When Skeeter the Sophomore was merely fifteen she pledged a sorority (actually more of a skag-gang) called the Buzzettes, whose sense of togetherness ran toward sharing packs of smokes while hanging out with overboard dudes in underslung cars.
There was some concern on the part of parents, teachers, and the like that she was thereby lapsing into sloth and indolence—hanging out in polyester blouses that were uncommonly loose, and denim jeans that were uncommonly snug. (An ensemble completed by a laidback poke of a purse that would have been big enough to fit her entire stuPENdous self inside, were it not already crammed full of everything a Buzzette wannabe could lay her hands on.)
These were the Derelict Days of ’74, after all, and Skeeter wanted to do her small part in contributing her fair share to the national backslide. So she was put through mystic rites of initiation as were laid down in the deeps of time by Isis and Osiris and Rosie Crucian. Skeeter and the other pledgling (Natalie Horndt, her waspish very best friend) became Boozettes, by chugalugging till they chuckalucked up; and Boszettes, by papflashing a meter-reader or other agent of a service profession; and Bowzettes, by testifiably French-kissing Charlene Webster’s bull mastiff.
(This last ordeal, all the girls agreed, was a lot more palatable than doing the same to—or, worse yet, with—Charlene’s kid brother Droan.)
These hurdles cleared, the two enlistees were pronounced Buzzettes in good standing, sitting, and squatting. But Skeeter said:
“Is that all?”
“Hunh? Whatcha mean, ‘all?’”
“I mean really! We ought to have to shave our heads or pierce our noses or jump out of helicopters or something. Otherwise we’ll look like a bunch of wissy-wusses!”
“Yeah,” Natalie Horndt chimed dutifully in.
And right there in the Webster basement she and Skeeter began thinking up more requirements for fullblown Buzzettehood, some of which caused even the most been-around skaglet to blanch and flinch.
It was not till after school the next day, surrounded by Skeeter’s scotchtaped rockstar posters and half-hidden ashtrays, that they hit upon the absolute necessity of getting tattooed.
“I love it!”
“We’ll show ‘em where being a Buzzette is really at!”
“Besides,” Skeeter said, “it’s either that or letting our ‘pit hair grow and braiding it—”
(Shrieks of teenage laughter.)
“Kelly RebecCA!” from the kitchen.
“What’s all that racketing about up there?”
Come Saturday morning the studious girls pooled their allowances and headed downtown. Natalie’s pocket money was not as abundant as it used to be, thanks to the recession’s effect on Mr. Horndt’s Buick dealership. Everything had gone subcompact.
And so it went: lowering standards, loss of what was once held dear. In Natalie’s brother’s case this included a couple of dy-no-mite bomber jackets that Nat and Skeeter liberated from his closet (yaaaay Buzzettes!) and which he never saw again, or damn seldom anyway.
There had been an early killing frost that fall, so the girls were glad to be clad in leather as they swaggered down Lincoln Avenue, puffing on Pall Malls, their footsteps unexpectedly echoing. Kind of gave you the creeps being downtown on a Saturday: the modest Demortuis skyscrapers were locked tight and abandoned-looking. Some of the old store windows had bars over them, and some had boards, and everything seemed to be a pre-Oz shade of grey—like a week-old bucket of fried chicken bones. (Yuggh.)
But on McKinley Street they found an oasis, an outpost of many colors: Madame Zelda’s, which they entered after whispery debate and discovery that this particular tattoo parlor was empty except for its proprietress, who looked half a Gypsy and half Apache but was at least a fellow female.
(Even Skeeter the Shameless was unprepared to let some old sleazy-geezer get his implements on her bared flesh.)
Onward and inward, under Madame’s inscrutable gaze, trying to choose between the scores of to-die-for designs: so many hearts and flowers and birds and beasts and ohhhh! a dragon and ahhhh! a mermaid and the cuuuutest little palm tree complete with coconut-bunch, and best of all a brand-spanking crimson smoochmark.
Natalie suggested that Skeeter (who clamored to go first) get this design placed squarely on her derrière, to indicate exactly where the ineffable They might kiss her.
“No, you goofus—here, between my boobs! Can’t you just picture it: say you’re in bed with this guy—”
“Back seat of his car, you mean—”
“—shut up—this guy, see, he’s all hot ‘n’ bothered, he can’t think straight, can’t see straight, you’re going Ooh la la at him and all that, then he gets your bra off and zowie! too-oo much! he thinks you’ve got an extra nipple—”
“PSYCH—HIM—OUT!” the girls chanted, giving each other resounding five.
Then Madame Zelda with solemn gesture sent them into a curtained alcove, there for Skeeter to shed appropriate garments and put on a hospitalish smock of uncertain laundering.
