I Don't Have a Happy Place

BOOK: I Don't Have a Happy Place
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Praise for
I Don't Have a Happy Place

“Kim Korson must be stopped. My wife thinks she's funnier than me.”

—Jon Stewart

“I Don't Have a Happy Place
is the book you'll beg your friends to read—for its pitch-perfect humor, scintillating wit, and refreshing depiction of life in all its extraordinary, and ordinary, absurdity. Kim Korson is certainly a new and exciting voice in nonfiction, unafraid to shout out loud the things you and I may only dare to think. I haven't laughed like this since David Sedaris.”

—Julia Fierro, author of
Cutting Teeth

“I love this book. It's like 95 percent cacao chocolate—bitter but delicious.”

—A.J. Jacobs,
New York Times
bestselling author of
The Year of Living Biblically

“In the razor-sharp, acerbic
I Don't Have a Happy Place
, Kim ­Korson—think: Jewish, female, Canadian David Sedaris—recounts her adventures as a true malcontent.”

—Miranda Beverly-Whittemore,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Bittersweet

“Makeup-wearing dads, squirrel attacks, death, Phil Donahue—there's something for everybody in Kim Korson's great new book. And if not having a happy place is what it takes to make writing so hilarious, smart, and honest, I selfishly hope Kim remains miserable within reason for many years to come.”

—Dave Hill, author of
Tasteful Nudes

“Korson's preoccupations—checking crime blotters for neighborhood stats, being certain that her first child would come out crazy, avoiding chitchat at parties—may keep her firmly in her cranky cave but will strike a funny bone in readers.”

—
Publishers Weekly

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for rich and ella and oscar

. . . what i've left behind looks trifling.
what's ahead looks black.

—
Stephen Schwartz,
Pippin

Author's Note

this is how i remember it.

Paulette

• • • • • •

S
amantha Narvey had all the good Barbies. They showcased the latest sold-separately fashions, traveled in their Country Camper (with vinyl pop-out tent), and sunned their twisty bodies, naked, on floating orange chairs in the Pool Party pool. Her dolls never lost their plastic heels or tall brown boots or mini hangers. Samantha Narvey knew how to take care of her things—and Samantha Narvey had a lot of things. Like a yellow Sit ‘n Spin and a playground for her Weebles; a garden-themed bedroom, with grass green shag carpeting and painted flowers growing up the walls; a bathroom with two sinks in it. She also had a hyperactive brother who got blamed for everything and a greyhound puppy named Gucci. If Samantha Narvey had to use the bathroom, she'd say she had to
make
in this hushed voice that grown-ups seemed to be crazy about. Her well-heeled grandparents spoke with elegant accents, like Count Chocula, and traveled overseas regularly, returning home with offerings of burgundy velvet culottes or sectioned chocolate orange slices. Samantha was darling and poised. When we took ballet together, she didn't look dumb in her elephant headdress, nor did she
take the wrong turn during the recital and end up in that line of gazelles. Samantha Narvey was only five years old, and yet she had it all. And just in case the scales weren't completely tipped in her favor, just in case she didn't already have every single thing known to man, in the summer of 1973 it was her babysitter, not mine, who drowned in front of our eyes. I wondered what more the world could bestow upon her.

It was early July, and my family, along with my parents' best friends, the Narveys, were off to the Laurentians, a lake and mountain region an hour away from our home in Montreal. I was gung ho to leave the city—even at five years old I knew it never fit me the way it did others. If Canada was America's pleasant yet wishy-washy cardigan-wearing aunt, then Montreal was the aunt's annoying daughter—the one who returned from a summer abroad kissing everyone on both cheeks, wearing a foulard, and answering only to the name Sylvie.

My parents had bought a small brown Monopoly house from a ripe old lady eager to wrap things up before she expired. Shortly after the deal was done, the sexy A-frame next door went on the market and the Narveys snatched it. Our house came assembled with the dead lady's old-fangled furniture. Marilyn Narvey hired a decorator to fill their three-storied triangular home with the latest everything. We weren't rich like the Narveys, just solid middle class. My father had a fledgling company in the
shmattah
business, manufacturing inexpensive and unfortunate-looking ladieswear. “What can I tell you?” he would say when my mother turned her nose up at the samples he brought home, “The ugly stuff sells.” If we were a TV family, we'd be the token Jews who move in next door to the Cunninghams on
Happy Days
. We'd eat supper at six p.m. but the similarities would end there. Mr. C was a proud lodge member, owned a hardware store, and tucked his short-sleeved button-downs into his sensible pants. My father
wore a turquoise Speedo with the words
Designed by Bill Blass
embroidered across his private parts.

