“A biting, darkly hilarious collection of personal essays that begs to be read aloud.”—Chicago Tribune
Emmy Award–winning writer Adam Resnick began his career at Late Night with David Letterman before honing his chops in movies and cable television, including HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show. While courageously admitting to being “euphorically antisocial,” Resnick plunges readers deep into his troubled psyche in this uproarious memoir-in-essays. Shaped by such touchstone events as a traumatic Easter egg hunt and overwrought by obsessions, he refuses to be burdened by chores like basic social obligation and personal growth, adhering to his own steadfast rule: “I refuse to do anything I don’t want to do.”
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 by Adam Resnick
An Easter Story
There was Patrick Swope’s eighth birthday party, a sleepover at Jeff Kay’s, and a backyard carnival for muscular dystrophy at Tony Geisinger’s—a flurry of affairs over a two-week period that pretty much sealed my fate. The condensed timing of these events and my refusal to attend every one of them highlighted a pattern of behavior that my mother had long been concerned about: I didn’t like to socialize with other kids. By the time an invitation arrived for an Easter party at Eddie Hoke’s, I knew I was screwed. She told me in no uncertain terms I’d be going and that was that. “You don’t want to get a reputation as a kook,” she said. “The neighborhood already has Greg Peifer.” Greg Peifer was an older boy who lived up the street, a schizophrenic who had a habit of leaving bottle caps filled with urine in people’s mailboxes, sometimes accompanied by a piece of Scripture.
While I’ve never claimed to be one of those happy, well-adjusted types, I was certainly no Greg Peifer. I simply had an aversion to social interaction with my peers. Sure, I had a few friends whose company I enjoyed in measured doses, but in general I found kids to be off-putting, especially in second grade. Boys were obviously the worst. I couldn’t stand the way they shouted all the time, hated their cretinous obsession with weaponry and construction vehicles, and was never a fan of the whole make-a-fart-sound-with-your-armpit thing. Sadly, I had little choice in the matter; it was an experience mandated by the state. What I really resented, though, was being roped into hanging around kids beyond the required hours of school. Everything in their homes nauseated me; the furniture, the pets, the fucking boat in the garage, and the way their moms tossed out words like “hamper,” “pantry,” and “coverlet.” Their milk was made from powder and the toilet water was blue. Assholes! It’s all burned into my brain— from Rob Ecker’s dad cutting his birthday cake with a pocketknife to the Folletts’ use of baby food jars as drinking glasses. Christ, Andy Boyle’s grandmother actually lived with him. Grim.
The day of the Easter party closed in like a lurking predator, and I began feeling more trapped by the minute. But my wheels were turning. Abdominal deception had freed me from more childhood obligations than I can remember. It got me out of Sunday school, saved me from visiting my aunt Shirley in Dillsburg, and allowed me to dodge Hello, Dolly! at the Hershey Theatre. Unfortunately, the stomachache gag had grown shopworn with the old lady and could no longer be relied on. I had roughly a week to build some credibility.
I eased into it, complaining of mild queasiness on Monday after school. By Tuesday morning I spoke of an unusual ringing in my ears, which I likened to sleigh bells. Wednesday I tripped over the dog, claiming I thought it was a spot on the rug. At dinner on Thursday I stared at my hand for ten minutes before uttering in a flat voice, “Where is Grandpa buried?” By the time I shuffled out the door Friday morning, blowing my nose like a baggy-pants comic in a doctor sketch, my mother was applauding from the front porch. “Bravo!” she called out. “Encore! Encore!” I sharply told her that if she didn’t believe I was sick, the school nurse would. That got her attention—if the nurse confirmed an illness, especially of a mental variety, it would reflect badly on her parenting skills. So we split the difference and she gave me a note to stay in at recess. In other words, she blinked. She opened her mind to the possibility that perhaps I really wasn’t feeling well. All I had to do now was feign a seizure on Saturday and it was a done deal. The Hoke Easter party would have to muddle through without me.
