How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater [NOOK Book]

Overview

A deliciously funny romp of a novel about one overly theatrical and sexually confused New Jersey teenager’s larcenous quest for his acting school tuition

It’s 1983 in Wallingford, New Jersey, a sleepy bedroom community outside of Manhattan. Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni, a feckless Ferris Bueller–type, is Peter Panning his way through a carefree summer of magic and ...
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How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater

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Overview

A deliciously funny romp of a novel about one overly theatrical and sexually confused New Jersey teenager’s larcenous quest for his acting school tuition

It’s 1983 in Wallingford, New Jersey, a sleepy bedroom community outside of Manhattan. Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni, a feckless Ferris Bueller–type, is Peter Panning his way through a carefree summer of magic and mischief. The fun comes to a halt, however, when Edward’s father remarries and refuses to pay for Edward to study acting at Juilliard.

Edward’s truly in a bind. He’s ineligible for scholarships because his father earns too much. He’s unable to contact his mother because she’s somewhere in Peru trying to commune with Incan spirits. And, as a sure sign he’s destined for a life in the arts, Edward’s incapable of holding down a job. So he turns to his loyal (but immoral) misfit friends to help him steal the tuition money from his father, all the while practicing for his high school performance of Grease. Disguising themselves as nuns and priests, they merrily scheme their way through embezzlement, money laundering, identity theft, forgery, and blackmail. But, along the way, Edward also learns the value of friendship, hard work, and how you’re not really a man until you can beat up your father—metaphorically, that is.

How I Paid for College is a farcical coming-of-age story that combines the first-person tone of David Sedaris with the byzantine plot twists of Armistead Maupin. It is a novel for anyone who has ever had a dream or a scheme, and it marks the introduction to an original and audacious talent.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Portland humor columnist Acito debuts with dazzling comic panache in this story of a teenage would-be swindler and budding drama queen. Edward Zanni is dying to escape boring Wallingford, N.J., for the hallowed halls of Juilliard, and he's got a pretty good chance at it. It's summer, and he's palling around with his fellow Play People, who include his gorgeous girlfriend, Kelly, and his hot jock pal, Doug, and dreaming of stardom. The fly in the ointment is Zanni's money-obsessed father, Al, who pulls the financial plug on Edward's Juilliard dream after marrying a trophy babe, a beautiful, icy Teutonic model named Dagmar. Edward counters dad's penny-pinching by moving in with Kelly's family to establish financial independence for a scholarship, but bombs at several minimum-wage jobs. How will he pay for college now that his audition really a public mental breakdown got him in? His devious buddy, Nathan, concocts a plan to steal from gold-digging Dagmar, who's been siphoning Al's cash into a secret account. Edward and pals set up a fake nonprofit designed to award a Juilliard scholarship to someone born in Hoboken (Edward) but there's a problem. Acito nails his scenes one after another, from Edward's shifting (but always enthusiastic) sexuality to the silly messes he gets himself into. The result is a thumbs-up winner from a storyteller whose future looks as bright as that of his young hero. Agent, Edward Hibbert. (Sept.) Forecast: Acito's playful, nuanced treatment of sexual exploration and lively plot should make this an appealing choice for older YA readers as well as adults. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni is enjoying a carefree summer, hanging out with his friends in suburban New Jersey, before he starts his senior year of high school. Things start to fall apart when his successful father (divorced from Edward's mother) marries a woman who is after his money. Edward wants to study acting at Juilliard, but his father will not pay his tuition. So Edward and his friends scheme to find a way for Edward to pay-and they are not above illegal activities, including embezzlement and blackmail. Meanwhile, Edward becomes sexually confused when he finds himself attracted to both his girlfriend and a sensitive and well-endowed football player. Edward and his friends make up a lively and diverse group of characters; there is never a dull moment as they try to ensure that Edward will get his wish. Humor columnist Acito's amusing debut is sure to appeal to David Sedaris fans and older YAs. Recommended for most public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/04.]-Karen Core, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-With this funny, moving, and dead-on novel, Acito becomes to high school theater what Chris Crutcher is to high school sports. Edward Zanni-fabulous, talented, and vulnerable in equal measure-is stuck: he's made it into Juilliard's prestigious acting program, but his father refuses to lay out a dime for a major that he considers unworthy. With an absent mother and a household income too high to qualify for financial aid, the teen feels doomed. Enter his friends, whose talents range from creative vandalism (giving makeovers to lawn ornaments) to embezzlement (from Edward's thieving stepmother). Between rehearsals for Grease and Godspell and secretly obsessing over one another sexually, they plunge into fraud, forgery, and blackmail in a desperate quest for tuition. While priest costumes, Maya Angelou, and Frank Sinatra all come into the picture, the story never degenerates into meaningless slapstick-perhaps because Acito's voice is so genuine. He masterfully captures the chief activity of teenagers: yearning. Sexuality is depicted frankly, not patronizingly or gratuitously. Friendships are realistically flawed and, therefore, powerfully moving. Egos get popped and inflated more rapidly than balloons at a fair. This insightfulness ensures that College will become one of those rare books that YAs insist that all of their friends read, that is carried around in backpacks just to have it be close at all times.-Emily Lloyd, formerly at Rehoboth Beach Public Library, DE Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A teenaged actor's quest for Juilliard tuition and a steady girlfriend-or boyfriend, whatever. Insouciantly overcoming the handicap of being described as "the gay Dave Barry," columnist Acito proves himself worthy of whatever praise people may want to throw his way with his first novel. His kid-with-promise is high school senior Edward Zanni, a somewhat pudgy and extremely theatrical lad from Wallingford, New Jersey, a place he can't stand: "I find the term 'bedroom community' sort of sexy," he comments, "but it probably just means that not much else happens in Wallingford beyond sleeping." Edward dreams of escaping to Juilliard, after which he can become a famous actor and pointedly forget to mention certain people in his Oscar acceptance speech. Because of a near-nervous breakdown during his Juilliard audition, interpreted as incredible acting by the staff, Edward actually gets in; the only problem is that his fascist stepmonster has convinced his dad not to pay for college, meaning he's got to come up with, oh, about $10,000-and that's in 1983 dollars. Fortunately for Edward, he's got a melange of misfit friends who are pretty devoted to him and have a knack for lies, theft, and blackmail, none of which they hesitate to use on Edward's behalf. The actual story of gathering money for the tuition only really starts up at the book's halfway point; until then Acito is mostly just hanging around (quite enjoyably) inside Edward's pinball-machine head, limning the absurdities of early '80s suburban life, and having a lot of fun with Edward's bisexual confusion. (He's attracted to both his girlfriend and the football player that she's not so secretly smitten with.) This approach has the addedadvantage of keeping the attention off the admittedly silly plot and more on Acito's memorable, warmly described characters. The outsider edge to the proceedings here never devolves into snobbishness and keeps the free-form story humming hilariously along. High school as it should have been. Film rights to Columbia Pictures/Laura Ziskind. Agent: Edward Hibbert/Donadio & Olsen
From the Publisher
"Marc Acito’s rollicking first novel is, by turns, sweet, sexy, and outrageous. Powered by the author’s devious imagination, the story shows us a handful of teenagers driven to larceny, embezzlement, and impersonation—all in the name of higher education. Beneath the story’s beguiling shtick, though, is a more serious issue—the complications inherent in the difficult business of becoming ourselves. A great graduation gift."

—Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She’s Not There

"Witty... peppered with pitch-perfect, archly adolescent asides... The ease with which Acito has choreographed [these] crazy capers makes you hope there's a lot more where all this came from."

New York Times Book Review

"Acito has fantastic narrative chops, writing funny, fast, and satisfying chapters... This is a book for mature readers that reminds us what a blast immaturity can be."

People

"Like the class clown willing to do anything for a laugh, [How I Paid for College is] funny, entertaining, and ultimately endearing."

Details

"A coming-of-age, coming-out tale that escapes triteness and predictability thanks to Acito's eye for the absurd truth."

TimeOut New York

"Dazzling... a thumbs-up winner from a storyteller whose future looks as bright as that of his young hero."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767919609
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/7/2004
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 292,876
  • File size: 845 KB

Meet the Author

Hailed as the "gay Dave Barry," Marc Acito is a syndicated humorist, whose column, "The Gospel According to Marc," appears in nineteen newspapers, including the Chicago Free Press and Outword-Los Angeles. After being kicked out of one of the finest drama schools in the country, he went on to sing roles with major opera companies, including Seattle Opera. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

His website is MarcAcito.com

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

one

The story of how I paid for college begins like life itself--in a pool of water. Not in the primordial ooze from which prehistoric fish first developed arms and crawled onto the shore but in a heavily chlorinated pool of water in the backyard of Gloria D'Angelo's split-level ranch in Camptown, New Jersey.

Aunt Glo.

She's not my aunt, really, she's my friend Paula's aunt, but everybody calls her Aunt Glo and she calls us kids the LBs, short for Little Bastards.

Aunt Glo yells. Always yells. She yells from the basement where she does her son the priest's laundry. She yells from the upstairs bathroom, where she scrubs the tub to calm her nerves. And she yells from her perch behind the kitchen sink, where she stirs her marinara sauce and watches us float in the heavily chlorinated pool of water.

Like life itself, the story of how I paid for college begins with a yell.

"Heeeeeey! Are you two LBs gonna serenade me or what?"

Paula and I mouth to each other, "Ya' can't lie around my pool for nothin', y'know."

I roll over on the inflatable raft, giving a tug on my PROPERTY OF WALLINGFORD HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC DEPT. shorts so they don't stick to my nuts. (I wear the shorts ironically--a tribute to the one purgatorial semester I spent on the track team.) I reach over to turn down the radio, where Irene Cara is having a Flashdance feeling for like the gazillionth time today, and turn to look at Paula.

Shards of light spike off the water, so I have to shield my eyes with my hand to see her. Paula's poised on her floating throne, her head tilted "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille" upright, her eyes hidden by a pair of rhinestone-studded cat-lady sunglasses, a lace parasol over her shoulder to protect her white-white skin. She wears one of Aunt Glo's old bathing suits from the fifties, a pleated number that stretches across her flesh like those folds you see on Greek statuary; it's more of a birdcage with fabric, really, the desired effect being a Sophia Loren-Gina Lollobrigida-kind of va-va-va-voom sensuality. Frankly, though, Paula's a couple of vooms wide of the mark.

