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How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater

by Marc Acito

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


How I Paid for College by Marc Acito
Remember high school? Remember the cliques? The jocks, the freaks, the brains, the play people...

Play people?

We called them theatre geeks at my high school. You remember - kids who dyed their hair pink and orange (I'm talking about the early 1980's - before everyone dyed their hair pink and orange), kids who wore vintage clothing - really vintage clothing - like 19th century. The play people liked the spotlight. What's more, they actually liked literature, liked poetry, sang out loud in front of people for no reason whatsoever. They knew about books and movies that I had never heard of. They reveled in the artistic culture, while the rest of us spent our hours supporting the beer industry.

Step back in time to 1983. Edward Zanni, a play person, is plotting his escape from Wallingford, NJ. His best friend, Paula, is headed to Julliard, "the finest institution for acting in the entire country," while Edward endures his final year at Wallingford High School. Edward's not doing too badly for himself, though. His girlfriend, Kelly, is "everything a high school boy wants in a girl - she's thin, she's blond, and, most important, she likes to mess around."

Edward's father, Al Zanni, is the chief financial officer of a storage disposal facility, and, thus far, has made it unnecessary for Edward to find gainful employment during his high school years. And, despite his mother's propensity for divorce and disappearance to parts South American for purposes of new-age self-discovery, she's at least left MoM (Mom's old Mercedes) for Edward to drive in her absence.

Yes, Edward is certainly living it up in his final year at Wallingford High, and with a good likelihood he'll be matriculating at Julliard in the coming year, he's got it easy.

Too easy, in fact. Where's the tension? Where's the seemingly insurmountable obstacle?

Enter Dagmar, Al Zanni's middle-aged, Austrian, ice-witch of a mid-life crisis girlfriend cometh straight from H-E-double-hockey-sticks to make Edward's life miserable. Dagmar assumes control of Edward's dad and his money. That's when the bomb hits. Al's decided not to ante up the $10,000 annual tuition for Edward to attend Julliard next year.


Ok - it's no white whale, but in this whacky, Scooby-Doo type hi-jinx of a coming-of-age gay in New Jersey romp through the miasma that is adolescence novel, it'll have to do.

Whose adolescence is this anyway? Not mine. Edward and his charicaturesque theatre buddies are getting a hell of a lot more action than I ever did, but then I was never really at the front lines when it came to adolescent sexual discovery. These kids, however, are hopping in and out of bed with the agility usually reserved for the porn stars of the era. Ah well - it is the early 1980's and pre-AIDS. Let the kids have some fun!

The real dilemma is how to raise the $10k that Edward needs to go to Julliard next year, and it'll take a whole lot more than rampaging hormones to get that done. It'll take nun costumes and priest outfits, in fact; it'll take forgery and it'll take blackmail and probably a lot more tangential scheming than even I remember committing for the sake of no reason whatsoever.

Marc Acito is funny. The PR info on this book says he is hailed as the "gay Dave Barry" for his syndicated humor column,"The Gospel according to Marc," and I believe it. What's more, it states that Acito was himself "kicked out of one of the finest drama schools in the country." So, what percentage of How I Paid For College is true-to-life memoir of Marc Acito's teen years? I don't know, and I don't want to. It is enough that Acito makes an effortless transition from humor columnist to humor novelist and, in so doing, delivers on this fun-filled and farcical teen romp.

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