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To: Roger Schulman 131 Barrow St., Apt. 1 NY, NY 10014
Dear Dad, Hello from Day One of the tenth-grade girls’ mystery vacation. We’re supposed to keep the location a secret, but the Puerto Plata postmark might give it away. You would TOTALLY approve—we’re at Green Amigas, a collective of women who plant community gardens for underprivileged locals. It’s run by Ilana Dominguez, née Feldman, a Baldwin alum who married a Dominican financier she met on a vacation down here. Everyone’s very hippie- dippy and zenned to the max. It’s a wonder I haven’t run into the Upstairs Judys yet! Love and miss you to the moon, Senorita Mimi Schulman To: Rachel Lieber 3412 Sunset Blvd.
Houston, TX 77005
Rach, I know, I know, you’re probably fuming about my bailing on Texas for Christmas—but trust me, it’s a long story. Not sure if I updated you on the massive social catastrophe that befell me at the end of last semester (I doubt it, since I was too humiliated to leave my bedroom, much less discuss it long- distance), but anyway, all’s well that ends well, and I’m now in the Dominican Republic, vacationing with the friends I almost lost. I’ll tell you all about it when we next see each other. Which might be soon, right? What about the promised NYC visit? C’mon, mama, how could you not? Crazy fun guaranteed, what do you think? Hi to everyone at holiday parties, OK? More soon, Luuuuuuv, Mimi To: Ariel Schulman Littlefield Dormitory Box #406 University of Texas Austin, TX 78712
How’s my favorite Kappa Kappa sister? Abs still hard as granite? It’s bathing- suit land down here in the D.R., and I’ve dreamed of trading bodies with you several times. Are we really related? Life is not fair. . . . Weather is blissful and scenery all blue skies and tie-dyed sunsets. We spend most days gardening with earnest middle-aged women—you’d hate it. So how was Xmas? Did Mom get all Christian on you now that her Jewish husband is halfway across the country, or was she as annoyingly Freudian as ever? I realize I should send Mom a postcard but I have no desire to address it to Maurice, too, so please just tell them I’m alive and healthy. XOXO, Your tubby-tummied little sis, Mimi To: Sam Geckman 231 W. 87 St. Apt. 8A NY, NY 10025
Sam, Hi from the winter vacation I almost missed thanks to a certain on-off-on-off redheaded friend of mine, ahem, ahem. Right, so, um, I’ve started this postcard seven times already and realize there’s no witty way of putting it: Last semester kind of (major understatement) sucked for us, but I really hope the next one is better. We’re too cosmically connected to wreck such a special friendship. In other news, this vacation is truly awesome—still top- secret, but let’s just say, you’d be way impressed with my “shallow” friends. If you dare so much as hint to anyone where this postcard comes from, you and I are through. All over again. Got it? Hope you’re having fun in Florida and see you soon.
XOXO, Mimi To: Myrtle Lanchester 2401 Bolsover St.
Houston, TX 77005
Myrtilian, Howdy from the Dominican Republic, where I’m planting vegetables for world peace. And you thought you knew me inside out. . . . How’s my favorite almost-stepsister holding up? Please tell Simon he is the most beautiful, intelligent cat in America—make that the Americas, as I’ve seen no feline contenders on this island. Congrats on getting all your college apps in. I so hope you choose a school in New York—the men of Gotham await! You would love it down here—many kissable botanists. On my next gardening excursion, you’re definitely coming with. X’s and O’s, Mimi
P.S. HI, MOM! I KNOW YOU’RE READING THIS. FINISHED THE BOOK YOU SENT ABOUT THE MENTALLY ILL STREET PEOPLE IN BEIRUT. VERY ILLUMINATING. HOW ABOUT SOMETHING A TAD LIGHTER NEXT TIME?
To: Roger Schulman 131 Barrow St., Apt 1 NY, NY 10014
El Papá, Happy New Year! I realize this will reach you long after I do, but I couldn’t resist . . . Como estas? Still surviving in a household of one? I hope you’ve remembered to shower and eat. Apart from my most brutal sunburn ever, everything remains dreamy, perfect, etc. Have dirt under toenails and know how to say lettuce in Spanish. Last night Ilana Dominguez threw an elaborate New Year’s Eve bash. Picture moonlight, lapping waves, and a fourteen-piece samba band. Have used all the Polaroid film you gave me so I’ll have plenty of pix. I miss and love you so much. XOXOXO, Mimicita
P.S. Get this: One of my fellow Green Amigas residents was Upstairs Judy #2’s ggirlfriend “back in the Berkeley days.” Did I not call it?!