She takes a sip from a virgin strawberry daiquiri, then eyes me over her sunglasses to say, "What can we do? We've been summoned for a command performance." Then she throws her head back, unhinges her wide jaw, and lets flow the opening phrase of "Ave Maria" in a voice so warm and pure you want to take a bath in it. I join in, harmonizing like we did at her cousin Crazy Linda's wedding, our voices mixing and mingling in a conversation that goes on above our heads and into the thick New Jersey air. A pair of nasty-looking dogs on the other side of the chain-link fence bark at us.

Everyone's a critic.

But not Aunt Glo. Aunt Glo's a good audience and (since Paula's mother is dead and her father works so much for the highway department) a frequent one. "Such voices you two have, like angels." She always tells us that. "Oh, son of a bitch, look at the time," she yells. "Now shaddap, will ya', my stories are almost on."

I can't see her through the screened window but I know she's lighting up a Lucky Strike and pouring herself a Dr Pepper before waddling down to the rec room to watch Guiding Light and do her ironing.

Aunt Glo.

Paula deposits her glass on the side of the pool and twiddles her tiny fingers in the water to clean them off. "Honestly, Edward," she says, flinging a meaty arm in the air, "it is so patently unfair." (Paula has a tendency to speak in italics.) "I'm simply wasting my talent this summer, wasting it!" Forever cast in the roles of postmenopausal women, Paula is continuing the trend this summer by playing Miss Lynch in the Wallingford Summer Workshop production of Grease.

I lay my head down on the raft. "You're right, Sis," I say.

She's not really my sister, but she might as well be. Apart from the difference in our complexions, we could be twins: Paula is the pure white twin; I'm the evil dark one. Otherwise, we're both all long curly hair, thick eyelashes, and high body-fat ratio.

I also call her Sis because she uses her nun costume from our production of The Sound of Music to buy us beer, on the entirely correct theory that no one would ask a nun for her ID.

Paula snaps her parasol shut and rows over to me using the handle end. "The problem," she says, "is that I've got a nineteenth-century figure. If I'd been born a hundred years earlier, I would have been considered desirable."

We've had this conversation before. Some of us are born to run, others are born to be wild--Paula was born to wear a hoopskirt.

I feel the tap of a parasol on my shoulder. "Look at these," she says, mashing her boobs together like she's fluffing pillows. "And this." She turns sideways to grab a hunk of her fleshy butt.

"In the case of an emergency water landing, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device," I say.

Paula tips my mattress over with one of her thick nineteenth-century legs.

I bob up to the surface and try to capsize her by grabbing her tiny feet. "No, no, no, please, Edward," she says, "the hair, the hair, I've got to be at work in an hour."

"Fine," I say, backstroking to the shallow end, "but as far as the nineteenth century goes, I've got two words for you."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah: No anesthesia."

I can hear her deep, chocolaty laugh as I look up at the high-tension wires crisscrossing the baby blue sky. I love making Paula laugh.

I step out of the pool. "You're looking at this Grease thing all wrong, Sis. Think of us as guest stars, like Eve Arden and Frankie Avalon in the movie." (Fully aware that I wouldn't make a convincing Danny Zuko, I opted to play Teen Angel instead.) "Let everyone else knock their brains out learning the frigging Hand Jive; in the end you and I are still going to come in and steal the show with our finely wrought comic interpretations."

Paula sighs. She knows I'm right.

"Besides, I, for one, have more important things to deal with." I'm speaking, of course, about my audition for Juilliard.

Juilliard.

Now in case you live in Iowa or something and don't know anything about it, perhaps I should explain that Juilliard is the finest institution for acting in the entire country, the Tiffany's of drama schools. Everybody famous went there--Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Robin Williams--and ever since I starred in The Music Man in the ninth grade I've known I wanted to go there, too. I've already got one surefire contemporary audition monologue (Mozart in Amadeus, a prankish man-boy I was born to play), but I need to come up with a classical one, too. So I've bought myself a brand-new Complete Works of Shakespeare--a really nice one, with a velvet cover and gold leaf on the ends of the pages--and I'm going to spend my entire summer reading it. Plus work on my tan.

Paula parks her inflatable barge in the shallow end and extends her hand for me to help her up. She frowns at me, like I'm a dress she's trying to decide whether or not to buy.

"What's wrong?" I ask.

She sighs and pats herself with a towel. (Always pats, never rubs. Rubbing is tough on the skin.) "Can you keep a secret?" she asks.

"Of course not," I say. "But when has that ever stopped you?"

She extends her pinky finger. "Pinky swear."

I link mine with hers. "Fine. Pinky swear. What is it?"

She looks around like she doesn't want to be overheard. "Do you remember how I told you about the night I let Dominick Ferretti take me behind the pizza oven?"

"Yeah."

"I lied."

"What? Why?"

"I didn't want you to think I was some kind of priss," she says. "You and Kelly have done practically everything."

This is an exaggeration. It's not like my girlfriend Kelly and I have gone all the way yet or even gone down on each other, but I guess compared to Paula's nunlike existence, we're something out of the Kama Sutra.

(Incidentally, I never believed that story about Dominick Ferretti.)

"You're not a priss," I say. "You're, uh . . ."

"Go ahead, say it. I'm too fat to get a boyfriend."

Let the record show: she said it, not me.

