Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Day 124 - French Bred Guest Post & Excerpt

I'm excited to have author Frederic Guarino at my blog today. He has kindly written a few words on how he came to be a writer. You can read my review of his first book, French Bred here. If anyone has any questions for him please comment below 8)

"As far as I can remember, I've always written my thoughts down. As a young man, my prose was a lot darker, angry, and critical. I guess it was a way of spewing my venom into poetry, short stories, and commentaries, all of it in French. At age twenty-three, I got married, moved to the U.S., and stopped writing all together, because I couldn't find the inspiration to write in French in my new English-speaking environement, and wasn't proficient enough in English to make sense of anything. After a ten year hiatus, for no specific reason whatsoever, the urge to write resurfaced, and English words appeared on the page. This time, the mood was much lighter, and I found that I really enjoyed writing with humor, poking fun at myself and the world around me. Strongly influenced by such authors as Dave Barry, David Sedaris, and Laurie Notaro, I began writing my own memoirs, starting at the beginning, and I haven't stopped yet. Sometimes, I feel like Forrest Gump who began running with no particular goal in mind and kept on going. So far, I have completed three books. My first book "French Bred" has just been published as an e-book, and I'm working on getting the other two out there, hopefully in print.When, I'm not writing, I am a divorced father of two, run my own small business, and live in Medway, Massachusetts."

And now I am very pleased to present Chapter One of French Bred. The introduction of his mother and father is one of my favorite parts of the book. Enjoy! A big thank you to Frederic for allowing me to post the excerpt.

Chapter 1
The butter obsession and other embarassing bits

For a very long time, I firmly believed in the idea that my family was perfect. I thought my parents were infallible, had the correct solution to all problems, and the right answers to all questions. In the early years, the only faux-pas they committed was to present me with a
sibling. I was the only child for almost six years so when my brother came I resented sharing my parent’s attention, as much as the need to keep an eye on my stuff.
Otherwise, they made everything all right.
My folks were the perfect team in a perfect world.
Boy, was I wrong!
Looking back with my middle-aged view, I realize my family was just as dysfunctional as everybody else’s family. But before I systematically dismantle my idealistic opinion of my childhood, I must say that I love my family dearly---heck, I even agreed to live with them---and they definitely have something to do with who I turned out to be.
Which, perhaps, is not saying much.
My mother was born and raised in Brittany, the westernmost region of France. When looking at a map, Brittany sticks out like a protruding nose butchered by an unlicensed cosmetic surgeon.
People there are well-known for their stubbornness, their contempt for Parisians, and the butter oozing out of their pores. They cover everything with butter. I once watched my grandmother spread butter on a slice of apple. “These folks at Giroux Farm really know their butter!”
she said.

