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Authors: Spalding Gray

Impossible Vacation

BOOK: Impossible Vacation
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Acclaim for
Spalding Gray’s

“A funny, scathing … terrifically honest book … spoken in the direct, darkly humorous first-person voice known by the many fans of his monologues. Gray plays wonderfully on the gap between belief and irony, takes us to places we might not have stopped in, and shows us things we might not have otherwise seen.”

Washington Times

“A vivid and revealing tale … Spalding Gray in search of lost bliss … He sure can tell a story.”


“Droll and humorous … laced with funny incidents and observations. Gray successfully evokes the turbulence of those times.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“This uniquely gifted actor-writer … knows how to spin a yarn, and his sense of the comic is unerring. His wide-eyed, earnest delivery, his wry, telescopic sense of the absurd, and his ability to fashion his experiences into a quixotic American quest for psychic calm and perfect fulfillment [will] make you laugh out loud.”

Seattle Times

“Funny and poignant … a sort of neurasthenic’s
On the Road
, or
Huckleberry Finn
as told by Woody Allen. Gray turns
into a story.”

New York Post


Swimming to Cambodia

Sex and Death to the Age 14

Monster in a Box

Impossible Vacation

Gray’s Anatomy

Spalding Gray

Spalding Gray’s monologues include
Sex and Death to the Age 14, Swimming to Cambodia, The Terrors of Pleasure, Monster in a Box
, and
Gray’s Anatomy
. He lives in New York City.


Copyright © 1992 by Spalding Gray

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1992.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gray, Spalding, 1941–

       Impossible vacation / Spalding Gray.—1st Vintage contemporaries ed.
      p.     cm. — (Vintage contemporaries)
   eISBN: 978-0-307-80068-8
   I. Title.
[PS3557.R333I46   1993]
813′.54—dc20         92-50593

Author photograph © Paula Court



the Creator and Destroyer


“You will not know … what these acts are until you have performed them all. And after you have performed them you will not understand that they were expiating any more than you have understood all the other expiation that has kept you in such prolonged humiliation. Then, when these final acts are complete, you will stop trying to die because of me.”


I would like to express my thanks to my faithful agent, Suzanne Gluck, for saying, “I think you have a novel in you,” and then selling that idea to Knopf; also to the MacDowell Colony and the Edward Albee Foundation, for giving me a supportive and creative environment in which to write; then to Ron and Donna Feiner for their lovely gift of that grand writing table on which I finally finished it. Thanks to Gary Fisketjon for his edit of the original nineteen-hundred-page monster and to his assistant, Garth Battista, for his nurturing ordering of that sprawling handwritten mess. And last of all, my loving gratitude to Renée Shafransky, who put up with five years of my anxious complaints about this book and at last added her talented red pencil to it all.

and half remembered Mom’s never-ending passion for the sea. We were all on our way to Gram’s summer house in Sakonnet, Rhode Island, in our wooden-slatted ’38 Ford beach wagon. What a car! I see it now in my mind like a gloriously varnished antique: the long stick shift jiggling on the floor; the dark tan leather seats that smelled so good and felt so cool against our thighs; and the windshield with its slightly blue discoloration at the very bottom near the crank that opened it to let the fresh air in. The air was fresh then. The air was so fresh that it burned like a pure white fire in our lungs. To be in that car with all the family on the way to Gram’s house was to be alive. I was one and whole; I was right there and nowhere else in my mind.

As soon as we were out into the country, which didn’t take long, we’d begin to count cows until we got to the most awe-inspiring place of the trip, the landscape that signaled our proximity to the sea: Windmill Hill (though it had no windmills on it that I can remember). It was the only large hill near the coast of Rhode Island. It was the first and only large hill that I had ever experienced, and coming onto that hill was like flying for me. Going over Mount Hope Bridge on our trip to Gram’s was pretty spectacular; but Windmill Hill was
special, because it ran along the edge of the Sakonnet River, and there below the hill, built on a flat bank along the river, were all these little
summer bungalows. And to me at that height and at my age those houses did not translate in my mind into actual-size real beach houses but instead stayed exactly as I saw them—a settlement of tiny toy beach bungalows, or as I realized later in life, something like Monopoly-game houses. They were like the entire Lone Ranger town that Tommy Atwater assembled from the back of Cheerios boxes until there was no place to walk in his room without stepping on the little bank, the jail, or the post office. It was a view that at age five absolutely agreed with me. It was a little world that made me feel like a giant.

