By Ronni Sandroff | Oct. 1968 | Redbook Magazine
Twelve floats, representing the major sororities and fraternities, had passed, overflowing with fresh flowers and white-gloved, smiling girls in evening gowns. The master of ceremonies swallowed audibly and announced that the next float in the home-coming parade was the only independent entry, and was called the “Frump Queen.”
Six boys appeared with red lash marks painted on their bare backs, pulling a convertible covered with thorns and dead tree branches. Zizi was perched on top of the car, dressed in black crepe paper and hip boots, her heavily chalked face marked with black lines, an orange fright wig on her head. She threw dead leaves at the crowd.
After a moment of confusion, the students behind Mrs. Rawdon were convulsed.“For ten cents I’d marry that girl.”
Mrs. Rawdon turned to examine the boy. Sweat shirt, chinos, sneakers, no beard, short hair, respectable… She tossed him a dime. “She’s all yours.”
The boy laughed. “Who is she?”
“My darling daughter. Last summer I made a drastic mistake. I said ‘Zizi isn’t it remarkable that you’ve got through three years of college without being queen of anything?’ As soon as I saw the gleam in her orange eyes, I knew something like this would happen.”
“Orange eyes?” The Frump Queen moved out of sight, and a group of Shriners in midget cars and clown costumes spun in circles down the street.
Mrs. Rawdon sighed. “My daughter has only one redeeming quality to her credit. She can make people laugh.”
“I’d really like to meet her. It must take a lot of courage to pull a stunt like that. In this town, nobody makes fun of home-coming.”
“For anyone else, it would take courage. For Zizi, it’s just a matter of lack of self-control.”
They turned to the next float, on which a valentine of pink and white flowers formed a swing for Miss Perfect Profile. Mrs. Rawdon poked the boy. “Zizi has a better profile than that. But it’s beneath her dignity to enter a con· test. She has to pull some crazy . . . What’s your name?”
“Eric. Eric Wilmot.”
“What’s your major? Don’t mind me -I’m just doing a little market research.”
“I’m between majors. I used to be in economics, but I got bored. I’m thinking of switching to philosophy.”
“Philosophy’s a terrific major,” Mrs. Rawdon said thoughtfully. “There are lots of opportunities in philosophy nowadays. When you graduate, you can join one of the big philosophy corporations, or open a little philosophy shop, or the government . .. Now, the government has a serious philosopher shortage.”
Eric laughed. “You’re very funny.”
“How nice of you to notice.”
“If I’ve passed the test, I’d like to meet your daughter.”
“Well, actually I was in the market for a third-year medical student, but . . . Do you have a girl friend?”
“I’m between fiancees. I tend to fall in love at first sight and out of love on second sight.”
“Between majors, between fiancees. Let me guess. Are you trying to find yourself? Or lose yourself?·’
“No, I’m waiting for something to interrupt my life-a sign, a miracle, a disaster, a blinding flash of light that will transform a nervous college kid into a decisive, ambitious man of the world.”
Mrs. Rawdon smiled. “Come-I’ll introduce you to my disaster.”
They weaved through the parking lot where the floats were disassembling. They spotted the Frump Queen float immediately; it was the only one the children were ignoring.
“Mother! Didn’t you love me? Zizi ran toward them, crepe paper trailing.
“You were gorgeous. You brought honor to your school and family. Zizi, this is Eric Wilmot.”
“You finally took a lover!”
“Eric is between fiancees. I bought him for you for a dime. Good night.”
Zizi walked around him. “Not bad· looking. What are you in-medicine, engineering or law? Wait, mother, I’ll walk you to the bus:·
“In that outfit?·’
The three of them fought through the dispersing crowd. Eric tried to study Zizi’ face in the street lights, but the mask and make up was too thick to see through. At the bus station they squeezed Mrs. Rawdon in between a tuba player and a high school cheerleader and waited until the bus drove off.
“Where did she pick you up?” Zizi demanded.
