Thwonkby Joan Bauer
Imagine having a personal cupid—an actual winged being—pop into your life and offer to make your dreams come true. The catch is he can help you in only one way: artistically, academically, or romantically. That's what happens to aspiring photographer Allison Jean (A. J.) McCreary. A. J. knows she should concentrate on getting into a top-notch art… See more details below
Imagine having a personal cupid—an actual winged being—pop into your life and offer to make your dreams come true. The catch is he can help you in only one way: artistically, academically, or romantically. That's what happens to aspiring photographer Allison Jean (A. J.) McCreary. A. J. knows she should concentrate on getting into a top-notch art school. But she's spent five torturous months obsessed with handsome hunk, Peter Terris. Just one shot from the cupid's bow and thownk, A. J. will have the undying devotion of handsome Peter...forever.
- Penguin Young Readers Group
- Publication date:
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.57(d)
- Age Range:
- 12 - 17 Years
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By JOAN BAUER
SpeakCopyright © 1995 Joan Bauer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI was in my makeshift darkroom above the garage developing my umpteenth print of Peter Terris, an individual of full-orbed gorgeousness who needs absolutely no retouching, an individual oozing with classic tones and highlights who barely knew that I was alive. I had taken this shot in great diffused light in the Benjamin Franklin High School Student Center, catching Peter poised perfectly by the sainted statue of Big Ben himself. I had taken it from afar (distance being the basic glitch in our relationship), using my ace Nikon F2 and zoom lens while hiding behind a fake marble pillar. I was hiding because if he knew I'd been secretly photographing him for all these months he would think I was immature, neurotic, and obsessive.
I'm an artist. Artists are always misunderstood. My red safelight shot a warm glow through my darkroom. I sloshed developer solution around the photographic paper (sloshing was a key developing technique) and rocked the tray gently as Peter's face filled the paper. At first it was hazy like a shadow, then the fine grains appeared and flowed into chiseled sensation. I dipped the paper in fixing solution to stop the process, rinsed it, ran a squeegee over it, and hung it on a clothesline to dry. I studied the photograph and felt my kidneys curl. It was a surprising shot that caught you off guard, like seeing an old friend unexpectedly. My father, who taught me everything he knew about photography, would call it "a decisive moment." It dripped emotion like a great photograph should. I pushed back my swivel chair and sighed deeply. I have spent the last five months trying not to love him. I sneezed with emotion, being a chronic allergy sufferer, whipped out my nasal inhaler, and gave each nostril a long, tormented squirt. Falling in love is a massive pain.
I locked the darkroom door and slumped through my studio. It was February sixth: eight days until Valentine's Day. I was dateless, as usual, deep in the vice grip of unrequited love. It was bad enough not having a boyfriend for New Year's Eve. Now I had to cope with Valentine datelessness, feeling consummate social pressure from every retailer in America who stuck hearts and cupids in their windows by January second to rub it in.
There was the humiliation of not having a date to the King of Hearts Dance at school, a dance considered by persons in the know to be an excellent way to get a date to the prom if you weren't otherwise attached, a dance that is held every Valentine's Day in the Benjamin Franklin High School Student Center in a massive celebration of teenage romance and universal love. I started down the garage steps that led from my studio and nearly tripped over Stieglitz, my dog, a forty-pound black-and-white keeshond (pronounced caze-hawnd) fur ball named for Alfred Stieglitz, great black-and-white photographer of the turn of the century. He lunged at me with unbridled glee because the mere sight of my presence always made his day. It's important to have a dog. Dogs love unconditionally. I knelt down to pat him. "Have you ever noticed, Stieglitz, that love is filled with pain and torture and promises nothing but agony?" Stieglitz hadn't noticed, wagged his tail, and tried to climb into my lap. I crashed through the garage, into the kitchen, and contemplated my dilemma.
