|Trendy Trophy Girls -- the real Brooke on the right|
photo by Carrie Scott
Our good friend Brooke, prances through the school
looking really keen; she thinks she’s really cool
We tend to disagree…
---from the song “Beer Shampoo” by Bitch Fight
In around fourth grade, there was a girl who came to Summerville Elementary school who got a lot of attention. Her name was a Brooke, a pretty unusual name at the time. We heard of Brooke Shields yet. In Tuolumne, the name still meant something from nature, a small stream, something that even ran in some of our backyards but not a name for a girl.
Summerville’s Brooke was an adorable girl with sandy blonde hair that sometimes curled into perfect little ringlets. I hated her right away. Her clothes were always crisp, her tights never snagged, and her Mary Janes never had scuffs on them. She also thought she was really great because she had reportedly appeared in an episode of Little House on the Prairie, which was occasionally filmed nearby on Baker Ranch. She talked about it all the time -- like she was already a big shot actress.
“I was in Little House on the Prairie. I had a small part, but I’m probably going to be in more episodes. That’s what their called, episodes.”
I imagined her riding through town in the eight-door, black station wagon used by Michael Landon and company. I had seen it drive through, and I had even seen Michael Landon and his big hair inside.
“There was a set built on Baker’s Ranch. One side of the building didn’t have any walls. That’s how they do the filming.”
The Little House on the Prairie book series was only my favorite book series of all time. I read all of the one-hundred and fifty plus page to three-hundred plus page books in one-day sittings on our saggy green couch in front of the wood stove on rainy days in the winter. Little Laura and Mary had a wood stove too. They played with a pig’s bladder filled with air, played with it like a balloon after Pa slaughtered their pig. They also ran around in the snow in dresses and bloomers, and they were afraid of Indians. I had seen The Little House on the Prairie show at a friend’s house a couple of times, but we didn’t have a TV, so it was easy to pretend that I didn’t care about the show or that Brooke appeared in it, or that she was a star.
A lot of other girls did care, however, and they orbited around Brooke like planets. I watched from afar. It was annoying how difficult it was to ignore her, to not admire all her new clothes, or not notice the cute freckles on her nose.
When I wasn’t alone on the playground, captivated by Brooke, the embodiment of everything I didn’t have, I was playing with Noel Lark, Jill Crocker, and Emma Tilson. Amelie lopez and I had not yet become good friends, so I made do with some girls in my class who made me feel less bad about myself than Brooke. Noel and I were in band together with her dad Mr. Lark, both on our way to becoming band geeks. Jill was a pretty blonde girl who played clarinet and who lived in ponderosa hills, Tuolumne’s more upscale neighborhood, which boasted a community pool, but was in Tuolumne, nevertheless. Jill's parents were nice working class professionals, her mom an overweight nurse, who had passed the chubby gene down to Jill, who still had a bit of baby fat, which actually made her cuter. Emma Tillson was the awkward looking one of the bunch with what some would describe as a horse face. Her mom, sometimes, ran in the same circles as my mom, which meant they were hippie types, dabbling in unsavory extracurricular pot smoking and the occasional psychedelic drug – a secret which both Emma and I guarded with our lives, for our reputations depended on it though my mom’s reputation around town for being wild and loud escaped just about no one. My role in our clique added an edginess and mystique not possible for a group of girls, which included the daughters of the school’s vice principal and a nurse. Although we never said it aloud, we fancied ourselves a bit different from the other girls, and we regarded prissy girls like Brooke, and girls who were younger, and therefore not as cool, as pointless and trivial.
