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Fourth comings, p.26
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       Fourth Comings, p.26

           Megan Mccafferty
 
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  “You promised!” she exclaimed, before giving in to the laughter herself. The bunk bed nearly collapsed from the thunderous gut-busting reverberations. “I know! It’s the least creative job in the world. And Janeane Garofolo hated her job at the Gap in Reality Bites, like, a decade ago, so it’s not even creative as a form of humiliation!”

  “So you make up all this stuff because—”

  She interrupted me. “Because I’m so fucking boring!” she cried. “I’m not living this awesome, scandalous life. I’m living a boring, totally chaste life, and I’m required to wear hideously boring khakis and T-shirts while doing it!” We both glanced at the hideously boring khakis and T-shirts overflowing from the hamper. “No offense, Jess.”

  “None taken.”

  “Can you blame me for wanting drama? Inventing a life?”

  At first I was mystified. How could she have possibly pulled this off? But then I realized just how little Dexy and I see of each other. I took all her phone calls, e-mails, and text messages as truth—even the most outlandish bits—because how could anyone actually concoct such a vivid imaginary world? I rarely saw her in person, and when I did, it was usually for a few hours at a time, during which it would be possible for a woman with Dexy’s flair for dramaturgy to convincingly play an alternate version of herself. Hell, I’m not even all that good of an actress, and I was able to pull off my Jenn-with-Two-N’s ruse with Dude.

  But it wasn’t just Dexy. She was just the most glaring example of a deeper problem: I was totally disconnected from all of the most important people in my life. And it’s not just about callousness or a lack of empathy that you’ve been warning me about. It’s simpler, and sadder: I just don’t pay enough attention. Even when I’m with my friends and family, I don’t listen hard enough for the words that aren’t being said. I’m elsewhere.

  I realized that I could make a big deal out of this, or not.

  I chose not to.

  I just turned up the next song, one about not wanting to talk about love, not even sweet, true love, but especially not about broken romances, or plans and promises made that will never be realized. All she wants to do is go where the action is. All she wants to do is live.

  “I love the nightlife,” Dexy warbled. “I got to boogie on the disco round, oh yea!”

  Since Dexy has to spend every day dressed like me, she’s decided that I need to dress like her, at least for tonight. Thus, the polyester bamboo-print kimono dress and suede to-the-knee boots.

  Dexy says she is just about done styling my hair—sectioning off my locks, wrapping them around huge, old-fashioned pink foam rollers, and then doubling the size of the hole in the ozone by shellacking the whole bumpy helmet with highly chlorofluorocarbonated hair spray, transforming it from a sad bun into a preposterously complicated seventies half-up, half-down bouffant-flip show ponytail that took about an hour from start to completion, which is how I’ve had time to write all this down.

  But now she’s done. I’m all dressed up to go out and have the type of New York City night that I can only enjoy if you’re not there with me.

  sixty-three

  I should have left the Care. Okay? party with Dexy, but she had to make curfew (“Curfew, J! I have a two A.M. curfew! I haven’t had a two A.M. curfew since I was fifteen!”) and left me behind, and I stayed and did shots with a drag queen named after the colors of the rainbow. When I’m with Dexy, I don’t get drunk because someone has to be incontrol. But what is control, anyway? None of us has any control overanything, it’s all the illusion of control. An annoying celebutard(redundant) sang “Control” by Janet Jackson tonight and sucked hard. She wasn’t good enough to be good and wasn’t bad enough to be good, either. The worst kind of karaoke singer. Dexy is so bad that she’s awesome—which is why I brought her with me even though her behavior scares me. Her stage-humping version of “Like a Virgin” (like being the operative word there) brought down the house, as I knew it would. Then she went back to Bosom Buddieshotel, and I got drunk. Dexy is socrazy that she makes me feel so together even when I am drooling drunk, which I am. Just in case you thought I was trying to hide it from you. I AM DRUNK. I actually drooled on this page, which is why the ink is smeary, though drool isn’t really accurate, it’s more like the spits, the nasty spits before you—

  I just threw up.