The whole thing with Peter Terris started five months ago, and I'd like to say from the outset that I wasn't looking for trouble. I was walking through the Student Center to English Lit, speed-reading Beowulf when I tripped over Peter's flawless foot and crashed at his feet like a complete spaz. I would have written the whole thing off to consummately bleak timing had I not gazed into his ice-green eyes, observed that they were positively riveting, and frozen in time. This was hazardous. I was trying to avoid eye contact with the entire male species. My last relationship had just crumbled and left me emotionally blotto when Todd Kovich, my boyfriend of four gut-wrenching months, left to attend Yale University, and spoke those parting words favored by churls and two-timers the world over:
"I'll call you." Did he call? Have I heard one syllable from him since August twenty-third? Do pigs fly? So there I was, flopped at Peter Terris's feet, still reeling from Todd's premier abandonment. I brushed myself off. I reminded myself that falling for another gorgeous guy was beyond stupid, particularly when that guy was captain of the varsity soccer team and going out with Julia Hart, who was excruciatingly beautiful or, as my best friend, Trish Beckman, put it, "Death Incarnate." Nothing could pry a male from Julia Hart's side with the possible exception of a blowtorch.
I smiled and tried to exit gracefully, and instead I managed to half-trip. Peter Terris was looking at me like a child watches a clown in the circus. I limped off. That's when Trish Beckman accosted me by the World Peace Bench that had been given to the school by last year's graduating class. Trish is in the Drama Guild and reacts theatrically to everything. "Don't even think about Peter Terris, A.J.!" she snarled. I held up my hands in innocence. "It's not going to work," Trish railed. "I saw the whole thing. Your eyes got gooey." She examined my hands and shook her head. "Your hands are sweaty." She lowered her voice ominously to a stage whisper. "We've seen this before." No joke. Trish and I have been best friends since sixth grade and we've been through everything together -countless romantic devastations, the constant attacks of her little brat brother, plus the epic horror of her father's midlife crisis when he wore skintight shirts and called everybody "Babe." "Say it!" Trish demanded. "I am not going to fall for the wrong guy again," I mumbled. She studied my face.
I rubbed my eyes. "I'm fine," I assured her. That was five months ago. I wasn't fine then and I'm not fine now. Let's talk tragedy. I've had four, count them, four boyfriends with definite dream potential turn into Swiss cheese in one year. Two went back to their old girlfriends, one insulted my photography, and Todd, saphead that he is, graduated and went to Yale. I've missed one prom ("Let's Keep the Magic Forever"), last year's Homecoming Howl, and the King of Hearts Dance three years running.
I have dating strengths, you understand. I am not ugly. I have long chestnut hair, solid brown eyes, excellent teeth, and a small nose I can wrinkle if I have to. I am tall (almost five nine), slim, except for my knees which will probably pudge out by the time I hit thirty. I have less of a waist than I'd like, less of a chin than I'd like, but I wear clothes well and I can handle minor repairs on any car without seeming overbearing. My parents are concerned about how quickly I fall in love. "Why do you think, A.J.," they say in unison, "that you find these boys so attractive?" I didn't say that this fiery chemical explosion leaps from somewhere inside me. Parents don't want to hear these things. I shrugged and said nothing. "Maybe you should try sitting on the intensity," Mom suggests, "just until your feelings catch up with reality."
"We could chain you to the water heater," Dad offers, "until these little moments pass."
You see what I'm up against. I've tried expressing my love life photographically -the smashed Orange Crush can lying in the middle of an empty playground is my favorite. I'll be thinking I'm doing fine and then I see a couple float down the street, massively in love, and I remember being that way, even though it was fleeting. I remember feeling wanted and desirable and important and then the sadness comes crashing in and I review every guy who dumped me, all the way back to Marry Michler who laughed at the cupid Valentine I gave him in fourth grade and showed it to everyone at recess. If you want to really know me you have to look at my photography, because my art and I are intrinsically tied. I was seven years old when photography and I collided in Italy. I looked through the viewfinder of my father's Leica at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, tilted the camera until the Tower stood razor straight, and snapped. When the prints came back I was hooked by the power of a small machine that could fix a falling building. Dad bought me my own used 35mm, and I set out to capture all of life honestly through my lens. Guys don't understand great art. They don't care that sometimes the camera has power beyond the photographer to record emotion that only the heart can see. They're threatened when the camera jumps ahead of me. Todd Kovich was ripped when I brought my F2 to the prom, but I'd missed too many transcendent shots over the years to ever take a chance of missing one again. A prom, I told him, had a boundless supply of photogenic bozos who could be counted on to do something base.
Few males appreciate the role of the artist in a crumbling world. But I held out great hope for Peter Terris.