The Incredible Flying Goat Show Girl
Imagine the time you could save if you didn’t have to say goodbye. Not the word goodbye, but the hugs, sniffles, and promissssses to stay in touch that accompany it. I could’ve mastered Swahili in the hours I spent bidding adios to our forty new best friends at Green Amigas. We were on our way out the door when Ilana Dominguez unveiled our sendoff tres leches cake, frosted with purple and white squiggles to resemble a head of cabbage. I thought it rude not to stay for a slice, or three.
By the time my friends and I reached the airport, our flight was already boarding, and lines at the check-in counters snaked outside. Lily, the most organized of the group, immediately started freaking out, but Pia, the daughter of Italian diplomats, rose to the occasion. She unapologetically glided to the front of the line and snapped her fingers for us to follow. When we obeyed, the other tourists revolted. “Get in line like everyone else!” one shouted. “Don’t you dare!” another threatened. “We’ve been here since dawn!” I half sympathized with the people we cut, but not Pia, whose emotional intelligence was still playing catch-up with her sky-high IQ. “When will people understand jealousy is so unattractive?” she mused wearily, and handed us our boarding cards.We got to the gate with a minute to spare at a magazine kiosk. “And I mean one minute,” Pia said. “As in, sixty seconds. I did not just make five thousand new enemies so we can miss our flight!” With that, she disappeared behind a rack of novels in Spanish, leaving the rest of us to browse the newsstand’s paltry offerings: inspirational greeting cards, tins of local nuts, and travel-size bottles of mouthwash. Of the several newspapers scattered across the floor, only the Irish Standard was in English. It was four pages long and cost more than most annual gym memberships. “Perfect!” Jess scooped the Standard off the dingy floor. Depressed by her boyfriend Preston’s long-distance neglect, Jess had spent much of our vacation perusing a gloomy book of Russian short stories, and I was glad to see her moving on to lighter reading material. “I’ll get that,” Viv said, and tried to take Jess’s newspaper.
Jess had allowed our wealthy friends to pay for her weeklong vacation, but here she drew the line. She didn’t have cash to toss around like our friends did, but she had plenty of pride. “It’s mine,” she huffed, “so I’m paying for it!” “They just announced final boarding,” Lily said nervously.
“No, seriously, let me buy it,” Viv pressed. “It’s only money.” “I said NO!” Jess protested. “End of conversation.” “Tick-tock, tick-tock . . . ” Lily, genetically anal, was growing more and more impatient. “C’mon, what part of final boarding do you people not get?” I was admiring two amazing blank notebooks (neither of which I could justify buying, given the number of unfilled journals I already had at home) when Pia shoved past me with a handful of novels in Spanish. We all watched in awe as Pia snatched both the Irish Standard, Viv’s package of souvenir lighters, and then, for good measure, the two notebooks I was about to put back on the shelf. “Does no one listen to poor Lily?” Pia seethed, throwing a stack of Dominican pesos onto the counter. “There’s no time for multiple transactions—we have a plane to catch. Vamos!” On the plane, I squeezed into a cramped seat designed to punish lanky 5’11” girls like myself, and waited for the short man in front of me to recline his chair back into my knees. Then, to distract myself, I studied my beautiful new notebooks. The first one—handmade, with a purple cloth cover—brought back fond memories of my bookbinding seminar at The Baldwin School last semester, highlights of which included Ivan Grimalsky’s chronicle of his vegetarian Venus flytrap’s “fight for life,” Arthur Gray’s book-burning presentation, and Blowjob Harry’s “dinner party cookbook.” My second notebook was flimsy and spiral-bound, with a picture of two goats kissing on the cover and the words the santo domingo national sheep and goat show. It was high kitsch, and I loved it.