  I’m not going to lie to you. You want all the truth, right? I just threw up because I drank too many shots of tequila after Dexy left because I didn’t have to be the responsible one anymore, plus you weren’t there, either, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about getting drunk in front of you. I want the freedom to drink too much and throw up. I want the freedom to be a hypocrite. I want the freedom to live in a city you hate and get a stupid job you think is beneath me. I want the freedom to make mistakes and not have you make me feel bad about them.

  friday: the eighth

  sixty-four

  It’s Friday morning-borderline-afternoon here in Sammy. When I awoke, I didn’t recognize my own body at first, as it was still unfamiliarly clad in Dexy’s dress, the polyester sticking to my body with the clammy dampness of drunken night sweats.

  As for my corporeal condition, I, apparently, out of the goodness of my heart, volunteered to mop up the floor with my tongue before leaving the party last night. And my whole head now is pounding in retaliatory pain, as if I had spent the whole evening trying to jam it up my own ass. (Which isn’t true, even metaphorically speaking.)

  It’s five glasses of water, four ibuprofens, three cups of coffee, two vitamin C tablets, and one immobile hour later. If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of blowing off my fake job this week, so I don’t have to be anywhere (Bethany’s) or do anything (babysit Marin) until later this afternoon, which gives me several hours to document that which I was too polluted to write about in anything but semiliterate prose last night. As is to be expected, my memory fades in and out, but I will try to piece together an approximation of the evening’s events to the best of my hungover capabilities.

  I’m doing this mostly because I feel obligated to finish what I’ve started.

  sixty-five

  The Social Activists’ Care. Okay? karaoke party is held every Thursday night at Come, the same place that hosted Shit Lit. Last night there were not one, not two, but three snarling bouncers to keep out any wannabe do-gooders who were not, in MILF parlance, OTB. This was a strictly OTB crowd, and as the Cerberean gatekeepers checked and cross-checked Jessica Darling +1 on the various VIP lists, I couldn’t help but think of this as passage through to a very special kind of hell.

  In the spirit of Zagat, Come is all about “manufactured scuzziness,” a “Disney-meets-Dionysus ‘Dive Bar’ with bottle service on the LES.” The “grimy,” “no frills,” “dimly lit” lounge is the perfect space for the “glossy,” “all-frills,” “megawatt crowd” who want to “escape the B&T scene on 27th Street” and “pretend they’re slumming.” It was packed to capacity with a melting pot of beautiful people who can afford to pay the $250 door fee and $250 per song, all proceeds going directly to whatever pet cause of the week is chosen by the Social Activists. I could name-drop here, but I won’t because mentioning these boldfaced names would imply that I was impressed, daresay honored, to share the same rarefied air with a certain underage movie actress known for cutting cocaine with Strawberry Quik, or the pop princess who is better known for the inflation-deflation-reinflation of her funbags than for her music.

  And these were just the obvious A-listers in attendance. Dexy kept on pointing out other New York notables whom I didn’t recognize at all. The financier’s son who hasn’t let his marriage to an icy blond heirhead slow down his habit for squiring hard-bodied homos for bathroom blow jobs. The deejay paranoid that snorting crystal meth will wreck her nose job, and smoking it will give her jack-o’-lantern meth mouth, so she asks her unpaid intern to administer it via her asshole.

  “THAT’S CALLED A ‘BOOTY BUMP,’ OR ‘KEISTERING!’” Dexy shouted matter-
of-factly, her neck swiveling around the room as she spoke. “AND BEFORE YOU GET ALL WORRIED, LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT I DON’T KNOW THIS FROM FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE….”

  “HOW DO YOU KNOW ALL THIS?” I shouted back. (Okay, I don’t want to pull an Owen Meany here, so just assume that any conversation that took place throughout this whole evening was shouted, all caps, in bold, and italicized, as that’s the only way anyone could be heard over the karaoke caterwauling.)

  “How do you not?” she asked, her head still twisting around, her eyes a-goggle.