Paula flops down on a lounge chair like she's Camille taking to her sickbed. "What am I going to do? What kind of actress can I possibly hope to be if I'm still a virgin?" she says, grabbing me by the hand and yanking me down next to her. "Edward, you have to help me."

I adjust my shorts again. "Uh, listen, Sis, I'm totally flattered, but I don't think Kelly would . . ."

"Oh, don't be daft," she says, giving me a shove. "You've got to help me with Doug Grabowski."

Doug Grabowski? Doug Grabowski the football player I convinced to try out for Danny Zuko? Doug Grabowski who used to go out with Amber Wright, the single most popular girl in school? That Doug Grabowski?

"What about him?" I ask.

"Do you know if he has a girlfriend?"

Paula's capacity for delusion is astounding. It's partly what makes her such a great actress. "Uh . . . I don't think so," I mumble, as I try to figure out how to tell her she stands a better chance of being crowned Miss America than of landing Doug Grabowski.

"Splendid," she chimes, and she pirouettes onto the lawn in a manner that unfortunately calls to mind the dancing hippos in Fantasia. "I've got it all planned out: the four of us--you and Kelly and Doug and I--are going to go into the city this Saturday to see A Chorus Line. I can't imagine Doug's ever seen it and he must, he really, really must. If he's going to spend the entire summer hanging around us instead of those knuckle-draggers from the football team, then it's our duty, really, to expose him to the finer things in life, don't you think?"

"Well . . ."

"The poor boy must be positively starved for intellectual stimulation."

"But . . ."

"Oh, Edward, it's going to be a night we'll remember the rest of our lives," she says, thrusting my clothes into my hands. "Now all you need to do is drive over to play practice and ask him."

"Me? Why not you?"

Paula clicks her tongue. "I don't want to appear pushy."

God forbid.

"Besides, not all of us have rich daddies," she sniffs. "Some of us actually have to work." She slips her tiny teardrop feet into a pair of pink plastic jellies and sashays toward the house.

"I work," I call after her. "What do you call choreographing the kids' show at the workshop?"

She turns and points her pink feet, ballerina style. "I call it play," she says. "Making calzones in a 120-degree kitchen while Dominick Ferretti makes lewd gestures with a sausage--that's a job." With a regal toss of her head, she throws open the door. "Now get dressed and get over there," she commands, sending me inside to change. "My loss of innocence is depending on it."


two

Now outside it may be 1983, but inside Aunt Glo's it's forever 1972: harvest-gold appliances and orange linoleum counters in the kitchen, shag carpeting and wood paneling everywhere else.

I grab a Fudgsicle out of the freezer and pad down to the rec room where Aunt Glo is ironing and watching Guiding Light.

Imagine, if you will, a fire hydrant. Now put a black football helmet on top of that fire hydrant. Then wrap the whole thing in a floral-print housedress and that's Aunt Glo. She looks like the offspring of Snow White and one of the seven dwarves.

Aunt Glo is a MoP--Mother of Priest--and she expresses her gratitude for this good fortune by doing all of her son's ironing even though he's like forty or something. I plop down in the La-Z-Boy recliner, wrapping my towel around me so I don't get it wet. "Who's breaking up today?" I ask, trying to peel the wrapper off the Fudgsicle.

"Oh, baby doll, these poor, poor people," Aunt Glo says, ironing and crying, crying and ironing. (Aunt Glo calls everybody baby doll, partly out of affection, but mostly because she can't remember jack shit.) "I just thank the Virgin Mother that my Benny is dead, God rest his soul, so I'll never have to know the pain of divorce."

Even before her stroke, Aunt Glo operated according to a logic all her own. She is, after all, the woman who named her only son Angelo D'Angelo.

Sweat and tears mix on Aunt Glo's pudgy face and her crepe-y arm jiggles as she irons back and forth. Behind her, Angelo's collars hang clipped to a clothesline like severed doves' wings. "It's just so sad for the children," she sighs.

Oh, please, not this.

I know that sad-clown-in-a-black-velvet-painting look, that sympathetic tone, that warm washcloth of pity that grown-ups are always trying to wipe all over me. What she really means, what they all really mean is, "I'm sure your mom had her reasons, Edward, but what kind of mother leaves her own children?"

I'm fine, I want to say, I'm fine. I have my career ahead of me. My art. My friends. Besides, it's not like I don't ever see my mom. True, I never know when she's going to show up, but that's part of what makes her so cool: she's a Free Spirit. Our bond is more spiritual than temporal. But still everyone treats me like I'm Oliver fucking Twist.

Aunt Glo keeps crying and ironing, ironing and crying, and we're quiet for a moment, which, being Italian, is unusual for us. My bathing suit is giving me the itch and I want to leave, but I want to stay, too. There's something kind of comforting about watching Aunt Glo cry; I guess because I can't cry myself. It's probably my biggest failing as an actor, but I can't seem to do it. Sometimes I'll try to force the tears out, pushing and grunting like I'm constipated, but I just end up feeling trapped inside my skin and desperate to get out. So instead I sit like this with Aunt Glo, Guiding Light casting shadows on the wall behind us, while she cries for both of us.

* * *

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

one


The story of how I paid for college begins like life itself--in a pool of water. Not in the primordial ooze from which prehistoric fish first developed arms and crawled onto the shore but in a heavily chlorinated pool of water in the backyard of Gloria D'Angelo's split-level ranch in Camptown, New Jersey.

