Friday, December 30, 2011

A Rose for the Weiner King

     I spent the majority of my high school years, convinced that Janis Ian had written "At Seventeen" just for me. I was one of those girls who didn't really date, not because my parents didn't permit it or because I didn't want to; something was just wrong with me. I had a crush on one boy from our sophomore through senior years, but he didn't give me the time of day. I used to draw him from memory, imagining what it would be like to kiss his lips, and every time I saw him at catechism class, my heart would pound. I'd sometimes call him on the telephone, just to hear his voice. As soon as he said "Hell-ay?", and that's exactly how he said it, I'd quickly click the receiver down and hang up. This was 1979, long before the days of caller ID or call waiting, when I'd literally sit by the phone, willing him to call. It used to drive me crazy when my mom would get on the phone with her friends in the evenings because what if he was trying to call me? Thinking back, I was a total stalker, hopelessly infatuated with him. Every breath I took was for him, and he didn't even know it. He was a football player, and guys like him weren't interested in girls like me, who possessed what I classify as "awkward beauty." I had blonde hair, blue eyes, decent skin, and I wasn't too fat or too skinny. However, the shape and configuration of my nose was a great source of ongoing despair to me. My nose was bulbous, like Karl Malden's, way too shiny with pores that were too big, and every time I'd see it in the mirror, it seemed even more hideous. I actually tried camouflaging it with contour powder, brushing brown stripes down either side of my nose to make it look more narrow and petite. My attempts at makeup artistry probably made me look like a female impersonator under the classroom's fluorescent lighting, but what else was a quietly desperate, almost 17 year old girl to do? If I could only look like my girlfriends, Eileen and Leslie, then maybe he would finally notice me.
     Eileen, Leslie, and I were inseparable from about tenth grade through graduation. I think Leslie was the first one of us to get her driver's license, and she'd come and pick Eileen and me up on Friday and Saturday nights to go driving around in her little Toyota. One of her brother's friends sometimes stashed his dime-bag of pot in her glove box, but we never touched it. We'd hang out at Wendy's and get slurpees from 7-11, which were occasionally mixed with vodka from my parent's liquor cabinet, but mostly, we just drove up and down Macon Road, Airport Thruway, and the Beallwood Connector in Columbus, GA, listening to the Alan Parsons Project on 8 track. Eileen and Leslie were both natural beauties, and I'd wager that they made regular appearances in many of our male classmates' dreams. Neither wore makeup; they didn't need it because they both had flawless skin, and lovely English school-girl faces. Eileen had wavy, waist-length chestnut hair, which she'd flatten with a household iron. It would swish from side to side as she carried her books down the hall, and on pep rally days, she'd wear it up in a pony-tail. She and I first got to know each other in the ninth grade. We were in Latin class together, and although the entire class regularly cheated on our tests, she was the only one Mr. Martini ever caught. For this crime, she was punished not only by getting a zero on the exam, she also had to move her desk to sit next to him and his hemorrhoid cushion for the rest of the year. Eileen always looked put together, sensible, and her Pappagallo clothes and shoes seemed more grown up than the outfits I wore. Leslie was the tallest of us, and she was doe-eyed and willowy, with delicate features, long glossy brown hair and eyelashes, and an olive complexion. She was very quiet and shy, until she got to know you. Leslie had an absolutely wicked sense of humor, which compelled us to do evil things, like signing each other up for the Army, writing fake love letters to one another from the weirdest guy in class, and putting industrial-sized cans of green beans into a certain friend's mailbox, naively unaware that this last prank constituted a federal offense. Leslie's parents were divorced, which was still somewhat of an oddity back then. Interestingly, both she and Eileen had much older siblings, which essentially made each of them an only child. Their houses were quiet in comparison to the constant chaos which epitomized my household. In addition to me, I had a younger sister and two younger brothers living at home, and our house was the place for sleepovers, presumably because there was lots of energy and drama: one of us was always getting into trouble. For my friends, my house provided a never-ending source of entertainment.
     Neither Leslie nor Eileen dated that much, despite the fact that they easily could have had their pick of the high school boy litter, and contrary to me, this was by choice. They weren't as obsessed with having a boyfriend as I was. In our junior year, Eileen became the unwilling object of one boy's affection, and aside from his notes and phone calls requesting dates, she actually received roses from him. The three of us viewed this as a shocking aberration, a complete departure from age-appropriate social norms. Roses? What on Earth could Greg be thinking? Didn't he know that showering a girl with unabashed adoration would cause her to recoil instantly in horror and disgust? Fearing that Eileen's honor was somehow in jeopardy, Leslie and I declared war on Greg's amorous advances.