“Macaroni and cheese for lunch,” Marilyn Narvey said to their live-in housekeeper, Paulette, who traveled with them on weekends. Oversized tortoiseshell sunglasses held back Marilyn's strawberry blond wedge. She smoked a pack of menthols a day but smelled like Chloé perfume. Turning to Carmen, Paulette's sister and my keeper for the next few weeks, Marilyn added, “Popsicles if they behave.”

There were ten homes on our side of the lake, with a slice of road connecting them. Our house was separated from the Narveys' by four old pines and a tangle of pricker bushes. We all had lake views out front and a mountainy forest out back. A forest I was convinced, and my brother confirmed, was home to Bigfoot.

“Do we
have
to go to hockey camp?” Neil Narvey said, whacking the hood of my father's car with his Evel Knievel Stunt & Crash vehicle.

My brother—let's call him Ace—was nine and a hockey fanatic. Neil preferred burning things. However, the camp was close to our house, so the grown-ups could wander through the small shops in town or drink wine, plus it would give the frogs Neil liked to mangle with his BB gun a deserved break. Samantha and I were only five, so we stayed back with the hired help.

“In the car, loser,” Marv Narvey said to his son, pulling up in his brown Cadillac. He grinned at his own joke and his mustache straightened into a line. Marv Narvey was tall and reedy and could easily be mistaken for Burt Reynolds's Jewish cousin. He was bawdy and relished inappropriate jokes none of us appreciated, but he also had anger problems and could snap like a frozen Charleston Chew without warning, so we all pretended to laugh. In future years, he'd divorce Marilyn, pants me at a Passover seder in front of fifteen people, and die of lung cancer.

“We'll be back after lunch,” Marilyn said.

“Don't worry, Mrs. Narvey,” Paulette said, hands loose on Samantha's shoulders. “We'll be fine.”

My mother didn't offer any parting words or instructions to Carmen, just waited in the idling car, air conditioning blasting, eyes straight ahead out the windshield. My father leaned on the driver's side, raking his hair with the oversized pick he kept in the back pocket of his ironed bell-bottoms. His hair was naturally curly but not curly enough for his liking, so he'd rake and fluff until it mushroomed to satisfaction. Only after it reached optimum height would he slide into the car and wave goodbye with the hand that supported his heavy turquoise ring. The Narvey Cadillac pulled out first, my father's car following. Their wheels crunched into the gravel, leaving a puff of dust hovering, like Pig-Pen's dirt.

“All right, girlies, what do you all want to do?” Paulette said as we walked over to the Narveys' (bigger) yard.

“Popsicles,” I said, even though I'd just finished two bowls of Sugar Smacks. Paulette ignored my suggestion, as did Carmen, and I decided then and there that they were lousy at their jobs. I pined for our Swiss au pair from last year, the one I convinced that it was Canadian to put Coke on Fruity Pebbles instead of milk—that was the kind of administration I could get behind. Paulette suggested we go inside and play board games, which was code for
Let us watch the small color set in my room, Carmen, while the children entertain themselves
.

Samantha and I had on matching shorts, as we often did. Marv Narvey manufactured children's clothes and sometimes brought home doubles. I was wearing my number-one pair: the navy polyester knee-lengthers with fake frayed edges and a mother-of-pearl snap that was smooth to the touch and made a satisfying click every time I opened or closed it, which was incessantly. Sam wore the olive ones but didn't use all the functions the way I did.
We were shirtless that day, by choice, but still spent most of the time hugging our torsos so no one would see our
mosquito bites
, as Marv Narvey called them.

Sam wanted to play our hundredth game of Snakes and Ladders but I had other ideas. We had an arsenal of made-up games, and the best ones always happened on her turf due to the thriving toy industry she had going over there. At my house, we had to use our dumb imaginations, enlisting ceramic ashtrays as swimming pools and my jacks and checkers pieces as makeshift swimmers. Homespun games could really flourish with the proper trimmings, and those trimmings were at Samantha's place. I had secret plots to overthrow my mother so I could move into the A-frame and engulf myself in plastic.

Part of me believed my mother had outlawed the good toys so I'd want to be friends with Sam. It would be easier for everyone's weekends and holidays if I got along with her best friend's kid. The good news was, my relationship with my own sibling was relegated to noogies and mental torture, so Samantha Narvey was the sister I didn't have. Which meant not only could I use her stuff whenever I wanted, I could treat her any way I liked and she'd most probably still like me.

Of all the goods in the Narvey household, for my money dolls were tops. My mother was crabby about dolls—my mother was crabby, period—and they were not welcome at our place. All I wanted that morning was to get my hands on Baby Alive. Even with the doll packed up in the box on the shelf at Silverberg's toy store I could smell her plastic face, but I imagined that out in the sun it would be ambrosial. Lucky for me, Sam was a blue-chip sharer and had no problem splitting the tasks of stirring water into the powdery flakes or feeding the baby by jamming the Special Spoon into her O mouth, and she always let me spank the baby when she misbehaved.

