To Annie, Who I Need To Call.

posted in: Story 1
Mine was like this. I still get hives thinking about it.
Mine was like this. I still get hives thinking about it.

In a dress shop in Anacortes, WA last week, I overheard the salesgirl say, “Oh! It’s about to start!” It was Homecoming Week and the parade was due to begin near the shop and make its way through town.

We all spilled out onto the sidewalk to watch the classic, small(ish) town America homecoming parade, all banners and bass drums, streamers and tossed candy. I felt terrible for the pretty girls in the homecoming court, freezing to death in their formal gowns. Much better to be a band geek in the Northwest in September, if only for the opportunity to wear pants this time of year.

Seeing the hometown parade reminded me of a story. You will laugh. But it will be at my expense. That’s okay. I can take it.

I was a junior in high school. I had my first car: a VW Bug from the late 60s, I believe. Somewhere in my life, I had seen one of these cars and had decided it was the only car for me. This was before Volkswagen came out with the new Beetles, mind you. This was 1996 and there was only one kind of Beetle available at the time: an old one.

We found a red Bug advertised in a nearby town. We negotiated to a good price, and with some help from Mom, I got my dream car. It’s still a point of pride that I learned how to drive a stick shift in a vintage VW bug with transmission issues. After that, I can drive anything. The car was procured just before school started, so I was busy that summer cleaning it, getting things fixed, etc. I even got a homecoming date out of the deal. The family that sold us the car, there was a cute son about my age. I forget his name, but he was blonde and seemed cool and he was from another town, which was like, super-duper cool. I asked him if he’d be my date to homecoming and he said yes! I felt on top of the world.

In small town Iowa, the windows of the shops in the town square get painted with murals of rival death and home team victory and you can get prize money for painting the best window. It’s a really a big deal. We also paint our cars for the homecoming parade. Basically, there’s a lot of painting stuff; also, toilet paper is on everything. That year, it was obvious to my friends and me that we had to paint my awesome VW Bug and win first place. My bestie, Leia, is an incredible artist and she painted this slobbering, ferocious-looking husky (go Huskies!!) on the front hood that put all the other painted Ford Escorts and Geo Metros to shame.

Indeed, we won 1st place. Which meant we got $50 bucks — and more importantly, we were to be featured in the big parade.

Parade Day came. The sun was hot. The crowds were thick. Leia, our other bestie Annie, and my crush — not my homecoming date but the guy I really, really liked from jazz choir — and I were in the car. We lined up for the parade. The parade began. And my car began to break.

It kept stalling. It wasn’t me. I was driving that car as well as I knew how and okay, maybe there was a trick to it, or a “sweet spot” I hadn’t yet found, but the car refused to cooperate. The engine would engage, we’d go a half a block, and then “cha-CHUNG-CHUNG-CHACK.” Dead. Stop. Stall. Over and over. Smoke began to come from somewhere underneath the car. Everyone was sweating, but I was truly losing my nerves, silently, horribly. It was funny at first. Then it was hell. We were a clown car. We were a rolling, stalling, smoking clown car with a dog painted on the hood. I’m amazed my friends did not open the doors and run away before anyone recognized them. Their loyalty is touching.

It goes without saying that any chance I had that day of landing a smooch with my crush was as likely as my Bug suddenly growing a V6 engine and a GPS. It was so over. I looked like such a loser. I somehow maneuvered my car off the parade route and into a parking spot. I do think my friends (and certainly my crush) took off at that point. The car had died in a major way that day and the repairs it proved to need far exceeded my budget. We sold it not long after and I got a Honda CR-X that actually moved people from Point A to Point B without making me want to crawl into a large hole in the ground and never, ever come out.

The homecoming date with the guy who sold me the lemon was — wait for it — a little sour, too, but it could’ve been so sweet! He turned out to be very shy and I didn’t want to be too bold, so I didn’t tell him he could’ve kissed me. He sorta tried when he dropped me off at the end of the night, but then he sorta balked and I balked, and it just didn’t happen. He didn’t even know about the parade!

