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 Brooke, a pretty unusual name at the time, for Brooke Shields had not yet made Pretty Baby, Blue Lagoon, or had yet to appear in any Jordache Jeans commercials. In Tuolumne, the name still meant something from nature, a small stream, something that even ran in some of our backyards, but not as a name for a girl.
Summerville’s Brooke was an adorable, doll-faced girl with sandy blonde hair that 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 even thought she might be in more episodes, which could mean that she might ride through town in the eight-door, black station wagon used by Michael Landon and company. I had seen it drive through town, and I had even seen Michael Landon and his big hair inside.
The Little House on the Prairie book series was only my favorite book series of all time. I read several of the one-hundred and fifty 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 woodstove too. They also played with a pig’s bladder filled with air like a balloon after Pa slaughtered their pig, ran around in the snow in dresses and bloomers, and 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 Joelle Parker, Julie Kroaker, and Jenna Wilson. Nicole 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. Joelle’s dad was Mr. Parker, the school music teacher and vice principal, and Joelle and I were in band together, both on our way to becoming band geeks. Julie 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. Julie’s parents were working class professionals, her mom an overweight nurse, who had passed the chubby gene down to Julie, which actually made her cuter. Jenna Wilson 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 Jenna 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, the out of season tan, the trying- -not-to-be-shabby clothes, and the thick, long, straight, dark hair, added an edginess and mystique not possible for a group of friends, which included the daughters of the school’s vice principal and a nurse, for we, already, fancied ourselves a bit different from the other girls.
One thing that made us different from the other girls was our preoccupation with pretending to be Charlie’s Angels, running around the playground and saving each other from dangerous men, AKA gross boys on the playground, wielding our forefingers and thumbs into the shape of guns and posing provocatively with our legs spread, and in our imaginations, our long hair blowing back behind us. While playing Charlie’s Angels, however, Joelle, Julie, Jenna, 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. Joelle, being the dominant girl in the group always got to be Farrah Fawcett’s character, Jill Munroe, and Julie who was too sweet to argue, but blonde, always played Cheryl Ladd’s character, Kris Munroe. Jenna 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. Jenna 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. Sometimes after all our wrangling, just when we had each of 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, Joelle, Julie, Jenna, and I would hang out around the spinning bars, all three of us attempting to pretend that Brooke, who I thought tried to hang around us for the sole purpose of flaunting her greatness, did not exist. In what I now understand as an approval seeking method, Brooke, liked to demonstrate to us that she had another talent besides looking cute and acting: spinning on the low spinning bars. Joelle, Julie, and Jenna did a lot of spinning too. Since I was never coordinated enough to eek out more than one spin, I would keep watch as each Joelle, Julie, and Jenna would hook one knee around the low bar and get going as fast and for as many times as they could. On a good day, Julie and Jenna could do three or four revolutions. Joelle, 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, who was a year younger, could do even more, though I wasn’t counting. 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 to spin, and I didn’t usually take up one of those spaces, when I’d see her coming, I’d lean against the empty space and make her wait. Occasionally, she’d float over unnoticed and 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 blonde blur. It was hard for Joelle, Julie, Jenna, and I to not stop and watch, though if we’d happen to see her coming our way, we’d leave the bars entirely, 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, eventually winding up in Sonora, only about seven miles away. And once she was gone, I gave Brooke, very little thought (unless I happened to see an episode of Little House on The Prairie then I’d find myself looking for her) until high school. I wasn’t surprised that Brooke and her family had moved to Sonora. Boasting its own police department, courthouse, jail, newspaper and more grocery stores than bars, even a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sonora is Tuolumne County’s capstone city, a much more sophisticated place than Tuolumne, a much easier place to stay clean. What did surprise me about Brooke when she returned to my life was that she still wanted my approval and the approval of my group of friends.
By the time we were sixteen, Nicole, Suzy, and I, both of whom I had known since childhood, were running around in a 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, Nicole played guitar, Suzy sang, and with each new song we wrote, we’d teach Chris Canella, Suzy’s friend from Sonora High, the bass lines. While I was still friendly with Joelle, Julie, and Jenna, 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 Suzy’s in Columbia, where she lived with her mom and super skinny younger brother, before the band was ready start playing parties, before we stopped going to high school dances, Suzy 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. I couldn’t help but laugh when she mentioned that one of them was named Brooke. I new immediately, without Suzy even giving me the last name right away, that her snooty Brooke was the same Brooke who had strutted her stuff around the Summerville Elementary school playground with her nose in the air, thinking she was so hot, in her perfect clothes, and her little planets orbiting all around her. Apparently, things hadn’t changed all that much – I was just glad it was Suzy who had to now put up with her and not me. My dirt on Brooke only fueled Suzy’s ire, as Suzy was easily much angrier than I could ever be, though Brooke moving in on my love interest, Tobin Denton, also a marching band geek and a drummer, gave me a whole new reason to be pissed off at the world and every single privileged blonde in it.
