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Suicide & Sandy

I tried to kill myself in Woodshop class.

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I couldn’t take one more day of the pain of having plural bullies and a singular friend. I was at the drill press working on my badass coat rack when it occurred to me that I could murder myself.

Quicker than Michael Jackson could Shamone Hee Hee, I pushed the drill bit into my wrist and turned it on. There was only one problem I hadn’t anticipated – it fucking hurt.

BAD.

Faster than Cyndi Lauper could waffle iron the side of her head, I turned the drill off. There was some blood and I actually managed to drill a small hole in my wrist, but it was nothing a Band-Aid from the school nurse and a Woodshop Incident Report couldn’t remedy.

My scar ended up being shaped like a lightning bolt. Yes, I was the pre-Harry Potter of suicidal kids.

Attempting suicide ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me because I finally didn’t give a shit.

I was ready to smoke at Stoner Wall.

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Stoner Wall today. Normally covered in graffiti.

Band-Aid on wrist, this determined badass found her spot on the wall. Months of observational study paid off:

  1. Lean on wall, do not free stand.
  2. If conversation ensues, simply turn head to side or stare off into space without looking at friend. (Friend understands protocol and will not take personally.)
  3. Pull smokes out of pocket, not purse. Especially if you’re a dude. Hard pack is preferred. If new pack, flip pack upside down and beat into palm of hand. This is called “packing.” Then flip one smoke upside down. This is called a “Lucky.” If using a soft pack, be sure to flick out cigarette and put in teeth without cigarette touching fingers. This takes practice.
  4. Light up with lighter on high. Flame must be a minimum of three inches high. Do not light heavily Aqua Netted bangs on fire. Exception to rule is Zippo[1].
  5. Pretend to inhale.
  6. Extra points for smoke rings.
  7. Look very relaxed from hit, as if life is so hard that you need to smoke.
  8. Put free hand in pocket, but not same pocket as smokes.
  9. Flick cherry off with finger instead of stomping out.

I looked just like everyone else, except I was still wearing ruffled plaid shirts and cords and everyone else wore mullets and jean jackets with Iron Maiden Iron-ons.

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Sandy was one of the only other girls at Stoner Wall. She hung out with a mullet-head named Tommy whose eyes were always bright red.

She bounced up to me, far too perky for the stoner crowd.

“Can I bum a smoke?”

I pulled out my stolen soft-pack of ugly-ass brown Mores, aka, the grossest cigarettes ever invented, but when at the mercy of New Dad’s choice of smoke and being cool, they were my only option. And my only connect for Kools, Eve, had moved to Fresno.

“Tommy has Camels. Come on.”

I followed Sandy to Tommy’s spot on the wall, grateful that the lameness of my smokes was unspoken. Could this girl actually be nice? It was doubtful.

She bummed two of the shortest cigarettes I’d ever seen from Tommy. I was used to Mores, which were approximately a foot-long, but these were even shorter than my Kools. And there was no filter.

Pretending to inhale was challenge enough, but now I had the added challenge of tobacco collecting in my mouth. I took Tommy’s lead and picked the tobacco out of my teeth and flicked it.

Flicking was a big thing with the smoking-crowd.

Sandy was super animated and talked really fast. She told me that she and Tommy had been neighbors since they were four, they lived two blocks from school and she could get cigarettes from The Sev with a note from her mom, but she didn’t have any money so she was out.

I immediately offered her my leftover allowance.

She counted it and calculated that we could buy one pack of brand-name smokes, or two packs of generics. Then we’d get one each. And they made generic menthols! This was a good day indeed.

We took off for The Sev. Tommy had detention, so he stayed behind. Of course, he didn’t tell me that. Actually he didn’t speak at all. Good thing he had a friend in Sandy. She talked enough for all of us.

Forged note in hand, the two of us moseyed up to The Sev counter. I hid my trembling hands in my corduroy pockets. The thought of getting arrested was mortifying, but my fear of never having a friend was just a touch larger than my fear of the consequences I may have to endure.

