The following is an excerpt from the novel A Strange Commonplace by Gilbert Sorrentino, published by Coffee House Press.
and their lost children on gray and hopeless Saturdays: after the puppet shows and the botanical gardens, the parks, the zoos and rowboats; after the ice-cream sodas and hamburgers, the hot fudge sundaes and roller coasters, the Yoo-hoos and Shirley Temples; after the loose change pressed into the dirty, sticky little hands, the dollar bills; after the museums and museums and museums and pony rides, the Cracker Jacks and new sneakers and toy fire engines and dolls and hair ribbons and plastic barrettes; after the thin fake smiles and the small talk with the wives’ understanding and kind and reliable new boyfriends, the sharp words about meager child support and clothes for school; after ruining their shoes in the rain, after their sodden overcoats, the dark bars where nobody knows them but where the children get their 7-Ups on the house; after the introductions to Graces or Mollies or Annes or Elaines or Lindas or Charlottes or Anybodies dressed so as to look serious, so as to look like Moms, to look like Somebodies who could be Moms, who were just like Moms, just as good as Moms; after the long nights later over whiskey and beer and worries about how nothing had gone right; after the movies, the ice-cream parlors, the diners, the melted cheese sandwiches, the pizzas, the aimless walks; after the friends who say how big the children are getting, how pretty, how smart; after the long trips back to the wives’ little apartments in Bensonhurst or Washington Heights or Bay Ridge or Marine Park or Park Slope or the Lower East Side or Sunset Park or Brighton Beach, Ozone Park, Kew Gardens, anywhere; after the buses and the penny arcades, the boardwalks and amusement parks, the hot dogs and lost gloves and scarves and hats; after the boredom and tears and silences and bewilderment, the cheap souvenirs; after Snow White and Dumbo, Pinocchio and Tarzan and Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck; after the Neccos and Charms and Nibs and Black Crows and Baby Ruths and Milky Ways and Mounds; after the quarrels in hateful whispers because they were back too late or too early or because the children were too tired or over-excited or spoiled again, as usual; after the rages over who had been at fault, who had stopped caring about anything; after the old accusations of adultery and gambling, drunkenness and abandonment, withdrawal and frigidity and contempt, nights with phony friends, days with venomous bitches, yes! on the phone; after the discoveries of other men’s clothes in the closets, shoes, razors and after shave in the bathroom; after the nights watching television, playing records suddenly disliked, held in contempt, hated; after coming across old gifts given them by once-young, once-passionate, once-loving, once funny and warm and caring women who had been, was it possible? their wives; after shouting and cursing and blaming and suffering; after meandering affairs with secretaries and office assistants and receptionists, widowed or divorced neighbors, waitresses and God knows how many faceless unhappy women met at bars and parties and weddings and, Jesus, wakes; after the unbearable old photographs with their images of contentment and joy and love and now-harrowing smiles of optimism and hope and endless and wonderfully stupid youth; after all this, after walking from the subway in the rain, it seemed always in the fucking rain; after all this, the doomed, the hated Saturdays, again and again, the fathers remembered, in a dazzle of candor, the specific moments when the last tenuous links between them and their restless and distracted children began to dissolve, disintegrate, remembered their children in the act of fading away from them, fading into their actual lives: to which the fathers had no access, of which the fathers knew nothing at all and never would.
The fathers would sit with their beer and their whiskey, their Camels or Luckies or Chesterfields, their crossword puzzles and sour jingo political columns and imbecile horoscopes and righteous editorials and think about the time when they were not expected to be anything but simply alive. Alive and waiting for the glittering future: of beautiful wives and happy children and perfect lakes and summers and long vacations and bright beaches. And the absurd, wholly impossible bliss that awaited them, a thing of beauty.
—from A Strange Commonplace by Gilbert Sorrentino. Copyright © 2006 by Gilbert Sorrentino. Published by Coffee House Press: www.coffeehousepress.org. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.