Chronicles of Higher Education

“The Great Gucci”
by Morgan Smalley


     If Chad Remington isn’t gay, then neither is Richard Simmons.  You can talk to me all day about stereotyping, but I know my twinks from my metros, and he is a textbook flamer. If the rainbow Converse don’t spell that out for you, then maybe the sequined banana hammocks will.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  
    I guess what turned me onto him was leverage.  There’s something to be said for having a GBF at Mathers High.  An in on the gay culture is better than all the Valentino you can get.  It’s a revolution, a trademark of millennial change—and worth the extra homecoming nominations if I play my cards right.  
     Don’t get me wrong; I don’t actually need the extra votes.  It’s really just a back-up plan, like an abortion if the day-after pill doesn’t work.  You see, winning kind of runs through my veins.  Not one eligible Turner has lost the election: not my mom, not my grandma, not my gay uncle. Nobody.  But they had it easy. They never had to worry about the sympathy vote that’s sabotaged me for the past three years.  Last year it was the wheelchair girl, and before that? Cancer.  You get the picture.  
     But it’s not like I’m desperate.  No; I’ll save that for Africa and the Kardashians.  If anything I’d call it ambition, which is practically the eighth holy virtue.   
***
     There’s no “Gay Best Friend For Dummies,” but thankfully, due to some prior expertise, it wasn’t hard to come up with a plan of my own.  The simple five step plan can be remembered with the acronym SPLON: shopping, pedis, lattes, off-Broadway, nicknames.  In any order.  This stuff won me the third grade science fair.  
     Chad hits the mall on Sundays: Pacsun, Abercrombie; the total Bougie section. All the Fuggs and Nonverse you can get.  It’s gotta be budget therapy.  
     I catch him in American Eagle, hating myself for not thinking of it before; AE’s kind of flamer territory.  I look at him through the window, his money-maker in the air as he shimmies into a pair of high-tops.  I would say his body is slightly redeeming, but once you match cargo pants with Oxford shoes, not even washboard abs can save you.  I make like I’m in a prison shower and take him by surprise.  
     “American Eagle? Jared Leto would be ashamed,” I say from behind.  He whips around, his highlights catching the fluorescents.  
     “What the–Oh, um, hey Vanessa.”
     “Your people are better than that, Chad,” I say.
     He chuckles and shakes his head. “Prada doesn’t carry above a size thirteen.” 
     “Well that’s a shame.” Chad focuses on something behind me.  I notice for the first time how much his shaggy haircut brings out his cheek bones and wonder if it’s intentional.  That, or he’s hiding terrible acne.  Either way, it’s—
     GEH-HA.  My breath is cut short by something—a rope, tightening around my neck. I paw at my throat, gagging and kicking backward.  
     This isn’t right; maybe my tanning has gotten out of hand.  The lynch mobs usually don’t start until you hit Cappuchino, but I guess nowadays they’ll take anyone darker than a Honey Beige.  
     At some point my heel finds its way into my attacker’s abdomen, and he stumbles to the floor. The rope releases and I can breathe again.  
     “Jeez! What is with you people?” I say, “A shade darker than Jennifer Lawrence and it’s off to the Gallows?” I tear the rope from my throat—well, rope is a strong word.  Scarf would be the more common terminology.  I, on the other hand, see this cheap chiffon strap as nothing less than a noose with sequins.  But like I always say in the case of accidental lynchings: better safe than sorry.  I brush myself off and turn around.  
     Sharing the linoleum in front of me is not one, but two aggressors. Judging by their matching crew cuts and frosted tips, I’d say they didn’t just come out of the closet, but sashayed out in a carefully choreographed dance number set to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” 
     The one I will call Peaches, after the fuzz on his upper lip, squints at me.  “What do you mean, you people?” he asks in a straight-as-as-rainbow falsetto.  
     “…Racists.”
     “Fair enough,” says the other one (Tyler, according to his nametag), getting up from the ground.  I’ll bet this one eats Froot Loops for breakfast every morning and prays with Jazz Hands.  “But you know, the copper details really did bring out your natural highlights.”  He helps his friend up.  
     “Absolutely,” says Peaches.  “And this matching bag will call attention to your killer biceps.”  He throws it over my shoulder in what he thinks is just the cutest little gesture. 
     “No thanks,” I say.  “I don’t touch burlap.”  Peaches leaves it there anyway, while Tyler wraps a belt around my waist.  
     “Oh my Gawd, your hips are perfect.”
