Sometimes I put two different earrings in the same ear. And that’s on a day I’m feeling preppy, not really new wave or anything. One time, during a track meet over at Camarillo High, I discovered way too late that I’d forgot to put on deodorant and that was the worst ’cause everyone knows how snooty those girls at Camarillo can be. Hmmm. Actually the worst thing I’ve ever forgotten to do was take my pill. That happened three mornings in a row and you can bet I was praying for weeks after that.
So many things to remember when you’re seventeen years old and your days start at six A.M. and sometimes don’t end until five in the afternoon. But today of all days there’s one thing I have to remember to do and that’s to squeeze my nose. I’ve been doing it since the seventh grade. Every morning with my thumb and forefinger I squeeze the sides of it, firmly pressing my nostrils as close as they possibly can get near the base. Sometimes while I’m waiting for the tortilla to heat up, or just when I’m brushing my teeth, I squeeze. Nobody ever notices. Nobody ever asks. With all the other shit seniors in high school go through, squeezing my nose is nothing. It’s just like some regular early-morning routine, like yawning or wiping the egg from my eyes. Okay, so you might think it’s just a total waste of time, but to tell you the truth, I do see the difference. Just last week I lined up all my class pictures and could definitely see the progress. My nose has actually become smaller, narrower. It looks less Indian. I look less Indian and you can bet that’s the main goal here. Today, when I take my graduation pictures, my nose will look just like Terri’s and then I’ll have the best picture in the year-book. I think about this as Mrs. Milne’s Duster comes honking in the driveway to take me to school.
Terri was my best friend in seventh grade. She came from Washington to Rio Del Valle junior high halfway through October. She was the first girl I knew who had contact lenses and four pairs of Chemin de Fers. Can you believe that? She told everyone that her daddy was gonna build ’em a swimming pool for the summer. She told me that I could go over to swim anytime I wanted. But until then, she told me, I could go over and we could play on her dad’s CB. 1
1 CB Citizens Band (a radio frequency used by the general public to talk to one another over a short distance).
“You dad’s really got a CB?” I asked her.
5“Oh, yeah,” she answered, jiggling her locker door. “You can come over and we can make up handles for ourselves and meet lots of guys. Cute ones.”
“Whaddaya mean, handles?” I asked.
“Like names, little nicknames. I never use my real name. I’m ‘G.G.’ when I get on. That stands for Golden Girl. Oh, and you gotta make sure you end every sentence with ‘over.’ You’re like a total nerd if you don’t finish with ‘over.’ I never talk to anyone who doesn’t say ‘over.’ They’re the worst.”
Nobody’s really into citizen band radios anymore. I now see ’em all lined up in pawnshops over on Oxnard Boulevard. But back in the seventh grade, everyone was getting them. They were way better than using a phone ’cause, first of all, there was no phone bill to bust you for talking to boys who lived past the Grade and second, you didn’t have your stupid sister yelling at you for tying up the phone line. Most people had CBs in their cars, but Terri’s dad had his in the den.
When I showed up at Terri’s to check out the CB, her mama was in the front yard planting some purple flowers.
“Go on in already.” She waved me in. “She’s in her father’s den.”
I found Terri just like her mama said. She was already on the CB, looking flustered and sorta excited.
“Hey,” I called out to her, and plopped my tote bag on her dad’s desk.
She didn’t answer but rather motioned to me with her hands to hurry up. Her mouth formed an exaggerated, “Oh, my God!” She held out a glass bowl of Pringles and pointed to a glass of Dr Pepper on the desk.
It turned out Terri had found a boy on the CB. An older interested one. He was fifteen, a skateboarder, and his handle was Lightning Bolt.
15“Lightning Bolt,” he bragged to Terri. “Like, you know, powerful and fast. That’s the way I skate. So,” he continued, “where you guys live? Over.”
“We live near Malibu.” Terri answered. “Between Malibu and Santa Barbara. Over.”
“Oh, excuse me, fan-ceee. Over.”
“That’s right.” Terri giggled. “Over.”
We actually lived in Oxnard. Really, in El Rio, a flat patch of houses, churches, and schools surrounded by lots of strawberry fields and some new snooty stucco homes surrounded by chainlink. But man, did Terri have this way of making things sound better. I mean, it was the truth, geographically, and besides it sounded way more glamorous.
