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The Tall Poppies--a few days ago, they were just another Aussie band watching their fame ebb faster than a nitrous high. Then Stuart, the drummer, is gunned down by Australian drug lords, and the band is suddenly news in Australia, America, and even on CNN. Rachel, a chatty twenty-seven-year-old New Yorker, is the band's housemate. She digs Colin, the bassist, who has commitment issues. After witnessing the murder, she flees to the safety of family in NYC, where she bumps into Stuart, the "corpse," ordering tuna salad on rye at Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. This is a story about sex, rock 'n' roll, the pressures of hipness, making it big, and reconciling family ties. And Colin and Rachel's own unlikely story of true love is the best unexpected salami of them all. "Full of fresh characters and crazy coincidences."--Library Journal; "An engagingly breezy first novel . . . has commendable energy and marches along smartly to its own arrhythmic, offbeat beat."--Kirkus Reviews; "The language is as crisp and dead-on as the movie Clueless, and the action as picaresque as Moll Flanders."--Frank McCourt, author of ANGELA'S ASHES.
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Laurie Gwen Shapiro is a native Manhattanite. Her resume includes time as a sex call screener for Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and as Peter Jennings's assistant at a publishing company. She now works full-time writing fiction and screenplays and coproducing independent films, including The McCourts of Limerick and Once When I Was a Cannibal. She's currently writing the screenplay for The Unexpected Salami which has been optioned for a film by Radical Media.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Rachel: The Unexpected Salami
an excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Unexpected Salami
by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
[The] Coffee Bar [was] my new center of gravity. The man across from me at my long "antichic" linoleum table looked interesting, though a bit seedy, grinding numerous cigarettes into the ashtray as he sipped from his herbal tea. He had a zigzagging scar over his eyebrow; gray sideburns. I caught him ogling the two seventeen-ish girls in baby-doll dresses, braided pigtails, and patent leather shoes, particularly the girl with the D-cup chest. He saw me staring and probably thought I was coming on to him. He flashed his rotting teeth.
I'd learned about rotting teeth from Stuart. I'd had it to here with him and had wanted the guys to show him the door. But they said that it wasn't fair, he was paying his share: mateship bullshit going strong. I'm not saying all Aussie men wear slouched hats and burp their days away, but even the most sensitive Melbourne University philosophy major partakes in testosterone bonding; for a white male Australian to go against the two hundred-year strong societal grain is as inconceivable as a Savannah gent not opening a car door for a woman. My silver drop earrings went missing. Then my zoom-lens camera, my biggest purchase of the previous five years. I'd wanted the fucker out, but Colin and Phillip had tried to calm me down, suggesting that we try locking our individual doors. Then Stuart couldn't steal money or sell our valuables.
Ironically, I had to ask Stuart to pick my lock two weeks later when I dropped my keys on the St. Kilda pier, right into Port Phillip Bay. I couldn't afford a locksmith and Stuart was most obliging, completing the job in ten seconds. I offered him a chunk of the Katz's salami in the fridge as a thank you; my brother had sent the salami to me from the famous New York deli, subverting strict Aussie customs regulations by filling in "Restaurant Souvenir" on the official green form taped to the box.
Our sibling mega-joke, the unexpected salami. I'd wrapped one up in a Saks Fifth Avenue box for Frank's graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design. Tit for tat, he'd managed to have room service deliver a half pound one to me while I attended a vacuum physics conference in Chicago, the week after Will and I announced our engagement.
Stuart had eaten half the salami while I was at the pier. I could tell by his breath and the missing meat. But since he'd opened my door, I pretended I didn't notice and made him salami and eggs the way my Uncle Barry had shown me years ago. "The Jewish bachelor's caviar," Uncle Barry always said. Stuart and I got to talking, and he acknowledged his heroin addiction indirectly, commenting on a funky street-type who was being interviewed about the Australian recession on the news.
Stuart looking straight at me: "He's skint 'cause he's been shooting up for a year I'd say. My teeth looked liked that a year ago. You can tell by the teeth." That's how I came to learn that rotting teeth on a person dressed in cool-as-shit black is almost certainly a sign of heroin.
Traveling for two years had wised me up a bit, though not in the way the Ganellis and the Levines viewed growth: i.e., a masters degree, professional job, good solid man, things to have nachus over, bragging rights, as Grandma Chaika would have said. And it wasn't just heroin teeth. I knew tons of new stuff I couldn't put on a r,sum,, tidbits like the names of three men at the helm of the Australian Government who routinely received blow jobs at an upscale Melbourne brothel called The Planet. My former neighbor was their whore: a transplanted Perth blueblood who studied Japanese at Melbourne University. A simple act, like catching a glimpse of a man across the table of a coffee bar with brown teeth, brought out fractal memories that at some future time could be pieced together authoritatively, like a geometry proof.
