America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful

4.7 9
by Moon Unit Zappa

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America Throne is living the good life in L.A. Her career is sprouting, and she is in love — with Jasper Husch, a sexy-sultry artist from San Fran. But just as soon as they've realized domestic bliss, Jasper has a change of heart, and America falters on the slippery slope of hope: hoping that he will come back, hoping that new sex will erase all evidence


America Throne is living the good life in L.A. Her career is sprouting, and she is in love — with Jasper Husch, a sexy-sultry artist from San Fran. But just as soon as they've realized domestic bliss, Jasper has a change of heart, and America falters on the slippery slope of hope: hoping that he will come back, hoping that new sex will erase all evidence of him, and hoping that in nurturing a truce with her dead father she will make peace with all men.
America's trip from self-destruction to wholeness is a romp on the wilder shores of the West Coast. From a dodgy therapist to a silent retreat, America Throne's "aha" moment culminates with, "While we are all busy swimming upstream, the universe is conspiring to take us to something better."
In America the Beautiful, Moon Zappa has taken the broken-heart story and given it a twist all her own through the emotional honesty and edginess of America Throne. Hailed as "brilliant" (Sunday Telegraph Magazine), America the Beautiful is the debut of an unforgettable and unfaltering new voice.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Janeane Garofalo I couldn't put this emotional, hilarious, painfully honest novel down....I laughed my ass off. I loved this book.

Alanis Morissette The courage, unapologetic honesty, egolessness, and humor of America the Beautiful made me smile from ear to ear....Truly inspiring!

Diane Leslie author of Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime A terrific writer, Moon Unit Zappa kept me laughing and rooting for Ms. America to the last page.

Publishers Weekly
The protagonist of Gran's first novel is a young Manhattanite who works in publishing, dodges ex-boyfriends at parties, practices yoga and smokes the occasional cigarette. While this may suggest a certain urban singleton on the other side of the Atlantic, Gran, herself a New Yorker, offers instead a character who is not in search of the perfect man. Mary Forrest is finally coming of age. She lost her father when she was a young girl, and now that she's an adult, is making a conscientious effort to forge a better relationship with her mother, Evelyn, the aging founder of a prestigious literary magazine. For her 29th birthday, Mary's friend Chloe gives her a session with an astrologer, who tells her that when she reaches age 29, the planet Saturn returns to the same spot it was in when she was born, so it is now that she really becomes an adult. What this means for Mary is learning to love her job at Intelligentsia, an online bookseller, and to enjoy Evelyn's company. But she comes up against some resistance: at work, an obviously nutty colleague tries openly to steal Mary's job; on the family front, Evelyn is beginning to lose her memory and her mind. Gran has crafted an almost unbelievably strong character in Mary; her optimism and sturdy staying power are admirable. Although many of the book's New York publishing scenes may alienate readers who don't frequent the same circles, Gran has written a smart, discerning story that will appeal to readers seeking to break out of Bridget Jones tedium. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Famous daughter, now first-novelist Zappa spins a story about obsession and heartbreak. Narrator America Throne shouldn't really have any problems. She's a mentally young 30-year-old with an artist boyfriend and no pressing need to find a career, thanks to the monthly allowance from the estate of her late father, revered shock artist Boris Throne. But her boyfriend, Jasper, just faxed from San Francisco saying that they've grown apart and it's over, her mother is an overbearing loon who spends her days flitting between different neuroses and New Age fads, and she doesn't have any career besides some occasional voiceover work. After Jasper's bombshell fax, America launches herself into a full-blown frenzy of binge-eating, self-hatred, and borderline-stalker behavior. Having invested most of her life in Jasper-as part of an ongoing attempt to get approval from men now that her inattentive father has died-there's nothing to stop her slide into dementia. As much as the premise sounds like that of every other Bridget Jones rip-off, Zappa manages to give a new spin to these sometimes stale scenarios. Hewing fast to the write-what-you-know maxim, her portrait of America's family is seems to be thinly veiled personal history. (One character even owns a lot of Frank Zappa CDs.) The roundelay of comic episodes that America finds herself in as she splashes about trying to make sense of her rudderless life are deftly intertwined with some painful, touching recollections of her dad's. In one scene, she remembers a story he wrote about her: "The story gets made into a movie but I don't get to play the part of myself because they have to shoot it in Canada to save money." Somehow, Zappa hasrendered familiar material with an amusing, fresh touch in this first salvo from what could be a promising fiction career.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter Twenty-Four: A Month of Sundays

"Close your eyes and try to sleep, close your eyes

and try to dream. We belong to the night, we belong

to each other. We belong, we belong,

we belong together."

