My so-called parents hate my boyfriend, Shrimp. I'm not sure they even believe he is my boyfriend. They take one look at his five-foot-five, surfer-shirt-wearin', baggy-jeans-slouchin', Pop Tart-eatin', spiked-hair-head self and you can just see confusion firebombs exploding in their heads, like they are thinking, Oh no, Cyd Charisse, that young man is not your homes.
Dig this: He is.
At least Shrimp always remembers to call my mother "Mrs." instead of just grunting in her direction, like most guys my age do. And no parent could deny that hanging out with Shrimp is an improvement over Justin, my ex, from my old prep school. Justin got me into trouble, big time. I'm so over the Justin stage.
Not like Sid and Nancy care much. I have done my parents the favor of becoming more or less invisible.
Sid, my father, calls me a "recovering hellion." Sid's actually my stepfather. You could say I hardly know my real father. I met him at an airport once when I was five. He was tall and skinny and had ink black hair, like me. We ate lunch in a smoky pub at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. I did not like my hamburger so my real dad opened his briefcase and offered me a piece of homemade gingerbread he had wrapped in tinfoil.
He bought me a brown rag doll at the airport gift shop.
The cashier had made the doll herself. She said she had kept the doll hidden under her cash register waiting for just the right little girl. My real dad gave the cashier a one-hundred-dollar bill and told her to keep the change. I named my dolly Gingerbread.
Nancy and I were on our way to San Francisco to become Sid's family. My real dad was on his way back to New York, to his real wife and family. They don't know about me.
I'm fairly sure that my real dad's wife would not mind that I make scissors cuts on my arms and then pick the scabs. His real wife probably makes fresh gingerbread every day and writes Things To Do lists and does her own grocery shopping instead of having a housekeeper and a driver do everything for her, like Nancy does.
Nancy only met Justin once, at the expulsion hearing. The headmaster told her Justin and I were caught fooling around in a room loaded with Jack Daniels and prescription bottles. In flagrante delicto were the words the headmaster used. I failed Latin.
Nancy said Justin was from a "wonderful Connecticut family" and how could I shame her and Sid like that. It was Justin who was selling the ecstasy out of his dorm room, not me. It was Justin who said he pulled out in time. Sid and Nancy never knew about that part.
Nancy came into my room one night after I returned home to San Francisco. Sid and my younger half-sibs were at Father's Night at their French immersion school. "I hope your friends use condoms," Nancy said, which was funny because she knows Shrimp is my only friend. She threw a box of Trojans onto the lace-trimmed four-poster bed that
I hate. Shrimp is a safety boy, he takes care of those things. If it had been Shrimp back in boarding school, he would have come with me to the clinic.
"Can I have a futon on the floor instead of this stupid princess bed?" I said. The thought of my mother even knowing about contraception, much less doling it out, was beyond comprehension, much less discussion.
Nancy sighed. Sighing is what she does instead of eating. "I paid ten thousand dollars to redecorate this room while you were at boarding school. No, you may not, Cyd Charisse."
Everybody in my family calls me by my first and middle name since my dad's name is pronounced the same as my first name. When she was twenty years old and pregnant with me, Nancy thought she would eventually marry my real dad. She named me after this dancer-actress from like a million years ago who starred in this movie that Nancy and real-dad saw on their first date, before she found out he had a whole other life. The real Cyd Charisse is like this incredibly beautiful sex goddess. I am okay looking. I could never be superhuman sexy like the real Cyd Charisse. I mean there is only room for so much grace and beauty in one person named Cyd Charisse, not two.
Nancy fished a pack of Butter Rum LifeSavers out of her designer jacket and held them out to me. "Want a piece of my dinner?"
I might not have fallen for Shrimp if it hadn't been for Sugar Pie.
He was walking by Sugar Pie's room at the nursing home, singing this song, something about take the A train somewhere. From the pictures by Sugar Pie's bed, you could tell Shrimp might be about the same height as her long-dead twin sister, who also had short brown hair and a way of slouching. But Sugar Pie can't see so well, so I guess it was the song that made her perk up.
"Honey, is that you?" Sugar Pie called out. Sugar Pie cannot see for squat, but she's got ears stretching all the way from San Francisco back to her home state of Mississippi. She was so distracted by Shrimp's song that she laid her cards on the food tray so I could see that in the next hand she would have gin if I gave up my king of hearts, as I was about to do.
"Honey Pie?" Sugar Pie called out. Little tears snaked through the crevices of her wrinkled face.
Honey Pie was supposed to be the maid of honor at Sugar Pie's wedding to a serviceman Sugar Pie had met in Biloxi, back during World War II. But Honey Pie and the groom ran off together and eloped, and two days later, they were dead. Drove right over a cliff in Nevada when the parking brake disengaged while they were in the backseat getting wild under the shooting stars.
Sugar Pie doesn't hold grudges. She never found
another husband, but she did have a dog, a chocolate Lab she called "Honey," who was her best friend. Honey the dog died right before Sugar Pie came to live in the nursing home. That's when I became her family. At first, I only came because community service was part of the judge's orders after my little shoplifting problem, but now I come because I love Sugar.
