What more can you say about Royal Young other than he’s a hustler that can write? When we say “hustler,” we don’t mean it in a disparaging way, rather that the born and bred Lower East Sider takes something and runs with it — and keeps running and running, and he also makes sure everybody knows it. He has an uncanny knack for this, and it has paid off not only because he has been able to talk with tons of great authors for Interview, but also because all his hard work caught the eye of Heliotrope Books, who is set to publish Young’s “Memoir Noir,” Fame Shark.
While it would be easy to say that this new book is the culmination of all that hustling and hard work, we’re pretty sure this is just the beging of what Mr. Young has to offer, and that’s why we’re excited to present this excerpt from Fame Shark.
“I don’t like traveling because of my depressed, agoraphobic mother. She was an angry bitch who never left the house,” my artist/social worker father explained, when I asked if we could take a vacation.
But by the sticky end of June, eleven year old me was desperate to get away from the Lower East Side. My parents didn’t believe in air conditioning. I was suffocating at home. I was haunted by my father’s fear of flying and abandonment, keeping us stuck in the sweltering city. I wanted to go where celebrities mingled with civilians so I could be discovered, imagining the easy life of a child star was unfettered from dark immigrant Jewish pasts.
“When are we going to Southampton?” I appealed to my neuropsychologist Mom interrupting her on the phone with clients. She held up one finger for silence without even looking at me.
“Bitch,” I whispered under my breath, copying Dad.
My grandmother Babbi’s rich brother, my great uncle Larry had a mansion in Southhampton—but we were never invited. He had grown up poor on the Lower East Side with my Babbi when it was an Eastern European Jewish Shtetl transplant in the 1930s. Now, he was a millionaire banker Mom told me took a helicopter to work every morning and never talked to the rest of the family. I was determined to infiltrate what I imagined was Larry’s castle built on the dunes and facing out to sea.
Mom’s best friend was a hippie turned elementary school principal with two daughters the same ages as my younger brother Yuvi and me. The principal’s old parents had a big house in Southhampton that they bought before real estate went sky high. Even if I was too poor to step foot on my great uncle’s sprawling estate, I could at least soak up some of the limelight in the same neighborhood. Stressed out by the Lower East Side’s humidity and frolicking rats, Mom finally agreed we needed a vacation.
Dad stayed in the city to work in his studio, “I hate those phony people in the Hamptons anyway,” he huffed. “I’m perfectly happy staying here. Good bye.” He’s always jealous, I thought, lugging heavy baggage on the B train to Prospect Heights with Mom and Yuvi to meet at the principal’s brownstone so we could drive out together.
We glided along highways touched with orange summer sunset, stopping at a diner along the way for thick, golden onion rings, BLTs slathered in mayo and giant lemonades. As we drove further into Long Island, the noisy city gave way to trees and small stands selling fresh produce along Route 27, where a cruising luxury convertible rushed past us. The sun browned man and woman inside looked happy and carefree. I imagined they lived easy lives. Unlike mine, where my brother choked on chicken bones in cheap Chinese take out places and Dad tried to squash my celebrity aspirations.
“Can’t we drive faster?” I asked Mom.
“That is dangerous and illegal,” she said, handing me a box of Driscoll’s strawberries. “Have a snack instead.”
Mom plied me with foods I liked to fend off tantrums, tears or questions she didn’t want to answer. For artsy shrinks, my family had a history of fixing other people’s problems while ignoring our own.
The house where we stayed also had Iris, a beautiful forty-year-old guest of our hosts. She was tall and thin with long strawberry blonde hair and wide blue eyes that were haunted and lonely. Her husband had just died and she was looking to heal by the shore. She still wore her huge diamond wedding ring. The adults didn’t say what her husband had died of, so my brother and I made up stories.
“I bet he was eaten by a shark,” Yuvi said, biting the air to simulate carnivorous crunching.
“I bet O.J. killed him,” I offered.