— Pat Benatar

Charlie and I met in Santa Monica at the mouth of an old fire road, which wound round a massive mountain to an overlook for a Technicolor view of mountains, sky, and sea. I had called Charlie up that morning and asked him to take a walk in nature with me. It felt good to have a no-pressure outing with a nice guy.

All the same, I chewed three pieces of wintergreen gum. Poor hygiene is just poor manners.

Charlie arrived dressed liked a trendy forest ranger in olive khakis with a vintage Boy Scout shirt with a patch that said 420, mirrored police officer sunglasses, and clunky mustard-colored lace-up boots. I was brave enough to pour myself into a pair of jean shorts and a long-sleeved ribbed purple cotton

T-shirt, even though my legs were wintry white and unshaven. I figured I needed to be utterly myself right away; that way I'd find out quick who stuck around.

"This is white sage," he said as we made our way to the first of several plateaus, and then told me its Latin name along with the names of about sixteen other neighboring green items. Of course, he knew about plants. It turned out Charlie had his own little herb garden. Mint and chocolate geranium were his favorites. I was so nervous about my breath and memorizing the plants and their corresponding names that at no time did I notice the ingrown hair on my leg the size of a small dog until we began to dig into our ascent. I panicked. Decided to hug the area closest to the fall so that he wouldn't see the red inflamed boil side of my leg; but Charlie was wily and crisscrossed back and forth in front of me to point out some type of succulent ground cover and tiny yellow wildflowers. "This is mustard!" He pulled the yellow blossoms off the slender green stalk for me to taste. Mustard, I thought. I had to laugh inwardly because of Spoonie's and my codeword for trouble...

"This is licorice and this one is yucca." I stayed low, unable to concentrate on a thing Charlie said because I was sweating so much and straining to hide the bump.

I touched IT compulsively now, with every other step. I was all bump and minimal forward motion.

"Are you OK?" he asked suddenly.

"What? Why?"

"Because you're walking kind of funny."

"Oh?" I said, a deer in the headlights.

"You're walking like this." He demonstrated it for me. "Like you have poopie trou or something," he said, grinning. I dropped to the ground and pulled my shirt over my bent knees, buried my face in my hands. "Dude, did I say something wrong?"

"No," I said to my navel, "it's just that you're so honest and I don't know you and...and..."

He crouched beside me, put a hand on my back. "Just say it."

I pointed to my leg, ran my hand over the fabric that hid it. "Bump!"

"Where?" He pulled at the end of my shirt trying to get a look.


"Let me look at it." He bent down on all fours and leaned forward. Without lifting my face, I raised the shirt and revealed the lump. "Eeuwwww! It's huge! Can I pop it?"

"NOOOOOO!" I screamed again. I pulled my shirt back down and began to rock myself back and forth. "Go away!" I peered at him over my left kneecap. He was smiling devilishly.

"Let me pop it, can I?" His intentions seemed so pure, I let him lift up my shirt once more. Upon closer examination, he decided it wasn't ripe for picking and found some wild lavender, plucked a sprig, crushed the blossom and the stem, and applied it like a salve instead. Then we collected eucalyptus leaves and he told me to boil them with some gauze and apply it like a poultice. I had never heard the word poultice used in real life before, certainly not by a handsome, heterosexual twenty-six-year-old man.

The following Tuesday I asked Charlie if he wanted to hit the museum for the Cubist show that was still running. My dad's stuff had been up for weeks at LACMA and I kept promising myself I'd go. Charlie was dressed like a Salvador Dali painting complete with pocket watch. Before we piled into his giant dented blue flatbed truck with the sticky starter, he climbed my tree. My tree! The one the feng shui people told me prevented me from ever getting a man, that tree. Charlie climbed it. Climbed it. Climbed IT. I was so shocked I dropped my purse.

