Dear Catastrophe Waitressby Brendan Halpin
Philippa doesn’t really think
Mark thinks he has found The One in college. When Raquel abruptly takes off for Los Angeles to become a rock star, Mark tries to be happy for her–until ROCK-L’s first single sweeps the airwaves–a song about Mark’s stamina entitled “Two Minute Man.” And Mark’s life is never the same again.
Philippa doesn’t really think twice about cheating on her punk rocker boyfriend, Trevor. After all, she’s going to break up with him anyway. He mooches off her, treats her badly, and writes stupid songs about her breasts. Then Trevor’s band makes a splash with its one and only song sensation, “Philippa Cheats.” And suddenly Philippa is the most infamous ex-girlfriend in all of London.
Thus Philippa and Mark find themselves adrift, both single and living in Boston, still reeling from the impact that three minutes of music had on their lives. When these two minor-key souls meet and form a major chord, they will have to overcome the sneaking suspicion that each will betray the other . . . possibly with a song.
“Brendan Halpin adds weight to his funny moments and lightness to his sad ones . . . [reminding] us that comedy and tragedy aren’t opposites at all.”
–Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel, on Donorboy
“The author’s greatest gift: his pitch-perfect ear for dialogue.”
–People, on Long Way Back
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.26(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.71(d)
Read an Excerpt
She’s wearing a white T-shirt with the artwork from the first Clash album on it. The sleeves are cut off. She drinks a St. Pauli Girl dark and sits on the hood of Brad Worthington’s Camaro. She watches as a circle of stoners, fellow members of the Walnut Prep class of 1983, the last class to enter high school in the 1970s, pass a bong around, shed an occasional tear, and sing along with the words they can understand from Yes’s “Starship Trooper,” which is blaring from inside of Bobby Shiffer’s house.
She hates Yes, but she finds that she has kind of warmed to her Yes-listening classmates in the last few months. There are, after all, only fifty of them here at Walnut Prep, and they’ve been together since the first grade, and the fact that they are not as cool as she is no longer seems like a reason to openly scorn them. In fact, Philippa finds as she looks down into the grass at her stoned classmates that she feels real tenderness for them simply because she remembers them all as little kids, and because she’s never going to see them again after tonight and they are the only people who knew her before her parents split, before Mom started drinking, before she became the punk rock chick, back when she was just that little girl who really liked H. R. Pufnstuf.
She opens the graduation program again and runs down the list of the names of her classmates and where they are going for college. She doesn’t know if Denison University is a stoner school already, but it certainly looks like it will be next year. She finds her own name: “Philippa Jane Strange: London Academy of Music.” She smiles to herself, unable to believe she got away with this.
It’s her little private joke to herself, because what she’s going to do next year is what she’s done every summer since the seventh grade: go live at her dad’s flat in London and go to clubs and hear punk rock.
It’s one in the afternoon. Philippa staggers down to the kitchen of her dad’s flat, turns on the electric kettle, puts a PG Tips tea bag into a cup, and sits down at the table. She’s only mildly hungover. Dad, as he does whenever he spends the night here and not at Ella’s, has left Philippa this morning’s Telegraph, Times, and Guardian on the table. Once the kettle whistles, Philippa pours the hot water out and sits down to read the Telegraph. From there she’ll move to The Times, and finish up with The Guardian. She and her dad have a joke about how she reads from right to left. Dad does the opposite, but with the same impulse: begin with the one you disagree with the most and work your way over to your side to see what the real story is.
Philippa’s continued presence in her dad’s flat is a rebuke to both of their political convictions. Philippa, like her friends, fumes with outrage over what the Thatcher government is doing to the welfare state. Unlike her friends, she lives for free in a very smart flat and has food and booze money supplied to her by Simon Strange, an investment banker who belongs to the class of people that benefit most from the economic policies of the Tory government.
Simon, like his friends and co-workers, yearns for the dismantling of the welfare state, for a more Americanized system where the government doesn’t act as nanny and people are forced to show a little personal responsibility. Unlike his friends and co-workers, Simon runs a little mini welfare state of his own, with an endless reservoir of guilt over the divorce and his subsequent return to the UK fueling a micro-economy that would disgust him on a macro scale: Philippa pays no rent, is not expected to work, and drinks up her spending money.
Philippa is oblivious to any political irony in her situation, but Simon is not, principally because Ella points it out to him on a daily basis. Philippa’s causing a terrible strain on Simon’s relationship with Ella, but she’s oblivious to this, too.
She does, however, notice that the date on all the papers is October 1. At this point, she realizes, all of her classmates from Walnut Prep, even the ones who went to school in California, are in their little college dorms, happily marching on the treadmill that will lead them back to their dads’ companies, where they will be groomed to take over once they’ve gotten that BA under their belts. She feels superior to them, of course, but also, for the first time ever, a bit lost.
She’s never been in London this late in the year. It’s starting to get cool and rainy, and it’s already getting dark much earlier, so that heady feeling of emerging from the pub two pints into a good booze-up at nine p.m. with the sun shining down is gone at least until next summer.
And she’s starting to feel jaded about the music scene. The Clash are opening for the Who on a stadium tour of the US, for God’s sake, and she remembers being thirteen and packing into a sweaty club to see them and hearing “White Riot” for the first time and having her life changed as a result, and nothing currently happening in the clubs can touch anything that happened then.
This is even true of Trevor’s band, the NHS. (It stands for the National Hate Service, and is supposed to serve as some kind of political commentary on the Tories’ attack on the National Health Service, but Trevor reads three fewer newspapers every day than Philippa does and writes songs principally about booze and sex.) Philippa loves watching them perform, because Trevor is so very sexy when he sings, and she likes watching his hands on the guitar and remembering them on her the night before, imagining them on her after the show.
