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"My father’s body was found floating facedown in the waters off Chappaquiddick. Naturally, everyone assumed a Kennedy did it." Well, perhaps not everyone, as Graydove Hoffenstein, the Native American Jewish heir to a parking meter empire discovers after his mother, Celeste Garrison Hoffenstein, is arrested and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband, Colin Lightfoot Hoffenstein. But Gray believes in his mother’s innocence, as does his sister Chaka, who arranges a seance at the family’s Martha’s Vineyard home with the renowned -psychic Brenda Cloudholder, who arrives in a Yugo driven by her spookily mysterious chauffeur, Derderva. So begins Steven Cooper’s rollicking tale of love, murder and ghosts, where skepticism meets spiritualism, ghosts communicate using lemons and Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive," and family eccentricities hold the key to just about everything. As Gray tries to juggle both a police investigation and Brenda Cloudholder’s increasingly weird communications with the afterlife, he has problems beyond getting his mother out of jail. His best friend, Stevie, has begun dating Gray’s younger sister Skye; his Puerto Rican boyfriend, Pedro, has decided to become a woman named Carmen Cuernevaca; and his sister Chaka has decided to become black. With You in Spirit charms and delights as it races toward a resolution, which is not just rewarding but deeply moving as well. Steven Cooper’s debut novel is an uproarious blend of mystery and camp humor that will have you begging for a sequel.
Steven Cooper is an Emmy award-winning television journalist who currently serves as the anchor for the "Problem Solver" and "On Your Side" daily segments for WKMG-TV in Orlando, Florida. A native of Boston, he has been an on-air personality for WGGB-TV in Springfield, Massachusetts, and KNXV-TV in Phoenix. He now lives in Orlando.
Gay men have good skin because they discover moisturizers very early in life.
If the Bionic Woman were truly bionic, she would have had a bionic vagina and her orgasms would have knocked California off the Richter scale. (This knowledge is something I extract from my precocious childhood and those early, perhaps premature, lessons Mother taught us about reproductive health, always predicated by her insistence that, where women are concerned, orgasm is a right, not a privilege.)
Black is beautiful.
So are children.
Other than that, I cannot say. I have learned not to believe too much else. I work in an accounting office with a pool of women who wear perfume I would never have bought my mother. My mother is an elegant woman with elegant features, cheekbones galore, Bette Davis eyes, just the right hand gestures, and priceless jewelry that dangles from her Swan Lake neck. She is the Leona Helmsley of municipal parking, having inherited her family's business, which supplies parking meters to curbsides around the world. She is Palm Beach in the winter, St. Moritz in the spring, the Vineyard in the summer, and wherever she feels like in the fall.
But now she's in jail for murdering my father.
And I know she didn't do it. I believe it's my job to prove it. That's why I'm here. To tell the truth.
Unlike most in my generation (born 1965, lost virginity at seventeen, experimented with drugs at eighteen, repented at twenty, and moved on) I am not a wholehearted Kennedy-basher. Besides, my father's death (murder?) happened during an election year. The Kennedys were busy.
So was Mother. She was out searching for Father the same ghoulish evening that, according to the medical examiner, he died. He had gone out for a drive or a walk after one of their heated arguments (I'm not sure what the argument was about, and Mother isn't telling); I think Mother had even thrown a bottle of vintage wine at him, which stained my poor father with bloodlike splatter, though he hadn't even been cut, of course, the broken glass landing in jigsaw-puzzle pieces well behind him. He was unhurt but very angry and quite soiled, so he took off in a huff. A mating ritual, I suspect.
Mother, the elegant Celeste Garrison Hoffenstein (affectionately known as Cele to her tony cronies), was seen driving around town in both a rage and a Range Rover, and, unlucky for her, near the water.
The police, of course, discovered the broken bottle of wine while searching, warrant in hand, the Hoffenstein house, known as Sea Valley in certain social circles because of the way it expansively occupies a sloping cleavage between two mounds of sand dune and cliff. (I call it Entre Tetas, meaning, in Spanish, "Between Tits.") What the police never did find was the object that smashed my father's skull (the medical examiner had ruled the cause of death as "severe trauma to the head, caused by an object of blunt force"), but they did find blood on my mother's hands, which they refused to believe was her own, caused by her careless and spastic way of clearing the dining room floor of broken glass. She had cut herself, of course, and bled. There was blood on the doorknobs of Entre Tetas and blood on the steering wheel of Mother's Range Rover. But would it have made any difference if police had believed her story about the broken glass? I don't think so. Mother and Father shared the same blood type. The blood on her hands might as well have been my father's.
