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Normal Girl


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  A blind mention on Page Six in less than a day--now, that's a party.


Just Asking: What nineteen-year-old wonder brat Jewish Nicole Kidman look-alike had a party at her socialite mother's Greenwich house? And was found freebasing in the living room far past dawn?


Maybe it says the wrong thing about me. I think I need a publicist.

What little of the house remains is destroyed. I don't know how things got so out of hand, but then again, I can't say I'm all that surprised. My mother's white carpets are obscured by gray ash from cigarettes; everything breakable from the Ming dynasty is broken. All this serves as a sure sign that the weekend is over and it's time to make another mess in some other state. I decide to pack up the hangover and go, before any of the remaining guests' tans get a chance to fade. I make a mental note to liquidate my trust fund for the purpose of paying Mom's decorator to do a fast something with the house. She has four days to do her magic before Mom comes up again. But I'm sure she can find some good fabric and carpeting to disguise the mess.

It's early evening when we get to the car and James asks and asks and asks if he can drive.

I squint; he looks like George Hamilton. "I think I remember the last time you drove. In fact I still have nightmares about it. Your driving is Fellini, baby," I say.

"Do you know what a control freak you are? Do you have any idea?"

"No and No." I smile as he fumbles with the back door for about fifteen minutes. Maybe I should mention the back door's broken? "Why don't you try the other side? That door's broken."

"Helpful."

"Always."

I drive too fast. Janice starts a fight with James. "James, do you think it was a good idea to sell off that Calder? I mean, the principessa isn't even dead yet. The tumor stil1 hasn't come back from the lab." Janice end James are the ambulance chasers of the art world.

"Are you second-guessing me?" James says.

"I'm just making sure you're sure."

"Janice, I think I know how to do this. I've been doing this since you were just a little fresh face lying naked on some billboard somewhere." James is flustered. He doesn't seem like the flustered type; maybe it's because he is always somewhat flustered.

"It's just that you don't give me any authority?" I've never heard her so tentative, every one of her words ending with a question mark.

I try to stay in the lines of the West Side Highway, no small feat at ninety miles per hour. "What are you talking about?" he asks, in his usual Spanish Inquisition style.

It's been suggested to me that driving is not a healthy way to express anger. I press my foot down on the accelerator until it touches the floor. The whole vehicle lurches forward. It's almost dark, and only one of my headlights works.

My fingernails are cut so short that when I tap them they bleed pinkish over exposed skin on the tight leather steering wheel. Everything feels like some war on CNN, re-created through a lens so coated with Vaseline that every dying soldier is obscured into a blurry bump running from one side of the TV screen to the other. Sometimes the bumps become red--they've been hit, they blow up--and sometimes the bumps are just that, not soldiers, not anything, just bumps.

"You know." Janice turns to James, giving him what I imagine to be a mind-fuck of a look. I accidentally turn down the radio, attempting to turn it up, to drown them out in a sea of top forty.

"No, what did I do this time?"

In all the years I've known Janice, I've never seen her cry, never wanted to. Now her face crumples, grows red, folds together with every gasp, every wheeze. She's not a Glit Girl when she cries, she's ugly, the way people are when they cry. "Forget it. Just forget it. Please."

"Okay. Maybe you want to save this for later. Maybe you guys want to have this conversation alone."

"Shut up." Janice hits my seat with her fist. Not hard, but hard enough to distract me from looking at all the other drivers.

"Okay," I say, screeching off the highway at the 125th Street exit. "I'm going to do a food shop."

"For what?"

"Food."

"You never buy food." Janice is outraged by the prospect.

"Yeah, you don't even eat," James says. "What are you going to do with food?"

They seem pathetic sitting there, tan, perfectly wrinkled from an unironed weekend, folded in a million places.

"I think you two can get a cab on Martin Luther King Boulevard. It's only three blocks down." Smiling, I pull into the Fairway parking lot. All the cars in it sit neatly between the green lines drawn to keep them in place. "Look, Fairway's having a special on ground chuck."

"You've really lost it," James says, trying to open the broken door.

"But I can't walk in these shoes." Janice points to the six-inch heels on her sneakers.

"I told you Manolo sneakers were, at the very least, ill conceived."

"You're fucking crazy. You're high, aren't you?"

"Not high enough to like you."

Janice stumbles out of the car and down the street with James lagging behind her. She turns around in semishock like someone who's just seen Leo kicked out of Moomba. She waits to make sure I go into Fairway, the land of bulk everything, from a thousand rolls of toilet paper to seventeen pounds of Greek olives. That's enough olives for seventy martinis. I could drink seventy martinis in a week. That's ten martinis a day: four at lunch, two at drinks, and the remaining four scattered among the swing clubs on the Lower East Side. I turn and wave at her when I reach the door. She just picks up her large black leather shopper and starts walking.