Strolling through the great halls and seeing the look of awe on Charlie's face as we stopped to examine a piece of my father's called If all else fails choose D, none of the above, a painting of pure sky, made me recall one of the only things I did like about seeing my father's work on display. I liked it best when the pieces belonged to us, before they had to pack their bags and travel to a gallery overseas: in our living room above the fireplace or propped up against a hall closet or blocking the door to a guest bathroom.

We paused at another from his book called Barely Mammal — a Ku Klux Klan guy holding a gun to the head of a black Raggedy Andy doll, and then another, a favorite called Gargoyle, which is just a building gargoyle looking after some pigeons with a fountain and a roller-skating street scene in the distance.

Suddenly I'm five, and seven, and thirteen, sitting in my parents' kitchen late at night watching my father heat up a bowl of chili straight from the can. We make color jokes. It's one of my favorite things to do, to have quiet time alone with him like this. While he waits for the lugubrious brown stew to boil, we call out horrifying color combinations and laugh and laugh. I say something like "Apple green and orange plus brown." And he says something like "That's nothing. Beige, mildew, and Washington, D.C." or "Turquoise, leather, and tofu." If I try to argue leather isn't a color he tickles me. Sometimes if we are driving, Spoonie and my mother play, too. Car interiors have us peeing in our pants. Strip mall color schemes send us over the moon. The very idea of fabric stores flattens us.

When Charlie and I get to a piece from my father's Cubist period, our feet become cement. The piece is called From Russia with Glove. The image is the Statue of Liberty, barefoot in Central Park, wearing a crown of thorns made of splayed Barbie doll legs and an oven mitt. Charlie and I can do nothing except look at each other and know instinctively just how sad it is. The loss of a true humanitarian absurdist.

There was nothing to say.

Then I had an epiphany about Cubism. I had always despised Cubist art, but now I understood that it wanted us all to comprehend the full scope of things, to be able to see and know everything from wherever you stood. To see the back of the head of those you love and the inside of their heart at the same time as you look them directly in the eye. Inwardly, I thanked Charlie.

When I got home I decided to spruce the place up a little, so I picked wildflowers from all my neighbors' yards and hillsides. Daffodils in an old tea tin in my kitchen window near the sink, iris in a jelly jar by my bed, and a single white camellia in a mint-green-and-white chipped finger bowl by my father's easel.

The next day I was still feeling so inspired from our museum visit that I called Charlie and asked him if he wanted to paint pottery. In the clean little terra cotta-tiled shop on Main Street I was suddenly nervous. I felt the pressure of my father's artistic legacy, and picked out an inconspicuous unfinished soap dish, but Charlie wouldn't have it. He picked out a large white unfinished salad bowl, because he wanted something large he could paint with me. My courage surfaced: I wondered if it would stay at his place or mine or if we should just move in together to avoid an argument.

I let Charlie choose the colors. A girl in a navy apron squirted the paint onto a single square of glazed white tile, orange and ice blue and magenta, dark green and brown, pink and plum. I looked around the room. It was hard not to notice things differently with Charlie around. For example, the relationship between things in pairs: the edge of the table we sat at and the corner of his chair, the bottom of the clock and the door frame overhead, the way the viny plants in the window leaned in toward each other.

"What are you thinking about?" asked Charlie.

"Uh!" I said blushing, twirling my paintbrush in the water, watching it turn a milky blue, "um, things in pairs actually." Charlie jolted straight up in his seat, turned his side of the bowl around for me to see: a big fat PEAR next to a bunch of dancing bananas with top hats and faces, and a scruffy-looking creature with four legs and antlers that looked like it started out as a dog and then turned into a goat, maybe.

"OK, I know that's a pear, and those are dancing bananas, but what the hell is that?"

He contorted his body to my side of the table to examine it again and then sat up triumphantly. "It's a goatbear!" We erupted into peals of laughter. "What did you make?" He sat straight-spined in his seat now. His whole face softened. "Wow!"

I lightly smacked his arm. "Shut up!"

