by Janie Heath
Another day, Autumn 1977
Here comes the Student Punkette. Here limps the Student Punkette, actually. On my block. Uniformed in motorcycle jacket, leather mini, animal print fuck-me shoes with gold spikes.
“I’m limping ‘cause I just got fucked all night by Gator.”
The Student Punkette laughs a couple of jovial hucks. Gator refers to a ubiquitous lead singer of a ubiquitous band.
“Wanna come up to my place?”
Cool. Her place is that place with a big picture window and a green sort of a balcony just one story above the sidewalk on my own fabulous heavenly block. That’s her place! And here I am, going up the stairs. And here I am, listening to her story.
“I am from Locust Valley.”
“Wow. They’re like grasshoppers, right? We have a lot of those where I come from, too.”
She laughs her hucking laugh. Not a condescending laugh, just amused I don’t know. She has to explain that Locust Valley is a very wealthy conservative type place.
“You mean like Thurston Howell III kind of people?”
“Yeah. They talk like this.”
She says that with that snotty lockjaw kind of talk I had only ever heard people on TV talk.
“You sound like that—a little—sometimes,” I say. “But you also have kind of a regular New York accent.”
“Yeah, I get that New York thing—y’know, y’know—from the guys I’ve been sleeping with.”
Huck, huck. She goes on.
“They’re kind of alike—I mean, the Locust Valley accent and the New York accent are both what they call non-rhotic.”
“Did you say ‘neurotic’?”
“I’m probably that, too, but ‘non-rhotic’ just means you don’t say the ‘r’ in words like ‘car’.”
“Oh, kind of like deep south Scarlet O’Hara talk.”
“Yeah, that too.”
Whatever way she talks is filtered through her gravel truck of a windpipe, a gutturality earned with hours of smoky screaming conversations over live rock music.
“It’s kind of hard to imagine you being anything like those country club types.”
“Yeah, I know. I have changed. I was a cheerleader.”
I try to imagine her as a rich cheerleader type.
“I’ve gained weight, I know. . .”
Maybe I can see it. She does have big tits and a snub nose. Here I am looking at her and trying to imagine her bursting with all-American robust sexuality while we yack away, standing near the door inside her apartment.
Me, trying not to stare at the apartment—so many New York apartments are so odd. Like maybe this was some kind of shop once, the way it is laid out with the big window facing the street.
“You are not at all pretentious,” I say.
“Yeah, well, most people from Locust Valley are.”
“You mean like what they call a WASP?”
A lot was written about WASPs when I was growing up. I thought it meant people like me. After all, we were white, had an English last name, and when we went to church, it was not Catholic. The letters stand for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Don’t they? That’s what people like my family considered a regular person. But here in the northeast WASP means something more—definitely not just a regular type person. Not even just rich. Rich, and only from certain families.
“Well, my family is Irish and sort of Catholic, actually,” says Punkette. “But Locust Valley is a WASP-y kind of place. I never really fit in.”
I do not know much about Long Island but I keep meeting people in this city who are from there. Suburb of mystery to me. Unlike north Jersey, where I have been.
“It’s a really creepy place, with all sorts of things percolating under the surface. Like this secret, high class men’s club I used to work at when I was sixteen. I was a stripper there.”
“Is it legal to be a stripper at sixteen?”
“Of course not. I lied about my age.”
“Didn’t they ever ask you for proof?”
“Nope. One time I mentioned the name of it in front of my father and he was apoplectic that I had ever even heard of the place. And I was working there.”
Huck huck huck.
“Weren’t you afraid he would go there and see you?”
“Nah, not his type of thing.”
“He wouldn’t have thought it was your type of thing.”
“Yeah, but he just wouldn’t. Go to a place like that. He’s a real nose to the grindstone, self-made type.”
“So what does he do?”
“He’s a lawyer. Real big in conservative politics there.”
Student Punkette, majoring in English, says she writes papers about that really great band where I think the lead singer looks like a Praying Mantis. About their songs and the dichotomy between sex and death.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“No. Not to me.”
“Well, you know, sex is about creating more life and death is the end of it.”
“Oh. Yeah. I don’t even like to think about sex in terms of creating life. I try so hard NOT to get pregnant. I mean, I don’t like pregnancy or death. Does it have to have anything to do with those things?”
