Excerpt: 'Wrack & Ruin'A New York City artist in search of a simple life decides to reinvent himself as a Brussels sprouts farmer. But reinvention is never easy: Enter his estranged brother; an on again/off again lover; a crazed developer and a host of other wacky characters and you have Don Lee's romp of a novel.
Wrack and Ruin By Don Lee Hardcover, 336 pages List Price: $23.95
All through the end of August, things kept breaking DOWN on Lyndon. First the PTO on one of his tractors gave out--an expensive and untimely repair. Then his computer crashed and burned, his dishwasher died, he cracked a molar on a popcorn kernel, and he got flats on consecutive days, both times from shiny new truss nails, the barbed shanks sunk deep into the same front right tire, very mysterious, since he had not been anywhere near a construction site.
Lyndon considered the string of breakages a sign, a harbinger of misfortune. His brother, Woody, after all, was coming to visit over Labor Day weekend--Woody, ever greedy and malevolent, sure to wreak some sort of havoc on Lyndon's life. Despite all evidence to the contrary, their mother used to say that Woody, whatever his faults and transgressions, meant well. Maybe he couldn't be trusted with the silverware, maybe he'd embezzle and lose his parents' entire portfolio (which, Lyndon had to keep reminding his mother, was exactly what Woody had done), but at least he meant well, she always insisted. He didn't mean well, Lyndon knew. Woody was a huckster, a misfit. He was a charlatan and a cheat. He was a liar. He was a thief. Until last summer, Lyndon had not talked to him for sixteen years.
But Lyndon wasn't focusing just yet on Woody, who wouldn't be arriving until the end of the week. He was too tired, too beleaguered by the everyday preoccupations of running his Brussels sprouts farm and welding business. He ordered a new transmission for his tractor. He had the flats on his tire patched and drove all the way over the hill to San Vicente, hoping to rescue his hard drive. He got a temporary crown on his tooth. He decided he could live without a dishwasher for a while, but then--what in the world was going on here?--he developed a migraine, accompanied overnight by a searing, debilitating neck spasm.
He could barely move, he was so paralyzed with pain. Multiple doses of ibuprofen provided no relief. Neither did a hot bath, stretching, ointment, or mentholated pads. What he really needed was a massage, which in Rosarita Bay presented a problem.
When Lyndon had first moved to the town, it had been a sleepy little backwater with a population of ten thousand. Less than an hour south of San Francisco on the coast, Rosarita Bay had been isolated and quiet, with no industry to speak of, surrounded by rolling foothills and farmland. It had been the perfect place for Lyndon, who, at the time, with his money and fame, could have chosen to live anywhere in the world, and several factors had assured him that the area would remain remote and bucolic. The first was geography. There were only two roads into town, Highway 1 along the coast and Highway 71 over the peninsula mountains, both of them just two lanes and prone to landslides, the traffic murderous going to and from San Francisco and San Vicente. The second was the weather. Gray and dismal almost year-round. It rained unceasingly during the winter, spring was cold and windy, and fog shrouded the town during the entire summer, leaving just two barely tolerable months, September and October. The overriding factor, however, had been the town's reputation as a developer's graveyard. Nothing ever got built in Rosarita Bay. Backed by some of the most stringent zoning regulations in the country, it was the prototypical land of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard), BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), NOPE (Not on Planet Earth), and NOTE (Not Over There Either). Of course, with no tax base, no commerce, no easy way to commute to jobs, businesses kept failing, people kept moving out, and Rosarita Bay fell into disrepair. This was an acceptable trade-off to a lot of residents, who weren't so much environmentalists or conservationists but isolationists--independent spirits, loners, libertarians, iconoclasts, garden-variety curmudgeons, people such as Lyndon, who, on principle, did not like other people, regardless of whether they meant well or not. It was a wonderfully sad, forlorn, gone-to-seed town with gone-to-seed inhabitants, a good majority of whom, for one reason or another, preferred to be forgotten.
