Thursday, March 25, 2010

Le Spam

I have never told you about the summer of my french exchange student Clarice. I think this is because I've never wanted to publicly admit that I corrupted an innocent Parisian 15 year old and sent her back to France with a new found hatred of America, yet an unexpected passion for that most American of abominations - Spam.

Tenth grade was probably not my best year. I still have my journals outlining 1988-89 in agonizing detail. I aspired to be a juvenile delinquent, but lacking the guts to actually do anything immoral or illegal, I just decided to hang around with people who did and be a delinquent by association. Luckily this panned out nicely and succeeded in my attending two separate high schools that year (which I'd also done the previous year in 9th grade) and in getting kicked out of the second one all together after several suspensions. I wish I could say I got suspended for something exciting, but alas, it was for refusing to dress out in gym class and then for refusing to go to gym class period. I've always had a phobia of gym anything. My best friend that year was an 8th grader who had already been to rehab and had hair that can only be described as calico. The great irony in her life was that her usually absent and emotionally unavailable mother wrote parenting books for a living. I guess she was so busy writing books about parenting that she forgot to actually parent and thus let her daughter run wild all over town with me, who actually did attempt to parent her, but to no avail. That was why she was so much fun.

I dyed my hair purple that year. I threw gigantic parties in my basement when my parents were away, where people smoked and drank and had sex, while I did none of those things, but watched in amusement and delight at others who did. I too had little supervision because my parents worked all the time and had mysterious meetings in "The City" (New York because we lived in Riverbank at this time).I read filthy, dirty books like 9 1/2 Weeks and The Story of O, along with all the nasty Sleeping Beauty trilogy and anything involving bondage that I could get my hands on. Do not ask me why I was so into the idea of bondage at 15 years old. I have no idea. Luckily, I outgrew this. I attempted to make out with several boys, then got scared and froze up, earning myself a reputation as "frigid" and a "dick tease" so I'm not sure how I thought I could ever be into bondage if I couldn't even kiss with tongue. The rest of my time I spent in unrequited love with one skateboarder or another while listening to The Smiths. I remember The Cure's "Disintegration" came out at the end of 10th grade and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I listened to it over and over and over and over while crying about boys who didn't and would never love me.

And around the same time that "Disintegration" came out, I decided that I needed a change. I realized that I was depressed and dissatisfied with my life and myself and the person I was becoming. I needed to do two things to fix my life.

I needed to have sex and I needed to go to France.

If I could go to France and have sex there, then all the better. Then I learned that french men were uncircumcised, and while I had never seen any kind of a penis and really didn't know cut from uncut, it still sounded like something horrifying, so I scrapped the sex with a french boy plan and went back to my original idea, which was have sex with a skater and then go to France.

I truly believed that losing my virginity and seeing the Eiffel Tower would be the cure for all my ills and when I get an idea in my head, I become very determined to see it through. I'm still like that now and I was like that at 15.

For me, going to France would be far easier than having sex, so I took care of the France idea first.

After being removed from my first school of tenth grade for an incident which I will not go into here, because it is just way too long and elaborate, my parents asked me where I wanted to go. I had 2 choices. I could go to Tara Reid's school in New Jersey for wayward teens, or I could go to the Waldorf school. I chose for Waldorf School for 2 excellent reasons. Reason 1 - the cutest skater boy from the abandoned parking lot where all the skaters boys skated in town went there and I wanted to steal him away from his girlfriend who had a big nose and wrote bad poetry. Reason 2 - it had a very pretty campus with brooks, forests and bridges and this delighted me. Mostly, it was Reason 1.

When I got to the Waldorf School I was in for a rude awakening. Half of the class was in Europe. In Waldorf Schools, half of the tenth grade year is spent either in France, Switzerland or Germany, doing an exchange. Half of the class leaves the first half of the year and the second half leaves the second half of the year. Then, the next year, the European student from their host family comes and spends half a year in America. Which country depends on which foreign language the student chose to take. I had been taking French since 7th grade and since I had my "All Pear" from Morocco. I had gotten in on the whole deal too late and would not be doing an exchange. This made me very jealous.