At eleven years old, I’d always thought sex was something shameful, I shuddered imaging strangers touching my body. After being fondled in a locked bathroom stall by a female classmate in Kindergarten, when women or men complimented me on physical features, my pale blue eyes, even my growing height I blushed and wanted to get away. I started thinking everyone wanted sex from me. Yet Iris was different. When I was around her I showed off in the surf, my stomach tingled and my big ears got hot and red. I loved the way the bones in her jaw moved when she chewed at dinner and smelling all the bottles of lotion and perfume she kept on a shelf in the bathroom made my dick hard. Iris used lavender soap. I would shower after we got home from the beach, washing the sand away with the smell of her. In my eleven year-old fantasies the soap was her hands playing with me. If I looked like the bronzed, Polo shirted men who strolled down Main Street, smoking cigars and opening the doors of their Porsches for women who smelled like Chanel No. 5 I would have the confidence to make love to Iris. I imagined us naked on the leather back seats.
“Let me help you,” she’d whisper, running her hands down my smooth chest to my penis. “You’re so big for your age.”
My body shuddered with delicious dry spasms under the steam.
I started a yard sale mania among the kids and we bullied our parents into taking us on rounds after the beach. If I couldn’t afford to walk into the big air-conditioned stores on Main Street for designer duds, I could at least impress Iris with hand me downs, hoping the power of the previous owners lingered on the labels. We drove up endless driveways, to open garages with tables covered in clothes and filled with antiques. In one I found an old beige suede jacket that had sheepskin trimming. Even though the sun was scorching down, something drew me to the heavy winter coat.
“This used to belong to Cat Stevens,” said the regal old saleswoman as I handed her ten dollars for it.
“Oh, cool,” I remarked lightly, pretending to know who Cat Stevens was.
“Really?” my hippie mom got excited, “How did you get it?”
“Before he became a conservative Muslim he used to date one of my girlfriends and one night he left his jacket in my drawing room. He went to Iran the next week and never remembered to get it back.”
“I love Cat Stevens,” Mom gushed, fingering the coat.
“I paid for this with my allowance,” I snatched it away from her.
I had finally found a piece of clothing that gave me status. My heart beat faster as I slipped on the jacket in the blazing Hampton heat, feeling like I was donning fame’s faded, musty-smelling mantle.
As soon as we got back to the house, I downloaded Cat Stevens’s songs on the PC and was instantly hypnotized by his lyrics and soulful voice. My world was wild too. I felt like part of his poetry, success and glamour coursed through me. This was my chance to seduce Iris.
I ran past the cars in the driveway, stifling in Cat’s heavy sheepskin coat. The sun was high and hot. I kicked up pebbles as I slid to a halt, putting one hand up over my eyes to gaze up at the guesthouse.
“Iris,” I called.
There was no answer.
“Iris,” I called again, “Come down. Are you there? I’m wearing Cat Steven’s jacket,” sweat was pouring down my face.
I could hear insects buzzing, someone mowing their lawn, a dog barking—far away the sea. I put my foot on the first step, lifted a hand to my mouth and was about to call again when something stopped me. I climbed the wooden stairs up to her door.
Through the screen I saw her moving in front of a full-length mirror. There were skylights in the roof and a dusky gold reflection fell onto her naked body. Shafts of sunlight bounced off her long, waving hair. I was fascinated by the mystery of her curves.
She moved her hands over pale pink nipples and full breasts, her pubic hair a dark, dusty red. I started feeling hot, my vision skipping. My breathing was getting quick, my face flushing. As I reached a hand towards her doorknob, I noticed her eyes. They were filled with tears and grief.
I went back down the stairs as quietly as I could. When I got to the bottom, I turned around.
“Iris!” I screamed, “Iris!”
She came out to stand at the top of the stairs wrapped in a silk robe.
“What is it?”
“I bought Cat Stevens’s jacket,” I stuttered, only wanting to make her happy.
Her blank eyes slowly came into focus.
“It’s beautiful,” she smiled.
I flew back to the house over the pebbles of the drive. They were cutting into my bare feet, but I didn’t feel a thing, screaming “Wild World” at the top of my lungs.