     “Duh,” I say, “so don’t ruin them with…dear God, is this hemp?” 
     He smiles and puts a finger to my lip “Shhhhhhh…Just let it happen, honey.  Let me work my magic.”
     Magic? I smack his finger away.  Both of them gasp gaily.  
     I was gang-scarfed for this? I look at Chad, who has taken to picking invisible nail polish off his pinky nail.  If I don’t stop this retail nonsense soon I am going to lose him under a pile of wannabe-wear and hemp. 
      Tyler gazes sadly at his newly bruised finger.  “The nail’s broken,” he says.  His falsetto has taken flight and is more shrill than ever.  “I just got them done, too.  Cost me thirty bucks! How could you, you–”
     Peaches pushes him aside.  “I THINK it would make Tyler feel better is someone…maybe… invested in a certain accessory…”
     I clench my jaw, balling my hands into fists. “Jesus, so you ever stop?” 
     “Oh-ho, can I get a side of fries with that sass?” 
     “Actually,” Tyler sniffles, “It kinda…would make me feel better.”  
     I explode.  “THAT’S IT! I don’t care about your fingernail.  I don’t know what kind of Twinkle-Dee and Twinkle-Dum tag-team shit you’re trying to pull,” I say, shucking all their accessories off, “but it’s not going to work with me, so why don’t you give me a call when American Eagle isn’t the DETROIT of DEPARTMENT STORES!?”
     I’m not sure if gay guys have balls, or just an extra pair of nipples. Either way, theirs must have shrunk considerably; they drop everything and back away slowly.  Do you know what wolves do in the wild when one of them backs away from a fight? They spit on him, just like I do to the homeless.  I look at Chad, who has gone from bored to horridies in a matter of seconds.  I arrange my lips into a smile.  
     “Oh Chad,” I say, “you know I didn’t mean any of that.” 
     He shakes his head.  “No, it’s okay. Someone needed to stand up to them.  They asked me if I was part hobbit when they saw my feet.”
     “Nothing a little Prada can’t fix, right?” 
     “No, Prada doesn’t carry above a size thirteen, remember? Even they think my feet a huge.”  Shopping, pedis, lattes…
     “I bet I can get you into a size twelve if we shave off those calluses.”
     “Huh?” 
     “I may know of a place on Wilshire Boulevard.” 
     Chad jumps, giddier than Clay Aiken in airport security.  “You mean, you’re taking me to Colour nails?!” 
     “Ew no.  Don’t insult me.  We’re going to Beverly’s.”
     “OhmyGod, you’re the best! How are we going to get there? You drive?”
     “No way, not after Paul Walker.  I’vve got a guy.  His name’s Whore-Hey…Feel bad for him, you know?  I mean, what kind of mother names their child Whore-Hey?” 
     Chad blinks. “I don’t know, but it closes in thirty minutes.  We should hurry.”
     “Don’t worry.  Whore-Hey’s got mad skills.” 
***
     We make it there in five minutes; thanks to the Valium mom mom bought for Whore-Hey.  We did hit four squirrels, something I call feeding the homeless.  
     While he picks out a parking space, Chad and I pick out matching massage chairs and Gingerinis.  (In California, the drinking age is sixteen if you’re white.)
     There are approximately 4.4 billion Asians in the world, which means that unless China kept its policies on the ones born with vaginas, Lucy Liu has approximately half that number in doppelgangers, five of which happen to work at Beverly’s Nail Salon.  They already have my piggy toe in their sights, never failing to swarm for a girl with Daddy’s credit card.  
     I let Chad take the fat one—I’ll go for the one with varicose veins.  The word is that she wanted to be an actress, but that dream ended up in the gutter along with her self-esteem and her marriage.  It’s just too bad she had to learn the hard way: Asians have evolved over many years in order to fulfill certain, specific niches, like doing nails and fighting crime.  An overpopulation of them in the acting business could seriously disrupt the ecosystem.  You can ask any biologist.  
     “Do you think they speak English?” asks Chad.
     “Only enough to charge you 80 bucks afterward. It’s just like my mother taught me: If they can count to three, YOU NO DO NAIR FOH ME.” I think one of them glares at me, but I can never tell with these people.  
     “What language is this, anyway?” I ask.  
     “I think it’s Mandarin.  My cleaning lady spoke it when I was little.”
     I click my tongue and squint.  “Chad,” I say, thinking maybe the Gingerini was too much for him, “Mandarin is a fruit.” 
