The Perfume Burned His Eyes

The Perfume Burned His Eyes

by Michael Imperioli
The Perfume Burned His Eyes

The Perfume Burned His Eyes

by Michael Imperioli


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Emmy-winning actor Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos, The White Lotus, etc.) brilliantly evokes 1970s New York in this Holden Caulfield–esque debut

"[T]he actor's first novel is a quintessential New York story: A teenager moves from Queens to Manhattan, discovering a world populated with drugs, sex, a witch, and Lou Reed. It's like a vivid walk through the city and adolescence, reveling in their grit and pathos."
New York Times

"Imperioli's first novel is the atmospheric coming-of-age story of sixteen-year-old Matthew, whose mother moves them from Queens to a posh apartment in Manhattan in 1976 . . . Imperioli can definitely write, and he gets high marks for the verisimilitude and empathy that he evokes in this fine crossover novel."
—Booklist, starred review

Matthew is a sixteen-year-old boy living in Jackson Heights, Queens, in 1976. After he loses his two most important male role models, his father and grandfather, his mother uses her inheritance to uproot Matthew and herself to a posh apartment building in Manhattan. Although only three miles away from his boyhood home, "the city" is a completely new and strange world to Matthew. 

Matthew soon befriends (and becomes a factotum of sorts to) Lou Reed, who lives with his transgender girlfriend Rachel in the same building. The artistic-shamanic rocker eventually becomes an unorthodox father figure to Matthew, who finds himself head over heels for the mysterious Veronica, a wise-beyond-her-years girl he meets at his new school. 

The novel is written from the point of view of Matthew at age eighteen, two years after the story begins, and concludes with an epilogue in the year 2013, three days after Lou Reed's death, with Matthew in his fifties.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781636140698
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 12/06/2022
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 109,081
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Michael Imperioli is best known for his starring role as Christopher Moltisanti in the acclaimed TV series The Sopranos, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award. He also wrote five episodes of the show; was coscreenwriter of the film Summer of Sam, directed by Spike Lee; and was anthologized in The Nicotine Chronicles, edited by Lee Child. Imperioli has appeared in six of Spike Lee's films and has also acted in films by Martin Scorsese, Abel Ferrara, Walter Hill, Peter Jackson, and the Hughes Brothers. He cohosts the rewatch podcast, Talking Sopranos, with his Sopranos costar Steve Schirripa, with whom he also penned the best–selling book, Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos. Additionally, he is a singer and guitarist in the band ZOPA. Follow him on Instagram: @realmichaelimperioli.

Read an Excerpt


On this, the 24th of July in the year 1977, in the Borough of Manhattan of the State of New York, being of sound mind and body, I ...

This was originally meant to be a last will and testament type of thing, maybe it still will be at some point. I don't know. Right now I just want to get as much as I can down on paper. I have been praised for this effort and told that it may bring me some clarity. I was not aware I lacked clarity or that the events described here were unclear, but that is what I have been told by people who are supposed to know about such things.

I have also been informed that this is a very difficult time in one's life and it's not uncommon for folks my age to find themselves in similar situations. This brings me no comfort, and I feel it is important for me to state that for the record. Even if the record is a shitty little ninety-nine-cent notebook.

With this in mind, I would like to start at the most logical beginning. Although to be technical, dear sirs or madams, my birth would be the most formal or official beginning, and even further we could trace things back to my parents — how they met, their courtship and marriage, my conception ... But I will spare you all those gory details and jump to the year when shit started to happen and people died and life as I knew it altered itself beyond recognition.

My parents split up a few days after the new year began so my dad hit the road in his shit-brown '72 Chrysler Newport. He had three garbage bags of clothes in the trunk and not much else.

I would never see him again.

In June, the day after I finished my sophomore year of high school, we found out he was dead. Legend has it that he checked out in an LA freeway pile-up that may or may not have been his fault. The facts of the terrible accident were never completely explained to me but in my gut I know it was him.

