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Authors: Andy Behrens

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BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
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Jessie and Stew nodded.
“It came to me during sixth period,” Duncan added.
“Mandy Lubanski is in your sixth period, right?” asked Jessie.
“Uh-huh.”
“She wore the unfortunate denim skirt today, yeah?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Right,” said Jessie. “So Fat Barbie.”
“Oh, let's not attribute this to Mandy. She's a nice girl. A bit of an awkward dresser.”
“Fair enough,” said Stew. “So you think this name, Fat Barbie, is somehow more consistent with the—what were they again?—the ‘core principles' of the band?”
“Totally,” said Duncan. “It says everything we need it to. First of all, Fat Barbie is big. Obviously. Big sound, big ideas. Just big. And Fat Barbie is completely antimaterialism. Proletarian rock for the people, that's us. And Fat Barbie demands attention. We're a wake-the-neighborhood sort of band. This is our identity. These are our essential principles.” He fluffed his shirt ruffles.
“The
only
principle we've ever really had,” said Stew, “is your steady commitment to someday nailing Carly Garfield.” Jessie snorted. Duncan grew immediately red-faced. “In fact,” continued Stew, “we should just call ourselves ‘Do Me, Car—' ”
“Oh, shut up,” snapped Duncan.
Carly Garfield had been—aside from Led Zeppelin, a short-lived flirtation with the Smashing Pumpkins, and a newfound adoration of Wolfmother—Duncan's singular obsession since the seventh grade. She was tall, smart, idealistic, unnaturally pretty, and, Duncan believed, the girl for whom he was obviously destined. He had never wavered in his devotion to her, despite the fact that she had never wavered in her apparent indifference to him.
“Don't try to cheapen what Carly and I have,” he said.
“You
have
something?” asked Stew, looping the strap of his bass over his head.
“Whatever. Don't cheapen what we don't have, then. Carly is my songwriting muse. And as such, she's as important to this band as anyone.”
“I like to think the drummer is a bigger deal than the muse,” said Jessie, flipping a drumstick into the musty garage air. “But whatever.”
“Anyway,” continued Duncan, “Carly is clearly important to me.” He paused, considering the merits of having yet another Carly discussion, before reflexively saying, “And I'm not just out to
nail
her, either. What Carly and I have—or what we
will
have—is on a much higher plane than nailing. It's a kind of metapsychic connection.”
Blank stares.
“She's aware of this connection, then?” Jessie asked.
“It's a little more subconscious on her end,” said Duncan.
“So she's sort of invisibly, spiritually connected to you,” said Jessie. “But doesn't know it yet.” She sat down at the drum kit and lightly tapped a cymbal. “Well, that's clearly a problem, isn't it?”
“Not an insurmountable one,” said Duncan.
“You need to take radical action,” she said.
“I have a game plan.”
“Really? What do you call it? The loser stalker-boy plan?” He winced. “The chick barely knows you, Duncan. Your locker is next to hers, you've weaseled your way into three of her classes—which is kinda stalky right there—and you've written, like, fifty guitar ballads about her. But she still doesn't know you exist.”
“Oh, c'mon, don't be ridiculous. She knows I exist. And I've only written, like, eight ballads. That's not even a full album.”
“Are you counting the Spanish songs? Like
‘Mi Corazón Es Su Perro, Carly.'
Or
‘Carretilla del Amor para Carly.'
Or
‘Nado en Su—'

“Okay, no. Those were extra-credit projects. But fine. So there are fifteen songs.”
“What about the Christmas carols?” asked Stew. “Like ‘Heavy Metal Drummer Boy.' And ‘I Saw Carly Kiss—' ”
“Okay, whatever. Nineteen songs. But they aren't all ballads. Some of them kinda rock.”
Jessie stared at him for an uncomfortable moment. “My point stands, Duncan. She barely knows you.”
“She
so
knows me!” he protested.
“She calls you 'Dalton.' ”
He winced again.
“Okay, so that's an issue to eventually address. But still, I have a game plan. It's just more of a long-term plan.”
“We're juniors now, dude,” Jessie said coldly. “Game's almost over.”