One thing that we thought made us different from the others was our preoccupation with Charlie’s Angels. We ran around the playground, pretending to be the Angels, saving each other from dangerous men, aka gross boys on the playground, wielding our forefingers and thumbs like guns and posing provocatively with our legs spread, and in our imaginations, our long hair blowing back behind us. The giant tractor tires climbing structure and tunnel served as our private investigator’s office where we spoke to Charlie by phone. While playing Charlie’s Angels, however, Noel, Jill, Emma, and I probably spent less time running around the playground and more time arguing about who was going to play the part of which angel. Since there were four of us, instead of three, our version of Charlie’s Angels included Jill Munroe, Farrah Fawcett’s character, and Shelley Hack’s character, Tiffany Welles, who replaced Sabrina Duncan in season four of the show. Noel and Jill played the blondes; Noel, being the dominant girl in the group always got to be Farrah Fawcett’s character, Jill Munroe, and our Jill who was too sweet to argue, but blonde, always played Shelley Hack’s character, Tiffany Welles. Emma and I were left to fight over which brunette to play. I always wanted to be Jaclyn Smith’s character and usually got my way because I was better at arguing my case, or maybe just louder. I secretly thought Jaclyn Smith was the prettiest woman on the show, in spite of not being blonde. Emma wanted to be Jaclyn Smith’s character too, and whenever she got to the tires before me I’d be stuck playing Sabrina Duncan, the pointy-faced, short, dark-haired, angel played by Kate Jackson.
“Anyway,” Emma would point out, “My hair looks more like Jaclyn Smith’s than your hair does,”
If by ‘looks like’ she meant frizzy and way lighter in color and not feathered and not shiny, dark, and brown, ok.
And you and Kate Jackson have the same birthday,” she'd continue. “Why wouldn't you play the one with the same birthday as you,” she's say smiling wide all satisfied with herself for making such a convincing argument, and Noel and Jill would nod in agreement.
I couldn't help but thinking that Emma looked even more like a horse when she smiled that way.
After seeing the show a few times at a friend's house, I realized that Sabrina Duncan was smart and took charge, so it wasn’t so bad playing her after all. It’s just that at nine years old we all wanted to play the prettiest characters, not necessarily the smartest. So sometimes after all our wrangling, just when we had each of our parts and our scenario worked out, the bell would ring, leaving us stuck to play which ever part we had worked out at the next recess.
When we weren’t playing Charlie’s Angels, Noel, Jill, Emma and I would hang out around the spinning bars where Brooke spent most of her time. Each of us tried pretending that Brooke didn't exist. It felt good having a bit of power, the power to ignore someone, to make her feel small because we were tired of her acting like she was so hot, like she was already famous or something. Besides looking cute and acting, Brooke had the ability to spin several revolutions in a row on the low spinning bars. Noel, Jill, and Emma did a lot of spinning too. I couldn't do it at all. While I watched on, each would hook one knee around the low bar and get going as fast she could, turning as many revolutions as possible. On a good day, Jill and Emma could do three or four revolutions. Noel, who was great at just about everything she did, was a very good spinner -- she could do about four or five revolutions in a row, her hair flying. Brooke, however, could do even more, though I wasn’t counting. And it seemed like whenever she saw us at the bars, she’d float on over with her planets all around her and wait her turn for a spot on one of the two bars. Even though there were four places for kids to spin, and I didn’t usually take up one of those spaces. When I’d see her coming, I’d lean against the bar and make her wait. Occasionally, she’d float over unnoticed and would find a spot on the bar, and in a dress with shorts underneath for modesty sake, hook her leg over, and start spinning, the skin of her hands on the bar making little squeaks, her hair a sandy blond blur. It was hard for Noel, Jill, Emma, and I not to stop and watch. Eventually, we wised up and simply left the bars once we saw her coming, or we’d make her wait for her turn, then leave just as she was about to get on.
Brooke didn’t last long in Tuolumne, she moved, winding up in Sonora, which boasted its own police department, courthouse, jail, newspaper, and more grocery stores than bars. Sonora being Tuolumne County's capstone city, like Brooke, was a much more sophisticated place than Tuolumne and a much easier to stay clean. I wasn’t surprised to find out that Brooke and her family had moved to Sonora. What did surprise me was how Brooke returned to my life later, still wanting my approval and the approval of my group of friends.
At sixteen, Amelie, Sammie, who was a year older, and I were running around in our punk rock contingent that had grown to a sizable number of about eight solid with a few peripheries, and four of us had formed an all-girl punk band. I played drums, Amelie played guitar, Sammie sang, and with each new song we wrote, we’d teach Chris canella, Sammie’s friend from Sonora high, the bass lines. While I was still friendly with Noel, Jill, and Emma, I had left our Charlie’s angels days far behind, and I had become a minority among minorities – a Mexican-American, punk rock girl, though I had cool punk rock friends and a band.
