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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago

Making a Splash

Saratoga's Beth Lisick dives headfirst into her life story with her new book 'Everybody Into the Pool'

By Todd Inoue

BETH LISICK TELLS a good story. Behind the wheel of her blue Hyundai Elantra station wagon, she's careening through the Saratoga neighborhood she grew up, excitedly pointing out landmarks. There's the community pool she and her best friends would fence-hop after hours. There's the home where the annual ladies luncheon happens. The mom-mobile pulls up to a fire hydrant around the corner from her parents' Titus Avenue home, startling a neighbor retrieving his trash cans. In high school, she explains, her best friend Nicole was driving herself to the DMV to pick up her driver's license because nobody could take her. Then disaster struck.

"She reached down to pick up a tape and she ran into that fire hydrant," Lisick says, gesturing wildly. "Her car was up on his lawn! She called me. 'You HAVE to take me to the DMV right now to get my driver's license because I don't have one.'"

Lisick complied. They abandoned the car, raced down to the DMV in Beth's ride, filed the paperwork, quickly took a snapshot ("Her parents thought she was on drugs because she looked so crazy in the picture"), grabbed her freshly minted temporary license and split back to the scene of the crime where cops waited. They got off with a warning. "They were going to give her a ticket for hit and run. And she gave them the driver's license slip."

Lisick revels in recalling these episodes. Over the next hour, she'll point out the plaque at the Saratoga High gym where her 1987 record for the long jump (17 feet 10 inches) still stands; the Safeway where she and her posse would buy assorted produce and duct-tape it to their car and then cruise El Camino wearing nightgowns and cold cream; the Big Basin Avenue rooftops where'd they play Risk and shout at passers-by.

"We streaked in our underwear," she remembers, pointing to the sidewalk in front of Knitting Arts. "We started here and ran. I think my brother was naked."

Beth Lisick grew up dorky in Saratoga. She had a loving, hard-working family environment. She played sports, was involved in student government and didn't drink, smoke or do drugs. Though popular, she approached high school from an outsider's perspective—prone to frequent curiosity benders. Her and her crew would case 7-Eleven to find out where the weekend house parties were and go commando—hiding underneath beds and in closets, tape recording or writing down conversations.

"We were really fascinated by teenage culture," she says. "We were spying on them because we didn't know how to participate if we weren't going to be drinking. We were teenagers. We wanted to know what was going on. It was this self-imposed dorkiness. And people knew we were up to something."

Keen observation skills, curiosity and, yes, dorkiness prepared her for what would come later: forays into underground arts, spoken word, music, theater and literature. When she lived in downtown San Jose for six months in 1993, she started writing and performing at Ajax Lounge on Sunday open-mic nights, which led to gigs performing spoken word on Lollapalooza and across Europe. She bloomed in San Francisco as a suburban girl turned fringe artist. She currently curates the Porchlight storytelling series and just finished a short film Diving for Pearls in which she appears totally nude. The film played the LGBT film festival circuit and was recently awarded Best of the Fest from NewFest in New York.

Now with her third book, Everybody Into the Pool: True Tales, Lisick presses rewind on her memory, recalling humorous stories of how the regular girl from the 'burbs experienced la vie bohème. Within the 225 pages, Beth dresses up like a banana during the dotcom days, funds a medical procedure with help from the Catholic church, dabbles in bisexuality, rushes from a one night stand to attend the most important social event of her Saratoga neighborhood: the ladies luncheon. Lisick also opens chapters of her life—the time she lived in a converted warehouse at the corner of 16th and Mission (and having everything she owned covered in piss and shit), temporarily misplacing her utilitarian ways after housesitting her brother's ritzy condo in New York, and navigating the wonder of child-rearing.

Her narrative skills and attention to detail move the stories along with a campfire-circle gait. Fans of This American Life (to which she's a contributor), Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris will find lots to like in Lisick's true tales from the comfy and the grimy side.

