I have several friends with published books, but I’m especially excited about the release of KILROY WAS HERE by my friend, Jeff South. Why? Number one, because it’s a hilarious young adult sci-fi (in the vein of Men in Black). Number two, because I’ve had the honor of being a part of Jeff’s process to publication. I’m not saying I helped him get published–he did that on his own– but Jeff is a member of the local writer’s critique group I attend, and I’ve been listening to excerpts from this book for several years now. I was also a beta reader for Jeff, and I can assure you, this a great story.
Jeff has the rare talent for comedic writing that so many of us writers wish we had. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve literally laughed out loud while listening to or reading this book. It’s funny. Trust me. But more than that, it’s witty and original. It’s a book I believe many will enjoy.
To celebrate the upcoming release of KILROY WAS HERE, Jeff has kindly allowed me to share an excerpt:
Every session starts with the same question.
“What is something good that has happened since our last session?”
I used to not answer because I couldn’t think of anything. Now, I make stuff up in a passive aggressive way to show my disdain for this entire process.
“Yesterday I wore pants outside the house. Hashtag blessed.”
“Are you still having nightmares?”
“Not every night,” I say. “Not like before.”
The man, my court-appointed therapist named Dr. Gilbert Lawrence, looks at a legal pad resting on his knee and twirls a pen in his hand. It’s a nice pen. Sleek. Elegant. I’d like to have it for myself. It’s a rollerball pen and I like rollerball pens. My brain clicks with the instant knowledge that rollerball pens were developed in Japan in 1963. I don’t say this out loud, though. I don’t know how I know this about rollerball pens. This conversation is uncomfortable enough without me blurting out random useless trivia. The awkward silence between us is filled by a staccato clicking he makes with his tongue.
“Do you have something you wanna share?” I ask him. “What’s something good that’s happened to you since our last session?”
“This is your time. This is about you.”
He always says that and I hate it. I don’t want to be here sitting in a comfortable leather chair across from a man in a white and taupe bowling shirt who studies me through a persistent smile. I have to, though, because a judge said so. I guess Dr. Gilbert knew I hated the idea of a therapist, so he gave me some advice to ease my anxiety.
“Don’t think of me as a therapist or counselor. Think of me as your life coach.”
Life Coach Gilbert it is, then.
“I still have panic attacks, night terrors, and an irrational fear of things that swirl,” I tell him. He chuckles at that, but doesn’t realize I am being absolutely serious. I won’t even turn my back on a flushing toilet for fear of being sucked into some parallel universe where fish carry guns and Justin Bieber is our dark overlord.
He rests his bearded chin in his non-pen-twirling hand and grins at me. He looks so friendly, so inviting. It should be so easy to open up to him. I really can’t, though. Maybe I could talk about Marlene and feelings and regret, but there’s no way in hell I could tell him about Jeff and portals and Corporate and 8-foot tall purple aliens.
“Are you going to college?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t know yet.”
“It’s an important decision. What are your options?”
I pause before responding. “I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it. You will regret both.”
He gives me a quizzical grin in response.
“Sorry. It’s something someone once said to me. Yes, I’m going to college. I’m going to study becoming a notary public. I like the idea of stamping things.”
“Have you talked to Marlene?” More pen twirling. More grinning. I want to be annoyed by him, but he really is nice. The idea of seeing a therapist conjures an image of men in white coats standing outside his door. I imagine myself answering a question about my mother that prompts the men in white coats to charge into the office and shoot a straightjacket at me from a T-shirt cannon before dragging me away. My remaining years would be spent eating applesauce through a straw while rocking back and forth and mumbling incessantly about vengeful potatoes.
“I have not. Why would I? We broke up.”
“A couple of weeks before prom night.”
“I can’t talk about prom night. I’m under strict orders.” I wince a bit because I shouldn’t have said that.
“Strict orders?” Life Coach Gilbert furrows his brow and leans in. “Strict orders from whom?”
I shouldn’t say things like that because it only makes things harder on people like Life Coach Gilbert who are just trying to help, but I am so sick of everyone wanting to know how I’m doing. I can’t tell them. Plus, no one knows about the nature of my work with Corporate. It’s a secret.
“Well, you know.” My brain scrambles for a viable explanation about who would be giving me strict orders and why. “The voices…inside. They tell me not to.”
I’m overdoing it.
“Not voices,” I say. “Just, you know. I’m afraid to talk about it, I guess. It’s too difficult.”
Nice save, I tell myself.
“You’ll never make progress unless you can talk about that night. Obviously something very traumatic happened to you,” he says. “I can’t help you if you don’t share. What happened that night?”
I huff and roll my eyes because it feels like the right moment to do something derisive. “Why is everyone obsessed with what happened on prom night? Something came up. I chose not to go. That’s all. Sometimes you don’t go to prom. Why is everyone making such a big deal?”
