“God damn.” I sighed, as I looked up at the monolith to private, first-class scholasticism erected in front of me. “Alex.” my Dad said, snapping me out of my daze. I turned to him. “A new school, a new year” we recited in unison. We both scoffed as he nudged out me of the Volvo. It is a mantra so cliche that even my parents cannot say it with a straight face anymore; but yet like some unwanted Ke$ha song it is the only damn thing that ambled through my head on the car ride here.
My arm perched on the car’s window sill, I had basked in the morse-code like spurts of Indian Summer Seattle sun that peaked through the tall trees as we passed by the school where I’d spent the last 3 years building friendships, my reputation, and my budding portfolio. I would never again walk through those halls like I owned the damn place. I wouldn't parlay my position as editor of the of the paper and internship at The Stranger, to Colombia, and on to writing and producing the next generation-defining, piece of cinema. Not as easy as the way I planned it anyway.
Passing by my old school, the building may as well have had a giant “FUCK YOU” banner daintily draped across its buttresses - figuratively speaking, of course. But now, as I stood down my impending uncertainty in the parking lot of my new scholastic home, I couldn’t help but notice the student body of Pacific Yeshiva Prep eyeing me on their way into school. The irony, right? - a minority amongst the minority. Did they know about the incident? Had my reputation preceded me? Why were they so discerning of my librarian-chic ensemble? Did they know I haven’t spoken a word of Hebrew since my Bat Mitzvah? Oh, and did that girl in the black skirt know she has a huge rip up the back? Who’s laughing now, huh, religie? No, I’m just kidding I didn’t really laugh at her -- well a little bit, but not audibly.
Chiseled out of marble, a large sign lorded over me and the rest of the student body in the hallway: Where Einstein Meets Maimonades. Hah. Well, if this school can resurrect and matriculate some very dead people, I’m sure it can get my ass into Colombia, right? Although I had been raised ‘Jewish’, I wasn’t Jewish like the rest of these people. There was something distinctly different about their behavior...and clearly their dress. Mildly herd-like in their movements, there was also a doughtiness to most of them as well. By no means am I Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club but to be honest compared to most of the girls here, it looks as though I just stepped out of the pages of freakin’ Vogue. I felt like I had an in on some exclusive club except everything was backwards. These people are not hip, they have no pulse on pop culture, and yet - to quote one of this generation’s greatest ambassadors, Beyonce Knowles - they run the world. Or At least this world. Even as a Jew myself, these are the very people I curiously stare at, and pity slightly on Saturday mornings as watch them walk down my street.
My parents endeavored to raise me with a traditional sensibility but learned at and early age (mine) that I was - what do they like to say - too mouthy and precocious for such a modest environment. It was not the right fit for me. I think it was really when the letter writing campaign launched against me at Jewish day school that my parents decided to remove me and dumb me down in the public school system. Apparently, the other parents did not like when I engaged the class in a spirited debate about what should happen to the unused foreskin after circumcision. Anyway, given that, my Jewish identity thus pretty much begins and ends with my Baube getting ‘shpilkas’ when she caught me kissing a boy in 6th grade.
As I passed a Black-Hatted Rabbi on my way into the school office, I had the fleeting thought that Orthodox Jews were a lot like animals at the zoo; you can feed them - but don’t touch! This was going to be a long, dry year. It’s fine, I guess I was pretty used to it at this point anyway. Most of the action I got these days consisted of wiping my friend Patrick’s chardonnay-laced drool off of my shoulder while consoling him over the results of a late night episode of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race.
“Alexandra Burns”, said a husky voice from the front desk. The wispily white-haired, pudgy secretary was about 60. She may as well have had a cigarette in hand. “Alexandra Burns”, she repeated. “Yes. That obvious?” I goated. She cocked her head at me.
-”You missed prayers,” she said
-”I was told to come straight to the office.”
-”Yes, but you missed morning prayers,” she noted quite proudly. “You can speak with Dean Heller later about getting that mark removed,” “Next time get here early.” The secretary, with a jolt of her stubby wrist, punched the stapler down on the pages of my schedule.
She handed the schedule to me. In the exchange, my hands brushed her blackened rubber finger. The bumps on those things have always creeped me out. I imagine that touching them is what it would be like to touch a person with leprosy. Leprosy, or the fatty skin of day-old refrigerated chicken. Not having lived in biblical times it’s a bit of a toss up, and frankly I might be leaning towards the chicken. While I was busy day dreaming of gross fatty chickens and leper colonies I did manage to hear the Secretary tell me that I would meet my student guide in first period in room 303-A, but that first I had to meet with Dean Heller for a brief ‘Introduction’ to school code and conduct. Awesome.
