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A Girl’s Guide to Keeping Her Pants On
(For the Most Part)
By Stephen Robb
Summer 1980 … or … last week.
My name is Carol and here’s the story far: I’m 17, and I live at home with my family. My dad is mostly cool, but mostly strict. He was a freaking Marine for goshake. He’s kept the haircut. I just want to say, ‘Dad, it’s been 15 years since you’ve been in the Marines, let your hair grow out a little.’ And speaking of haircuts, he’s such an old fashioned Italian I’m not allowed to get my hair cut, I have to tell him I’m getting my hair styled. This is crazy. And speaking of Italian, though we speak mostly English around the house, the main rule is when we have dinner we speak Italian.
(He didn’t want me to take Italian in school because he said it was cheating since I already speak it. My argument was, sure I can speak it, but I can’t write or read it. It was one of the few arguments with my father I won.)
He also scares away potential boyfriends. But more on that later.
Mom is sweet, she’s in the kitchen a lot, and draws me in, teaching me what to do. She said the important thing to do is to make it look hard, otherwise people won’t appreciate it. (Put some rice in a pot, do this first because it takes forever for water to boil, put some carrots in a pan with some butter and some wine. Pound some chicken breasts, grate parmesan over it (real parmesan, not the stuff you sprinkle on), grate some lemon rind over it, cover with prosciutto, fry in a pan for about 7 minutes each side. Sprinkle with red wine vinegar. Quick, easy, people will think you spent hours in the kitchen.)
Then there’s my sister, Beth, 14, pain in the ass. Everyone asks if we’re twins. People! We are not twins! First of all, there’s a two-and-a-half year age difference. Second of all, she looks nothing like me. She’s petite with long brown hair, dark complexion and dark brown eyes. I’m petite with long brown hair, dark complexion, brown eyes and slightly larger boobs.
And she is nothing like me: I’m enjoying life, I have friends, I cheerlead. She has no friends, spends all her time reading books, and she actually studies.
We’re not even in the same school. She’s going into her sophomore year at St. Millicent’s; I’m going in my senior year at Harding. And people ask why does she go to Catholic school and I go to public school. You’d have thought by now everyone would have heard about the nun-slapping incident.
More on that later, too.
My best friend is Starflake. A little crazy, a lot funny. She’s the one who cheers me up, and gets me into, and/or out of trouble. Nothing brings her down. It could have something to do with all the pot, I’m not sure.
And my boyfriend. Joe Dolens. Big handsome, football-type. We’re just supposed to be together, it’s like they say in The Ten Commandments, “So it is written, so it shall be.”
Of course he’s trying to get in my pants in the worst way. I’m holding him at bay, or at least trying to.
I’m afraid if I do it, my dad will just know.
And this leads me to the summer before my senior year.
My week at Ocean City: Part vacation, part punishment from God.
I was getting too old for this stuff. A time existed when I looked forward to packing dad’s Volaré with bathing suits and floats and towels and Coppertone, and going with my mom and dad and even sister for a week at Ocean City. We did it every year. When relatives are over, home movies of me and Beth clowning in front of the camera, modeling our bathing suits and running in and out of the ocean are dragged out. Relatives are forced to watch Dad picking us up and tossing us in the ocean with his arms that are like steel cables. Mom shows off her massive sunglasses.
The home movies leave out the constant smell of Coppertone. I’m not sure how much it helped though. Every vacation we started out light brown and by the end of the week all four of us degos got deep brown.
Now, it wasn’t like that anymore. I had friends, teenage friends who understood me and were equally annoyed by their parents. Dad, I love you but I’m tired of your stories about boot camp, and Parris Island, and Germany. If you want me to be impressed by Germany, take me there! Better yet, send me there! And the rules: home by midnight on weekends, 11 on weeknights. What do you think I’m doing? OK, I know what you think I’m doing. But I’m not doing it.
Mom, once again, I love you bunches, nah, I’ll leave it there, I do love her bunches, and sometimes we act like girlfriends and go to lunch, but she’s not like a real girlfriend. I can’t talk to her about drinking, nor can we play ‘who would you marry, who would you date,’ things like that. You can’t say to your mom, “Yeah, I do like Mike Wilson’s butt, but I wouldn’t want to marry him for it.”
And so I was at the shore with Mom, Dad and Beth, and we were at the house we rent every year, about two blocks from the beach. And everything around the house is nautical themed, the stuff hanging on the wall, the knick knacks on the shelf, the stuff in the bathroom, it all involves seagulls, boats, anchors, dunes, sea shells. Kind of neat when I was 10, kind of kitschy at 17.
We unpacked the car, and Mom was like, ‘let’s go to the beach,’ and we indulged her. We changed, got in our bathing suits, each of us grabbed a beach chair, and a towel and Dad had this wagon that carried accessories and an immense umbrella. We trekked the two blocks to the beach and set up camp.
Dad sat in his chair and listened to the Phillies on his transistor, Mom, Beth and I went into the water. It was cold and salty and I could feel my hair frizzing.