Aunt Glo.

She's not my aunt, really, she's my friend Paula's aunt, but everybody calls her Aunt Glo and she calls us kids the LBs, short for Little Bastards.

Aunt Glo yells. Always yells. She yells from the basement where she does her son the priest's laundry. She yells from the upstairs bathroom, where she scrubs the tub to calm her nerves. And she yells from her perch behind the kitchen sink, where she stirs her marinara sauce and watches us float in the heavily chlorinated pool of water.

Like life itself, the story of how I paid for college begins with a yell.

"Heeeeeey! Are you two LBs gonna serenade me or what?"

Paula and I mouth to each other, "Ya' can't lie around my pool for nothin', y'know."

I roll over on the inflatable raft, giving a tug on my PROPERTY OF WALLINGFORD HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC DEPT. shorts so they don't stick to my nuts. (I wear the shorts ironically--a tribute to the one purgatorial semester I spent on the track team.) I reach over to turn down the radio, where Irene Cara is having a Flashdance feeling for like the gazillionth time today, and turn to look at Paula.

Shards of light spike off the water, so I have to shield my eyes with my hand to see her. Paula's poised on her floating throne, her head tilted "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille" upright, her eyes hidden by apair of rhinestone-studded cat-lady sunglasses, a lace parasol over her shoulder to protect her white-white skin. She wears one of Aunt Glo's old bathing suits from the fifties, a pleated number that stretches across her flesh like those folds you see on Greek statuary; it's more of a birdcage with fabric, really, the desired effect being a Sophia Loren-Gina Lollobrigida-kind of va-va-va-voom sensuality. Frankly, though, Paula's a couple of vooms wide of the mark.

She takes a sip from a virgin strawberry daiquiri, then eyes me over her sunglasses to say, "What can we do? We've been summoned for a command performance." Then she throws her head back, unhinges her wide jaw, and lets flow the opening phrase of "Ave Maria" in a voice so warm and pure you want to take a bath in it. I join in, harmonizing like we did at her cousin Crazy Linda's wedding, our voices mixing and mingling in a conversation that goes on above our heads and into the thick New Jersey air. A pair of nasty-looking dogs on the other side of the chain-link fence bark at us.

Everyone's a critic.

But not Aunt Glo. Aunt Glo's a good audience and (since Paula's mother is dead and her father works so much for the highway department) a frequent one. "Such voices you two have, like angels." She always tells us that. "Oh, son of a bitch, look at the time," she yells. "Now shaddap, will ya', my stories are almost on."

I can't see her through the screened window but I know she's lighting up a Lucky Strike and pouring herself a Dr Pepper before waddling down to the rec room to watch Guiding Light and do her ironing.

Aunt Glo.

Paula deposits her glass on the side of the pool and twiddles her tiny fingers in the water to clean them off. "Honestly, Edward," she says, flinging a meaty arm in the air, "it is so patently unfair." (Paula has a tendency to speak in italics.) "I'm simply wasting my talent this summer, wasting it!" Forever cast in the roles of postmenopausal women, Paula is continuing the trend this summer by playing Miss Lynch in the Wallingford Summer Workshop production of Grease.

I lay my head down on the raft. "You're right, Sis," I say.

She's not really my sister, but she might as well be. Apart from the difference in our complexions, we could be twins: Paula is the pure white twin; I'm the evil dark one. Otherwise, we're both all long curly hair, thick eyelashes, and high body-fat ratio.

I also call her Sis because she uses her nun costume from our production of The Sound of Music to buy us beer, on the entirely correct theory that no one would ask a nun for her ID.

Paula snaps her parasol shut and rows over to me using the handle end. "The problem," she says, "is that I've got a nineteenth-century figure. If I'd been born a hundred years earlier, I would have been considered desirable."

We've had this conversation before. Some of us are born to run, others are born to be wild--Paula was born to wear a hoopskirt.

I feel the tap of a parasol on my shoulder. "Look at these," she says, mashing her boobs together like she's fluffing pillows. "And this." She turns sideways to grab a hunk of her fleshy butt.

"In the case of an emergency water landing, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device," I say.

Paula tips my mattress over with one of her thick nineteenth-century legs.

I bob up to the surface and try to capsize her by grabbing her tiny feet. "No, no, no, please, Edward," she says, "the hair, the hair, I've got to be at work in an hour."

"Fine," I say, backstroking to the shallow end, "but as far as the nineteenth century goes, I've got two words for you."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah: No anesthesia."

I can hear her deep, chocolaty laugh as I look up at the high-tension wires crisscrossing the baby blue sky. I love making Paula laugh.

I step out of the pool. "You're looking at this Grease thing all wrong, Sis. Think of us as guest stars, like Eve Arden and Frankie Avalon in the movie." (Fully aware that I wouldn't make a convincing Danny Zuko, I opted to play Teen Angel instead.) "Let everyone else knock their brains out learning the frigging Hand Jive; in the end you and I are still going to come in and steal the show with our finely wrought comic interpretations."

Paula sighs. She knows I'm right.

"Besides, I, for one, have more important things to deal with." I'm speaking, of course, about my audition for Juilliard.

Juilliard.