Fairway has long aisles, unflattering fluorescent lighting, and wonderful air-conditioning. I gaze at myself in the long mirror over the leafy produce and imagine myself as a vegetable. How would it be to be a vegetable? A head of lettuce is so comfortable in its fate. Or is it? Doomed to become some Glit Girl's half-eaten salad, soggy, coated in oil and herbs, then slid into the trash.

I walk down the aisles; the floor's polished linoleum reflects the yellow from my dress. The store is filled with screaming children, yuppies stocking up on Diet Coke for the hectic caffeine-charged week ahead, and a scattering of strange single types buying cans of tuna and cigarettes for nights alone in front of 20/20. Every head turns to examine me in my floor-length yellow-sequined party dress.

I walk back and forth admiring all the fruits and vegetables. Continuing on, I grab a jar of pickles, a piece of frozen whitefish, some ham flush with white veins of fat, and six pounds of olives for martinis. If nothing else, all of this will be an amusing topic of conversation later.

The cashier wears a red polyester vest. She looks over her plastic name tag at me. I press my lips together. She looks up from the package of ham, with dark brown eyes. I almost think she asks me if I'm okay. But when I look at her as if to say, "No, I'm not okay. I need..." she just tells me it'll be thirty-four ninety-five, and I'm holding up the line.


Back in the car, I cruise along the highway, thinking about death. My mother's best friend died last year, electrocuted by a high-voltage facial. I try to imagine what she looked like with her hair burnt at the roots, everything biodegraded except her silicone, which will probably outlive her great-grandchildren. Mom was devastated, but I always knew eleciticity wasn't the answer to good skin. My cell phone rings.

"You wanna go to a party?" If I had a dollar for every time...

"Hi, Brett. Aren't I on my way home from a party?" I smile, light a cigarette, and almost hit a gypsy cab.

"Great! So then it's not like you're going to a new party at all, more like you're just stopping somewhere on your way home."

"Brett, your logic astounds me. You should be a doctor."

"That's just what my mother says."

"Go figure."

"You have your car. Pick me up."

"Unlikely."

"Why not?"

"I have issues with parallel parking."

"Come on. Meet me outside Gitane."

"Fine, Brett, fine. But if we die in a car crash, it's not my fault."

"Is it ever your fault?"

It's one of those nights, Indian summer in SoHo when it's too hot to walk and you can't remember ever having a goal in your life. Brett is waiting out front. He doesn't see me. I honk the horn. He waves at me, but I keep honking because I want to. He smiles and starts walking toward the car.

A woman walks by. She seems to have been pulled directly out of central casting for her ability to look thin in gingham. She smiles. Brett grins back at her. I lean down on the horn.

"Brett!" I scream.

"What, Miranda? I heard you the first time with the horn. Give it a rest." He opens the passenger door and climbs in.

"So, gorgeous. How are you doing?"

"Good."

Brett leans over to hug me. He smells of cherry-flavored ChapStick, other people's cigarettes, and Secret deodorant. I kiss him on the lips and linger there for a minute; maybe that will erase his memory of smiley Miss Gingham. "I brought you some food." He places a white paper bag on my lap.

"Why?" The car behind me starts to honk. I think of the whitefish probably already rotting in the trunk.

"By my calculations you haven't eaten in two days." I open the bag. It's filled with bready things: a whole-wheat roll slathered in butter, a shiny sticky bun, a brown bagel.

"What do you want me to do with this stuff?" The cars behind me continue to honk. I step on the gas.

"Why don't you eat it? Come on, Randa, this is hardly rocket science."

"Fine." I pull out the bagel and take a bite. It's dry, and it chokes me. I try to cough.

"I guess it's been a while since I've eaten." Is it possible I've forgotten how?

There is this feeling trapped in the humid air, this feeling of guiltless laziness. This feeling that even if I wanted to work, my work would be fruitless. Maybe it's the lingering heat that has killed my ambition.

"You're crazy." Brett plays with the leftover carbs. He takes a bite of the sticky bun. Brett doesn't know crazy.

"Do you think I'm a good person?"

"What?" He doesn't look up at me. He's busy pulling nuts off the bun.

"Do you think I'm a decent human being?

"When has that ever been your goal, Miranda?" he asks between chews.

 
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Excerpted from Normal Girl by Molly Jong-Fast. Copyright © 2000 by Molly Jong-Fast. Excerpted by permission of Villard Books, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.