I was also jealous because the Waldorf kids, all of whom had exotic names and hippies for parents, were smarter, more cultured and far more unselfconscious and self-assured than any other kids I'd ever encountered. It was terribly intimidating and the schoolwork they were doing was far too advanced for me. The only thing I could do was art and I took quickly to handwork and recorder playing.

I don't think I need to tell you that my plan with the skater didn't work out either.

But France. I always had France. I needed to do an exchange too.

My school informed me that I was not eligible for a traditional exchange, but that I might benefit from a non-school affiliated summer exchange. This was right before they expelled me, forcing me to attend Tara Reid's School for Wayward Teens in New Jersey, for summer school in order to not have to repeat the 10th grade. Expelled for not dressing out in gym class. Is there anything more ridiculous than that? Is there?

My french teacher had received a letter from a friend who lived in Paris who had a 15 year old daughter who did not attend a Waldorf school, but loved the idea of a summer exchange and wanted to come to New York for a month in the summer. She wanted to know if there were any students whose families might be interested in hosting her. In return, that student could return with her daughter to France and spend the last month of summer in France, when the family would be going en vacances a la plage. The student would get two weeks in Paris and 2 weeks at their beach house. My french teacher thought this would be a good option for me. Of course, this was before she knew I was going to be expelled, or else I'm sure she wouldn't have offered.

I thought it was fate. I said I wanted to go to France and Poof! The perfect chance to go to France appeared right in front of me just comme ca.

"Since this is not affiliated with the school, you have to set it up," my french teacher told me.

I immediately wrote a letter in my best possible bad french, to Clarice, the woman's daughter. Then I went home and told my parents (not asked, told) that a french girl was coming to live with us and that I was going back to France with her for the month of August, and to this they shrugged and said fine.


The reason my parents said fine was because they were busy. We were about to be rich beyond our wildest dreams. By the time I turned 16 in November, they told me, that we were going to be so rich that I could hire whatever band I wanted to play at my Sweet 16 party.

"The Cure?" I asked.

"Of course!" they said.

And all the time they were spending away would have been worth it because they could retire. We would live in a mansion in Saddle River, have a Rolls Royce with a driver and shop in the fanciest boutiques. We could have a yacht and go and do and eat wherever we wanted. This was going to be the deal to end all deals. It really was. They had put so much into it.

Tragically what they had put so much into was everything we had into an advanced fee scam having to do with a non-existent ship full of non-existent batteries and electronics from China, but we wouldn't know that for a while. When I told my parents about France they were still in the "we're going to be multi-millionaires" phase, so they thought my spending a month in France was perfectly affordable. Hell, they said I could fly there on the Concord.

Clarice and I became fast pen pals, sending weekly post cards back and forth across the Atlantic in desperate Franglais, gushing about all the adventures we were going to have and how we would be the best of amies.

Go to France. Check.

Next item on my to-do list - Have Sex.

I figured if the Universe had dropped France in my lap, surely a ready and willing boy would show up just as easily.

Naturally I was correct in this matter.

One day I met a boy at the library who was absolutely disgusting and knew it and was so involved in animal rights activism that he consented to allow medical testing on himself in order to save animals. He was covered in any number of burns, abrasions and incisions and regularly doused in chemicals. His eyes were perpetually red and swollen. He decided to set me up with a friend of his, whom he swore was perfect for me.

We met, we liked one another, and to make a very long story short, I decided to buck up and get over my fear of french kissing (I was going to France after all) and just dive right in the whole fooling around thing. By the time school ended and just before summer school began, I had my first real boyfriend and had seen a penis.

