I love Halloween. When my kids were younger, one of the thrills of living right off Caledonia Street in Sausalito, California, was that you were at Ground Zero for the town's trick or treat chicanery. The evening would start with a parade of li'l ghosts, goblins and costumes-du-jour, a costume judging contest, and then a promenade through the grid of streets that flank Caledonia Street before snaking up into the hills of Sausalito's weather-blessed banana belt.
Our street, Locust, was only one long block, filled with small cottages, or duplexes, some on flag lots. We lived there for almost six years. Except for us, the Pierracinnis next door, and one other family, most of those living on Locust were inhabited by people whose children had left the next, or house-sharing young adult renters, so they didn't necessarily see the need for decorating their homes for the occasion, let alone handing out candy.
On the other hand, one street over — Turney — was Halloween heaven. Everyone put out carved pumpkins. Some went overboard, decorating this beautiful street of Victorians with the haute of haunted house accessories. One guy went so far as to deck out his garage as Transylvania, an jump out of a coffin as a vampire. As yo ucan imagine, the line went around the block to enter his freak show.
Not to be outdone, Martin and I would create a diarama by putting scary full-head masks on the heads of a couple of scarecrows made by stuffing old pants and plaid shirts with plastic bags filled with newspapers. We'd then pose them on a couple of chairs on the porch. They'd be reading THE SIGNAL, the newspaper edited by Martin. Scary music would be emanating from loud speakers perched on the window sills. Coffins of political candidates were in our postage stamp of a yard, underneath the camellia bushes that were so large that they were pruned into trees. Usually a body hung there in effigy.
All in good fun.
So many trick-or-treaters stopped by that we'd go through 500 pieces of candy before nine o'clock. I have to admit that I'd make the kids go through their candy sacks and kick back anything they felt they wouldn't eat, so I could feed the angry mob seemed to never end.
By the time we left Locust Street, I'm happy to report all the neighbors were into decorating on Halloween. Maybe they saw how much fun we'd had, and wanted to get into the act. Or maybe they were tired of Turney being the go-to street, and wanted to show some street pride.
Besides, how do you stop a swarm of trick-or-treaters?
You don't. You just go with the flow.
When I concepted my book, SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES, the one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to start the story on Halloween. Not because the book is scary–although its topic, divorce, is a horror tale for those who live through one–but because, to me, it is one of the ultimate family experiences. By their nature, children love to play dress up. Halloween celebrates that, and parents celebrate any and all things that make thier kids happy and excited–even if it is induced by sugar. Just think of all the pictures we take of them as they go from toddler to teen–or I should say, from cute costume onesies, to some 'ho couture that even Lady Gaga would be too shy to wear (as if).
Yes, a perfect place to start a book about a family–husband, wife, thirteen-year-old boy and five year-old girl–who mask their emotions during the divorce, and their neighbors' fears that their personal failures are somehow contagious.
Enjoy the excerpt, below.
Josie's Latest Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives
Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press
In bookstores June 1, 2010. Order it TODAY!
"Hollywood's got nothing on the cast of characters living in the bedroom community of Paradise Heights, who have the secrets, sex, money and scandal of an OK! Magazine cover story. Josie Brown is a skilled observer whose clever dialogue and feisty style make for truly entertaining reading." –Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives
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SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES / by Josie Brown
“Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man
is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.” —Zsa Zsa Gabor
Thursday, 7: 32 p.m.
“You know how I hate to gossip, but . . .”
That is how Brooke Bartholomew always begins before she launches into a piece of hearsay. She knows and I know (for that matter, everyone knows) that she is the most notorious gossipmonger in our gated community of Paradise Heights.
So, yes, this will be juicy.
“Don’t be such a tease,” I answer. “Just spill it.”
“It’s about DeeDee and Harry Wilder,” she whispers. “They’ve split up. For good!”
Her tone has me looking around to see if the leads in Brooke’s drama are within hearing distance. But it’s hard to tell because it is dark, and everyone, even the adults, is in costume. Witches, Harry Potters, Shreks, and vampires zigzag across Bougainvillea Boulevard, lugging king-size 300-count pima cotton pillowcases filled with all kinds of individually wrapped miniature candy bars. For Brooke, it is not just Halloween but Christmas too: her husband, Benjamin, is Paradise Heights’s dentist and will reap what Hershey’s has sown.
I check to see that my daughter, Olivia, is out of earshot but still within sight. To my chagrin, she and her posse of five-year-olds are racing up the circular staircase of the Hendricksons’ New Orleans‑style McMansion. All the girls are dressed as fairies, which in HalloweeSpeak translates into gossamer wings and long tulle skirts over leotards. It is inevitable that one of them will slip, fall, and cry, so I cannot take my eyes off them, even to gauge the veracity of Brooke’s raw data. For the first time tonight I notice that Temple, DeeDee and Harry’s youngest, is not one of the winged creatures flittering in the crush in front of me.
The nickname given the Wilders by my very own clique, the board of the Paradise Heights Women’s League, comes to mind: the Perfect Couple. Until now, it fit like a glove. Both DeeDee and Harry are tall, golden, patrician, and aloof. They are Barbie and Ken dolls come to life. Rounding out the family is their thirteen-year-old son, Jake, the star of the Paradise Heights Middle School basketball team. Our oldest boy, Tanner, is part of his entourage, as is Brooke’s son, Marcus. Temple is exactly Olivia’s age. With those gilt coiling ringlets and that dimpled smile, Temple is not just the kindergarten set’s unabashed leader but beautiful as well, which is why all the other little girls aspire to be her.
