This week's terrifying Nixon-era children's book was published in 1973, at the dawn of the American divorce epidemic and thus the precursor to a thousand crappy books written to soothe the emotional havoc of divorce on our nation's children. We like this one because it pulls no punches: Joey is a young man from the Upper East Side whose father leaves his mother to go live in a "crummy," fleabag motel "downtown." Joey confides all this in his Puerto Rican friend "Pepe Gonzales" who responds by saying, "Lots of kids got no dad living in the house. There's a boy on my block who don't even know who his dad is!" Still, the prevailing mores up in Spanish Harlem do little to resolve Joey's anxiety at his parents' separation and pending divorce. The book is actually one of those "early reader" novels, so I'm just going to add some commentary on the crazy pictures. Some of the text is original, but a lot of it I made up.

"Dad came back to take the color television the other day. 'I paid for this lousy thing!' he shouted at mom while he triumphantly carried it out the door. Now we have to watch Mannix on the crummy old B&W. Mom stormed after dad and Gus the doorman suggested she call the police, but the sergeant who showed up threatened to arrest her for filing a false report."
"Yesterday mom started smoking grass again.

"She started making herself throw up after every meal, too. 'I've got to lose fifteen pounds if I'm ever going to catch another man again,' she said. 'I'm not as young as I used to be.' I didn't like to think about my mom with another man, so I started to cry."

"'Everything's gonna be alright, honey,' mom said. 'Hopefully I'll meet another nice man who can buy us an even bigger color TV. And look on the bright side, there's always the alimony!'"

"The next day I skipped school to go look for my dad to ask him what 'alimony' was. 'Hey old Russian lady, do you know where my dad is? He works in an office building. With lots of windows.'"

"I got lost and stopped in a pizzeria to call my dad's secretary. She's really nice and has red hair. Dad and Mom were always arguing about her. The man behind the counter said, 'What? You don't-a even want a slice of the pizza-pie-a or a nice-a dish a rigatoni?'

"I found my dad's office and waited for him in the lobby. When he came out of his meeting, dad was real sore at me. 'What the fuck are you doing here, Joey?' he yelled." I said something about how Barnaby Jones just wasn't the same in black and white and I just couldn't help myself: I started to cry. Dad hugged me. He wasn't mad anymore."
"Dad took me to the corner diner for lunch. 'When are you coming home?' I asked him. 'I'm not,' he said. Dad got real serious. He put his hand over my hand. 'Joey,' he said. 'Listen. I---you know---I love you very much. Your mom does too. Joey, nothing will ever change about that. You hear me, son?'

'Dad, what's alimony?' I asked."

"That night, Dad took me to stay with him in his hotel room downtown. It was sort of dark. We passed one door where some woman was laughing. She sounded drunk or something. Behind another door someone was playing rock music really loud. The whole place smelled like vomit and smoke, kind of like the den after mom's smoked some grass. 'Well,' Dad said. 'Home sweet home away from home!' The room was pretty crummy. The view out the window was just a brick wall and a flashing neon sign that made the whole room creepy and red. Dad explained to me that alimony was mom's plan to bleed him dry, but he'd show her by buying a cool Porsche before the ink dried on the divorce papers."
"That night I could hardly sleep. I kept hearing people fighting and making the kinds of sounds mom and dad used to make before he moved out, that scary grunting and yelling sound they used to make at night. I swore to myself that if I ever had kids, I was going to live somewhere with thick walls and never get divorced."

The next day Dad took me downstairs and hailed a cab. He said to the cabbie, 'Take him to to 93rd and Lex.' He handed him three bucks. 'Keep the change,' he said. I couldn't believe he'd spend so much on me when the bus was only 25 cents.

'Go home to your mother, son,' he said. 'She needs you. And remember: the next time you visit, I'll drive you to Howard Johnson's in my new Porsche.'"