'New Vans'


Amanda Alpert


Samantha stared down at her new black and white checkered Vans. When she had picked them out with her mom they looked so different. So much cooler. She wanted these shoes for weeks but in the harsh fluorescent light of the Double Oaks Junior High gymnasium they looked too clean, too new. Poser, Samantha thought to herself. The skater guys are totally gonna call me a poser. Oh god, why hadn't that occurred to her last night before she convinced her mom that the Vans were an absolutely necessary, essential-for-the-survival-of-her-social-life purchase? After all, everyone in seventh grade knew nothing could possibly be more poser than clean Vans.

There but by the grace of god there were no skater guys around to see the offending sneakers. The boys had all been carted off to the green multi purpose room for reasons Samantha couldn't begin to fathom. The girls waited in the gym, scattered around on the brown metal bleachers. A filmstrip projector hummed ominously. Ms. Kleichecz clumsily attempted to set up a large white screen.

“Ms. Kleichecz in a skirt?” the girls whispered. “What's up with that?” It was always a bad sign when Double Oaks' 1986 volleyball coach of the year was dressed in anything other than a polyester tracksuit. Two months ago Ms. Kleichecz had shown up for gym class in pleated khaki pants and a Land's End sweater, toting a laminated chart of the female reproductive system under her arm. The ensuing lecture touched on topics such as tampons vs. maxi pads and featured the ever-popular question and answer session. The girls of Double Oaks seventh grade class would not soon forget Jennifer Perelli's now famous inquiry: “Will we lay eggs like a chicken when we ovulate?” Word of the gaff even leaked down to the sixth graders. Now Samantha looked around and noticed Jennifer's conspicuous absence. No doubt she was hiding out in the nurse's office with a sudden case of food poisoning.

The din of conversation made Samantha acutely aware of her status: a tiny social island amid the continents of cliques. She turned around to face the bleachers behind her. Jodi Weinstock seemed a harmless enough conversation partner. Jodi, after all, had invited Samantha to her Bat Mitzvah. Although that particular fete had ended badly for Samantha (she was not the first Bat Mitzvah attendee to shed tears in the ladies room of the Buffalo Creek Hyatt after a Champagne snowball gone awry, nor would she be the last) Jodi Weinstock could be considered an ally, maybe a friend, even. Samantha took a stab at conversation. “Oh, my god. Ms. Kleichecz is, like, so androgynous!”

“What the hell does that even mean?” Jodi shot back. Apparently Jodi was no ally.

“Whatever.” Samantha flipped her head back to the front of the bleachers, beet red. Those 25 cent words always came back to bite her in the ass. It was all her mom's fault. Her mom was prone to talking to her children like very small PhD candidates. While Samantha's mastery of words such as Orwellian and enigmatic had served her well on weekly vocab quizzes, they were utterly useless when the subject was Nintendo, Esprit jeans or making fun of the gym teacher.

“Ms. Kleichecz, Samantha said you're an android!” Samantha could feel her face turning from crimson to a deep burgundy. She should have known Jodi was not to be trusted! Not after the Bat Mitzvah debacle. Samantha simply stared down at her spotless new Vans, which she hated more and more by the second. If she stared at them long enough, maybe they'd just go away. Why didn't she get Chuck Taylors? Chuck Taylors are so much cooler. Ms. Kleichecz barely glanced up at the bleachers. She was busy doing battle with a tripod.

“Keep quiet up there girls. Filmstrip'll be set up in a minute.”

Suddenly Samantha couldn't wait for the filmstrip to start. Once the filmstrip started the other girls would be forced to be quiet, forced to stop planning trips to the mall, forced to maintain silence about which couples were French kissing at Julie Gold's party last week, forced to stop guessing which unfortunate geek got her T shirts at K-Mart. When the filmstrip started the lights would go down, which would mean they wouldn't be able to see Samantha's wretched Vans. She would have a good twenty-minute reprieve from her fear of being outed as a poser. In the meantime, she formulated a plan. When she got home, she would offer to walk the dog. She would smuggle the Vans out of the house wrapped in her huge University of Illinois sweatshirt. She would walk the dog over to the White Hen on the corner of Arlington Heights Road and Route 83 and dispose of the Vans in the dumpster behind the store. In three days or so she would declare the Vans “missing.” Sure, her mother would be mad for a while and Samantha would have to search the house for the lost sneakers. But in two weeks time Samantha was willing to bet her mother would take her shopping again and she'd be able to get a pair of Chuck Taylors. Preferably blue ones. Blue ones would be really cool. It was a good plan, totally foolproof.