     He laughs awkwardly.  “Hey, us fruits are a proud people.”  I feel bad for the guy; the commission slaves must have really gotten to him.  His phone goes off, some fossil of a flip phone I could have sworn they stopped making in the Bush administration.  
     “Becca?” he answers.  Immediately I know this could be one of three girls at Mathers High.  But since Chubby Becca just got her bypass surgery and Pizza-Face Becca hasn’t been seen since last month, when I told everyone it was just really bad Herpes, that narrows it down to just Chinky Becca.  
     Chad smiles.  “Oh my God!  We are totally there right now! Come meet us!” 
     By all means, Chad, invite over your chinky girlfriend. Thanks for asking.  In fact, she might fit in nicely here.  
     He closes his phone. “You’ll never guess who’s here.”
     “Is her name Becca?”
     “Becca Thompson!”
     Halfway down my throat, a sip of Gingerini does a 360 and spatter all over the varicose-veined Lucy Liu. She curses and walks away in slow-motion.  My veins pumping paralyzing Botox, I swallow and shift my eyes toward the door.  Oxygen Tank Becca.  In all her pixie-cutted, highly inconvenient splendor, strutting in here like her chemo doesn’t give her uncontrollable diarrhea.  Becca, who beat me in the homecoming election sophomore year. 
     “But Chad,” I say with a smile more plastic than Barbie, “she dropped out weeks ago.” 
     “Oh, we’ve kept in touch.  We’re almost best friends.” 
     The words hit me harder than Chris Brown’s backhand, echoing in my head like the time I learned crumpets had carbs.  (But they’re European!) 
     Becca brushes a short lock of hair behind her ear.  “Vanessa?” 
     I look to the pile of dead skin at my feet.  No.  I’ve come too far for her to ruin everything. 
     “Hello?”
     She’s out to win the sympathy vote, isn’t she? She’s coming to Mathers just to steal the election from me.  
     She takes the chair next to Chad’s.  “What’s up with your friend?”
     I mean, how selfish and manipulative can she be?
     “She does this sometimes.”
     You know what? I don’t care if her cancer came out of recession–I am no Leonardo DiCaprio; that Oscar is mine.  That’s it.  You mess with the bobcat you get the venom.  
     I turn to her.  “So…Becca,” I hiss, “aren’t you supposed to be at a support group somewhere?” 
     She touches her weird nose-tube thing.  “What, for this?  That doesn’t start till–
     “AN UGLY HAIRCUT SUPPORT GROUP! Because that’s what…you have…”
     Chad laughs awkwardly again.  “Nessa…C’mon…” Did you hear that? He called me Nessa.  That means we’re on nicknames. 
     Becca smiles.  “No, it’s okay Chad.  She’s right. Maybe I should sotp asking Ray Charles to cut my hair.”
     “HA! So you admit it! Did you hear that, Chad?”  He seems more interested in the labels on the nail polish remover.  “Chad?”
     His eyes dart back and forth.  “Um…I gotta pee,” he says, yanking his foot away from the Thick Liu and st7umbling out of the chair.  He slops warm wax on the floor with every step he takes toward the bathroom.  My Liu, the failed actress, happens to be returning from the back room.  
     “HEI, LITTO’ BOI, YOU GET BACK HE’A, CREAN FOOT BEFO’ YOU MAKE MO’ MESS FO’ ME!”  She turns to me and Becca. “YOU: VERY BAD PEEPO’.”
     I sneer as she bends over to tens my foot.  “Racist, much?” 
     Becca nods.  “Yes.  As a white person, I take this stuff seriously.  Reverse racism has been climbing since we abolished slavery,” she says, beaming.  For a second, I’m actually surprised I agree with such a Bougie, but then she looks me in the eye, and I swear to God, for no reason, just laughs so loud the lady’s home country can hear it.  Maybe it’s good she’s such a moment ruiner; it’s keeping me on task.  
        She doesn’t take her eyes off me.  I don’t speak Cancer, but apparently grinning is a common mannerism.  
     “Don’t look at me like that,” I say.  “I know why you’re here.” 
     “Fine, but you can’t tell anyone.  I’m secretly working as a mole for the Russian government.”  That smile again, faker than ever.  I’ll bet that bleach job was worth less than her father’s hooker.  
     “I don’t care if you’re the freaking tsar himself!” I bark, kicking my Liu in the face.  She rears back, with what could either be red nail polish or blood on her nose.  I turn back to Becca.  “You’re trying to steal the homecoming election from me!” 
