When a car accident makes sixteen-year-old rock and roll freak Harold an orphan and sends him to live with his Aunt Enid in the Californian desert, he and she both find they have to make radical adjustments to their lives.
Bill gives an overview of the book:
Chapter I Freeway Driving
Harold always knew that his father was a stinking, lousy driver but just how stinking and how lousy he didn't find out until the day the old man tried to make a U-turn on the Pasadena Freeway.
They were on their way to Palm Springs for the weekend to visit his aunt, his mother's younger sister. When his mother said they were going his father had protested. He always did. It never made any difference.
"But we never go this time of year. July is murder there. You can fry eggs on the sidewalk. Maybe we should wait until October or something. Wadda you say, Sylvia?"
"What do I say? I say no. You're not going to melt, Norman, or fry on the sidewalk like an egg, and besides, I want to see my sister. For Christ sake, it's only two days!"
"Jesus, Sylvia, you know she hates me! And two days is two days. You and the boy go. OK? I'll be fine here by myself."
"Norman, she doesn't hate you, it's you! You hate her! And the boy's name is Harold."
"For the love of God! Sylvia, please!"
"No pleases. No! And, if you don't go how are we supposed to get there? The Greyhound? Five hours with a lot of cowboys and shvartzers, stopping in every cockamamy town from Azusa to Banning? Is that what you expect me to do? Is it?"
"You should learn to drive," he said lamely, the battle slipping from his grasp, the war long since lost.
His mother snorted dismissively and strode out of the room.
"Sylvia! I don't... Ah, hell!"
His father slumped down in his easy chair, staring vacantly at the wall through heavy horn-rimmed glasses. His hands knotted into small fists. He held the fists up in front of him as if trying to decide what to do with them. Harold knew there was nothing his father could do with them. He never had. He never would.
Harold was sitting in the far corner of the room trying not to be noticed. However, the corner wasn't far enough away for not being noticed.
"Wadda you think, Harry? You wanna go down there?"
He didn't have to ask. Harold hated the long tedious drive, his parents' constant quarreling, his father's nervy erratic driving. And at the end of it there was Aunt Enid. Every time she saw him she gushed all over him, pinching and cooing as if he were still a small baby.
"So big, Harold! How did you get so big? Give your Aunt Enid a nice kiss. Come on, darling, I haven't seen you forever!"
She stank of flowery perfume. When she got near him the sickly-sweet vapors pushed uninvited up Harold's nose. Aunt Enid's odor clung to his clothes for days.
And Palm Springs. At home, in Los Angeles, he had his records, his friends, seven different TV stations, and the endless selection of dark, forbidden movie theaters on Hollywood Boulevard. In Palm Springs he didn't know any kids, there were only three movie theaters, if you didn't include the Sun-Air Drive-In, which the carless Harold didn't, and only four TV stations. In short, there was nothing to do. Nothing, that is, for an overweight redheaded kid who sweated a lot and whose skin burned a stinging pink in the desert sun. No, Palm Springs was a place for golfers and tennis players and guys that pretended to be cowboys; in other words, a place for jerks. It was most definitely not for Harold Abelstein. He saw himself as strictly a big-city sidewalks kind of guy.
I was born December 16, 1942 at the French Hospital in Manhattan. On December 27th I moved to the Bronx where I was circumcised by Rabbi T.M. Belkin. Five years later I joined the post-war Borscht Bowl Exodus to the Promised Land in California, driving across the country with...