"I didn't write it for any other reason than to write funny stories," she says about Everybody Into the Pool. "I love hearing people's personal stories and I think if I have stories to write about, everybody does."

Lisick possesses all the symbols of a stable family life: married with child in Berkeley, homeowner, great relationship with her parents, station wagon cluttered with baby stuff, but she still craves mischief. Her book tour will have friends sitting in, reading excerpts from other Regan Books authors (Trent Lott, Jenna Jameson, The Rock). During the photo shoot, she dismisses a terry-cloth robe pose: too frou frou, too "spa." She left her bathing suit at home. The only logical solution is jump in fully clothed—to the amazement of hotel guests.

"I'm not going to lie to you," Lisick confides after, padding through the Moorpark Hotel parking lot to her car, leaving a chlorinated water trail. "There is something that I enjoy about being a 36-year-old mom walking through the parking lot of a boutique hotel on a Tuesday afternoon wearing wet jeans and carrying boots." And why not? To Beth Lisick, mischief is a prime motivation in her world.

Beth Lisick reads from 'Everybody Into the Pool: True Tales' this Saturday (July 9) at 4pm at the Borders at Santana Row; 408.241.9100. Thanks to Jorge and Steve at Moorpark Hotel, San Jose.

Didn't I Almost Have It All?

From the book 'Everybody Into the Pool: True Tales' by Beth Lisick

ReganBooks/HarperCollins; 240 pages; $23.95; available wherever fine books are sold

THE SUMMER before high school, I decided to spend my vacation with a singular focus and pursuit. It was time to put an end to the constant dicking around, the elaborate prank phone call sessions, the aborted sewing projects, the hustling for a buck by ironing my dad's handkerchiefs, all while trying to get my doorbell-cleaning business off the ground in between bouts of heavy TV watching. I had friends who were traveling to Europe, volunteering to change bedsheets at the retirement home, and tackling a reading list provided by their freshman English teachers, but that wasn't my style. I mean the effort part. I got A's and B's without studying, was decent at sports without practicing, and landed a minor role in the junior high musical, Little Mary Sunshine, with my mediocre voice. Even my hair feathered without a lot of hassle. I was consistently described as "well-rounded," but I was starting to believe that there was nothing as well-rounded as an absolute zero. At fourteen, it looked like I was on the fast track to a career in real estate or public relations. I figured all it would take to divert such a disaster was a little more focus.

From movies and television, I'd learned that the smartest way for teens to succeed was by making personal sacrifices and then steeling themselves against the jealous naysayers who would inevitably want to bring them down, especially if it meant losing friends and learning a lesson along the way. In the short amount of time it took for a montage scene to depict someone repeatedly breaking wood blocks with bare feet or teaching the blind girl to run hurdles, an important change would occur. When the mid-tempo pop score moved into its slow fade, they could almost smell the victory. The heroes now had all the components to make them whole and could begin dealing with new concerns, like polishing trophies, receiving fan mail, or convincing their friends over a hot lunch in the cafeteria that they hadn't changed. "Maybe it's you that's changed," I practiced saying into the reflection of our swimming pool as I floated aimlessly on a chewed-up raft. Then it came to me. After kicking around a few ideas, including jam making and poetry, I was savvy enough to pick something at which I'd already shown some aptitude. I would concentrate on extreme tanning.

I had a pretty impressive base color going and figured, with a little effort, I could really make a go of it. The schedule would be grueling, I knew that. No more drawing the shades in the family room to settle in for a Channel 44 marathon of Petticoat Junction into Andy Griffith into Mr. Ed into Gomer Pyle into Gilligan's Island into I Dream of Jeannie into Leave It to Beaver, with an occasional chaser of All My Children thrown in. This was serious business. I bought my own can of Crisco and a personal roll of aluminum foil and began developing an involved rotation system that required not only slight adjustments on the quarter hour, but a protracted journey from the south side of the swimming pool to the north side—a distance of about fifty feet that took me nearly eight hours to cover. Stoically dragging the lounge chair behind me across the pebbled patio, my resemblance to Christ was obvious, if only He'd had a hand free for a tube of lip gloss and a mayonnaise jar full of iced Tab. Perhaps I took a few breaks throughout the day. I seem to remember sandwiches and some important phone calls, but mostly I concentrated on the task at hand. For the first time in my life, I was really working hard, and it was satisfying.