There were 8th graders everywhere, in line, at the Slurpee machine, hanging out in the parking lot – I’d somehow stumbled upon the Mecca of after school cool.

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They still exist.

Now I wanted to get arrested. I fantasized about how many ranks of the badass scale I would go up with everyone watching as I was handcuffed and put into the back of a cop car. A sense of calm came over me. I pulled my hands out of my pockets.

The clerk looked over the note, looked up at Sandy, and handed over the cigarettes without question.

I knew this was when Sandy would bolt, but once we got out of eyeshot of the 7-11 clerk, she handed me my change and a pack of smokes.

“I owe you a pack when I get my allowance.”

I knew she’d never repay. I knew this was the end of our friendship. I knew she’d probably start bullying me tomorrow.

“You wanna come over and watch Days?”

I fought the urge to look behind me for the real friend she was talking to and to ask her what the hell “watching Days” meant.

Five minutes later, I sat in Sandy’s den on my very own Lazy Boy watching Days of Our Lives and chain-smoking generic cigarettes. There was a huge overflowing crystal ashtray on the small table between us. I occasionally gasped or pretended to tear up so she’d believe that I’d been following Days for years.

Through the smoke-haze, the figure of a tall, middle-aged, redheaded woman approached. Oh my God, it was Sandy’s mom! I mashed out my cigarette immediately. We were so busted.

“God dammit Sandy open a fucking door for Christ’s sake!”

Then she pulled a smoke out of Sandy’s new pack.

“I thought you had a carton, why are you bumming mine?”

This was unlike any home I’d ever been in. I wanted to live here. Yesterday.

Sandy looked at my wrist. “What happened?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s stupid.”

And that was the beginning of my 10-year friendship with Sandy, my addiction to Days of Our Lives and my love of smoking indoors.

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[1] Zippo’s were so cool that flame length didn’t even come into play. Unfortunately, I was never rad enough to even figure out where to purchase one until I was about thirty. Zippo protocol was also very complicated. It included, but was not limited to, flipping open AND shut without using one’s fingers. One either had to open the lighter on one’s jeans, or simply with the power of a forceful flick. The opportunities for dorking-out were far too many for this new smoker, and Bic disposable lighters came in three-packs. With savings like that, Bic won out.

 

Schoolhouse Porn! The Last Channel.

If you’re behind,  click here for Schoolhouse Porn! Channel 1click here for Schoolhouse Porn! Channel 2 and click here for Schoolhouse Porn! Channel 3.  Or not. This is the part with actual porn.

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There was a bed with an ugly flowered comforter, the kind sewn with fishing line instead of thread, facing a dresser with a huge mirror on it. We sat on the bed and I noticed that we were staring at ourselves, which led immediately to bouncing. We bounced for about ten minutes, making funny faces in the mirror all the while. What a cool idea to have a mirror in front of your bed! Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?

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Panting, we collapsed onto the bed. Perfect time to smoke! Eve pulled a Kool out of what looked like a wallet made especially just for cigarettes with a special pocket just for the lighter and then handed it to me. I decided if I ever take up smoking full-time I was going to get me one of those. We lit up. She put a big gold ashtray with a heavily patterned beanbag on the bottom of it for stability between us. We smoked and panted for a bit.

Then, as if a treasure trove, Eve showed me an entire wall of VHS tapes.

“Do you want to pick or me?” She was grinning like a mysterious motherfucker.

“You pick,” I said, not realizing that it didn’t really matter which of these fine films we watched, because they were all ended exactly the same.

She slid the black tape into the black VCR, turned the TV to Channel three, and then bounced back on the bed, spraying ashes and butts everywhere. She was really excited to share.

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The movie opened in a diner, where some truck drivers started telling the owner a mysterious story about a door. Uh, okay. Lame. How can a movie about a door be exciting? Then it flashed back to this pretty woman with brown hair being put on a stage and then being kissed and touched by a whole bunch of other women. Ummmm girls didn’t do that to each other on The Love Boat! I was intrigued and embarrassed, but Eve seemed like this was totally normal, so I pretended like it was something I watched all the time.