Karen Milojevich had been the object of my fascination since kindergarten. She was a cute little knock-kneed girl with a crooked smile and copper-colored hair usually kept in uneven braids, one fatter than the other. Like me, she was as pale as a lightbulb, indicating an aversion to fresh air and the outdoors. But her magnificence didn’t end there. She rarely interacted with the other kids and often appeared lost in her own thoughts. One time, from a distance, I observed her standing alone by a tree in the playground. Her lips were moving, mouthing words, but no one was there.
She was perfection.
And now, for the first time, we were alone: sitting two rows away from each other in an empty classroom during recess. She, retaking a quiz on long vowels, and me, captivated by the ink-stained rubber band that held her pigtail (the fat one).
Karen finished the exam and placed her pencil on the desk. “That was easy,” she offered cheerfully with a half glance in my direction. I swiftly replied, “Yeah, sometimes the hardest tests are the easiest,” which didn’t really track, but sounded supportive. She stared out the window.
“Too bad you had to miss recess,” I threw out.
She considered this for a beat, and responded wistfully, “Yes, but . . . recess can be so stupid sometimes.”
I decided to take her point a step further, stating bluntly, “I hate the sound of children playing.”
Even from the back of her head I could make out that enchanting cockeyed smile. I nearly fell out of my chair when she announced she’d been invited to Eddie Hoke’s Easter party on Sunday. A weary sigh followed and she turned to me.
“Are you going?”
When my mother observed me in fine health and high spirits, she was disturbed. It was the day before the party— why wasn’t I moping? Where was my pre-party bitterness? Shouldn’t I be complaining of chest pains or something? When I informed her of my desire to arrive at Eddie’s house extra early so I wouldn’t “miss out on any of the fun,” she sat me down for a series of questions: Did I get clocked by a baseball at school? Had I been fooling around with turpentine when the painters were here? Was I constipated? With her neurological and gastrointestinal checklist complete, she appeared satisfied—hopeful even. Moments later, I overheard her tell my father in a low but excited voice, “I think he’s finally turned the corner . . . mentally.” He advised her not to get her hopes up.
The Hoke affair turned out to be pretty much as advertised—a couple of picnic tables in the backyard with baloney sandwiches, lime Kool-Aid, and oily potato chips shimmering in the sun. An inflated pink bunny hung from a nearby tree as if it had been lynched. None of the bleak details mattered, though, because Karen was there. She was wearing a gingham dress with patches of yellow f lowers and black patent leather shoes. The braids were gone, in favor of a lopsided ponytail. As usual, she seemed shy and uncomfortable around the other kids, but I didn’t rush over to her. I wanted everything to happen naturally.
Before long, I found myself participating in relay races and other infantile theatrics that were an insult to my intelligence. Karen ran like an awkward bird, which I found delightful. At one point, Roger Boyce, who was flailing his arms like a spaz, ran his fat ass into a tree and started bawling. I looked over at Karen, who had her hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh. She saw me and nodded her head, as if to say, “Wasn’t that great? Wouldn’t it have been even better if he’d broken his neck?” What a gal, this Karen Milojevich!
At long last, it was time for the perfunctory egg hunt. Mr. Hoke, in full Rockefeller mode, grandly announced that one of the plastic eggs contained a dollar bill. Then he counted down from ten and fired a starter pistol into the air. Kids shrieked and scattered in all directions. I just stood there for a moment, stunned. Was the goddamn gun really necessary? I thought. My fucking ears were ringing.
Then I noticed Karen. She was waiting for me! Soon, we were at each other’s side, searching for eggs and laughing about how stupid it all was. We were united in our mutual disgust for everything other kids enjoyed. I suggested we do our best to find the dollar bill, merely to ruin things for everyone else. She liked the idea. And why wouldn’t she? She’d laughed at Roger Boyce.
