Before the Lights Went Out

getty
Getty Images: NYC skyline, 7/13/77

A slightly amended (because I wasn’t limited to 1,000 words) version of my third round submission to the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. The assignment: historical fiction taking place at a book signing and mentioning a pumpkin. No prob, I got this. 

Twenty-two gritty blocks uptown then two more across. Walking from Penn Station in this suffocating heat was stupid. Now that Lori thought about it, so was her outfit – wedge sandals, cut-off denim shorts, black and gold tube top – and really, to be honest, this whole plan. Blisters lined her ankle, which she’d then twisted after tripping on a plastic pumpkin that had fallen off a homeless woman’s shopping cart by Herald Square. Somewhere between the squeegee guys and peep shows, the frosty blue eyeliner she’d expertly applied in New Jersey had melted off. Possibly worst of all, she couldn’t get the Bay City Rollers out of her head. But she deserved this fate, she reasoned, because she’d snuck into the city without telling her parents.

Next to her in walkable flat Dr. Scholls, her best friend sipped a can of Tab.

“This is it!” Carrie said as she pushed opened the door to Rizzoli Books. “We’re about to meet the hottest rock stars on the planet!”

Lori faked a smile, wishing she could feel excited. Lately, increasingly intrusive thoughts had plagued her and made it almost impossible to enjoy anything. That massive plane crash in Tenerife. A disturbing episode of “Emergency.” Those two girls Son of Sam shot in the Bronx last summer. And now, the epic disappointment she’d cause her parents. All fodder for a gnawing sense of imminent, undefined disaster.

A few weeks ago, she’d heard on the radio that Dr. Sartorius – a glam rock band she and Carrie adored – would be at Rizzoli signing copies of a new book documenting their 1976 world tour. Perhaps this would be the cure for her malaise. But the city – crumbling, graffiti-covered, and almost bankrupt – made her parents nervous. They had let Lori take the train in with Carrie before, but who knew if they’d go for it this time? It was too risky. Best to say nothing: an omission, not a lie. Normal kids did it all the time. But Lori wasn’t normal, she reminded herself. She was a big fat baby who obviously couldn’t handle teenage existence.

Under a notably ornate chandelier, a Rizzoli employee handed them copies of the book and directed them upstairs.

“There’s no way we’re making that 9:15 train,” Lori said when she saw the long line. Her chest tightened, and she envisioned them trapped in the steamy bowels of Penn Station, late at night, with a serial killer on the loose.

Carrie elbowed her. “So we’ll get the next one. Chill out, nut job!”

“Easy for you to say, Goldilocks. Son of Sam likes brunettes. And it is the 13th … ”

Always at ease, Carrie jumped right into conversation with the other girls on line. How many times had everyone seen the band live? Who was a bigger fox, the bass player or the drummer? Did anyone have tips for getting into Studio 54? A flask appeared. Copies of Tiger Beat and Rolling Stone circulated. One girl claimed she’d slept with the lead singer. Another girl said she’d heard he was gay. Someone pointed out a few zigzags of lightning in the sky above Fifth Avenue.

But all Lori could think about was her poor parents. Dinner would come and go, and the Wednesday night movie on channel 2. Eventually, fury and/or panic would set in. They’d sit up in the family room, heartbroken, waiting for the police to knock on the door with terrible news. God, she was a horrible daughter.

“I’ll be right back,” she said to Carrie. “Don’t run off with the band.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance as Lori found a payphone and called home. As it turned out, Wednesday was her mother’s encounter group night. Left to their own devices, her father and brother were off to the Ground Round and then a movie, completely unconcerned about Lori’s whereabouts.

Half insulted and half relieved, Lori headed back towards the line. Cheering broke out as Dr. Sartorius appeared on the scene, and she felt herself relax just the tiniest bit. This was a dream come true. Maybe they weren’t on the verge of a nightmare after all.

With each step closer to the front of the line, Lori’s heart beat faster. Finally, FINALLY, she and Carrie stood face to face with the rock stars who adorned their bedroom walls. They were gorgeous and smiling and felt like old friends.

“I’ve been practicing what I want to say for days,” Lori told the bass player. “And now all I can think of is, ‘HOLY. SHIT.’”

