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Authors: Laurie Gwen Shapiro

The Unexpected Salami: A Novel

BOOK: The Unexpected Salami: A Novel
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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill   1999

For my parents, Jeanette and Julius Shapiro, who offer wisdom and love at every bend.




When luck calls, offer it a seat.
—Yiddish proverb




1. Rachel: FLIGHT






4. Colin: CATALYST


5. Rachel: BATHOS


6. Rachel: LOW


7. Colin: TRAVEL


8. Rachel: THE HUMP








12. Rachel: THE HALFIES


13. Colin: LURE


14. Rachel: HAILSTONES












The assistant director called
“Roll it” and Phillip—done up in lime-green makeup and a pointy cap—began slinking toward the camera for the umpteenth time. “I’m bent and distorted,” he sang, “Like a gnome I’m contorted, Time beats the soles of my feet, Like the canvas of a drum …”

Then we heard the gunfire.

“Did it hit the lens?!” the record label’s bottom-line rep screamed. Phillip’s ditzy girlfriend, Kerri, vomited. Meanwhile, Doug Lang, the cinematographer and an old friend of Phillip’s, kept the camera rolling, catching footage of my insufferable roommate Stuart face down on the floor, blood gushing from his neck and chest, splattered on his dirty jeans and worn-out Nikes. Phillip tore across the street to a milk bar (the Aussie equivalent of a New York bodega) to call the cops. My mouth was frozen in an oval. Colin slipped his arm around me; it took me awhile to grasp that he was talking to me amid the mayhem.

“I said your visa’s a year expired, right? Get out of here!”


“The police will want to talk to you. Go back to the house! Your visa!” It was Sunday—the next tram might have been an
hour away. We heard the sirens coming, and Colin handed me the keys to his panel van. I’m a native New Yorker; I can hardly drive from the left side of a car, let alone the right side of this bizarre vehicle. My heart raced as I merged on to Nepean Highway. The car was a sweatbox from the scorching February sun, but who was going to search for an air-conditioning button when it was hard enough to remember which pedal was the brake and which was the petrol? A lane of cars honked at my lack of road skill.

Rachel: FLIGHT

I could have had
third-tier fame if I’d stayed in Melbourne—Rachel Ganelli, the Yank band moll who saw it all when the hit went down. When the media started zooming in on our St. Kilda house, I knew on the most instinctive level that leaving Australia was the right thing to do.

Stuart had been pleasant enough when I’d first met him two years earlier. He’d showed me how to make a warm German potato salad, and how the juice from the lemons in our yard could keep an avocado from turning brown. By the time of the filming, however, he was a strung out, fast-talking drummer who had long ago sold his set for cash; Phillip had already replaced Stuart with a new drummer, beer-guzzling Mick-O, who shared a house with his sisters in Spotswood. But then junked-out Stuart still lived with Phillip, Colin, and me in St. Kilda. I’d pleaded with the guys to kick Stuart off the lease before one of his ratbag friends smashed our windows. The original laid-back enchantment of the household, the perfect foil to my overachieving New York circle, was gone. I was bitching day and night about Stuart. Phillip was hostile toward the obvious attraction developing between Colin and me. And I no longer found Phillip’s fatuous personality amusing. I was
getting the urge to flee again, anywhere, possibly with Colin in my suitcase.

Phillip and Colin were the ones who wanted the fame: what perfect timing for an aging band. How convenient for Stuart to get shot in the middle of the Tall Poppies’ video shoot. He’d dropped by the video shoot to bum twenty dollars from Colin. Stuart’s habit gave him a funny odor; he smelled off, like old hand lotion. The day of the shooting I could hear him wheedling Colin even from where I stood in the back of the deserted sugar warehouse where they were taping the video.

“… You don’t reckon you could—I need, mate—I need—I need …”

“Get off my back, Stuart,” Colin said. All week Colin had been tense about the shoot. He was sure that the lighting on the Tall Poppies’ last video,
Red Rope Principle,
made his face look fat. “Why did you come here? We’re shooting the fucking film clip.”

“Come on. Give us a twenty. Just ’til Monday week.”

Colin sought refuge in the far corner of the set where Phillip and the director were talking about the next few frames of
. Stuart stood in pitiful strung out desperation in the center of the warehouse. Kerri sat cross-legged near the catering table. Her coarse blond hair, that Phillip valued so highly, looked particularly lustrous under the rented lights, like shellacked wood. She was laughing. You knew where Kerri was at every moment; her raucous laugh was the North Star of every Poppies’ get-together. I waved but Kerri didn’t see me.

• • •

Hours later back on
Robe Street, after the cold-blooded mob hit, Phillip burst through our front door. “Rachel, turn the tube on—you can’t believe what’s happened!” Confirmed. No one had seen me except Colin. I’d momentarily stopped by to give Colin my beige cover stick, to hide the stress-induced circles under his eyes for the video. Who would want to be a material witness?