And don't get me started about DNA. Suffice it to say that judges in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts love to hate DNA evidence much the way I love to hate judges across the state (except Judge Romero Pontiac de Corona, with whom I used to sleep until he left me for a twenty-three-year-old trophy boy who rode horses, and apparently judges, rather deftly; there are no hard feelings, of course, when you consider that Romero introduced me to the current love of my life and left me with a very good recipe for paella).
The important thing is this: I believe Cele. I wasn't there, of course. This is all her account. But I believe her. Father had been acting oddly, keeping to himself, mumbling about ghosts and lesbian detective novels, and going off for long business trips to third world countries where municipalities don't worry about parking meters since few people can afford private cars.
"So why waste your time?" I would ask him.
He would simply shake his head and maybe shrug.
My father, Colin Lightfoot Hoffenstein (his mother was a Native American, his father a Jew who fled the Nazis), was a good man. He rarely barked at us children (there are four of us), and the only time he raised his voice to Cele was over business matters, and this never really bothered me; I found it amusing to hear two adults, two accomplished and incredibly civilized and aristocratic adults, scream at each other about parking meters. Colin was solid. A big man with big hands and wide shoulders, a hearty John Wayne face-save for the Indian eyes and quasi-Jewish nose-and a pile of thick white hair that even when he died at sixty-six had not receded. He wasn't fat, just large and imposing, but his voice was soft as a purr. My mother wore the claws in the family. She was the lion. She had to be. The survival of her family and her family business depended on her. Hear her roar.
Too bad the board of directors didn't.
She was the only dissenting vote when the board, two years ago, voted to have me thrown out of the corporation. My family's corporation. How dare they? Well, rumors abounded-how, I'll never know-that I'd been bedding down all sorts of municipal officials in order to land lucrative contracts for our company's parking meters. Simply untrue. Of course, if I'd been a female and had landed on the faces of any of those very same board members, I'd have been tenured and given a delightful raise. But no, rumors were fabricated to oust me, the unabashed homosexual (that's unabashed, not flagrant or flamboyant), from the company that my own mother nourished like another child at her breast, to rid the board of the dirty image of man and man, dick in anus. My mother screamed, she hollered and shouted; she pummeled the large conference table with her fists and flung her legal pad like a Frisbee across the room. It did no good.
And so I picked myself up by my jockstrap and took all the accounting skills I love to hate to the firm of Meyer & Meyer. Perhaps it was fate, perhaps just a homocosmic joke on the rest of the world that the biggest client I should be assigned to would be King Products, makers of Sensuale Condoms, many of which I've used while gliding up the asshole of my partner, Pedro (the current love of my life), who, incidentally, thinks it ridiculous that I should attempt to find the truth behind the death of my father. Then again, Pedro thinks a lot of things are ridiculous, like cleaning the house, driving with a valid license, and keeping his flatulence to himself. But after six years I figure I love him.
"Gray? Are you coming?"
That's him now. He's not the most patient man in the world, but then again, I'm not the most prompt. We're late for the opera because I've been staring in the mirror wondering whether or not in my mid thirties I'm a strong candidate for Botox. Probably not. But aging in a gay world that adores youth is a hard thing to do.
Pedro is two years younger than me, which he reminds me of quite often. He says he has more energy, a clearer mind, and a harder dick because of his youth. I remind him, in turn, that two years does not constitute a generation gap and that he ought to stop behaving like a hemorrhoid. He's six-one, dark and fit. Not overly muscled, not underly tanned. His eyes are green and he is, indeed, hung like a horse. And I say this with no disrespect to my own horse, Capture (Capture This! at competition, Cap or Cappie when we're alone together, Fucking Asshole when he won't cooperate), who is also hung like a horse.
"Graydove, do you hear me?"
"Yes, I do, Pedro, and don't call me that."
I don't much like when people use my formal name. I love the name, but it suggests my parents were, perhaps, trying pretentiously to be erudite when filling out my birth certificate, when really all they wanted was for at least one of their children to honor, if not represent, a family ancestry. Graydove comes from my Native American grandmother, and I'm proud of that, but Gray is fine with me. If I were born a girl I was to be named simply Dove. Like the soap-excuse me, beauty bar.
"We're going to be late," he whines.
"We already are," I say, and I hear, moments later, Pedro mimicking me in a child's voice down the hallway. We already are, we already are.
"What opera are we seeing?" I ask. For the life of me I can't remember. I'm distracted so often now. My mind constantly wanders down the serpentine roads of my imagination, hoping to find Father hitchhiking my way.
"You know," he says, joining me in the hall, patting my behind. "Carmen."