"I'm serious. It's really nice. Really...feminine." I crinkled my nose up. "You're like a real artist. I love the colors."

"Nah." I pulled a face.

"Really." He looked sad now. "Don't close off. See?" He turned the bowl back around for me to see. I looked at what I had done, trying to see it through Charlie's eyes: intertwining vines and roses and two birds and two dancing fairy ladies and some snakes with mosaic multicolored backs.

"Not SO bad," I said, brushing my hair behind my ear. Affectionately he conked me on the head.

Later that night we ended up in a carpeted piano bar at some divey hotel in West Hollywood. Charlie knew that no one was ever there, so we sat and played the piano even though I can't. We ended up singing all the Pat Benatar songs we knew at the top of our lungs to the dead drunk amusement of a few lingering lonelyhearts and some random staffers. Soon the man with the industrial strength vacuum cleaner and the too shiny skin was using the end of his nozzle as a microphone for a duet with Charlie. "Hell Is for Children" never sounded so good.

"Does he have a girlfriend?" Sadie said when I called her from my cozy bed. I had Tulie curled up beside me and I watched her dream with her eyes open.

"I don't know," I said softly, stroking Tulie's pink belly.

"Did he try to kiss you?"


"Ooh, that's a bad sign."


"He's either gay or he has a girlfriend."

"Maybe he's just being respectful?"

"You see each other all the time and talk 500 times a day and have all this synchronicity and he hasn't tried to jump you? Something's fishy in Denmark."

"Or maybe he's a grown-up, Sadie, and what's the rush if it's forever?" I said, biting dry skin off from around my index finger. "It's like he lives his life like in The Book! Every day he shows me something else! Every day he has a passion for some new thing!"

"He has a girlfriend."


"Where's the rose connection? If he's the one, where's the rose? Huh?"

I twisted my hair around my index finger. "Maybe she got it all wrong. Maybe that's all superstitious nonsense."

"Just do me a favor and go out with this guy I met in my spinning class. You might like him."

"What guy?"

"He's a math teacher. He's from ROSEville."

"Sadie, my plate is full."

"Well, at least add a side dish for Godsakes, at least find out if he has a girlfriend before you go all gaga on me."

"Goodnight, Mom."

"Goodnight, Mission: Impossible to deal with."

On Wednesday night I asked Charlie if he felt like dancing. He suggested that I meet him at The Temple, a dance studio tucked deep in the Valley. Sun Valley far. Ikea far. At a warehouse with a little parking area surrounded by barbed wire. He told me to look for a single red light — that's how I could tell the difference late at night between the dance studio I was looking for and the sheet metal supply house, the wax supply house, the paint warehouses, the marble supply house, and the terra cotta pot and garden outlet.

I was ill-prepared for the calming beauty assault of the large room with wood floors and high airplane hangarish ceilings. A ballet barre ran the length of the room, and in the corner, a bench had been decorated like an altar and lay littered with fragrant magnolias and a row of ligzhted white candles. Industrial music with African and Brazilian samples blared. Barefooted, people of every size, shape, and color had their eyes closed and were just dancing wildly. It looked like a scene out of the Woodstock movie, like one of my dad's sittings, only holy.

"Just let your body move the way it wants to. This is like the opposite of yoga. Just totally free your mind. Over there on the altar you can offer up your intention. Tonight I am going to dance the purity of connection along with a little don't-make-me-pay-my-Visa-late-charge on the side." Following Charlie's lead, I slipped off my shoes. He smelled like sandalwood.

He grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the floor. At first I was shy about letting Charlie see the way the music moved me, but when he started hopping around like a Mexican jumping bean, I felt a little more free. After an hour of swaying and jumping and bumping and weaving in and out of sweaty backs and damp pits and fingers outstretched like sea anemone feelers, I was fearless. It actually felt good to be in my own skin. To be myself completely opposite Charlie, who was also himself, and not lose me. I felt a radiance in my belly, like we were all walking around with little potbelly stoves full of light, beaming it back and forth at one another. Everyone was just a light being on a path, dancing through life.

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand for the realization. Maybe this is what Jasper meant in his letter. I looked over at Charlie. His eyes were closed. He was giving himself a long luxurious hug.