     “You’re on to me! I better warn Putin!”  
     “What…the hell…is wrong with you?”
     “It’s my thyroid glands,” she says, then leans in close and whispers, “They have cancer.”
     “Do you have ear cancer?” 
     She clicks her tongue.  “No.  I’m pretty sure it’s just the one.  But–
     “Then, LISTEN UP!”   Becca’s smile falls confusedly.  “I see right through your little Zooey-Deschanel-with-cancer-act.”  She glances around, probably figuring out some escape route. “God, you think you have some sort of monopoly over the disease.  ‘Ooooooh,I’m Becca, and I have cancer! But don’t worry; I’m just cannulas of fun to be around!  Together we can pal around with my gay best friend and have wacky stage two adventures together! Aren’t I soooooo brave and endearing?’”  I roll my eyes.  “Mathers must think you’re just quirky with a k.  And that’s why you’re coming back, isn’t it?  So you can be homecoming queen over me, again.  One last remember-me-hoo-rah before your antibodies croak in a few years.”  Her jaw falls.  I lick my lips; I could eat this moment for dinner.  “Well, guess what? I’m not going to let you do that.  Because I’m not going to let you have Chad.  He’s going to be my best friend, my leverage, and you’re not going to stop me, you…you homecoming whore!” I finish, panting.  By now, Becca is redder than Rush Limbaugh’s strained butthole (since he’s so full of shit). 
     The trick is to not break eye contact.
     She swallows.  “You know what your disease is, Vanessa?” She starts out raspy, but stabilizes angrily.  “You’re vain…a-and shallow. You make up these excuses as to why people won’t vote for you…” Something behind her catches my eye.  I bite my lip to keep from smiling.  “But the truth is, people just don’t like you.  I mean the things that you do–”
     “Becca!”  Chad says suddenly.  She whips around in her chair.  
     “No, you don’t understand!”  This is good.  I dare you to find a drug better than this.  
     Chad turns to me and I seize the opportunity, breathing heavily and quivering my lip.  Fake tears have been my specialty since grade school, when Connor Owens accused me of hitting his hamster with my trikey.  For the record, the real crime was jay walking.  
      Chad approaches me slowly, his eyebrows knitted into triangles.  
     “Vanessa…”  I turn and run for the door, heaving deliberate sobs and soaking the floor with ACRIRIC GERR.  The laborers rave at my dramatic display.
     “YOU NO REAVE WIT’ NO PAY! YOU NO REEEEAVE WIT’ NO PAAAAYYYYYY!”  I’ll never know what they said, but I’ll carry their support with me forever.  
     On the sidewalk outside, a few public schoolers sneer, but I don’t let that faze me.  This is no longer about me and Becca.  This is about justice for all humanity, and my duty to protect it.  
     I hear Chad’s footsteps behind me.  
     “Vanessa!” he yells, “What happened?”
     “I-I don’t know…she just snapped at me.  You left and…” I pinch that bullshit off with a convulsing sob.  
     He touches my arm.  “I’m sorry, Nessa.  She’s been taking everything so well, but I guess the stress just got to her.  She didn’t mean it.”  Didn’t mean it?  DO you see these tears?  I turn my face to make them catch the sunlight. 
     “No, Chad. Didn’t you hear anything she just said?”
     “I think I got the gist–”
     I sob louder.  “How could she be so mean?  How could anyone say things like that?
     Chad sighs.  “You want me to talk to her?” 
     I straighten up.  “You know what?” I say, fake pulling back my fake tears fake defiantly.  Chad takes his hand off my shoulder. “No.  If she wants to live the rest of her life bringing other people down, I’m not going to stop her.  We both need to move on with our lives, but at least I can do it knowing–” My voice cracks– “that my kindness and compassion will carry me forward.  I’ll be praying for her; it’s the least I can do.”  Chad is speechless.  I walk dramatically toward the range rover, where Whore-Hey has been waiting the whole time.  Hold your applause until the curtain falls, Whore-Hey.  
     Chad watched me, a whisper of awe playing on his lips.  “I guess I’ll catch a cab, then…” 
     I ride away smiling; having completed four out of the five steps (counting that last demonstration as off-Browadway), I think I’ve given Chad an afternoon better than any date he’ll go on for a while.  It might as well be official: He and I are best friends.  
