Summer 2008, #15
       "Convenient Acts of Human Behavior"

Small Town Seventeen – An American Triptych

     by Ann Garvin

Goodbye to Dick Heads

8:45 P.M. It's her last Friday night working the ticket booth at the Orfordsville Drive-In, her last Dog & Suds, Scarf and Blow, dinner-and-a-movie special, no more dick heads oggling her boobs when she bends forward to give change, no more Hey Marcie, can I dock my baloney barge in your bun?, and thank God no more jowly geezers waiting for her to close so they can smartass her into a ride home. Gas or ass, honey, nobody rides free. Never once an original line since she'd started working the drive-in kiosk four years ago.

A moment later, when she least expects it, a raggedy pickup hit-and-runs her memories. She sees a large, dark tarp covering four distinct humps in the back of the truck. It barrels across her line of vision on Highway 40, swerves with a screech, and punches the motor to full throttle with a dramatic display of testosterone and misplaced understanding of what girls find attractive—no doubt a bunch of broke losers pissed because they can't sneak into the drive-in.

Life on the edge in Michigan.

Dreams, Dentistry, and Destiny

On Sunday Marcie leaves for college. She'd already started packing, pulling out her best underwear, the bikinis silk-screened with food cartoons: spaghetti and meatballs, a cherry-topped chocolate sundae, and her favorite, a hotdog with onion rings. The hotdog undies had a subtle sexual quality that she believes might be good for a university girl. A girl of the world. Rummaging in her fanny pack for dental floss, she considers possible majors to pursue. She'd better try theatre if she's ever going to give that Oscar speech she's practiced since tenth grade: As a little girl, my mother always said when invited to a party you should keep it short, thank the host, and say you had a nice time. So, to my fans and the academy, thank you for having me. I had a nice time.

She loves her film fantasies, especially the one where Tom Cruise discovers her as he passes through town on his way to a shoot in the Porcupine Mountains. He'd be filming an adventure-thriller about a guy who saws off his arm with a nail file. She would be cast as his love interest and they would move to LA together once filming was done. Her destiny. But what if that didn't happen? She needs to be practical, maybe try something like dentistry instead. The acceptance speech could certainly be adapted. I want to thank my fellow dentists for this great distinction. The Happy Molar award is the highest of honors."

She knows teeth are important if not quite as romantic.

Without a Sigh or a Wink or a Warning

The sound of gunshots explode in the air. Yep, 9:37 pm. She's seen this movie, Death Wish a hundred times. The body count will be at precisely twenty-two when Kenny arrives. No surprises from Kenny or the movie. Gazing out from her drive-in kiosk, she doesn't feel 17. Rather, she feels ageless, as if she can press through the night and come out on the other side of the darkness where she knows something real is happening. She plucks at her uniform, sticky in the heat. She smells that distinct odor the air carries when it's serious about summer. She thinks of Kenny. If only boys were forced to wear ingredient lists like the nutrition labels on food packages. Charming, mildly sexy, smart, likes fruit. Or better yet, a warning label that provides full disclosure before all potential pairing: Freakishly fearful of commitment; won't call when says will call; only cares for self; demonstrates said lack of caring in many and varied ways.

As it stands, most women, like her mother, who marry without warning labels, learn these ingredients only after years of soul searching, therapy, and meetings with a court-appointed mediator. She shakes her head. She's like a coke that someone has dropped, her lid on tight while her thoughts press to escape and scatter in a thousand directions, some of them again finding Kenny ... She loves the whole amazing, eyes-body-hands-package of him. She should tell him the truth, she knows.

She will tell him she is leaving. She will create the words in her head and not allow him to swallow them when she opens her lips for a kiss. And then he is there, in front of her, moving into the small kiosk, and without a sigh, or a wink, or warning, he steals all her words and shuts the door.