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Sloppy firsts, p.4
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       Sloppy Firsts, p.4

           Megan Mccafferty
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  "Regardless of who you invite," Bethany said, breaking the silence, "You should be more concerned about the part in your hair than you are about wearing it up."

  "What do you mean? My part is just fine," I said, immediately looking in the mirror for a confirmation. My hair was tucked back, curling just under my earlobes, with a silver barrette clipped to the right side of my head to keep my bangs from falling into my eyes. Same as always.

  "Well, sure, it looks fine in the mirror."

  "And that’s fine because that’s what I look like."

  "No it isn’t," she laughed.

  Then she sprung the bit of big sister torture she’s probably been saving for years.

  I knew that numbers and letters were backward in the mirror, but I never thought the same principle could apply to faces. I never realized that what I see in the mirror is my reverse image. Bethany positioned me in front of a set of mirrors that bounced off each other in a way that let me see the reverse of my reverse image—which is what I really look like.

  What a shock. Bethany was right. I do part my hair on the wrong side. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Suddenly, the unevenness of my nostrils jumped out at me: The left one kind of comes from the front, while the right one sort of comes from the side. I always thought that I didn’t photograph well, but it turns out that’s how I appear to others.

  I tried holding my hand mirror up to the bathroom mirror so I can get ready for school with my real face in mind. There’s nothing I can do about my nostrils. But I’ve been trying to use styling goop, a paddle brush, and a hair-dryer to train my part to hang a left instead of a right, but it’s just not working. The part is already sixteen years in the making.

  the eighth

  We have a new girl in the honors track. Her name is Hyacinth Wallace. She told us to call her "Hy." Every teacher thought it was positively hysterical when he or she said, "Well, hi, Hy!"

  Everyone is all freaked out about her. First, she’s from New York City, which is about as exotic as you can get at PHS. Second, she is gorgeous in a dark-eyed, olive-skinned, nonsuburban way that intimidates males and females alike. Third, she seems older than us, an image enhanced by her raspy, two-pack-a-day alto. Fourth, and most significant, everyone thinks it’s too X-Files that a girl with the initials "H.W." moves in just over a month after a girl with the initials "H.W." moved out. Naturally, everyone thinks that she is destined to be my new best friend.

  Scotty believes this is a great opportunity for me to try out my new-and-improved attitude. He resorted to pimping.

  "Hy seems really cool."

  "Yeah, I guess," I said.

  "She seems really nice."

  "Yeah, I guess."

  "You should go out of your way to be nice to her."

  "Well, I won’t go out of my way to be mean to her."

  "Maybe you should invite her over to your house or something."

  I don’t invite my so-called friends over to my house, let alone perfect strangers. I told Scotty I would get to know her before I extended any invitations.

  Besides, the Clueless Crew had already taken Hy under their collective wing—she didn’t need any extra-special-wecial attention from me. Hy’s short black hair is chopped in complicated chunks and streaked with spicy shades of red: ginger, cinnamon, chili. Add that to a deconstructed Run-DMC T-shirt that’s been cropped and covered with sequins, an ankle-length patchwork denim skirt with a generous front slit, and knee-high lace-up jack boots, and Hy was clearly a beauty and fashion force to be reckoned with. One the Clueless Crew, who are identical from their plastic mini-butterfly clips down to their platform Mary Janes, transparently wanted to tap into.

  "You’d better sit with us, since you don’t know like, the safe areas of the cafeteria," urged Bridget.

  "What safe areas?" asked Hy. An obvious question for the uninitiated.