“Do I need to read the police report to you again?” He raises his eyebrows and it makes me want to punch him in the throat. I do not need him to read the police report again. I do not need him to rehash the events of the Saturday night that followed The Prom Night of Which We Shall Not Speak. After six straight nights of horrific nightmares, I got liquored up on gin and Fresca. Events of that night never materialized in my memory, but the police report states I ran around town in only my underwear and a beach towel cape, riding a broom like a horse, and shouting “I’m Grandor the Malevolent! Kneel to me, Earth People!”
I say nothing.
“You asked your arresting officer to prom because you said you needed a do over.”
“Well.” I clear my throat. “She was pretty cute.”
This time he says nothing.
“So,” I blurt. “I have my first experiment with alcohol and everyone decides I need therapy?” I can feel a familiar lump of anger forming in my throat; the same lump that formed when Max told me no one would be looking for Jeff. Life Coach Gilbert leafs through the legal pad, lips pursed and once more twirling the pen. I wonder about his life outside this office. Is this what he always wanted to do with his life? Does he eat ice cream or frozen yogurt? Is his wife as annoyed with the pen twirling as I am? Asking myself about ice cream fills me with the need to say everything I know about ice cream. A switch ignites in my brain and I’m suddenly aware that I know more about ice cream than anyone knows about anything.
“The origins of ice cream can be traced back to China around 200 B.C. They made sorbets out of snow and saltpeter.”
My life coach furrows his brow again while maintaining his warm smile.
“Don’t me ask me how I know that,” I say.
“No, it’s not that.” He winces like someone who bit the inside of their cheek and reaches his hand to the back of neck. “Ow. Damn.”
“Something’s biting me.” He slaps at his neck like swatting a mosquito. He looks at his hand and sees a dot a blood on his palm. “Guess I got it. Helluva thing.”
He plucks a sanitary wipe from a container on the coffee table between us and cleans his hand and neck. He reiterates his steadfast belief that he can help me get better at recovering from The Prom Night of Which We Shall Not Speak. He says something else, but all I hear is blah, blah, blah, progress. Blah, blah, blah, walls. And so on and so forth until the end of time.He writes a refill for my Xanax prescription to keep me calm.
“Take care of yourself until next time,” he says, handing me a business card with the date and time of our next appointment. I’m already thinking of excuses to not come.
After the Life Coach Gilbert Session, I climb into my little Toyota Corolla and the oppressive humidity slaps me in the face like a wet blanket of summer depression. I swear it’s 157 degrees in here. I switch on the engine and crank the air conditioner full blast, which means more hot air for a couple of minutes so I roll down my window.
“The first manufacturer to include air conditioning in theirvehicles was Packard in 1939,” I say to the inside of my car.
A spasm of frustration with not understanding why I know that overtakes my body and I release a guttural roar. I turn to see an old man staring in me the way old men do when they don’t understand young people today. I turn on some music to listen to “Mr. Roboto.” Jeff was obsessed with Styx and often erroneously compared the song to our friendship. The song tells the story of Kilroy, a rock star whose band is imprisoned during a fundamentalist dystopia bent on eradicating rock music. Kilroy disguises himself as a robot (the Mr. Roboto of the title) and breaks into the prison to
free his friend Jonathan Chance. I promise that is what the song is about.
“I am Kilroy,” Jeff would always tell me. “And you’re Mr. Roboto.”
“No,” I would say. “They are the same person. Kilroy is Mr. Roboto. Mr. Roboto is Kilroy.”
“Yes,” he would nod. “They are one. We are one.”
And on it would go in an absurd conversational loop. Really, a simple internet search would have cleared the whole matter up, but I never had the heart to push it. Even now, I wonder if Jeff is floating around in space still confused about the meaning of “Mr. Roboto.” Sweat trickles down my face as Dennis DeYoung, the lead singer of Styx, repeatedly thanks Mr. Roboto for doing the job nobody wants to. My phone alerts me of a text message from Mom.
Love you, honey. Wanted you to know.
I let out a long sigh and pinch the bridge of my nose in an effort to stave off a flow of tears. Damn her for being so good to me. I shake my head slightly to regain composure and notice something pinned under my windshield wiper. I get out of the car and retrieve it, looking around to see if anyone is watching me because surely this is the setup of a hidden camera reality show. It’s a business card. On one side three words are printed.
KILROY WAS HERE
My hands tremble and my stomach knots. I look around again to see who might be around watching my reaction. I flip the card over to see if anything is on the back and find instructions written.
Go to Someone Else’s Books and buy a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
I do as instructed and speed to Someone Else’s Books, my favorite place in this godforsaken town, and realize it is closed on Mondays. Whatever this is all about will have to wait until tomorrow. I sigh with frustration and start up my Soul Torture playlist. I steer through the streets of Poplar Bluff until I drive past Marlene’s house. “Bubbly” ends and “Hate Me,” by Blue October starts. I crank the volume, scream along, and drive home to sit in the dark of my room alone, which is totally not pathetic at all.
KILROY IS HERE is set to release next week. To pre-order your copy, please visit Jeff’s website. I hear there are still some autographed copies available!