  With all this sordid gossip in my brain, it was difficult for me to remember that it was all supposed to be for a good cause. This week’s proceeds went toward the Global Fund, a nonprofit that helps fight AIDS, TB, and malaria in Africa. It’s just like I told Hope the other afternoon: Africa is hot, hot, hot. But I doubt Strawberry Quik, Princess Funbags, or the rest of their dilated-pupil posse could find Africa on a map, and Africa is a big freaking continent. And it stands pretty much alone, too, unlike Asia, which is practically spooning Europe. Anyway, I couldn’t help but be cynical about the whole endeavor when it was appallingly obvious that the success of Care. Okay? had almost nothing to do with the spirit of giving and more to do with showing off that you have so much extra cash lining your pockets that you can just give it all away to a continent best known as the birthplace of Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt.

  I obviously cannot afford such ostentatious generosity, so I’ve turned down all of Cinthia’s previous invitations. I only agreed to go because she had called me personally and told me not to worry about the tax-deductible door fee because she really wanted me to be there. In this age of easy avoidance through digital accessibility, the implications of such a gesture cannot be underrated. I had a feeling that there was an ulterior motive to the invitation, but I couldn’t imagine what Cinthia could possibly need from me.

  She had reserved spots for me and Dexy at her table. Dexy led the way, barreling through the crush of bodies, providing loud and sordid commentary the whole time. We finally found Cinthia standing at the front and center table, right by the stage, forehead to forehead with the aforementioned DJ Booty Bump, in front of a table occupied by a cross section of contemporary urban hipster clichés. The group looked like they had been handpicked by an advertising agency designing the “urban market” ads for Valtrex: Genital herpes can happen to anyone…especially hipsters like you!

  “She’s tiny!” Dexy was swooning over Cinthia. “But she’s Reese Witherspoon cute and healthy tiny, not Nicole Richie needs-a-feeding-tube tiny!” She hugged herself passionately. “And I’m in love with her dress! I am so in love with her dress that I want to marry her dress and have its stylish babies!”

  It wasn’t until Dexy said that that I realized that I had totally neglected to mention your proposal. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, so caught up was I in Dexy’s cyclone of drama.

  Cinthia was rocking a silk, one-shouldered, drop-waist minidress, mostly magenta and splattered with black Rorschach blobs, worn over black leggings with pointy ankle boots. It sounds ridiculous, and it was ridiculous, but she pulled it off with panache.

  Dexy turned to me, in my secondhand polyester. “I told you you’d fit right in!”

  But seeing Cinthia (and Dexy, and everyone else in the room, for that matter) wear that outfit so brilliantly only made me feel clumsy and self-conscious in my own throwbacks.

  “I still can’t believe you’re friends with Cinthia Wallace!”

  “It is sort of strange,” I admitted. “We’re on opposite ends of the Social Register, that’s for sure.”

  “And you really didn’t recognize her when she arrived at your school to write that book? What was it called again?”

  “Bubble-gum Bimbos—”

  “I would have called her out in a second,” Dexy interrupted. “She was the jailbait socialite of the nineties! She was on Page Six like every day! She scandalized her whole family….”

  “I wasn’t up on that kind of stuff,” I said. “I’m still not.”

  “But no one in your school knew?”

  “She picked Pineville High because we were so clueless.”

  “Well, obvs.”

  Dexy sashayed toward Cinthia, and in doing so passed right in front of the stage, briefly blocking the audience’s view of the Eastern European model apparently too fatigued with malnourishment to carry a tune. As the runway favorite strained to coax out the words to “Edge of Seventeen,” she gorgeously illustrated the fundamental problem with karaoke parties thrown and attended by Beautiful People, with or without the philanthropic angle. Beautiful People singing badly is fun to watch only if you are a Beautiful Person yourself. Because if you are not a Beautiful Person, all you can see is how in love these Beautiful People are with themselves. If they can actually hit some of the right notes, they are far too smug and impressed, as if one in-tune rendition of “Oh Sherry” has refuted the long-held myth that Beautiful People have no discernible talent other than being beautiful. Hear that? That hot chick is easy on the eyes and the ears! Wow! Isn’t she genius? Aren’t we all? But the self-congratulatory annoyingness is even worse if the singer is horrendous, because the singer is so hyperaware of her horrendous singing. The Beautiful Person, usually of the female variety, doubles over in laughter as she sings, covers her eyes with her hands, and pushes “Don’t watch me!” gestures at the audience, all of which is meant to show that she isn’t just another pretty face—oh, no!—she’s a pretty face who has a sense of humor, who likes to poke fun of herself and her very prettiness….

