The term "abuse of privilege" is redundant. If you couldnt abuse it, it wouldnt be a privilege, would it? It would be a responsibility.
-Conversations with Lauren
vii. otaku the killer tomatoes
This next section will be of special interest to historians interested in the young life and childhood friendships of Dina Gallagher. We have no finer portrait of our eras most lauded and influential writer.
These conversations come to us from the transcription of a still-extant tape recording Gallagher made during the traditional "last party of the summer." This annual event invariably took place on the last weekend before the recommencement of the school year, allowing participants a brief vie for elevation of social position before Lauren and Gallagher (through a mechanism still very much a mystery to us) set the years pecking order in stone.
The tape itself seems to have been one of many Gallagher created, using a microcassette recorder which she secreted about her person during her every interaction with Lauren throughout the last few weeks of their "junior summer," or the summer following their junior year of high school. Gallaghers transcriptions of these conversations, liberally woven through with analysis of the motivations and tactics of her ostensible "best friend" and rival, Lauren Bancroft, suggest that she was studying her nemesis with no less ingenuity and purity of intent than the most earnest military commander studies the character of his enemy.
The transcriptions themselves, variously called Conversations With Lauren or, more often, The Lauren Dialogues (after the now little-known but once much-prized Platonic Dialogues), were thought to have been named by Gallaghers first major historian, Miyako Hiashi (daughter of Yoshi Hiashi, a noted Osaka surgeon who spent her senior year of high school with Gallaghers family as an exchange student). Others suggest that Gallagher named the pieces herself, penciling wry titles in the margins of her original transcriptions. Still another rumor tied to the Lauren Dialogues is that its subject, Lauren Bancroft, was not a real person at all, but a fictional character created by Gallagher to serve as a foil for her own incisive but still somewhat innocent sardonicism (just as some speculate that the Socrates of the Platonic Dialogues was a fictional creation of Plato). A simple glance through the records of the period reveal that, in fact, Lauren Bancroft was a historical figure, though the reverent, introspective picture official records depict of lawyer and civil rights activist Lauren Bancroft contrasts so strongly with the cynical, manipulative hellion described in Gallaghers dialogues that one is forced to infer, if not a writers license in bending the truth around her subject, a profound and sudden shift in the personality and demeanor of Lauren just as she was on the cusp of adulthood. Should the latter be the case, we have thus far been unable to produce the scarcest shred of information as to its cause, and our records are impoverished immeasurably by its absence.
The portion of the Lauren Dialogues reprinted here was thought to be especially valued by Gallagher, as it represented the only known occurrence of Lauren losing even a measure of the high degree of self-control she possesses throughout the rest of Gallaghers lengthy descriptions of the character. This chip in the carefully-wrought facade of the Lauren character is theorized by Gallagher herself to have been caused by the date of the event. September 5th was the one-year anniversary of the day Gallagher and Bancrofts classmate Kelly McDonald was killed in a tragic car accident. Nakamuras biography makes a brief reference to the incident in the margins of the transcript with which we are presently concerning ourselves, to the effect that Lauren was so distraught by the untimely demise of her friend that she drank as many as twelve "Pink Godzillas" in an effort to quiet the memories of her lost friend. Why the loss of one classmate, however close, should cause such distress to the seemingly unfeeling and uncaring a character as the Lauren painted so vividly by Gallagher is a mystery better left to more insightful and better-informed historians than ourselves. We merely wish to draw attention to the uncharacteristic loquaciousness and forthrightness in the dialogues.
In any case, the dialogues have come to us as an invaluable aid not only to understanding the larval genius that later produced such seminal works as In Defense of Bullshit and How to Screw Other People Out of All Their Money Without a Twinge of Guilt, but as an inestimable insight into the historical personage/imaginary foil of Lauren, who, fictional or no, perfectly complemented and abraded with the still unformed character of Dina Gallagher.
Persons of the Dialogue
LAUREN DINA MIYAKO BETH ANDREA
Andrea pulls the Red Zeppelin" into Dinas driveway, Lauren and Beth already aboard.
BETH Dina, youd better freaking be ready!! Brookes end-of-years always draw a few guys from out of town, but if we dont get there early, the studs will be picked
DINA Ladies, Id like to introduce you to Yoshi Hiashi. Yoshi, this is Lauren, Andrea and Beth. Yoshi is an exchange student staying with us...
