“Excuse me, but are you a Delta?” a girl asked, talking down to me.
“No, I think I’m a Lutheran.”
“Well, you can’t sit there if you’re not a Delta.”
It was my first day at Hollywood High School. I was sitting on a bench in the quad area. I had never heard of a quad
before this school. Who was she … the quad police? And what the hell was a Delta anyway? Screw her
. I didn’t see a sign that said Private Property
. I just wanted to eat my damn lunch.
She looked at me like I was a Christmas decoration at an Easter party. I felt the pencil melting off my arched eyebrows and my red lipstick cracking. No one else was wearing a tight pegged calf-length skirt, a black sweater with a false collar tucked in, a stacked pachuca hairdo adorned with spit curls on each side, and dangling Mexican earrings. I walked over to the other side of the bench around the big tree.
“You can’t sit there either,” she barked. “That’s the Lambdas’ bench. And that other tree over there”—she pointed—“that’s the Betas’ bench. And those benches over there”—she pointed to another and another—“is the Thetas’ bench and that one is the Alphas’. So don’t sit there either, unless you’re an Alpha, a Beta, a Lambda, or a Theta.” She looked me up and down. “And I doubt you are.”
The social scene at Hollywood High School was harder than Pacoima. They just gave their gangs different names. I had never heard of the word sorority
or known Greek letters had names. This Delta chick looked very different from Pacoima and me
. She was polished like an apple, like a picture on a package, like a television commercial. Everything matched, from her white patent leather purse and white patent Mary Jane shoes to her powder blue fuzzy sweater with another tied around her shoulders. Her pleated beige skirt didn’t look like me either and her round bubble hairdo didn’t move. Her lips were glossy white.
What kind of lipstick was white
I took a deep breath. She’s not going to get me, and neither are all the damn letters of the Greek alphabet
. I remembered the administration building nearby had a large bathroom. Certainly that couldn’t be Delta territory. I turned around quickly, and walked without hesitation toward the brick office building, brown paper bag and books in hand. I kept thinking, left or right, which way is the bathroom? Don’t stop to ask anyone
I was crushed, trying not to show it, trying not to cry. Not from that bratty bitch, but from what the hell was going to become of me here? It didn’t look good. I pulled open the heavy-windowed door, breezed in like I had been there for years, passing students like I was so busy with important things to do. I spotted the sign, Girls’ Room. Hold on just a little bit further. I walked faster, got to the door and exhaled the breath I’d been holding.
Inside, there were a few girls fussing with their hair, chatting. They didn’t notice me. I saw no feet in the third stall, plowed into it, plunked down on the seat, and locked the door. Safe. I hated to cry. It was a sign of weakness, pointless, and never helped. I took a big breath, stacked my books on my lap like a tray, and unfolded my brown paper bag. I could hardly swallow the dry peanut butter sandwich I had made.
For one week, I sat in that locked toilet cubicle having lunch, constantly wondering about those damn Deltas. Finally bored and annoyed, I figured there was more to this school than classes and a toilet. There must be a Delta in one of my classes. I needed to learn more. I became the Delta detective. Then one day in art class, I heard a new friend, Eve Babitz, talking about the Delta Hell Night coming up. I scooted closer, looking at her drawing. “What’s a Hell Night?”
“Well … first you have to be rushed.”
“That’s when you are asked by a club to join, then you begin pledging.”
“That’s when you do anything they ask, and I mean anything! It takes a week, and if you pass, you have the final test, Hell Night.”
Upon further research, I found the Deltas happened to be the coolest and snobbiest girls. They had privileged backgrounds. Their parents were famous or rich or both. I had none of these qualifications. I liked the challenge. I was determined to be a Delta, if only for vengeance.
Using my survival techniques, I saw that if I had a different walk, different talk, and most important, different hair
, maybe I could be a girl the Deltas might invite in. As my mother the artist would say after another boyfriend broke up with her, back to the drawing board
First of all, I hated my name, Carole … so common. When I complained to my mother that seven girls in my class had the name Carol, she said, “But you have an e
on the end of your name, you were named after Carole Lombard, your Carole
“Mom, when the teacher calls Carol
, she doesn’t say, the one with the e
on the end.”
