Read an Excerpt
November 6, 1974
Your Bella Dancerella Barbie is junk!
Just today the head fell off her. Yesterday, her body fell apart. I do not have any of the pieces to send you because they are junk now.
Maybe you should send me a replacmat riplacemint repleasement another one immediately before I tell all my friends what shoddy products you manufacture.
P.S. My Dawn dolls fell apart in the tub when I tried to take them swimming. Please send two Dancerella Barbies to make up for this tragic loss.
October 1, 1976
Hi, Mrs. Cummings,
You don’t know me but I am my brother Todd’s sister. My mom says Todd is failing your Spanish class. She yelled at him a bunch for getting an F on the test and he was mad. He kept saying “no bueno.”
My mom is probably too emotional about Todd’s grades to discuss the situation rationally, so you should probably work through me. I am enclosing a blank piece of paper so you can give me a progress report on Todd.
Okay, thank you,
P.P.S. Look at me! I’m already bi-lingual!
December 12, 1980
Hello, Brooke Shields!
I’m a big fan even though I’m not allowed to see The Blue Lagoon. Plus you’re from New Jersey and I used to live in New Jersey and we have the same eyebrowns, so it’s like we’re already kindred spirits.
Anyway, I saw your commercial and I like the Calvin Klein jeans you advertise. I figure you probably have some extra since Mr. Klein likely gave them to you for free.
You’re in luck – I happen to need some Calvin Klein jeans and no one will buy them for me so why not solve both our problems and send me some? Seriously, no one in this stupid cow town has Calvins and I’d be the first if you sent me some and I’m pretty sure that would catapult me to instant celebrity.
P.S. My auntie says your ads are kitty porn, but that makes no sense because you’re totally wearing pants! Also? There are no cats!
February 14, 1981
I am not saying “dear” because you are not dear to me. I ask you for extra pants and you send me back a frigging postcard?
You are NOT COOL.
And I totally pluck my eyebrows now. You should, too.
NOT your friend,
P.S. All is forgiven if the pants are in the mail.
January 28, 1984
I’m sorry you had to take time out of your busy day of principal-ing to deal with such a trivial matter.
Honestly, I have no idea how or why Justine Moore got the idea that I hated her and that I specifically carried nail scissors around to simulate snip-snip sounds whenever I was behind her in the hallway. And I couldn’t begin to tell you who started the rumor about people wanting to hack off a chunk of her hair ridiculous red hair to punish her for being such a b-i-t, well, you know, female dog.
These allegations against me are hurtful and untrue even though she TOTALLY tried to get with my date by grinding on him when I hit the bathroom at the last school dance. As you can see, she’d have it coming if someone were to give her an unexpected haircut, but it wouldn’t be me.
P.S. She has NO proof.
December 15, 2008
Someday in a fit of nostalgia, or perhaps after watching Gross Pointe Blank again, you will be tempted to attend a high school reunion.
Before you load up the CD player with eighties tunes and create a triptych, please read this book and re-familiarize yourself with all the smack you talked about your classmates and hometown.
And then take yourself on a spa weekend instead so you don’t accidentally, you know, get lynched.
You can’t go home again.
At least not after mocking the prom queen.
When I was a kid, my mother’s mantra was You are what you eat.
Considering that I broke the long silence from birth until my thirteenth month of life by uttering the word “cookie,” it was safe to say even then that it would not become mine. I knew I wasn’t a bruised banana pulled from her handbag while waiting on line at the post office, nor was I an unsweetened bowl of Cheerios topped with wheat germ from the foul-smelling hippie health food store. Sure, I’d have happily been a Hershey bar or a bowl of mouth-shredding Crunch Berries, but a poorly boned bowl of homemade chicken soup or a salt-free lentil casserole? No.
Right about the time I was able to cut my own meat and make my own sartorial choices, my Auntie Fanny gave me some of my cousin Stephanie’s old clothes. I was instantly enamored; there were colors and styles I’d never seen before.
Instead of the ducky-and-moo-cow tops my mother bought or made by hand, I took first grade by storm in Steph’s old purple suede fringe vests and rainbow-striped corduroy bell-bottoms and peace symbol T-shirts. I mean, why would I dress like a baby when I could look like an extra from Sonny and Cher Show reruns?
I may not have been able to tie my shoes or spell my last name, but I knew one thing for sure—I was not what I ate.
I was what I wore.
You never can tell when nostalgia might strike. For many people, it’s triggered by a long-forgotten scent, say the nose on a glass of wine that evokes the aroma of ripe grapes hanging from the arbor in their great-grandmother’s backyard. For others, memories come flooding in when a fancy small-plates restaurant conjures up an ironic bread pudding that happens to taste just like the one Mrs. Maguire brought to that block party the day Nixon resigned. For some, it’s a snippet of a song: Three bars from Toto’s “Africa” broadcast from a passing car and they’re no longer swinging a Halliburton briefcase down Michigan Avenue to get to a branding meeting. Instead, they’re huddled in their high school commons at lunch, cramming for a fifth-period chemistry test.
And me? Well, more often than not a piece of clothing will spark my memory.
I clearly remember what I had on when I learned the Challenger exploded, and I know what I was wearing when President Reagan was shot. I saw my husband, Fletch, for the first time when I was waitressing in a pink polo and low-waisted men’s green chinos, and a year later when we had our first kiss, I was in a red Ralph Lauren turtleneck, loose sand-colored 501s, and had a red and blue grosgrain band around my watch. I can even tell you the exact gauge of the sweater set I wore the day I made the mistake of carrying a Prada bag to the unemployment office . . . no matter how much I’d like to forget.
The sizes on the tags of my clothing may have changed over the years, but the memories are a constant.
In Pretty in Plaid, I recall the outfits (and events) that ultimately made me the kind of condescending, egomaniacal, self-centered smart-ass who would bark orders at waitresses and make assistants cry. My road to hell wasn’t paved with good intentions—it was cobbled with gold lavalieres and Gucci purses.
As I examine my life through this book, I can’t help but wonder if my mother was right. Maybe I really was what I ate. And maybe if she’d let me eat a little more sugar, I’d have come out sweeter.
But, really, who knows?
All I can say for sure is that my story begins with kneesocks and a lobster bib. . . .