It's not only about looking good. If you're just looking good,
you'll probably be able to get a cone or a soft pretzel, but
definitely not an Orange Julius.
"Carrie," Grandma says to me as we walk into the mall,
"are you feeling like a lady?" The ceiling of the mall when
you first walk in has mirrors on it, so you can look up and see yourself
and whoever you're with.
"Yeah, Grandma," I say back. "I'm feeling like a
Then we both look up at the ceiling so we can see each other and
"Well, here we are, two ladies going out to see the world."
Grandma only wears real gold and keeps her cigarettes in a genuine
leather cigarette pack holder. She always wears dresses and panty hose
and heels high enough to show she's got class and low enough to show
she's no tramp. When we go out in her Caddy she lets me sit in front,
which is one of the things I don't tell Mom. Grandma never wears a
seat belt, but she always makes me wear one, which I pretend bothers me
but which I don't really mind. With Grandma it's air conditioning
and no open windows because a lady must always look her best. At
stoplights, Grandma turns to the car next to her and gives her best
smile. Mom says it's the cigarettes that make Grandma's teeth
First thing in the morning, Grandma wakes me up and we go to her
beauty chamber. Grandma puts her face on first, then mine. It's easier
to look at Grandma once she's drawn in her eyebrows. When I ask why
Mom doesn't shave her eyebrows too, Grandma says it's because Mom
doesn't care enough to make the best out of what she has, which is why
she can't keep a man and lives in a dump. Unless you watch Grandma put
on her make-up, you won't know that the beauty mark above her lip isn't
real. She says that when I'm older I'll have to pick a permanent
place to put my beauty mark, but for now she lets me pick a different
place every time. I have to hold very still when Grandma does my face.
Sometimes the eyeliner brush tickles, but if I squirm it messes her up
and we have to start all over again. I'm allowed to put on my own
lipstick, which is pink instead of red like Grandma's because some
things just aren't appropriate.
At McDonald's, I get hot cakes and hash browns and Grandma gets
coffee, which she drinks with extra milk to keep her complexion creamy.
Before we get back in the car, we go to the ladies room to refresh our
make-up. I have a purse to carry my own make-up. In the beginning I lost
the purse a lot, but I am much more mature now.
Grandma's favorite store is Lord & Taylor's, which she says if I
ever manage not to walk like a cripple for a whole day she will buy me a
present from, which is something I haven't managed to do yet. When we
walk in, we go right to the perfume ladies, who squeeze their hands
together and say,
"Why if it isn't Eleanor and her granddaughter, Carrie. How
long has it been since we saw you last, Carrie?" and I tell them,
"A month," which I'm not really sure is true, but which
is about how often Mom needs a break and calls Grandma to do the
"Any longer and I don't know if I could undo the damage,"
Grandma says, which I wish she wouldn't say, but the perfume ladies
laugh like it's a big joke so I pretend that it is.
The perfume ladies are extremely nice. Their hair is always perfect
and their faces are on exactly right. I've never seen their feet, but
I bet they wear heels the same height as Grandma's. Grandma won't
buy me heels because I'm pigeon-toed and she's afraid I'll fall
all over myself in heels. When we walk anywhere together I have to
concentrate on walking toes pointed out. It's hard to walk just right,
most of the time I am either walking like a cripple or like I'm wearing
a diaper according to Grandma, who knows these things. The perfume
ladies spritz me with something that smells like baby powder, which I
definitely like better than smelling like flowers but not as much as
smelling like peppermint.
We get to the Food Court around 2, after the serious lunch-eaters
have gone because Grandma says it's important to make clear that this
is not about being hungry. She always makes sure I eat really good
before she sends me off so that it's the lady in me talking and not my
stomach because guys can always tell the difference. Today I get the
number #3 special at China Wok. I try to get my mouth around the egg
roll in a way that won't mess up my lipstick but Grandma makes me stop
because she says it makes me look like a tramp.
When Grandma is driving, she puts her hand on my knee and says My
knee. If I disagree she squeezes tighter and explains it really is her
knee because I'm part of Mom and Mom is part of her, so I'm part of her
too. When things get to be too much for Mom, she calls Grandma and they
meet half-way for the trade-off at Howard Johnson's and I go from
Mom's sticky seats to Grandma's cushy red leather.