LAUREN From Japan.
DINA You want to borrow my coat again, Lauren? I thought I just saw you shiver.
LAUREN Not at all. (to Yoshi) <Konban wa.>
YOSHI <Konban wa.>
LAUREN <Amerika ni yoku kite kuremashita ne!!>
YOSHI <Ah!! Nihongo hanaserun desu ka?>
LAUREN <Sukoshi desu kedo... Konban no paatii tanoshimi desu ne. Amerika-jin no otoko no ko ga suki desu ka?>
YOSHI (blushing) <Kakko ii hito imasu yo ne.>
LAUREN <Konban no paatii de takusan suteki na hito ni aeru to omoimasu yo. Tabun watashi ga...>
DINA (making a "time out" gesture with her hands) Hey!! Hey!! Can we stick to English, please? Show a little courtesy?
YOSHI Im very sorry.
BETH (pulling the car out of Dinas driveway) What were you two talking about, anyway?
LAUREN Yoshi was just asking how to meet American boys.
ANDREA Girl, you have lucked into the finest think-tank on the American male of all time. The indigenous beast referred to as the "American Male" is best thought of not as a race of mankind, but as a related, semi-nomadic herd animal. And as with most herd animals, they are best hunted by studying their fewmets...
DINA Who taught you that word?
ANDREA ...as I was saying, their fewmets, or droppings. The heterosexual American males cave is invariably strewn with old copies of Playboy they ripped off from their dads. And this provides our first clue as to how you can become the sort of woman men go for after every meal, sneak off to the ladies room and throw up. Also, giggle constantly, bleach your hair, have as much plastic surgery as you can possibly afford, and then deny it.
BETH Andrea... you told me you were a late bloomer!! You didnt... I mean... did you have plastic surgery?
DINA My advice would be to be incredibly impressed by your dream-guys every act; the male ego needs constant reinforcement. "You won some football game? Oh, boy!! Im sure impressed!! You changed a tire? Wowwee!! You did a BM? Are you sure youre not an Olympian deity sent to grace my every waking moment with the unbelievable splendor of your god-like presence?"
BETH Dont listen to those losers, Yoshi. Take it from me, if you want to meet the man of your dreams, just be yourself.
ANDREA Classic rookie error.
BETH And dont take any advice from Lauren. She doesnt know the first thing about men, if you know what Im getting at.
YOSHI You have a boyfriend?
BETH I havent met Mr. Right yet.
ANDREA Careful. Beth reads the kind of books where the heroines look like theyve thrown up everything theyve ever eaten, bleached their hair and had plastic surgery, but when asked what their beauty secret is, they say, "Just being myself."
YOSHI I feel like Im learning already.
BETH All things happen for a reason. I dont have a boyfriend because the time isnt right yet.
LAUREN Do you want to spend the year not having a boyfriend because "the time isnt right yet," like Beth here, or do you want to rope the stud of your choice by midnight tonight?
YOSHI (looks at Beth, then back to Lauren) I suppose it would be rude to not at least listen to your advice.
BETH (murmurs something under her breath)
LAUREN All right, first you need a gimmick.
YOSHI What is a "gimmick"?
LAUREN Something that sets you apart from the crowd. Something that draws in enough male attention that you can pick and choose.
YOSHI In Japan men are attracted to women because they posses a certain as the French say je ne sais quois.
LAUREN In other words, a face like a model, a big rack and an ass you could bounce a quarter on. American guys go for that, too. But only one person can be the prettiest girl in the room, and thatll be Brooke. The rest of us need an angle. Beths the sweet one. Dinas the smart one. Andreas the weird one...
ANDREA Im the weird one? You think Im weird?
LAUREN No offense.
ANDREA On the contrary. I was thinking of getting a tattoo, but now Im wondering if that might be overkill.
LAUREN Most people from Buffalo Creek have never been to Madison, let alone Japan. That gives you a head start as the "exotic" one. Which means youll appeal most strongly to repressed, straight-A student, white-bread type guys. Dina whom do we have in the repressed white-bread category this evening?