One clove-smoking weekend at Sammie’s in Columbia, where she lived with her mom and super skinny younger brother, before we stopped going to high school dances, and before our band started playing parties, Sammie was complaining about some snooty girls at Sonora High – she called them the “beige girls” because they all only wore khaki and white – crisp white tops, khaki jumpers and white Topsiders, or crisp white tops and khaki pencil skirts with Keds. We were sitting on a step outside just off her bedroom, which for some reason had a door, it's own entrance, when I realized who she was talking about.
“One is named, Brooke!” Sammie said, taking a drag from her clove cigarette. “Can you believe that name, Brooke?” Sammie said, exhaling hard and squinting to keep the smoke from going in her eyes.
“Brook!” I said, nearly choking and not from the smoke. “Brooke Banyon? Are you kidding me?”
“Yeah, do you know her,” Sammie asked.
“Yeah, I know her alright. She went to Summerville. After you moved to Columbia.”
“What was she like?”
“Totally stuck up.” I jabbed my clove into the cement step to put it out because I was feeling light-headed already. “She strutted around the school with her nose in the air thinking she was hot shit because she was in one episode of Little House on the Prairie.”
Apparently, things hadn’t changed all that much – I was just glad it was Sammie who had to now put up with her and not me. My dirt on Brooke fueled Sammie’s ire, but I chocked it up to the fact that Sammie was easily much angrier than I could ever be, though Brooke moving in on my love interest, Toby Denton, fellow marching band geek and a drummer too, gave me a whole new reason to be pissed off at the world and every single privileged blonde in it.
Because there was absolutely nothing punk rock about Tuolumne, no good places to skateboard, no one to see our spray painted graffiti, no cops to hate, and no place to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries, Amelie and I often hung out in Sonora with the other punks. We’d meet Sammie, Cindy, her boyfriend Chris, her brother Toby, and Sam, the Billy Idol look alike who Sammie was still all crushed out on, and a nutty wannabe bi-sexual girl named Lucky who smoked way too much pot, at the Europa. My mom called it the Throw-upa. The Europa was a greasy spoon diner that also served a few Greek dishes and had really good Baklava. Toby and I got to know each other at the Europa, talking all about band and John Phillip Souza marches while sitting side-by-side in a cramped booth at the Europa, our thighs all mashed together, making it difficult for us to look at one another, except through lowered lashes. Before long, everyone could tell we were into each other, and thinking it was so cute, Sammie and Cindy, always made us sit together in the backseat of Amelie’s mom’s Fiat.
I was eager to work up the courage to make a move on Toby because I knew he wasn’t going to make the first move on me being younger and as shy as he was, smiling wide and exposing his braces only when caught off guard and couldn’t help himself, and being invited to a Sonora High dance would give me the chance.
Sammie and Cindy got their male friends who didn't have dates anyway to get us passes and Sammie took Amelie as her date, and Cindy took me as hers.
Arriving a little late, having taken extra care to dress for the occasion, ratting my hair extra high, and applying my black eyeliner extra carefully, I didn’t wear my regular black but instead a frilly white top with layers of vertical ruffles, red leggings, and black granny shoes. I was horrified when I walked into the Sonora High hum and spotted Toby surrounded by the beige girls and talking to Brooke, or her talking to him.
While the punk rock girls never dated trendy guys, only other punk guys, stoners, or working class dudes, the punk rock guys lusted over the most popular trendy girls in school and visa versa. Toby, I thought was an exception to this rule, and mostly he was, but I could tell he had a weakness for any kind of female attention.
