Less than two weeks until THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH hits the shelves, and I’m so excited! To whet your appetite, here are the first three pages. If you want more, check out the excerpts available on Amazon!
The Billings Zoo has no animals.
Fewer than twenty-four hours ago, I was standing in Gray’s Papaya on Seventy-Second Street and Amsterdam Avenue in New York City, watching passersby ignore someone who was having what appeared to be an epileptic seizure while eating a chili dog. Taxicabs whirred by, mere mustard stains on the frankfurter that is the Upper West Side. Hordes of humans hustling in every direction, screaming, shouting, howling.
Now, I am in a place that is so quiet that I can still hear the noises of Manhattan in the back of my skull, like they are working their way out, slowly. And I am at a zoo where I may actually be the wildest life.
I’m here because after we landed and got our rental car for the summer, my mother suggested she take me for “a treat.” We cruised past multiple Arby’s and shops that sell discount mattresses and a Wonder Bread thrift store, whatever that is. She dropped me here, at the zoo, and told me she’d pick me up in a couple hours, after she got us settled in at my dad’s house. She suggested that the zoo might be a place to “locate and center myself” before seeing him for the first time in fourteen years.
My mom, a therapist slash school counselor, “hears” that I feel like she’s ripped me out of my normal summer, but “what she wants to say to me” is that I need to stop moping. And what better place to drop off a mopey seventeen-year-old boy in a strange new city than at the zoo? Had she just asked me where I wanted to go, I would have been like, I don’t know, a coffee shop. A movie theater. Any place a guy in his summer before senior year might want to hang. But whatever. My mom is down with the kids and how they all just want to stare at monkeys all day.
I do, in fact, feel a little ripped out of my normal summer — such as it is. But it’s possible that I’m milking it a bit. I mean, I was going to be working at a Pinkberry on the Upper West Side, which is the best frozen yogurt place in the city, tied with every other frozen yogurt place in the city, as they are all exactly the same. I won’t actually miss that. So “ripped” may be a little strong.
The zoo is apparently called ZooMontana, as it is the greatest of all the Montana zoos. At the gate, I buy a ticket from an old, tired-looking bald man and walk in. I wind through the trees along roped-off gravel trails. There are some nice trees. But what becomes painfully apparent is that there are basically no animals.
Perhaps because there are no animals, there are also no people at the zoo. Well, a few people. The bald ticket taker. And I come across a wedding procession at one point, an overly chipper, pregnant bride in an off-white gown, a goateed dude in a polyester suit by her side, his greasy mullet glistening in the sun.
Matrimony at a zoo with no animals. Wedding bliss fail.
I finally do find one lonely, depressed Siberian tiger. Here he is in the Siberia of America, lazing on the ground, staring into space, a look of what that guy Kierkegaard would call existential despair in his eyes. (Thanks, philosophy class!) I can barely blame him. I am that tiger. Relocated against my will for the summer to the northern tundra of my country, with nothing to do, nothing to look at, nothing but nothing.
So after I decide that sitting and staring at a depressed tiger isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I walk back toward the entrance to the gift shop (plastic eagle sculptures and red-tailed squirrel magnets) to fritter away my final ninety-five minutes here (but who’s counting).
A ridiculously beautiful girl is organizing the greeting card display. In terms of attractiveness, she is in the 99.9th percentile of zoo employees. Her skin is black, almost purple black, and her jeans are dark blue and super tight. Her voluminous hair covers her ears almost entirely. She has sinewy arm muscles like the gymnastics girls back at my high school in the Bronx, and she wears a turquoise tank top that shows off her curves just right. Her face is wow. Soft, clear skin, uberhigh cheekbones that seem to pull her cheeks upward like a slingshot.
I can’t take my eyes off her. I do not believe in God, but in this instance, I wonder if there’s some deity to thank for the miracle of a dazzling girl in an otherwise deserted zoo. And I decide it’s very important to get a closer look at the greeting cards.
As I get within about five feet of her, she turns slightly toward me. I instinctively lower my head and turn away, as if I’m now perusing the almost empty shelf of stuffed animals, which consists of two pink frogs. I want so much to be the kind of guy who knows what to say in this situation. Unfortunately, I’m about 3,000 percent better in my brain than out of it. I’ve tried it before, verbalizing my thoughts to other people. It rarely works well.
She faces me completely now.
“Under what circumstance would you buy a greeting card in which a bear is dancing through a field of sunflowers?” she asks.