Friday, November 16, 2007

Jody Gehrman is Tart--and that's a compliment

In the final day of Jody Gehrman week here at Jordan's Muse, you get the biggest treat of all: an excerpt from one of her books-- in this case Tart. Remember to check out Jody's site: and her two forthcoming books, Notes from the Backseat (January) and for young adults, Confessions of a Triple-Shot Betty (April).

Meet Claudia Bloom. She's having one of those years. First she steals her ex's VW bus and drives it from Austin to Santa Cruz, where it promptly explodes. Next she lets herself be rescued by Clay, a charming DJ on a motorcycle, falls hard, and meets his somehow-never-mentioned estranged wife while searching frantically for her panties. She tries to forget about Clay and focus on her tenuous new career teaching theatre at UC Santa Cruz, only to discover his wife is her colleague and his mother is her boss. Could it get any worse? When her neo-dead head cousin shows up with her horse-sized mutt, Rex, and the two of them take up residence on her couch, she's pretty sure things have hit rock-bottom. Set in the zany, ultra-liberal beach town of Santa Cruz, this novel explores the rocky terrain of family secrets, forbidden fruit, and all things Tart.

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Excerpt from Chapter One of TART (Red Dress Ink, 2005)

I’m almost to Santa Cruz when my engine catches fire. I’ve got my entire life savings stuffed into my bra, my hair is so wind-matted I can’t even get my fingers through it, and I desperately need to change my tampon.

Things could be better.

It’s mid-September, and California’s crazy Indian summer is just getting started. The hundred degree weather cools only slightly as I careen closer to the Pacific, where a slight tinge of fog is always hovering; it’s still plenty hot, though, and I’m sweating profusely, cursing as my temperature gage lodges itself stubbornly in the red zone. Highway 17 is the quickest route through the Santa Cruz Mountains, but I’d forgotten just how manic it is; the crazy curves force everyone on the road into racecar-style cornering. Three pubescent surfers in a beat up Pinto station wagon keep swerving into my lane as they pass a joint around. I honk at them instinctively; all three towheads swivel in my direction, and the car veers unsteadily toward my front fender again. I hit my steering wheel with the palm of my hand and ease onto the brakes, praying the Jaguar in my rearview mirror won’t slam me from behind. “Cunt!” one of the surfers yells. “Chill, lady,” another one adds. Did he just call me lady? Jesus, I could use a drink.

When the engine makes a sound so primal I can no longer ignore it, I pull over onto the narrow, crumbling shoulder and get out to assess the situation. The bus is producing enormous clouds of black smoke and bright orange tongues of flame are licking at the air vents. I haven’t even bothered to check the oil since I left Austin three days ago; I knew it was making increasingly alarming noises, starting around El Paso, but I told myself that’s what hippy vehicles do, and turned the radio up louder. The smoke is so thick now I can barely see, and I’m afraid to open the door to the engine because I’ve got this sinking feeling it will blow my face off. Woman Found By Highway; Face Found 100 Yards Away.


Medea, my cat, is yowling a pathetic, drugged-out plea from the backseat, so I quickly stuff her into the cardboard pet taxi and carry her out onto the shoulder with me. Then I start thinking about the cat valium in the glove box, wondering how much of those tiny pills I’d have to take before this whole scene would take on an underwater, slow-motion sheen.

Of course, there’s something about the utter destitution of the situation that appeals to me. In theater, we’re taught that people are only as interesting as their current crisis. Jerry Manning, my favorite professor back at UT used to scream at us, “Disaster defines you. Where’s the disaster? Come on, give me your disaster!” I feel a tiny trickle of blood as it forms a damp spot in my underwear. Medea scratches at the cardboard, her panic momentarily breaking free from the straightjacket of drugs I’ve kept her in. Her terrified mewling has gone from meek to murderous. “Here you go Manning,” I whisper. “Here’s my disaster.”

Unfortunately, my only audience is the steady stream of traffic roaring past me at breakneck speed, making the bus shudder like a cowering animal. I stole it from my boyfriend, Jonathan, who is now officially my ex-boyfriend, but I haven’t managed to force him into the past tense just yet. If you must know, the bastard’s a Taurus and he’s got beautiful hands and he writes plays that make people swear he’s some freaky genetic hybrid: two parts Tennessee Williams, one part David Lynch. He moved to New York several months ago with Rain, this nineteen-year-old acting student with slick black hair that hangs below her ass and a five thousand watt smile.

The flames shooting from the engine are getting more insistent.

This is not good.

I wipe the sweat from my forehead and begin fantasizing about a very stiff, incredibly cold vodka tonic: I can see the ice, smell the carbonation, taste the green of that freshly cut lime swarming with bubbles. I think again of the cat valium and wonder if I have enough time to secure the stash before Jonathan’s beloved VW explodes in a pyrotechnic burst of orange, like something from a Clint Eastwood flick. Woman’s Charred Remains Found Clinging to Glove Box.


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