Shrimp stood at the door to Sugar Pie's room. "Pie? Did someone say pie?" He pulled a Hostess lemon pie out of his backpack and offered it to Sugar. Sugar Pie shook her head, spraying faint tears onto my arm. I have never known Sugar Pie to turn down a sweet. I gave her my king of hearts even though as a rule I never let anyone at the home win at cards just because they are old.
Shrimp checked me out and said, "Hey, you go to my school." He had this wicked deep, gravelly voice, which you would not expect from someone so short and scrawny, and he had short brown hair with a patch of spiked platinum blond at the front towering over his forehead. If I had been a cartoon character, you would have seen the letters L-U-S-T pop into my eyes like the ding-ding-ding display on a Las Vegas slot machine.
Since being kicked out of the fancy boarding school in New England, I'd been attending an "alternative" high school for the arts in San Francisco. The school is really just a dumping ground for rich parents' kids who aren't total social misfits but who also have no interest in being trend victim poster children, but it's also a haven for scholarship students with actual talent, like Shrimp.
Sugar eyed Shrimp's spiked hair and deep blue eyes. "Cyd Charisse, there's your star," Sugar Pie said. She was a
psychic and tarot-card reader with her own offices before she retired.
The Honey Pie blues had made Sugar Pie sleepy. She reached for a roll of quarters tucked under her mattress. "You two go have coffee on me," she said. We didn't take her money, but we took her suggestion.
Three half-caff mochiatos later, Shrimp was my main man. He was the first and only friend my age I made since returning home from New England.
He told me his nursing home community service was probation for making a midnight excursion to an expensive yuppie fitness club in the Marina and graffiti-painting a mural on the club's outside brick wall that pictured a sweaty pig with dollar bill signs for eyes. When he asked how I landed be
Shrimp drew a picture of me picking a scab on the side of my thigh. He drew my skirt much shorter than it actually is, but he did capture my long legs and combat boots perfectly. I am totally flat-chested, but in the legs department, I am very blessed.
I did not care that I was five inches taller than Shrimp--more when I wear my rockin' five-inch platforms--or that he listened to disco music in a beat-up old Pinto handed down to him by his older brother. I was suffering Post-Traumatic Justin Syndrome, and Shrimp was just what 1 needed.
He is all heart.
One day I am going to have my own commune in, like, Tahiti or somewhere. Not one of those psycho deals where people have to be deprogrammed afterward, but like a giant hut made of straw and purple clay. Artists and runaways and musicians will come and paint their faces and dance like they are tribal warriors. Our uniforms will be grass skirts and shirts made from flowers. Dolphins will let us ride on their backs and we won't exploit them by making bullshit movies about them later.
Shrimp and I will have our own room and we will sleep in a sleeping bag made from native plants. We will figure out how to cultivate that stuff. Gingerbread will have her own doll house under a sea breeze window in our room. We will send her outside to play when we want to fool around.
Sugar Pie will have her own special room at our commune. It will be facing the ocean. We won't be mad when she tells us to be quiet because her stories are on. We'll have a giant satellite dish nestled on a volcanic mountaintop with the words "Sugar Pie" graffiti-painted on it just for her.
Sid and Nancy and their children will visit on the holidays and pronounce our commune "darling." We won't mind when Nancy rearranges the furniture we've built ourselves. We can move it all back when she leaves.
We'll even let my real dad come and stay whenever he needs to escape the bright lights and big city and take a break from the old wife and kids. Shrimp, Sugar Pie, and I will wait on the beach for his boat to appear on the horizon. When he steps off the plank of his boat, we will have made piping hot gingerbread for him. He might just stay forever.
Shrimp lives with his older brother, Wallace. They live in a cottage with sand dollars painted on the roof on this street that runs along Ocean Beach. They have a telescope on the roof.
Wallace and Shrimp are surfers. Not like those "Hey dude, I'm gonna go catch some rays and ride me some curls, heh-heh" surfers, but like broody surfers. You would have to be antipep to want to surf in fog and freezing water, surrounded by signs warning how many people die in the mean tide at Ocean Beach. If Wallace and Shrimp could spend all their time surfing, painting, and drinking coffee, they would be very happy brooding people.
Justin would not know what to do with a surfboard if you shoved one up his lacrosse-playing, brie-fed WASP ass.
Wallace is famous in Ocean Beach. Besides the fact that he's a major babe in that mysterious unattainable older guy way, Wallace is also like a neighborhood mogul. Everybody knows him as "Java the Hut." He turned a geekmeister coffee cart he pushed around in college into three coffeehouses. They are called "Java the Hut" and all three are within the Sunset District neighborhood where Ocean Beach is. People in this city care very much about their coffee, and they are also way into locally owned this, independently operated that, so Java the Hut totally rides the anti-Starbucks wave.
In New England, you could not get a decent cuppa joe except at Dunkin' Donuts. That is the one place I miss most
from back East. If I could only eat Dunkin' Donuts for every meal from now until the day I died, that would be tiddley-wink with me. Instead, I survive on burritos from the Mission, potstickers from Clement Street, yo quiero Taco Bell from anywhere, and Shrimp's brown sugar Pop Tarts. Nancy says I will get acne from the junk I eat. She wishes she could eat what I eat.