“She walked through the crowd, asking if anyone would marry her daughter. I said sure.” Eric was aware that everyone in the crowded terminal was staring at her. ”’My scooter’s parked around here. I’ll take you to the dorm to change.”
She grinned through the make up. “I have my own apartment. Special permission from a wonderful mother and a badgered dean:’
As soon as they reached her apartment, Zizi vanished into the bedroom, leaving Eric to wander around the bizarre living room. The flat looked like a circus. Nine-foot posters of circus animals and artists covered the bright green, red and yellow walls. Colored lights revolved on a carrousel-shaped lamp. There was no place to sit except on pillows on the floor. Looking up, Eric discovered a deep blue ceiling studded with plastic stars. He waited, gingerly touching the decorations, until Zizi reappeared, wearing a full length velvet hostess dress, her face free of make-up. She was a little too short, too round, for Eric’s taste, but her face was fashion-model perfect-and lively as well, changing expression with dizzying animation.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
Eric -followed her into the tiny kitchen, where box tops and canned-soup labels were pasted on the walls. She opened the refrigerator.
“I have cola, frozen Brussels sprouts, peanut butter and one lemon. How about a Brussels sprouts sandwich?’
“Come on-I’ll buy you a pizza.”
“You don-t have to.” She sat next to him at the kitchen table. “I don’t know how my mother drummed you into this. She’s afraid that if I leave college without getting married, I’ll run off to New· York and lead a life of sin and die in the gutter.”
“What do you want to be after you graduate?”‘
Eric was unexpectedly moved.”I hope you make it.”
“Well, I work very hard at it. And what do you want to be when you grow up?”
She smiled, and Eric was fascinated by the movement of her cheeks from con· cave to convex, her expression from deadly serious to highly amused .. He.. moved
to the phone. “I’ll call for a pIzza:·
Zizi charged back into the bedroom and reappeared almost immediately in a red-and-white·checked dress. “My Italian pizza outfit. I’m majoring in drama, could you tell?”
did notice some kind of costume fixation.’·
“What do you want to be brilliant at?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll join either the. Peace Corps or IBM.”
“Trying to find yourself, eh?”
“That’s what your mother said:”
Zizi laughed and wriggled in her chair. “I would like to fall in love with you simply because my mother picked you. I complained to her that I knew millions of people but had no boy friend, and she said, ·‘I bet I could find a mate for you in two hours.’ She has the ridiculous idea that I’m great, but no one has the sense to appreciate me.”
Eric tilted back in his chair, trying to appreciate her. She was exhausting to watch. Her body was always in motion she played with a cigarette, tinkled glasses, tapped her foot. But Eric found her relief from the soft-spoken sorority girl.’ who never said anything unexpected.
“I liked what you did tonight:’ he said. “Your float satirized all those little lovelies.”
Zizi shrugged. “Actually I love home-coming. Frump Queen was just a joke. I thought it would add to the parade: ‘
“Oh, it did. I was ready to leave and go back to my homework, but the Frump Queen turned out to be more interesting than Hegel.”
Zizi cut her finger as she sliced a lemon for the colas, screamed in mock horror and wound a huge bandage around the little cut. Eric applauded. “I’m better off stage than on,” she said. “Perhaps you saw my show-stopping performance in the crowd scene of Romeo and ]Juliet.“
“I hate the theater,” Eric said, bracing himself for her reaction. She opened the door for the pizza man.
“I hate Hegel.” They ate the pizza silently. Eric wondered why he was wasting his time here, then shook off the thought. He was getting too impatient with women lately. If they didn’t immediately strike him as a prospective wife, he wasn’t interested in simply enjoying them.
“What do you have against the theater?” Zizi demanded after the pizza was finished.
“I just said that to goad you on to new heights of wit.“
Zizi nodded dully. “People generally do that. I’m a very difficult person to be sincere with. Boy, am I feeling let down now. For three weeks I spent every moment designing that float, and it didn‘t disrupt the face of the universe after all. No magnificent changes have been wrought in me. I hoped for a miracle.”