Not knowing what else to do, I marched right up to where Toby stood surrounded by Brooke and the beige girls, with Sammie, Amelie, and Cindy behind me, cut my way through Toby’s adoring crowd, and said, “Hi, Toby.” He looked from me to Brooke, and back, his eyes making their way down to my red leggings and back up. I smiled, and Sammie, never known for her patience, cut in from behind me, and grabbed Toby by the hand and dragged him to the dance floor, where we descended on him like magpies. Chris and Aaron joined us and we danced together for a couple of fast songs, making lewd hand gestures and faces at anyone who stopped to stare. When a drippy 80’s slow song came on, changing the mood entirely, Sammie pushed me toward Toby and left the dance floor with Amelie, leaving Cindy and Chris to slow dance, and Toby and I in an awkward but not terrible position. Knowing this was my chance to make it clear to Brooke and to Toby that he was mine, I moved even closer, looking up and into his face smiling, and when he smiled back, a shiny braces smile, I leaned into him and put my arms around his neck. Trembling a bit, he drew his arms up slowly and put them around my waist, letting one droop down and rest on the rump of my tight, red, dollar-store leggings. About halfway through the song, with Toby’s breath hot in my ear, I spotted Brooke with her beige girls standing at the periphery scanning the dance floor. When she saw me in Toby’s arms, dancing with his hand resting on my rear, I narrowed my eyes and smiled, then nuzzled my nose into his neck, breathing in the smell of his Polo cologne.
Maybe it was because she was still after Toby, or maybe because she still wanted our approval, or a combination of both, Brooke showed up to a party at Sammie’s house, thrown one night a couple of months later when her mom and little brother were out of town. It wasn’t a big party, but our cool friends from Sonora High were all there, and a few others who had heard about it through the grapevine, and who could navigate the bumpy, deeply rutted quarter-mile long dirt road out to the property where Sammie’s small house and another sat amongst a grove of oak trees. Brooke knew we hated her, that she was our nemesis, and that she represented everything we thought was wrong with the world, but she had a friend of hers, one our peripheries, drive her to the party anyway. Having this connection to one of our peripheries was in our eyes a sense of entitlement over our shabby part of town – her pass into our world, and we were pissed off about it. Sammie and I were especially pissed. Sammie couldn’t believe that Brooke, who at school with her friends, looked at Sammie like she was a piece of dirt would think it’s cool to show up her house. I just knew that Brooke was there to move in on my man. After having tortured me with her beauty and privilege in elementary school, she had returned and posed a threat to my love life, holding up what represented a perfect standard of female beauty up to me like a mirror, in which I saw (and had created) a carnival mirror version of myself reflected back at me.
Sammie and I both knew that Brooke had to go, and I had the perfect way to get rid of her. Because she was a two-faced, approval-seeking, boyfriend-stealing, trendy, and because I was a jealous, insecure, angry, self-hating, punk rock Chicana, I was just the person for the job. I called Sammie to the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the fridge went to the front room, Sammie following behind me. Cracking open the beer on the way, I sidled up along side Brooke and Melissa where they sat on Sammie’s mom’s thrift-store couch. She looked out of place in crisp white and beige amongst the pegged jeans, band t-shirts, black eyeliner, and converse. Standing now between the wall and the arm of the couch, I played nice.
“Hey Brooke, how did you find out about the party?” I asked, taking a sip of the beer.
When she looked up to answer, I began dumping the nearly full can of Old Milwaukee onto her head. Squealing, she sat stuck to the couch in shock, allowing me enough time to drain the entire can of beer all over her sandy blonde hair and to drop the can, which bounced off her head and landed somewhere on the floor. Sammie who had posted herself nearby for the show, was howling with laughter along with the rest of the witnesses. When Brooke finally jumped to her feet, she was crying and wiping beer from her face and hair, and in a deliciously satisfying fit of gulps and sobs, she managed to speak. She said that she couldn’t believe how she had been treated after she had come to the party hoping to make friends with us, hoping to bury the hatchet, and after making some kind of lame threat, she stormed out, her ride Melissa, following along behind her.
For months afterward, some huge girl, a friend of Brooke’s, got in my face and threatened to kick my ass any chance she got. However, the memory of the night I humiliated a trendy, the night I humiliated Brooke Banyon, the laughs we got from those who witnessed the beer shampooing, which inspired the song we wrote and performed at parties, which elicited wild chanting during the chorus, had made it all worth it, even if it wasn’t a nice thing to do.