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They're not going to let the formaldehyde head-spin get in the way of the most important part of dissection lab: finding and removing the tiny penises. Those who learned they had girl frogs were sorely disappointed. And those who did meet with success in their organ-quest fought over who would take the trophy home.
If I don't remove my goggles, my eyes will drown in trapped tears at the mere sight of the unsuspecting grayish rubbery little body pinned, spreadeagled, to a wax tray. Is this a better fate than having your legs wind up in some snooty gourmand's stomach?
G lights his cigarette on the same electric stove burner that I've been holding my hands over for longer than I probably should. Which, really, is AT ALL, given that it's neither the best way to warm myself nor the safest. My parents' house is cold, my 17-year-old, 93-pound body is colder, and I've been admonished to stay away from the thermostat.
As recently as two days ago, I would've been elated to have G, my parents' "hot" 34-year-old friend, standing so close. Last night, however, he made the move on me I'd been secretly craving for months.
Continued from 11/2
At 17 years and 93 pounds, I've got two fewer years and 15 fewer pounds than the last girl he'd brought around, so why I thought he'd never be interested in me is beyond me. So it was with such outrageous naivete that I went with him to the art museum in his atrocious Cadillac and endured kisses that weren't nearly as enchanting in the flesh as they had been in my mind.
My mom notices that not only am I not scrambling to be near him this morning but that I'm avoiding him altogether.
Continued from 11/3
More than twenty years pass. Mom still talks about him.
"He was so gorgeous," she says. "When I saw J at the doctor's office a few years ago, she told me he's still gorgeous. Oh, he was so gorgeous!"
Was he gorgeous?
I want to ask.
Okay, so he was. And he's living in Brooklyn now. And if I weren't involved with my boyfriend, I would contact him only so he could see what he'll always be missing but could have eventually had, had he not wanted a 16-year-old girl to suck his 34-year-old cock.
Continued from 11/4
Compared to my mom, Pavlov's dog has a serious case of dry mouth. One mention of his name, and she smiles like a halfwit. Ahh, yes. The lanky Russian and his sad, deep-set blue eyes. His murals on our walls. His never-ending supply of "happy pills".
I'd told her, a while ago, that one night, when nobody was looking, he'd sped innocent little 17-year-old me away to the art museum to give me a mouthful of borscht, but she seems to brush this off. I think she is secretly jealous that he took me and not her.
The first time Jeremy, my laptop, and iSaac, my iPhone, were both turned on at the same time -- ten days after iSaac moved in -- they fell in love. Jeremy took one look at little iSaac all lit up and full of "apps" and just couldn't help himself. He launched into his signature pick-up mode.
"You're compact and black and shiny with rounded edges ... I'm compact and black and shiny with rounded edges," he said.
Within seconds, they were exchanging shy "I love you"s.
Gregory, my piano keyboard, who'd spurned Jeremy's advances two months earlier, was nonetheless jealous.
Tina's teachers make no bones about it: She's failing second grade because she's just too ugly. It's not that the kid doesn't have the chops, the skill, the brains, the moxie, the charm, and what a few lamebrains call "God given talent" to win a string of A's as perfect as a row of paper dolls precision-cut by a turbo-laser-moonbeam.
Her parents don't quibble at the PTA meetings. They accept Tina's fate. She'll be "held back" for the next decade. Puberty is not going to make her cuter. Eventually she'll be the oldest ugliest girl in second grade. Oh, well.
It's the thought that keeps her hyper-awake well into the night, that startles her at the instant she's finally about to succumb to slumber, that haunts her even as she skulks along the city streets and nibbles on her smoked turkey sandwich in the park and brews her nightly Earl Grey. Even more than death and speculating how hers will meet her, this thought kills her. She fears that underneath all the neon tights, all the vintage eyeglasses, all the finery of French films that she quotes, she is staggeringly, painfully, inexorably as deathly boring as anyone and everyone else.
Photos show her grinning madly toward the camera, leaning in toward the other people in the frame in order to fit into the shot. She should be in the center of the photos, though, shouldn't she, given that the hoopla and brouhaha and frippery of the day are all in honor of her, right?
It doesn't matter where she's placed in the photos, though, because there's no mistaking who she is. She's the one in the long white lacy dress and gauzy veil, with the manic red-lipped maw. She's the one with the dyed blonde hair covering her 72-year-old grayness.
From the living room bar, I would sneak my father's Stoli into a small glass decanter I hid in one of my bedroom dressers. In my parents' bathroom, I would tap my mother's Chanel No. 5 onto my "pulse points". I would replace the purloined vodka and perfume with water from the tap, hoping no one would notice the dilution.
They wouldn’t smell the vodka on my breath, because I rarely left my bedroom. But the perfume? How did I think I would get away with that?
And what does a 12-year-old need with these two varieties of alcohol, anyway?
During "the act", Martina mentally collects the physical flaws of her lovers in Dixie cups (three-ounce, floral pattern) and lines them up on the windowsill of the one window in her tiny but exceedingly tidy fifth-floor walkup apartment.