Later, over cheap Mexican food in Glendale, I broke down and told Charlie about Jasper and Jym, mainly to get things off my chest, but secretly to initiate a dialogue about our possible future together without scaring him off by talking about myself. I figured he'd just naturally bring up his whole relationship deal if I broke the ice.

When I got to the part about how I didn't understand why all the people I have ever loved never loved me back, including my dad, and that I had never actually seen a relationship that actually worked, it started to sound like a story about a girl I knew once. Charlie must have felt this, too, because in the middle of building his guacamole fortress like that scene in Close Encounters, he looked at me and said point blank, "Dude, you didn't do anything wrong. No one did. Relationships are all about flow and finding someone who makes you feel good because they are just flowing right alongside of you doing their own thing. A lot of it just comes down to plain old timing and luck..." Even though he said the word "dude," my chest tightened and vibrated like a paper drum, like a revelation was about to blast on through.

Charlie leaned in closer, smelling of onion salsa, dried sweat, and denim, and popped a tortilla drenched in guacamole in my mouth. The candles on the table in clay pots made his face light up like a sun. "When something's right, it's just...right. Dude, you're totally great, so don't even sweat it." I felt so seen, I ached.

"I feel so lucky to have met you."

"Me, too," he said, taking my hand. I looked up at him. Tears of joy were in my eyes. He handed me a hankie from his jacket pocket, embroidered with tiny hand-stitched roses. I could not help but laugh. Of course you carry real old-fashioned handkerchiefs with roses on them you miracle.

On my drive home, alone, speeding along Mulholland under a canopy of stars, I thought, Let me get this straight, men can do nice things for you? Men can show up when they say they are going to and do their own laundry and drive and let you express your feelings and hug you when you cry and give you good advice? Is this some kind of a gag?

Then I had a conversation with the moon. When I was little, on the long drive back from picking up my father from his old studio, I would lie in the backseat while my mother drove him home along this very same road. As we wound along, I would alternate between watching my exhausted father's profile while he reclined in the front passenger seat and making sure the moon was still following us. Sometimes it seemed the moon was leading the way, ducking behind great dark pines every now and then, but mostly it seemed like it was making sure we got home safe. Now I'm checking to see if the moon's watching over Charlie tonight. Leaning my head out the window, I was sure her benevolent face was saying yes.

At that moment, Angelyne pulled up beside me in her pink Corvette. She looked spun sugar-fragile, tired. I thought, Underneath all that hair and makeup and baby doll sexuality is someone just like me, someone who wants love, someone who wants to know who she is and what she does so she can say, "I existed in this moment of time!" and leave her mark on the world for everyone to behold. I wondered what love she had lost, and hoped she had found someone who truly saw her beauty like I saw hers. Like Charlie saw mine. When the light turned green she sped past like a pink human comet. Don't we all want the same things?

When I got home, in my journal I wrote:

Thank you God. As a result of knowing Charlie Mate these are the things I will not miss about being in a relationship with Jasper Husch and Jym Court:

1. That panicky feeling that I couldn't be myself.

2. That jealous feeling whenever we were apart.

3. That anxious feeling when they didn't call.

4. That frustrated feeling when we talked things through and neither one of us felt anything had been resolved.

5. That lonely feeling when they don't hold me enough or for long enough.

6. That painful feeling when we'd have sex and they'd just grind away and only he'd orgasm and I'd feel empty inside and physically uncomfortable if not in actual pain.

7. That angry feeling when they didn't care enough to see a couples counselor to work through things even though they said they loved me.

8. That less-than feeling when they'd hang out with losers and treat them like they were so much more interesting than me.

Under this, in crayon, I colored a rainbow with pinks and blues and lavenders and reds and then covered over all of it with black crayon, like you do when you're a kid. Then, with the end of a paper clip, I drew a little self-portrait: a girl in a dress of moons and hearts, under a canopy of stars.

As I climbed into bed, inwardly I prayed, If it's not too much to ask, could you make Charlie love me forever and send me a little job so that I don't have to take money from my mother anymore or at least a sign as to my real purpose, just so I know you're real? Thanks.