Mr. and Mrs. Hoke stood in the yard, smiling and holding hands as Mr. Hoke urged us onward: “Keep looking! It could be anywhere! Put your thinking caps on!” I wanted to ask him where his thinking cap was when he’d blown my eardrums out. I suggested to Karen that we search inside the house, leaving the others to frisk bushes and step in dachshund shit. There was something about the way Mr. Hoke had said “It could be anywhere” that made me think the backyard was a ruse. We had a wise guy on our hands.
Inside the Hoke living room (which smelled like cabbage and Brylcreem), I immediately impressed Karen by finding an egg under the key cover on the piano. It contained only a couple of fuck-you jellybeans, but I was now more emboldened than ever. We discovered a few more duds under some cushions, and another one inside the refrigerator wedged between an open bowl of potato salad and a bottle of insulin. That cost us a few seconds as I dry-heaved over the sink.
After a thorough sweep of the upstairs bedrooms and a hallway linen closet lined with cat hair, we entered Mr. Hoke’s office. Mr. Hoke owned a furniture store in downtown Harrisburg, and the room was cluttered with junk like fabric samples and lamp brochures. The walls were dotted with family photos and a few shots of Mr. Hoke standing outside his store next to an old guy who looked like Groucho Marx.
We waded in.
His desk yielded nothing. The bookshelf was a bust. And the only things under the sofa were a broken domino and a dead Milk-Bone. Then I saw the filing cabinet. It was in the corner of the room behind a tall chair, practically unnoticeable. I was suddenly consumed with an overpowering sense of belief, as if I had been guided to this very spot. I knew the egg was in there. It was waiting for Karen and me—a symbolic confirmation of our eternal union. I was so excited I gave her a quick impulsive hug. It lasted no more than two seconds, but she didn’t resist. It was our planet now.
Operating on instinct, I opened the bottom drawer marked invoices. The folders inside were jammed tightly together and made a clacking sound against the metal frame, as if to say, “Welcome, pal!” By now, my confidence had Karen giggling with anticipation. She even rested her hand on my shoulder for a moment. I reached in to pull out a particularly thick file to see if the egg was underneath it, but it wouldn’t budge. Instead, my fingers inadvertently latched onto a loose document. It slid out with only minor resistance and was now in my hand. It wasn’t an invoice though. Or a brochure, or a card of fabric samples.
It was a photograph of a woman sucking off a horse.
Everything stopped. Over and over I tried to get myself to see something different, but the image remained true; as valid as the sound of Karen’s measured breathing behind my back. I turned around. She was gazing at the photograph with locked eyes, as if forced to contemplate something she’d always dreaded. Wordlessly, I quickly jammed the picture back in the filing cabinet. As I shut the drawer, I became aware of movement in the room. I peered over my shoulder just in time to catch a glimpse of Karen’s white ankle sock passing through the doorframe. Cheers erupted from outside. Groucho looked down at me, smirking. Someone had found the egg.
I was still in a fog the next morning. Even as I tried to eat my cereal, the air around me felt damp and murky. It had not been a dream: for a brief moment, on the anniversary of Christ’s resurrection, I held in my hand a photograph of a woman fellating a horse. A lone grungy piece of a mysterious puzzle. (Well, there was also Donald Whitman’s oft-told joke about a guy named Johnny Fuckerfaster, but that was more idiotic than disturbing.) What other secrets did adults have? What terrible things awaited me when I grew up? Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse than elementary school, this. There was only one person capable of understanding what I was feeling—someone who needed me right now as badly as I needed her. But in class that Monday, the day after the party, Karen Milojevich would not look at me. She would not catch my glance nor allow me to enter her line of sight. Not at recess, not in the cafeteria or the art room. For some incomprehensible reason, she appeared to be blaming me for what had occurred at Eddie Hoke’s house. This marked the first in a long line of personal experiences I would come to recognize as “the story of my life.”
June came quickly that year, and on the last day of school, Karen seemed to vanish into the clouds. There were no goodbyes. No explanations or tearful confessions. She was just gone. Not one word had passed between us since the Easter party.