DINA (rifling through notes) Lessee... Kirks cousin Matthew is in town tonight. Chiseled features, broad chest, studying to be a doctor. And to my knowledge he has never committed an act which would seem out of place if depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting. His only known irritating feature is his penchant for telling prolonged and excruciatingly dull Cub Scout anecdotes, presumably to litmus-test potential girlfriends for family values.
LAUREN Okay, perfect. Now the thing is, Yoshi, youve got to drop the most deniably perverse anecdote about Japan you can possibly think of, but you cant make it sound like it wasnt your idea to bring it up. It has to seem like an accident. Got that?
YOSHI I havent even met this boy yet!! What if I dont like him?
BETH (handing Yoshi a photo of Matt from her purse) Here.
YOSHI (little gasping noise) What kind of anecdotes work best?
DINA (to Beth) You have a picture of him in your purse?
LAUREN Ideally, something with the word naked or panty in it. You want to create an association between yourself and sex.
DINA Excuse me!! (time out gesture) Does anyone but me find it pathologically obsessive that Beth carries a picture of Matt around with her everywhere she goes?
LAUREN Once youve established your societal role and your association with sex, youll need to project a relationship with Matt, which is as a lesser being. Theres a famous quotation, "When choosing a friend, take a step up, when choosing a wife, take a step down."
YOSHI From the Talmud.
LAUREN Right, exactly. Showing off like that is perfectly acceptable among friends, but I wouldnt go quoting anything more demanding than Cosmo once we establish a beachhead. Men from just about every culture are unbelievably threatened by the idea of a partner who isnt inferior to them in every way. Luckily, women have long ago figured out how to handle this: feign incompetence. This is very important, Yoshi, this is the key. Men will sooner marry a homely girl who looks up to them adoringly than a bombshell who challenges their positions on Kafka. You must not threaten the male ego, or all is lost. Have you got that?
YOSHI Yes, hold on a second. (Yoshi scribbles this information into a small notebook)
LAUREN Finally, the clincher of any budding heterosexual romance is to act helpless and/or vulnerable in a way which is endearing enough to inspire protectiveness on his part, but trivial enough to not require that he do anything really difficult. The central male fantasy is saving a beautiful woman from crazed, gun-wielding terrorists, thus putting her in his debt. And the surest way to land a man is to give him an opportunity to enact this fantasy in miniature.
YOSHI What if there are no crazed, gun-wielding terrorists at the party?
LAUREN Then adapt to scale. Find a jam jar you cant open, or a crossword puzzle with a sports question. Or do something endearingly clumsy knock a vase over so he has the opportunity to gallantly pick it up, or whatever.
YOSHI Why cant I pick up the vase myself?
LAUREN Youll be too busy knocking over a second vase.
YOSHI What if he doesnt notice?
LAUREN The Van Heusens have a lot of vases.
YOSHI Wont that be transparent? Knocking over vases so he can pick them up for me?
LAUREN Thats the beauty of the "helpless female" act. The more contrived and obvious, the better it works!!
BETH Lauren, I have to say Im appalled by what Im hearing. This poor, innocent girl comes to us for advice in the ways of love, and youre teaching her how to manipulate people!!
(Lauren pops in a tape: Billie Holiday singing George and Ira Gershwins "Lets Call The Whole Thing Off")
Persons of the Dialogue
LAUREN DINA YOSHI BETH ANDREA
As the girls enter Brookes house, Andrea opens her bag to freshen her lipstick and drops a sealed envelope on the floor.
LAUREN (leaning down to pick it up) Allow me.
DINA Carrying around unopened mail, Andrea? Is this one of your ploys to be deliberately mysterious, or are you being genuinely mysterious by mistake?
BETH Oh, Dina, dont be stupid. Its obviously a love letter from some gorgeous hunk whos too adorably shy to show his feelings in person. Is it a love letter, Andrea?
ANDREA (taking letter from Lauren and replacing it in her purse) Thanks. No, this is just my stupid report card.
(There is a general flurry of noise as the girls simultaneously ask why Andrea has yet to open her report card the evening before the upcoming school year)
ANDREA I dont want to talk about it, okay? My guidance counselor is Mrs. Merteuil, the batty old French teacher, and Im just not in the mood to read whatever drivel she has to say about my performance this year.
DINA And you havent been in the mood all summer?