***
     Mathers High does not have a cafeteria, but a highly sophisticated dining lounge.  Normally, like an Iranian bazaar without as many mice or brown people, the walls would be lined with booths from every extracurricular, just desperate for money. (Personally, I’ve always felt that society places too much emphasis on money, and that an inspirational pat on the back can be much more enriching.) Today, unfortunately for the thespians and teen missionaries, the walls have been set aside for something more important: Homecoming. 
     On the east wall, they’ve set up these huge scrolls, one for the queen and one for the king, rigged so that they straighten out when someone pulls a rope that’s attached to them.  A few dozen wannabes crowd around anxiously, shifting like their going through withdrawal.  There’s no sign of Becca, which is good; the last thing Mathers needs is her spreading her quirkiness around.  It would be like Outbreak, only with hair dye and eccentric dance moves. I think I’d rather have the cancer.  
     The senior class president is scheduled to reveal the names in ten minutes–longer than I’ve ever waited in my life.  You see, I’ve always felt that waiting is like having sex with Danny DeVito: the less you do of it, the better.  Instead I opt something more assertive.  
     I strut to the hive of wannabes and breach it.  
     “Move, bitches!” 
     Armed with Zumba biceps and my weapon of choice, a spray-gun full of hand sanitizer, I attempt to part them down the middle, like Moses with his red hair. I push one of the fat chicks to the ground and watch her roll away, taking out three hipsters and a theater kid.  Panic erupts. Suddenly this section of the lounge is Wal-Mart on Black Friday.  Someone goes for my throat, snapping like a rabid Chihuahua.  I rip that Chihuahua’s weave out and use it to block a prep whose backhand nearly clips my cheek.  A goth gets Purell’ed in the face.  Tears roll down her cheeks as she discovers what pain really is.  I dodge punches from the dykes, endure death threats from the chicas, and make it to the other side untouched.  
     The chaos behind me now, I turn to the rope.  This is it.  This is what will reveal the victor.  It’s time to take life by the balls and see what he screams at me.  I grab the thing and pull it.  The bottom of the scroll comes cascading down…
     And there it is—my name, displayed as plainly as an elderly man’s racism: YOUR HOMECOMING QUEEN.  It just goes to show that everyone—no matter if you Chanel’s fake or your lawyer’s black—everyone loves a gay best friend.  I was no match for the sympathy vote, probably some Down Syndrome girl who thought the samaritans of Mathers would finally accept her extra chromosome.  It’s funny how dreams can just die like that. 
     I turn to observe my peasants.  In the group of wannabes, the ones who are not unconscious are either crying or hugging each other sympathetically.  I sneer; the last time I hugged someone was in the womb, strangling my twin to death.  
     I step over the casualties on my way to join Chad at his table.  He’s got out the Mathers gay lunch of choice: sushi rolls and caviar.  I sit down next to him, plucking a piece of seaweed from his plate and popping it in my mouth.  His bangs dangle in front of his face in a way that I can’t see his eyes 
     “Heeeeyyyy, guess who won Homecoming queen!” I say, smiling. He turns away. I give him a little shove.  “Chad! Guess!”  
     He speaks through clenched teeth and red cheeks.  “Have you been telling everyone I have banana hammocks?”  
     Shit.  I click my tongue.  I can’t remember…Have I?  Last week I told everyone Jacob Freeman’s mom is a pornstar.  I witnessed it myself; she’s into the kinky stuff.  Before that I told everyone Mr. Wallace put meat tenderizer in his coffee, but that’s only because he gave me an A not to tell anyone he’s sleeping with the janitor.  And then there was the incident with the strippers in the teacher’s lounge…Anyway, the point is, at Mathers High, gossip only has merit for about a week, which is exactly how often I need to come up with new material.  So it’s not like I can remember what I may have said to one or two people on one of my slow weeks.  
     “Of course not, Chad…Did you hear what I said?” 
     He turns to me. “Becca told me the truth,” he says sharply, his blue eyes cutting through me. 
     “That she was using her cancer to manipulate you?” 
     He shakes his head.  “What? No, Vanessa. Listen.  She–”
     “She was only being friends with you to get more leverage over me for Homecoming!  Her whole NBC sit-com act—you’re totally playing into it! It’s sad, really. I feel bad for you.”  
     Chad softens a little, almost sorry.  Almost.  “You’re pathetic, Vanessa.  Can’t you see it?   I mean, don’t you realize the way people treat you?”  
     I swallow and scan the room, all the faces of Mathers suddenly glued to me.  
     I am the sympathy vote.   

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