My favorite part of the job was not how my skin took on the burnished burl hue of the truly precancerous, but the path of discovery. It amazed me to realize that my mind could be so blank day after day for the better parts of June, July and August. There was nothing going on up there at all. If I had been smarter or more self-conscious, I might have known to attribute at least part of my slacking to the study of Zen, like so many people I would meet later in life. But that thought, along with a fathomless host of others, didn't even pass through my brain. Being "present" and "in the moment" was just part and parcel of what we called "laying out," as in:

MOM: What are you going to do today, honey?
ME: I'm just going to lay out.
MOM: Okay.

Eight hours later . . .

DAD: How was your day?
ME: Good. I laid out.
DAD: You sure got a helluva tan going.
ME: Thanks.

I wasn't sure how it would fly at first, but laying out appeared to be a perfectly acceptable hobby in my family, akin to Paul's private Latin instruction and Chris's debate tournaments. I may have quit piano, soccer and gymnastics, but no one could argue that I had trouble applying myself once I set my mind to a goal. I was tan and then I got tanner—success.

When the school year rolled around, my mind-blowing tan became my calling card. In the months since we graduated from eighth grade, braces came off, short boys grew taller, and training bras developed into C cups, but no one had made such leaps and bounds in the tanning department. I felt great, if a little anxious about what was going to happen now that the days were growing shorter and all my daylight hours were being wasted in a classroom under fluorescent lights.

A few weeks into the school year, I realized just how much power a tan could wield when it was announced that I was one of five nominees for freshman homecoming princess. I was neither excited nor horrified, just a little confused. Aside from my reckless foray into the world of melanin adjustment, I didn't feel that much different. And yet, clearly, I was now somebody whom my classmates could actually picture riding around the football field at halftime in the back of a brand new convertible Cabriolet owned by Kelly Sampson's mom, a tennis nut with a radical boob job. Here's a look at the competition:

Krista Gregory: What a little lady! Krista was always impeccably dressed in the latest teen fashions, and she was incredibly nice to everyone. The fact that some people thought she was phony would be nullified by the sympathy card based on rumors that her mother started bleaching Krista's hair blonde as soon as it started to go dark—when she was eight years old.

Tanya Olson: Straight-A student involved in community projects and her church. I think the people who voted for her are now the history professors, avant-garde musicians, software developers, and heads of nonprofit arts centers and educational foundations, etc. She was smart and cool, but I remember sincerely thinking, "She wears glasses. There's no way she'll win."

Julie Hartman: A living doll with brains to match. I love an adorable airhead as much as anyone, and how much street smarts are you supposed to have when your street is a cul-de-sac called Country Club Court? But I truly believed she was just too dumb to be a princess.

Cecilia Bari: Even tanner than me, but important to point out that her tan was aided by the fact that she is half-Sicilian. She was mostly popular because of her really long hair—the kind of long that only a teenager can get away with. When you see an adult with hair this long, down to their knees and frayed into an inverted triangle at the ends, you have to start counting in mental problems. Anyway, it was still 1984 at this point. Multicultural exoticism wouldn't be embraced by white suburban teens for many years to come. No chance.

On the day the final votes were cast, I had a doctor's appointment to get an infected mole removed from my back and missed the voting. My mom took me out to McDonald's afterwards, and as I sat eating my Happy Meal with a piece of bloody gauze nestled between my shoulder blades, I entertained the thought of actually winning the crown. What would it mean? There were no real duties associated with being a member of the royal court, at least as far as I could tell. The homecoming princess just rode around the football field at halftime, went to a dance in the gym later, and received a free bouquet of roses.