Tobin Denton, was Suzy’s good friend Sandy Denton’s little brother and a year younger than I was, two years younger than Suzy and Sandy. The Denton family had an interesting story. The Denton patriarch, a musician, had played in a band that toured in a bus taking the young Tobin, Sandy, and their mom with him until they thought they should settle down, winding up in a nice double-wide trailer in Jamestown on a tidy lot in a neighborhood with other big tidy lots and other double-wide trailers. Like his father, Tobin played the bass guitar and also the drums. We had noticed each other once or twice before I met him through Suzy, as the Summerville High and Sonora High bands did programs together a couple of times a year. I had noticed his pegged pants, cropped short hair, earring, eyeliner, and shiny braces from my place amongst the wind section. I played drums too, but not in the high school band. In the high school band, I played the flute as I had done since the fourth grade.
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, Nicole and I often hung out in Sonora with the other punks. We’d meet Suzy, Sandy, her boyfriend Chris, her brother Tobin, and Sean, a Billy Idol look alike who Suzy was all crushed out on, and this crazy wannabe bi-sexual girl Becky who smoked way too much pot, at the Europa, or as it was often referred to, the Throw-upa. The Europa was your run of the mill, greasy-table-top diner that also served a few Greek dishes and had really good Baklava. Both being band geeks, Tobin and I had a lot in common and a lot to talk about, though he didn’t talk much, which meant we often just sat 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 from the corner of our eyes. Before long, everyone could tell we were in to each other, and thinking it was so cute, Suzy and Sandy, always made us sit together in the backseat of Nicole’s Fiat.
Becoming more visible in town, and in the eyes of many, a threat, we punkers made a concerted effort to travel in a pack, both to make a statement and for self-preservation, so when Suzy and Sandy invited Nicole and I to a Sonora High dance, we couldn’t pass up a chance to go and scare Brooke and the rest of trendies and serve as back up for our Sonora counterparts. Suzy took Nicole as her date, and Sandy took me as hers. Tobin, Chris, Sean, and Tobin’s friend Bill, would all be there. 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, and dressed, not in my regular black, but in a vintage, frilly white top with layers of vertical ruffles, and red leggings, and black granny shoes, I was horrified when I walked into the Sonora High gym and spotted Tobin surrounded by the beige girls and talking to Brooke – or her talking to him. While the punk rock girls would never date 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. Tobin, 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 Tobin stood surrounded by Brooke, and the beige girls, with, Suzy, Nicole, and Tobin’s sister, Sandy, behind me, cut my way through Tobin’s adoring crowd, and said, “Hi, Tobin.” He looked from me to Brooke, and back, his eyes making their way down to my red leggings and back up. I smiled, and Suzy, never known for her patience, cut in from behind me, and grabbed Tobin by the hand and dragged him to the dance floor, where we descended on him like magpies. Chris and Sean 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, Suzy pushed me toward Tobin and left the dance floor with Nicole, leaving Sandy and Chris to slow dance, and Tobin and I in an awkward but not terrible position. Knowing this was my chance to make it clear to Brooke, and to Tobin, that he was mine, I moved even closer, looked up and smiled my best seductive smile, 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 Tobin’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 Tobin’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 Tobin, or maybe because she still wanted our approval, or a combination of both, Brooke showed up to a party at Suzy’s house, thrown one night 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 from a friend who told a friend, who told another friend, and who could navigate the bumpy, deeply rutted half-mile long dirt road out to the property where the Suzy’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 who considered herself one our peripheries, and this friend drove her to the party anyway. Having this connection to one of our peripheries, in our eyes, gave Brooke a sense of entitlement over our shabby part of town – her pass into our world, and we were pissed off about it. Suzy and I were especially pissed. Suzy couldn’t believe that Brooke, who at school, with her friends, looked at Suzy like she was a piece of trash, 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 like a mirror, in which I saw (and had created) a freakish carnival mirror version of myself reflected back at me.
Suzy 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. Calling Suzy to the kitchen, I grabbed a beer from the fridge and slinked up along side Melissa and Brooke, in crisp white and beige. They were in the center of the front room on Suzy’s mom’s thrift-store couch. I played nice, saying, “Hey Brooke, how did you find out about he party?”
When she looked up to answer, I began dumping beer from a can of Old Milwaukee that I had just opened onto her head. Squealing, she sat stuck to the couch in shock, allowing me time to drain the entire remaining amount of beer all over her sandy blonde hair and to drop the can, which bounced off her head and landed somewhere on the floor. Suzy 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 say that she couldn’t believe how she had been treated after she had come to the party at Suzy’s 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, threatened to kick my ass and got in my face any chance she got. However, the memory of the night I humiliated a trendy, the laughs we got from those who witnessed the beer shampoo, and the song we wrote, and performed at parties which elicited wild chanting during the chorus, made it all worth it, even if it wasn’t a nice thing to do.