from Memory Jones, a memoir in progress.
Hip Cat walked in. She was wearing suitably flashy “ghetto-inspired” clothes that were at odds with the unlimited amounts of cash and credit she carried in her faux fur purse. I was digging for change in every orifice of my “Chocolate Soup” bag, already out of style when I bought it in 1989. I really wanted a cappuccino but I only had 63 cents.
The CoffeeHäus was in a dingy basement under one of the older dorms. Peeling linoleum, ratty furniture, and vagina-inspired art by a senior with no sense of humor filled the space. 2 lonely lamps lit the entire place with un-shaded 100-watt bulbs. Stark lighting and shocking art was meant to be conversation sparking, I suppose. I wasn’t up to the challenge. I couldn’t think of anything to say to anyone about crudely made, fanged vaginas.
Hip Cat sat down alone with her green tea and a book. She was in her element, the shadows and light playing on her face, reflecting the depth of character I imagined residing in her 93-ounce body. I knew I looked stupid and desperate sitting alone. Why didn’t she? Why didn’t I think to bring a book as a prop? Stupid. Looking casually unafraid, Hip Cat opened her dog-eared copy of The Bell Jar. Instantly—like a magnet—Adonis walked over to Hip Cat and sat down.
“Hey.” His milk-chocolate honey voice floated across the room.
Adonis pushed the book up to read the cover.
“Changed my life.”
“I hear that.”
“Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.”
“Go fuck yourself, Nietzsche.”
Drowned in the din of Hip Cat’s musical laughter, I compared my Gap jeans with her perfectly flared and torn designer bell-bottoms. The bitter taste of jealousy flooded my mouth. I was sucking on one of my Lincoln-head pennies. I had never read The Bell Jar or contemplated suicide à la Plath—head in the oven and all that. My mother had been a philosophy minor—why hadn’t she told me hot guys love philosophers? Who was I kidding?
Hip Cat had four million perfectly placed mini clips in her bleach-blonde, dark-rooted, spiky hair. I dreamed of 20-inch waists and double-A bras—a body that boys like Adonis jokingly pick up and swing through the air. I wanted to be model-skinny enough to shop in the Junior’s department, while still indulging in my daily bag of Doritos. I wanted to be heroin-chic, without actually having to shoot heroin because of the troubling side effects—uncontrollable addiction coupled with poor impulse control (like thinking it was a good idea to rob a 7-Eleven or a sketchy check-cashing place in order to get my next fix). Worst-case scenario—if I had to—I decided I would shoot heroin between my toes so no one would know. Forget it. My mom would know with her psychic laser vision. Nightmare.
Adonis was smiling at me.
He was probably wondering who the hell I was and how I got into the CoffeeHäus without actually being a student of the college. I spit the penny into my palm—a line of drool connecting it to my mouth. I smiled and sucked the drool back in. Then Hip Cat’s elegant fingers brushed his bicep and the moment was gone.
Guys like Adonis breeze through college like a pleasant puff of air, depositing unfortunate hearts (mine included) by the wayside. These fashionably svelte guys rarely emote anything above a suspicious twinkle. It’s frustrating—when I laugh I almost always turn red and find myself in the middle of a snot and/or saliva disaster. I don’t know if Adonis ever laughed—I never saw it. As I watched him licking his crushed-berry-red lips I wondered if his chiseled jaw limited laugh-like movement. Do people that hot and mysterious just happen or does it take work? Adonis was a Freshman like me. Had he arrived here—Athena-like, sprung from Zeus’ brow—a fully formed cool guy? Or did his mom still buy his clothes for him? Did his lack of emotion hide nail-biting self-consciousness? All I wanted was to be his girlfriend so I could borrow his t-shirts and smile knowingly when the other girls raised their eyebrows—insinuating last-night’s sexcapades. I had never even seen a guy naked. I would practice not smiling.
Sitting in my ultra-cool wobbly chair, scavenged from a condemned high school, I pondered my problem. I didn’t have enough adjectives to describe me. Popular people seemed to have a lot of adjectives. Sarcastic. Apathetic. Dry. Great Roots. Very Thin. This went for the guys too. I grieved for the bulky football jocks that had no place in this rock and roll eyeliner world. Adjectives. I had tall, but that usually applied to men. Great smile—but we all know that’s a nice way of saying ugly. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t ugly. I just didn’t wear tight denim and bikini tops with sequins, or ‘vintage’ baby Gap dresses. I couldn’t afford their version of ‘pretty.’ Besides, the cool people didn’t smile; they all had a deep-seated, knowing look in their blue-shadowed eyes. I was perpetually without the right accessories. Where did one go to purchase inexpensive faux fur?
It was cool to furnish the student hangout with secondhand garbage as long as the secondhand garbage you wore had been made to look that way by your favorite New York designer. I bought all my own clothes secondhand. Forty-five dollars a week on work-study doesn’t stretch very far. By all rights I should have been cool—I was from New York City, I went to the FAME High School, and the holes in my jeans were made by actual wear, complete with the weird brownish age stains that magically appeared one day when I took them out of the dryer for the 100th time. I wondered if any of these people had ever bent down, perhaps to pick up an innocently dropped pencil, and had the back of their jeans rip open, not at the seam, but horizontally across their butt cheek—because the fabric had worn bare—nightmarishly revealing equally-worn granny-style underpants. Take a good look, hot guys!
Adonis was now sitting by himself, staring into space, overwhelmed by deep and important thoughts. I frantically scanned the room—this was my chance. Hip Cat was standing next to a crucified vagina made out of papier-mâché, whispering to one of her girlfriends. I began hallucinating—visualizing alternate realities where I actually got the guts to walk over and start up a conversation with Adonis. My hallucinations were boring—no Top Gun inspired lovemaking—I imagined Adonis waving me over and saying my name before I had to introduce myself.
Instead, Skiz came over to talk to me. A nickel and dime pot dealer, Skiz wasn’t chic enough to hang out with the heroin dealers or well-dressed enough to associate with the ones who sold coke. But on the barometer of cool, Skiz was still higher up than me. It was the shoes. Some people can pull off tatty, lo-top Converse with pot leaves drawn on the rubber toe.
“‘S’up. Iz-bop in the doo-chang?”
“No. I only have 63 cents. I want a cappuccino.”
As Skiz wandered off to buy me a cappuccino, I sunk deeper into my depression. My friends didn’t even speak English. Skiz was the kind of guy who was cool enough that he didn’t have to talk to anyone. He could sit alone in a room and the magical magnetism of marijuana would draw people to him like bees to honey. He also had that heavy-pot-smoker low sex drive thing that made him easy to talk to. Conversation was just conversation—no threatening movements toward any form of making-out or (god forbid) sex that I wanted desperately but was afraid of failing miserably at. Skiz didn’t have to talk to me, and I wondered why he bothered. I wanted to escape back to my dorm room—the odds being that my crazy, Bible-toting roommate was out at a revival or something. But Skiz was buying me a cappuccino and I had to wait.
I needed more adjectives. As I pondered this problem, Hip Cat’s sultry voice floated across the void.
“Her hair is the color of the crayon nobody uses.”
What did that mean? What an awful thing to say. Was she talking about me? I remembered my coveted 74-color Crayola box with the built-in sharpener. Was this poor girl’s hair shit brown or yellow-green? I am an excellent judge of Crayola crayons. I know which colors always maintain their machine-made point. Destined to live in-between the worn down stubs of silver, gold, brick red, and white. Standing tall and alone. Pristine and ugly.