Burglaries plague Melbourne, but gun crime, not to mention
crime, is hot copy. None of the locals could recall a death so gorgeously evil. Doug Lang’s footage opened the evening news. The day I left, two weeks later, a hastily edited version of
played in heavy rotation on Australian MTV.

My mother heard about the murder on a CNN segment, “An Extraordinary Murder Down Under,” and recognized the band’s name from my scarce letters. Luck has no logic. She treated the situation with downright sagacity. She didn’t harp on my lack of judgment in shifting continents to live with sexy guys I had found through the classifieds: three musicians in a house with a rehearsal studio in the garage. The phone fights about my running away and humiliating Will and his family, the deposit on the National Arts Club (a venue we scored through Will’s ancient Grandaunt Helen who painted still lifes of wheat and oranges), the flowers, and the booze were, thankfully, history. Mom promised that I could stay in our family apartment for six months free if I immediately came back to New York. She and Dad were willing to move down to their retirement condo in Florida, if that would get me home: “Get on that plane now before things get worse.”

The police had no idea that there were any witnesses other than the film crew, the band, and flaky Kerri. Colin had promised
to keep his mouth shut. The others still didn’t know that I had been in the back of the room. If I slipped away now, I could escape the limelight and keep my dignity. Escape to Manhattan, where no one cares who you are. There, everybody is a walking time bomb; it’s part of the city’s charm.

“And don’t worry about bumping into Will,” my mother assured me. “He called us a few months ago to see how Daddy and I were and to let us know he’d moved on. He’s okay with it now.” Of course he was. Will had been a perfect gentleman even when I blathered some incoherent excuse for my absence from across the equator. In my previous incarnation—science textbook harlot—Will had always insisted that he was “okay” with it, no matter what
was. He claimed he wasn’t even uncomfortable with my wearing super-sheer black stockings to acquisition meetings with physicists who could pass for my grandfather.

On my flight home
from Australia, I watched a love story set in the Brooklyn Hasidic community across the Williamsburg Bridge from my native Manhattan. Generations ago, men from half my bloodline davened, rocked and prayed, in
traditional ringlets of hair that run along ears.

A neurotic extra from a Woody Allen film, I struggled to open my airline peanuts, trying to divine if I was agnostic or atheist. After the closing credits, a Qantas video informed us that we were over Hawaii and had another nine hours to go.

My nose started to bleed from the dry air. “The perils of travel,” I weakly joked to the grandmotherly type next to me as she searched for tissues in her purse. The cute French-Canadian guy
on my other side found one in his back pocket. While my blood congealed, grandma told me that she was from Adelaide, the Australian “City of Churches.” Her name was Judith; she was an English teacher and a gambler en route to Vegas.

“Are you lucky?” I asked Judith, with a tissue wad in one nostril. “No one I know is very lucky.”

“Nonsense,” she smiled. “The ultimate win is that from millions of sperm, we have been born at all.” Her words had that distinct Australian cadence: the syllables had bumps in unexpected places, like homemade taffy. Non-
. Ul-ti-

Judith asked if I had enjoyed the film about the Jews. She wanted to know if I would like to read a newspaper clipping that she’d removed from her carry-on luggage. It was a book review of a top Christ scholar’s new tome.

“In ancient Hebrew,” the review began, “the word for carpenter was barely demarcated from the word for a learned man.”

“A comedy of errors!” Judith said after I handed back her clipping. “Christ never held a hammer in his life. He was a Rabbi.”

The steward asked us
to close our window shades, and the aisle lighting was shut off. My row of four fell asleep for the night. I woke up in the morning leaning on the shoulder of Francis, the beefy, blue-eyed, black-haired Canadian. He’d earlier told me that, like myself, he’d returned from several nomadic years Down Under. He lived up in Brisbane, working at a pancake restaurant in the Canadian Pavilion of the World Expo, and then picked mangoes on a Queensland orchard.

Francis smiled when he saw me open my eyes. “Bonjour.” I removed
my drooling chin from his sleeve. I apologized profusely, which he waved off with “Ce n’est rien,” it is nothing. There were three hours to go before we would land at LAX. Judith and the bearded man to her left were still asleep, wrapped up in their fuzzy gray airline blankets. Our steward served us breakfast and handed us customs declarations.

“Can you hand one to your girlfriend?” the steward asked, and Francis conspiratorially grinned at me. I felt altitudes above my two immediate pasts.

“And what do you have to declare?” Francis asked. I could smell the mint Chapstick he’d coated on his lips during the night. The scent reminded me of Will, who’d apply Chapstick in the air-conditioned jitney when he dragged me out to our Hamptons’ share, his antidote to our East Village studio on Avenue B. “I won’t live on the Upper East Side,” I’d insisted, although Will could well afford it. “Please, Will! Not where men wear green slickers with whale linings.”

BOOK: The Unexpected Salami: A Novel
12.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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