Read an Excerpt
But Enough About Me
How a Small-Town Girl Went from Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet
I am fifteen. I am going to my first concert unaccompanied by my parents. This is thrilling for a number of reasons. One, because I was invited by Cindy Patzau, the most glamorous girl in my sophomore class, still glinting with stardust after a recent performance during a school assembly in which she did a dramatic interpretive dance to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." She wore a clingy black bodysuit in front of the whole school. She was my hero.
"You want me to go with you?" I squeaked when she called. I sat with the popular kids in our high school cafeteria, but I certainly wasn't A-list. When I got my braces off that year, no one noticed for a week, whereas when Liz Kincaid had hers removed, there was much squealing and jubilation in the halls. During senior year I was voted Class Clown when I desperately wanted Best Legs (won by a girl with the movie-star moniker of Jill Shores). As the clown, I was the peripheral Don Rickles figure to the bronzed, carefree Dean Martins and Frank Sinatras, bristling with sour flop sweat, one bad joke away from being banished from the Sands. At the time of Cindy's call, I was on unsteady social ground due to a recent gaffe at a party. I was leaning against a wall, waiting in the bathroom line, when a senior named Mark, a hip soccer player who wore Adidas Sambas and liked the Clash, materialized behind me. He smirked. "Holding up the wall?" he asked.
Tell me, what is the sharp, snappy rejoinder to "Holding up the wall?" I gawped at him as everyone in the line nudged each other, waiting for my trademarklightning comeback. Holding up the wall. Holding up the wall. Seasons passed. The leaves on the trees outside withered, dropped, bloomed, and withered again. Holding. Wall. Mark abruptly turned away from me and started chatting up another girl. Good-bye, Rat Pack, hello, dinner theater in Jupiter, Florida.
"This show," I said to Cindy. My words came out in a high-pitched, phlegmy squawk: Zhis gghow. I hurriedly cleared my throat. "Is it just you and me?" Surely there would be others.
"Yes," Cindy said calmly. "I know you have good taste in music, so the ticket won't be wasted." While I was processing this, I heard the click of a phone being picked up in my parents' bedroom. It was my younger sister Dinah. I could tell by her breathing. If I didn't play this phone call right, it could be my Waterloo, and I was frantic that Dinah shouldn't hear any bumbling. I needed to scare her. I inched toward the hallway in order to get a view of the bedrooms upstairs. Because there were three girls in our family, the phone cord in our kitchen had been stretched until it was ten yards long in our efforts to have a little privacy. Recently, my youngest sister, Heather, had managed to reach the hall closet, and conducted her preteen business with the door shut and key words muffled by the coats. I stretched the cord, gently but firmly, and crept over to where I could just glimpse Dinah in my parents' room. I waved furiously and her head jerked up. Goddamn you, I mouthed, affecting a tough squint. She froze like a snowshoe hare out of fear, or stubbornness, I couldn't tell but she didn't hang up.
While I fought rising hysteria, Cindy detonated this: The concert was to take place at a college. We would have to cross the New Jersey state line to Haverford College in Pennsylvania. With her older sister! And we'd spend the night! In a dorm room!
"Cool," I said, elaborately casual. "I'm in." I could hear Dinah's sharp intake of breath. She knew as well as I that it would take a typhoon of tears to persuade my strict father to let me go. Hear me out, old man, I thought grimly (he was thirty-nine at the time). I am going. Oh yes. I am going.
A week later, after frenzied negotiations with my parents that rivaled the SALT talks in length and intensity, I was allowed to accompany Cindy to Haverford. The night before I left, after a bout of gastrointestinal distress at the thought of hanging around a VIP like Cindy for a sustained length of time (this would become a lifelong pattern), I retired to my room to pack.
Soon enough, there was a timid knock on the door. Dinah and Heather stood silently, knowing that they must be invited in. "Hey, can we watch you pack?" asked Dinah. At fifteen, I still held powerful sway over my younger sisters, and I carefully polished my mystique. Usually when they were allowed to enter the sanctum, it was so that I could extort their cash. My "garage sales" were a frequent scheme. "Garage sale in my room, five o'clock," I would announce briskly as they raced to their rooms to scrounge for money or begged the folks for a forward on their allowance. Meanwhile, I rummaged through my drawers for tchotchkes to unload: a frayed collection of Wacky Pacs, a half-empty bottle of Enjoli, a trio of black rubber Madonna bracelets. As they waited by the door, twitching with eagerness, I would build momentum by popping my head out every once in a while with updates. "Five more minutes," I'd bark. "Lotta good stuff in here, lotta good stuff. I really shouldn't be selling some of this." Finally I would fling open the door and they would push over each other, running.
During one of these bazaars, my mother watched from the doorway, arms folded, lips pursed. "You should be ashamed of yourself," she said.
"Why?" I asked coolly, shutting the door on her. "For bringing color and excitement into my sisters' lives?"
I also gave various lessons. Ballet instruction cost fifty cents, seventy-five cents for the deluxe. For that particular con, I . . .But Enough About Me
How a Small-Town Girl Went from Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet. Copyright © by Jancee Dunn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.