20I took some Pringles from the bowl and thought we were gonna have this wonderful afternoon of talking and flirting with Lightning Bolt until Terri’s dad happened to come home early and found us gabbing in his den.
“What the …!” he yelled as soon as he walked in and saw us hunched over his CB. “What do you think this is? Party Central? Get off that thing!” He grabbed the receiver from Terri’s hand. “This isn’t a toy! It’s a tool. A tool for communication, you don’t use it just to meet boys!”
“Damn, Dad,” Terri complained as she slid off her father’s desk. “Don’t have a cow.” She took my hand and led me to her room. “Come on, let’s pick you out a handle.”
When we were in her room, I told her I had decided on Cali Girl as my handle.
“You mean, like California?” she asked.
“But you’re Mexican.”
“So, you look like you’re more from Mexico than California.”
“What do you mean?”
30“I mean, California is like, blond girls, you know.”
“Yeah, but I am Californian. I mean, real Californian. Even my great-grandma was born here.”
“It’s just that you don’t look like you’re from California.”
“And you’re not exactly golden,” I snapped.
We decided to talk to Lightning Bolt the next day, Friday, right after school. Terri’s dad always came home real late on Fridays, sometimes even early the next Saturday morning. It would be perfect. When I got to her house the garage door was wide open and I went in through the side door. I almost bumped into Terri’s mama. She was spraying the house with Pine Scent and offered me some Hi-C.
“Help yourself to a Pudding Pop, too,” she said before heading into the living room through a mist of aerosol. “They’re in the freezer.”
Man, Terri’s mama made their whole life like an afternoon commercial. Hi-C, Pringles in a bowl, the whole house smelling like a pine forest. Was Terri lucky or what? I grabbed a Pudding Pop out of the freezer and was about to join her when I picked up on her laugh. She was already talking to Lightning Bolt. Dang, she didn’t waste time!
“Well, maybe we don’t ever want to meet you,” I heard Terri flirt with Lightning Bolt. “How do you know we don’t already have boyfriends? Over.”
“Well, you both sound like foxes. So, uh, what do you look like? Over.”
“I’m about five-four and have green eyes and ginger-colored hair. Over.”
40Green? Ginger? I always took Terri for having brown eyes and brown hair.
“What about your friend? Over.”
“What about her? Over.”
Oh, this was about me! I had to hear this. Terri knew how to pump up things good.
“I mean, what does she look like?” Lightning Bolt asked. “She sounds cute. Over.”
45“Well …” I overheard Terri hesitate. “Well, she’s real skinny and, uh …”
“I like skinny girls!”
“You didn’t let me finish!” Terri interrupted. “And you didn’t say ‘over.’ Over.”
“Sorry,” Lightning Bolt said. “Go ahead and finish. Over.”
I tore the wrapper off the Pudding Pop and continued to listen.
“Well,” Terri continued. “She’s also sorta flat-chested, I guess. Over.”
What? How could Terri say that?
“Flat-chested? Oh yeah? Over.” Lightning Bolt answered.
Terri paused uncomfortably. It was as if she knew what she was saying was wrong and bad and she should’ve stopped but couldn’t. She was saying things about a friend, things a real friend shouldn’t be saying about another friend, but now there was a boy involved and he was interested in that other friend, in me, and her side was losing momentum. She would have to continue to stay ahead.
55“Yeah, and she also has this, this nose, a nose like … like an Indian. Over.”
“An, Indian?” Lightning Bolt asked. “What do ya mean an Indian? Over.”
“You know, Indian. Like powwow Indian.”
“Really?” Lightning Bolt laughed on the other end. “Like Woo-Woo-Woo Indian?” He clapped his palm over his mouth and wailed. A sound I knew all too well.
“Yeah, just like that!” Terri laughed. “In fact, I think she’s gonna pick ‘Li’l Squaw’ as her handle!”
60I shut the refrigerator door quietly. I touched the ridge of my nose. I felt the bump my mother had promised me would be less noticeable once my face “filled out.” The base of my nose was far from feminine and was broad, like, well, like Uncle Rudy’s nose, Grandpa Rudy’s nose, and yeah, a little bit of Uncle Vincente’s nose, too. Men in my family who looked like Indians and here their Indian noses were lumped together on me, on my face. My nose made me look like I didn’t belong, made me look less Californian than my blond counterparts. After hearing Terri and Lightning Bolt laugh, more than anything I hated the men in my family who had given me such a hideous nose.