May 1999
s m u g
by Todd Levin


Naughty Girls Need Love, Too

"I'm young, I know, but even so I learned a thing or two from you. I really learned a lot, really learned a lot. Love is like a flame -- it burns you when it's hot." --Nazareth, "Love Hurts"

There were few things I couldn't have while I was in high school. I had a parking space in the student lot, decent skin, and an ass that could make the sternest in-school suspension monitor weep like a Theta Sigma sister at an organized screening of "Howard's End". My name was at the top of every student poll, easily nosing out victories in the categories of Most Unthreatening (Male) and Best Excuse for Poor Sexual Performance at a School-Sponsored Social Function. (That was the Latin Club Christmas party, I believe, and I still stick to my original argument -- it is possible to get drunk on rum balls.) I could not hustle from the Reference Center to my after-school Advanced Placement Calculus class without being accosted by the yearbook photographer (and my former Dungeon Master). The truth was practically written on the walls: adolescent boys wanted to be me and adolescent girls wanted to be Frenched by me.

With all the trappings of cool -- not to mention my three-time post as Secretary-at-Arms for S.V.S.F.I.S.C. (Student Volunteers Spoon-Feeding Infirmed Senior Citizens) -- I had the game cornered. But you'd never know it to look at me. That's because there was one thing I could never have. I was often seen peering distractedly out the window during Junior Historical Re-Enactment Society meetings, down three flights and through a bilious cloud of Marlboro Red smoke. Down, down, down to the head-butting throngs of disaffected teenagers sparking up between classes, air guitaring (and air drumming! But, sadly, no air bass.), flipping the bird, and tearing up the high school courtyard with a mean streak of unrelated expletives. This is where the teen mechanics, first-time felons, near-dropouts, and deadbeat dads-to-be ruled. This was their slice of heaven on earth. And alongside the men and their mustaches were the women who let them grab their asses in public, lift their shirts up over their heads at Whitesnake concerts, and impregnate them before they reached voting age. These were Bad Girls. All I ever wanted was a Bad Girl to kiss.

Gratefully, I shared a couple of classes with Bad Girls. Girls named Cathy and Christy and Brittany and Kathy. I was in accelerated science classes and shared lab with a few older Bad Girls. Bad Girls, surprisingly, don't categorically go for guys in accelerated science classes. In fact, they are more likely to fall for guys with accelerated body hair growth or accelerated cocaine habits. But I didn't care. I loved the way they talked -- mooning over their boys one minute, cursing the whores that tried to steal their boys away the next. I loved the way they dressed -- labia-clutching blue jeans, high-top basketball sneakers (interchangeable with suede elf boots festooned with a bandana), zip-front hoodie sweatshirts, and "little miss lady" skinny-strap shoulder bags containing reserve Aqua Net, a vent brush, birth control pills, and a picture of themselves as young girls on daddy's shoulders.

But most of all, I really appreciated how strongly these girls felt. Naturally, I also appreciated the fact that these girls let boys (and full-grown mall security guards and sporting goods salesmen) explore parts of their bodies most of my girlfriends were aware of only in the clinical sense. But it was the completely bare emotion waiting just below the warm leatherette surface that always struck me. I distinctly remember the day Tammy -- possibly the baddest girl in her class (she even had a chipped tooth) -- came into Biology lab class barely fighting back tears over something about which I had no place inquiring. This was the same girl I saw punch a featherweight Feather Queen (I think every high school in America had a different name to describe the subculture of women that parked it in the school courtyard with their flipped feathered hair, kicking a pocket in the ozone with their hairspray) so hard she knocked her out of her post-Labor Day white pumps. Kim Kessler was tough with fashion etiquette but collapsed beneath the weight of romantic anxiety. I wanted to marry her and I might have proposed that very day if I didn't think she'd shiv me for suspected smart-assery.

Bad Girls were the ones having babies, doomed to spend their Junior years of high school in special physical education classes, bowling alongside the juvenile arthritics. Bad Girls were the ones throwing down violently for boyfriend custody, no matter the circumstances. Bad Girls let their mascara run through teardrops and still showed up for remedial English. Bad Girls made Extreme's "More Than Words" MTV's most requested video for 74 weeks in a row. And Bad Girls mostly grew up to be jaded single-mothers/hairdressers with restraining orders against their last five boyfriends. But their feelings were so completely pure, uncompromised; like the Heart sisters, bad girls knew hurt the way I knew the Kreb's Cycle. The girls I dated wrote really coherent love notes and smelled like vanilla, but I know they wouldn't get a broken nose over me.

I used to cruise through my high school's courtyard to steal a peek at the tough kids. The kids who loved Budweiser before they had their first swallow, and the kids who would menace my friends with their muscle cars. But mostly, I wanted to catch the blue-shadowed eye of one of those Bad Girls and maybe win her favor. These wonderful girls, headphones pumping them the rough-road romantic gospel of Slaughter and Poison, pants applied like lip-gloss. And skinny me, headphones touching me in a safe place with the Caucasian jangle of Men at Work's Cargo, pants cuffed, tapered and stuffed so far up my ass that my breath tasted stone-washed. I could never have the Bad Girls. I could have the Glee Club Girls or the National Honor Society Girls, but I was invisible to the Bad Girls -- the same way the Internet and Rice Dream products are invisible to Bad Girls. Ultimately, I stayed where I was supposed to be, in my proper circles, rallying students for the charity car wash baking Lesbian Tortes for the F.L.A.G. bake sale. But, smiling through my own sickening decency, I knew how good I could have been for someone really, really Bad.




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