We're sitting at the far corner of the Food Court by the Roy Rogers
because that's where the best view is. The Food Court tables are on a
raised platform with fake potted plants. The platform has six sides and
reminds me of a musical jewelry box I have with a ballerina that spins
when you open the lid. Grandma says the music they play in the Food
Court is trashy. The Food Court plays Journey, Air Supply, Billy Joel,
and Hall & Oates. I pretend the songs have been picked especially
for me. That way, it's like the whole Food Court is rooting for me.
Grandma's Caddy has electric locks with master switches by the front
seats that let you lock and unlock any door you want. I'm not allowed
to play with the locks because what if I'm leaning against the door and
it flies open or what if we're driving through a dark neighborhood and
someone sees us and gets ideas? For a long time I thought dark meant no
After I finish eating, I throw out my tray except for the soda and
then I go to the bathroom to check my face. Grandma used to come with
me, but now checking my face by myself is part of the whole thing. The
Food Court bathroom isn't cleaned very often and smells like smoke.
When I walk in, the girl from Candy World pretends like she's tucking
her hair into her visor when the bag of jumbo malted milk balls is
sitting right on top of her purse and her fingers have melted chocolate
all over them. I can tell she's waiting for me to go, but when I don't
she finally picks up her purse and leaves.
Even though I don't think I have to pee I make myself try because
going to the bathroom in the middle of sitting with a guy is a signal
and Grandma would get mad if I did it only because I had to pee. Since
the Candy World girl is gone, I can turn on the water in the sinks,
which helps. Grandma doesn't like me to sit on public toilet seats, so
I don't because I know she's going to ask me when I come out and she
can always tell when I'm lying. I do my best not to sprinkle, but it's
hard and, besides, there was some there already.
To check my face, first I stand really close to the mirror and then I
back up three steps. Close for the details and further away for the full
effect. I have to stand on a toilet with the stall door open to see my
whole reflection, which is another reason why I waited for the Candy
World girl to go. Today everything looks pretty good except for my
lipstick, which is smeared because of the egg roll. Just to be safe, I
also spray on a little more hair spray, which I do using Grandma's
special method which she says is one of the dividing lines between
ladies and tramps. Only tramps spray hair spray directly onto their
heads, which gloms the hair together. Glommed hair is one thing guys
notice without knowing they're noticing it when they first peg a girl
for a tramp. So, I spray the hairspray next to my head and then step
into it, sort of like I'm stepping into the shower. That way all the
hairspray molecules settle evenly around my head and hold my hair
without a single glommy spot.
Grandma says my skin is clear enough that I don't need to use
foundation yet, but she's bought me my own bottle so that it'll be
there for me when I'm ready. Grandma uses one a little darker than her
own skin to make her look sun-kissed, but she never puts it on her neck,
which makes her face a different color than the rest of her.
When I walk out of the bathroom and go back to the table, Grandma is
waiting. She says,
"Are you ready?" in the same voice she uses when I've
picked something to wear that she doesn't like. Except for one time,
Grandma has always found something that needs fixing when I come out of
the bathroom. Letting Grandma look me over and knowing she's going to
find a mistake is the hardest part, harder than actually going up to a
"I think so," I say, trying to sound all calm and sure of
It's like Grandma is the sun through the magnifying glass and I'm
the bug. The side of my head will burn a little and Grandma will tell me
that my barrette is out of place, or my cheek will burn and Grandma will
say that my blush is uneven. Even though she never says it, I know
Grandma is doing all this so that I can do better in life than Mom, who
can't keep a man and lives in a dump.
At Howard Johnson's I always get fried clam strips with French fries
and extra tartar sauce and bubble gum ice cream for dessert. The great
thing about bubble gum ice cream is saving the gum balls in your mouth
until the ice cream is all gone and then chewing the gum, which there's
so much of by then that it takes up your whole mouth. Grandma says that
gum chewing is not lady-like and makes me look like a cow.