Life was better than good. Life could not get any better. So yeah, I had to go to summer school every day, but when I got home I had a boyfriend who gave me hickeys! I had parents who were going to be multi-millionaires, like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Rich, I had my french exchange student coming very shortly AND I was going to France for the month of August. Because the money was coming in any day now, my mom even took me on a shopping spree at the Paramus Mall, so not only was I going to France, I was going to France wearing Banana Republic. Life was so great I practically stopped listening to The Smiths. This was the best summer of my entire life. I still hadn't had sex yet, but we were working up to that. The hickeys held me over in the meantime.

Pretty soon Clarice arrived. We went to pick her up at JFK on a hot, weekday afternoon and I remember feeling a little disappointed. She was kind of nerdy. She was kind of dumpy and frumpy in real life; short and mousy, with bad coloring and weird clothes. She wore a wide brimmed black hat that reminded me Boy George, like someone who was trying to be cool, but wasn't doing it right. Clarice was not my idea of a stylish french girl. I think I expected her to be a bit more gamine perhaps. More french. My idea of french girls was that they were chic, sophisticated, worldly, sexy and certainly not dumpy and nerdy. I wanted this girl to teach me all about wine and cigarettes and deviant sex (because duh, it's France) and here she was all timid and weak chinned. She was astonished that I had a boyfriend and said she'd never had wine. She didn't even drink coffee. Just my luck, I thought. I ended up with a french Mormon. She wanted to play board games, read strange french comic books and horror of horrors, she wanted to go to McDonalds. This ruled out any and all hopes for a possible first, and very french sounding, lesbian experience too. God. Of course I'd get the one french goody-goody who was no fun whatsoever.

Now looking back, I have tremendous compassion for this poor girl. No innocent from a foreign country should ever have to travel out of their home country for the first time, hoping to discover America and end up tossed into the mix of my family. It's just too much to handle. When I was 15 though, I didn't exactly get this in the way that I do now.

When I was 15, my parents were only 33 and 35. That alone must have been surprising to Clarice. My parents were kids themselves and looked it and acted like it. At the time we lived in an enormous house, a mansion practically, that had very little actual furniture. Most of our rooms were empty. We had beds and my mother had salvaged some office furniture when her former partner had become a fugitive and abandoned his office. This we put in our living room. Our living room kind of looked like an office lobby and as this was the 80s, it was all mauve and dove grey. We were used to living with no furniture. We'd get some soon when the deal came through, so we weren't concerned, but Clarice, I'm sure thought it was odd.

My grandfather lived with us. He was a tobacco chewing, redneck to the core truck driver who hauled produce up from the South in his tractor trailer, which he parked at the flea market. He then sold that produce door to door in some of the area's worst neighborhoods, out of the back of his pickup. A lot of the time my mother and I were recruited to ride along and help him. I hated this. My mother delighted in it. This too, must have been disconcerting to Clarice. I overheard her whispering to her mother in anguished french one night on the telephone that "THEY SELL WATERMELONS TO AFRICANS!" And, well, yes we did. And also cantaloupes. Sometimes corn.

In addition to my grandfather a Puerto Rican couple who spoke no English lived with us when no one in our home spoke a word of Spanish. Diego and Nury were getting married and planning to have their reception in our backyard. We were paying because we were going to be fabulously wealthy. Every day Diego and Nury drove me to summer school in the back of a work van that had no seats. Then they'd come back and pick me up in it too and all the way we'd listen to Spanish radio and not have a conversation since we couldn't understand one another. Every day was the same with Diego and Nury. They'd drive me, then come home and make a pot of rice and beans. Every day it was a different flavor. We had a choice of: chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, sardine, green olive or plain rice and beans. And we ate it without complaint every single day, except my grandfather who refused to eat any "Spic Shit" like them beans and rice motherfuckers, and fried up a can of spam, which the rest of us would eat with the beans and rice in varying flavors. Often, we'd melt white American cheese on the spam and slap it between two slices of white toast with a little French's mustard and call it day. Of course we washed this down with the most American of American drinks - Grape Nehi. Aww yeah.