The bass player laughed and signed her book: To Lori. Much Love, JT

“Thanks for coming. Get home safe,” the keyboardist said in what the girls later called a devastating British accent.

Really, Lori thought, this was by far the best thing that had ever happened in her 16 years.

It was 8:45 and still beastly hot when the girls left Rizzoli.

Carrie rolled her eyes.

“Jesus, it’s not even a little bit cooler. I can’t do that walk again – let’s take a cab.”

“My blisters thank you,” Lori said. She stuck out her arm until a Checker taxi pulled up.

“We might still make the 9:15.”

“Traffic bad,” the driver told them as he started the meter. “I do best, but I no sure.”

The next train didn’t get them in until after 11, which was still well before her midnight curfew, but made Lori uneasy for no specific reason. Carrie rolled up the windows and locked the doors, like they’d always been told to do in the city. The cab creeped down Seventh Avenue, the radio tuned to the news: the Son of Sam investigation. Abe Beame, Ed Koch, Bella Abzug, the mayoral race. The Mets and Cubs at Shea. The impending heatwave.

Lori looked at her watch. “Forget it. There’s no rush now. We missed it.”

Carrie tried to reassure her. “We’ll be fine! We’ll get a Coke, we’ll buy some magazines. You’ll be in your own bed by midnight. Don’t ruin a great day.”

But Lori wasn’t listening.

“Shit! That whole building just flickered. You saw that, right? It’s happening again, look!”

All the skyscrapers in their line of vision seemed to blink for a second.

They exchanged a concerned look, but when they arrived back at Penn Station a few minutes later, in time for the 10:15 train, everything seemed in working order.

“Come with me to that newsstand before we go down,” Carrie said. “I need Juicy Fruit.”

And then the entire city went black.

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Before the Lights Went Out

My Archnemesis

Rocky Horror
Dr. Frank N. Furter wears them well, but I  do not.

I recognize this will come as a huge shock to you, but my personality might lean eeeeeeever so slightly towards the obsessive. Just a teeny bit. Really, it’s sometimes alarming hardly a thing at all.

Over the years, I have oft turned that obsessiveness inward (or outward, as the case may be), honing in on one or more physical attribute and then losing sleep over the flaws I perceived said attribute to possess. (I maintain that I am an excellent assessor of attributes, but others may disagree.) Pre-braces, it was my overbite, which earned me the nickname “Bucky.” Starting in 7th grade and still in certain jeans, it was the pear shape of my short legs and their uncanny resemblance to riding jodhpurs like those pictured here.

In high school, college, my 20s, and still on a humid day, it was my hair, aka “the Jewfro” aka the “Rat’s Nest” aka the “Chia Head” aka “Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich.” Let me assure you: there are few first world problems more agonizing than being a teenager in New Jersey in the 80s and having hair so thick and Brillo-esque that no hairspray known to man could hold or tame it (see The Hand of Oz).

There was also my nose of illusion – round from the front, rhinoplasty-worthy from the side. The mismatched shape of my eyes, which made them looked slightly crossed. The melasma moustache that caused manicurists all over Manhattan to ask if I might also need a lip wax then mutter something in Korean. The list goes on.

Most recently,  it was my eyebrows. I obsessed over their shape (non-existant); the eight different directions in which they grew; their uneven density from 30+ years of overzealous plucking. I tried tweezing in varied lighting. I tried waxing, threading, brow gel, clear mascara, lip balm, and Vaseline. Once, in a weak moment, I tried black pencil. And it turns out I’m pretty good at recreating Tim Curry’s Rocky Horror look.

Then my savvy friend Carrie told me about a mythical figure who runs a “brow bar” near our office. The woman – let’s call her Olga – styles the brows of many a celebrity, exclusively via old school tweezer. She is known for identifying the exact shape your personal brows are meant to have, and for tending to each patron herself.  Granted, there was some risk involved – most notably, ending up with a 1998 micro-brow or, even worse, half a brow. But still, if a pair of wine-lovin’ morning talk show hosts trusted Olga, how bad could she be? Besides, the obsession was starting to become painful. I could no longer sit back (with my magnifying mirror) and do nothing.