I had special plans for both of my notebooks. To repent for ditching my dad over the holiday, I’d snapped endless pictures with his Polaroid, from shots of the community gardens to the gigantic i miss you, dad! I’d drawn in the carrot patch. (Dad was a professional photographer, so I knew he’d appreciate my creative use of his favorite camera.) The next day at school, I would paste these photos in the purple cloth notebook and give it to Dad for New Year’s. While the flight attendant explained emergency evacuation procedures, I opened the notebook with the kissing goats and felt the rush of looking at the blank page. Across the aisle, Jess was skimming the expensive Irish newspaper with a bored expression while Pia appeared entranced by her steamy Spanish bodice-ripper. Viv, between them, had strapped on her monster headphones and was listening to a reggaetón CD she’d purchased on the road one day. Next to me, Lily scribbled on a yellow legal pad, brainstorming for the first winter edition of the Baldwin Bugle, the school paper where she worked and I played. I wrote a column called “Texan in Gotham,” billed as an examination of Baldwin culture through an outsider’s eyes. At first I’d enjoyed this excuse to learn more about my new school, but lately I’d struggled to come up with a new story idea every two weeks. It’s hard to keep that outsider’s perspective when you’re more on the inside every day. Writing about my winter break would prove even more challenging, given the hush-hush nature of our Green Amigas experience. Baldwin had a weird, cultish tradition shrouded in secrecy and intrigue that dated back two decades. Every year, the most popular sophomore girls embarked on a trip to an undisclosed location and the next year elected another group to follow in their footsteps. Speculations about the nature of this trip ran rampant, and most Baldwinites (including, I admit, myself) pictured something five-star, like a cruise to St. Barts or a visit to a royal castle in Tuscany.
Dusty, un-air-conditioned Green Amigas fulfilled none of these fantasies. Its guests slept in bunk beds and peed in outhouses. Even so, no over-the-top celebrity destination could outclass our week. I stared out the window, restless and exhilarated, reliving the amazing experience. On how many vacations can you sunbathe, salsa dance with farmers, binge on deep-fried plantains, harvest cabbage, and win back your best friends? I’d dreamed about this mystery trip from the moment Sam Geckman, my oldest friend, told me about it last September and bet me I couldn’t make the cut. Sam believed I’d been in Texas too long to navigate the bewildering world of Baldwin, a school that rejected grades, valedictorians, and even tests with right or wrong answers. Its social traditions were stranger still: girls who in Texas would make prom queen were, by Baldwin’s exacting standards, considered too “conformist.” Meanwhile, girls who could pass for hobos in most cities, with their sloppily layered outfits and unkempt hair, reigned supreme over their classmates. Talk about disorienting. If only the school had outlined these customs in its welcome packet. Offended by Sam’s lack of faith in my social skills, I had vowed to score an invitation to the popular girls’ annual winter trip early last semester. Though I ended up winning the wager, my victory came at a huge cost. In retaliation for a grisly romantic episode, Sam stole my journal and posted its damning contents on the Internet. With one click of the mouse, Sam exposed my unflattering first impressions of the girls and—even worse—my mercenary scheme to win them over. And just like that, the girls hated me, I hated Sam, and my happy New York existence effectively ended. When I posted a teary apology on the Internet, I wasn’t arrogant or insane enough to expect a response. I was shocked, then, when the girls showed up on my doorstep at the beginning of winter break and invited me to the Dominican Republic—even Viv, though she remained pissed off at me. I knew I didn’t deserve the honor, and throughout the trip I kept worrying that my friends’ forgiveness was an act, groundwork for the perfect revenge scheme. But our week together was catastrophe-free, unless you count Ilana Dominguez’s New Year’s party, when the girls encouraged me to wear a white dress and then, in front of hundreds of revelers, hurled me into the pool. So much for vengeance—before I hit the surface, the four of them jumped right in after me. That was when it sunk in: Lily, Jess, Pia, and even Viv really were my friends.
Lily Morton, only daughter of the glamorous domestic goddess Margaret Morton, lived in nubby gray sweatshirts and wore her brown hair in a messy ponytail. Though obsessed with success, warm-hearted Lily lacked her mother’s cutthroat instincts. Even after getting to know the other girls, I always felt a special attachment to Lily, who was my first actual friend in the group.