The rest of the month went like this:

Thursday: Picnic in Griffith Park. Drink virgin sangrias, take pictures with real camera and read poetry aloud in the sun: Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver...Discuss importance of classical music. So swoony when I go, accidentally leave wallet in Charlie's truck.

Come home to three annoying messages from my mother, saying she misses me and when can I come help her clean out the office and to remind me she is thinking about selling our childhood home or at least remodel the kitchen (again) and to say the real estate person is coming on Friday so again could I please please please come help her clean out "the office."

Friday: Meet Charlie at Starbucks for wallet and surprise pix. Sit in car and talk for hours. Smell and covet jean jacket he accidentally leaves in back of car. Drive home holding it to face. Get home and post photo of us looking like the Twin Stars on bulletin board above computer I never use.

Saturday: Go on voice-over audition for BBQ sauce wearing lucky jean jacket. Meet at Starbucks to return jacket. Receive gift of old T-shirts and patches Charlie thought I might like.

Spend rest of rainy afternoon alone, whimsically darning socks and jeans with homemade patches and embroidery thread. Have massive crush on Self. Listen to only Bach (Glenn Gould on piano, Heinrich Schiff on cello). Avoid picking up phone when my mother calls again about today being the perfect day to clean out office.

Later, go to Largo with Charlie to see Spoonie open for Repeat Offenders and Squeezeboxx.

Monday: Receive annoying phone call on car phone from my mother about making time to talk to annoying journalist for Vanity Fair piece on her to run in conjunction with my father's birthday and retrospective in Frankfurt in the middle of drive to beach with Charlie for guitar sing-along and lesson on how to build fire in sand.

Tuesday: Talk about luck and flow, book commercial for BBQ sauce called Luv'n'Fun. Call Charlie. Make a plan to go to Big Bear to see snow to celebrate. Make perfect cup of Earl Grey tea with half & half and two sugars. Thank God up and down, mostly for getting out of cleaning out office with mother. For first time ever, feel like things are turning around for the better. Think all suffering was meant to lead me to bliss as result of Charlie.

Know beyond a shadow of doubt consummation of Charlie's love for me is only matter of time.

Copyright © 2001 by Moon Unit Zappa

Chapter Twenty-Five: Baby's Breath

"You keep this love, thing, child, toy.

You keep this love, fist, scar, break.

You keep this love."

— Pantera

You learn a lot about a man from his toothbrush. Charlie had two.

He had finally invited me over to his tiny Silverlake one-bedroom house for a home-cooked dinner. While he checked on the parchment paper salmon and cockle rapini he was cooking in his dishwasher, I snooped around. Out on his tiny wooden deck decorated with small white hanging lights, I met his various herbs in tiny terra cotta pots neatly arranged on a low picnic table bench. Lavender and tarragon and basil, only they had names like Lola and Sweetums and Nettie-Arlene. Near a spotted dish with a generous portion of old scrambled eggs for the neighbor's cat, I spun the tire of a bicycle that hung from a hook under a yellow striped awning and went inside the humble cottage.

Near a large window, there was a small metal card table from the fifties with a white enamel top and three mismatched metal chairs with diamond patterned velvet cushions in sumptuous golds and purples. A patchwork quilt covered one wall while exactly opposite hung an Israeli poster of Sammy Davis Jr. in a pair of sunglasses giving the smokin' guns. Above a foldout futon couch, there were hats with buckles, buttons, plumes, and silk flowers for nearly any occasion. The digs were small, but cozy; magical. It looked as though a secretly rich jester lived there.

While the wild rice steamed, we decorated devil's food cupcakes. We mixed food coloring into little pots of store-bought vanilla frosting, made our own colors. Mauvy brown, orangish-pink, grey. I was as free as a kid again. Charlie put a big swipe of blue frosting on my nose. I let it dry there, almost wishing it were a tattoo.

Then I made the mistake of excusing myself to use his restroom to pee (and secretly see how I looked with blue frosting on my nose) only to excitedly discover we had the same Queen Amidala toothbrush.

When I emerged, waving the toothbrush wildly in my hand, he froze and before he could utter a word his body gave him away. "That's my fiancée's. Mine is the other one, the plain blue one."