But she’s been with Trevor for nearly three months now, and the fog of infatuation is lifting, and she is forced to admit that the NHS is not the Clash.
The phone rings twice in quick succession, and Philippa feels annoyed. Annoyed because she prefers the one long ring of US phones to the chirpy, insistent two-ring alert of British phones, annoyed because she’s only halfway through The Times, and she really likes to read all three papers before speaking to anyone, and most of all annoyed because she thinks it’s Trevor calling.
Trevor is terrible on the phone, inarticulate and clumsy, and his matter-of-fact proclamations of lust—“Thinkin’ about your knickers today, Phil”—that actually seemed hot at first are now just kind of annoying. (She does enjoy the fact that the NHS’s latest single is called “Thinkin’ About Your Knickers,” though.) Also, he’s started stressing his poverty more and more recently (“I’m totally skint, Phil, buy us a pint”), and she’s beginning to suspect that he likes Simon’s money a lot more than her tits, which are another frequent topic of conversation.
So the phone trills—Ringring! . . . Ringring!—and it just won’t stop, and she doesn’t want to answer it, but she can’t very well read The Times with that business going on, and she figures she’ll have to talk to Trevor at some point today, so she may as well get it over with. She picks up the phone with her best punk rock attitude: “Yeah?”
“Uh, hello?” It’s a woman. Not Trevor. Not Ella calling to tell her to get a fucking job, either. This is not a fear on Philippa’s radar at the moment, though it’s a conversation that Ella is currently planning. No, it’s an American woman. But it’s not Mom.
“Yeah?” Philippa says with more annoyance.
“It’s your aunt Betsy, honey. There’s . . . ,” and Aunt Betsy starts to cry. Philippa knows that nobody cries on a transatlantic phone call if it’s good news, and she knows Betsy wouldn’t spend the money on the phone call just to talk to her, and she knows she should be alarmed, or worried, or something, but she searches herself and finds nothing. She does manage to de-snottify her voice, though.
“What is it, B? What’s wrong?”
“It’s your mom, sweetie, she’s . . . there’s been an accident.”
Is she dead? Do you mean she’s dead, Aunt B? Say what you mean, dammit! Philippa’s relieved to find that she cares about the answer to this question.
“Is she okay?”
“She . . . her leg is badly fractured in three places, and the steering wheel knocked her two front teeth out, and she’s bruised all over, but she . . .” More crying. “I’m sorry, sweetie. She’s going to walk again, they say they can fix her face, and she’s not in a coma or anything, but she’s pretty loopy on the pain medication right now.”
“Jesus.” If she’s not dead, I’m not flying to Cincinnati, Philippa thinks. She sends her aunt telepathic messages: Don’t ask me to come back, because then I’ll have to say no, and then I’ll be a bad daughter, but I don’t want to come to Cincinnati, so if you just don’t ask, we’ll be fine.
“She . . . she was drinking, honey.” Well, duh, Philippa wants to say. I’m guessing it was a one-car accident, too. “She wrapped her car around a tree on Clough Pike.” Silence. Philippa has nothing to say. The silence drags on for more microseconds, and Philippa knows this is where she’s supposed to say she’ll be on the next flight, that she’s rushing to her mother’s bedside.
Instead she says, “What hospital’s she in?”
“Mercy.” Of course it’s the closest one to Clough Pike, but Philippa remembers her mom taking her out of Mercy when she’d broken her arm sledding, and they told her she’d have to wait until morning to get her arm set, and screaming at the emergency room staff, “You fucking quacks! You fucking incompetent quacks! I’m taking my daughter to a real fucking hospital!”
Philippa gets the address and the phone number and promises she’ll call Aunt Betsy later. She hopes this will leave Aunt Betsy with the impression that she’s going to call as soon as she knows her flight information. She hopes that Aunt Betsy won’t call twice. She doesn’t want Betsy to hate her.
What’s strange, she thinks as she switches on the kettle for her second cup of tea, is that she cares if Betsy hates her, but she feels nothing at all about Mom. She tries to call up a picture of Mom with her front teeth knocked out, her face all black and blue, lying in a hospital bed. She does conjure up the image, but it does nothing to her. She slaps a tea bag into her cup, fills it with hot water, and sits back down to finish The Times.
Philippa slams down her pint glass on the table at the Junction Bar, a West End pub full of UCL students. She’s just finished her third pint of Tetley’s Bitter. She finished her second shot of The Famous Grouse ten minutes ago.
Three pints and two shots have not been enough to drown Aunt Betsy’s voice from her brain, nor have they been enough to unlock anything she might be feeling about her mother’s accident and hospitalization. She knows that many people drink to get numb, but tonight she’s drinking in a fierce, doomed attempt to feel something.
She staggers toward the bar. On the way she stands behind Trevor, who’s mesmerized by the fruit machine, feeding it her ten p coins, and grabs his butt. He grunts something then slaps a button, hoping to get the wheel to stop on a cherry. It doesn’t.
Philippa puts a pound note on the bar, raises her finger, and gets her fourth pint. She weaves back to the table, not stopping by Trevor, who’s suddenly pissing her off. She takes big gulps of the beer, thinking if she can only drink enough, she’ll unlock some sadness about her mom, some concern, something that will make her want to go to her.
It doesn’t happen, and Philippa’s stomach begins to rebel instead. She feels it coming, and, since she’s closer to the exit than the loo, she runs for the street and just makes it, hunching over the sidewalk, vomiting into the street. It’s cold, and a light rain is falling. Philippa pukes again.
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This was a really good book. I loved the journey of both characters and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a comedic love story...even if It's only a love story for the last 1/3rd of the book.