And so, I headed cautiously to the “bar,” a bright, appealing, and surprisingly un-menacing studio with a shabby chic feel. Olga was pleasant, with an indeterminate Eastern European accent and pretty damn good brows. Immediately, she identified exactly the problems I listed above, validating my belief that I am in fact an excellent attribute assessor. I felt virtually nothing as she tweezed strategically – no pain, no twitching, nothing. It was quite remarkable actually.

When she was done, I couldn’t believe what I saw in the mirror. I had significantly less cash, but I had an arch, goddamnit! My brows were fabulous!

For about 18 hours.

Olga had neglected to mention that one needed to remain awake for the entire four-to-six weeks between visits, and it had certainly not occurred to me that sleep would undo her masterpiece. But alas, it did. And no matter how I moved the brow brush, tried to flatten my eyebrows into place, or followed the directions in a series of YouTube videos, I could not get them to look even remotely close to how they’d looked the day before.

Le sigh.

So now, on top of having to obsess about my eyebrows themselves, I have to also obsess about how stupid I was to think I could have normal eyebrows. I think it may be time to move on to my bulbous big toes.

 

 

 

My Archnemesis

A Baller New Year’s

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Hi there, Parachute Jump.

A quote from the comedic goddess Janeane Garofalo: “I prefer to see the dark side of things. The glass is always half empty. And cracked. And I just cut my lip on it. And chipped a tooth.” Preach. That pretty much sums up my view of life in general, but New Year’s Eve in particular.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of New Year’s or its accoutrements. I hate the pressure it brings to do “something” big. I hate most of the options that define “something.” I hate revelers and being reminded of the fact that, due to faulty wiring, I myself am incapable of reveling in anything but my own snark. But most of all, I hate staring time in the face.

Those last 10 seconds of the year – the tortuous downward slide of the crystal ball – kill me. I find it physically and mentally uncomfortable to just stare helplessly as another year disintegrates. For me, it’s like a “my-whole-life-flashed-before-me” experience, and all I want to do is reach into my head, grab a few memories, and make them the now.

What, I ask you, is so mesmerizing about a ginormous crystal-covered sphere that, at any other time, would be mistaken for a light fixture in the kind of uber-tacky suburban wedding venue that advertises on TV? Why is it appealing to watch the present slip away and know you can’t stop it? I can only assume that normal people get caught up in the excitement. That they feel hope for the future and the amazing things it might have in store for them. And I guess I can understand how, if a given year dealt you a particularly shitty hand, you might welcome its demise. But still. I, not being normal, feel dread for the future and the horrible things it might have in store. I feel sadness and loss about all the things I said I would do, didn’t do, and probably never will do. About every New Year’s Eve of yore. About getting older, and getting further away from childhood and the point in life at which there were still good possibilities. For all my failures and weaknesses. For all the things I wish were different but can’t be. The glass is always half empty. Sometimes I’m not even sure there IS a glass. But there’s always a fucking ball. And it’s horrible.

So whenever it’s remotely feasible, I stay home on New Year’s Eve and avert my eyes from the torture of the evil orb. And I do my absolute best to suck in any would-be reveler who’s part of my immediate circle to this December 31st miasma.

But 2015 saw the birth of one of my favorite obsessions (see Angels, Demons and Bloodsuckers): Coney Island, a magical land of benevolent creepiness at the end of the subway line. It is a piece of old New York whose quirky goodness I try to support however I can. A few weeks ago, it came to my attention that an official New Year’s Eve soiree was taking place at the very home of my beloved Circus Sideshow.  Going would mean helping a great cause, and the evening promised performance art, a laser light show, fire-breathing, Mermaid Pilsner a-plenty, relatively clean bathrooms, and a certain destined-for-greatness (and also possibly esophageal rupture) sword swallower. Plus, Marie, a local artist, neighborhood expert, and all-around great person I know from my days as a cub reporter, would be there. But wait! There’s more! There would be NO. BALL. Repeat. There would be NO BALL.

Sword swallower NO BALL, you say? A ball-less New Year’s Eve?! Tell me more, I’m intrigued. The call of the 11224 wild overpowered my hatred of New Year’s Eve and my ridonculously understanding husband obliged. The shows were amazing and exactly the way they should be: packed with F-bombs, lighter fluid, tattoos, 8-pound swords, jokes about dirty underwear and ecstasy, and the perfect amount of camp. Hashtag #creeptastic. The backdrop at midnight was epic – fireworks on one of the world’s most famous boardwalks; the illuminated Parachute Jump, North Star of southern Brooklyn; the smell of popcorn and cold air; the ladies Marie introduced us to so we didn’t look like friendless looz-airs.