  While we got on line for our food (she eats—good sign), I explained Pineville High’s social zoning laws and their origins:

  The Upper Crusters are at long tables by the windows because, well, it’s the best spot in the cafeteria and why the hell shouldn’t they be there? They’re surrounded on all sides by the Hangers-On, the popular juniors who will sit at the U.C. table when they rule the school as seniors. Jocks (separated by sport) sit front and center, symbolic of their importance in the minds of 99.9 percent of the student body, flanked by Groupies (the Jocks’ girlfriends or, more often, those who are dying to be). Dregs are way in the back by the emergency exit, so they can sneak out to get high. 404s (an ironic twist on the techie put-down for idiot users, derived from the Web error message "404 Not Found") are in the back on the opposite side, hovered over their laptops, hoping to avoid humiliation at the hands of the Jocks or the occasional mean-spirited Upper Cruster. IQs sit up front and close to the doors so they can make it to their next class on time. Over by the vending machines, Double As (ebony) and Wiggaz (ivory) live together in hip-hop harmony, the former outnumbered by the latter five to one. (Which isn’t bad, considering whites outnumber blacks thirty to one in the PHS population at large. Latino and Asian communities consist of a token representative or two in each grade. "Hey, Alice," I said to Hy, "welcome to Wonderbreadland.") Finally, because most of their counterparts leave PHS before lunch to take beauty culture or mechanics classes at the vocational school, Hoochies and Hicks are in small clusters throughout the cafeteria.

  "These are just the main categories," I said. "There are too many subdivisions to mention."

  "Where do you sit?"

  "We’re on the boundary between the Hangers-On and the IQs. It’s decent real estate for sophomores."

  "So what happens to border-jumpers?" Hy asked. Again, a good question.

  "Well, the IQs wouldn’t care. But if you had the nerve to take a Hangers-On table, you’d be pelted with the more aerodynamic components of the vegetable medley."

  "That would be ironic," she said.


  "Girl, I left the city to get away from real gangs," she said. "Then I come to New Jersey and get caught up in a turf war."

  I thought that was pretty funny.

  That was the high point of lunch. I had wanted to ask Hy if she was serious about the gangs, but when we got back to the table, the Clueless Crew hounded her with questions for the next sixteen minutes and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Here’s the gist:

  Q. Where did you get your T-shirt? (A. A friend attending the Fashion Institute of Technology made it for her.)

  Q. Where did you get your skirt? (A. At a vintage clothing store in the Village—that’s Greenwich Village to you and me.)

  Q. Where did you get your boots? (A. From "the world’s best" Salvation Army.)

  By the end of the interrogation, Bridget, Manda, and Sara were swearing off the Ocean County Mall.

  Oh. There was one crucial non-wardrobe-related question:

  Q. Do you have a boyfriend?

  I must admit that I too breathed a sigh of relief when the answer was "Yes." No competition. He’s a nineteen-year-old DJ she met at a rave. His name is—get this—Fly. Fly and Hy. I think this is hilarious.

  I doubt I’ll ask Hy over to my house. Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s cool. But Hy is way too happening to cozy up to a suburban loser like me. I’d constantly be looking over my shoulder for the cooler friends she’d ditch me for.

  the tenth

  Tonight was the indoor track awards dinner. Girls’ team only. The boys decided to have a separate banquet, so I didn’t have the pleasure of having my second mortifying "conversation" with Paul Parlipiano.

  I got the Scholar Athlete Award. My GPA has risen to 99.66. The crazy thing is, the higher my GPA gets, the more I realize that high school is useless. I’m serious. I forget everything I’m supposed to have learned immediately after the test. For example, I got back a Chemistry quiz I took last week. I nailed a 95. But when I looked over the formulas today, they meant nothing to me.

  All subjects are the same. I
memorize notes for a test, spew it, ace it, then forget it. What makes this scary for the future of our country is that I’m in the tip-top percentile on every standardized test. I’m a model student with a very crappy attitude about learning.

  It’s a good thing I’m smart. My parents won’t let me know just how smart I am, though. I had my IQ tested in first grade but they would never tell me what the number was. I assume it’s because they found out I was smarter than they were. I know this because I overheard my mom saying to my dad, "How are we supposed to feel knowing our kid is smarter than we are?" (I knew they weren’t talking about Bethany—a straight B-minus student who only applied to bantamweight state schools and had the good fortune of getting hit on by G-Money at the Bamboo Bar in the summer of 1993, an event that guaranteed she’d never work a steady job in her life.)