Here's Gerald's slight left eye ptosis, occasional tooth-grinding, and hangnail. There's Phil's paunch, stray shoulder hairs, chronic cough, and that one grayish tooth. And right now her little cup runneth over with Roger's rough feet, bushy underarms, flat ass, and blueberry-scented sweat.
She imagines herself gargling the contents of each cup, which is a less odious notion than what she's actually doing.
The bulk of my mother's free time is spent shackled to her house. She cleans, reads, does puzzles, watches reality shows I've never heard of, and, on the weekend, as a special thrill, cooks large pots of soup or stews with my sister. Other than for work, she leaves the house only for T.J. Maxx, grocery shopping, and an occasional jaunt to small local towns to scour used book stores and thrift shops. She has no friends other than my sister.
If she enjoy being a homebody, as she claims, why, then, is she bored to tears, as she confesses?
Several weeks ago, I stopped a woman to flail over her disgustingly adorable Maltese, dressed in blue pajamas. Mid-smoosh-squeal, I rhapsodized that wouldn't it be lovely if we could do the same?
Later I realized that if I really wanted to do it, I could. "The beauty of living in a free country!" I almost shouted, wanting to salute the flag. I could plod around the city dressed like that dog, even with an afghan flung around my shoulders, quasi-Linus-style, and no one could stop me.
Then I realized. There are people who do this. They're called The Homeless. Duh.
Chinese takeout was a gift from the gods I already didn't believe in, even in my single-digit years, but the eggrolls themselves were enough to make me think I should start not only believing but flailing in the aisles of an auditorium packed with tongues-speaking evangelists.
The deep-fried wrapper, golden and bubbly with an oil sheen, was just crispy enough to resist the knife that cut it in half to reveal its steaming treasures. It was impossible for my eager pincer-fingers to resist plucking a few chunks of red-edged pork, the most precious jewels, as a pre-appetizer appetizer.
Continued from 11/14
The mere sight of the wax paper bag containing the eggrolls was enough to send me into spasms to rival those of the most severely afflicted epileptic. The color of the eggroll's shell, dulled by the opaque barrier of its wrapping, teased me, showing me just a hint of its full splendor, enough to hold my interest before revealing itself in the flesh and directly inviting me to satisfy my basest urges.
I wouldn't even bother gently unfolding the bag's top to remove its temptress. I would tear the bag like a savage, ravenous lover.
Continued from 11/15
The glorious eggrolls, although enough to cause soul-shuddering, arm-flailing, feet-kicking spasms on their own, were always accompanied by spareribs, in a tag team effort for a total knockout. These champs arrived in a red paper bag illustrated with a Chinese woman kneeling, black Chinese characters, and an invitation in English to enjoy the bag's contents. As if I needed reminding.
Its top, stapled shut to seal in the steam, was alone enough to send chills and thrills down my spine. The aroma of the gifts inside, seeping out despite the staples, resulted in instant salivation.
Continued from 11/16
I couldn't contain my glee as I tore open the bag, revealing the foil lining, dotted with steam and oil, and the ribs themselves, from whose bones my teeth couldn't wait to tear the glistening, tender flesh. Not satisfied to limit the carnage to meat, however, I would grab the bones in either greasy fist and snap the slick bones in half, to gain access to the pulpy marrow, which I sucked out like a rabid coyote.
Pork-flecked eggrolls and juicy ribs ended, though, when I became vegetarian. Thirty-odd years later, though, I do miss it sometimes.
Every once in a while, I'll see some schmuck on the street wearing a satiny jacket with MARLBORO splayed enormously across its back or lugging a duffle bag with MARLBORO stretched along its length, and my lips and eyebrow will, in reflex, curl and scrunch, respectively, into a grimace, as I think, "Man oh fucking man, someone actually USES that shit?" And then wonder how many UPC codes or other proofs of purchase the cretin redeemed in order to procure it.
Don't these idiots realize they're paying for free advertising, while simultaneously advertising their own bad breath and devastated lungs?
Tenth grade English class, and most of its 30 heads are bowed, each face regarding a sheet of notebook paper on which spelling quiz answers are to be committed. The non-bowed heads contain eyes that strain to steal spellings from someone else's page.
"Faux pas," the teacher announces.
A collective question mark looms over 28 heads. The only pencils setting words to paper are mine and D's.
D, my secret crush, two seats to my right, calls out, "Fawks pass!", his head bowed.
Scattered murmurs of "Ahhh" accompany the scribbling of 28 hands.
D's peripheral vision catches my admiring smirk.
I am 15, with rocks in my sweatshirt pockets so the doctor will think I'm making my way back into the triple-digit weight that will signify his triumphant management of the recently diagnosed anorexia I wear as a badge of my own victory. Dr. N., his gut spilling over his already-straining belt, his legs spread to accommodate the girth that settles between them as he maneuvers his way around the room on his little stool, a long-ashed, mush-ended cigarette clenched in his yellowing teeth as he wheezingly takes my pulse. Ahh, yes, my doctor is the picture of gleaming health!
