by P. S. Ehrlich
When Skeeter the Sophomore was merely 15, she pledged a
sorority (actually more of a skag-gang) called the Buzzettes,
whose sense of togetherness ran toward sharing packs of smokes
while hanging out with overboard dudes in underslung cars.
There was some concern on the part of parents, teachers,
and the like that she was thereby lapsing into sloth and
indolence—hanging out in polyester blouses that were
uncommonly loose and denim jeans that were uncommonly
snug. (An ensemble completed by a laidback poke of a
purse that would have been big enough to fit her entire
stuPENdous self inside, were it not already crammed full of
everything a Buzzette wannabe could lay her hands on.)
These were the Derelict Days of ’74, after all, and Skeeter
wanted to do her small part in contributing her fair share to
the national backslide. So she was put through mystic
rites of initiation as were laid down in the deeps of time by
Isis and Osiris and Rosie Crucian. Skeeter and the other
pledgling (Natalie Horndt, her waspish very best friend)
became Boozettes, by chugalugging till they chuckalucked up;
and Boszettes, by pap flashing a meter-reader or other agent
of a service profession; and Bowzettes, by testifiably
French-kissing Charlene Webster’s bull mastiff.
(This last ordeal, all the girls agreed, was a lot more
palatable than doing the same to—or, worse yet,
with—Charlene’s kid brother Droan.)
These hurdles cleared, the two enlistees were pronounced
Buzzettes in good standing, sitting, and squatting. But
“Is that all?”
“Hunh? Whatcha mean, ‘all?’”
“I mean really! We ought to have to shave our heads
or pierce our noses or jump out of helicopters or
something. Otherwise we’ll look like a bunch of
“Yeah,” Natalie Horndt chimed dutifully in.
And right there in the Webster basement, she and Skeeter
began thinking up more requirements for full-blown
Buzzettehood, some of which caused even the most been-around
skaglet to blanch and flinch.
It was not till after school the next day, surrounded by
Skeeter’s scotch-taped rockstar posters and half-hidden
ashtrays, that they hit upon the absolute necessity of getting
“I love it!”
“We’ll show ‘em where being a Buzzette is really at!”
“Besides,” Skeeter said, “It’s either that or letting our
‘pit hair grow and braiding it—”
(Shrieks of teenage laughter.)
“Kelly RebecCA!” from the kitchen.
“What’s all that racketing about up there?”
Come Saturday morning, the studious girls pooled their
allowances and headed downtown. Natalie’s pocket money
was not as abundant as it used to be, thanks to the
recession’s effect on Mr. Horndt’s Buick dealership.
Everything had gone subcompact.
And so it went: lowering standards, loss of what was
once held dear. In Natalie’s brother’s case, this
included a couple of dy-no-mite bomber jackets that Nat and
Skeeter liberated from his closet (yaaaay Buzzettes!) and
which he never saw again, or damn seldom anyway.
There had been an early killing frost that fall, so the
girls were glad to be clad in leather as they swaggered down
Lincoln Avenue, puffing on Pall Malls, their footsteps
unexpectedly echoing. Kind of gave you the creeps being
downtown on a Saturday: the modest Demortuis skyscrapers were
locked tight and abandoned-looking. Some of the old
store windows had bars over them, and some had boards, and
everything seemed to be a pre-Oz shade of gray—like a week-old
bucket of fried chicken bones. (Yuggh.)
But on McKinley Street, they found an oasis, an outpost of
many colors: Madame Zelda’s, which they entered after
whispery debate and discovery that this particular tattoo
parlor was empty except for its proprietress, who looked half
a Gypsy and half Apache but was at least a fellow female.
(Even Skeeter the Shameless was unprepared to let some old
sleazy-geezer get his implements on her bared flesh.)
Onward and inward, under Madame’s inscrutable gaze, trying
to choose between the scores of to-die-for designs: so
many hearts and flowers and birds and beasts and ohhhh! a
dragon and ahhhh! a mermaid and the cuuuutest little palm tree
complete with coconut-bunch, and best of all a brand-spanking
Natalie suggested that Skeeter (who clamored to go first)
get this design placed squarely on her derrière, to indicate
exactly where the ineffable They might kiss her.
“No, you goofus—here, between my boobs! Can’t you
just picture it: say you’re in bed with this guy—”
“Back seat of his car, you mean—”
“—shut up—this guy, see, he’s all hot ‘n’ bothered, he
can’t think straight, can’t see straight, you’re going Ooh la
la at him and all that, then he gets your bra off and zowie!
too-oo much! He thinks you’ve got an extra
“PSYCHE—HIM—OUT!” the girls chanted, giving each other
Then Madame Zelda with solemn gesture sent them into a
curtained alcove, there for Skeeter to shed appropriate
garments and put on a hospitalish smock of uncertain
“Wait!” cautioned Natalie, acting as handmaiden.