Now in case you live in Iowa or something and don't know anything about it, perhaps I should explain that Juilliard is the finest institution for acting in the entire country, the Tiffany's of drama schools. Everybody famous went there--Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Robin Williams--and ever since I starred in The Music Man in the ninth grade I've known I wanted to go there, too. I've already got one surefire contemporary audition monologue (Mozart in Amadeus, a prankish man-boy I was born to play), but I need to come up with a classical one, too. So I've bought myself a brand-new Complete Works of Shakespeare--a really nice one, with a velvet cover and gold leaf on the ends of the pages--and I'm going to spend my entire summer reading it. Plus work on my tan.

Paula parks her inflatable barge in the shallow end and extends her hand for me to help her up. She frowns at me, like I'm a dress she's trying to decide whether or not to buy.

"What's wrong?" I ask.

She sighs and pats herself with a towel. (Always pats, never rubs. Rubbing is tough on the skin.) "Can you keep a secret?" she asks.

"Of course not," I say. "But when has that ever stopped you?"

She extends her pinky finger. "Pinky swear."

I link mine with hers. "Fine. Pinky swear. What is it?"

She looks around like she doesn't want to be overheard. "Do you remember how I told you about the night I let Dominick Ferretti take me behind the pizza oven?"

"Yeah."

"I lied."

"What? Why?"

"I didn't want you to think I was some kind of priss," she says. "You and Kelly have done practically everything."

This is an exaggeration. It's not like my girlfriend Kelly and I have gone all the way yet or even gone down on each other, but I guess compared to Paula's nunlike existence, we're something out of the Kama Sutra.

(Incidentally, I never believed that story about Dominick Ferretti.)

"You're not a priss," I say. "You're, uh . . ."

"Go ahead, say it. I'm too fat to get a boyfriend."

Let the record show: she said it, not me.

Paula flops down on a lounge chair like she's Camille taking to her sickbed. "What am I going to do? What kind of actress can I possibly hope to be if I'm still a virgin?" she says, grabbing me by the hand and yanking me down next to her. "Edward, you have to help me."

I adjust my shorts again. "Uh, listen, Sis, I'm totally flattered, but I don't think Kelly would . . ."

"Oh, don't be daft," she says, giving me a shove. "You've got to help me with Doug Grabowski."

Doug Grabowski? Doug Grabowski the football player I convinced to try out for Danny Zuko? Doug Grabowski who used to go out with Amber Wright, the single most popular girl in school? That Doug Grabowski?

"What about him?" I ask.

"Do you know if he has a girlfriend?"

Paula's capacity for delusion is astounding. It's partly what makes her such a great actress. "Uh . . . I don't think so," I mumble, as I try to figure out how to tell her she stands a better chance of being crowned Miss America than of landing Doug Grabowski.

"Splendid," she chimes, and she pirouettes onto the lawn in a manner that unfortunately calls to mind the dancing hippos in Fantasia. "I've got it all planned out: the four of us--you and Kelly and Doug and I--are going to go into the city this Saturday to see A Chorus Line. I can't imagine Doug's ever seen it and he must, he really, really must. If he's going to spend the entire summer hanging around us instead of those knuckle-draggers from the football team, then it's our duty, really, to expose him to the finer things in life, don't you think?"

"Well . . ."

"The poor boy must be positively starved for intellectual stimulation."

"But . . ."

"Oh, Edward, it's going to be a night we'll remember the rest of our lives," she says, thrusting my clothes into my hands. "Now all you need to do is drive over to play practice and ask him."

"Me? Why not you?"

Paula clicks her tongue. "I don't want to appear pushy."

God forbid.

"Besides, not all of us have rich daddies," she sniffs. "Some of us actually have to work." She slips her tiny teardrop feet into a pair of pink plastic jellies and sashays toward the house.

"I work," I call after her. "What do you call choreographing the kids' show at the workshop?"

She turns and points her pink feet, ballerina style. "I call it play," she says. "Making calzones in a 120-degree kitchen while Dominick Ferretti makes lewd gestures with a sausage--that's a job." With a regal toss of her head, she throws open the door. "Now get dressed and get over there," she commands, sending me inside to change. "My loss of innocence is depending on it."



two

Now outside it may be 1983, but inside Aunt Glo's it's forever 1972: harvest-gold appliances and orange linoleum counters in the kitchen, shag carpeting and wood paneling everywhere else.

I grab a Fudgsicle out of the freezer and pad down to the rec room where Aunt Glo is ironing and watching Guiding Light.

Imagine, if you will, a fire hydrant. Now put a black football helmet on top of that fire hydrant. Then wrap the whole thing in a floral-print housedress and that's Aunt Glo. She looks like the offspring of Snow White and one of the seven dwarves.

Aunt Glo is a MoP--Mother of Priest--and she expresses her gratitude for this good fortune by doing all of her son's ironing even though he's like forty or something. I plop down in the La-Z-Boy recliner, wrapping my towel around me so I don't get it wet. "Who's breaking up today?" I ask, trying to peel the wrapper off the Fudgsicle.

"Oh, baby doll, these poor, poor people," Aunt Glo says, ironing and crying, crying and ironing. (Aunt Glo calls everybody baby doll, partly out of affection, but mostly because she can't remember jack shit.) "I just thank the Virgin Mother that my Benny is dead, God rest his soul, so I'll never have to know the pain of divorce."