Then Mom, nosing the open crack of the windshield as she rode in front next to Dad, would cry out, “Do you smell it? Do you smell it? Do you smell the sea?” Coleman and I were bouncing in the leather seat, all excited; and Mom was right, we could smell it, we could smell the sea from miles away on top of Windmill Hill as we rolled down the hot asphalt highway, our little wooden Ford headed for the sandy edge of the world.

Then came our momentous arrival: the parking of the beach wagon and the running through white sand dunes scattered with wild beach roses, the hot soft sand underfoot and between our toes, running into that little protected beach which was the world, which was the only world, the world of totally protected pleasure. Mom chose a place for us to settle down, and there we’d spread our towels on that perfect little beach, that perfect little desert of white sand with beautiful high rocks that defined the beach on either end. There I’d lie feeling the sun all over me, idly watching one distant freighter move like a toy as it marked time and defined the horizon, the edge of that perfect world. Beyond that horizon was only an inkling of some faraway place of a war where Mom’s brother, my uncle Jib, was.

Gramma North would sometimes come join us for lunch. And at the end of the day—after all the swimming in the surf, the sand castles, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Dad diving off the high rocks—Mom would call us in and we would go back to Gram’s house, which was near a field with a haystack, and everyone seemed all together and happy. In the night there was deep sleep, and in the morning there was fog, so much fog that you couldn’t see the haystack; and Gramma North would say, “But it will burn off before noon,” and she was always right. Soon we could see the haystack while we
ate fresh blueberries and cantaloupe melon balls. Dad stoked the wood stove and Mom made sandwiches as the fog lifted. Then we all went back to the beach again.

One day in July when I was five years old and standing in my little paradise, a part of me was swept away. It was a dazzling blue day with high white cotton clouds, and I was on the beach standing in front of Mom, who was in her bathing suit, lying stretched out in a blue-and-green-striped canvas beach chair. And suddenly my Mom’s brother, my uncle Jib, had come home from the other side of the horizon. He was dressed in his pure white sailor’s uniform, so white against the blue that he seemed almost absent, like a window to blank white space at the edge of the rolling waves. Jib was just standing there with his hands behind his back. He was barefoot, and the slight summer wind was blowing his white bell bottoms, and I knew from Mom’s enthusiastic celebrating that the big war had ended and that her brother, Jib, had come home from it, and he was all new to me and born now for the first time in my eyes that day, born full-grown as some white hero. It was as though he had walked in on the water from the other side of that horizon that stretched before me. Dad was not there; he and my brother Coleman were somewhere else—perhaps about to dive off the distant high rocks. Topher had not been born yet. That was the day I heard the word “Bali” for the first time.

Mom was saying, “Your uncle Jib has just come back from Bali and he brought you something,” and then Uncle Jib pulled out a crazy wooden monkey mask from behind his back and gave it to me. It was like no other mask or toy I’d ever seen or touched before, and I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with the war. Had Uncle Jib been fighting monkeys in a place called Bali? Bali in my mind was like some funny beach ball on the other side of the earth from where we were all so happy here. Was this the sacred head of the enemy brought back to this beach in Rhode Island? I took the monkey mask in my hand with fear and trembling. It was made of painted wood and had a movable jaw that was tied to the face by little leather straps. Jib helped me to put it on. He guided a larger leather strap over my head and I was suddenly in a foreign, faraway world that smelled of rough smoky wood and weathered leather and I felt the animal spirit of the monkey go into my face and body and through those little wooden
eye openings. I suddenly saw things as different and faraway. I could hear Mom laughing in her distant beach chair. I could see Mom’s laughing eyes tear up as I became half child and half monkey in her eyes, and I began to spin and spin around and around until the beach and the distant rocks, the ocean and Mom and white white Jib blowing in the wind became like a solid spinning smear of colors. Mom’s laughter mixed with the sound of waves breaking and I spun and spun in the protection of Mom’s gaze and I was not dizzy because in my eyes there was a new abstract world and I knew I was safe spinning in Mom’s eyes and Mom’s laughter. I was her monkey boy spinning and spinning until the hard wet sand of the beach came up and slapped me. I was down, while that whole Garden of Eden that I had known for five endless summers spun on around me and the waves rolled in over my toes and Jib’s big hand came into my monkey’s-eye view and he lifted me up. Mom cried, “Brewster, Brewster, my monkey boy, my little monkey boy!” That day another place was born in my body and in my mind, which then was all imagination and no thinking.

BOOK: Impossible Vacation
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