Wendy Merrill is successful, blond and tall. “Six feet one and three eighths inches to be exact (I know exactly how tall I am because measuring me seems to be part of the early rituals of all my relationships),” she writes in Falling Into Manholes: The Memoir of a Bad/Good Girl. One might assume that the view from such a vantage point is sunny all the time, but in this frank and sometimes funny story, Merrill disabuses us once and for all of the notion that blondes have more fun. Although it’s true they may have more boyfriends.
Merrill, who runs a biotechnology marketing group from her home in Sausalito, grew up in a sugarless Berkeley household that kept her pining for sweets as a child. Falling Into Manholes depicts her early incessant craving for sugar as a precursor of things to come. Her life is speckled with trips through bulimia and anorexia, drug and alcohol abuse, and a harrowing and ill-advised search for love and acceptance from a string of Mr. Wrongs. There’s a married coworker, a former therapist, a guy she calls her “gambling-addict ex-stockbroker-turned- mattress-salesman boyfriend,” a love and sex addict from L.A., and a younger man who tells her, “I want to marry someone exactly like you, only younger.” Of her string of bad choices she writes, “I…have dated plenty of medicated men before. So many, in fact, that if you were a man who was wildly attracted to me, you were probably suffering from depression, whether you knew it or not.”
Now sober (for 18 years) and single (for going on two), Merrill writes from a place of relative peace without claiming to be perfectly sane. For her, the book was an exercise in self-exploration. “It was really about finding the truth for myself and finding some meaning for myself. It’s just another woman’s coming-of-middle-age story,” she says.
It does take a lot of guts to expose oneself that way. Asked if she’s nervous about such a public baring, she laughs. “It’s not like I’m going to post the book on my business website! But honestly, as I was writing it I didn’t have a sense that anyone would actually read it. I guess I was using my powers of denial for good rather than evil.”
Wendy Merrill will be reading from her memoir at Book Passage on Saturday, March 29. See bookpassage.com for more details.
By the end of the week, Cliff appeared to have lost interest in me completely and was openly flirting with other women in my presence. “I sure hope you’re making a parachute out of all those red flags you’ve been collecting,” Hedy said, minutes before I went to sit on Cliff’s lap at a beach party of friends in a last-ditch attempt to get his attention. He leapt up as though I were a scalding cup of coffee and literally dumped me in the sand.
Feeling like a bird that had just fallen off its perch and trying to look casual about it, I picked myself up and walked back to the house to go hide in yet another bathroom. I haven’t seen this much bathroom action since I was a bulimic. What was I doing?
Closing the bathroom door, I brushed the sand off my skirt, took a deep breath, and tried to settle down and really listen to what my body was saying. I wasn’t even sure I like this guy, so why was I feeling so hurt?
I remembered when I was 14 and had gotten really drunk for the first time by downing eight Budweiser beers in an hour. I was with some friends at a motorcycle race, and an older boy, Johnny, asked me to push his dirt bike so he could get it started. Thrilled to have been asked, I gripped his seat from behind and started pushing. What Johnny had neglected to tell me was when to let go. So as the bike kicked into gear, I held on, and, wanting to be sure to do it just right, I was dragged for about 10 feet before it even occurred to me to let go. What I wanted was Johnny’s approval. What I got was facedown drunk in the dirt.
With Cliff, I’d told myself I wanted a fling. What I got was flung. But who had really done the flinging?
I looked into the bathroom mirror for that sweet little seventh-grade girl who wanted so much to get on the dance floor with the prom king and who wasn’t at all prepared to end up in the mosh pit.
“Who knew that the prom king was going to turn out to be such an a**hole?” I said out loud to myself, trying to make little Wendy feel better.
The Local Type
Salads by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed, $15)
The Moosewood Cookbook author has a new book. Salads is a collection of more than 50 recipes for, well, salad. This goes way beyond tossed lettuce and ventures bravely into the world of beans, cheese, oils, herbs and many other ways to make salad a meal.
Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster, $25)
The next Spellman family book from the hilarious author of the best-selling novel The Spellman Files about a family of private eyes. Wacky, wise, irreverent and sidesplitting.
I Want Candy by Kim Wong Keltner (Avon, $14)
The third novel from Chinese chick-lit queen Kim Wong Keltner, author of The Dim Sum of All Things and Buddha Baby. Fourteen-year-old Candace Ong is wasting away in Eggroll Wonderland, the restaurant where her under-Americanized family toils in San Francisco. She loves rock candy and rock music—and hangs with her best friend, Ruby, whose wild life she covets. Candace wants more than another stifling summer in the kitchen. So when a new opportunity arises, she leaps at the chance.
Their favorite cookbooks:
The Tassajara Cookbook: Picnics, Lunches and Appetizers by Karla Oliveira and Patrick Tregenza (Gibbs Smith, $30)
“I’ve had this cookbook less than two months and my copy is already dog-eared, counter-worn, and full of protruding scraps of paper. These are delicious, interesting, really user-friendly recipes. There are many vegan options, and the ‘vegan cookies and sweets chapter’ is the best dairyless desserts chapter I’ve ever come across. This book is the perfect way to upgrade the vegetarian/vegan lunchbox and cookie jar.”
—E. H. Mann, Green Apple Books & Music
Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition by Irma Rombauer (Scribner, $35)
“I don’t do a lot of cooking but when I do, I go for the real basics. The Joy of Cooking has a new edition as of last year and they continue to update it. It’s real simple and it tells you how to do everything, like bone a chicken. It really has everything you need to know. For fancier stuff I still like San Francisco à la Carte (Junior League of San Francisco, $23), which was real popular in the ’90s and is still great.”
—Lenny Jay, The Book Depot