Even before her stroke, Aunt Glo operated according to a logic all her own. She is, after all, the woman who named her only son Angelo D'Angelo.

Sweat and tears mix on Aunt Glo's pudgy face and her crepe-y arm jiggles as she irons back and forth. Behind her, Angelo's collars hang clipped to a clothesline like severed doves' wings. "It's just so sad for the children," she sighs.

Oh, please, not this.

I know that sad-clown-in-a-black-velvet-painting look, that sympathetic tone, that warm washcloth of pity that grown-ups are always trying to wipe all over me. What she really means, what they all really mean is, "I'm sure your mom had her reasons, Edward, but what kind of mother leaves her own children?"

I'm fine, I want to say, I'm fine. I have my career ahead of me. My art. My friends. Besides, it's not like I don't ever see my mom. True, I never know when she's going to show up, but that's part of what makes her so cool: she's a Free Spirit. Our bond is more spiritual than temporal. But still everyone treats me like I'm Oliver fucking Twist.

Aunt Glo keeps crying and ironing, ironing and crying, and we're quiet for a moment, which, being Italian, is unusual for us. My bathing suit is giving me the itch and I want to leave, but I want to stay, too. There's something kind of comforting about watching Aunt Glo cry; I guess because I can't cry myself. It's probably my biggest failing as an actor, but I can't seem to do it. Sometimes I'll try to force the tears out, pushing and grunting like I'm constipated, but I just end up feeling trapped inside my skin and desperate to get out. So instead I sit like this with Aunt Glo, Guiding Light casting shadows on the wall behind us, while she cries for both of us.

* * *
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Reading Group Guide

1. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE has been described as “if David Sedaris had re-imagined THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.” Do you think the analogy to THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is appropriate and, if so, how?

2. The book is set in the fictional bedroom community of Wallingford, NJ. Could it have been set in another part of the country and, if so, where and why?

3. The story takes place in 1983-84, Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.” How do you think the Reaganite atmosphere affects the behavior of the characters? How are today’s teenagers different from those in the 1980s and how do you think they would act in similar circumstances?

4. During the book, Edward is confused about his sexuality. What do you think of this confusion? Is he straight, gay or bisexual? How does his sexuality impact his plans and schemes?

5. In most classic coming of age stories, the parents are either absent, unavailable or dispensed with quickly. (Think of Holden Caulfield, Huck Finn and Harry Potter.) What is the point of having the parents be absent and what do you think would have happened if Edward’s parents had been around?

6. What role do the supportive adults (Aunt Glo, Mr. Lucas and Kathleen) play in Edward’s life?

7. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE is in development at Columbia Pictures to become a major motion picture. Who do you see playing the characters?

8. Edward and his friends are obsessed with musical theater. What do the musicals discussed (GREASE/A CHORUS LINE, PIPPIN/YENTL) illustrate about the characters?

9. When Edward visits Mr. Lucas’ apartment, Mr. Lucas talks about how books gave him a reason to live after his accident (“I kept reading, just to stay alive. In fact, I’d read two or three books at the same time, just so I wouldn’t finish one without being in the middle of another–anything to stop me from falling into the big, gaping void”). What do books and reading mean to you?

10. Throughout the book, other works of literature are referenced (OEDIPUS REX, ANTIGONE, HAMLET, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, DAVID COPPERFIELD, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN and GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN) How do these works relate to the themes in HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE?

11. Throughout the book, various religious elements are present (a Buddha, a New Age mom, nuns and priests; Edward even plays Jesus in GODSPELL). Discuss the relevance of the religious imagery and its significance

12. Along the same lines, discuss the relevance of Frank Sinatra.

13. In Greek drama, a deus ex machina refers to the entrance of a god (on a piece of stage machinery) who uses his divine powers to solve all the mortals’ problems. HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE contains a very intentional deus ex machina. How does it relate to the themes of the book?

14. The complicated plot is set in motion by Edward’s overwhelming desire to be an actor. But, after reading the book, do you think Edward would be successful as an actor?

15. Is there a moral to HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2004

    PRE PRINTING REVUE BY BOOK REVIEWER

    THIS BOOK PRACTICALLY MADE ME INCONTINENT. I LAUGHED SO HARD I HAD TO CHANGE MY UNDERWEAR TOO MANY TIMES. THIS WRITER IS A GEM, A ONE IN A LIFETIME TALENT, WITH A GIFT FOR COMEDY THAT IS UNIQUE BEYOND BELIEF. THERE IS AN OLD JOKE IN SHOW BUSINESS ABOUT TIMING, THIS WRITER COULD HAVE WRITTEN A NEW BOOK ON HOW TO TIME COMEDY WRITING SO THAT THE READER CAN NOT HELP BUT BURST OUT IN FITS OF LAUGHTER. I ENJOYED THIS BOOK, BY THIS NEW WRITER, AS MUCH AS I HAVE EVER ENJOYED ANY BOOK IN MY LIFE AND I HAVE READ COPIOUSLY. QUICK MR. ACITO WRITE MORE AND OFTEN.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2013

    NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

    Is this good for seven year olds. Answer this in a coment and name it to senen year old.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2009

    Comical fun for everyone!