Justin was always stoned, but he never had munchie provisions. He always made me sneak off to 7-Eleven for Doritos and Ring Dings. I was a whore for popularity then, so I would slip past the resident advisor and scale the fences at the end of the school grounds. I would come back all cold and shivering and, like, "Whoo hoo, how spectaculicious am I, I shoplifted some extra Fireballs." Everybody in Justin's room would be, like, your girlfriend is so cool, man.
I am so relieved not to be that person anymore.
Shrimp wants to know how come Rice Krispies and Cap'n Crunch and Frosted Flakes have their own mascots, but Pop Tarts doesn't. Shrimp is convinced there is some kind of conspiracy involved. He is always drawing Pop Tart mascots and sending them in to the Pop Tart company. They write polite letters back with cereal coupons enclosed. They always spell his last name wrong.
Justin was captain of the lacrosse team. I dug on his bulky biceps and tight calves. I was hormonally challenged then. Girls swooned over him and worshiped me for having him. Shallow girl, thy name was Cyd Charisse.
Until Shrimp, I didn't know it was possible to care so much for another person that your heart just wants to combust with happiness every time you are around that person. I think I would have wanted to die from loneliness if he and
Sugar Pie hadn't come into my life when they did. Thank you, juvenile court.
I am going to get a tattoo on my inner thigh just for Shrimp. A dancing Pop Tart logo. I'll call my mascot "Mr. Mmm-mmm good" or something. I will wear skirts so short that Nancy will think she sees something there, but she will be too afraid to ask. There are a lot of questions to which Nancy doesn't want answers. See, I failed Latin, but I still know not to dangle prepositions. In English.
I wish I could live at Wallace and Shrimp's house. They have painted murals on the walls and a pirate flag hanging on the porch and old, beat-up furniture that would make Nancy's interior decorator's facelift split open like in a horror movie. They are always listening to rickety old blues music about some crazysexy woman's cheatin' heart.
They love hanging out together. It's hard to imagine a Wallace without a Shrimp, and vice versa. I cannot imagine anyone in my family feeling that way about me.
Wallace says he would rather be walking the earth instead of brewing coffee. Wallace is embarrassed by his success, but secretly he loves being known as Java the Hut. He has to work a lot of hours. Wallace's business seriously cramps his surfing time.
Now that Shrimp has finished his community service, he is going to work at a Java the Hut store. He will still visit Sugar Pie and the rest of the folks at the home because they have the coolest faces to draw and the best stories about the "good ole days." Shrimp and I like to listen to their stories and when we leave we talk about how the "good ole days" also were about Jim Crow laws, segregation, and fascism. But we admit we could groove on swing dancing, Coca-Cola
for a nickel, and not worrying about leaving your doors unlocked.
Wallace and Shrimp's parents live "abroad," as Nancy would say. They retired from their teaching jobs and joined the Peace Corps to build houses and bridges in places below the equator. They let Shrimp live with Wallace so Shrimp can go to arts school. Sid and Nancy had no problem shipping me off to a school that was basically a prep academy for Alcoholics Anonymous but they would freak if I asked to move out at sixteen years old.
Lately I have spent the night at Shrimp's a few times. The first time I did, I snuck back home at around six in the morning and went in through the backdoor. I was sure Sid and Nancy would have called out the cops for me by that time. I don't know which I feared worse, that they would send me to some kind of GI Jane school as punishment, or that they would not care.
Leila, the housekeeper, was already up and about, pressing my half-sibs' school uniforms. Leila shook her head at me. "Naughty girl," she said, but I knew she wouldn't rat me out. My parents tweak her nerves as much as mine. My mom is always like "Leila this," "Leila that," "Thank you so much, Leila." It
Nancy is actually super scared of Leila, so every time she says something mean, then she'll air kiss Leila and give Leila the afternoon off. Then Nancy will complain about how no one helps her. Nancy thinks Leila is some kind of superior maid creature because Leila speaks French. Nancy
speaks French, pas . Nancy likes to act all hyper-chic Society Wife, but if you listen carefully, you can still hear the traces of a Minnesouda cornfield accent, eh?
Nancy is so clueless about the staff's actual lives, I don't think she even knows that Fernando the driver's little grandson had leukemia but bless Dios now he's in remission, or that Leila is actually French-Canadian, not French-French. I would like to know if that discrepancy disqualifies Leila from wearing an actual French maid's uniform. When Nancy is not around, Leila and I make lasagna and cookies for Fernando's family.
"Your mother will be up in five minutes," Leila said. She was brewing Nancy's chai tea. "I suggest you go mess up that bed of yours and make it look slept in."
"They didn't notice?" I said.
"Non," Leila said. She could not look me in the eyes.
I'm down with the 411 on my real dad. I read about him in Who's Who of Corporate America , in the library at my old school. His name is Frank. He is the boss of a big New York advertising firm. Nancy met Frank when she was a model. That's how she made a living when she lived in New York. She never got very far with her true dream of being a professional dancer.