ANDREA Its like, who is she to judge me, you know? Who gave her the power to decide whether I measure up to her dumb standards, anyway?
BETH The school board, I think.
DINA Yeah, also didnt your parents have to sign a form or something?
ANDREA Listen, I dont want to read my report card, and I dont care what it says, and I dont want to argue about it.
DINA Ive got to hand it to you, Andrea, youre like the Alexander the Great of denial. Most of us face these little Gordian Knots of unpleasant truths, and we cant find a way around them, so we grit our teeth and face them. But you dont even bother trying to rationalize your way out of them!! If youre faced with an unpleasant truth, you simply refuse to accept it!! You just pretend it doesnt exist!!
ANDREA Thats not true.
DINA Case in point!!
LAUREN Okay, Dina, B+ for the hermetically sealed argument, but D- for the fact that weve been here for sixty seconds and I dont have a drink yet.
YOSHI (jotting down some notes) Thats the third time one of you has said "hermetically sealed argument" since we left Dinas house. Is that an idiomatic expression?
Persons of the Dialogue
LAUREN DINA YOSHI MATT MARY-LOU
MARY-LOU ...but her panties had become stuck in his braces, so he just stuffed the whole pair in his mouth!! When her parents finally made it to the living room, she told them Buck had a toothache, he was in too much pain to talk, and had to go straight home!!
MATT That reminds me of one particular time in the Boy Scouts, I must have been about eight, and our troop leader, a swell guy named Chip...
LAUREN Yoshi, youve been awfully quiet tonight. Tell us a story!! I wonder if men are as fascinated with womens panties in Japan?
YOSHI (blushing) Well, actually, in some train stations there are vending machines which dispense soiled schoolgirls underthings. They sell very well to salarymen.
MATT Really? Youre from Japan? Is it really true that college in Japan is based on a meritocracy?
YOSHI Yes, only about a third of the children pass their college exams and have the opportunity to become professionals.
MATT Thats fascinating. Id love to hear more about what its like over there. Say, can I freshen your drink...?
YOSHI Just punch, please.
MATT Not a drinker, eh? Well, thats probably for the best. Too many girls today are...
DINA (in a very loud voice) So, Yoshi... youre Japanese!! How exciting to have someone here who can give us a literal translation of these great pins Lauren has asked us all to wear!!
YOSHI (glancing at Dina, then at Matt, whos wearing a pin) Im not sure I...
DINA "Kudasai" means "please," right? Cmon, Im sure wed all love to hear what these great pins mean!! Kudasai?
(There is a polite chorus of assent)
YOSHI (glancing at Matts pin, then meeting Laurens eyes before answering) It, uh... it has to do with intelligence.
(A subdued murmur of approval moves through the room)
MATT Intelligence, really? Wow!! I remember this one merit badge I earned, it must have been like my tenth badge...
YOSHI (knocking over a vase) Oops!!
MATT (pointing) Hey, you knocked over a vase, there, Yoshi. You should be more careful.
YOSHI (knocking over a second vase) Oops again!! I am so endearingly clumsy tonight!!
MATT Here, let me give you a hand...
Pawn Takes Queen
Persons of the Dialogue
DINA Are you attempting marital relations with my calf?
COREY Merely trying to get your attention. I just cant reach your sleeve without standing upright, and those gin and tonics are working against me. Do you have any condoms?
COREY Im gonna jungle boogie Mary-Lou in the coat room, but she says no glove, no love. Shes killing time talking to Kirk while I find some.
DINA Wow. Youre not only an asshole, youre a moron.
COREY I am so sorry. That was crass.
DINA I should say to.
COREY ...Mentioning my robust, athletic sex life to the plain girl. I do hope I didnt scar you emotionally. Not irreversibly, anyway.
DINA Ive always felt that being manipulated is the most horrible, degrading thing a person can endure. Oh, and Corey?
DINA I once heard Andrea say your zine is a work of genius. And shes got big tits.
Information as a Commodity
Persons of the Dialogue
Dina comes upon Lauren in the kitchen, where she is holding an envelope over a pan of boiling water.
DINA Whatcha doing?
LAUREN (absently) Steaming open Andreas report card.
DINA (stares mutely for several seconds before speaking) So whats Andrea carrying around in her purse?
