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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bus Stop: 1976

It’s really cold today. You know it’s cold when Tammy’s hair freezes.

Tammy, the prettiest girl in the trailer park, is in the habit of washing her hair every morning before school, the better to emphasize the gleaming blue-black drape that hangs well below her waist. Because she is too cool to wear a hat, her hair has frozen solid in the six-block walk to the bus stop.

Next to Tammy is Rita Bayer. There is a wary, uneasy space between the two of them.

I know four of the Bayer kids. Their trailer is never empty of teenagers. Their driveway never has less than three cars in it - four if you include the Mustang on blocks back next to the shed.

All the Bayers are boys. Even the girls are boys. They are sturdy and box-shaped.

The Bayers aren’t built for speed; they are built to crush.

I had met Rita three months earlier at the bus stop on our first day in the new court.

“Hi,” I said.

“What’s your name?” she countered.

“Pearl,” I said. “What’s yours?”

“Guess.”

“What?” I said.

“Guess.” A demand.

“Um. Sharon,” I said.

“Pssssss, “ she said, hissing between her teeth. Clearly, she was dealing with an idiot.

“Mary?”

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” she jeered. “Guess again.”

Guess again? No, thank you. “Um. I give up,” I said.

“Rita!” she shouted, triumphantly.

Rita? I was supposed to have guessed “Rita”? Yikes! Welcome to the first day of seventh grade.

Rita and I never became friends. Rita said things like “yank me” and, even worse, the horrifying “lick my butt”. I never knew where to look when she said that.

Tammy scowls at her in the thin pre-dawn light. The two of them are oil and water; and if Tammy had a brother, I’m sure she would’ve had him attempt to beat Rita up by now.

“Your hair is frozen,” Rita observes.

“No shit, Sherlock,” Tammy says.

“Howdja like me to break it off at the roots?” Rita asks, pleasantly. She could just as easily be asking “howdja like a three-day weekend” or “howdja like half a pizza”.

Tammy steps behind me, uses me as a shield. “Go ahead,” she says, holding my shoulders. “Try it, Lard-O.”

Lard-O is a misnomer. Rita isn’t fat. As solid as a tree trunk, and moving just slightly faster than one, she grabs the front of my coat with one hand and takes a swing for Tammy’s head with the other. She misses Tammy’s head but manages to grab her coat.

“Hey!” I shout, angrily.

“Stand still,” Rita advises.

“LINDSEY!” Tammy is screaming for her older sister. Lindsey, however, is a good block away. She sees what is going on and continues her slow walk to the bus stop.

Rita lets go of me and I duck away. Holding Tammy’s coat at the throat with her right hand, she casually licks her left thumb and smears it across Tammy’s forehead, then shoves her, hard, backwards.

Tammy falls heavily to the street. She jumps up, twisting to see the butt of her white painter’s pants. They are ruined.

“I’m gonna get you! I’m gonna get you!” she screams.

Tammy runs home, crying.

Rita looks at me. “Washing your hair in the morning is stupid,” she challenges.

“You’re right about that,” I say.

41 comments:

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I remember my hair freezing on my walk to the bus... And feeling lonely and wishing I lived in the neighborhood when all the kids picked up the bus together. Now I'm thinking solitude may have been safer.

Pearl said...

Kate, the bus stop is a microcosm of society.
:-)

Susan in the Boonies said...

Tough crowd!!!!!
And I mean that in the most respectful of ways.
Because, actually, they scare me!

Kara said...

White painter pants! I'd forgotten about white painter pants! And frozen hair and 'lick my butt'. Where we in the same grade together?

Simply Suthern said...

We lived on a dirt road growing up. Down the road near the creek was a trailer park. They grew them tough and mean. Something about aluminum sides and tandem axles didnt settle well with those kids. They had an ongoing war with my sis(also kinda mean). The bus stop was a time of poked out tongues and extended middle fingers.

Pearl said...

Susan, it certainly was a different kind of neighborhood. I'd write about the guy that ate worms, but he always kinda made me sad...

Kara, I loved painter pants. They fit great and had plenty of pockets! :-) And if you lived in MN in the 70s it's possible I lived in your town for a while. :-)

Pearl said...

Simply, that made me smile. I was ALWAYS in the crick, mostly cleaning it up and looking for crayfish...

Sue said...

Oh, this took me back. Most of the bus fights that I witnessed were ON the actual bus. My seat was always awkwardly located smack dab in the middle of the fight. Our bus driver was oblivious.

Yeah...those were the (terrifying) days.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Frozen hair. I knew her.

Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

Ugh.. school bus stops. In high school it wasn't bad (when my friend was there to talk to) but the days she wasn't.. awkward, not knowing where to look. I would have loved having an ipod back then.

Pearl said...

Sue, surprisingly, I don't recall any fights, although I do remember a guy who lit up a cigarette in the back...