When I returned to school in the afternoon, the votes were being tallied in the office. I have no recollection of an official announcement being made—this shows how ambivalent I was—but it turned out that I won. The following week, I would be standing on the football field, my arm interlocked with David Friedman, the homecoming prince. Immediately, the dread set in. I just know I am going to be one of those people who peak in high school, I thought, waiting for the carpool mom to pick me up out front. I am reaching the apex of my powers shortly before learning to drive and then I'll bottom out in college when different brands of identity like intelligence, humor, creativity, and contrived eccentricity start to mean more than a hot tan or a nice rack. I was doomed.

What made matters even worse was that suddenly all sorts of new people came sniffing around: the football players and cheerleaders with their convertible cars and the party girls and surfer boys with their puka shells. I already had Amy and Nicole, my two friends since elementary school. I didn't want any more friends. I was curious about the popular people, but slightly terrified. I'd seen their marijuana leaf T-shirts and knew they hung out in the smoking section next to the auto shop. I'd heard the rumors about something called Bartles & Jaymes. On the other hand, I wasn't against using my new social standing for personal gain because I definitely had my sights set high. I wanted to go on a date with Kyle Anderson.

Kyle Anderson was a senior and the older brother of one of my brother's friends. He was raised in a career military family and had a formality about him that I found odd and appealing. He would greet me in the hallway between classes by shaking my hand and offering me a stick of Big Red. Tall and handsome, he was part of the popular jock crowd, and yet different from them in a way that I romanticized. He was one of the insiders, but still on the outside. Kind of like what Sammy Davis Jr. was to the Rat Pack, except Kyle wasn't black, Jewish or short. But I noticed he did have a certain sway with the ladies.

After extensively observing him one night in a pizza parlor from a corner booth with Amy and Nicole, I saw how the popular senior girls fawned all over him, but then ran back to their boyfriends giggling. Obviously, his maturity and intelligence were far too intimidating for those girls. Those pretty party girls were not interesting or worldly enough for him, I decided, picking cheese out of my retainer and checking my watch to make sure I didn't miss my 10 P.M. curfew.

How I actually snared the coveted date with Kyle I'll never know, but I have a feeling it was the result of some sort of humiliating note passing or hint dropping that I've since blocked out. All I know is that the Monday before homecoming, we had the following exchange in the breezeway:

KYLE: [shaking my hand] Miss Lisick!
ME: Mr. Anderson.
KYLE: How would you like to go out to dinner this Saturday night?
ME: Hey, that'd be great!
KYLE: I'm escorting Leslie Egan to the homecoming game the night before, and I don't have to return the tuxedo until Monday. How about I wear that, you wear your homecoming dress, and I'll take you someplace nice.
ME: Great!
KYLE: [He reaches into his pocket.] Big Red?

I walked away excited and also extremely impressed that he was escorting Leslie Egan, the head cheerleader whose boyfriend was unable to escort her due to his quarterbacking duties that evening. Leslie had the most incredible hair. She'd blow-dry her huge mane of hair all over to the left side, and constantly hold her head at a forty-five degree angle to keep it there. The effect was as if a giant wind machine was constantly tracking her from just off her right shoulder, a wind machine so powerful that it not only blew her hair in a giant asymmetrical cascade, but also upset the natural alignment of her neck with the rest of her spinal column, like she was a cyborg honing in on a high-pitched frequency in the distance.

Two days before homecoming, I hadn't even started looking for a dress. What was wrong with me? I became paralyzed by the thought of having everyone looking at me. They would see me up there on display and instantly decide that they liked me better before, back when they voted for me. Now that I was actually the homecoming princess, it would be obvious that I had spent the last week becoming stuck-up and conceited. Most of the dresses I owned were from thrift stores, 1950s chiffon prom dresses or loud 1960s shifts. I couldn't wear those because then it would look like I thought I was all cool and different, trying to stand out even more. I also knew I didn't want to wear anything sexy because I was only a freshman. The older girls would surely slut it up for everyone. They always did. My mom had been pleading with me all week to let her take me to the mall and I had kept putting her off. Now I was screwed.