I now viewed my life in two segments: before the horse picture and after. The more I tried to forget the image, the more I obsessed over it. It was a bell that could not be unrung, and I fixated on every horrific detail: the muddy field, the chubby woman with her bare knees lodged in the muck, and the weary look on the horse’s face as he gazed slightly off camera. What was he thinking? Was he staring down some distant road, hoping to see a cop? Or perhaps just conjuring the memory of a gentle mare he’d known in happier times.
The summer groaned forward like a mail truck overloaded with disturbing photographs from Denmark. Each day felt hotter and longer than the one before, and the sun grew blinding. I kept to myself mostly, avoiding the neighborhood kids. Occasionally I made an appearance at the township pool, where I’d find an empty corner and float facedown until I was obliged to flip over and breathe. Sometimes I found myself taking long bike rides and losing all sense of awareness. One day, I rode the whole way from the lumberyard to Goose Valley Road in a hailstorm and barely noticed. I remember passing the Hokes’ house one afternoon and seeing Eddie and Mr. Hoke playing catch in the front yard. They both waved to me, and Mr. Hoke called out, “Hey, there, stranger! Long time, no see!” I kept pedaling. Poor sweet dumb Eddie. If he only knew the old man like I did.
Sleep came hard during those months. Always, my mind drifted to Karen. Rumor had it she’d gone away to camp in the Poconos. It was too impossible to consider—camp involved activities and group interaction. Her parents must have slipped her some knockout drops and stuffed her into the trunk. Hours later, she probably woke up on a tennis court. If only I had been there to save her.
August died a hot miserable death, giving way to September, which proved to be equally hot and miserable. The doors of James Buchanan Elementary School creaked open like a giant brick oven, and once again I was surrounded by ape-children who would grow up to do things like name schools after shitty presidents. The classroom slowly filled with the usual suspects, who seemed to have changed very little since second grade. Roger Boyce was wearing a red bow tie, looking like a bloated ventriloquist dummy. He was already kissing Miss Oberholtzer’s ass, who sat behind her desk, silent and grim-faced, like some ancient hysterectomied toad. I quickly grabbed a prime seat in the back row.
It was there I waited for her.
Karen was the last student to enter the room, and my heart immediately sank when I saw her: she looked tanned and happy. I watched in horror as she eagerly chatted with other kids about her summer. Appalling words like “tire swing” and “lake” tumbled out of her mouth. My worst fears had been realized: she was now one of them. I waited, praying she’d look my way, and when she finally did (by accident), she acknowledged me with a courteous nod, as if I were someone she had vaguely known once. The profound connection we had shared last Easter was gone. I wanted to stab myself, but the little red scissors in my desk had rounded edges.
As fate would have it, the first birthday party of third grade turned out to be Karen’s, in October. To my knowledge, it was the first time she’d ever held such an event. The entire class was invited; I was just part of the head count. Still, I had never wanted to attend anything more in my life. I’d already decided it would be there that I’d confront her about last spring and what we’d seen at Eddie Hoke’s house. The photograph had put us both under some kind of spell, like characters in a Grimms’ fairy tale, and I needed to save her as much as I needed to save myself.
The party was noisy and crowded, and my plan seemed doomed from the start. I was alone in the kitchen, hiding from musical chairs, when the moment unexpectedly arrived. Karen walked in, giggling to herself about something, and opened the refrigerator. When she closed the door, she saw me lurking in the back corner of the room next to the cat bowls.
“Can I talk to you?” I said.
She stood motionless, holding a bottle of Wink soda. After a moment, she shrugged her shoulders. Finally! We were communicating again. I had to choose my next words very carefully. I had to take her back in time, before everything had changed, before we saw what we saw. Did I detect a hint of that old crooked smile creeping across her face?
“Kaaaren! Time to open presents!” It was the spiky voice of her grandmother calling from the living room. There was a brief stillness in the kitchen. Karen regarded me for a moment with a faint look of pity, shrugged her shoulders again, and hurried out.
