, September 2023

Carl’s mother lit her Kent Golden Light 100 cigarette and exhaled.

“You know that girl Nancy? The one you know from school and the Beach Club?”

“Yeah,” Carl said. “What about her?”

“Well,” she said, twisting off the cap of the Bartles & Jaymes mixed berry wine cooler, “I had lunch down at the Club today and her mother was there, and she told me that Nancy has a bit of a crush on you.”

Carl rolled his eyes. Nancy was nice, he’d known her since fifth grade and she was one of the few classmates who was nice to him when he was the new kid, but she still dressed like a fifth grader and looked like one of the Ingalls girls from Little House on the Prairie, while most of the other eighth grade girls were trying to show their stuff, a few of them quite successfully.

“You don’t like her?” his mother asked exhaling, sipping.

“She’s nice, but she’s not really my type.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know,” Carl said, annoyed.

“She was in the car with her mother the other day and they drove by when you were doing your paper route and she ducked down in the seat so you wouldn’t see her.”

This is the first Carl had ever heard of a girl ducking him for want. Until then, his low self-esteem had prevented him from imagining that any girl, even the least attractive, would actually want him, and that his physical appearance could cause things to happen inside the interesting parts of their bodies. This was Nancy, though, and he’d never hear the end of it from the guys at school if he even hinted at interest in a girl so far down the charts.

“Yeah, well, too bad for her because it isn’t going to happen,” Carl said, deliberately cold, fending off his mother from interfering in his love life, seeing the nods of approval in his head from his friends, who were ready to resume gawking at the girls with the big boobs and tight neon spandex, especially those rumored to “put out”.

*     *     *

Six months later, in the height of the eighth-grade yearbook signing season at J. Lewis Ames Jr. High School—

She showed up Monday morning donning her new look—hair, clothes, makeup, the works—and, before the fifteen-minute homeroom period was over, Nancy was the talk of the school. Even the crudest of Carl’s pal’s, Ryan H, vaulted her into his top five “hottest chicks” in school, “maybe even top three material”, comparing her transformation to Sandra Dee’s at the end of Grease, which they’d all seen three dozen times in Mr. C’s music class, while the established “hot” eighth grade girls fumed, saying things such as, “Like, who the fuck does she think she is?” and “Like, she’d better not be walking around the mall by herself when I’m around.”

Carl, meanwhile, was spinning. This girl liked him. At least she used to. Maybe she still did. But there seemed no possibility of a girl this hot liking him. She’d rocketed right past him on the social ladder into the rarefied air of the cool kids, where she’d have the attention of the few guys their own age who actually knew what to do around girls.

*     *     *

She hadn’t been in any of his classes that year, but the eighth graders all had the same lunch period, and she sat at the far end of the room with some other girls Carl didn’t know. It would be ballsy to approach one of the hottest girls in school and ask her to sign his yearbook while the entire eighth grade looked on, but he was banking on the kindness she had previously showed him, a kindness that would overlook his own previous apathy towards her and the shallowness of wanting to be her friend now that she was “hot”.

As he calmly made his way across the cafeteria, Carl could peripherally see heads turning towards him, including the one belonging to Mr. Gambaro, the health teacher/failed NFL quarterback/fifth period lunch monitor who notoriously flirted with his female students and was rumored to have slept with over 10,000 women and most of the female faculty and attendance officers. Then Nancy noticed his approach, and the other girls at her table stared in anticipation of a nobody loser making an ass of himself in front of the entire grade.

She looked so different and hot, but she smiled at him with the old friendly smile from fifth grade. When he asked if she would sign his yearbook, she said, “Sure!” in her old friendly Nancy way, then handed him her yearbook for him to sign.

He would spend the entirety of that evening and the next several evenings staring at what she had written very large inside the back cover with her cute chick handwriting:

Hey Dude—
Good luck like next year & stuff!
Have a
mint summer.
I’ll see you at the Beach Club this year.

