September 2005

Laura Lee Mattingly

nonfiction

Everybody into the Pool: True Tales by Beth Lisick

Everybody into the Pool is a collection of essays about Beth Lisick’s upbringing and adult life in the San Francisco bay area. Like so many people I knew growing up near San Francisco, Lisick succeeds in straying as far away as possible from her functional, comfortable, middle-class family into a life of second-hand clothing, underground bands, hair dye, and a montage of nontraditional jobs such as touring with lesbian spoken-word group “Sister Spit,” writing an online column when the Internet was still commonly referred to as “cyberspace,” and, more recently, dressing up as a giant banana for $175 to promote a friends’ organic fruit delivery business, The Fruit Guys.

She is a poster child for those raised in the most P.C. city in the country: straight but only after years of trying to be bi, white but living in a black neighborhood on the Berkeley/Oakland border, middle-class but still somehow so poor she finds herself inhabiting a boarded-up warehouse that leaks sewage and, one day, pushing a shopping cart filled with her belongings down Mission Street. Although you may be assuming she was an addict or a college drop-out or a victim of childhood abuse, she wasn’t. And this is what makes the book so refreshingly funny: for once we don’t feel guilty for laughing; for once there is no underlying tragedy waiting to snatch us from the fun.

The book is arranged in rough chronological order. We start at Lisick’s childhood home in Sunnyvale, CA where her father works at the Lockhead Missles and Space Plant and every Thursday is family night. Her childhood goes pretty smoothly (albeit for that knife-in-the-eye incident and the extraordinary pressure of one neighbor’s annual Christmas gift-exchange party). Her Midwestern parents are optimistic and encouraging and run a functional, if boring, household. In the chapter “Didn’t I Almost Have it All?” Lisick is crowned homecoming princess and it seems as if an average suburban life is sure to follow.

But lo and behold, she can’t “hack the pressure of being popular” and chooses instead to run with the more, er, artsy crowd. After a particularly awkward run-in with one of the most popular guys in school, Lisick claims to have learned a valuable lesson early in life: “At fourteen, I already began avoiding people who were suave, classically attractive, and socially adept. My adolescent obsession of ferreting out phonies stuck with me. So now I keep away from smooth talkers.” A life motto that certainly kept things interesting from that point onward.

One of the best and most revealing lines in the book has to be: “When I went away to UC -- Santa Cruz, all it took was reading some pamphlets on how industrial hemp was a viable natural resource and fountainhead of sustainable energy for me to decide that I was probably bisexual.” Later, Lisick will have a less-than-satisfying experience with a woman named Trouble and (after feeling like a “sexual mutant” because she isn’t turned on by girls) will eventually come to accept her heterosexuality and marry musician Eli Crews.

Each chapter is a new random adventure and the headers (“Greetings from our Special Bubble,” “My Way or the Bi-Way,” “The Lowly Hustle”) really do say it all. Lisick tackles topics such as adolescence, sexuality, race, and socio-economic class with ease, wit, and a sparkling sense of humor. And while the end comes way too fast (all of the sudden there is husband and baby and she’s wrapping things up), the final essay “Little Bundle of Entropy” about her son Gus and the sloppy joy of new motherhood, is by far the most clever and poignant piece in the book.

Everybody into the Pool: True Tales by Beth Lisick
Regan Books
ISBN: 0060778776
240 Pages