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An excerpt of Michael Imperioli's coming-of-age novel, "The Perfume Burned His Eyes"
Michael Imperioli is best known for his starring role as Christopher Moltisanti in the acclaimed TV series The Sopranos—which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award—and played a lead role on season two of HBO’s The White Lotus. He wrote five episodes of The Sopranos; was coscreenwriter of the film Summer of Sam, directed by Spike Lee; and was anthologized in The Nicotine Chronicles, edited by Lee Child. Imperioli has appeared in six of Spike Lee’s films and has also acted in films by Martin Scorsese, Abel Ferrara, Walter Hill, Peter Jackson, and the Hughes Brothers. He cohosted the rewatch podcast Talking Sopranos with his Sopranos costar Steve Schirripa, with whom he also penned the best-selling book Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos. Additionally, Imperioli is a singer and guitarist in the band ZOPA. Follow him on Instagram: @realmichaelimperioli.
California, November 2013
I’m heading up the 101 with Los Angeles behind me. I think it’s autumn. It’s night so it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell in the daytime too. The sun has no seasons in Southern California. Or maybe it does and I just haven’t figured them out yet.
On the edge of Thousand Oaks I find myself at the top of the Conejo Grade. It’s a dizzying decline that twists down into the valley where Camarillo begins. If you didn’t know any better you could easily think you were about to fall off the edge of the world.
This stretch of Cali freeway is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a hitchhiking migrant farmworker who was run over by a drunken teenager who hung himself in his jail cell. Which I suppose makes two ghosts, though it’s only the farmhand who’s been seen in these parts.
The sun has no seasons in Southern California. Or maybe it does and I just haven’t figured them out yet.
And though I have no idea where in the Los Angeles area my father crashed and burned, something in my gut tells me it was here. I’m sure there are ways to research it and find out the truth, but I have yet to do so and probably never will. Sometimes the truth of imagination is easier to live with than the truth of fact.
By day you can see hills rolling on for miles, some of them strange and mysterious, like flattop pyramids grown over wild—too correct in angle and line to be a product of nature. At night it’s like sitting in the cockpit of an airplane as you slowly descend to a narrow landing strip between the mountains, hills, farmland, and the lights of the Camarillians. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, you might get a heady waft of peaty fertilizer or sugary strawberry if luck is with you.
And though I have no idea where in the Los Angeles area my father crashed and burned, something in my gut tells me it was here.
But tonight the air is still. One of your songs comes on the radio. You are only a few days dead so a lot of your songs are being sent over the airwaves. It’s an old song, one of your earliest. A nugget that would spawn so many more of its kind as an unbroken chain of admirers fell under your influence.
I go from surprise to shock when I notice it’s raining. It hasn’t rained here in years but the sky doesn’t know that so it sends the water down as if it were common. It pours like the tropics and it’s very hard to see. Dangerous. West Coast drivers are unaccustomed to wet roads and impaired visibility. We all slow to a steady creep, some of us crying.
I cry as much for your passing as I do for the time unrecoverable that has passed me by. I cry for the boy I was, who became a man.
I cry as much for your passing as I do for the time unrecoverable that has passed me by. I cry for the boy I was, who became a man. For the city I loved, which has vanished like you have. For the beautiful, brilliant shooting starlet who left this earth while still a child. I cry for never having known you once I was old enough to understand who you really were and the magnitude of the art you made.
©2018, 2022 Michael Imperioli; excerpt reprinted by permission from Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com)
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