While the Wilders seem friendly enough during the social gatherings that put them in close proximity to the rest of us mere mortals, they never engage, let alone mingle. In Harry’s case, I presume he thinks his real life—that is, his office life—is too foreign for us to grasp: he is a senior partner in the international securities division of a large law firm, where every deal trails a long tail of zeros.
But DeeDee has no such excuse. She doesn’t work, yet she pointedly ignores our invitations to lunch, preferring to spend the precious hours between school drop-off and pickup gliding through the posh little shops on Paradise Heights’s bustling Main Street. Heck, even the Heights’ working mommies try harder to fit in. The overflow crowd at the Women’s League Christmas party is proof of that, as are the numerous corporate sponsorships they secure for the school district’s annual golf tournament fund-raiser.
Proving yet again that mommy guilt is the greatest of all human motivators.
And now that the Wilders’ crisis has been exposed to the masses, DeeDee’s force field will stay up permanently, for sure.
“No way! The Wilders?” I say to Brooke. “Why, I just saw them together last weekend, at the club. He didn’t leave her side even once. And I know for a fact that DeeDee was at the school yesterday, for the Halloween costume contest.” Although I wasn’t there, Ted, my husband, mentioned seeing her. I stayed home with our younger son, Mickey, who has a nasty case of head lice, the scourge of the elementary school set. Not fun at any time, but doubly distressing to a nine-year-old boy on a day in which all class work is suspended in honor of a candy orgy.
To get his mind off what he was missing, Mickey and I spent the morning carving two more pumpkins to join the family of five already displayed on our steps and spraying a spiderweb of Silly String on the porch banister. Ted, who is too fastidious to have appreciated our haphazard handiwork, has elicited promises from us both that all of this sticky substance will be pulled off first thing tomorrow morning, before it has time to erode the nice new paint job on our faux-Victorian.
Now, as I keep watch over Olivia’s raid on the neighbors’ candy stashes, Ted is at home with Mickey, parsimoniously doling out mini Mounds bars. Despite having purchased forty bags of the stuff, neither of us will be surprised if we run out long before the last trick-or-treater has come and gone. That is the downside to having a house that is smack-dab in the middle of Bougainvillea Boulevard, where all things pertaining to Paradise Heights begin and end. Because of this, poor Mickey will have to share whatever goodies Tanner and Olivia bring home. I don’t look forward to the fight that breaks out over who gets the Godiva candy bar and who is left with the smashed caramel apple.
“Yeah, well, apparently it happened yesterday morning. From what I heard, he came home early from work so that he wouldn’t miss the Halloween parade—and found her in bed with another man.” Brooke waves her little hellion, Benjamin Jr., on toward his older brother, Marcus, who has been trying all night to ditch the kid. Having been an only child, Brooke cannot accept the notion that a thirteen-year-old wouldn’t want to hang with his only sibling, especially one seven years his junior.
Frankly, I think all of Brooke’s energy would have been better spent on some therapy over her own traumas. “My god! That’s horrible! Do you think it’s for real?”
“Who knows? For that matter, who cares?” Brooke arches a cleanly plucked brow. “Anyway that’s the rumor, and it’s too good not to be true, so I’m sticking with it. Besides, Colleen was behind Harry in line at Starbucks. She overheard him bickering with DeeDee on his cell. Seems she’s asked for a divorce, but he’s fighting her for everything: the kids, the house—even the dog! In fact, he also told one of his partners that he planned back cut back his hours at work to prove he should be the one to get full custody. Look, I say ’where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’”
And they say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Bullshit. What guy wouldn’t go for the throat, particularly one who’s just been made a laughingstock in the neighborhood?
Frankly, I can’t really blame him, since I’d do exactly the same thing. Still, I wonder what he’ll do if he does get it all. I’m of the theory that househusbands are born, not made. And they are certainly not made from high-powered corporate attorneys like Harry Wilder, who live for the thrill of the deal.
But I don’t say this to Brooke, who wears her sistah solidarity on her silk Cavalli sleeve. If what she says is true, then there is no reason to feel sorry for DeeDee in the first place. Harry is the one we should pity, since he has no idea what he’s in for. I’m willing to bet he’ll reconsider his stance the first time Jake needs to be carpooled to basketball at the same time Temple has to be at ballet and it’s not until they are halfway there that she tells him she’s forgotten her tights.
“So, who is DeeDee’s boyfriend?”
Frustrated because her reconnaissance is incomplete in this one very important area, Brooke’s perfect moue of a mouth turns down at the sides. This is what passes for a frown when your social calendar revolves around standing appointments for Botox and collagen injections. “Since neither of them is talking, your guess is as good as mine. But don’t worry, I’ve got my spies working on it.” She winks broadly.
That trail might be cold right now, but she is a good enough gossip hound that I’ve no doubt we’ll know the answer by the end of the week.
As we pass DeeDee and Harry’s authentic-looking Tuscan villa, I notice that all the lights are off and the bougainvillea-wrapped wrought-iron gates are locked. The Wilders did not even leave out the requisite consolation: a plastic pumpkin filled with candy and sporting a sign that begs visitors to Take Just One and Leave The Rest for Others.
Once again, Brooke is right: there is trouble in Paradise Heights.
(c) 2010 Josie Brown. Published in June 2010 by Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.