My mother kept the tradition alive by insuring we never suffered from low cholesterol. She surrounded, soaked, dipped, and spread everything with butter. Butter was measured in pounds for every cake recipes and our family was on a five-sticks-a-day habit. They didn’t make patches to curb that addiction.
No need to plan for college. We sweated butter, we spat butter, peed butter, and our tears could be saved and recycled for hot oil treatment. At that rate, my brother and I would have a heart attack before we reached eighteen and, if researchers pondered the effect of extreme butter intake in relation to family dysfunction, they’d probably find a link.
To prevent a coronary epidemic, the Brittanians mixed apple cider with a high volume of alcohol. They found it worked wonders to unclog their busy arteries. It also nicely eased babies to sleep, removed tomato stains, and disinfected fishing hook injuries.
Mom was a very sensible and Cartesian woman. She dealt only with her daily reality and had no use for the abstract. She used her imagination and creativity to find easier ways to perform her tasks or organize her kitchen in the most efficient manner, which meant that nobody could find anything without her help. I cannot remember ever seeing her seated, and her schedule was influenced by the “need to” basis--her need to iron my father’s shirt, to clean the windows, to butter the toast.
While she never worked outside the home, she didn’t have a moment for herself, always trotting with a rag in her hand. She always looked at a room in despair. It was never spotless enough and we couldn’t understand how that was possible.
My mother set the rules for my brother, Manu, and me. Rule number one was to be respected at all cost. “If you bring a friend over, let me know at least an hour ahead.”
It was as if our teenage friends would enter our bacteria-free environment with white gloves and run their fingers on the shelves or check for spider webs, which would bring untold shame onto our name. She never understood that there could have been a pile of rotting trash on the dining room table and nobody, even the girls, would have noticed. We took great pleasure in arriving unannounced with strangers, standing in the entryway with innocent smiles. This triggered a panic attack as severe as if we ran out of butter. She ran in every direction, her eyes rolling around in their sockets while she blocked access to messy areas and slammed doors shut.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me! Jesus, the place is disgusting!” she cried.
Most of the time, the only item out of place was the vacuum cleaner, which stood in the middle of the living room. Before letting us go up to our room, she felt compelled to apologize to our fourteen-year-old friends for the dreadful state of our estate.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t have time to do the windows. Please pardon the dust,” she said.
Her obsessive-compulsive behavior wasn’t limited to our home, though. Twice a year, Manu and I forced a smidgen of enthusiasm out of our selfish selves and willingly sat in the car for the family road trip. We went to my mom’s hometown to visit my grandparents. The trip took anywhere from two and a half to five hours, depending on snack breaks, police presence, traffic, and my brother’s bladder.
He had this uncontrollable urge to mark his territory at every rest area along the way. My father’s patience eroded more each time. “Again! But you just went twenty miles ago. God! How much can this kid pee without drinking?”
Well, quite a bit as it turned out, since he only managed three drops at a time. The frequent stops were a distraction to Dad, who focused on hidden spots along the way where the highway patrol might set-up a trap to catch speedsters. His concentration was akin to hypnosis, his eyes went from right to left, and his hands clamped tightly on the wheel. Once in while, he let out a barely audible whisper, “There’s one”. He gradually slowed down and could not hide his joy if the nose of a cruiser popped out from behind a bush. “Gotcha, Copper!”
Mom and Dad had different packing styles. He did not touch a thing, but reserved the right to analyze the final product. His main idea involved big bags or suitcases, ideal for trunk space management. Manu and I usually stood to the side, watching him squeeze the bags a certain way, then take them out to shove them in again. There was always one that would not go or another that would stick out. “Ah, for God’s sake! One centimeter! One lousy centimeter! It’s always the same! I’m always missing one centimeter! If this goddam car was one centimeter wider, everything would fit! But, no! Oh no way! Couldn’t be that easy, huh? God forbid my life could become easier!”
He then looked up to the sky, “Is it too much to ask to cut me some slack once in a while?”
Like a museum visitor staring at a famous painting, he took a step back, crossed his arms, and studied the trunk space. There had to be a way to squeeze the luggage in and close the trunk, and he was hell-bent on finding it. We could tell Samsonites were twirling aimlessly around in his mind. He finally asked, “You guys have any ideas?”
We knew better than to be dragged into this. From that point on, every word we said would be held against us in a court of baggage handling law. By then, the neighbors across the streets had set up their chairs by their bay window and waited for the show to begin. Right on cue, Mom opened the kitchen window and said, “Darling, did you know there is another bag by the door that we need to bring with us?”
“What?” yelled Dad.
Birds abruptly stopped chirping. Our dog Rudy’s tail bent between his legs as he scampered away towards the far reaches of the backyard. Mom closed the window to protect herself from incoming verbal shrapnel, and we took two more steps back. Dad’s face turned purplish red; foam appeared at the corner of his mouth and his hands constricted into tight fists.
The result of the blast resonated for miles around, the shock waves rattling our young brains. As the first words came out of his lips, spit traveled all the way to the windshield.
He grabbed the closest handles and pulled the 2-ton suitcases out as if they were filled with cotton, scattering them on the driveway. “There is no way we need so may freaking bags for a week trip! What the hell is she packing anyway? The whole goddam house?”
His body arched forward and, fists at his sides, he speed-walked back to the house, violently opened the door, grabbed the stray bag, and stormed back to the car where he threw it in the back of the trunk with all his might. “THERE! I’m sure we REALLY, REALLY, REALLY need whatever the hell’s in that bag!”
The neighbors cracked open their bay window to get full audio impact, and leaned forward with avid interest. Dad grabbed the suitcases littering the pavement behind the car and launched them with no particular pattern into the trunk. “Get in there you bastards! You want to mess with me? You’re not gonna win! I’ll rip your heads off!”