The afternoon before the big day I came home from school and saw a dress hanging in plastic in the front hallway. Not only was it plaid, but the colors included (but were not limited to) royal blue, lime green, canary yellow, bright pink, and various shades of purple. The sleeves were as puffy as two enormous (plaid) clouds of cotton candy.

"What do you think?" my mom asked, handing me a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. "I got it from Rita in my bridge group."

"Huh," I replied, pulling it off the coat rack, holding it at arm's length and turning it around.

"Her daughter only wore it once. To her prom."

If I remembered correctly, her daughter was old enough to have kids of her own by now, making the dress that perfect awkward age of something that was too new to be retro and too old to be remotely fashionable. She took off the plastic for me so I could behold its unique color scheme.

"And this," she said, pulling a long sash from the neck of the hanger, "goes around your waist and ties in a big bow in back!"

"Wow," I said, putting a whole peanut butter cup into my mouth, upside down, and holding it there while the crinkled edges melted on my tongue. This was shaping up to be every teenage girl's nightmare.

"Great," I snorfled. "I'll wear it." And then I went to watch TV.

She followed me through the kitchen. "Well, don't you want to try it on, honey? What about shoes?"

"I'll try it on after The Brady Bunch is over."

Later that night, when everyone was asleep, I finally brought the dress back to my room. It was a couple sizes too big and the skirt fell at an awkward length, about mid-calf. I got in my pajamas—a large pair of men's boxers that I would sometimes wear to school as shorts, safety pinning the fly—and went to bed. If people are going to vote for a person like me for homecoming princess, I fell asleep thinking, this is what they're going to get—me wearing whatever dress happened to swoop into my life at just the moment I needed it, no matter how hideous it was.

This is still my MO a lot of the time. When paralyzed by making decisions where all the options are unappealing, I'm able to wait it out for an uncomfortably long time, until the inevitable answer makes itself known to me. It's like constantly having a Mexican standoff with myself. For instance, I went to a baby shower for my sister-in-law recently and I didn't have a card to go on my gift. Sometimes I will make a card myself if I have something good lying around, like an envelope from an early 1980s Butterick sewing pattern or a sparkly Hulk Hogan tablecloth, but I refuse to participate in greeting card culture (with occasional exceptions for half-price cards in Spanish or something from the Hallmark Mahogany edition for African-Americans). Anyway, my mom had an extra one on her, a standard Hallmark number with an excessive poem that rhymed about little baby hugs and little baby hands, and she said, "Well, you can use this one, but it's not really a 'Beth' card." I cringed, but I took her up on it. It was most definitely a "Beth" card as it was the card that presented itself to me at the last possible minute. Ugly, yet undeniably functional—a theme in my life, for sure.

The next afternoon I came home from field hockey practice and watched cartoons like I did every other day. About a half hour before we had to leave for the game, my mom poked her head in and suggested I'd better start getting ready. I looked at the mud caking my inner thighs and was totally bummed out that I would have to take a second shower that day. Maybe I could just sponge down with a washcloth? I contemplated putting on mascara, but decided against it. I never wore it to school, so why would I put it on for this? It seemed fake. Then, without thinking anything of it, not understanding how wrong this was, I went into my mom's drawer and borrowed a pair of black nylon knee-highs from her. I remember her saying how relieved she was when her skirt was long enough not to have to wear pantyhose, and it made sense to me. And then, the capper: I went into her closet and fished out a pair of her sensible low-heeled Easy Spirit pumps, which were a full size too big for me. I grabbed some string cheese from the fridge, put on my Walkman, and got in the back of the wood-paneled station wagon.