  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

  sixty-six

  I’m having a bit of a meltdown here.

  First things first: I’m a hypocrite ne plus ultra for attending a party at which I would be surrounded by the those I’ve skewered in the past, such as the “wannabe or slumming Williamsturdburgers trying too hard to outdo one another in their kaffiyeh neck scarves, scraggly crusatches, and Jheri-curl mullets.”

  I needed you to know that I know that.

  I’ve got less than one day left, but I’m not sure if I’m going to make it through this little experiment. It’s not just because my hand is killing me from all this writing, surely suffering from repetitive-use injury. Besides that is the ominous feeling that my hypographic carpal tunnel will be for naught. I’ve dutifully documented all the routines and rituals, conversations and connections that are supposed to imbue life with meaning, and yet I can’t imagine a worthwhile conclusion to all this onanistic scribbling. This seems most obvious right now, as I attempt to present last night’s events.

  But I’ve got a history of giving up when things go bad. I’m a quitter. I quit the Girl Scouts when I didn’t sell enough cookies to earn a merit badge for my efforts. I quit playing clarinet when I wasn’t chosen for first chair in seventh-grade orchestra. I quit the cross-country team when I had little hope of rising above twenty-third in the county. I quit writing for the Seagull’s Voice when the adviser had the nerve to try to edit/censor my work. I quit my internship at True magazine when I didn’t want to simulate fellatio in front of the editor in chief. I quit my assignments for Think this week when I finally accepted that they would never lead to gainful employmet.

  I quit trying to persuade you to talk to me.

  I am determined not to quit this notebook. Even if not one word of it will make a difference.

  sixty-seven

  Where was I? Oh, yeah.

  “Jess!”

  Cinthia gestured for me to come closer. DJ BB took one bored look in our direction and slipped away. Cinthia hugged me longer than I expected. I could feel all the room’s eyes on me, trying to figure out who I was, and why Cinthia Wallace was embracing me so.

  “So what were you just talking about?” I asked. “Looked intense.”

  “The de-deregulation of the lending industry,” she said. “Or reregulation, if you believe in the strategic propaganda powers of positive language.”

&
nbsp; I knew Cinthia well enough at this point to suspect that she wasn’t kidding. She really was trying to discuss credit-card reform with someone who enjoys crystal meth colonics.

  Dexy grabbed Cinthia’s hand and pumped it up and down. “I’m Dexy! J’s friend! And let me tell you how much I admire your work with the Social Activists!”

  Cinthia extracted herself from the handshake and smiled. “Well, thank you…”

  “Seriously! Don’t let the tabloids get you down!” Dexy said, now chummy enough with Cinthia to pat her on the shoulder. “What’s wrong with wanting to be remembered as more than a vapid coat hanger with a taste for the booger sugar? Why shouldn’t you do something positive with your money and fame?”

  “Thanks,” Cinthia said, taken aback by Dexy’s enthusiasm, as most people are upon first meeting her. “But we’re actually moving in a different direction….”

  “Who’s ‘we’?” I asked. “The Social Activists?” I glanced at the other faces at the table, trying to get them involved in the conversation. But they were all talking among themselves, not paying one bit of attention to the current performer—a portly, bald Tenacious D type doing a spectacular Freddie Mercury. (“I’m a sex machine ready to reload…Like an atom bomb about to oh oh oh oh oh explode!”) But Cinthia spoke to Dexy and me as if we were the only people in the room, a skill that no doubt helps her when it comes to persuading people to part with their money. Only we had no money to part with.

  “The Social Activists can only do so much. We can raise money, sure, and social profiles, but we’re not raising consciousness. I founded the Social Activists hoping I could exploit the conspicuous one-upmanship that is so pervasive here in the city and do some good. No one here cares about where the money is going”—she gestured around the table here—“they only care that they are among those being seen giving it away. And I figured that as long as the money was going to worthy causes, the dubious intentions of the donors didn’t matter.” She paused and leaned in closer. “But it does matter.” Cinthia let out a sigh. “I know, it’s all so sincere,” she said, screwing her lips into a sneer on the last word. “Well, what’s wrong with sincerity? Why is it such a dirty word?”

 
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