This
Duncan didn't need to be told. It was the chilling fact that kept him awake in the night. He often imagined a big digital countdown clock—the kind they use at NASA and telethons—floating above his head, noisily keeping track of days, hours, minutes, and seconds until graduation:
629:07:53:19
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. 18 . . . 17 . . . 16 . . .
When the clock finally hit zeros, as it inevitably would, Carly could go anywhere. There'd be no more sitting at lunch tables adjacent to hers, no more parking his heavily used Plymouth Reliant near her Prius in the student lot at school. If Duncan was ever going to get Carly to learn his name, which seemed like an important precursor to wooing her, he was going to have to get her to take notice of him, and soon.
“I'll admit,” he said, “time does not seem to be on my side here.”
Jessie shook her head. “No kidding, Duncan. That's why I'm telling you it's time for radical action. Operative word: ‘action.' You need to either one, make your move, or two, forget about this chick and move on. She's just a girl, dude.”
“Forget her!?” he said, incredulous. “Move on? Look, I'm willing to try almost anything, but I can't just forget Carly like she's some random crush. It's not possible. She's not just
a
girl. She's
the
girl. I mean, did John just forget about Yoko? Did Sid just forget about Nancy? Did Kurt just forget about Courtney? No, they didn't forget.”
“No, you're right,” said Jessie. “Sid killed Nancy. And Kurt shot himself in the face. So I guess those could be options C and D. You want me to start writing these down?”
“That won't be necessary. But thanks. I don't think I'll be killing anyone.”
“So that leaves some lesser sort of radical action. Or you could forget—”
“I am not just
forgetting
about Carly!” he snapped.
Jessie and Stew recoiled.
“Okay, so it's kind of pathetic how infatuated I am,” said Duncan. “I realize that.” He looked down at his feet, played a pair of random notes, then continued. “I'm way past infatuation, in fact. And I can't just turn it off. Hell, I wouldn't want to. Carly is just so . . . so . . .”
“Devastatingly hot?” asked Stew.
“Batpoop crazy?” asked Jessie.
“. . .
perfect
. Carly is just definitely not the standard-issue teenage girl. She has all these amazing activist causes that she's into—”
“Creepy fringe cults,” muttered Jessie.
“—she's got like a four-point-two-something GPA, so she's completely brilliant—”
“Robotic book-monkey.”
“—and yeah, she's beautiful.”
“Dude,” said Stew. “She's like topless-Brazilian-super-model beautiful.”
“So shouldn't I follow my feelings here?” asked Duncan. “I'm only sixteen. Carly is
the
girl that I've been into for the entire into-girls portion of my life. Destiny is at work here. It's working slowly, but, you know . . . it's still at work. I
know
it.” He looked at Jessie with pleading eyes. “Nineteen songs.”
Jessie abruptly stood, rammed her drumsticks into a back pocket, and marched toward the open garage door with her hands upraised.
“Later, rockers. I'm not really feelin' it. The mood has gotten way too dreary in here. It's no longer a rock-conducive atmosphere.” She strode off down the driveway. “For what it's worth,” she called, “that little guitar solo really was all right, Duncan. The lyrics? Those need work.”
Stew hurriedly packed his equipment.
“She's my ride, bro,” he said. “I mean, you know I'd love to stay and jam—even if you do sound like the wussiest wuss in the Land of Wuss right now—but I've gotta catch up.”
Duncan was soon alone in his garage again, pondering the only crush he'd ever really had.
2
Fat Barbie's practice was at a premature end, and Duncan felt a bit too self-aware to improvise any additional guitar theatrics. So he went inside his house, changed out of the borrowed attire, grabbed his backpack, and trudged a half mile to Watts Park, a downtown square where fashionable nannies sucked the lids of expensive mochas while crazed toddlers threw wood chips at squirrels. Watts was the social nexus of Elm Forest. Duncan 's preferred location at the park was a spot near a statue of some long-dead military dude on a horse. At this approximate location, on occasional summer evenings, local bands of dubious quality would perform for large crowds of baby boomers. Duncan frequently daydreamed about rocking Watts Park with righteous and unprecedented fury, scattering the staid suburbanites and attracting a throng of thrashing punks from . . . well, he didn't know where the punks would come from, exactly—he knew only a handful personally—but the idea was still satisfying. He'd been imagining that sort of local debut since his seventh birthday, when he received his first guitar. (It was plastic, had only five strings, and was covered in Hootie & the Blowfish decals. But still, he'd loved that guitar.)
