By Anne Lamott
Hardcover, 288 pages
List price: $25.95
Chapter One: The Parkade
There are so many evils that pull on our children. Even in the mellow town of Landsdale, where it is easy to see only beauty and decency, a teenager died nearly every year after a party and kids routinely went from high school to psych wards, halfway houses, or jail. Once a year a child from the county of Marin jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Elizabeth Ferguson looked around at the Saturday-morning comings and goings of townspeople, and saw parents who had lost or were losing their kids, kids who had lost or were losing their minds. She and James sat with their coffees and newspaper on the wide steps of the Parkade, which was what everyone in town called the parking bay in the center of town, making it seem a lot more festive than it was. It was a big parking lot that abutted the boulevard that ran from San Quentin, to the east, all the way out to Olema, on the Pacific coast, but several feet higher than the town's original crossroads, so that you had to climb up steps to reach it, and drive slightly downhill to exit. A bean-shaped lot for cars, it was ringed in skinny trees and foliage, lavender rhododendrons whose blooms wouldn't last much longer as spring faded, and geraniums. There was a bus kiosk on the north side, and two weathered sets of concrete steps, the one where Elizabeth and her husband sat reading, another at the far end, across from the movie theater.
She and James were waiting for her daughter, whom they were going to take shopping in town if she ever arrived. Rosie needed notebooks and some summer tops for her last weeks as a junior at the local high school, and shops fanned out below the Parkade, stretching almost to the northern face of Mount Tamalpais. But Rosie was nowhere in sight.
Elizabeth felt large and worried. Even sitting down, she was taller than her husband (and her otherwise dark thick hair was slightly more gray-streaked). But Rosie was taller than either, almost five-eleven, black-haired, strapping and fabulous, except when they wanted to disown her, like now.
James read the paper in vexed silence and Elizabeth sipped her coffee and watched people go about their business. A tidal feeling ebbed and flowed around them, of people on foot, shopping or going back to their cars. You never knew for sure who would be there, someone you'd been missing or were trying to avoid. Two teenage boys took their spots on the bottom steps. Their pose was a flop that said, I've arrived and I'm not moving. Others stepped past them to get to their cars or up to the boulevard. Over by the bus kiosk there was a sense of marketplace transactions among the high school kids — punk, funk, hippie, straight — of intrigue, nonchalance, commerce, boredom, opportunity. On the main street people dropped off DVDs and videos, stopped to chat, ducked into the liquor store, flirted, picked up after their dogs or not, riffled through dresses hanging outside on racks. Elizabeth read the paper over James's shoulder.
'How long are we going to wait?' he asked. 'It's been twenty minutes.'
'It's like waiting for goddamn Godot.'
Some of the young men converging at the kiosk had cultivated the look of homelessness, but without the inconvenience and hardship: car keys dangled from their belts as they drank four-dollar lattes. Some looked like star athletes, because they were or had been. But you saw a feral, dark energy in some of the young here, of despair, blankness, failure and indirect gazes, ill health, or sometimes, a dangerous raw male potency. The grunge, the piercings, the clothes that deliberately didn't fit, that said, I am the best, I am the worst, the tattoos psychic Band-Aids to cover the wounds.
They were home here, and only here. You could tell by the loose-legged swagger, instead of the back-alley prowl they used at their parents' houses.
From Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott. Copyright 2010 by Anne Lamott. Reprinted by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. All rights reserved.