The room was filled with dusty books - on the shelves, on the floor, on the desk, on the window sill. Books abounded. So much so that they nearly blocked out the Oscar unassumingly situated on a shelf behind his desk. Clearly no one ever accused Dean Heller of being OCD. An Oscar - in Denny Cove. The closest anyone here ever got to an Oscar were the ridiculous invtire-only Academy Award parties thrown by every wealthy, overstimulated house wife. Or the directionally-challenged, Twilight-obsessed tweens who got lost on their way to Forks. Famous Actors? Not so much. The youth of Denny Cove grew up to be heart surgeons, family business moguls, and CPAs.
The sweet chirping of birds out Dean Heller’s open window and the sporadic passing of a single car dotted the air; Denny Cove wasn’t exactly the a bustling hotspot of the Seattle Metro area. It was quite a place to grow up though. I loved it for everything it had, and everything it lacked. It was a peaceful place full of families, waterfront, and ambling windy roads that followed the usually damp, green waterfront. Summers, however short, were what we lived for as kids. A dip in the lake followed by a cone at Farfar’s Danish Ice Cream Shop, a day out on the on a friend’s Beneteau, an afternoon lost to building sandcastles in your back yard. These were the things we kids of Denny Cove busied ourselves with growing up. Despite whatever stories told about me, that is what I lived for. What the kids of Pacific Yeshiva Prep did, I had no idea. I had a few guesses, but I had no concrete ideas. Despite being Orthodox, the school and these kids were on my territory. PYP, though located on Denny Cove was supported and frequented by the Orthodox of Seattle’s Seward Park Neighborhood. It was an invasion of Normandy proportions; and now here I was, taking my territory back. Wait, I think that metaphor might make me the Nazis -- well, anyway, you get what I’m saying.
I couldn’t help but eyeball the new manuscript on Dean Heller’s desk as he took a seat. ”Ms. Burns.” his decisive yet friendly voice hummed. I sensed my infamy but I refused to let it get the best of me. He, after all, was the one - the only one - who offered a place of shelter for me and my beleaguered, embarrassed parents. Whether these were rightful labels was besides the point, it was here I found myself, and my parents were along for the bumpy ride. “...I’m honored,” he continued thoughtfully.
- ”Ha.” I knee-jerked.
an introduction to the hallowed halls of Pacific Yeshiva Prep.
- “Thank You.”
He glared at me, awaiting the rest of my sentence. It never came. I smiled, my hands folded quietly in my lap. He wanted my word. An absolute. But honestly, who can give an absolute? I told him I would try my best, that was my absolute; but with an seed such as myself, someone who had to be molded into an example, the odds on that certainly weren’t anything I would take to Vegas. Before I left, Dea Heller handed me a list to look over. And with this paper and that lovely little pep talk, I had officially been inducted into the soon-storied history of Pacific Yeshiva Prep. Sixty years did not a storied history make; a history maybe, but it would unwittingly be I who would put that footnote in the annals of Pacific Yeshiva Prep. Whoops.
What a strange way to label rooms - why wouldn’t it just be 303 or 304. 303-A? Was it half of a room? Anyway, as I curiously walked to my first period and wondered just how mind-numbing and preachy this student guide of mine could possibly be I did all that I could to remind myself that the average SAT score for Pacific Yeshiva Prep was a 2200, and that a letter of recommendation from Dean Heller - AIPAC Lobbyist, former Middle-Eastern relations advisor to President Bush, published author and screenwriter extraordinaire - can open pretty much any door. Hell, breathing the same air as the guy could practically get a personal detail to escort you to the college of your choice, and a job in the Industry. The paper in my hand called to me, I unfolded it. 1. Male and Female students will not share physical contact 2. All food on premises will be Kosher 3. All students will participate in morning prayer service according to Gender 4.Students will respect the school’s adherence to Shabbat and will refrain from major activities on Friday night and Saturday. 5. A dress code for females of skirts below the knee and 3/4 sleeves will be enforced. A dress code for males of pleated slacks and collared shirts (tucked in at all times) will be enforced. And on it went.
I passed a handful of classrooms, curled around a corner, and finally meandered down a stairwell. 306...304...301..303-B but no 303-A as of yet. Turning to my left, under the stairwell there was s smaller, Willy Wonka-esque door. It was shorter than code, and inexplicably slanted. The room didn’t have a sign but given the oddity of this place, this Wonka door very much could have been my destination of 303-A. I tried the handle. It was locked but had a bit of a jiggle to it, and I heard some noises behind it. I went with it, I was curious. I pulled a bit harder. The door flung open and inside the school’s darkroom were two frisky co-eds making out. Too preoccupied to hear the handle jiggle, they did manage to hear the thud of the door hitting the wall when I barreled through and they repelled off of one another like two half-clothed magnets.
