey, Maurice.