Sometimes Mom eats with us at the Howard Johnson's. I like it
better when she doesn't because it's easier for me to think of her being
a part of Grandma when they're not sitting across a table from each
other not talking.
"Your blouse isn't tucked in right," Grandma says, and I
look and it's true. "Show me how a lady's blouse should be
tucked in," she says.
I re-tuck in my blouse so that the creases are slanting down in
front. Grandma once described it as the creases coming toward each other
like roads converging at the Promised Land. I say,
"Is that better?" and she looks me over again and says,
"Much better," and I know that it's time to get started.
Grandma has taught me that the right way to put on a bra is to place
each bosom inside the cup like you're scooping up a baby chick. Mine are
so small that it's impossible scoop anything up yet, so what I do is I
pretend there is something to scoop, which Grandma says I do so well she
can almost see my young bosoms. Grandma is the only person I know who
says bosom, which for a long time I didn't know was the same as titty. I
have matching bras and undies that Grandma keeps special for me in a
drawer at her house that I can only wear when we're going out to see
Grandma starts looking for my assignment, and we both sip our sodas
like we're taking a break from shopping. Love is a Battlefield,
by Pat Benetar, is coming through the Food Court speakers, which makes
me feel totally prepared and like the songs really aren't a tape that
plays over and over. I sip my soda by holding my cup with one hand and
casually putting my lips just at the very tip of the straw and sucking
on the straw until only the slightest bit of soda comes up and then
taking the straw out of my mouth and starting all over again. Grandma
and I are experts at looking around the Food Court like we're not
looking at anything in particular when we're really noticing
At first glance it seems like there are a lot of ladies around, but
mostly the Food Court is full of tramps. I can tell a tramp by their
make-up or their clothes, or by the way they eat their food. Even when I
think I've found a lady, Grandma usually points out something I've
missed that makes her a tramp, like the way she wears her hair, or the
kind of purse she has. It's incredibly difficult to be a lady. I don't
really blame Mom for not being able to do it.
Mom always asks me when I come back from Grandma's, How was your
stay and I always say Fine. Then she says Don't let her turn you into
something you're not, and I say Okay. Once, I forgot to take off my
nails with the fake tips and Mom started crying in the Howard Johnson's
parking lot and saying She's only a baby and You promised you wouldn't
do this to her and Grandma said I'm not doing anything, it was only a
little manicure and Mom made me peel the nails off before getting into
her car. I knew after that it would be better not to tell about the
matching bras and undies. Or about Grandma showing me how, when I got
hair down there, it should be a nice, neat triangle with no Goody Trail,
which is the hairs that lead from under the belly button to the Promised
I'm watching the girl at Candy World and counting up all her tramp
qualities when Grandma says,
"There's someone who looks like he could use the presence of a
lady," and she's pointing at a guy in line for China Wok. When I
first started out, Grandma would only assign me guys my age, but now
that I'm more advanced, she sometimes gives me guys a little older. I
was really shy at first about going to older ones, but they usually end
up being easier because they have more money. This guy looks maybe three
years older than me and I'm surprised that he's the one Grandma
picked because he's wearing parachute pants, which Grandma says are
trashy. I actually have a pair of parachute pants that I never take to
Grandma's because she would throw them away. Then I realize that
Grandma might not be able to tell they're parachute pants because they're
black and China Wok is all the way across the Food Court.
Grandma says that in order to keep a man it's important to act
interested and to give him a little taste and that the reason Mom can't
keep a man is because she gives him the whole seven course meal, but I
never see Grandma using her advice on Grandpa who's always watching golf
in his recliner with the volume turned up really loud. Grandpa has the
hairiest arms I've ever seen, which I'm glad for that reason he's not
the hugging type. He and Grandma say as little to each other as Mom and
Grandma, which makes me think that Mom must have had the quietest
childhood in childhood history.