I ignored the sleazy Coffee Bar patron, instead burying myself behind a literary 'zine from a neighboring table. On the back cover, some hapless soul had started listing the states: "Alab. Ariz., Dela., Calif." I searched my blue Danish schoolbag for a pencil and started to finish them. At least this I could do. I had memorized the states when I was seven and recited them to my eight-year-old cousin, Tony, at the Ganelli Easter Sunday Dinner. Aunt Virginia took me aside and whispered, "No one likes a show-off, Rachel." In Coffee Bar, a few centuries later, clenching my pencil, I wrote them fast, but only managed forty-seven. It didn't matter of course, not being able to complete what had once been child's play. But I wanted to finish my list. My mind canvassed about: I tried to imagine the states as jigsaw pieces, and I remembered the boxing glove, Michigan, and even caught myself smiling a bit.
The tooth guy kept looking at my paper. "New Hampshire," he said.
"I would've gotten that." I said, trying to remember the last one.
"Are you afraid of me?"
"I'm in a solo kind of mood, you know?"
"Look, I noticed your body language-you seem in need of company." The weirdo offered me a cigarette. I shook my head no. In another time I'd have been sane and moved away. But for some reason-okay loneliness-I gave in. I half smiled.
"You down?" he asked, swinging his chair around to my side of the table.
"It's not the heat, it's the humidity," I said. The acid New York reply to everything, even when it's thirty-five degrees outside.
"Want coffee and a slice of blueberry pie? On me. My life story sold today for $20,000."
"And so who are you?" I asked, more than somewhat obnoxiously, as the sleazoid flagged the waitress and ordered.
"A fading icon." He dragged a new cigarette. "You might not've even heard of me."
"Oh c'mon, don't taunt like that. Who are you?"
"Who are you?"
"A woman at a coffee shop asking you a question-"
"Danny Death," the man said. Danny Death? One of the founding fathers of punk rock. Danny Death, damn. We got our food and got to talking.
"I read that article about you in the seventies-nostalgia issue of Rolling Stone. The reporter didn't like you much." Nastiness is my adorable side effect to nervousness. I couldn't believe I said that.
"You're a sweetheart," Danny said with exaggerated anger, forking his pie.
"I don't know what to say to you-that I once carved a line from one of your songs into my desk during algebra? Sounds too much like fawning."
"'Man is in transit between brute and God.'"
"Stole that from Norman Mailer. The Naked and the Dead."
"Oh. Well, you stole it well." I couldn't look him in the face. I didn't want him to gather how pathetic I was, sitting there stuck in a depressed late-twenties state, like caught fabric.
"Why don't you tell me what has you in your obvious rut?" he asked.
"Long or the short version?"
"Short will do. I'm a famous guy."
"A celebrity might be pushing it," I said, with an unsuccessful straight face.
"Fuck you." I knew by Danny's steady glare that he actually wanted to know.
"Let's see. I fled my boring job and my oh-so-perfect fianc, to live in Australia. While there I lived with three musicians, one of whom got killed by the mob during my new quasi-boyfriend's video shoot. My mother, with whom I have poor communication, lured me back to my family apartment with the bait that my parents would move permanently to their condo in Florida. Now I'm back on the road to nowhere-instead of having a plethora of middle management editing jobs in the offering, I've returned to a job market where the only ads are for situations wanted-I can only temp. I desperately miss my quasi-boyfriend, Colin, who's fifteen thousand miles away working in a copy shop, and I hate myself and my friends, although they think I'm as adorably sardonic and top-of-the-world as always. My mother thinks I'm a freak for not having an ounce of concern for the murder of my roommate, which by the way, I witnessed. He was a pig though. A fucked-up pig heroin addict thief asshole. And I'm at a loss about where I can go. I'm fucking around again with every Joe, Dick, or Harry I meet on a plane or at a party-I can't make a decision about grad school, let alone what to do to make hours go faster-"
"I see," Danny said, signaling for our check.
"That's it? That's what you say after devouring my miserable life story? You pump it out of me and then that's it?"
"Whoa!" the legendary Danny Death said, looking like he didn't have time for whiners. "You need to get some fucking perspective. Decisions don't mean shit. Once you've made one, ride it for its dimensions. So you've cut your first tooth. Why should I feel sorry for you? You speak well, you have great tits, you've had high adventure. You're able to live in another country for two years without mention of a serious job-"
"I had savings from my New York editing job, plus I waitressed-that's not fair."
"But you knew you could wire home to Mommy and Daddy if you needed to. True?"
"True." Fuck him, the bastard.
"So, you had a place to come home to, and it wasn't a hick-town hell in West Virginia. And as for the murder, it sounds like you got a kick out of it. If the guy was an asshole, he deserved it."
"Fuck you," I squeaked, my eyes steady on the table's yellow polka-dotted contact paper that would make a homemaker scream in horror if she'd bought an old house and opened her cabinets. "What right do you have to say that to me?" Sometimes it takes a nihilist to really shape you up.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. All rights reserved.
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Book Description Algonquin Books, 1998. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1565121945
Book Description Algonquin Books, 1998. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX1565121945
Book Description Algonquin Books, 1998. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111565121945