The gymnasium lights went down and Ms. Kleichecz started the projector. The kids in the filmstrip were really weird, dressed in bellbottoms and velour polo shirts. The girls had straight hair parted down the middle like Joni Mitchell. Not that anyone in the bleachers could identify Joni Mitchell, (well except maybe Ms. Kleichecz) but Samantha knew what she looked like from one of her mother's records in the basement and concluded that anyone who would wear their hair like that was totally weird. The kids in the filmstrip spoke of foreign concepts such as “necking” and “VD.” The remedial kids from the special class watched with rapt attention, terrified. The other girls passed elaborately folded notes in the dark or arranged pink and green paperclips in their Chandler's notebooks. Samantha spent her time scribbling with a #2 pencil on the white rubber of her shoes. She wouldn't be able to put operation lost Vans into effect until three o'clock. The least she could do in the meantime was make them appear somewhat worn.

The tranquility of the sex-ed filmstrip was interrupted by the ding-ding-ding of the third period dismissal bell. Ms. Kleichecz flipped on the gym lights. “We'll conclude this tomorrow ladies,” she threatened. The girls gathered their Chandler's notebooks, Liz Claibourne purses and Esprit tote bags and filed out of the bleachers. Samantha dreaded what lie ahead, social studies class with no fewer than four really cute skater guys, one of whom was rumored to be fourteen, held back twice. Surely she would be called out as the non-skating poser she was. What an idiot that only last night she thought the shoes were cool. As she approached room 143A, Mr. Spicer's class, she held her breath. There they were, the skater guys. The fourteen year old wore a T-shirt that read “R.I.P. Sid Vicious.” Samantha had no idea who Sid Vicious was, but she was sure he must have been pretty cool; at least cooler than Joni Mitchell.

As Samantha hugged her Trapper Keeper close to her chest, she noticed Margaret Meyerson and the loathsome Caryn Ladd approaching her. Margaret frequently hosted high-school style parties, complete with a DJ, on her parent's deck. She'd invite the entire class, geeks and everybody, which struck Samantha as rather magnanimous. Samantha made a mental note to never use the word magnanimous. Sounds too much like androgynous. Margaret also had great hair and everyone thought she was very exotic because she was half Japanese or Chinese or Korean or something. The DJ parties more than made up for the fact that so she would not be having a Bat Mitzvah. Caryn, on the other hand was a whole other animal. An oaf with an attitude. She carried an extra twenty pounds on her already large frame and had the biggest hair in Double Oaks. Her older sister drove her to school in a white Camaro and Caryn would constantly lord it over the other girls that she was too good for the bus. “Hey Samantha,” Margaret said as she looked her up and down, “Caryn said you're only four feet and three inches tall. Is that true?” Sadly it was true. Samantha spent countless hours praying for eighteen inches in height and a big set of boobs.

Samantha looked over to the cute skater guys. She looked at her feet, her spanking white and black checkered shoes mocking her. She wondered what Sid Vicious, whoever he was, would do.

“Tell Caryn,” she gathered her courage, venom and spittle “That she's fat! And she's just jealous of me because I can do four back walkovers in a row and she can't do any cause she's got too much lard!” Samantha could swear she saw a tear form in Caryn's left eye. One of the cute skater guys stifled a laugh. Caryn turned a horrible hue of pink, burst into sobs and fled to the girls' room.

“Oh, my god! Samantha, that was so mean! I can't believe you made Caryn cry!” Margaret raced after her friend. I can't believe it either, Samantha thought. That's so awesome. She strode into social studies full of pride. The day was seriously starting to improve. The kid in the Sid Vicious shirt looked over and nodded.

“Cool shoes,” he said.