  My parents aren’t dumb. My dad is a high-school network administrator (not at PHS, thank God), so he knows a ton of I.T. mumbo jumbo. And my mom was the top broker associate at Century 21 last year. But still I wonder where I inherited my overactive brain. They think about things waaaaaay less than I do. Their boring suburbanness doesn’t cause them any existential angst that keeps them awake at night. Nope, they do their jobs, come home, eat dinner, drink a few glasses of wine, watch whatever is on TV from eight P.M. until midnight, go to sleep, and wake up at six A.M. to do it all over again. The most exciting things going on in their lives aren’t even going on in their lives. My mom lives for Bethany’s wedding appointments. My dad lives for my meets. And that seems to be okey-dokey to them.

  I can’t settle for such a lackluster life. Which is why it bothers me that this award was no big deal. Or that the whole indoor track season was no big deal. Maybe I feel this way because I’m naturally good at it. I work hard at practice and all, but I don’t put in any superhuman effort to be the top distance runner on the team. I just am. Scotty has told me that he isn’t a natural athlete. But he’s gotten so good because he puts his mind, body, and spirit into every workout. There’s a history of hard work behind every touchdown, every basket, every run, and that’s why sports give him a rush.

  But I can’t think of anything (track, student council, Key Club, and so on) that gets me as psyched as that. Or as giddy as the Clueless Crew gets from organizing a pep rally or decorating the Jocks’ lockers before a big game. I wish I were artistic, like Hope. That’s passion. That’s something to get excited about. I do everything I do because it will look good on my college applications. Depressing, isn’t it?

  the fourteenth

  Valentine’s Day. Excruciating.

  The torture started at lunch. It took every ounce of my energy to restrain myself from throttling Bridget and Manda. (This is part of my ongoing effort to avoid turning into a social outcast.) All they did was complain about how their boyfriends didn’t put as much effort into this mushy, Blue Mountain Arts watercolor holiday as they did. They made the classic mistake that all cupid-stupid girlfriends make: They assumed guys give a damn about V-Day.

  "I bought Burke a card. And a teddy bear. And a bag of Hershey’s Kisses," Bridget said, seething. "All he bought me was a cruddy carnation that’s like, sold by the Key Club."

  "Well, at least Burke bought you something. I got squat," Manda whined. Then she paused for effect. "After this weekend, Bernie should’ve gotten me something really nice. If you know what I mean."

  The Headmaster’s wink-wink, nudge-nudge aside was totally unnecessary. Even Hy is hip to Manda’s reputation, and she’s only been here for a little over a week. A few days ago Manda was wearing what Hope and I call the "infamous booty skirt." This inspired Burke and P.J. to whisper about how hypocritical it was that Manda wouldn’t hook up with the coolest sophomores or juniors but would happily do total dorks just because they’re seniors.

  Hy overheard this convo and pulled me aside in between classes.

  "Is Manda a skank or what?"

  Hy can be pretty blunt.

  "What’s your definition of skank?" I asked.

  Hy didn’t hesitate. "A skank fucks skeezas she barely knows."

  "Well, then Manda isn’t a skank."

  Then I explained Manda’s Clintonian philosophy: 100 percent pure until penetration.

  Hy thought about this for a moment.

  "She may not be a skank," she said. "But girl, she’s skanky for real."

  I had to agree.

  Manda’s latest conquest is Bernie Hufnagel. I remember the day she decided Bernie was cute. She spotted him across the crowded cafeteria, putting one of his fellow wrestlers in a headlock, and said, "Bernie Hufnagel is cute." Less than a week later, they were swapping spit outside the boys’ locker room before his wrestling match.

  I’ve got to give that girl props. Manda is only okay-looking: Her full lips and lush lashes are the best features on an otherwise flat face. Yet she makes the most of what she’s got. She starts pouting and fluttering—not to mention flaunting her huge hooters—and she can get anyone she wants. If she wanted to, she’d be in Paul Parlipiano’s pants by the end of the day. And that’s a power I can’t help but envy.

  She’s only been "dating" Bernie for a week and it’s highly unlikely he’ll make it to March. (Although they do have something in common: He’s always trying to make weight, so he never eats either.) So it was incredibly annoying to have to listen to her gripe about his insensitivity on this, a day devoted to all things lovey-dovey.