The girls had huge hair pies. Even far-too-young-to-be-watching-porn-me was fully aware that a razor or ten would be in order. Then the music got all crazy, kind of like the Schoolhouse Rock! music, only funkier, when this black guy came in. He took off his clothes and OH MY GOD! Conjunction junction, so that’s your function!

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So there it was, in-and-out, upside down and all around – we were watching porn. And not just porn, the best porn ever made. Eve and I smoked Kools and watched Deep Throat, Debbie Does Dallas, and The Devil in Miss Jones, to name a few. They were fascinating. I loved the stories and the sex scenes. I was fully aware I was doing something wrong, which made me want to do it even more.

When Eve’s mom and mom’s boyfriend worked swing shift, I went home after school with her. On the non-Eve days, I went to Marie’s house with similar intention. I saw little difference between watching Duran Duran and porn, after all they made me feel the same downstairs.

The only difference was I didn’t get to smoke at Marie’s house.

. . .

I made a Spotify playlist for Schoolhouse Porn! I can’t stop listening to it! Come over and have a listen.

Schoolhouse Porn! Channel 1.

Moving to Sparks + no friends = TV.

TV + making friends in Sparks = porn.

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My afterschool television addiction began in a Sonoma, California duplex with Super Grover and Mr. Rogers. I mentally escaped to my life on Sesame Street and in Mr. Rogers’s rad house every day after school. I defended Mr. Rogers when Mom and Bio Dad teased me that he was a pedophile because I believed in him. Unconditional love was emitted through a little box in the living room when Mr. Rogers talked just to me and no one else. It was like we were all alone in his awesome house just doing cool shit, such cool shit that it required both a shoe and sweater change to do.

I wasn’t into cartoons as much, but would watch them on Saturday mornings with the same intention I watch the Super Bowl game, for the commercials. Only these weren’t exactly commercials, they were Schoolhouse Rock! educational music-video-way-before-MTV cartoons. And I loved them. They taught me everything from the function of a conjunction to the process of a bill becoming a law, interspersed with groovy characters like Interplanet Janet singing to bass-heavy seventies tunes.

Lastly, my favorite and most anticipated show to mainline was The Muppet Show. It was only on once a week and every second from the critic’s initial insults to Zoot’s final saxophone toot was watched in silence and awe. I actually still love this show so much that I have to stop writing about it lest I totally freak the fuck out and lock myself in the house snorting VHS tapes for five days until the cops have to break the door down to pry me away from those damn furry Muppets. That, my friends, is true addiction.

Our next stints living in sleazy motels from Tucson to El Paso and other nefarious places in between brought on a craving for more mature content. Suddenly, I was interested in boys, or should I say, men. I became obsessed with The Love Boat, and my favorite parts were the kissing parts. I loved the way they made out by sucking on each other’s top and bottom lips, respectively. How I longed to have my lip sucked on the Lido Deck by some has-been actor hoping for a comeback. The other show that made me tingle was Three’s Company. And I never had common crushes. I didn’t fantasize about Jack Tripper or even Larry Dallas; no, my crush was on Mr. Furley. Yes, Don Knotts – all 93 pounds of him. I fantasized about that wrinkly old dude hitting on me at The Regal Beagle in a patchwork leisure suit.

My fake love affairs were abruptly and tragically ended when my parents moved us to the middle of Mexico. The nearest town was a tiny fishing village with cobblestone streets. Needless to say, TV was not an option. I quit cold turkey. That is, until we moved to Sparks.

Sparks was the place I relapsed on television.

Now I raced home not only from bullies, but to turn on, tune in and drop out. That’s what Mr. Leary meant, wasn’t it? TV was an obvious escape from the brutality and confusion of my life. Now I saw the world through the eyes of Ricky Schroeder, Benson, Alex P. Keaton, and a talking car named KITT. I even relapsed on cartoons. I’d be frequently caught yelling “I have the power!” along with He-Man and I literally asked my mom to “smurf” me the butter one night at dinner.