He was a reckless man who always let his emotions get the best of him and denied himself nothing. Driving at speeds over 110 miles an hour chasing down someone who dared to cut him off. Fucking half the women in Jackson Heights. Blowing eight thousand dollars of the family fortune on a lock at Belmont. I vowed I would never be an unfaithful husband, infidelity being something that I find unforgivable and repulsive. I also swore that when I eventually drove a car I would be patient and calm behind the wheel. I have yet to learn to drive nor have I ever placed a bet.

There was no funeral but my mother insisted I go to church with her one Friday to say a prayer in his honor. I went with her but I refused to say the prayer. Not after all the shit he put my mother through. Not after the disgrace and indignity she suffered on his watch. She deserved much better.

From what I could gather through eavesdropping, my mother would not accept possession of his ashes, despite her still being his legal wife. My dad had cut off all ties with his sister years ago, and she was his only living immediate family besides me and Mom. But Aunt Yol, short for Yolanda, was a falldown drunk and a professional whore who lived out of a car in Seattle or Portland or some Pacific Northwest territory and nobody was able to track her down.

I have no idea where his remains wound up nor do I care in the least.


I spent the first few weeks of that summer in my friend Willie's attic watching him smoke pot while listening to Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. Please do not read anything into that title; it was my album but I assure you I did not wish my dad was here or anywhere. I was fine with wherever he was.

Willie was my best friend at the time. He was also a big fat fuck. Like really very fat. Slob fat.

To maintain his level of obesity, every night around nine or nine thirty we'd walk over to Christy's on Northern Boulevard and eat cheeseburgers. Willie would sometimes eat two, but usually he would eat three. With double cheese, bacon, and fries. And one or two vanilla milkshakes. His record was four burgers, four orders of fries, and four milkshakes. This triumphant milestone of human achievement was reached on the fourth of July that same summer. Willie considered it an act of high patriotism.

Each time we went to Christy's, I would hope that we would luck into the-waitress-with-the-long-red-hair's station. I had a huge crush on her. One night, after we ordered our food I tried to strike up a conversation with her. I asked if she was just beginning her shift or if she was finishing up for the night. She didn't really answer me, she just smiled and said, "Cute," kind of under her breath.

I got hot and my face must have flushed red. I had given myself away; cards on the table. She knew how I felt now and I was glad.

This was a much bigger moment than it seems because it was so out of character for me. I was very, very shy around girls my age and downright petrified of older girls, even if they were only juniors or seniors at school. This was a whole other league: the-waitress-with-the-long-red-hair was in her mid-to-late twenties. She was a woman.

I don't know where the courage came from. Maybe all the stuff with my dad had given birth to a fuck it kind of attitude in me. I'm not really sure.

When she walked away from the table Willie was staring at me with his fat mouth big and dumb and open. It looked like a baby's mouth that had grown to premature adulthood through some sick, unholy scientific experiment. His tongue was wet and swollen. I assumed he was hungry and wondered if that's how his tongue always looked on an empty stomach.

I had never told Willie that I liked her or thought she was hot. She had never come up in conversation and the times she waited on us in the past I stayed cool and composed. Willie stared at me and I noticed that even his eyelids were fat. He looked at me, gargantuan mouth all slack, then craned his neck to look at her. She was behind the counter calling out our order to the little cook with the big mustache. Willie turned the column of flesh beneath his head back at me.

A high-pitched "Ha" came out of his hippo mouth, only it wasn't really a "Ha," it was more like an "Ah." Whatever it was, it was a laugh, specifically the kind of laugh you make when you want somebody to feel like an idiot.

"Don't tell me you like her."

I didn't say anything in return.

"She's hideous." This from an acne-picking sixteen-year-old, wide as he was tall. He looked at her again, then at me, and repeated: "She's hideous."

It was those two words that made me hate Willie forever. It was also those same two words that made me realize what a moron I had been hanging out with and that I owed it to myself to seek out some friends who had a brain that at the very least functioned with a standard level of human intelligence.

The-waitress-with-the-long-red-hair was beautiful. There's no doubt in my mind that she could have been in magazines or on television instead of filling the troughs of adolescent swine like Willie. She was a knockout; her appearance unique and unconventional. Tall with bold features, like the Greeks and Romans. A classical beauty. Special.