But in the past few years, a group of new, younger residents had somehow managed to get themselves elected to the town's governing council and planning, sewage, and water commissions, and things began to change. Subtly at first, then dramatically. A gated community of fancy homes sprang up one day. Hip coffeehouses and art galleries and restaurants started dotting Main Street. Near the Safeway a mile up Highway 1--heretofore the lone chain store permitted within town limits--a strip mall with, of all things, a McDonald's emerged. Revitalization was now the call of the day, and developers and builders and realtors were appearing in droves. Most startlingly, a proposal that had been shot down time and time again for thirty years--a massive hotel and conference center and golf course along prime oceanfront--all of a sudden got the go-ahead. The only thing stalling the project, in fact, was Lyndon, whose twenty-acre Brussels sprouts farm sat smack between the parcels for the hotel and golf course, meaning he was being pestered incessantly by attorneys and various developer minions, offering him ever more ridiculous sums of money to vacate.
All this growth and gentrification meant that Lyndon had a mystifying choice of remedies for his neck spasm. He could get reflexology, myofascial bodywork, or custom aromatherapy; he could get his body contoured and enlightened, detoxified and moisturized; he could get his polarity unblocked, his meridians balanced, his lymphatic fluids flowing; his life force could be integrated and viscerally manipulated; he could be empowered and stimulated and released with hot stones, seaweed wraps, salt scrubs, and parafango cellulite treatments; but he could not, apparently, get a simple old-fashioned massage wherein his muscles would be pounded and kneaded into submission.
California. After all of these years living in California, Lyndon still harbored certain prejudices from his former life as a New York artist, with an attendant East Coast disdain for anything New Age or holistic. The closest thing to a real massage he could find in Rosarita Bay was shiatsu, a Japanese variant of acupressure, and even that didn't look very promising, seeing the list of available "practitioners." Not an Asian name among them. Lyndon Song was half Korean American and half Chinese American, and although he didn't subscribe to any Old Country notions, he still would have been more comfortable with a shiate--if there was such a word--who had at least a dollop of Oriental blood.
The Coastside Institute of Shiatsu was a block off Main Street near the library, in a two-story house that had been divided into "medical" suites. Lyndon had called in advance for an appointment, but when he opened the door to the shiatsu institute, there was no one in the foyer. Though it was a bright day outside, the office was dim, the windows blocked off, lit by a few incandescent lamps. Music was playing—airy-fairy flutes and synthesizers and water effects. Beige linen curtains served as partitioning walls for the single large room, which was decorated here and there with the requisite shoji screens, bonsai trees, Japanese scrolls, and woodblock prints.
Lyndon took a seat in a chair and flipped through a magazine, Massage & Bodywork, forced to hold the pages directly in front of his face since he couldn't tilt his head. After five minutes, someone stepped from behind a curtain, and painfully he turned his body to look the person over. The woman wasn't the tie-dye-and-braids, earth-mother flake he had expected. She was petite, late thirties, Latina, dressed in a well-tailored blouse and slacks and nylon stockings. He opened his mouth to introduce himself, but she abruptly swung her finger to her lips and shushed him.
"Lyndon Song?" she whispered. She handed him a clipboard. "Could you fill this out? As completely as you can. I'll be right with you."
It was a four-page personal and medical history questionnaire, which seemed a bit excessive for a massage. In short order, the woman returned, escorting a blond teenage girl out the door, and then she sat down in front of Lyndon, who was laboring to finish the questionnaire.
"I'm Laura Díaz-McClatchey," she said. "It's your neck?"
"I woke up with it. I think I slept on it funny."
"You don't have to whisper anymore. Here, let me help you with that," she said, taking the clipboard from him. "Has this happened before?"
"Once last summer."
"You're, let's see, forty-three? And you're a welder on a farm."
"They're two separate jobs, farming and welding. I also fill in once in a while at the Oar House. As a bartender. I didn't put that down."
"Is your life stressful?"
"Any old injuries? Were you an athlete?"
"You look fit."
"I kayak. I run with my dog." The latter wasn't actually true anymore. He no longer ran the redwood trails every day, down to a two-mile jog on the beach every couple of weeks, and his dog no longer accompanied him. He didn't know why he was lying. Perhaps because his vanity was being engaged, and he wasn't above attending to his vanity. Despite her clipped, businesslike manner, Laura Díaz-McClatchey was undeniably attractive.
Excerpted from Wrack and Ruin by Don Lee. Copyright (c) 2008 by Don Lee. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.