My parents dropped me off at the front gate, and I stood in line to pay my dollar entrance fee. Everybody was wearing jeans and sweatshirts and I instantly felt stupid in my oversized plaid dress and stretched-out mom shoes. I needed to make a mental note to pay more attention to what I wore. I looked around for Kyle, eager to see how dapper he would look in his tux, getting a preview for our big date the next night. That was the real excitement, if I could just get over this hump tonight. I stood around for the entire first half of the football game sharing a tray of nachos with Amy and Nicole, wearing a big sheepskin-lined denim jacket over my dress.

"Maybe we should run behind your convertible and drag you out of it," Nicole said. "We could start whaling on you, beating you up in front of everyone!"

"I'll get some ketchup from the snack shack!" Amy said and ran off.

We had been staging fake catfights, inspired by the TV show Dynasty, in public places for a few years. We would stand at busy intersections or out in the quad during lunch break and pretend to pull each other's hair and kick each other in the shins. Inevitably, we would wind up rolling around on the ground until someone stepped in to break it up. But even though I knew this could make it the most memorable homecoming ever, I chickened out. I didn't want to draw any more attention to myself than I had to.

The vice principal, an excitable lady who was also in charge of all factions of the Spirit Squad (which included cheerleaders, drill team, color guard, letter girls, song girls, and mascots) got on her megaphone and called everyone over: "Princes and princesses, kings and queens!"

Just as I was making my way over, some elementary school boys who were running around accidentally dumped an entire Coke on me. It dripped down the front of my dress and puddled at my feet.

"Oh, no!" the sophomore princess cried, embracing me while turning her head in the opposite direction so her make-up didn't smear. "I would kill those little fuckers!"

I laughed and climbed up onto the car. One good thing about that dress was that it certainly didn't show stains.

I finally got a glimpse of Kyle, already in his Mercedes Coupe with his arm around Leslie Egan. She being the Senior Queen, they were the last car of the procession. Dave and I were the first. We were instructed to wave to everyone in the bleachers as we passed, but as the car started slowly to make its way around the track, I was so conflicted. I knew waving looked lame, like we thought we were really special or something, but if I didn't do it everyone would think I was stuck-up. I thought for a second about doing a fake royal wave, a Miss America thing, but what if people didn't know I was making fun of the wave? I decided it would be better to salute the crowd, a stiff hand angled at my brow, pushing my bangs into my eyes. Perhaps an unconscious nod to my date with Kyle the next night.

Risers had been brought out to the field by members of the marching band, in which my brother Chris served as the only male flute player. The following year, tired of being called a fag, he would switch to the more manly double-reeded bassoon. As our names were called, we stepped out of our cars and paraded onto the makeshift stage. People in the stands were cheering wildly as if to say, "We adore you, tan and popular people with decent GPAs!" More waving. Flashbulbs popping. I couldn't wait for it to be over, so it could be tomorrow already. At one point I looked over at Kyle and caught him looking back at me. I imagined him mouthing the words, "Tomorrow will be our night, magic lady! Tomorrow we will soar with the eagles!"

I was up early the next day, already preparing for my date, utilizing a set of guidelines laid out by Seventeen magazine. I kept trying to avoid my parents and brothers, sneaking into the pantry for oatmeal, so I could make a facial mask, or scooping mayonnaise out of the jar for a special hair conditioner before I settled into a bathtub filled with rose petals. I shaved my legs twice. I kept catching my mom talking on the phone about how this weekend was like my coming out party, what with the homecoming and the big first date and all. It was killing me. Why was she making such a big deal out of it, I thought, as I reviewed the seven-step process for my eye shadow and narrowed down which pressure points would receive a dab of Loves Baby Soft Fresh Rain Scent. Wrinkled with dried-up Coke, the awkward plaid dress was replaced with a plain cream-colored taffeta one that I'd worn once to a dance in junior high. I thought of it as a blank canvas that would come alive once I applied my superior grooming routine and sparkling personality.