"Oh," I said, trying to play it off like I already knew he had a fiancée. "Well, I have the same one as her."

Her sounded funny and separated itself from my sentence, hung suspended in the air like that staticky transmission of Princess Leia when she appears and begs for Obi-Wan's help. Of course he had a fiancée. As I looked around his house now, it became crystal clear.

There were little feminine touches everywhere, China Rain-scented candles, a pink paper lantern in the window, a framed poem written on a stained cookie doily. And a fucking right out in the open goddamned Lilith Fair CD.

At that point Charlie began to pace.

"Her name's Arielle; she's a part-time model who works with the blind, training guide dogs, and she's away right now on a bathing suit assignment in Jamaica but she hates it because the modeling world is so fake and what we really want to do is open up a little restaurant and have a full-service catering business complete with flowers and ice sculptures and hors d'oeuvres and stuff because, I mean, people love parties and with the whole Internet deal I think people are really gonna want to get back to basics like good clean eating and artistry in general, and dinner's almost ready so why don't you take a seat."

I thought about all the men I had ever loved in terms of their toothbrushes. Jasper's had bristles made from hemp and he was obsessed with porn; Jym's was electric and he wasn't so great at head; my first boyfriend used a Water Pik and he never wanted sex. I wondered what horror I was being spared by seeing Charlie's plain blue toothbrush — impotence? infidelity? schizophrenia? nymphomania? WAS HE A WOMAN? Suddenly I was furious.

"Did you think we'd have an affair?"

"No," he said sweetly, "I thought we'd become awesome friends."

"Oh, so I'm not good enough, is that it? I'm not attractive enough for you?"


I brushed tears away with my fingers. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It never came up. I really wanted to but I didn't know how. I was actually gonna tell you tonight and I'm really glad we are talking about this now." Then calmly he said, "Phew! I feel a lot better."

God, he was worse than Karl, so thorough and eventempered. I felt like the Tasmanian Devil spinning out of control next to him. Then Charlie began to cry, too. "I'm sorry for not telling you sooner. I had no idea I would like you this much. I never meant to hurt you." He wiped his nose on his arm. I noticed how golden blond and hairy his arm hair was. The snot made a silvery trail as it dried on his skin.

Click click click click click — my mind was a busy arrivals and departures sign updating its schedule again. That would explain why he never tried to kiss me, why he never walked me to my door and never even came in my house, ever. I thought, Have I filled in the empty spaces with my own explanations and deductions again? What did I do THIS time? I wanted to run out to my car and drive away, but even standing here arguing and being sad with him was more fun than anything else in the world, so I stared out his big bay window instead. The sun was setting now.

She's a part-time model who works with the blind repeated in my head. I thought, Part-time. Oh, she's beautiful all of the time, but she just models part of the time, making a fortune when it's convenient for her. But her real passion? That's donating her time training dogs for the blind.

I looked at Charlie now, watched him light three blue candles. His eyes were damp and shone wet in the flickering light. I thought, This guy is never going to leave her. I'd have to be modeling for Amnesty International on a full-time basis to turn his head and even make a dent. "She's coming back in two weeks and I'd really love for you two to meet. I think you'll really like each other."

"Yeah, sure, whatever." I tried to laugh it all off, but I snorted snot out of my nose and had to excuse myself.

In the safety of their bathroom, hugging my knees in close, I said her name out loud, "Arielle." That made it real. Then I rested my head on the toilet with the clear undersea themed polyurethane lid. Seeing the seaweed and tiny opalescent seashells and a sea horse trapped forever in plastic made me feel even sadder. Charlie knocked on the door.

"Everything OK in there?"

I wondered if I would ever have real love all to myself with someone as real as Charlie, forever.

"Mer, please come out here and have dinner with me."

I wanted to hate him. Instead I opened the door. "Charlie," I said.


"Does she know about me? I mean what did you tell her about me?"

But their phone rang.

The machine picked up and a girl's voice, soft and nervous, pleaded "Baby, are you there? It's an emergency." He ran for it. I moved outside to give him some privacy. Under a million twinkling galaxies I wondered how many other people were sitting down to awkward heartbreaking dinners this minute.