As a chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” filled the air, scraps of wrapping paper fluttered aimlessly through the Milojevich living room like dying birds. The final present was the largest, and Karen tore into it fiercely, shredding the Peanuts-themed paper until only a portion of Violet’s scalp remained. Her eyes grew wide, and the squeal she emitted was pure and joyful. She lifted herself from the floor and raised the box high in the air, like Moses revealing the tablets. Behold! Barbie and Her Magic Horse, “Dancer”!
My gaze fell on her smile. It was perfect, without a trace of imbalance. Then up the stairs she went with her treasure, trailed by a parade of eight-year-old girls in crinkly dresses.
I was left alone with the boys. David Kitmer was smearing icing under his nose, pretending it was snot. Other kids followed suit. Karen’s grandmother lit up a Kent. And the safety switch in my head finally tripped off, suspending electrical activity in my brain. That would be my present—the greatest gift of all.
Many years later, when I was in ninth grade, the Hokes relocated to San Diego. By then, I rarely thought about Karen Milojevich or that long-ago Easter party. The whole matter had been nicely tucked away in the back of my mind, a little annuity guaranteed to fuck me up in ways I’d never be able to identify. So I was surprised by the incredible buoyancy I felt as I watched the moving van pull out of the neighborhood. It was in there somewhere probably, riding along in a box marked PAPERWORK: JERRY’S OFFICE—DO NOT OPEN. Maybe when the truck crossed the Arizona border, that peculiar woman would finally stop sucking—just long enough for the horse to kick his way out and run into the desert.
Table of Contents
An Easter Story 1
Booker's a Nice Guy 17
Playground of the Shrew 37
Scientology Down Under 55
The Panther 63
Substandard Risk 85
The Agitator Slat 109
The Porter's Screenplay 131
Boy 6 137
Blue Yodel No. 13 155
The Strand Bag 183
The Lion in Winter 195
A Fork in the Midway 211
Boy Refuses to Hold Frozen Turkey 227
The Sensodyne Lady 239
What People are Saying About This
“Adam Resnick doesn't merely summon the jaundice and surprise of early David Sedaris, his mini memoirs are unpretentious reminders of John Updike's everyman absurdities and Richard Ford's bewildered strivers. A biting, darkly hilarious collection of personal essays that begs to be read aloud.”
—Chicago Tribune (A Best Book of the Year, 2014)
“[A] gruff, wry paean to life’s indignities...essays here aren’t just stand-up skits but have actual plots—in which things go horrifically, uproariously wrong…Anyone who watches Larry David will be familiar with Resnick’s hearty style of tell-it-like-it-is meanness.
—Lisa Zeidner, The Washington Post
"An anti-social work of art."
“[A] dark, hilarious first book….Resnick is a guy thoroughly uncomfortable in his own skin, and he knows how to wring laughs and pathos out of that fact...[he] delivers his sad little histories with wit, insight and hilarious detail. [Like] kindred spirits Louis C.K. and Larry David, he just wants the rest of the world to see how stupid it all is.”
—Josh Modell, AV Club (A Favorite Book of the Year, 2014)
“A streak of self-loathing runs through these stories with the anti-social Resnick repeatedly finding himself struggling through a humiliating or deeply irritating experience. However, that trenchant quality is occasionally undercut by an almost subliminal level of sweetness….Resnick’s cynical sensibilities are surprisingly raw and consistently hilarious….Will Not Attend could very well be one of the funniest books released this year.”
“The essays reveal the potty-mouthed, definitely not politically correct, and totally opinionated author at the top of his game. He takes on Disneyland and the Disney philosophy with gusto while on the side using a family trip to destroy the relationship with his sister-in-law. His take on junk food is priceless (“Only a narcissistic asshole would consider his body a temple”). Readers will relish this book. Buy plenty.”