Please don’t spread this around. I have a rep to maintain. But I think I accidentally reveled a little bit.

Behind us on the boardwalk were Coney Island’s historic rides, the landmarked Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the iconic wooden roller coaster known to most as the Cyclone and to me as the Certain-Puke-o-Rama. I was 100% confident I would never experience either of them, because I hate roller coasters and rides and pretty much everything. But I said that about New Year’s Eve too, so now … I’m only 90% sure.

 

 

 

A Baller New Year’s

Instaweek

Since the written word continues to fail me (and because the wise and talented Mama Kat told me to), I have selected a series of (unremarkable) Instagram photos that represent highlights of the past week. What is remarkable is the fact that it took me five pathetic years to figure out how to add multiple images in a given post.

Special thanks to the lovely C. Migs; the high-larious real live author Choi Division; my super-sharp Duane Reade umbrella; Keith; Jan and Lew; the kindly waitstaff at the Waverly Inn; the bartender at Arthur’s; my SIL Christine; Delman shoes; and Citizens of Humanity.

Please see below and don’t hesitate to get in touch should you have any questions about Sr. Cojones. I know I sure as hell do.

Instaweek

You Say Tomato …

My husband, the produce expert (left) with recent acquisition
My husband, the produce expert (left) with recent acquisition

My own father – a physician and man of science who spends his days treating critically ill patients at a world-renowned medical center – could not pick a pasta strainer out of a kitchenware line-up and would rather buy a whole new set of unmentionables than figure out how to do laundry. Once and only once did Lew do the grocery shopping when we were little (at the Kings in Garwood). Needless to say, we left with $100 worth of Pringles, Chips Ahoy, Tastykakes, Cookie Crisp cereal and bubble gum-flavored Kissing Potion, a very delicious rollerball lip gloss. Most. Awesome. Supermarket. Trip. Ever.

In short, Lew is a great man who is not such a great help to my mother. As such, I witnessed — on many a childhood weekend — a meltdown during Jan’s Saturday morning cleaning process. I would start to hear angry but unintelligible muttering whilst eating my bowl of Honeycombs. The volume would increase and Jan would start naming random New Jersey countrymen who didn’t get their hands in hot water because they were pritzas.  (Pronounced “preet-zuhs.” I don’t know what this Yiddish word really means, but Jan and Grandma Ethel used it as a derogatory term for  women who were thin, pretty and/or rich). Soon she’d be full-fledged yelling about the lack of help she had around the house, referring to herself as “Tillie the Toiler.”  Meanwhile, “Tillie the Toiler” was actually a smokin’ hot cartoon office worker and part-time model who, according to Wikipedia, had no trouble finding men to escort her around town. Some would argue that Tillie was even a pritza.

The whole thing was most unfortunate.

But I was used to it, and assumed that all households functioned like this. So when Keith and I moved in together, I was shocked to learn I was wrong: not all men drove their wives to faux Tillie the Toilerhood.  If I start emptying the dishwasher, Keith feels guilty and immediately comes to help. Sometimes he even does it before I get out of bed. He also does his own laundry, irons from time to time and assists with fitted sheet folding. And by far the most helpful contribution Keith makes is food shopping. He says he finds it satisfying. I give him a list, he adds to it as needed, then heads to the store and calls me if he has any questions. Rather cutely, he then presents me with the groceries and eagerly waits for me to approve his purchases, which I always do.

Last week, one of the items on the list was iceberg lettuce. When I took it out of the bag, it felt really heavy and was so big I had to clear a shelf in the refrigerator  to accommodate it.  Keith looked very proud. The next eve, I went to prepare our salad. The lettuce was freakishly hard to cut. Its leaves seemed thick and rubbery and as I struggled to get the knife through them, the mysterious scent of Brussels sprouts wafted up to my nose. At first, I attributed the cutting difficulty to a sudden onset palsy that was obviously causing me to lose muscle control. The smell had to be a side effect – didn’t stroke survivors report experiencing strange aro… wait a minute. This wasn’t palsy. This was CABBAGE!