I looked out over the ocean; perhaps a wave could take me away to France or something, that would be nice.
Then, something better came along to whisk me away.
Starflake. Just the name makes me smile. Chestnut hair, big brown eyes, this enormous smile that glittered, but that was the braces. And she was my best friend, and like a variation of the birth of Venus, the ocean was bringing her to me.
I ran as best I could over the waves and gave her a hug. “I thought you were in Puerto Rico.”
“How can the beaches of Old San Juan possibly compare with the beaches of New Jersey? I had to come back.” Then she grabbed my arm, “I’m here to rescue you!” She walked over to my mom, “Hi Mrs. Martino, how are you? I tried your baked zucchini, my parents went crazy for it. My mom says to break into your house and steal your cookbook.”
Mom was as surprised to see her as I was; they exchanged small talk. Her family was in Margate, and she thought she’d come over to Ocean City to see if we were there.
Beth waded out to see who we were talking to. “Beth, how are you, I found a cute lifeguard for you.” Beth blushed.
She was amazing, she was everyone’s friend and could talk anyone into doing anything.
“Hey, Mrs. Martino, why don’t I take this brat off your hands and take her back to Margate with me?” Mom seemed fine with it, except, “Ask you father.”
Starflake held my hand. “No sweat,” she whispered to me.
“We ran up the beach and kneeled at dad’s feet. Yeah I know it sounds funny, but he was sitting in one of those stumpy-legged beach chairs and it was the only way we could make eye contact with him. Starflake started, softening him up, “Mr. Martino, I just talked to the lifeguards, they want me to tell you to tone down the sexy, you’re distracting the women swimmers and they’re drowning.”
Dad never knew how to respond to Starflake. On one hand I should be horrified my best friend is flirting with my dad. On the other hand it often got me what I wanted.
“Hey Daddy, can I go spend the day with Starflake’s family in Margate?”
Dad was torn. To him family vacation meant just that: family vacation. Yet, his little girl was no longer a little girl.
He relented. “Be home by 11.”
We first stopped by my family’s shore house so I could grab a change of clothes. Then we went to Starflake’s family’s house long enough to take showers and grab a sandwich. Then Starflake drove us to Wildwood. Our first stop was a distributor where she picked up a case of Genesee. She showed me her fake ID. Glad to meet you Constance Esperanza. (Starflake wasn’t her real name either, but it certainly wasn’t Constance Esperanza.) The Genesee served as our admission ticket to a house some of her girlfriends were renting for the summer. Mostly seniors and recent grads. I knew some of them; it was some cheerleaders and hangers on (us). We could now stay, hang out, and if need be, sleep on the floor that night.
So we hung with the girls and got a little buzz going. We hit the Ocean Break for a sandwich and some more beer. The pub was loud and smoky and rife with teenagers. We were sitting in a booth when I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder. I turned my head and was kissed by Joe Dolens. “Hey Honeybear!” he said.
I smiled and slid over in the booth so he could sit down. Joe was burnt from the sun, his black hair was cut short, and the boy had muscles. And I wasn’t expecting him at all. “What are you doing here... how did you find me?”
“I got fired,” he said without much concern (This happened a lot). “I thought I’d come down for the week. I stopped by the girls’ house and they said you’d be here.”
He turned to my partner in crime. “Hey Starflake, what’s going on?”
“I’m about eight seconds from losing my girlfriend.”
I felt myself blushing. This is what made her such a good friend, she could read my mind.
“You don’t mind do you?”
“This is what I get for springing you.” She stood up and drained her beer mug. “That’s all right, I’ll find me a fudge beater with thick sinewy arms.” And off she went.
Joe squished in closer, our hips were up against each other. His right arm was around my shoulders, his left hand was stealing my onion rings. “This is a good sign. Aren’t you here with your parents?”
“They’re in Ocean City, Starflake kidnapped me.”
“Good deal.” He started nuzzling my face. “I’m happy to see you”
“But I have to be back at 11,” I said.
“I would expect nothing less.”
“Let’s hit the boardwalk.”
So we hit the boardwalk, went on some rides, went on the Scrambler, and I sat on the wrong side which means as we spun around, Joe was pressed more and more into me. I didn’t mind though, I kind of liked it. We had crabs, we had more beer, and he made me laugh and made me feel important, and by 10:45 we were parked about a block from my parents’ rental and we were clinging to each other, kissing each other harder and harder. And he had his hands on my boobs and I might have been rubbing his crotch through his pants, and the windows got steamed up, and I felt like I was going to explode.
“Tomorrow,” I said suddenly.
“Tomorrow, go to the drug store, do what you have to do, find a place, and … tomorrow.”
“OK,” he said, breathlessly. I got out of the car and gave him one last kiss. “I’ll see you at 6 at the girls’ house.”
I popped a Tic-tac in my mouth, opened the front door and got home exactly at 11. Dad was waiting up. I kissed him goodnight and went to bed. Lying in bed, my engine was slowly revving down.
What was I doing?