Sometimes, when people ask me for my autograph or stop me at a big quilt show and want a picture, I am amazed. I have, and always will be, a huge nerd with smoke coming out of my car. Always.

From the PaperGirl Archives: “Mary Fons, Freshman,” January 30, 2012

Dutch magazine illustration. I love those dresses so much!
Dutch magazine illustration circa 1880; artist unknown. Lord, I love those dresses!

Yuri is tending to a bit of business while he’s in town. This means I have an hour to spend with you. You look lovely this morning.

Trying to write anything right now that is not a frothy, gooey paean to the strapping young man in my life/house is useless: he’s all I can think about and our reunion has been most happy, but because I refuse to be gross, I’ve rifled through the big red binder and have a little something for you today from the PaperGirl Archive. I promise you’ll be entertained, and there’s no risk of me TMI’ing about Yuri’s perfect, uh, everything.

The entry, titled “Mary Fons, Freshman,” is dated January 30, 2012, and I chose it because it makes this post a post-within-a-post that also digs into the past for old writing. It’s so meta, I’m practically metallic. Bon-apetit!

PaperGirl, January 30, 2012 — “Mary Fons, Freshman”

And now, a report I found amongst my the boxes of things my mother delivered to me in her quest to rid the house in Iowa of questionably saved childhood artifacts.

This essay (?) was written my freshman year of high school, which means I was writing at the tender age of fourteen. I am more than a little scandalized by my flip, bratty attitude — and more than a little proud, friends. As I type this up for you, I remain indignant over the indelicate circumstances that compelled my math teacher to give the assignment. I’ve copied and formatted exactly, word-for-word, from the document itself.

Let’s do this.

“Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t give a damn about the history of mathematics, but since the students in my math class can’t seem to control their gastrol [sic] intestines, I am forced to write this report. Having encyclopedias from 1962, it makes it difficult to find an abundance of information on anything other than Lincoln, so my one and only source will be my math textbook, Transition Mathematics, (Scott, Foresman, 1992, All rights reserved.)


Do you recognize these numbers? 

0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

You ought to, you’re a math teacher. We use numbers every day. But have you ever wondered how they came about? Well, I haven’t either, but I’ll tell you anyway. 

Long ago, the Greeks and Romans had a number system. It’s wasn’t like ours — they used the letters of their alphabet to represent numbers. The Greeks used more letters than the Romans, which is a totally pointless bit of info but is has to be a page report and I have absolutely no material at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of the only ones in my class who actually completes this assignment! Anyhow, the Romans used L for fifty, C for one-hundred, D for five-hundred, and T for two. Europeans used this system from 100 B.C. to 1400 A.D.

During this time, the Hindus were hard at work on their own number system, which is the system we use today. It was called the DECIMAL SYSTEM! This system is the one that has made my life a living hell ever since preschool. I have never been good at math. If I was, I wouldn’t be having to deal with high schoolers who can’t stop farting. (Excuse the term, it’s so blue-collar.) But I digress.

The Europeans didn’t figure out the decimal system until 1202 A.D. A guy named Leonardo of Pisa, an Italian mathematician also known as Fibonacci, translated the Arabic manuscript into Latin, and that was the only reason the Europeans ever began using this system. Thus ends my report on THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM. Thank you.

Now, because I still have a half a page left, I will express my opinion on this situation. It saddens to me know that my fellow classmates cannot grasp the fact that they are in high school. Maybe farting was funny in second grade, but not anymore; at least not to me, or anyone else with an I.Q. over ten. Frankly, I’m scared. Are these the leaders of tomorrow? If so, for God’s sake, kill me now.”

[end of post]

My teacher put a red X through the words damn and “living hell” and docked me 10 points. It may not surprise you that I was considered fairly nerdy in high school, though socially-speaking, I was a floater: I had nerd friends, chorus friends, partying friends, and my older sister’s supercool friends, so I wasn’t terminally nerdy. But the general consensus was that I was a good at English, nice enough, and in no way serious girlfriend material.

Today, I absolutely think farts are funny and I am one happy girlfriend. Things do change.