Frick on a leafy green stick.

I jumped away from the counter immediately, afraid that even the slightest contact with it would cause global thermo-gastrointestinal disaster.

Keith apologized profusely, but I told him it was an honest mistake and not to worry. Iceberg and cabbage bear an uncanny resemblance and really, only a seasoned shopper and vegetable-chopper would easily recognize the difference. Frozen green beans to the rescue.

This week, I put zucchini on the list. Keith handed me the bag, which also seemed heavier than it should have. A quick look inside revealed what appeared to be three ginormous … and purple … zucchini. Or, as you might know them, EGGPLANT.

Le sigh.

There would be no roasted zucchini with olive oil and breadcrumbs for dinner that night. I knew Keith would feel terrible if I told him, but I also knew he’d feel bad if I just left the purple “zucchini” I’d requested rotting in the refrigerator. So I did what any good wife would do. I made a lifetime supply of mediocre eggplant parmesan. And baba ganoush. And ratatouille (sans zucchini).

Keith is an amazing husband (especially for letting me make fun of him in this post) and never, ever causes me to refer to myself as Tillie the Toiler or to anyone else as a pritza. But no man is perfect – and clearly, he needs a bit of tutelage in the produce department. Perhaps I am at fault here – perhaps I failed him by not preparing him better for the world of supermarketry.

I am off to enroll him in Edible Vegetation 101.

You Say Tomato …

Sometimes a Banana …

When you’ve lived in New York as long as I have, you start to build up a sort of weirdness tolerance. As time goes by and you move from one overpriced shoebox to another, it takes more and more weirdness to impress you. Eventually, things that used to make you shudder strike you as totally normal. Elderly man with a long, gray ponytail wearing fishnets and a housecoat on the bus? I’ve seen weirder. Seemingly upscale lady carrying a discarded crappair down 77th Street? Meh. At this point, it is only the seriously bizarre that even registers with you.

Now I don’t know if this counts as “seriously bizarre,” but it was pretty hard not to notice. Is that a banana on your subway platform or are you just happy to see me?

As I noted on Facebook earlier today, I have a few theories that might explain what a random banana is doing here.

  • Theory 1: As my dear and swell friend Rich suggested, it occurred to me too that this was the equivalent of the collegiate “sock on the doorknob” code. Perhaps the closet/utility room behind this door is actually the shared domicile of two MTA employees, two rats, or one of each. When one of them brings a slutty date home – be it rodent or human – he or she hangs a banana on the door and the roommate – be it rodent or human – knows not to enter. Things this doesn’t explain: why a banana instead of the classic sock? Why is there a banana hook on the door in the first place? Who put accommodations for two grown MTA employees, two grown rats, or one of each on the subway platform? And more important, is this place rent-controlled? Unlikely.
  • Theory 2: For obvious reasons, “banana” is the international sign for some kind of lurid sex practice. Unbeknownst to dorks like me, there are hundreds of 1 train commuters who secretly engage in this lurid sex practice but struggle to find like-minded partners and have nowhere to go. Clearly, a filthy utility room underground is the perfect spot for whatever this practice may be. Nothing screams “discrete” and “erotic” like the New York City subway. When these poor, isolated souls see the banana on their way in to work, they know their days are about to get a whole lot better. Less unlikely, but still not so likely.
  • Theory 3: The city is running a public art project but hasn’t publicized it. The banana is some bullshitter’s take on dadaism. Possible, but doubtful.
  • Theory 4: Someone is conducting a psychological experiment (possibly for a new reality tv show) on hidden camera. What kind of hilarity will ensue when the average New Yorker sees … a BANANA? I prove to be a fascinating subject as I stare at it then take an iPhone picture of it. Possible.
  • Theory 5: Someone riding the subway has an extra banana in his/her bag and decides to hang it on the door in case a homeless, hungry person (or rat) wanders by in search of food. Probably.

Sometimes a Banana …

40 Going on 14

Horrible hooves

You may say otherwise, but it’s true. I’m a shallow person with the emotional IQ of a middle schooler. Since I can’t go to confession, I am going to use the blogosphere to admit my childish behavior.