My aim was to clock about five hours on school nights. That meant running home the second the school bell rang via my super awesome shortcut which required a lot of trespassing, probably my first illegal activity. The illicit route included an empty field behind a spooky stone house that some weird politician lived in, about four backyards (one of them had sheep), and hopping several fences. If I avoided all distraction (i.e. stopping to pet said sheep) I could plant myself in front of the TV, remote in hand, by three-twenty. Bedtime was at nine, snacks, refills and homework were handled during commercial breaks, and dinner took up no more than thirty minutes and usually fell at seven-thirty, which was totally cool because the only thing on was Jeopardy which was boooooooring.

That was my life. That is, until Marie and I became friends.

Stay tuned for Channel 2, out next Monday!

Seeing Sparks, Fin

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Want to binge read the whole series? No problem. For Part 1, click here. For Part Deux, click here. For Part Trois, click here.

“Where are you going?” Eve yelled as I ran. She was brave. She was also left alone by bullies, probably due to the fact that they’d have to get within smelling range to appropriately intimidate her.

“I, uh, I forgot I told my mom I’d be home right after school today!” I lied as I sprinted toward the crosswalk.

Once I reached the street corner, I pressed the crosswalk button about 400 times in a matter of five seconds. Unfortunately, my fixed attention on said crosswalk button distracted me so I completely failed to notice who was on the other side of the street and about to head my way. Yep. Not one, not two, but all three of my new bullies. And they had not only already spotted me in their territory, but they were already laughing at me.

“Hey Egghead! Did you get lost? Are you running home to Mommy?” They intermittently barked at me between peals of laughter.

Then in perfect fashion, the glowing white walking man suddenly and almost mockingly appeared in the crosswalk box. This was markedly the first of many times that the man I’d longed for so desperately finally showed up – at the entirely wrong time. I didn’t know what to do. I was frozen. Just then, Eve caught up with me and grabbed my arm.

“Just walk. Don’t look at them.” She coached me under her breath.

“Oh look at the lesbian lovers! Eve and Courtney sitting in a tree, K I S S I N G…” They continued taunting us as we met in the middle of the crosswalk. At least I knew we couldn’t be there forever. Eventually the light would turn green, right? Or maybe a semi would magically run the red light and tragically (and hopefully quickly) squash me like a bug? Should I be so lucky.

Because of all of the excitement of the day, my guard was down, so much so that the fancy dodging-bullies footwork I’d honed over the past few hellish months was thrown out the window. Tammy pulled her signature move and stuck one hefty freckled leg out in my direct line of travel, sending me crashing to the ground. One knee, then both, met with the black asphalt, tearing my corduroys and leaving small black granules in my bloodied skin. Next to hit was my chin, which caused a domino reaction, slamming my jaw shut which in turn clamped right down onto my tongue.

I don’t know why and I wish it wasn’t so, but these moments are always in slow motion. It’s like the moments that suck so bad you wish they’d go by super fast tend to go at the pace of molasses. A minute becomes like 800 years. That’s just an estimate, but I think I’m pretty close.

At a slug’s speed, not one, but both packs of cigarettes flew out of my little purse onto the street. This was the defining moment. It would all be worthwhile – the blood, the bruises, the years of therapy to come – if these smokes would’ve incited a fear in my bullies like no other. A trembling. An understanding of how truly psycho the little girl they tormented every day was and the lengths she would go to prove as much.

Tammy, Lisa, and Gina, who were already laughing hysterically, started howling at a decibel which only rivaled Def Leppard.

“Oh my name’s Egghead, I’m a smoker now. I’m so retarded!” The choir of doom sang through their laughter.

“You think you’re tough now? We’ll show you tough tomorrow when we kick your ass!” They bellowed. Perfect, now I had something to look forward to at least.

The light turned green as we piled the intestines of my purse back in its little body. When it couldn’t get any more humiliating, the honking began. Sparks was a cruel city. No pausing for downed weirdos. I prayed they would just put me out of my misery and run me over. Just make it fast. Knowing my luck that would be in slow fucking motion too.

