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Alison Parham

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Wallace Baine

Mild Life

       My girlfriend Amanda May got a publishing deal, one of the big New York imprints, five-figure advance, talk-show circuit, big publicity campaign, full page ad in the New Yorker, the whole shmear. Her agent is shopping option rights in Hollywood and is already getting some pretty serious attention too. She heard last night that Natalie Portman’s got the galley on her nightstand and has been purring approvingly about it to her own agent.
       And me, I got nothing. Not a nibble, not a glance, not any kind of acknowledgement from the publishing industry that I was ever even born. To get my agent’s attention, I’d have to walk into her office with my hair on fire, emitting laser beams from my eyes, and covered in whale entrails, which I’m actively considering.
       Am I seized with envy at Amanda May? Damn straight I am, but not in the way you might assume. I don’t begrudge her her success. In fact, I saw it coming. The minute I finished her manuscript, I knew it was gold on paper. I’m not envious of her talent either, since, no false modesty here, I’m a better writer with two vowels tied behind my back. Truth is, I’m thrilled for her, for us both. If you can’t achieve fame and fortune on your own, sleeping next to it every night could be a lot of fun.
       What’s driving me crazy, though, is her back story. Her book is a memoir of her insane childhood. Her father was this heavy-drinking manic-depressive arsonist and gun nut who once sold pictures of her in a ballerina outfit to his pervy friends for liquor money and who died playing Russian roulette. And her mother was a deranged fundamentalist who held seances for Amanda May’s dead brother when she wasn’t locking herself in a closet and shame-eating mounds of shop-lifted Butterfingers. And this was all in southern Alabama where Klan meetings were still going on in shacks out in the woods and occasionally the family dog would drag home a human body part.
Yep, that’s the paint on her palette. And she has the nerve to complain about a family like that. I mean, you’re killing me here, babe. You have no clue how lucky you are to have that kind of upbringing.
       Would you rather be in my shoes? I grew up in a suburb of Sacramento, from the Spanish word for “afternoon nap.” My parents aren’t only still alive, they’re still married. Can you believe that? My dad was a high-school biology teacher for 30 years. My mother was a bookkeeper for an insurance agent. They are two of the nicest people you will ever meet.
       And I’m supposed to be a writer with that kind of background? My parents, whom I love dearly, gave me everything I needed to become a healthy and happy person, everything except the most important thing: Material.
       So when my writer friends gather around and start yapping about their nutjob parents, I’m shooting blanks. The only thing my father ever abused was the occasional Christmas carol. As a teenager, I wrecked his car twice and each time, all I got was “What’s important is that you weren’t hurt.” I know, right. What kind of man would say something like that? He had no idea what an occasional whack across the head would have meant to my career.
       I was a rebel too. My junior year, I got a mohawk haircut, started derisively calling my folks by their given names and began smoking at the kitchen table. All I got were looks of pity, and fact sheets on lung cancer placed on my bed.
       And drinking? My dad had too much champagne one New Year’s Eve and the two of them talked about the episode for 10 years, in that kind of hushed, weren’t-we-lucky tone that survivors of plane crashes use.
       I lied once and told my mom I’d gotten my pre-Amanda May girlfriend pregnant. Did she throw a frying pan at my head? Did she scream “You’re just like your father” and reveal some sordid secret about his sexual past? Did she throw me out of the house onto the streets to live like some stray dog? No, of course not. That would have given me something to build on. That I could have worked with.
       Instead, she immediately set about to call my girlfriend’s parents saying, “We’re all going to sit down like rational adults and figure out what’s best for everybody.” And when I came clean about the whole story, she just sighed and said, “Oh, you! I guess I can never tell if you’re joking or not.”
And, hey, I researched, OK? I questioned my father extensively on any promisingly outrageous political opinions – communist, neo-Nazi, birther, truther, racist, Islamist, millenialist, end-times, one-world-government. All I got was a big fat zero. My parents are moderate Democrats. Moderate Democrats!
       As desperate as I was, I even searched their bedroom once, looking for kinky lingerie among my mother’s things, or better yet, my dad’s, a loaded weapon, pills, dirty magazines, evidence of psychiatric sessions or wife-swapping episodes from their past. The juiciest things I found were an old ad for Suzanne Somers’ Thighmaster and a Kenny Rogers cassette. That’s apparently what my parents used for marital aids, a fading magazine photo of the chick from “Three’s Company” and a recording of “We’ve Got Tonite.” God in Heaven, help me.
       If my parents were a state, they’d be Kansas – flat, full of corn, rectangular and right smack in the middle.
       Yeah, and I know what you’re thinking. How can I resent the perfect parents? Look, I told them early on I wanted to be a writer. They knew my ambitions and yet they did everything to sabotage those ambitions by being spitefully boring. Couldn’t they have at least pretended to lean in some deviant direction? I mean, my imagination could have done the rest. Hey Mom, would a little fling with the refrigerator repairman have killed you? Hey Dad, couldn’t you have disappeared on a bender for a couple of weeks without calling, just for me? Is that too much to ask? No moving around from town to town, no chasing idiotic get-rich-quick schemes, no workaholic neglect. Thanks a pantload, Mom and Dad. You have no idea how selfish all that selflessness was.
       So, what now between me and Amanda May? Well, I’m clinging to her, no doubt, and not because she might hook me up with a new agent or help me get a deal. I want some of that damaged, wacko mojo that runs in her blood, because the son of still-married moderate Democrats will get exactly nowhere in the writing game without some kind of acquired debauchery. My parents failed me. So all I have left is to marry into it.
       A painful, abusive, screaming crazy marriage? Now, we’re talking.

Wallace Baine has been an arts writer, film critic, columnist and editor for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 1991. He is a two-time winner of the national American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors (AASFE) Excellence in Writing competition for his well-known Sunday column “Baine Street,” and has won several awards for his arts coverage from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). He has been host and director of the annual Gail Rich Awards, honoring local artists and arts supporters in the Santa Cruz area, and is co-author of the Gail Rich photo book “The Creatives Among Us.” He was the winner of the City of Santa Cruz’s ArtWORKS Award for leadership in the arts in 2010. His work has been syndicated in newspapers nationwide and his fiction has appeared in the Catamaran Literary Reader and the Chicago Quarterly Review. He is the author of the book “Rhymes with Vain: Belabored Humor and Attempted Profundity,” and the story collection “The Last Temptation of Lincoln.” His play, “Oscar’s Wallpaper,” which premiered on stage in Santa Cruz in 2015, was adapted from one of the stories in “Lincoln.” He is currently working on a book about Bookshop Santa Cruz.

"The Group" Writers
Wallace Baine
Jessica Breheny
John Chandler
Richard Huffman
Elizabeth McKenzie
Peggy Townsend
Vito Victor

Featured Artist
Alison Parham

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