Despite her exotic beauty, half-Jewish, half-Filipino Vivian Steinmann had major self-confidence issues. She suffered from a permanent inferiority complex courtesy of her academic torments and lived in the permanent shadow of her supremely cool older sister, Mia, the darling of the Brooklyn art scene. Thin-skinned Viv refused to speak to me for the first half of the trip, and it took a shared near-death experience in the back of a ramshackle Jeep for her to warm up to me. At Ilana’s party, after the two of us ran dripping wet into a cabana bathroom, Viv confessed her “sort-of crush” on Sam. Rather than tell Viv that Sam and I had hooked up last semester, I gave her my blessing and even told her about my passion for Max Roth, the smartest and most mysterious member of the tenth-grade class, or humanity.
When she wasn’t gardening or reading, boy-crazy Jessica Gillespie mooned over her ultralame boyfriend, Preston, who had ignored every single one of her expensive international phone calls. At first glance, preppy Jess was the blandest of the group, but her perfect exterior was misleading. She was a serious bookworm, and though I’d never seen any of her poems, I’d heard they were heart-stoppingly good. One day while the two of us planted seedlings, Lily told me about the scandalous affair Jess’s dad had conducted with her sixth-grade Life Science teacher, Gwendolyn Carroll, four years earlier. Baldwin fired the voluptuous Gwen, and then—in a concession characteristic of the school’s ultraliberal philosophy—placed Jess on full scholarship. After her dad, and his income, vanished, Jess was forced to remain at the institution that was indirectly responsible for her parents’ breakup. Lily attributed Jess’s weirdness about men, namely her do-or-die passion for Preston, to her father’s public abandonment.
Pia Pazzolini, another serious piece of work, resembled a cross between Jackie Kennedy and an expensive show pony, and had an even more complicated personality. She was simultaneously nerdy and glamorous, equal parts bossy and loyal, vain and humble. And though Pia had everything any girl could want—credit cards galore, luxurious vacations, a perfect math SAT score in the eighth grade—she was also a chronic shoplifter. From what I could gather, her habit wasn’t limited to designer cashmere; she also helped herself to drugstore lipsticks, supermarket cookies, even hard-boiled eggs from the school cafeteria. Because Pia had no material justification for this compulsion, I could only assume deeper psychological issues were to blame. And then there was me, Mimi Schulman. I had, until recently, grown up in a boringly normal nuclear unit: scatterbrained mother, oblivious father, wannabe- anorexic big sister. Having divided my life between Texas and New York, I felt at home in both places, but I belonged to neither. I loved Dolly Parton, Bette Davis, J. D. Salinger, the Houston Astros, and cats, in no particular order. I should also add that I’d managed to turn fifteen without kissing a boy. But though I was awkward and inexperienced and uncosmopolitan, the girls liked me, and it worked. I took a pen from my overstuffed backpack and got started on my Goat Show book. It was New Year’s Day—what better opportunity to draft a few life-altering resolutions?
1. Be the best friend ever to Pia, Viv, Lily, and Jess. Esp. Viv. You so owe them.
2. Be nicer to Amanda France / a better long-distance friend to Rachel / around more often for Dad’s weekly pancake dinners.
3. No more sunburns, sun blisters, or excess freckles. Wear thick muumuu and sun visor on next tropical vacation and slather on moisturizer with SPF every day, even in the dead of winter. 4. Stop slouching. Tall is beautiful.
5. Cultivate mysterious, woman-of-the-world aura to improve chances with mysterious man-of-the-world Max Roth.
6. Think less about boys and more about the grave threats of globalism and other issues raised by kick-ass women at Green Amigas.
7. Take advantage of Baldwin’s course offerings and load up on electives. To quote our headmaster, Zora Blanchard: “Learning is a feast. Glutton up!” 8. Speaking of which, try not to eat so repulsively much. In public.
9. No more cramming sessions on subway ride to school, no matter how easy assignments. Do homework the night before to make time for unassigned (or Mom-assigned) material on commute, thereby developing intellect and, depending on the nature and strangeness of reading material, enhancing mysterious, woman-of-the-world aura (see res. numero 5).
I shut the book. The nuzzling goats on the cover got me thinking about Max, which, I’ll admit, might seem a little creepy. But that wasn’t why I loved my new notebook. As a memento of our trip, the Goat Show book would bring me luck in the upcoming year, I felt sure of it. I vowed to carry it with me everywhere—use it as a repository for deep thoughts, amusing ambulatory observations, Bugle article ideas, grocery needs—anything, everything, and even a little bit of nothing.