Now see, this was my life. I was used to living in a nearly empty house with office furniture. I was used to selling watermelons out of the back of a pick-up, riding to school in a work van with no seats, living with people who spoke no English and eating nothing but Puerto Rican food and white trash food while Diego and Nury competed with my grandfather for the radio. They wanted the AM Salsa station. He wanted Conway Twitty, so all day long it was back and forth Salsa and Country.

I think I neglected to mention that my boyfriend had a black mohawk, several piercings, including in his nose and was the drummer for a band called "Grinch" whose claim to fame was an original song called "Jodie's Poodle." They had a small cult following in our county. Most of the time my boyfriend and I were attached by our mouths to one another's necks.

All of these things were simply too much for Clarice to bear. The poor girl suffered a severe nervous breakdown. Because of her nervous breakdown, my brilliant ass decided that on top of everything else, that what Clarice really needed, was a trip to Millpond. This did not end well.

To be Continued....(but not much longer)


DiaryofWhy said...

Sometimes I worry that eventually you'll run out of stories. I mean, they can't be infinite, can they? Can they??? Just please, promise me you'll never run out of stories!

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh. I, too, read the story of o and dated guys from crappily named bands when I was a teenager. Glad to know i'm not alone.

ElectricDaisy said...

Thanks for the long story, WL! I'm listening to Pandora Radio's "Alternative/Indie" Station right now and as I got about 1/4 of the way through the story "Pictures of You" from The Cure's "Disintegration" album came on. Excellent.

Gloria said...

I was reading this in my classroom while a student was making up a test and I'm quite sure my laughter distracted her. Oh well. I wish I had been brave enough to rebel as a teen. I didn't get into the rebelling until my 20's and even then, it wasn't anything exciting. Goody Goody to the core.

Jocelyn said...

That was a spamtastic read on this Friday morning at the office! Looking forward to the next installment.

Albany Jane said...

Dude, you were such a teenage bad ass! I would have killed to be friends with you - I mean, hullo, rich parents, pierced boyfriend!

I really can't wait to see how Clarice plays out. I'm sure she was expecting it to be all burgers, malts, and sock hops in America.

C.M. said...

Don't take this the wrong way, but did you just admit to being a voyeur of awkward teenage sexual encounters when you were a teenager yourself?

Wide Lawns said...

No I didn't admit to that. I was around them, but not like, literally right there watching anything happen.

Jean_Phx said...

I was getting worried that you weren't feeling well when we hadn't heard from you in a week. And then, this. You simply rock!

Anonymous said...

Waiting patiently for the next installment of this one :)


sha said...

Now see, this story should be a movie. It's like quintessential 80s teen movie but funnier and more interesting. I say this and the story isn't even finished.

Rich said...

I had to comment because today I saw a backpack (well one of those backpack bags with strings) and it had a team name on it. The top ? "Mill Pond".

Suzanne said...

Ahhh! The teen years, it really is hard to be objective about ones circumstances, as well as what other kids might feel.

dissed said...


Dayna said...

I can't decide OMG or WTF!

Melanie said...

I never quite understood what a BORING existence I lived until reading your blog!

Reiven said...

I wish you would finish this story... I'm starting to crave Spam!

C.M. said...

I was only curious to know if I interpreted that correctly. There was no judgement intended... :)

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick said...

Excellently excellent! Did the French girl douse herself in cologne? Our French foreign exchange students always reeked of cologne. Our guest room smelled of it months after the last one was gone.

The Four Writters said...

Really super duper job girly. Your words make me feel like I'm a bird trying to peck open a plastic garbage bag. I'm so excited to find out what treats I will find.

BohoPoetGirl said...

Oh the dirty sleeping beauty trilogy....I discovered that at 13....Me myself and I had a lot of fun with those books....

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