LAUREN I dunno. Probably the Van Heusens gas bill. I grabbed the first thing I could find on their front table.
DINA Hoping to find something specific?
LAUREN (pulling the flap open with her nail) Nothing in particular. You never know when information will come in handy.
DINA (grabbing letter) Here, Ill read it aloud. That way you can testify that you never read it. Lets see... "Math, A, Biology, A-, History, B+, English, A, Gym, A..."
LAUREN Andrea has the most unusual denial patterns of anyone Ive ever met. Im making her my psychopathology experiment, in case I ever become a securities lawyer and need to know this stuff.
DINA Theres also a comment at the end. "Andrea is good, but she dresses a little funny, but her teachers like her, but she is an okay student, but please ask her to stop peercing [spelled with two "Eees"] her body parts and then showing them to the boys in class. Signed, Mrs. Merteuil." (looking up) Notice anything peculiar?
LAUREN Shes obsessed with butts. I should have known Ernie Hammocks trouser cleavage would eventually topple her over the edge and into the abyss.
DINA You mean Ernie, the guy from the post office? Whats he got to do with Mrs. M?
LAUREN Theyre having an affair. Ernies wifes got him on a strict diet, so every day at noon Ms. M coaxes herself out of her drunken stupor long enough to bring him an extra lunch from Burger Barn, cleverly concealed in a large manila envelope. She appears at his house every Wednesday Mrs. Hammocks bingo night and they do the nasty.
DINA How do you...?
LAUREN I traded Billy Hammock a pair of Mary-Lou Henningers soiled underpants for the low-down on his parents.
DINA How did you obtain a pair of Mary-Lous underwear?
LAUREN In return for arranging her first infidelity with Kirk. My father mentioned that information about the Japanese business-pervo vending machines as dinner conversation once. Being the patriotic sort, I figured American guys would rise to the same level of ickiness. Thats how I knew to steer Yoshi towards that particular anecdote.
DINA (sliding down to the floor) Im feeling a little depressed.
LAUREN Dont tell me you had a thing for Ernie. Maybe Ive been underestimating the power of trouser cleavage.
DINA Nah, I just... Im doing this book on French intrigues, and I was kind of hoping Mrs. M could help me translate a few phrases. But it doesnt sound as if her English is very good.
LAUREN Thats strange.
LAUREN I have the strongest feeling that if I were sober, I would challenge your obvious lie and verbally claw your brains out until you spilled the beans on whatever elaborate scheme youre cooking up.
DINA But seeing as you are drunk...?
LAUREN Hmmm. If youre looking for a French translation, why dont you ask Dorea?
DINA (her eyes going very wide) ....who...?
LAUREN Dorea Beaudreaux, the waitress with the patch from Diner 51. Shes squatting in the old head office of Bancroft Paper Mills.
DINA How do you know that?
LAUREN "You never know when information will come in handy." I hope you dont expect me to give away all my sources. (stands up, a bit wobbly)
DINA Lauren, are you okay? You seem kind of... I dunno... baked.
LAUREN Well, Im not. Im extremely baked. Im going to go out for some air. (long pause) Goodnight, Kelly.
At this point on the tape there is a strange, unidentified wet sound. The idea that Lauren may have actually kissed Dina goodnight on the mouth, asserted by usually scrupulous historian Miyako Hiashi, seems too far-fetched and unjustified, and has been dismissed by Gallaghers modern biographers as being the product of an overly fanciful imagination. Far more likely, the sound may have been caused by a flaw in the taping mechanism. Laurens mistaking Dina for Ms. McDonald is attributed both to her extreme inebriation, and the significance of the date.
Whatever the source of the mysterious tape glitch, Beth Newgardens diaries tell us quite clearly that following Laurens sudden disappearance, Dina revealed the news concerning Doreas identity to her two friends.
Dina is also reported to have expressed a certain amount of surprise and displeasure upon learning that Yoshi had accepted a ride home from Matt.
Dinas exact words, as recorded in Newgardens diary, were "That bitch," although its not clear to whom she was referring.
Slightly drunk, heady with excitement, and only hours before the first day of their senior year, Dina, Andrea, and Beth set out for the warehouse district to confront Dorea.
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After Kelly ©1995 by Kristen Brennan