“Well, in a classic, metaphoric sense, that is what it is all about.”
Yuck, I think.
Clomp. Clomp. Stilettos on stairsteps. She has a roommate.
Another punkette in a leather mini and gold stilletoes shakes my hand, corrects the introduction.
“Oh, yeah, she calls herself Trikamona now.”
“Umm, do you know what that means?”
“It doesn’t mean anything. I just made it up. Sounds cool, huh?”
I remain silent. Ah, the lyrical names scientists give to microorganisms. I guess I read too much feminist health literature—I know these words.
The three of us still stand near the door. Everything is green. Medium green, not pale-yellow green like the description of trichomoniasis discharge in the feminist women’s health book. Medium green, same shade as the balcony. There are green steps on one of those funny little wind-y staircases you see in apartments in movies.
“Me and Trikamona met because we’re both in love with the same guy.”
The Praying Mantis guy!
“He’s so cute.” Trikamona, mooning over Praying Mantis. Germ in love with bug. A romance made in a petri dish.
“There wasn’t any conflict about that?”
“Oh, we were bitter enemies at first. Then we got to be friends.”
“So now you both see him?”
“So you gave him up to be friends with each other?”
“No . . . I guess he just started hanging out with me more. Trikamona and I just stayed friends.”
“I have a new boyfriend now.” Trikamona squeaks up. “He’s in a band, too.”
“Great. Which band?”
“The Spirokeets. Don’t you just love them?”
Trikomona and the Spirokeets! I try not to laugh. I never heard of The Spirokeets. That bums her out.
“They’re from Montreal.”
“We are in love. Me and Spiro. He’s taking me back with him.”
“You’re moving to Canada? Don’t you need a visa or something?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get married. But I am going back with him.”
“How long have you known him?”
“And he asked you to marry him?”
“Well, no. But he might.”
“When are you going?”
“Wow. I just met you and you are going to Canada.” Me, turning to the Student Punkette, “What are you going to do about a roommate?”
“We’ll see.” SP does not seem too concerned.
Anyway, what about her and Praying Mantis?
“So you can still see him and be with Gator?”
“I don’t see him anymore.” I can tell she means Praying Mantis.
“Well, what happened with that?”
“I don’t know. He just—he just became a rock star, I guess.”
Awkward wistfulness for an eternal millisecond.
“Let’s talk about something else.”
“So, uh, Trikamona, are you also from Long Island?”
Trikamona is kind of quiet and forlorn.
“Uh, no. My family is, um, really different.”
“Trikamona is the only one in her family who has never been in jail.”
Student Punkette says this like a bragging mom.
“Wow. Even your mother?”
Jeez, that was not tactful of me. I managed to keep shut about the trichomoniasis thing, now I go and blow it.
“Yeah, my mom too.”
“What did she do?”
Oh, yeah, that’s me. Soul of tact. But I am actually impressed. I mean, it’s her mom. What did she do to get arrested?
“I don’t know, maybe she wrote a bad check or something.”
Maybe back in my hometown, when I ran with the local delinquents, this would have seemed more normal. But two college years with suburban brats has changed that. I am mildly shocked. I try to imagine my mother in prison.
“Once when we couldn’t pay the rent Trikamona wrote her father and asked for money. He wrote back, ‘you’re a girl, you can turn tricks.”
“We sent him back a bag with some dog shit in it.”
I am standing up and sitting down as much as I am when I am alone in my own apartment. Here in the Punkette pad I am up and down because the two of them stay near the door. The door is near the opening to the galley kitchen and also near the big picture window framing the ever-dimming night. You can see the rectangles of lighted storefronts now it is dark. All of these things are on the opposite side of the apartment from the one sofa which despite its shot springs is the most appealing place to sit. It is not the best place to hear the girls or see their faces and besides, I am a restless sort who paces my own small flat like a caged tigress and I am excited to be here.
Janie Heath (https://www.facebook.com/JanieHeathFiction/?modal=admin_todo_tour) has worked in the newspaper, film, and music industries. She grew up in a small town in Texas and now lives in New York City. Her work has been published in Big Bridge, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and Brink. An essay of hers is included in the liner notes for the box set, G Stands for Go-Betweens Volume II. She is currently writing a novel.