Eve picked up the pieces and got me safely across the street. My knees, chin, and tongue were bleeding, snot was dripping out of my nose and I was sobbing. A car of teenage boys slowed down to stare as they drove by. Through my tears a blurry bumper sticker came into focus which read, “Reno is so close to hell you can see Sparks.”

Seeing Sparks

The only thing more stupid than living in Reno is living in Reno’s sister city, Sparks. This is the story of how I ended up in Sparks, which, as you might expect, led me straight to smoking.

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I was always suspicious of parental surprises, especially when it involved getting in a car. With my biological father, who I’ll refer to as Bio Dad, a surprise car ride meant we were either going to the liquor store or moving to a third world country. So when my mother and stepfather, AKA New Dad, sardined me into the back of New Dad’s Datsun Z for a “surprise,” I had a feeling it was going to be a craptastic day.

Quicker than I could scrawl out a help-me-I’m-trapped-in-the-back-of-a-midlife-crisis-mobile sign, we whizzed past the WELCOME TO SPARKS landmark on the side of the freeway. Not bad enough we’re going on a surprise voyage, but a surprise voyage to Sparks. I dared not ask.

The tiny sports car pulled up in front of a very long house with a FOR SALE sign in the front yard. I unfolded myself from the back of the minuscule car and made my way toward the Astroturf covered porch. The sound of my plastic jelly shoes crushing plastic grass was disconcerting at best. I was only nine, but was definitely hip enough to know that plastic grass does not belong on a front porch. The entire house looked like a mobile home, only it didn’t move, so I guess that made it an immobile home.

The house was more like two houses glued together due to a completely forced and awkward add-on. My favorite part was the Western style barroom complete with wooden swinging doors and a vinyl covered bar with barstools. I bet more than doors swung in that room, if you get my drift. Especially since Joe Conforte, the infamous owner of The Mustang Ranch was a neighbor just up the hill. Brings a whole new meaning to “hey neighbor, can I borrow some sugar?”

Before I could even finish origami-ing myself back into the miniature car, Mom craned her neck around the back of the passenger seat to face me, her face reeking of agenda.

“Did you like the house?”

“It’s fine,” I answered. I mean, I was nine and it was a house. I had much more important things on my mind, like how much Fun Dip I had left in my backpack, if I finally would discover a geode in the backyard, and the punch list items for the completion of my new fort.

“Good, because we bought it!” she exclaimed.

There it was. Surprise. I knew this would be a shit day, but the black and red floor mat had just been completely pulled from underneath my jellies. I entered this excursion with hopes (denial) that we were simply taking a Sunday drive and walking around some other person’s weird porno house for shits and gigs.

Unfortunately denial can’t orchestrate a change of fate and contracts had been signed, hands had been shaken, not stirred. I was officially fucked. I’d finally rooted myself at Anderson Elementary, so much so that I actually had made friends. Which was a rarity since I typically didn’t even make it a full school year before the suitcases came out again. By the end of our tenure with Bio Dad, Mom and I stopped unpacking the boxes because why bother? They’d only get packed up again.

“Can I still go to Anderson?” I asked, hoping, praying for a miracle.

The car-big-enough-only-for-midgets reached the bottom of the hill and passed perhaps the ugliest two schools I’d ever seen in my life. Agnes Risley Elementary and Sparks Middle shared one large city block. They were kitty corner from each other, separated by a long stretch of brown splotchy grass and a baseball diamond. They looked like prisons. Probably because they were.

“This will be your new school,” Mom said as she pointed to the smaller of the two schools. On the side of one of the cracked white walls was a pathetic mural of what looked like a large rat next to the handwritten school slogan, “Home of the Risley Bears.” Got it, the rat was supposed to be a bear. A “Risley” bear. Shoot me.

I was immediately gripped with an intense craving for nicotine. This was odd, because I’d never smoked.

Not yet, that is.

I started to cry. And not just cry, wail, for what was to come and what had already transpired. Agnes Risley was to become the tenth elementary school I’d attend.

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