“The writing is sharp and sharp-tongued … the book is not for readers who are easily offended. The author’s aversion to just about everything paints him as nihilistic and cynical, but the subtle moments of genuine vulnerability remain the heart of every story. These moments prove redemptive for a character who sometimes feels beyond saving and shed light on how he developed such comically twisted viewpoints. A neurotic, unapologetic, hilarious collection.”
“Writing a collection of short stories is a very difficult thing to do. These Adam Resnick stories are great. You read one and think, that was so well done maybe I’ll read another. You think, the next one can’t be as good, and it’s even better. I hope you read this book. It’s funny, smart and thoughtful; and it’s funny, smart and thoughtful. I loved it. I think you will as well. Did I mention I loved it? Happy reading.”
“Having worked with Adam Resnick many years ago, I can easily recall he was a little nuts, but I completely forgot he was this talented and funny. Damn, this book is good.”
“Adam Resnick is one of the funniest writers I've ever known, and he proves it big-time in this acid-swaddled memoir. You will laugh reading this book, I swear to Christ Almighty. Adam comes by his misanthropy honestly and bravely—and his continued existence is a tribute to the soul-nourishing qualities of an unrelenting, unforgiving, and hilarious outlook. I will be reading this again and again for the rest of my life like it's the goddamn bible.”
“In the ideal film adaptation of Will Not Attend, second-grader Adam Resnick would be played by a four-foot-tall, fully adult homunculus Resnick, animated by a precocious despair, disdainful of cultural idiocy, and wearing the ever-present scowl of the perpetually put-upon. Undoubtedly, the child Resnick is father of the man Resnick. This is a very funny book, and I would pay decent money to see the movie version, or even to play it in the form of an extremely sad video game.”
“Adam Resnick is like an artist keenly observing the subtleties of light and shadow in the world around us—painting hilariously bleak portraits of the neighbors, friends, and family that we all know and love so dearly. He’s basically our generation’s Norman Rockwell, if Norman Rockwell had ever painted a woman sucking off a horse.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In his bold, raucously funny memoir, Adam Resnick dives head-first into his memories of childhood and adolescence and his recent experiences as husband, father, son of aging parents, neighbor, and citizen of a world that poses endless, hilarious challenges for him. However different your own personal experiences may be, there is something for everyone to laugh at, wince at, enjoy! A riotous page turner, underscored by moments of real affection and attachment that belie Resnick's reluctance to accept the invitation to "attend" and be part of it all.
Insightful look at lots of situations in life. Great humor is found in daily life and personal relationships. A bit of bawdy humor and language. Not a terribly serious or important book, but good light hearted chuckles. This should be seen as a call to not take yourself too seriously....
Resnick is funny and wry. His book is an amusing read.
The book is a collection of essays about different points in his life. I would say three of the dozen or so stories were over-the-top funny and had me laughing out loud. The rest were well written in the authors bleak tone. I'm glad I got to know a bit about this Adam Resnick guy, his horrible brothers, and intimidating father. I recommend the book--even if it was a quick read.
I purchased this book after seeing the author (live I might add) on the David Letterman show. I think he is much more interesting in person. To be fair there are parts of the book that are incredibly funny; the part about Disneyworld and the day his father went to speak with his teacher. The fact that I did not enjoy the book should not be a deterrent to others as this is just my personal view.
Absolutely hilarious. Adam Resnick must be a fan of Catcher In The Rye. This was like forcing Holden Cailfield into a series of social situations and observing his antisocial reaction throughout childhood and as a poorly adjusted adult.
Saw Resnick on Letterman last night. Hilarious. Had to go buy the book TODAY and cannot put it down. His recalls events of his childhood so vividly that you almost feel like you were there. I have been laughing out loud on every page. If you don't have an appreciation for four-letter words, you might not appreciate this book, which is peppered with them, but you will miss out on some incredible musings. BUY THIS BOOK! No, I do not know the author personally, and I am round to be the first reviewer on Barnes and Noble. I am quite snobby about my reading, and Resnick's intelligent humor fits the bill!