I offer Burt one of the strawberries from my bowl. Ordinarily I prohibit clients from eating during sessions, but I'm making an exception since he's been eyeing it ever since he arrived 20 minutes ago.
"Good god, no!" he says, eyebrows arched.
I remind him that this is a rare treat, to be allowed to chew in my presence.
"Strawberries are girly fruit!" he says, practically spitting. "With their little freckles and the tiny green beret! And the way they giggle when you bite into 'em!"
I want to tell him he sounds like a fruit, but hold my tongue.
Going to the laundromat is my Groundhog Day.
I ask for $6 in quarters and marvel at the swiftness with which the Chinese attendant's fingers count and slide them across the counter. I sweep them into a small plastic container and imagine I'm an arthritic old lady at a casino. I imagine the attendant marveling at the swiftness with which I insert the quarters into the washer, the deftness with which I measure and pour my detergent, and the efficiency with which I cram my laundry inside.
Every week, in my mind, she's so impressed she offers me a job.
Like me, my sister has always had a thing for the strays and underdogs. Give us the mug with the chip, the dog with the limp, the stuffed animal missing an eye. Let us gently redeposit spiders and centipedes and mice outside, where they belong, even as we apologize for the chilly air and the need to forage more diligently for food in the wild.
"It's not their fault," we say, often fighting tears at the weakness or helplessness we perceive in the objects of our attention. "They can't help it."
Saving them is our duty, our pleasure.
Continued from 11/23
In sixth grade, new to the school, I tried to join in when the "cool" girls were busy ostracizing the plain, fat girl. After ten minutes of pretending I thought she deserved this treatment, I abandoned the project. I didn't participate when the same girl was ostracized by new groups of girls in both middle and high school.
At our ten-year high school reunion, she appeared on a motorcycle, swaggered into the rented hall, and ate food she hadn't paid for, much to the dismay, certainly, of those who witnessed it.
Small payback, I thought.
Continued from 11/24
A few years later, I befriended a guy about my age who had suffered a motorcycle accident when he was 19 that left him barely able to walk or talk. When we met, he was in a wheelchair and wrote me notes instead of speaking. Eventually he progressed to elbow crutches and actual speech. His walk was laborious and slow and left him near breathless. His speech was at once muffled and loud and stuttering.
His sandy hair and square jaw more befitted the athletic boy he once was than the ravaged man he became.
"I want everyone to wear black and be crying their eyes out," Norma says.
"I don't want anyone to wear black," I had said moments earlier. "I want people to wear any other color, like green, as a celebration of life! I don't want any tears, either. I want laughter!"
I had wanted to say what I really wanted for my funeral like Norma did, but feared the teacher would think I was a selfish downer. But here she was, praising Norma for her brave honesty.
What kind of ridiculous question was this to ask a bunch of sixth-graders, anyway?
Continued from 11/25
My sister's collection of strays has always been more questionable than mine. I'll never understand what she sees in the specimens she brings home or why my mother so vehemently defends her choices.
Once, my mother assured me that the one who'd be in attendance that evening was top-notch.
"Yeah, right," I said.
"You'll see," she said, smugly shaking her head.
Her attempt to allay my suspicions that this one was not Java Man was unsuccessful. My suspicions were confirmed the moment this person faced me and beer-slurred speech poured from his partially edentulous maw.
Continued from 11/27
My sister is different from I in her choice of strays in that she'll stick by hers even if they bite her, whereas I won't tolerate even the approach of exposed teeth. And we're not talking' just one bite. She'll endure bite after bite, until the flesh remaining is less than that removed and teethmarks are still fresh from where it was torn from bones. She'll stick around to see if she can figure out why the person is biting and hope she can perform miracle dentistry to cure the teeth of the need to act out.
The window seat at the back of the bus is prime real estate. The middle sister of three clamors to claim it even though her little sister is already settling in. Little Sis won't budge. Mid Sis fake-cries.
Little Sis decides Daddy's lap, Big Sis' perch, is the new Place To Be, and surrenders the window seat. Mid Sis no longer wants that seat now that no one else does.
"Do you want to sit on Daddy's lap too?" their father asks.
"Yes," I almost say from my seat by the other back window. "I do." (Even though I don't.)
"Well, that certainly was a letdown," Martin says, looking up from his folded-over New York Times the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Cheryl knows he wants her to ask, "What was a letdown?" So she doesn't.
"Yep, a real letdown," he says, louder.
Cheryl loathes his raised voice even more than his passive-aggressive behavior, so she bites.
"The whole don't-take-the-subway scare," Martin says. "You know, because the terrorists were supposed to bomb it this weekend. The reason we spent $100 on cabs. I feel gypped. Couldn't they at least have set something off on the J/M/Z? I want a refund."
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