September 27, 2007
The name Tina will always bring to my mind honey-colored skin, soft-blond hair, and perfect teeth. Those were the most distinctive and attractive qualities of Tina, but by no means were they her only notable features.
Tina was among the pretty girls who worked with my post-college housemates, and I always saw her on the Washington weekend-party circuit. She was usually flirting with one or another of the guys, rarely seen alone or in a group of just girls. Inevitably, at one of these parties, someone would cue up the Big Chill soundtrack, and she'd be the first one on the dance floor, shaking as only a white girl can until the CD ran out.
At one of these parties, in a cramped basement apartment, Tina and I found ourselves sitting next to one another on the floor. (As usual, young hosts run out of furniture 10 minutes after the first guest shows up.) I introduced myself and asked how her week had been. She replied that she'd been on vacation in St. Kitts.
I'd never been there, so I reached for a common thread to keep the conversation going.
Me: "I once met the ambassador to St. Kitts."
Tina: "Oh, that's very impressive."
Then she turned away and started a conversation with someone else.
Re-read that quote of hers, if you will. Now add sarcasm to it. No, wait: Imagine it coming off the lips of the preppy-girl-snob character in a goofball movie from the '80s, like Revenge of the Nerds.
That's exactly how she said it. Just like that, almost cartoonish: "Oh, that's very impressive."
I sat stunned for a moment. I wasn't sure I could believe what had just happened. I groped my mind for an explanation. Was she being funny? No, then she wouldn't have turned away from me.
She had actually blown me off in the rudest possible way.
That had never happened to me before, and I didn't know what to do with it. Within a moment, though, my blood ran hot and I felt like yanking her ponytail over and demanding an apology. But that wouldn't have played well in this setting. Tina looked too innocent. I'd have been thrown out of the party, or worse, handed over to the police and charged with assault. You can't manhandle pretty women anymore. Clark Gable was the last to get away with that.
A week later, I was still mulling that scene as I went to the next party at the next apartment on the circuit. At the beer keg, I ran into a guy I'd met before, one of the few whom Tina would select to dance the Big Chill with her. After a moment I asked him about her.
He paused as he filled his cup, choosing his words carefully.
"She says things to people that not just anyone can say."
And that was it. She knew her place, and she knew mine, too. She up there, I down here, and never the twain shall meet.
i haven't met anyone like her since. I've met people who appeared uncomfortable talking to a middle-class guy like me—Pierre DuPont, for example, whom I won't call "Pete" no matter how folksy his consultants tell him that is—but most of them either smiled graciously and went about their business, or flattered me with a moment of small talk and found a genteel way to direct my attention elsewhere. No one else has ever been so rude as to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Preachers tell us everything happens for a reason. I guess if my writing career goes the wrong way and I end up scribbling tits-and-ass comedies for Troma, Tina will have provided me with one helluva model for a stock character.
Even so, I'd still like to interview Tina's parents. I have a beautiful daughter, too, and I'd like to learn what they did to help their little girl grow up into such an insufferable person.
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