I was standing at the kitchen door watching my father work. Dad was in another world, holding two boxes of ChocoMallowChunks cereal-the cherished new product of his biggest client, ChocoChunks International-holding them like a weary father would cradle newborn twins. He was carving out a new ad campaign and reaching into the core of his creative volcano to find something important to say about a children's breakfast cereal that contained enough refined sugar to seriously alter a generation's SAT scores. I thought about clearing my voice to let him know I was there. I thought about the hurt of the last few months that kept crashing in around us.
I leaned against the door silently as Dad gripped the cereal boxes and exhaled slowly, bonding with the product. This was how he taught me to approach photography: "Entwine yourself with the subject," Dad often said, "until its essence floods your being." This was not always easy, but when I connected it was magic and I have the awards to prove it. I won the "Most Textural" ribbon at the Crestport Arts and Oyster Festival with my searing still life "Bowl of Bean Dip"; I cinched the coveted Northeast FotoFast Youth Photography Contest with "Tootsies," my socko close-up of Betsy Manero's brother's toes.
Dad slapped the counter. "We're going full bore!" he announced to the air. "Major PR all across America to announce the new cereal flavor. ChocoMallowChunks awards to young athletes. We'll put their pictures on the box, highlight their families, how their parents got up before dawn for eight years to get them to the pool, ice rink, whatever. Poor slobs. We'll get contests going in schools-the winners get parties with rock groups, the kids become local heroes. T-shirts, visors, chocolate iridescent scratch-and-smell stickers. We'll saturate America with coupon madness!"
Dad stepped back, satisfied, as the kitchen clock tolled. He was a smidgen over six feet tall, dark and swarthy with an on-again, off-again mustache. Advertising is Dad's second incarnation. He'd struggled as an independent filmmaker and sometime photographer for eleven cash-poor years, and came so close to making it. But each project went bust-budgets were obliterated, minds were changed, his photos almost sold. "Almost," as Dad says, "doesn't pay the rent." He cut bait on my sixth birthday, bought a suit, and "went commercial." I hated that suit. He wore it like it was heavy armor for fighting dragons. I think he was battling more than he knew.
Dad took what he knew about filmmaking and went into advertising, where he has been very successful. He's made Topper's toiletbowl brushes dance with soul, turned Sparky's toothbrushes into jet-propelled purple lasers, pitted Zitslayer acne gel against vampire pimples, and coaxed a chorus of EasyOn panty hose to sing like they really meant it. This is a person who can squeeze meaning from a stone.
He can also be obtuse. When I made my ultimate announcement last November that I was going to be an artist, go to arts college, make my name in photography, Dad hit the roof. "A career in the arts has no security, A.J.," he barked. "You will walk the streets alone, be kicked in the stomach time and again by cretins who have no clue as to what you're trying to say. No daughter of mine is going to throw her life away!"
He stormed off with me shouting that we needed to discuss it and him shouting back that there was nothing to discuss. Mom tried to step in and make peace like she always does, but the battle lines had been drawn. That's when the Wall went up between us-part silence, part pain. We've been like two porcupines passing in a narrow hallway ever since.
So I sent my college applications off to the "right schools," the ones according to Dad that would give me the "right education," praying they'd all hate me. And with my mother's guarded permission I sent my finest photographic work off to several superior arts schools, not knowing what would happen if they accepted me. One night I saw Dad slumped in the family room staring at my first self-portrait (I was twelve) like he was hypnotized. I so wanted to ask him, "Do you think I have enough talent to make it, Dad?"
I didn't ask him though.
Dad said when I got my first camera I arranged my shots with the controlling passion of a football coach calling the plays. I categorically deny this. Okay, so once or twice I pulled my parents apart when they were having one of their epic fights that happened after we first moved to Connecticut when Mom had to leave her catering business behind in Chicago because Dad had taken a big-muck advertising position in Manhattan and wasn't around very much. "All right, Mommy and Daddy," I announced. "Hug each other and smile at the camera."
Hugging didn't help. What really helped was when I fell out of the big oak tree in the front yard and broke my arm. Mom and Dad were in marriage counseling then trying to rechannel their anger, but they stopped being angry quick at the pitiful sight of me screaming for mercy in the emergency room. I am allergic to pain. By the time the cast came off they were cuddling and listening to jazz like the old days. I took a photograph of the cast (my first still life) and gave it to them on their anniversary. Mom cried when she saw it; Dad sniffed proudly and said it stood for brokenness and remembering what was important. It just goes to show you the eternal power of capturing a moment in time.
