Celebration Day meant fuckall to me and my loser friends. If you were a good networker it was a big day. My brother Jimmy was entry-level. He got this clothing deal. They paid him royalties in script for the EnterSports complex, if he sold any to his little pals. The sponsor filled out a profile form. My mother smiled and brought him a Coke. It was all laid out for him, a calendar on the wall, and they brought in a five-drawer chiffonier. Every Saturday the truck came and took the dirty clothes and replaced them with a clean set.
My mom was disgusted with me:
You're like a hole in the grid, nothing coming in, nothing going out.
We went to a Fairshare school. A bunch of Network companies paid for everything. Most people thought it was better than paying taxes - except the Exagorites, of course. "Out of the marketplace." They wanted to destroy the Networks.
We were in a Network Planning class. The teacher drew a value-pyramid on the white board, illustrating the roll-up of commissions with little arrow hooks. A message came to the class calling a bunch of us to the Vice-Principal's office. They always did this before a big day, like a preemptive strike.
The VP was a tough bitch, brusque and cynical, full of TV cop-show mannerisms. She brought us in one at a time, leaving the rest in her holding pen, like some back-street doctor's waiting room, wooden chairs worn smooth by the butts of generations of miscreants. Drug prevention pamphlets and neighborhood policing manuals were piled in untidy stacks on a flimsy card table. In a corner of the room a caffeine-ravaged secretary pounded on an antique PC.
She shouted: Quiet! Nobody had spoken a word.
I was shown in and sat in the metal chair next to the VPís desk. She ignored me as she leafed through my file, making notes on a pad. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes, blew smoke at the ceiling and leveled her stare at me.
What the fuck are you up to?
She stood in front of me and kicked the seat of my chair as hard as she could, right below my crotch. I barely kept from falling over. She put her face inches from mine.
You're a fucking disgrace.
She picked up a disgusting coffee cup from her desk, never been washed in ten years I am sure. She filled it from a thermos on her windowsill. As she started to sit down, she paused.
You want some coffee?
She handed me a styrofoam cup of tar-like liquid.
Any news from your Ex friends?
The Exagorites liked to disrupt these rah-rah events. The VP thought we were hooked in with them because we were such losers.
I didnít answer. She dismissed me.
Iím watching you.
As I walked back to class, I passed Ms. Gretsch, standing outside her classroom, petting a girl on the head. She was gorgeous and had a coterie of girls who flocked to her car, an immaculate red Cadillac, every morning to carry her briefcase. She made ten times her teacher's salary from the Girlfriend clothes and accessories she sold through her network of students. She was the unofficial queen of Celebration Day, and the object of thousands of student fantasies, male and female.
I loitered at the end of the hall, staring at the two of them, memorizing their postures for future use.
The next morning Celebration Day started off with sports contests and poster competitions. My friend Ricky won a footrace. At the awards ceremony he slopped up to the stage in his tramp clothes to accept the trophy. We put it on a chair surrounded by votive candles Norman had stolen from his church. When Ricky tried to light them, he got hauled away by one of the VP's gendarmes.
The Varsity Gymnastics team, all in their EnterSports-logo'd uniforms, strode beaming across the stage. They had won the state tournament and were stars now, which meant real endorsement deals, not just commissions.
The afternoon was a carnival in the school auditorium where booths were set up holding "roster calls" for network deals. My favorite was the Schoolsucks group, with their brands of noxious clothing, extra strong tobacco and home piercing kits.
An hour into the afternoon the fire alarm went off. Everyone streamed out into the parking lot, where an even louder echoing sound blasted from a booth set in the middle of the lot, like a huge iron sheet being smashed with a wooden mallet. The booth's frame was covered by poster-sized photographs of students in class, on the ball field and playground, or clowning around in the hallways.
In each photograph, a facial feature was missing. In the classroom, kids clamored with hands raised, straining from their seats, eyes frantic to be picked: mouths missing. In the hallway, a pileup of crouching, stretching exuberant kids: all earless. Captains of the football team stood proudly, helmets in hand: eyes blank flaps of skin. Over the top of the booth was a sign in large black letters: NOTHING.
The iron sound turned into a siren shriek so loud you couldn't hear anyone talking. People were crying, running around frantically until the fire company found the transmitter in the booth.