Grandpa used to be a doctor but he had to retire early on account of
his heart. When Grandma picked him, he was only fifteen and the son of a
grocer who drank too much, but Grandma says she could tell by the way he
carried himself that he had motivation. She got him to notice her and
the rest, she says, is history. Grandpa has a Cadillac with brown seats
that aren't soft like Grandma's. Every time we drive to dinner at the
Italian restaurant he shows me the doctor's card clipped to his sun
visor that proves he's got more important things to do than stop for a
damn red light. Then Grandma says Watch your language, I'm bringing
someone up to be a lady and Grandpa says Aw, shut up, what do you know
about being a lady? which makes Grandma's lips crinkle like she's just
sucked on something sour. If my knee is Grandma's, then I guess a part
of me has to be Grandpa's too.
Instead of going in a straight line from our table to China Wok, I
walk around the outside of the whole platform so it will look more like
I found the guy in the parachute pants by accident and not like I have
set plans. By the time I get to China Wok, he's actually leaving with
his tray, so I follow him to where the napkins and plastic forks are.
I stand next to the guy in the parachute pants while he's getting
napkins and pretend I'm waiting for a napkin while I look straight at
him. When he looks at me, I look away but not until after we've looked
at each other for a split second.
"Hi," he says, which makes him at least soda material
because a lot of the time, I'm the one who has to talk first. I relax
then, because chances are I'm going to get it on my first try and
Grandma won't have to find me another one.
"Hi," I say back and this time I look straight at him
without turning away. He's pretty okay looking and I understand now
why Grandma picked him. I haven't seen pictures of Grandpa before he
got old, but I'm pretty sure he'd look a lot like this guy. This guy
has Grandpa's dark hair although, lucky for me, not on his arms, and
also maybe Grandpa's nose. He's also built kind of big like Grandpa
– not fat, but with big shoulders and arms and I bet he plays
football. So that's what I ask him next,
"Do you play football?" I say, because they like it when
you ask them questions about themselves.
"Yeah," he says, "I'm the only sophomore on
varsity," which makes him just the third high school guy I've
done this with, which makes me a little nervous but also excited because
it means I can definitely skip gum or candy or a soft pretzel.
"Do you go to Larchdale," the guy says, "'cause I
ain't seen you at Pulaski." When I nod he says,
"You look a little young for high school," but with a grin
that means he doesn't really mind. He's done getting his napkins and
his plasticware now, but he hasn't made a move to walk away or
anything, so we're both just standing there. I happen to be standing
under an air conditioning vent, so there's a breeze blowing my hair
back in this really cool way that I couldn't have planned even if I
"Yeah," I say. "I skipped kindergarten, so I guess I'm
a little young."
Grandma says that being smart or stupid doesn't matter as much as
motivation, meaning how hard will you work to get what you want, which
it seems to me that being on varsity when you're only a sophomore is a
pretty good sign of that so I say,
"Look, you want to buy me some fries?" because I can tell
he's the kind of guy who likes to get to the point. He just smiles
then, he doesn't even need to say anything, and when he turns around
with his tray I know we're heading to Boardwalk Fries.
I'm not ever supposed to ask for lunch, even if the guy looks like
he can handle it. With lunch comes obligations, Grandma says, and I'm
too young for that. Like, for instance, I know this guy with the
parachute pants would have bought me a turkey club. This is a guy who if
I ask for a turkey club, he's going to buy it just so I won't think
that he can't. And guys like that make me want to push them, just a
little bit, just a little bit further than they were thinking they were
going to go.
We get to Boardwalk Fries and before I even tell him what size I want
he orders me a large, which is really huge, and more fries than I could
eat even if I was hungry, which I'm not. I know that Grandma is
watching the whole thing and that as soon as she sees the size of the
fries she's going to get peeved because I'm only ever supposed to
ask for a small because 1) it's unattractive to eat too much and 2) I'm
too young to ask for any one item costing more than $2.50 or multiple
items costing more than $5.00. And a large fries costs $3.75, which
messes up my plan because after the fries I was going to ask for an
Orange Julius, which costs $2.50 and is my trademark drink.
The guy's tray is already full with his stuff from China Wok, but
he insists on putting the fries on his tray too, and a couple of fries
fall into his wonton soup.
"Your fries just fell into my soup," he says, wiggling his
eyebrows. "I think that's a pretty good sign," and I giggle
because I know I'm supposed to.