    Marc Acito's comical, and easy to understand, writing style made this book fun and easy to read. He kept it on topic, and I was always eager to see what was next. I actually had to read this book for my high school senior english class. I'm not much of a reader, so i wasn't exactly looking forward to it. Luckily, Acito had an fun writing style that made it fun for people like me. The drama between Edward and his friends was awesome. Typical high school drama. This is one reason why I found this easy to read and connect to. There aren't many books that I can actually read, and not have to constantly put down, because of how boring they are. This was completely different. Edward being a bisexual drama student made a great character with a lot of personality. During numerous parts throughout the story, I actually found myself literally laughing out loud during class. Acito really did a great job of getting you to feel bad for Edward. Overall, I thought this was a great book with many laughs. People of all ages can read this without any problem. Many would even find connecting to the story very easy, because of all the high school drama. The only part I would consider changing is the ending. We were lead up to a big climax, and in the end, how Edward pays for college seems too simple and too easy. It seemeds a bit too dull, compared to the rest of the thrilling story. After finishing, I felt as if I were in Edward's shoes. I just wanted to sreeam,"AHH!"
    Great recommendation for ANYONE looking to get a fun read!!!!!!

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  • Posted July 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    wunderbar!

    this was one of the most thorougly enjoyable books i've read in a while. it was extremely clever. i laughed out loud very often. the characters are fantastic. such an original story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2008

    I can totally relate!

    This was a great book and I felt like I was part of the close friendship that Edward, Ziba, Kelly, Natie, and Doug had. Believe it or not I had this book lying around my house for like 2 years and just never had any urge to read it. But for some reason I picked it up the other day and could not put it down. I recommend it to anyone... bisexual, gay, straight, theater loving, or into anything. It was so funny and had a great portrayal of the 80's.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2006

    Loved it!!

    I loved this book, it felt like I was actually watching an 80's movie (a good one, mind you!) I'd love to read a sequel to this book, or any other novel by Marc Acito.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2004

    Beyond Fabulous

    One of the best novels I have read in sometime, I couldn't get enough of it. I was sad when I finished because I felt as if the characters had grown to be close friends. A definite read for anyone just looking for a good laugh and a chance to get a way.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2004

    You'll wish you went to High School with these people.

    I read an advance copy of this book, and couldn't get enough of it! Performers who read fiction on the performing arts are often disappointed by the lack of authentic detail and overall implausibility of the story line and characterization. This little gem manages to involve you in a compelling story, introduce you to sincerely likeable characters, present an ambience of cheesy 80's nostalgia, and give you a true taste of the musical theater experience - while making you laugh until cappuccino spurts out your nostrils. Don't miss it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2004

    Deeply moving AND laugh-out-loud funny¿a compulsively good read!

    Like Marc Acito, I grew up in the suburbs in the 1980s. While I retain many memories of that time, I never thought I could actually go back and inhabit my younger life ¿ until I read How I Paid for College (I was lucky enough to get an advance copy). Acito gets every detail, every mood right and the result is a book I read in just two sittings (I wish I could have done it in one!). His characters are particularly well done ¿ I feel like Edward is an old best friend. Even if the 80s weren¿t ¿your¿ era, you¿ll love this book for Acito¿s perfect sense of comic timing, ranging from dark to slapstick, and his light yet fearless touch with life¿s heartbreaking moments. This book is an absolute must!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2004

    Lisa Sloan, Quality Book Lover, May 5, 2004

    What a treat it was to read an advance copy of this novel! Whether you were part of the 'theatre crowd' in high school or just wondered what in the world they were up to, 'How I Paid for College' has elements all of us can identify with. It is laugh-out-loud funny, and each chapter leaves the reader wondering what these kids are going to think of next. Their antics are creative, to say the least, yet it all seems perfectly plausable. This is a great read and will make a wonderful gift for anyone who has the spirit of fun and friendship alive within them. It is certain to become a best-seller.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2004

    Hilarious!

    There are very few books in life that make you laugh out loud, and I predict this will be one. Because I work for a newspaper I got an advance copy and read it in one night. It's the kind of book you don't want to put it down -- it's so funny, and the characters' problems are so pressing and poignant, you are driven to find out what creative and hilarious means they use to solve them. They never disappoint. I especially laughed over the teenagers' acts of 'creative delinquency,' which I interpreted as desperate ways to somehow control an environment in which the all-powerful adults utterly ignore them, squelch them, or condemn them. The way the young people wrest power from the not-so-observant adults is both poignant and very funny. Another important aspect of this book: what happens when parents try to 'find themselves,' and the kids are left behind. Coping with wicked stepparents or parents who've disappeared in search of themselves is not typically comic material, but here it's handled with insight as well as wit. If you've ever been a disaffected youth (and who hasn't?), a sensitive misunderstood jock, a high school Theater Person, the brilliant geek, or anyone who dreamed big and had parents determined to keep you small, you'll find something familiar and amusing in this book. Oh yeah -- and there's lots of sex.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2004

    Don't miss this book

    I was fortunate enough to read an advanced copy of this 'sure to become a classic' tale of growing up in the 'burbs. The story, the characters and the entire premise takes the reader back to their carefree youth through a hysterical, easy-read. You'll find yourself laughing out loud and wanting more.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted November 27, 2011

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    Posted October 4, 2010

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    Posted March 23, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2009

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    Posted November 24, 2011

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    Posted August 18, 2011

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    Posted July 31, 2009

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    Posted July 14, 2011

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