“And where exactly would the head of a suitcase be?” Manu whispered in my ear.
Running out of ammunition, he looked around him but there were no bags left. Once again, the miracle of blind mindless rage had occurred. As suddenly as he had begun, the trunk-filling struggle ended. The three of us stared at the jam-packed trunk. Without a word, and before any of the luggage sprung out like a jack-in-the-box, he laid his hands on the trunk door and pushed down until we heard the satisfying click of the lock mechanism.
“Way to go, Dad!” exclaimed Manu.
“Yeah, see? No need to get all upset!” Dad said as if the previous chain of events was part of his plan all along.
Sensing the end of the show, the neighbors stood up and applauded.
Mom waited for this moment to add more items to the load. She did not believe in consolidating her belongings into fewer than twenty-five grocery store plastic bags, claiming that she could find them more easily when she packed things separately. That rationale blew out the window since all plastic bags looked the same and made the search much lengthier and more complicated. The next best place for the little bags containing anything from peaches to a nail cutter was under our feet.
“Do you realize we look like bums who live in their car?” my father said, shaking his head.
“Nobody’s going to look in here and you’ll sing a different tune when you ask me for something and, voila!” she replied. Little was needed out of these carefully prepared pouches since my father solely concentrated on driving, my brother watched road signs, and I had my stack of vomit bags on my lap. Throughout the drive, we always tested my mother’s organizational skills by asking her for everything we could possibly think of, starting with the easy ones like water, Kleenex, and chocolate bars. Then, we raised the ante to out-of-season fruits and wet towels; and still she produced. An hour later, I met the gourmet dessert again at the bottom of my paper bag.
Once our car was in motion, Mom’s road trip ritual consisted of cutting the tails off twenty pounds of green beans, creating a pile of discarded tails, and another of freshly castrated vegetables on her lap. This kept her somewhat silent for the first hour. By completion of the task, she turned toward the backseat and claimed, “It sure will be nice to have fresh beans for dinner. If it wasn’t for me, you’d be eating canned stuff.”
Then, she took out a stack of the worst tabloid magazines, high enough to fill an uninterrupted week of browsing for gossip, and proceeded to read aloud.
“Did you know the pope had a grandson with his own daughter? That seems impossible!”
Backseat: “Om-uumpf!”
She suddenly turned toward Dad and held the magazine up. “Look,honey, she’s not bad looking.”
“I can’t read and drive at the same time,” he replied.
“No, I mean, for a pope’s daughter, she’s pretty.”
Finally, he glanced sideways, pulling the car enough to the side to graze past a tanker truck. “Yeah, she’s hot! Are you happy now?”
“It says here that Neptune will slam into Uranus sometime next year.”
“Uh-uh,” I said, and then barfed.
Manu leaned away from me, “Ah, gross! You stink!”
“Leave him alone,” Mom said. “It’s not his fault.”
“I can’t take this!” Manu replied. “I’m gonna get sick!”
Mom tapped Dad on the shoulder, “We need some fresh air.”
“I’m not stopping again!”
“Maybe we should leave him at the next rest area,” Manu said while craning his neck to look for another road sign.
“I’m not stopping. Throw the bag out the window!”
“You can’t do that!” Mom said.
“Throw HIM out the window!” Manu said, holding his nose.
Eventually, we made it to a rest area where I could deposit my bodily fluids in a trash receptacle, while Manu claimed another grassy knoll of the French countryside as his.
Much later, I figured out the smell of the leather seats was thereason for my throwing up regularly.


I really hope you enjoyed the excerpt!! You can purchase Fred Bred here. This is really a fun reading experience.


Amy said...

Great reviews and thanks so much for the link!

Kimberly Swan said...

Thanks so much for sharing the post and excerpt. The travel dialog is just too funny. :)

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