Kyle arrived at my house in his rented tuxedo, as advertised, with a single pink rose for me and another one for my mom. If there had been any doubts about sending her fourteen-year-old daughter out on a date with an eighteen-year-old high school senior (and there really hadn't been) that rose for my mom spoke volumes. Kyle was clearly a gentleman, whose military use of "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" only supported his case. My mom disappeared into the kitchen to find vases as my brothers, my dad and I stood around the entry hall. "Now don't keep her out all night!" my dad joked. The look of surprise on Kyle's face sealed the deal. I had found a real winner. Then we went through a roll of film, utilizing all rooms of the house and every possible combination of people.

"Let's get one of Beth, Kyle, and Chris!"

"Okay, now both the older brothers and the date!"

"How about Mom and daughter with Kyle standing behind them?"

"Okay, now I'll get the timer going and we'll get everybody together by the bougainvillea!"

At last, we walked out into the warm October evening and Kyle opened the passenger side door of his yellow Datsun B210 for me. I slid in, admiring the way he had replaced the handle of the stick shift with the grip from a ski pole. Very cool. "You look beautiful," he said, handing me a stick of Big Red. "Why didn't you wear that last night instead of that other thing?"

He had made us reservations at the Chart House, a steakhouse chain whose cachet at this particular location was the fact that it was situated inside an old Victorian house—authentically complete with a hitching post for your horse on the front lawn! We climbed the front steps and he ushered me in with his hand firmly on the back of my elbow. If I hadn't felt like a princess the night before, stepping into the fanciest steakhouse chain in the greater Bay Area on the arm of a future military cadet was starting to do it for me.

As the hostess admired our outfits and led us to our table, it occurred to me that I'd never been to a restaurant without somebody's parents before. When the waiter asked what I wanted to drink, my autopilot said, "I'll have a glass of milk, please." Wait, that didn't sound right. Immediately sensing the tension, I changed my order to something more cosmopolitan—a Shirley Temple, which I had heard about in movies.

When our meals arrived, the baked potato sommelier ceremoniously smothered our potatoes with butter, sour cream, chives, cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and freshly ground pepper. I still had to decide if I wanted French, Italian, thousand island, bleu cheese, honey mustard or poppy seed dressing on my salad. I was in heaven.

"So are you definitely going to West Point next year?" I asked, attempting to cut a piece off of my one-and-a-half pound, three-inch-thick porterhouse. I approached the steak gingerly at first, as if I was performing an autopsy, but soon enough I was sawing away like a serial killer dismembering a body. "Looks like it," he said. "I just need to get the letter of recommendation from the congressman."

I nodded enthusiastically, making eye contact, taking the opportunity to try another approach with my steak. I stabbed it deeply in the middle with my fork and then flipped the entire thing over and resumed sawing on the other side.

Just like I instinctively picked up on the etiquette of not ordering a tall glass of milk on a hot date, I knew it was not cool to be a girl who picked at her food. You wanted to be a fun date who ate like a normal person. When Kyle got up to go the bathroom, I attacked the meat, plunging the tip of the knife through the center of it, wedging my fork in the cavity and attempting to carve out a chunk by rotating the knife in a counterclockwise motion. I had to eat as much as possible while he was gone. I plunged my finger into the hole and ripped the steak in half, and then leaned forward so that my hair fell in my face. Quickly, I picked up a hunk and tore at it with my teeth, gnawing off an enormous piece. It was then that Kyle came back.

"Wow," he said, glancing around the restaurant before sitting back down. "Do you need some help cutting that?"

I nodded and pushed my plate toward him. We sat in silence as he calmly sliced my entire steak into manageable bite-sized pieces and set it back down in front of me.

After splitting an enormous chocolate dessert called a bomb or an avalanche or an orgasm, whatever that was, he asked me if I wanted to go back to his place. He lived with his grandparents who went to bed early, so I was hoping that meant we might be able to make out a little. I didn't want to throw his sense of propriety out of balance, but I thought he'd be surprised that a freshman was such a good kisser.

