Ask Me If I Care
Late at night, when there’s nowhere left to go, we go to Alice’s house. Scotty drives his pickup, two of us squeezed in front with him blasting bootleg tapes of the Stranglers, the Nuns, Negative Trend, the other two stuck in back where you freeze all year long, getting tossed in the actual air when Scotty crests the hills. Still, I hope for the back if it’s Bennie and me, so I can push against his shoulder in the cold and, when we hit a bump, hold him for a second.
The first time we went to Sea Cliff, where Alice lives, she pointed up a hill at fog sneaking around the eucalyptus trees. She said her old school was up there: an all- girls school where her little sisters go now. K through six you wear a green plaid jumper and brown shoes, after that a blue skirt and white sailor top, and you can pick your own shoes. Scotty goes, Can we see them? and Alice goes, My uniforms? but Scotty goes, No, your alleged sisters.
She leads the way upstairs, Scotty and Bennie right behind her. They’re both fascinated by Alice, but it’s Bennie who entirely loves her. And Alice loves Scotty, of course.
Bennie’s shoes are off, and I watch his brown heels sink into the white cotton-candy carpet, so thick it muffles every trace of us. Jocelyn and I come last. She leans to my ear, and inside her whisper I smell cherry gum covering up the five hundred cigarettes we’ve smoked. I can’t smell the gin we drank at the beginning of the night, pouring it into Coke cans from my dad’s hidden supply so we can drink it on the street.
Jocelyn goes, Watch, Rhea. They’ll be blond, her sisters.
I go, According to?
Rich children are always blond, Jocelyn goes. It has to do with vitamins.
Believe me, I don’t mistake that for information. I know everyone Jocelyn knows. The room is dark except for one pink night- light. I stop in the doorway and Bennie hangs back too, but the other three go crowding into the space between the beds. Alice’s little sisters are on their sides, covers tucked around their shoulders. One looks like Alice, with pale wavy hair, the other is dark, like Jocelyn. I’m nervous they’ll wake up and be scared of us in our dog collars and safety pins and shredded T- shirts. I think: We shouldn’t be here, Scotty shouldn’t have asked to come in, Alice shouldn’t have said yes, except she says yes to everything Scotty asks. I think: I want to lie down in one of those beds and go to sleep.
Ahem, I whisper to Jocelyn as we’re leaving the room. Dark hair.
She whispers back, Black sheep.
Nineteen eighty is almost here, thank God. The hippies are getting old,they blew their brains on acid and now they’re begging on street corners all over San Francisco. Their eyes are sunburned and their hair is tangled and their bare feet are thick and gray as shoes. We’re sick of them.
At school, we spend every free minute in the Pit. It’s not a pit in the strictly speaking sense; it’s a strip of pavement above the playing fields behind our high school. We inherited it from last year’s Pitters who graduated, but still we get nervous walking in if other Pitters are already there: Tatum, who wears a different color Danskin every day, or Wayne, who grows sinsemilla in his actual closet, or Boomer, who’s always hugging everyone since his family did EST We’re nervous walking in except if one of them is Jocelyn, or (for her) me. We stand in for each other.
On warm days, Scotty plays his guitar in the Pit. Not the electric he uses for Flaming Dildo gigs, but a lap steel guitar that you hold a different way. I’m serious that Scotty built this instrument: bent the wood, glued it, painted on the shellac. Everyone gathers around, there’s no way not to when Scotty plays. One time an entire soccer team climbed up from the athletic field to listen, looking around in their jerseys and long red socks like they didn’t know how they got there. Scotty is magnetic. And I say this as someone who does not love him.