The Exagorites had struck. The VP was scanning the crowd looking for the perpetrators. They were long gone, for sure. Ricky came up to me.
I got a note.
Said to check out Gretsch's shipment party.
After school, we hovered awkwardly outside the classroom where the Gretsch girls were gathering, all decked out and glossy.
Ricky looked in the back door, leering and horny:
A custodian bumped a handtruck down the hall, with a couple of big boxes on it. The boxes were labeled "GIRLFRIEND" in hot pink letters. He wheeled the boxes into the classroom and stacked them in the front.
In a few minutes, a swarm of girls appeared at the end of the corridor, with Ms. Gretsch in the middle. They swept into the classroom and I swear they literally did not see us, so low did we rank on their sexual radar.
Six of the girls sat in chairs flanking the desk in the front of the room. Ms. Gretsch worked a keyboard on the desk. Images popped up on a screen on the front wall: head shots of the six girls who sat preening at the front. Under each face were several lines of numbers Ė dollar amounts of sales and premiums earned.
The girls in the front stared hypnotically down the rows of girls facing them. As Ms. Gretsch recited the month's sales stats, walking up and down the aisles, it became clear that the girls were sitting in rank order. The first row girls were tough looking and arrogant - maybe they just didn't have the polish and sex appeal to move up to the true acolyte stage. By the back row, the girls were getting dumpier, more hapless, and Ms. Gretsch dropped their disappointing sales reports on their desks without comment.
The girls in front opened the boxes and began delivering parcels. These were for the premium goods, clothes they received free or deeply discounted based on their sales. As the acolytes worked their way down the aisles, the girls in the front rows ripped open their packages.
Ricky's mouth was gaping:
Look at this.
A girl in the front was holding up a skimpy red lace teddy, stocking straps dangling. Another girl was unpacking a pair of leather pants, with strategically-placed cutouts and zippers. Next to her a girl with thick glasses was standing in the aisle, hands pinning a dress of sky-blue rubber up to her shoulders.
The classroom was in an uproar as the girls all ripped through the packing paper to find every conceivable type of lingerie and fetish clothing. A few girls in the back of the room were finding unusual objects in their packages: handcuffs, long plastic appliances . . . Ms. Gretsch was in a panic, trying to gather back these inexplicable gifts, while girls were squealing and comparing, fondling the clothes. We were all pushing and shoving trying to get a better view through the back door's window, when I felt a stiff poke in my back. I turned around to the hard glare of the VP.
She took one look through the window and flung open the door. No one noticed for a few seconds, then one of the acolytes nudged Ms. Gretsch. She screamed at the girls to get in their seats and went to the back of the room where she entered into a hushed exchange with the VP. Amid the confusion, as the acolytes struggled to get back the incriminating items from the girls who were too excited to stay in their seats, my eye was caught by a girl who was hovering in the front of the room. She was one of the back row girls, hair shaved in the back into a high fade, black bangs combed forward over her eyebrows. She pressed a button on the panel and slipped away from the desk, knitting herself into a group of girls pawing a pile of champagne-colored lingerie.
Ten seconds later, a siren blast brought everyone's attention to the front of the room. The screen blacked out and then slowly came back, a reverse dissolve.
The picture was moving, in slow motion, and was explicit beyond belief. Ms. Gretsch was in its writhing middle. We looked at it, our faces burning. Whatever fantasies we had had about Ms. Gretsch couldn't compare with what we were seeing now. This was the ultimate Easter egg.
Ms. Gretsch ran to the front of the room and shut down the display. She looked down and saw us. We were frozen in fascination and fear.
Get those motherfucking boys.
Within a minute the VP had us up against the wall, screaming and questioning. As we were led off by one of her assistants, we saw the Principal join the VP in the classroom. They had found the button for the video clip, turning it back on briefly before shutting it down, with Ms. Gretsch fuming next to them. I saw the VP's face in profile as she turned to Ms. Gretsch, wearing the same solicitous expression she had shown to me. She really was a nasty woman.
The school district tried to keep the whole thing quiet, but that was impossible. Too many girls were involved. The Ex's leaked everything to the press. Ms. Gretsch threatened litigation if she were fired and accepted a settlement to disappear. The Girlfriend network was bounced from the Fairshare partnership.
Ricky said he heard his parents talking about finding the video on the web. Maybe Ms. Gretsch has a new career.
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