He pulled the car into the circular driveway and quickly hopped out to open my door for me. We snuck into the house, leaving all the lights off, as he led me into the darkened living room and sat me down on the brown, pleather sofa. He disappeared and came back with two glasses of Tang on a serving tray. It was then that he asked for a kiss. I was thrilled by his gallantry. He was definitely not like all the other boys.

He leaned in to kiss me. This is the greatest night of my life, I thought as his angular, smooth-shaven face came toward me. In that moment, I imagined our future together, exchanging Christmas presents, going to his senior prom together, and spending the summer frequenting the best restaurants around—Chili's, TGI Fridays, you name it. We would dip curly fries in ranch dressing all the way across the valley. Then he would go off to college, a military academy which would enforce rules of strict gender separation and therefore deprive him of female contact for four years. Pining away for his girl back home, he'd write me long letters on cold nights from the Hudson River fortress. I had seen An Officer and a Gentleman. Love would lift us up where we belonged. I let my imagination run wild in those thirty seconds that we were making out before he whispered something in my ear.

Huh? What was that he just said? I stopped for a second because I must not have heard him correctly. It almost sounded like he had said, "I want you to suck my dick." Strange. I ignored it and kept kissing him, but about ten seconds later, his mouth went to my ear and again he said, a little louder, "Suck my dick." Finally, when he said it a third time, I decided to deal with the situation head on. Instead of reluctantly acquiescing or spouting off some Girl Power quip that wouldn't be invented for another ten years, I leaned back on the couch and looked at him with a twinge of disappointment. "Aw, man," I said. "I really don't want to suck your dick right now. I'm totally sorry, but it just seems weird."

We got in the car and he drove me home. His ski handle stick shift just looked stupid now. My parents were waiting up for me, all excited to hear how my big date went. I offered them the highlights—the steak incident, the chocolate dessert, and the Tang. When I went to my room, I saw that my mom had placed the bud vase on my bedside table next to the bouquet of roses from the night before—souvenirs of my big debutante weekend that she'd later ask if I wanted to press into a scrapbook. Um, no.

So that was it for Kyle and me. I felt lame for letting him spend fifty bucks on that dinner, though I have learned in the intervening years that it wasn't just him. Apparently the whole world wants its dick sucked by a fourteen-year-old girl.

Kyle moved on to date a girl from another school named Trisha, whom he actually ended up marrying after he graduated from West Point. I was out of the country at the time, but my parents said it was a large, expensive wedding at a military base that involved a lot of people in uniform and the two of them passing under some kind of canopy formed by rifles. I think shots were fired. It wasn't even a year before Kyle found out that Trisha was cheating on him with an eighteen-year-old house painter and had been since before they were engaged. They divorced immediately, probably before all three hundred guests at the ceremony had even sent in their presents. My parents, who purchased a nice pizza stone for them from Williams-Sonoma, were shocked, but all they did was shake their heads and say, "What a shame." My parents would never say a mean thing about anyone.

High school turned out fine for me. I ended up going out with a skinny, cross-country runner who had the amazing ability to rip off farts at will and once bought me a toilet seat for Christmas. So that was cool. I was happy. But because of that one date, I learned a valuable lesson early in life. At fourteen, I already began avoiding people who were suave, clinically attractive, and socially adept. It's kind of a cliché that all the interesting people you meet as adults claim to have been big losers in high school, but when I look at my friends and heroes I see a bunch of teens who were nose-in-the-book intellectuals, Dungeons & Dragons nerds, angry punks, chess prodigies, band geeks, sensitive Goths, and confused queers. I wasn't an outcast at all in high school, but I did blow my chance for ever winning another crown because I couldn't hack the pressure of being popular. My adolescent obsession of ferreting out phonies stuck with me. So now I keep away from smooth talkers. And I stay out of the sun.

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From the July 6-12, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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