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Saturday, January 21, 2012

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?”


“What?” I said.

“Guess.” A demand.

“Um. Sharon,” I said.

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


“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.


Rene Foran said...

As long as I've ever been alive I must say this one thing is true:

"Sumthin' always going on at the bus stop"

I loved this Pearl...brought me right back to waiting for the 6:45 bus, during the winter...freezing cold and pitch dark.

Eva Gallant said...

this had a familiar ring to it. Have you posted it before? It was a good one and deserved reposting if that's the case.

Steadfast Ahoy! said...

Man! that visual of frozen hair breaking off at the roots in now permanently implanted in my brain. Scary!

Joanne said...

So many interesting dimensions to growing up.

jenny_o said...

I've seen a few girls with that "gleaming blue-black drape" of hair you speak of. And "even the girls were boys" - I've seen a few of them too. But I never could have described either the way you do, Pearl. This is a gem.

Steve Bailey said...

Im with steadfast ahoy!!!I never thought you could break someones frozen hair off!!! That needs to be in a movie! Maybe like Santa Claus 4?

savannah said...

OUCH! on so many levels, sugar! damn fine piece of writing! xoxoxo

fishducky said...

In all the stuff I write--which MANY people think is funny--I have NEVER come up with a better line than "Even the girls were boys."

If I were wearing a hat, I'd take it off to you!!!!!!!!

Tom G. said...

Reminds me why I was so glad to be a walker and not a busser. I could run.

Pearl said...

There's a beautiful simplicity to the buses/bus stops of our childhood.

You know, thanks to FB, I could probably find Tammy -- and Rita -- but I'm going to choose not to. I think I'll leave them as they are, in my mind.

Linda O'Connell said...

Ha ha, Even the girls were boys. My intro to 7th grade in a new neighborhood was , "Hey baggy britches, you want to fight?"

Jeannie said...

I remember washing the hair in the morning and having it freeze when you went outside to walk to school. There were no blow dryers then.

When do you think painter pants will come back in?

sage said...

It was never that cold at my bus stop, but that didn't stop fights from occurring (I just don't remember any with girls and most of them seem to involve me)

The Elephant's Child said...

I remember waiting for the bus as a sad and/or scary time. When time machines are as readily available as microwaves are today I solemnly vow to never go back any earlier than my late twenties. When my skin was finally starting to fit. More or less.
A fine and scary post Pearl. Thanks.

Vapid Vixen said...

Oh man. This just brought me back to my first week in a new school during 8th grade when the female school bully sitting next to me turned to me and asked if I was a boy or a girl. Ugh. Junior high was brutal.

Gigi said...

I love this story....not because of the violence - but because it is so well told.

And yeah, I think I'd avoid looking either one of them up on FB.

Flea said...

Oh gah! I could have another 20 years without thinking of those, thankyouverymuch.

River said...

I used to wish for a mirror-shiny metre length of straight black hair instead of my chin length fluffy light brown/dark blonde waves.
Now that I'm much older I appreciate my three->four inch long fluff which DOES get washed in the mornings and dries completely in the five minutes it takes to walk to the bus stop.

Michelle said...

HEDOGI is the word.
Everyone's got PHFUS with POLLY and everyone getting HOLDISH.
They say it's the TUTNE from CLETROC.
Personally, I think it's the REVESS.

the walking man said...

I wash my hair at times too. If it is cold enough to freeze it then i get to spike it which looks rather odd with my old old man of the hollows beard but then what the hell, sometimes the car heater thaws the hair and my only worry is did I bring a band to tie it back with?

Sush said...

Geez that brought back elementary grade school bully that scared the living poop outta me and used to push me against the chain link fence and swear one of these days she'd kill me. My best friend finally ratter her out...thank God for best friends!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

The only good thin about my seventh grade bus stop is I was the ONLY one there. No fights, no hassles, and no frozen hair.

Great story!

Mrs. Tuna said...

I used to be Tammy in NJ with long waist length hair. Now I'm Mrs. Tuna in AZ with short hair and dry humidity.