At home, I have guys who are friends and who I would never let buy me
anything. In fact, when we go to the arcade, we make fun of the girls
who giggle at everything and wear pink all the time and are always
changing their lip-gloss. But it worries me because I look at Mom and
our dump of a house and at how unhappy she is all the time and I know I
don't want to be like that when I get old.
"Why don't we get a table?" I say and lead the guy up to
the platform so that Grandma can see everything. I can't sit too close
to Grandma or I'll get distracted. So instead I pick a table right in
the middle of the platform, where she can see me but where I won't be
able to tell how she's reacting to everything. I make sure to sit not
facing her so that I don't start looking at Grandma instead of this
guy, who's supposed to be the center of my universe.
I know that because of the large fries, Grandma's going to be
paying close attention to make sure this guy doesn't get fresh and
that I don't do anything trampy. I'm extra-careful to bite the fries
in a way that doesn't mess up my lipstick, which means eating them one
at a time and biting into them with my front teeth only and with my lips
kind of raised up like I'm growling. The guy doesn't eat his food at
all while I'm doing this, he just stares and I get scared that I'm
doing something wrong, so I peek over at Grandma to see if I can tell
what she's thinking, but her face is totally blank and I realize she's
not going to give me any hints.
"Babe, you eat those fries sexier than any girl I've ever
seen," the guy says, which makes me blush real hard which I know
Grandma is going to notice.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say.
"All girls eat fries like this."
"Not where I come from," the guy says and he laughs this
low, heh-heh laugh that sounds a lot older than I thought he was
and which makes me wonder if he's been a sophomore more than once.
"So, you play video games?" I ask, because it's good to
find something you have in common and it's a subject I'm pretty good
"Nah," he says, sucking up a lo mein noodle real slow,
"video games are for dorks."
"Yeah," I say.
"You ever play poker?" he says. The song coming through the
speakers is Maneater, by Hall & Oates, which I use to remind
myself to be brave.
"All the time," I say, trying to come up with another way
to eat my fries.
"You should come over to my house and play poker with me and my
friends some time," he says. "They would like you a lot,"
he says, "but don't worry. They'd know that you were with me
and they wouldn't mess with you."
I can't eat any more fries because I can't think of another way
to eat them without messing up my make-up. The guy reaches under the
table and touches my knee.
If they touch me, I'm supposed to say I have to go to the bathroom
and wait in there until Grandma comes in to tell me they're gone.
Instead I move my knee away and say,
"Buy me an Orange Julius," and he says,
"Sure thing, babe," but takes a few sips of his soup before
I know if I looked over at Grandma now, we could get out of the Food
Court and into her Caddy before the guy in the parachute pants had any
idea what was going on. We would laugh like we do sometimes when a guy
gets too fresh. Grandma would say, What a scoundrel he was! and I would
say Oh, yes, a real scoundrel, and we would go back to Grandma's house
and get changed for dinner and by the time we got to the Italian
restaurant, it would be like nothing had happened. But I know if I did
that today, Grandma would blame me for the fries. Even if I told her
that I hadn't asked for a large, she would tell me I must have asked
somehow because why else would a guy buy that many fries? But with the
Orange Julius, which is my trademark, she'll know that everything went
okay despite the fries. She might even decide I'm ready for lunches,
because from where Grandma's sitting there's no way she could have
seen under the table. So instead of looking at Grandma, I fix my
lipstick, which I do so well and so fast that my mouth is perfect by the
time the guy in the parachute pants gets back with an extra-large cup.
If I'd thought about it I probably could have guessed he'd get
the extra-large, but my eyes get a little wide when I see the cup. Then
the guy gives the heh-heh smile and says,
"Only the best for you, babe," and there's no way I'm
going to be able to drink all that. He puts it in front of me and sits
down and pushes his own tray away and says,
"Show me how you drink through a straw," which makes me
blush real hard again.
By now, the Food Court is playing Hot Blooded, by Foreigner,
and I know I've got to do this, at least sip a little of it because
the Orange Julius is my trademark drink. I hold the cup with one hand
and casually put my lips just at the very tip of the straw and suck on
the straw until only the slightest bit of it comes up. The guy puts his
hand on my knee under the table. I want to say,
"My knee," but I know that it's not.