Duncan almost dragged an acoustic guitar with him to Watts that day, but decided, rightly, that on such an unseasonably warm Wednesday afternoon the park would be too packed for him to play it without attracting what was, just then, unwanted attention. So he merely sat by his grim soldier-with-horse statue, zipped open his backpack, and withdrew a collection of textbooks and spiral binders. He fanned them out on the grass, then reached for a binder on which he'd re-created the cover of Zeppelin's
Physical Graffiti
in Sharpie and crayon. But in place of the album title, he'd written “AP English Journal.” His honors English teacher, Mrs. Kindler—a slight woman who seemed to be addicted to turtlenecks, wool pants, and glass animal figurines—required a certain amount of monthly journaling on ostensibly any subject, but preferably on the course's assigned reading. Duncan generally found this to be painless homework, the sort of thing he could still manage to slog through when he felt incapable of functioning academically. In fact, he'd begun to like it. He'd never maintained a journal or a diary before, and his MySpace page was moribund and less than revelatory. But there were things he couldn't adequately work through in song lyrics, so he appreciated having the journal as an outlet. This wasn't something he cared to reveal to Mrs. Kindler, though.
He idly skimmed earlier journal entries, then arrived at a blank page. He doodled a few ideas for the band's logo, fretted briefly about Barbie trademark infringement issues, and then began to write.
ENTRY #9, SEPTEMBER 21
I'd just like to say—and not for the first time in these pages—that forcing your students to maintain a journal of their private thoughts, and then to actually GRADE them on those private thoughts is, in a word, fascist. Deeply fascist, Mrs. Kindler. I should write only lies. You're lucky I need the grade. And worse than the fascism is the fact that we're actually KEEPING A HANDWRITTEN JOURNAL at all! What am I, Percy Shelley? I mean really. Three-fourths of us have blogs, Mrs. Kindler. The 21st century says hello. Anyhoo . . .
Costumes for the band = epic disaster. I suppose it could've gone worse, but I'm not sure how. Stew thought I looked like a Spanish explorer. Maybe I did. If we were a flamenco ensemble, this would be great. For the purposes of Fat Barbie it was not. So I'm back to redesigning the band's onstage aesthetic. If we ever get ourselves onstage, the proper aesthetic is important. Clearly. In non-wardrobe band news, I've worked out a nifty chord structure for “Rabid Gibbons at the Country Club.” Like you care. But it rocks. Again: like you care.
Here, just to satisfy a pseudo-requirement of this fascist project (JK! with the fascist-stuff. Sort of): the sheer amount of deceit taking place in
Gatsby
is impressive in one way, insane in another. This is the most wholly unlikable cast of characters in anything I've ever read, I think (with the possible exception of
The Scarlet Letter
, 'cuz Puritans suck, and the sooner English teachers figure it out the better). The dishonesty, the manipulation, the crazy-rich people . . . there's a little West Egg/East Egg thing in Elm Forest, I guess. But God. It's all so bleak and horrible. Should you be letting us read this sort of thing, Mrs. K? Isn't the average American high school student already overexposed to the hollow lives of the obscenely rich?
Cribs, My Super Sweet 16
, et cetera? I'm pretty sure I'm overexposed, at any rate. We're supposed to identify with the narrator, Nick, right? I kind of do, I guess. But wish I didn't.
Duncan briefly lifted his head from the page. He rubbed his eyes. He watched a pair of skateboarders repeatedly fail to land every trick they attempted. He saw a wrinkly man coax a pigeon onto his arm with bread crust. He watched a fleshy woman shuffle toward a water fountain, a giant leather purse swinging at her side, and wondered briefly if Mandy Lubanski would be willing to dance around onstage for Fat Barbie. Then, across the sloping field of Watts Park—by the Himalayan-themed play structure made from recycled plastic—he saw her: Carly Garfield.
Perfect, he thought.
BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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