  What was worse, however, was hearing Hy go on about how she and Fly don’t celebrate V-Day because they think it’s more important to show love for each other every day, and not get all artificially mushy on February fourteenth.

  "That’s deep," said Manda.

  "Yeah," said Bridget.

  Sara, who celebrates this holiday by quadrupling the number of Omigod!-I’m-so-fat-I’ll-never-get-a-boyfriends, just sighed into her Diet Coke.

  Jesus Christ. I hate Valentine’s Day. It goes back to that elementary-school tradition of collecting all the valentines in one big cardboard box o’love and the teacher handing them out one by one in front of the entire class. This was fine and dandy in first and second grade when Valentine’s Day was an equal-opportunity holiday and everyone gave valentines to everyone else. This lovely little practice made the sentiment completely meaningless because it didn’t discriminate.

  By third grade, Pineville Elementary School’s reigning prepubescent bitch realized that Valentine’s Day could serve as a sadistic competition. Nadine LaDieu declared that she was only giving Valentines to boys. Not just any boys, mind you, but only the ones she considered cute and/or cool enough to be part of the elementary-school elite. All the girls agreed to do the same, my Smuckers-spined self included. Then she made all the boys promise that they would only give valentines to the girls they thought were cute and/or cool enough.

  I gave one to Len Levy. This is when he was still fairly popular, before he developed a case of socially crippling purple-all-over acne.

  I went home empty-handed. And brokenhearted.

  It’s gotten worse as we’ve gotten older. On no other day does the world find as much delight in reminding those of us not fortunate enough to be getting down with a significant other on a regular basis just how pathetic and undesirable we really are.

  I thought Scotty might give me an ironic V-Day gift, like those chalky candies with messages like Hot Stuffand Sweet Lips on them. He could have given them to me as a friend, for laughs. But deep down I would’ve known that the effort involved meant it wasn’t a joke at all. But he didn’t. And I can’t blame him. Especially after my lukewarm reaction to the birthday rose. Not to mention that most boyfriends fail to deliver what girls want on V-Day. And Scotty is not my boyfriend.

  The only person who showed any romantic interest in me was this tiny black kid who sits in front of me in French class. Even I outweigh him—he wrestles in the 103-pound weight class. For the past few weeks he’s been giving me these goofy, googly-eyed grins or turning around at random intervals to
say, Bonjour, mon amie. Today he asked me a bizillion times if I had a Valentine. Conclusion: He has a huge Pepe Le Pew–like crush on me. I don’t know how this is possible because he’s one of those freshmen who looks too young to have a working set of nads. (Though, with my menstrual cycle MIA, I’m one to talk.)

  Of course, I bitched and moaned about my bad luck. Why would this half-pint choose me as the object of his affection? The only info he has on me is what he’s found out via our forced French I Q&A sessions: Je m’appelle Jessica. J’ai seize ans. J’aime courir. (My name is Jessica. I’m sixteen years old. I like to run.) That’s what I get for wanting to be trilingual and taking an academic elective with freshmen.

  By the time eighth period rolled around, I was more depressed about my loser love life than ever. I decided to cheer myself up by watching Paul Parlipiano leave his AP Physics class. As he glided out of the lab, I thought about how perfect he looked in his khakis and plaid button-down shirt. He was laughing, so I wondered what he thought was so funny. I saw ink scrawled all over his book covers and wanted to read what it said. I fantasized about what it would feel like if I wrapped one of his sandy blond curls around my pinky finger. At that moment, what I wanted most in the world—more than world peace, more than a cure for cancer, even more than Hope moving back to Pineville—was for Paul Parlipiano to smile at me and say, Hey, Jessica. What’s up?

  Then it hit me: I’m Paul Parlipiano’s Pepe Le Pew.

  That was my Valentine’s Day epiphany.

  the twenty-fifth

  I’m pretty sure I’m losing my mind.

  I forgot my locker combination today. This wouldn’t be so weird if I had just returned from vacation. But today is Friday. I opened my locker twenty times this week with no problem. However, when I got to my locker this morning before homeroom, my hand had no clue what to do. My mind was blank. Left nothing, right nothing, left nothing.

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