“Wait!” cautioned Natalie, acting as handmaiden. “What if when you’re an old lady you turn all saggy and baggy and wrinkly—”
“Aw PEEshaw,” Skeeter snorted, pausing in her doffing to punch Nat on the arm. She glanced down with fond complacency at her own unpropped upper deck, so obviously firm for life at age fifteen.
Now Skeeter’s skin was still without scar or mark, and of a sanguine-pink complexion that went achingly well with her strawberry-golden hair and tiny little bright blue eyes. “A heartbreaker,” Gramma Otto had declared when the six-year-old Kelly Rebecca put on her first pair of black patent leathers. “That child is going to break a lot of hearts before she’s through.”
“Lookit me Gramma!” the heartbreak kid had shouted, thoroughly beside herself with stomp-on-the-floor glee. “Lookit! You can see my underpants in my shoes!”
Nine autumns later in Madame Zelda’s changing alcove, Skeeter decided with a last-minute “ulp” that the beestung kissylips were just too risky—they might look like a sudden blemish, especially to male eyes blurred by lust. So after further consideration she settled on her baptismal initials, K.R.K., and them to go on her right hindquarter after all.
To this end (and past it) Skeeter wriggled out of her fancy-free jeans and fire-engine-red brevities (for which she’d recently given up her virgin-whites), while helpful Nat kept her in staggering stitches by wondering aloud whether Bless This Buttock ought not to be added, or better yet a predictably-pointed arrow along with Do Not Open Till Xmas.
“Quit it, Natalie! I got my pants down!”
Out of the alcove then, their gigglefit dying away as Skeeter was directed up onto a gymnastic horselike apparatus. Madame Zelda proceeded to desmock and inspect the petite patoot to be tattooed; and Skeeter lay there prone and petrified.
“Wait!” went Natalie again. “What happens if you do get all old and wrinkly—”
“Shut up!” (somewhat muffled).
“No listen!—suppose your initials turn into like a K.K.K.?”
“Oh wow,” breathed Skeeter.
And on the spot our ecstatic neophytes concocted this really cool story about Skeeter getting kidnapped by Ku Klux thugs, and branded when she wouldn’t make out with hoods in hoods. The girls were eager to put a pillowcase on Zelda’s head and so lend a touch of verisillymissitude to their story; but Madame picked up an electric needle and said,“Still now.”
Then followed the emblazoning, the deftly indelible application of curlicued letters, with Skeeter gritting stoic teeth throughout and not making mock-orgasm noises, so that Nat guessed it must be no-lie painful. And after Skeeter’s underwritten tush was reclad and back out on McKinley Street, the rest of her let fly a tremendous
for the benefit of downtown Demortuis.
“Hurts, hunh?” asked Nat.
“What! You know what!”
“Oh, that. What about it?”
“Does it hurt?!”
“Naah, not what you’d call ‘hurt’—just stings a little.”
“You’ll find out,” Skeeter grinned.
As had been foreseen, there was insufficient allowance left for Natalie to get ornamented that day, but more than enough for bus fare home. So Skeeter the Initiate revealed a last step towards achieving ultraBuzzettedom: you must go into a genuine bar and there order, receive, and drink down a bonafide cocktail.
Neither girl was absolutely certain how much an authentic shot would cost. But Skeeter led the way—sashaying, to the extent her poor stung rump would allow—to a likely-looking corner tavern, and inside it, and up to the bar, forthrightly demanding Southern Comfort on the rocks with a white wine chaser.
“Make it a double,” she added.
“Yeah, both of us,” said Natalie.
The countryboyish bartender carded them both, but of course each girl was armed with a fake ID. “Just a couple of dames wanting a couple of snorts,” explained Skeeter.
“Well,” went the nonplused barman, and (the girls swore afterward) was reaching for bottles and glasses when his grizzled colleague stepped over.
“Forget it, kiddies.”
“Hey! We are of age.”
“I bet you are. On your way now, before I call your fathers on you.”
“Aw, we weren’t doing anything—”
“I,” Skeeter riposted, “shall take my boozing someplace high-classier from now on.”
“You do that, little girl. Show ‘em out, Vince.”
The young bartender escorted them to the doorstep, where Skeeter apologized for making him look like a dork in front of his boss.
“That’s okay,” said Vince, one big blush, and handed her a scrap of paper.
“M’phone number,” Vince blurted before hastening back inside.
Skeeter looked from the note to Natalie and back again in total wondrous puzzlement.
“What do you suppose he gave me this for?” she asked.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Copyright © 2001-03 by P. S. Ehrlich
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