I could see him pacing from the warm yellow light of the kitchen to the dark of the den. Then I heard him say, "OK. I'll be on the next flight out." With heavy steps Charlie came outside to tell me the news: "Arielle's father had a heart attack." This hit me like a bowling ball punch in the teeth. "They don't know how serious it is, but..."

"Of course, yeah, my God. Is there anything I can do?" I said, gathering up the dishes.

"No, just leave it," he said before scurrying off to pack.

The air felt cool against my face. Suddenly I'm three, sitting in my father's lap in a dark room. I am holding my stillborn baby sister. I'm trying not to spill her off my lap. I like how tiny her fingers are. I think my mom is mad at me because she won't let me hold her all by myself, even though she is not heavy at all. She holds the head and says, "We are going to say good-bye now." My mom says her name over and over again. Shiva Plum Shiva Plum. My daddy is crying, I think he is mad at me, too. Then the men put her in the tiny coffin my daddy made for the baby. My mom just keeps kissing her and I get to kiss her, too. Then my daddy pulls her away gently and my mom's fingers are stiff and she is crying and won't look at us. Thinking of it now, I wonder why our capacity for grief has to grow roots, too.

With their mismatched dishes in my arms I looked up in time to see a shooting star streak across the night sky. I made a healing wish for her, for them, then wiped the blue frosting off my nose.

I came home to two messages. One was Charlie, calling me from the airport to tell me he was just thinking about me and wanted to make sure I was all right. He wondered if I wanted to have coffee on Thursday when he got back to town. "No, thank you," I said out loud.

The second, from my mother: "Mer, darling, it's Camilla calling. Listen, Larry Flynt saw the piece they ran on me in Vanity Fair, the one with the family photo; anyway, like I said, his office called and wanted to know if you and Grandma and I would be interested in doing a photo spread entitled 'Three Generations of Pussy' for Hustler. I told them I didn't think you would be interested, but just call me so I can let them know for sure. Grandma said whatever you decide is fine. It would be a free trip to Capri or the Bahamas, but I'm fine either way. Love you! Mchwa!"

Copyright © 2001 by Moon Unit Zappa

Meet the Author

Moon Unit Zappa is the daughter of legendary composer Frank Zappa. She won The Aspen Comedy Award for Best Alternative Comic and has written for Details and Harper's Bazaar. She lives in L.A.

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America The Beautiful 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Shameka Gowen More than 1 year ago
I read this book when it first came out and I laughed until I crird and then I gladly laughed some more...Ms. Zappa...I have waited patiently for another book...get on it!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I usually have a hard time getting through books, but I couldn't put this one down! If it doesn't grab my attention in the first few pages, I can't read it. This one had everything I like in books - attitude, honesty, fun, and of course a love story! Moon Unit Zappa is a talented young writer and knows how to connect to the reader! Highly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is good for a number of reasons, the main one being that every single person who reads this boook will be able to relate to it in some way or another. Whether it's the best friend Sadie, the commitmentphobe Jym, or the mixed-up America herself, anyone who reads this can see a little bit of themselves in the characters. Overall, it was a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Funny as hell. I didn't want to put it down. For anyone who has invested too much in a relationship and had it end this is a good book to read. Moon Zappa did a great job.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Moon Zappas book is HONEST. Everyone feels like the main charachter Mer. She is quite a woman! I hope Moon comes out with more books I can enjoy. Plus her husband is the best! Her newlywed Paul Doucette! Congrads :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and didn't want it to end. I went through almost exactly the same thing, but didn't use anythin like 'help' that Sadie gave Mer...This is a great book,and I recommend to anyone who has ever had a broken heart! This book made me want to write a book just like it! You may someday see it on here! Ha ha
Guest More than 1 year ago
Moon Unit Zappa dazzels in her debut novel. There are parts of America in all of us and its refreshing to finally read a book that recognizes those. We suddenly feel less lonely and strange about dealing with heartbreak. I've recommended this book to several female friends, and they've done the same. I highly recommend this book and I cannot wait for Moon's next release.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This has to be the the most amazing book I've read in quite a while. The painful struggle of self-discovery after a breakup is all to familiar to humans in general. I loved it so much that I've re-read it several times. There is a bit of America in all of us.