     Greg was a year older than us, and he worked as a manager at Weiner King, located at the corner of Airport Thruway and Beallwood Connector. His pride and joy was a red Camaro, which I'm now guessing he worked very hard to pay for, and it was customary for him to park it out back, behind the restaurant. Our plan was to take my mother's egg coupons to the Family Mart, purchase as many eggs as we could, and then pelt his Camaro with them as we entered from the west on Airport Thruway. That way, we could exit going north on Beallwood, and make a clean getaway. The Weiner King could only be accessed from the north side of Beallwood Connector because it was a divided highway with a concrete median, so you couldn't turn left from that side of the parking lot. In other words, if you wanted to head south on Beallwood, you had to make a U turn at the intersection.
     We picked a bright, sunny afternoon in the springtime to perpetrate our dirty deed. At the time, I was driving my mother's blue Honda Civic wagon, and through an act of providence, we were able to cram what seemed to be ten girls in there, including Eileen, Leslie, and my sister, Emi. Emi was sitting in the rear, with the hatch door wide open, her long, skinny legs and bare feet protruding from the back of the car. We procured several dozen eggs, using Mom's 20 cent-per-dozen Family Mart coupons, and headed west on Airport Thruway. I was driving, and I can't remember whether it was Eileen or Leslie in front with me, but all ten of us were armed with an impressive arsenal of extra large eggs. As I turned into the Weiner King parking lot, we readied our weapons, poised for the attack. Crouching down in the Honda to avoid recognition, we rolled up slowly to Greg's prized Camaro, and once we were close enough to grab its front bumper, we commenced our assault. Eggs began flying like missiles, cracking with a reverberating thud onto the windshield, the hood, and the roof, their custardy innards dribbling down the sides of the vehicle like long, viscous fingers, pointing out the highway to hell. Our instant gratification was short-lived, though, and since we still had some eggs, we decided to make another pass through. I headed out on Beallwood, turning east on Airport Thruway, and entered the parking lot in the same manner as before. Giddy with excitement, we crept up once again to Greg's Camaro, eggs in hand, ready to launch our ovoid projectiles, when suddenly, we were surprised by a bespectacled blonde man, running at full speed and heading straight toward us. It was Greg. Apparently, one of his Weiner King co-workers had seen us egging his car, watching as we circled back around to do it all over again, and had alerted Greg. Greg promptly went and hid in the men's bathroom behind the restaurant, so he could abort the second attack. Upon seeing him, I gunned the gas pedal, and roared out of that parking lot. We all braced ourselves as I jumped the car right over the median, heading south on Beallwood, with Greg running so close behind that he could have pulled Emi out of the wagon by her ankles. It was terrifying, and I'll never forget the look of exasperated rage on Greg's face.
     Later that evening, my parents received a phone call from Greg's mom, and Emi and I got into big trouble. One of Emi's classmates, an acquaintance who'd witnessed our folly at Weiner King, identified our blue Honda and gave Greg our phone number from the school's directory. Even though he had immediately hosed down his car in the parking lot, Greg reportedly couldn't clean some of the egg spots off, and as an act of retribution, we were supposed to go and wash his car. I don't remember washing his car, but I do remember inspecting it, and thinking that it looked pretty clean.
     Greg's crush on Eileen abruptly ended after that incident, and he stopped calling and sending roses. I don't think she ever heard from him again. Weiner King closed within a few months, later re-opening as Hartz Krispy Chicken, which was where I ended up getting a job the summer after graduation. Greg no longer worked there. At my 30th high school reunion, I learned that shortly after his managerial stint at Weiner King, Greg had become a police officer. The funny thing is, Greg and I were a lot alike. Both of us were tragically in love with someone who was completely out of our league, unattainable, someone whose affection we craved and lived our days for, vainly clinging to the hope of a single moment of reciprocity which we knew would never come. By sending roses to Eileen, Greg had unknowingly sealed his fate as a lovesick, pimple-faced Mr. Wrong, his simple, sweet gesture condemned as a personal affront by three silly girls who can now only hope he found it in his heart to forgive us.

At Seventeen Lyrics by Janis Ian
Janis Ian, Performing "At Seventeen", 1976

2 comments:

  1. Poor Greg! Victim of Cupid's recoil. Sending that rose was such a sweet gesture-I wonder if you wild Furies shattered all his romantic illusions forever.

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    1. I know...we were terrible! Such silly girls we were. I believe Greg got married shortly after he became a policeman. My girlfriend, Robin, who happened to be in the car with us on the day of the egg incident, served on the police force with him. I don't think he knew she'd served as an accessory to the crime ;-)

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