However, as good at sharing as Samantha Narvey was, I had no interest in being part-time owner of Baby Alive. I wanted sole custody. Who divvied up a baby? Marilyn Narvey had a rule about not letting toys leave the premises, something about her house not being a library, but every now and again I would squirrel goods up my shirt or in my sleepover bag without anyone seeing. I spent hours in bed at night masterminding ways to kidnap Rub-a-Dub Dolly or smuggle out a sleeve of their Dixie Riddle Cups. Those kinds of rules just begged you to pinch stuff.

We packed a plastic sack with the tackle we'd need for our game,
Babysitters at the Lake
. As it turned out, somewhere between dice rolling and trying to find Baby Alive's diapers, our own real live babysitters had left the house and gone down to the water without telling us. I could see Carmen through the living room's floor-to-ceiling window, sunning herself on the dock with her feet swirling the water. Paulette, who couldn't swim, was loafing on an orange sheet she'd smoothed on the grass to face the sun. I wondered how long they'd been out there relaxing without a care in the world or a job to do, like rescuing us when the house suddenly burst into flames.

“There are eels in there, you know,” I told Carmen when we got down to the water.

“Nuh uh,” Sam said.

“Yuh huh. I saw them. You weren't even there.”

She pretended not to care but I saw Carmen's eyes flick toward Paulette, who gave a quick shake of the head, which was code for
Don't listen to the brunette—she doesn't know what she's talking about.
Sam unloaded our supplies and Carmen continued her aggravating toe plinking, assuring me without words that she was from Trinidad and not bothered by our Canadian eels.

“There are only small fish in the lake,” Samantha said, like she was a kindergarten teacher all of a sudden. “Rainbow trouts.”

“How's about a nice Hawaiian Punch?” I said under my breath, but Carmen heard and pinched my leg—my mother's signature move, which she probably gave Carmen the A-OK to use on me whenever she felt like it.

“Should we move her to the shade?” said Sam, pointing at the trees. “I think it's too hot for babies.”

My polyester shorts were trapping sweat and heat and I was sure one more minute in the incinerating sun would cause them to combust, but I'd already gone through the rigmarole of begging Sam to do our work close to the water so we could make the food and dunk the baby if she got dirty. I'd won that battle, and it had been vigorous work negotiating with Sam because Neil had reported that if you did not take proper care when drying Baby Alive, she would rot, with mold around her face and maggots in her belly.

“Plus we can dump the poo,” I said, my final argument to seal the deal.


If
she makes.”

The lake was small, about three miles long and half a mile across. It wasn't much of a good-time lake. No motors of any kind were permitted, which meant no waves or music or happy people whizzing by waving hello and pretend-toasting us with cans of Fresca. If boating was your leisure activity of choice, you cruised around in a pedal boat, which was basically a raft with bike pedals and didn't even go fast enough to catch a breeze. All the houses on the lake seemed to have one. Ours was white, shaded by a faded red vinyl canopy with teeny yellow-and-orange flowers on its underside and dangly white fringe around the perimeter.

My mother didn't do bathing suits, so my father took me out on the water, sometimes allowing me to drive. My legs were too short to pedal and steer at the same time, forcing me to pick one
or the other. I always went with the steering option. I liked pushing the silver tiller and being in charge of which direction to float, plus it was less taxing. Most of my boating hours, however, were spent splashing out the daddy longlegs that took up residence on board.

I heard Marv Narvey tell Carmen and Paulette they were allowed to take us out on the boat but we all had to wear those orange life jackets that were scratchy and rode up to your neck when you sat in the bucket chair, so we never went. Sometimes we put Sam's dolls in and pushed them out to sea, pulling back hard on the thick white rope that was tethered to the dock, tug-of-war style. We once thought Gucci might enjoy a trip on the high seas, but it turned out greyhounds didn't really like boating, and his sharp nails scrabbled on the fiberglass seats, causing him to fall overboard, and Marv Narvey had to jump in, fully clothed, to rescue him. Once the dog was safe on land, Marv kicked it in the stomach, even though it wasn't Gucci's idea to go for a ride. Gucci remained ashore after that.

“Let's feed her,” Sam said, tying the bib around the baby's neck. “You fill up the bottle.”

As she ripped open the packet of food, a puff of banana-scented dust took flight. I leaned over on my belly, stretching my arms toward the lake as the sun broiled the backs of my knees. We busied ourselves with the meal preparations and Carmen meandered off the dock, standing ankle deep in water. She pretended to be casual by resting her hands on her hips as the sand swallowed her big feet, but I knew she was really surveying for eels. The lake was cool and clean and clear to the bottom in the shallow end but still it irked me to wade around. I knew creatures took cover under there, most notably the Loch Ness Monster and the child catcher from
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
.

BOOK: I Don't Have a Happy Place
11.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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