Green Girl, I've no doubt!!

Yandie, I moved a lot and got accustomed to not needing to talk to people. I was more of an observer and was really only picked on in one school. Very glad we didn't stay there as I can't imagine what I would've turned out to be in that place...

The Jules said...

I'd be quite tempted to snap off frozen hair at the roots as well, to see if it could be done.

Because she's worth it.

Elizabeth said...

At our bus stop it was just me and my brother, half heartedly bashing each other with our lunch boxes at the end of a long dirt driveway along a lonely gravel road. But the bus. The hour long bus ride into town. Goodness, an entire culture developed there that anthropologists could study for ages.

Jeannie said...

No one was happier than me when they invented the blow dryer but man - they were pretty crappy.

Oilfield Trash said...

Makes me kind of glad I never had to wait for a bus.

Ren- Lady Of The Arts said...

great story- never in my life heard of a thumb lick assault.

Eva Gallant said...

You paint such a vivid picture! I can see that frozen hair and picture Rita trying to get you to guess her name.

haphazardlife said...

Washing your hair in the morning is stupid when you have a Rita in your life.

- Jazz

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Well thank you for allowing me to now incorporate "Yank me" into my daily schedule when slightly more fruity words would be inappropriate. :)

Also, I bet Rita's now in a women's prison (warden OR prisoner).

laughingmom said...

Ahhh...1976...I was in 7th grade too - Bicentennial year all year in school. I didn't have a bus ride - but remember the trend for white painter pants very well - I never had them but did love some OshKosh overalls.

Caleb said...

Yeah, redneck breeds all sorts of crazy kids.

One skeevy dude in 5th grade, who saw that I had a zit, offered me his "zit popper."

And yes, you're correct, it was a set of rusty tweezers with crusted blood.

At least he had a generous spirit.

Caleb

jLow said...

. . . dammit! I just snorted a forkful of linguini . . . should've read BEFORE eating . . . not whilst . . . ;o)

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I knew a few kids who might throw a punch, but the thumb lick was a much more powerful statement. Scary.

HumorSmith said...

Bus Stop-1966: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It75wQ0JypA

I bet those Bayer kids were real pills.

jenny_o said...

This reminds me of some of the roughneck girls in our high school. Pretty hard for them to learn anything else coming from the homes they had. But still, they struck fear in my heart. They used to use the main bathroom as their noontime hangout, so I found a small bathroom on a different floor to pursue my ablutions.

jenny_o said...

Oh, and I notice it took you 35 years to get up the courage to write about Rita; that's the kind of fear we're talking about here :)

Sarah Has Moxie said...

"I never knew where to look when she said that" was my absolute favorite line in this post---I can just see you saying it, eyes flashing, head nodding. :) I miss you Pearl!!

ThreeOldKeys said...

I was alone in the dark at the end of my Michigan driveway, when my hair froze. More like 9th grade. Some days I'd have frozen hair, frozen nostrils, and drenched armpits by the time the bus came.

The routine: Wash your hair the night before, and roll it on eleven lemonade cans. Sleep on them. If it's not dry in the morning, at least it's straight.

Jinksy said...

I wonder if 'painter pants' are what I'd call dungarees? I had a pair in the sixties! LOL :) Love the tale of schoolgirl life...

Happy Frog and I said...

What an incredible story, I felt quite scared just reading it which is pretty impressive in itself!

alwaysinthebackrow said...

I was a girl with string-straight frozen hair at the bus stop. It had to be as absolutely clean as possible, so I always waited until the last moment to wash it.
Bus shenanigans are still happening. Drive your kids to school if you can!

lisleman said...

I would not want to be your bus driver.

Bossy Betty said...

Ah yes, this brought back memories of the school bus. I shall send the bill for needed therapy to you soon.

David L Macaulay said...

excellent post Pearl,funny too. Why are trailer girls always called Tammy?

Amanda said...

I never knew hair could freeze in the cold. It makes sense, but in Texas, it's never an issue. That, and we don't leave the house when the temperature drops below freezing.

Sharon said...

It seems that my bus stop was always in front of wherever the house was at the time, otherwise, I walked. Never a hassle, guess I grew up in a kinder gentler time. It was in school, that the creeps came out.

Thanks for stopping off at my blog!

On My Soapbox said...

Has anyone noticed that painter pants were kind of resurrected as cargo pants?

River said...

I was raised in the days of the weekly hair wash. Always on a Saturday, whether we needed it or not. Me? I always needed it. Usually long before Saturday.

That Baldy Fella said...

By a bizarre coincidence, having my frozen hair snapped off at the roots is exactly how I became bald.

a Broad said...

I refused to ride the school bus .... now I am reminded of why.
I would love to know what Rita is up to these days, wouldn't you?

Pearl said...

I love the comments as much as I love the post.

:-)