Eric shook the ice in his glass, resorting to nervous motion himself now that she was still. “I feel that way all the time. I really expect something spectacular to happen to me any moment, something that will change my life, the answer to all my problems. Getting married did that for my brother. As soon as he could take his mind off looking for girls and sex, he was free to solve all the minor problems like what he wanted to be and what he believed in and where he wanted to live.”
“I think all my problems would be solved if I just had a date Saturday night.” Zizi sprang up and put the glasses in the sink.
“You’d better go now. It‘s one o’clock.”
“Don’t tell me the dorm mothers check up here.“
“It’s a deal with my mother and the dean. I’m on my honor to keep good hours. And my honor“–she waved her bandaged finger at him-“is almost as important to me as clothes.”
Eric was trying to make up his mind whether to ask her out when she solved the problem at the doorway. “Tomorrow’s my birthday. Want to come to my party?“
“Sure. How old will you be?” She counted quickly on her fingers. “Twenty years and three months. Don‘t forget to bring a present.”
Eric spent most of Saturday after· noon trying to find a birthday present for her. It had to be inexpensive–he was broke-and incredibly funny. He finally ended buying a tube of pick–up-sticks at the dime store. His image of Zizi reminded him of one he had of his kid sister trying to master pick-up-sticks, frustrated by her clumsy fingers and bitten nails. Did Zizi bite her nails? He couldn‘t remember. He felt very happy walking back to his apartment, rattling the tube of sticks. After almost four years in the same college town, with the same friends and the same routine of studying, worrying about the draft, working in the library and taking polite young ladies to second-rate movies, he was enjoying Zizi‘s bizarre interruption of his life. He warned himself not to get too excited. Thinking about her was pleasant, but the kindest critic had to notice her instability. She was too turned on, too clever, and then too unexpectedly solemn, to fit into his life.
Eric heard the party as soon as he drove up to Zizi‘s block. The record player, accompanied by live bongos and a guitar, echoed into the street. “Come on in–it‘s the maid‘s day off,” a male voice called in answer to his tentative knock. Eric stood in the doorway, amazed that nearly thirty students had crowded into the small room. He couldn‘t find Zizi anywhere amid the dancing couples, so he threw his coat and the present on the bed and found a vacant pillow to sit on. When the dancers stopped, waiting for the next record to drop, he noticed a huge, gaily wrapped carton in the center of the room. A moment after he saw it. the top flew open and Zizi popped out in a short, pink flapper dress with beads down to her ankles. “Welcome to my party!” she cried.
Eric seemed to be the only one surprised. Someone quickly put on a 1920s record and a boy led Zizi into a wild Charleston. The crowd pressed against the walls to make room for their dance. Zizi’s low·cut mini dress seemed about to falloff on the next swing of her leg, and the long beads swung crazily. When the dance was finished her partner was exhausted, but Zizi was not. She bounced around greeting everyone, brushing away the boys who tried to slip the slim dress straps off her shoulders. It suddenly seemed to Eric that everyone was making fun of her. She was so vulnerable in her little dress. One quick, cruel motion ·could strip it off her. He worked his way out of the corner toward her. “That was quite an entrance,” he said.
“I didn‘t think you’d come. What‘s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?” She was smiling, but her smile seemed applied with her make· up. Eric was fascinated by her long, false eyelashes and even, pink fingernails. The music started again. “Dance with me;‘ she said. “No–I could never keep up.” She smiled. “Well, then, maybe I’d better slow down.”
She put on a soft, slow dance, and Eric danced with her for a moment, then led her into the bedroom. “I bought you a birthday present.” He gave her the tube, and she squealed.
“Perfect! How did you know I love them? Stay after everyone leaves and we’ll play.” For a while Eric enjoyed watching the spectacle of the wildly dressed, dancing girls and boys, but soon his head hurt from the pulsating lights and music. Zizi stayed away from him, going about the room to refill drinks and wisecrack with her guests. There would be a burst of laughter from every group when she arrived, and, it seemed to Eric, a quieter laughter after she left. The party was at such a high pitch that he felt some act of high drama-violence or humiliation, with Zizi a its victim-had to bring it to a climax. He went quietly to the bedroom to get his coat. He didn’t want to witness the event. And he was sure by now that Zizi was not the interruption in his own life that he longed for.Zizi caught him at the door and dramatically barred the way with her body.
