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A Visit From the Goon Squad

“Ask Me if I Care” =
Fort Greene/March 2008

Original Title: “Class of ’79”

Where: The soft, ink-stained red-and-yellow checked upholstered chair my husband and I bought at IKEA soon after we got married, in 1994, for me to write in. And sleep in — I nap a lot while writing. In fact, all those years of napping have so compressed the chair’s left armrest that I can feel the wood inside it pressing uncomfortably on my left ear. The sensation doesn’t stop me from continuing to nap with my head in that spot, but I’m hopeful that it’s reducing the length of my naps.

Music: “Sister Little,” by the Sleepers, which I found on U-Tube. It’s a lovely song, and reminded me that Ricky Sleeper (who died of an overdose many years ago) was weirdly dazzling onstage.

History: I went to the Mabuhay Gardens a lot with my high school friends, and even alone, but much as I longed to merge with the scene around me, I was never more than a watchful, anxious, invisible presence. In retrospect, this seems a lucky thing; in the apartment of a pair of punk rock sisters a friend of mine was living with, “getting high” did not mean smoking a joint, as it generally did in San Francisco in the late seventies, or even taking mushrooms, or dropping acid, but shooting heroin with a communal needle. There was one woman who didn’t have the money to buy a fix, so she was left to use the drug-soaked piece of cotton left over when the others were done. In her excitement to finally receive it, she dropped the cotton onto the nubby white wall-to-wall carpet. I remember her clawing and pawing at that carpet, bringing up lumps of synthetic lint and examining each one in hopes that it was the missing cotton. I helped her look. I can’t remember if she ever found it.


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 tops the hills. Still, if it’s Bennie and me I hope for the back, so I can push against his shoulder in the cold, and hold him for a second when we hit a bump.

The first time we went to Sea Cliff, where Alice lives, she pointed up a hill at fog sneaking through the Eucalyptus trees and 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 a 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 close to me, 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.