*     *     *

Since his family had moved to Massapequa and settled into the muck of South Shore Bourgeois, Carl had avoided going to “The Club”, as his mother and stepfather referred to it, somehow without even a hint of self-consciousness. This was the legendary Biltmore Beach Club, which Neil Diamond belonged to for a season during the late ’60s before he was famous, and a favorite local hangout of suburban mafia sub-bosses who once had the pull to book acts lingering on the outer fringes of the Rat Pack. Carl had wanted nothing to do with this place or the quasi-rich douchebags who hung out here every weekend drinking wine coolers on the beach and gossiping about each other, swearing repeatedly that he’d never become one of “them”.

But all that fell away at the prospect of seeing Nancy in a bathing suit. He couldn’t go to the Club during the day because he worked in the mess hall of the Merrick Woods Country Day Camp, so, after dinner, he’d put on his red Hawaiian-flowered Ocean Pacific bathing suit and ride his bike down there. She was never there in the evening, though, and he’d take a few dives off the board before heading back home for a night of floppy disk video games on the Commodore 64, Strip Poker and Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar, capped off with some tissues and a rerun of “Electric Blue” on The Playboy Channel he was able to unscramble with his illegal black market cable box.

*     *     *

Hater of fireworks, avoider of Independence Day tomfoolery, Carl knew she would be there on the night of the 4th, the big night of the year at the Club when they hired members from the outer limbs of the Grucci family tree to put on their annual “BBC Fireworks Spectacular”, the little private beach on the Great South Bay crowded with oohers and ahhers and the diving board line long with teenagers, including, on this warm Fourth of July, Nancy in a yellow bikini.


Carl was at the end of the line and she was on the board when she noticed him.

“Hi, Carl!” she waved, then dove gracefully into the chlorinated teal, now lit with underwater lights as the last of the daylight faded into crystal-clear night, much murmur amongst the older folk of it being a “perfect” night for fireworks.

Attempting to avoid embarrassment, Carl got off the line and jumped into the regular swimming section and waited to recede, then climbed the ladder and rejoined the diving board line behind Nancy.

“It’s funny that I’ve never seen you here,” she said. “I’m here all the time.”

“Yeah, well. I’ve been busy.”

“What are you doing this summer?”

She was still so nice, sweet Nancy Ingalls, but oh so hot, budding breasts in yellow bikini top, wet hair, looking like she just stepped out of a David Lee Roth video.

“Well, besides working at the camp, I don’t know, really. I was kind of hoping to hang out with you, maybe. On the weekend. If you want. If you’re not busy.”

She was smiling but didn’t say anything. Then he heard some guy behind him say, “Hey, what the fuck, dude?”

Carl didn’t realize the guy was talking to him until he was poked on the shoulder. He turned to see a very large, very muscular, very Coppertoned older-looking guy in a shiny black Speedo and thick gold chain around his neck, pool wet hair slicked back like a 1980s movie asshole.

“I’m talkin’ to you, dude. You tryin’ to make a move on my girl?”

“He’s an old friend and he didn’t know about you, Frankie,” Nancy said, then turned to Carl. “Carl, this is my boyfriend, Frankie.”

“Sorry, Frankie, I didn’t know,” Carl said, extending his hand, but Frankie didn’t offer his and still appeared to be contemplating some form of physical violence. Eventually he backed off but never offered his hand, and, pointing very seriously, warned Carl to “Stay away from my girl, dude.”

Nancy looked like she wanted to say something, but Carl didn’t give her a chance, leaving the line and steaming towards the entrance gate against the tide of families heading in, not bothering to go back for the towel or Reeboks he’d left behind.

Just beyond the gate, where they were making sure only Club members and their registered guests passed through, Carl exclaimed, “Fuck this place!”

Several people turned their heads and, frowning, watched the angst-ridden, bare-footed, shirtless teenager unlock his bike from the Club rack for the last time and ride away forever. ▪