“Button your shirt!”, barked the female magnet to her male friend. He did. There she sat on the desk. A skinny girl in a long, black lycra skirt. Her hair was nearly of equal color and slink. Luxuriously long, her effortlessly falling curls draped perfectly over her small right breast. With a bra strap fallen to her to arm, her hair was all that separated us from the beginning scene of a really awful porn film. Two feisty parochial school girls and one unwitting virgin male student are trapped in the...see? Terrible. Anyway, I digress. I was distracted by the angry aeriola.
- “I...I..” she stumbled out in my direction.
I awkwardly tried to avert my eyes and my attentions to the random, discarded model skeleton standing nearby, until I realized my feet weren’t made of lead, of course. “You two kids just go about your --”, I spat back, as I twisted myself around to exit and ever-so-elegantly tripped over the skeleton.
I stayed on my feet as I lurched out of the darkroom but the olympic judges surely would have docked me for my dismount. I couldn’t, however, say the same for two I would later find out were Miri Paulson and Sam Spitz. It seemed as though they had been working on their dismount for sometime: it was clean, sharp, and well practiced, just not well publicized.
Sitting at my desk finally in the front of the class I couldn’t feel anything but self-conscious. My heart was still racing from the events of the darkroom. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have any of the answers. And I planned on not talking the whole day. That would work, right? No one is going to pick on the new girl are they?
Something about this class was off. I mean besides the fact that I couldn’t understand any of it because none of it was in English. Shit- as I peered around the room it became glaringly obvious what was throwing me off. There was a sheer lack of the male sex in this classroom. I’m pretty sure they go here; in fact I’m fairly certain I just had one seer an image so disturbing into my completely chaste and virtuous brain that I’ll probably never get to sleep at night ever again. Ok so maybe I’m being a bit hyperbolic here but what the fuck is going on - they can’t be serious. I mean I’ve heard about this, but really? I’m pretty sure co-education was mandated around the same time we integrated schools back in ’57. Let’s see, so rather than putting guys and girls in the same classes, instead they dangle the boy bait right I front of us only to pull it away right before we reel in our catch. Sure, that clearly works very well.
My schedule and nothing and no one else indicated that this was Mrs. Leiberman’s class. Jewish Law 200. I took stock of the girls in the class. It’s funny that even at a school so special that it can bring tow very dead people like Einstein and Maimonadies, you still have all the usual suspects. Next to me in the front row was a buttoned-up, east coast looking thing. The brown-nosing type if I ever saw one. She was clearly enjoying her ankle length skirt and Dianne Keaton’s turtle neck; this was the kind of girl who was so uptight that if you hit her like a piñata, I’m pretty sure you could collect a tennis racket from her ass. Pretty though. Well, kind of mousey.
In the back corner was a petite girl, olive skinned and dough-eyed. A Daughter of Babek for sure. She was so petite that the mane of jet black, curly hair on her head nearly engulfed her, entirely. It certainly came in handy though, as the hair helped mask the fact that she was mumbling quips and passing notes during the entire class. The girl twirled a thick lock of hair around her finger, gliding it along in front of her face and resting it on her upper lip as a mustache. I can spot boredom a mile away; and as any girl knows, mustache play is a dead give away. I feigned a stretch to turn my head over my right shoulder to size this one up some more. We caught one another sightline and she immediately froze, pausing mid stifled laugh. Before turning my head back, I caught a silent mouthing of ‘oh shit’. Well if that was in deference to me, then I second that ‘oh shit’. IS there really nothing else going on at this school that my arrival was all that anyone was anticipating..and fearing?
I quickly turned my attention to other, more important items when I noticed a bleached blond Russian girl quietly counting the number of fingers on her hands. I kid you not. Pacific Yeshiva Prep - highest test scores in the state. Well they have to be talking about a median score, right? Outliers must be eliminated. This place was like a freaking bag of mixed nuts, no better than the Denny Cove High.Behind me sat Ally Sheedy’s more awkward Breakfast Club twin. Babek’s Daughter in the back over there was playing with her hair, but this girl here, was fucking chewing that shit. Poor girl, that giant parka didn’t help the situation much; it was Indian Summer outside, it couldn’t have smelled great under there. Turns out I might not have been the biggest outcast in the motley crew, but it was certainly still to early to make the official call on that. for now I was still the new girl, which unless your Zooey Deschanel, is pretty much the bottom of the food chain. I don’t care if you’re pledging Kappa Kappa Gamma at USC or riding low in your chair at Pacific Yeshiva Prep, being the new girl is the worst.
A note landed on my desk from the girl behind me
- Next scene: Mrs. Leibermans’ class and harsh grading/dislike of Alex sets the stage for Alex’s choice of hebrew lessons for the blackmail.
-conversation with bita in the gym
-Scene at home over shabbat dinner to show more background with her parents.
- Miri teaching alex hebrew, she runs into kid smoking the joint --> blackmail