“You’re not leaving!”
“I have a headache. But I had a very nice time … …
She pressed his hands. “I’ll get rid of them.” She snapped off the record player, clapped her hands and cried, ”I’m starving! Let’s have a race to Hank’s Roadside Inn! Everyone into your cars!”
The guests cheered, and the room emptied with amazing speed. When they had all gone, Zizi leaned against the door, laughing. “Well, take off your coat! I’m going to change into my pick-up -ticks playing outfit.”
Eric collected the glasses and empty beer cans while he waited, enjoying the silence. Zizi emerged from the bedroom in a pair of shredding dungarees, a large sweater, and a baseball cap. Eric grinned at her.
“I’m sorry I made you call off your party.”
“I invited you to a party, so I had to produce one. But you didn’t like the party, so poof! Party’s gone.”
She threw the pick-up-sticks on the floor and Eric grabbed her hand. “Where are your pink nails?”
“They were phony. I took them off.”
He laughed. “You bite your nails?”
“Of course. Very tasty.” She licked her lips, and Eric leaned over and kissed her quickly. “Now, listen!” She shook her head. “If we’re going to start that stuff, I’ll have to put on my seduction outfit.”
“If you change your clothes once more, I”m leaving’,” Eric said. ”I’m trying to find out if you’re the girl of my dreams and you keep changing into a million different girls.”
“Of a million different dreams. I’m sure that someday someone will see me in an outfit that bowl him over and fall, instantly in love with me, and I’ll change my whole wardrobe to conform to the right image.”
“I’d like to see you without any clothes on,” Eric said. “Oh, I didn’t mean-or did I?” He laughed, but she was very quiet, studying the pick-up-sticks formation.
“You rattle me. You rattle the very core of my peaceful existence. I’m usually very cool with women-smooth, relaxed, seductive.”
“A regular playboy.” She carefully lifted a stick. “And I could never play these tete-a-tete scenes. I need a huge supporting cast, music, crowds, lights. So you rattle me a bit too, you see.” She tried to remove a stick from the top of the pile and jiggled several others. “Damn! What self-respecting man is going to fall in love with a girl who can’t play pick-up-sticks?” She beat her fist on the floor until Eric caught it.
“Let’s take a quiet walk in the cemetery,” he said. “And don’t put on your shroud!”
“I’ve got to master this pick-up-sticks thing.” “Don’t. Let’s get out of this crazy room.”
“The decor of a home reflects the personality of its owner,” she said, then turned on him suddenly. “You just sit around waiting for some great thing to happen to you. I make them happen.” “I think you work too hard at it,” he said, “or in the wrong ways. But you’re right about me. Why did you ask me to come tonight, anyway?” “You’re cute. My mother liked you. And I’m ridiculously lonely and don’t believe in sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. So you’d better get out right now:’
She brought him his coat and held the door open. “I’m not leaving until I get my chance at pick-up-sticks,” he said, sitting down on the floor.
She tossed his coat beside him and kicked over the sticks. He laughed, pleased with his power to annoy her.
“Stop pacing around like an over· wrought maiden in a melodrama.”
She tapped her foot. “You’re so arrogant. You really get on my nerves!”
He gathered up the scattered sticks, threw them out again and worked carefully and methodically to remove them one by one. Despite herself, Zizi became absorbed in watching him, and shouted triumphantly when he eventually shook the whole pile, and it was her turn.
When they had finished the game, he picked up his coat and went to the door. “For ten cents I’d ask you out,” he said.
She pouted. Tossed her head, turned abruptly and left the room. Eric watched her leave, wondering, then burst into laughter as she appeared again and tossed him a dime. THE END