"Not La Traviata?"
"What's the difference?"
I look at him in disbelief. "I'm wearing Italian cologne," I tell him. "I like my cologne to match the opera."
Pedro laughs and kisses my cheek. His sexy shadow of a beard lightly scratches my face. "You're too much of a fag."
But really I'm not. I'm just enough.
I did not come out here for this.
I did not feign laryngitis and raspily tell my boss I couldn't come into work, drive my car all the way to Falmouth, park it on the ferry, and arrive some three hours after leaving Boston at the crowded docks of Vineyard Haven only to be ignored by some half-brained, small-dicked, pockmarked townie cop. I am the bereaved. My father has been dead only a year.
"I will not be ignored," I announce to the detective.
He smiles. "We're not ignoring you, Mr. Hoffenstein. We simply have other things on our agenda. You should have made an appointment."
"No," I correct him, "you should have made an appointment. You should have taken a statement from me before you arrested my mother."
The detective shakes his head. "You were on the mainland. You have no idea what happened the night of your father's death. You have no alibi for your mother."
"This is shoddy police work!" I immediately regret saying this, knowing how suburban housewife it sounds.
"I'm sorry," he says. "The district attorney's office and the state police are in charge of the case now. I suggest you speak to them."
"Fine," I say, making a dramatic soap opera-like turn for the door.
He stops me.
"Heading to Sea Valley?" he asks.
I sneer. "God, no. It's November. The house is closed for the season."
He looks puzzled.
"What is it?" I ask.
"Well, I'm not sure. But I swear I've seen lights on in the west wing. And I even think there's been smoke coming out of the chimney. Maybe one of your siblings is in town."
"I don't think so. They hate it here in the off-season. Too damp, too raw."
"Oh," he says. "Well, maybe you'd better go give it a check."
"Maybe," I say.
"Hey, Gray," he calls to me again. "What's that cologne you're wearing?"
I lean against the door, open it, and before I pass through I turn once again and say, "Nautica."
I drive away from the tiny police station, not knowing what to do. I have to make the last ferry back to Falmouth, or I'll be forced to stay the night at a local inn, or maybe even open Entre Tetas for the night and crawl up to my old room and pull out blankets from the storage closets. That idea does not appeal to me. But the feeling that something or someone is lurking about my parents' Chilmark estate has me bothered and unsettled.
I think about the murderer. The real murderer. Whoever it was that obliterated Father. That person is still out there, lurking somewhere in the shadows of justice, maybe even in our kitchen eating from a box of saltines left over by a guest who had become nauseated on the ferry (it happens).
I consider stopping by Carly Simon's house. I don't know Carly. All these years my family has occupied one of the grandest homes on the island and we've never met its resident star. But I figure now is the time. I think the story of Father's death would make a great song.
I turn toward her driveway but then ask myself, "Gray, what the fuck are you doing? You have an intruder at Entre Tetas and here you are trying to win a Grammy!"
I'm stunned with shame and spin the wheel faster than a tornado and race for Chilmark.
And when I get there I see that, sure enough, the west wing lights are on, burning Halloween orange in those deep, dark rooms. And the chimney is puffing out, exhaling ghost-like wisps of smoke into the night.
A massive stroke had killed her.
We heard a couple of thuds and looked at one another and said, "What was that? What was that?" Nobody got up. The family, those of us who were home, was gathered for a screening of Pink Flamingos, a movie my parents insisted was an art film. I was seven. When I said I wanted to grow up to be a director just like John Waters, they didn't blanch. They simply said, "Parking meters. Your future is in meters." Of course, I gave up the John Waters notion as soon as I saw Divine eat shit. That was no laughing matter; fecal matter, maybe, but nothing to laugh about. It wasn't until my brother got up to get us all a refill of chardonnay and some Rice Krispies treats that we realized something awful had happened.
"I think Juliet is dead," he announced as he returned to the family room.
My mother chortled. "Huh! Pour the wine and sit down," she ordered.
My father snickered. "Now, kids, only one more glass for each of you ... and no slurping!"
We loved wine.
"Mother! Father! I'm serious," my brother cried. "I found Juliet lying on the bathroom floor."
"Is she still there?" my mother asked in a dull whisper, her eyes never moving from the screen.
Excerpted from WITH YOU IN SPIRIT by STEVEN COOPER Copyright © 2003 by Steven Cooper
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted September 5, 2003
Wonderful! A great escape from reality -- only a jounalist with Cooper's experience could come up with such an interesting set of twists and turns. There is far more to this book than an author's creative imagination. Makes me wonder what the movie title will be!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.