The feet you see in the photograph above were ‘cured and painted with the new OPI shade “Red Lights Ahead … Where?” on Sunday.  When I arrived at the nail salon, I was escorted to the pedicure chairs and seated next to a very pretty girl who looked roughly my age. She was dressed in expensive workout clothes that revealed her flawless physique, and it was obvious to me that she had been one of  the popular girls  in her youth. In other words, the tell-tale scent of Eau de Bitchay radiated from her pores.

She was choosing between two pepto bismol pink shades. At first glance, both were hideous, but the idea that the pretty, popular girl liked them made me question my initial assessment. Should I be getting pepto pink too? Was THAT where I’d gone wrong in life?! Would it look creepy and weird if I too just “happened” to be getting that color? Just then my nail lady stabbed my badly picked pinky toe cuticle and I winced in painful silence. I certainly didn’t need Popular Girl glancing over and seeing the gruesome self-inflicted wound. Surely she had never experienced a day of malaise or panic in her whole popular life, and thus, had no malaise- or panic-sparked habits to hide.  I bet her parents bought her a car when she turned 17, and I bet she had no trouble taper-rolling her stonewashed jea…

I slapped myself mentally. For the love of god you freak, you’re turning 40 in two weeks. You’re not sitting at lunch tables in the multi-purpose room anymore! 

But in a way, I will always be sitting at the lunch tables in the multi-purpose room.

In walked a very peppy, tall and extremely large-boned girl with a strong mid-western accent and an exceptionally loud voice, yapping on her cell phone. She sat down next to Popular Girl and me.  Excerpts from the conversation she was having:

Debbie, he invited you to SEDER. Of course you have to try gefilte fish! He invited you to SEDER! [For those unfamiliar with the term “seder,” please see Wikipedia. For those unfamiliar with “gefilte fish,” please consider yourselves fortunate. Or read about its royal grossness here.]

Do I like gefilte fish? I mean it’s not my FAVORITE thing but I’ll eat it. 

Debbie! You NEED to eat more foods. You can’t eat pasta all the time. No one will marry you if you don’t eat more sophisticated things.

You tried it?! You tried GEFILTE FISH?  Oh Debbie I am just so proud of you! I am SO proud of you! I mean he invited you to SEDER, of course you had to.

Now, it’s hard to imagine that anyone seeking a  little R&R wouldn’t find this conversation a smidge grating. I certainly wanted to smack Debbie’s friend upside her head and possibly drown her in the lavender-scented water. But at some point during almost every pedicure I’ve had, someone in the salon has taken or made an audible cell phone call.  If you want complete and utter silence, you go to a  real spa — not the neighborhood nail joint. It’s annoying, but it’s something I accept. Additionally, Debbie’s friend was so awkward and clueless that I felt a little sorry for her. She was probably a lot nicer than Popular Girl in middle school — she was probably the kind of person who would have sat at MY lunch table.

Popular Girl was not taking it as calmly as I was. I could hear her repeatedly saying “Uch” with the kind of absolute repulsion I imagined all the SPIFFY High cheerleaders felt for me. Then she mixed in a few snide comments and some seriously dirty looks, all of which went unnoticed by Debbie’s oblivious friend. Popular Girl’s nail lady told Popular Girl to sit back and relax. Popular Girl said she couldn’t possibly relax with THAT in the background.

Then Popular Girl addressed ME.

“Can you believe this?”

I was paralyzed. What should I say?! What would make me sound cool?! Or wait…Shouldn’t I stand up for Debbie’s friend? Didn’t all former looz-airs have an obligation to support one another?

Maybe, but fuck it. I had a chance to get in.

I sold her out and said to Popular Girl, loudly, “It is SO annoying.”

I guess that was an acceptable repsonse, because Popular Girl offered me her magazines as she got up. And for a fleeting second I felt like it was 1989 and I’d been invited to the cool kids’ party. Then I felt bad about shafting Debbie’s friend. Then Popular Girl’s phone rang. It was her boyfriend or husband and she spoke to him at the top of her lungs, in a tone so mean I didn’t understand why any man would stay with her. I looked to my right and saw Debbie’s friend now quietly reading her book, not rolling her eyes, not cursing under her breath.  I wanted to ask her what she was reading and/or pet her sympathetically.

But I didn’t. I let my nail lady paint my toes a bright coral Jan didn’t approve of and hoped I would get to dry next to Popular Girl.

40 Going on 14