“Carole” had to go. I remembered back in Pacoima Junior High, a new girl in seventh grade announced her name was Carrie, a name I had never heard before. I loved the uniqueness. I had been name-shopping for ages, and I thought of stealing it then, but I had dropped the idea when the Renegades nicknamed me Suki. Outside of Pacoima and a gang party, Suki sounded like a Japanese dog. Entering this new school was the perfect time for me to take this perfect name.
I started telling everyone: “My real name was Carole, but my mother calls me Carrie
for short.” Then I told my mother: “If someone calls and asks for Carrie
, that’s me.”
“You? Why would any one call you that
“I don’t know, Mom, they just do … it’s a nickname.”
So that was that. I was unofficially, officially Carrie, Carrie Enwright. And that was Enwright with a w
Next project was my clothes and hair. I dumped my socks, my bunny shoes, false collars, and full Mexican skirts in the wastebasket. I didn’t know where these Hollywood High girls got their looks, but I was sure it wasn’t in a store like Anita’s off San Fernando Road. They talked about Geistex sweaters and Lanz dresses, Vogue
and Harper’s Bazaar
. Then there was the world of Max Factor, a makeup store across the street from Hollywood High … how convenient.
I listened carefully to the girls in gym chat about Hollywood Boulevard and shopping at The Broadway and Lerner’s Dress Shop. I’d never been inside a large department store. I told my mother that none of my clothes fit. I would get a job or help her ink and paint, but I had to have a new wardrobe or I was not going to school.
“Fine,” she said, and gave me fifty dollars. That was the most money I had ever seen at one time. I shopped wisely so I could get the most for the money. I even found a cardigan that looked like a Geistex. I think one real Geistex sweater cost more
than fifty dollars. I bought two knee-length kick-pleat skirts, an angora sweater, and a few blouses. I bought bracelets instead of my usual dangling earrings. Now I had a chance to conquer this new turf. Oh wait, shoes, they tell a lot. I had enough money left over to go to Leeds shoe store, also on Hollywood Boulevard. I bought little flats like that pretty Delta, Rosalind Frank, wore.
But the most important detail was her hair, and I knew I needed to change mine. The Hollywood High hairdo had a name: the Flip. I would study the girls’ hair, imagining how they get it to curl up on the bottom. And I needed to cut bangs, smooth bangs that swooped to one side, not like my mother’s 1940s movie star bangs. I learned in Pacoima and it held true in Hollywood: If I could get my hair right, my life would work better
Rosalind Frank was in my gym class. I spotted her right away, she reminded me so much of Beverly. She was very pretty and always seemed to have the answer when anyone asked her anything. Rosalind was sharp and assertive and didn’t take any crap. She had a Delta friend, Taffy Paul, whom I also admired. I especially liked her name. Taffy would be my new Charlotte. She was smart and sophisticated, rode horses, and studied drama like me. Then there was Louise, Roz’s best friend, soon to be her second-best friend, because I was going to be Rosalind’s best friend.
I made sure Roz heard me in the locker room, when I would talk about my mother being an artist at MGM and that she had been in films herself.
Finally, Roz said one day, “Do you want to come to Coffee Dan’s today?”
I knew this was the
“Sure,” I answered, not wanting to be too anxious.
“We meet at the Delta bench
at three-fifteen … do you know where that is?”
“I’ll find it.”
When the final school bell rang, I knew this was it, like a first date: win the Deltas over or end up a dud. Roz was waiting at the Delta bench.
“Hey, everyone,” she said. They looked up. “This is Carrie, she’s new.” They nodded and went back to chatting. Roz said to me, “We’re waiting for one other girl, do you know Suzy Sparks?”
“She’s a Delta, her mother played Blondie on television,” Roz whispered.
“Oh …” I knew the comic strip, but ...