"Look at her eyes ... she's fucking bug-eyed. I think it's a birth defect. Maybe even a thalidomide case ... I'd check her for flippers."

He finally closed his mouth. He looked like a cheap comedian waiting for the audience to laugh. I wanted to punch the shit-eating smile right off his face. Willie was so fucking stupid. She had incredible eyes. They were big and blue and round. And when she looked at you they grabbed you and held you and said so much. Even if it was just for a second.

I was quiet for a long time. I just sat there poking the ice in my Coke.

"She's also like forty years old, Matt. She can change your diapers." He shook his head and let out another high pitched "Ha" or "Ah" or whatever the fuck it was.

My ears felt very warm. They must have been bright red. I just kept peering down at my Coke, playing with the straw, pushing the ice around my glass.

"To be honest, she's quite mannish. I wouldn't be surprised if she's got a cock and balls."

I never wanted to see Willie again. I wanted to grab the chicken drumsticks from the table of the next booth and shove them down Willie's throat. I'd hold them in place till he turned blue then force him to apologize to the-waitress-with-the-long-red-hair. But I just sat there and chewed on some ice.

She brought us our dinner. It was a three-burger night for Willie. I couldn't look at her and I sure as fuck couldn't look at Willie. He had this smug smirk across his face. He could barely contain himself. After she put our food on the table she paused for a second — I think she was waiting for me to look at her. I'm sure Willie was waiting for me to look at her too.

"Do you boys have everything you need?"

Willie snorted through his nose and coughed up some milkshake. Then he looked up at her. "I'm fine but my friend here may need something. Do you need anything, Matthew?"

He never called me Matthew. My head and neck were on fire and my legs were shaking. I shook my head; no, I didn't need anything except to smash this whole plate over my best friend's head and watch him bleed to death, buried in cheeseburgers, ketchup, and french fries.

"Okay then, enjoy your burgers."

She walked away and Willie burst into laughter. His head was bobbing up and down like the blow-up Bozo punching bag I had when I was little. You'd punch him as hard as you could and he'd hit the floor and come back up only to get punched hard again. If only ...

I was hoping his bobbing head would land his face right into his food and that it would be scalding hot and cook the flesh right off, leaving it sitting on his dish like bacon; but no such luck. His laughter subsided and he started doing what he did best: stuffing his mouth with cheeseburger.

It was always unpleasant to watch him eat but that night it was unbearable. He always chewed with his mouth open and made these disgusting smacking sounds as his tongue sucked the food off the roof of his mouth. I was sure I was going to puke any second.

"You eat like a cow."

I couldn't believe the words came out of my mouth. I am not a very confrontational person. I usually let things go, but something had happened to me. The fuck it thing had definitely begun to take over.

"And you know less about women than I do, and I admit I know hardly anything. She's a beautiful woman but you're just too stupid to see that."

Willie stopped chewing. He closed his mouth.

I was on a roll and kept going: "You have shitty taste in music ... and you laugh like a little girl."

He looked at me with surprise, as if he wasn't sure if I was joking or not. I saw a little fear cross his eyes. Then he took a huge bite of cheeseburger and started chewing with his mouth wide open. Smacking the food between his palate and tongue in a loud, exaggerated way and staring right at me. Food flew from his mouth onto my plate.

And then I did it. I reached across the booth, grabbed the back of his head, and slammed his face into his plateful of food. He let out a muffled shriek, a very feminine-sounding cry. I didn't let him pull his head back up for a few seconds. When he finally surfaced his face was smeared with grease, cheese, and ketchup, and there were fries stuck to his nose.

It was beautiful. A work of art worthy of Pollock or Picasso. I was very proud. I got up and walked to the counter as he started cursing at me. I handed my waitress-with-the-long-red-hair a tensky and told her to keep the change. Then I looked into her big blue eyes and winked. She smiled, her wide mouth revealing gorgeous white teeth, the top front two with a big gap between them. I walked out onto Northern Boulevard and despite the heat of that July night, I was cool. I was Steve McQueen.


Excerpted from "The Perfume Burned His Eyes"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Michael Imperioli.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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