My biggest fear in life, along with drying up romantically, is not making it with my photography. When Dad and I used to take our cameras and go looking for pictures together, like we did over the summer -pounding the streets of New York City, shooting roll after roll of Fifth Avenue shoppers and broken-down taxis-I wanted to hug him and tell him how sorry I am that his passion can't be his career. "It's my hobby now," Dad insisted, "and that's enough." If that happens to me, if I can't make the world listen to what I have to say through my art, I think I'll die. Dad was staring at the boxes of ChocoMallowChunks cereal like they held the secrets to the universe. His phone rang; that's when he noticed me. I coughed. "Hi ..." Dad looked down and shoved his hands in his pockets. "I need to get the phone," he muttered. "Right." I flopped on the overstuffed kitchen couch and watched him go. I wondered what would happen to all his films and photographs in the upstairs closet-the documentaries on homelessness and drug addiction, the funny short subjects, the half-finished romantic comedy, the boxes of slice-of-life photographs that speak volumes about the human condition. I wondered how you stop caring about what you've ached over, sweated over. I wondered if my father would ever trust me as an artist. I wondered if Peter Terris even knew I was alive.
I focused my F2 on a Valentine candy heart lying forlornly by the sink; warm light washed over it. I ate half the heart to add brokenhearted realism, and was standing on a stool for an aerial view when the phone rang, the answering machine clicked on.
"I hope," said Pearly Shoemaker's voice, "that you're working on the Valentine cover shot, A.J. ..." She paused here for effect. Pearly was the angst-ridden editor of the Benjamin Franklin High School Oracle, the school paper where I toiled day and night as the principal photographer for absolutely no money. "Since," she continued, "the rest of the edition can't go to press without it! An edition I've been slaving over for six months!" I closed my eyes; I knew she wasn't done. "If you're not working on it, A.J., we're all finished!"
I moved in close with my macro lens for a broad, cartoon feel and clicked off three fast shots of the Valentine heart with half its life gone.
"I'm working on it!" I growled.
"I know you're there, A.J.!" She said this snarling and hung up.
I should have known better than to ever get involved in this lame assignment. The Valentine edition was to be the biggest thing to hit love and high-school journalism since graffiti. "I can see it!" Pearly had shouted, when she first approached me with the idea. "An entire edition about love and those tumultuous teenage years. It'll be hundreds of pages, we'll market it to local businesses-everyone will buy an ad, A.J., because who can say no to love? I'll ... I mean, we'll be famous!" She went on to say that the Oracle, normally free, would be selling on Valentine's Day for two dollars, cold cash, no credit, and for that the A. J. McCreary cover shot had to be perfect. I groaned.
"Just do it, A.J.!" she snarled. I've shot weird scenes through dark, murky filters, teenage couples hugging out of focus, a boy and girl kissing outside Petrocelli's Poultry as Mr. Petrocelli hung two seven-pound roasters in the window. Pearly wanted something advertisers could relate to. "Think Valentine's Day, A.J.! Hearts, cupids ...!"
"I don't do cupids, Pearly. They're trite." "Couples holding hands ..." "Primitive ..."
"Nothing weird!" she shrieked. "Nothing depressing! And absolutely nothing oblique or obscure!"
"What's left?" I yelled it. "Normal, A.J. Normal is left!"
I don't do normal. I have a reputation to uphold. So I kept combing the streets of Crestport, Connecticut, looking for the essence of love to shoot when my own heart was ground into farina. I saw gray slushy sidewalks and February skies. I saw a little boy punch his sister in the stomach. I saw irritated shoppers, perfectly sculpted evergreens, and then I saw my worst nightmare-Peter Terris and Julia Hart walking hand in hand across Mariah Boulevard looking positively photogenic, oblivious to the winter muck clinging to their designer shoes. Peter brushed a strand of hair off Julia's face and kissed her pink nose. Julia nuzzled his shoulder like a lovesick kitten. They floated past me, the Perfect Teenage Couple, oozing Valentine's Day passion and Oracle cover potential. I turned from the hated scene drowning in waves of sadness and sank behind an evergreen in epic despair.
Excerpted from THWONK by JOAN BAUER Copyright © 1995 by Joan Bauer . Excerpted by permission.
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