“What if when you’re an old lady you turn all saggy and baggy
“Aw PEEshaw,” Skeeter snorted, pausing in her doffing to
punch Nat on the arm. She glanced down with fond
complacency at her own unpropped upper deck, so obviously firm
for life at age 15.
Now Skeeter’s skin was still without scar or mark, and of a
sanguine-pink complexion that went achingly well with her
strawberry-golden hair and tiny little bright blue eyes.
“A heartbreaker,” Gramma Otto had declared when the 6-year-old
Kelly Rebecca put on her first pair of black patent
leathers. “That child is going to break a lot of hearts
before she’s through.”
“Lookit me Gramma!” the heartbreak kid had shouted,
thoroughly beside herself with stomp-on-the-floor glee.
“Lookit! You can see my underpants in my
Nine autumns later in Madame Zelda’s changing alcove,
Skeeter decided with a last-minute “Ulp” that the beestung
kissylips were just too risky—they might look like a sudden
blemish, especially to male eyes blurred by lust. So
after further consideration she settled on her baptismal
initials, K.R.K., and them to go on her right
hindquarter after all.
To this end (and past it) Skeeter wriggled out of her
fancy-free jeans and fire-engine-red brevities (for which
she’d recently given up her virgin-whites), while helpful Nat
kept her in staggering stitches by wondering aloud whether
Bless This Buttock ought not to be added or better yet
a predictably-pointed arrow along with Do Not Open Till
“Quit it, Natalie! I got my pants down!”
Out of the alcove then, their gigglefit dying away as
Skeeter was directed up onto a gymnastic horselike
apparatus. Madame Zelda proceeded to desmock and inspect
the petite patoot to be tattooed; and Skeeter lay there prone
“Wait!” went Natalie again. “What happens if you
do get all old and wrinkly—”
“Shut up!” (somewhat muffled).
“No listen!—suppose your initials turn into like a
“Oh wow,” breathed Skeeter.
And on the spot our ecstatic neophytes concocted this
really cool story about Skeeter getting kidnapped by Ku Klux
thugs, and branded when she wouldn’t make out with hoods in
hoods. The girls were eager to put a pillowcase on
Zelda’s head and so lend a touch of verisillymissitude to
their story; but Madame picked up an electric needle and said,
Then followed the emblazoning, the deftly indelible
application of curlicued letters, with Skeeter gritting stoic
teeth throughout and not making mock-orgasm noises, so that
Nat guessed it must be no-lie painful. And after
Skeeter’s underwritten tush was reclad and back out on
McKinley Street, the rest of her let fly a tremendous
for the benefit of downtown Demortuis.
“Hurts, hunh?” asked Nat.
“What! You know what!”
“Oh, that. What about it?”
“Does it hurt?!”
“Naah, not what you’d call ‘hurt’—just stings a
“You’ll find out,” Skeeter grinned.
As had been foreseen, there was insufficient allowance left
for Natalie to get ornamented that day, but more than enough
for bus fare home. So Skeeter the Initiate revealed a
last step towards achieving ultraBuzzettedom: You must
go into a genuine bar and there order, receive, and drink down
a bonafide cocktail.
Neither girl was absolutely certain how much an authentic
shot would cost. But Skeeter led the way—sashaying, to
the extent her poor stung rump would allow—to a likely-looking
corner tavern, and inside it, and up to the bar, forthrightly
demanding Southern Comfort on the rocks with a white wine
“Make it a double,” she added.
“Yeah, both of us,” said Natalie.
The countryboyish bartender carded them both, but of course
each girl was armed with a fake ID. “Just a couple of
dames wanting a couple of snorts,” explained Skeeter.
“Well,” went the nonplused barman, and (the girls swore
afterward) was reaching for bottles and glasses when his
grizzled colleague stepped over.
“Forget it, kiddies.”
“Hey! We are of age.”
“I bet you are. On your way now, before I call your
fathers on you.”
“Aw, we weren’t doing anything—”
“I,” Skeeter riposted, “shall take my boozing someplace
high-classier from now on.”
“You do that, little girl. Show ‘em out, Vince.”
The young bartender escorted them to the doorstep, where
Skeeter apologized for making him look like a dork in front of
“That’s okay,” said Vince, one big blush, and handed her a
scrap of paper.
“M’ phone number,” Vince blurted before hastening back
Skeeter looked from the note to Natalie and back again in
total wondrous puzzlement.
“What do you suppose he gave me this for?” she asked.
[An earlier version of “Initially Illustrated” appeared in
Arnazella in 1992]