Ginny, a seventh grader, awkward but smart and fairly witty especially for someone of her age and relatively limited cultural experiences, had spent lots of hours reading. She shoved the tattered paperback and the wad of wool batting into her backpack, slung it over one shoulder, picked up her stack of books, cradled them in the crook of her elbow across her chest and finished laughing with her best friend, Lisa.
The book had an amazing description of a penis (named Ralph) in it, and a pretty graphic sex scene, too (Forever, by Judy Blume). The book had a rubber band around it; it was falling apart. The wool needle felting project was a half-finished lifesized penis and testicles. They were using a special, thick barbed needle to scuplt it. As she swung her hair up and raised her eyes, Ginny saw Shelly approaching along the wooden gym bleachers. The tall stout brunette’s pace was deliberate, her eyes scowled and focused, aimed at Ginny’s forehead. No eye contact, not smiling. She had clearly picked the short straw, got stuck making this delivery.
In Shelly’s hand, at the end of her arm, swung a thin spiral notebook with a picture of Kermit the Frog on the cover and “The Muppet Show” in gold marquis letters over his head. A fat black magic marker had been used to write: SLAM BOOK 2 in block letters over the top of Kermit’s face. But Ginny recognized the notebook long before she could read those words or even see the frog’s picture clearly.
It all happened in an instant. Ginny lifted her face, swung her just-longer than shoulder-length curly-permed hair over her shoulder and a hideous fierce hot tingling exploded across her body in a visible and prickly needle-flush, expanding out like mortar fire fallout instantaneously in all directions from a point just below her suprasternal notch. Her face and entire chest, halfway down her torso, turned bright red, fiery to touch and the heat concentrated most intensely in the hollows just behind both ears. Ginny’s whole head felt truly aflame. At the same time, her mouth went dry and the adrenaline coursed through every inch of her, making her shake, making her throat burn and clench and grow a lump, while her eyes stung and began to water. She did not cry, and she vibrated more than she really shook, as the taller girl passed her and firmly placed the Kermit notebook flat on the top of the stack of textbooks already cradled in her arm. Shelly never took her eyes from Ginny’s forehead; she did not break pace; she did not flinch or look back. Ginny stood perfectly still, immobile, vibrating for several seconds after she passed.
Then the bell rang. Lisa patted her shoulder sympathetically, offered a wan smile and then bounded up the bleachers toward her first hour English class. Ginny had Science, and there was a sub so it was going to be study hall. Nothing to distract her from the SLAM BOOK. She frowned, then tried to smile. She determined that she would not cry over it, no matter what. Then she headed down across the gym floor to the science lab, with it’s big black marble table tops waiting just outside the far gym doors.
Ten minutes later, roll had been called, library passes sparingly issued, and threats for misbehavior offered generously. The sub opened a fat novel at the desk in the front of the room and approximately half of the remainingg twenty or so students craned their necks to look in Ginny’s direction. Lots of people had seen the hand-off in the gym. Lots of people were anxious for her reaction to the book. This, she knew, was not a good sign. This was a very bad sign, indeed.
She took a minute to breathe and consider what she knew about the book. Whatever unknown might be in the book waiting for her to discover, she would take a few minutes to stop and focus on what she knew for sure was in there. Just like speech class, whenever you had to stand in front the class and give presentations. She would collect herself. She would take a minute to think about what she knew, realistically, about the situation and that would somehow (she hoped) magically disarm her nerves and the power of her ensuing reactions.
She looked down at Kermit, ran her fingers across the marquis letters, heard the opening credit music to The Muppet Show TV program in her head. There would be a “contents page”, listing the name of everyone included in this slam book and their corresponding number at the front of the notebook. She would find her number. The number would also correspond to page numbers, written and circled in the tippy top right of each page. Only the fronts of pages would be counted and centered on the top line of each page, would be the name of the person whose number corresponded to that page. The name might be in block letters, big and all caps, or it might be in fancy cursive with curlicues all around framing it. It might have a geometric border. Each name might be different with a theme that somehow related to the person. Like Shari Newton’s might have pompoms drawn all around since she was head of the cheer leading squad. There would be a page with her name at the top, Ginny Wirley. Then, the page would be, more or less, covered in the remarks of all the other people listed as participants in the front of the SLAM BOOK, each comment “signed” with its given number. She was about to read things people thought and said about her when she wasn’t around. Things people wouldn’t say to her face. That was the whole unsettling point of the thing.
Even in the winter of 1978, long before the advent of cyber speed and cellular data, few things traveled faster than gossip in the junior high school of a small rural mid-western community. And so Ginny knew that this particular “edition” of SLAM BOOK 2 was not yet “published” or released for circulation among the general seventh grade population. Not until all the juiciest subjects, most and least popular of all, were finished with it did a slam book go public. Then it’s circulation, and recirculation would become even more vicious and vile in nature. But by then, Ginny would stop looking. Then, she could pass it along without even opening it.
But now, for now there were more than a dozen pairs of expectant, smiling, wide-pupiled eyes darting on and off her face. Waiting for her to open the pages of the flimsy, wicked thing and begin absorbing what had been written about her there. Ginny knew she was included not for her status in the popular clique, but rather, for her outsider status as their nemesis. What would be the thrill of this game, after all, if all the comments were nice. She looked up one more time before beginning. Immediately, she regretted it. There was not a kind, nor a patient eye in the room. Not even a pitiful or guilty look among them. They were eager, bright-eyed her classmates, ready to share her pain this morning.
She opened the book and looked back down, This time, as the mad flush of angerhurt spread, her mouth filled with saliva instead of going dry. She pressed her lips together and swallowed it, gulping hard again and again. As many times as it took. She would not drool, she would not permit her tears to spill on the pages of this idiotic notebook. She would not scream at them. She would not permit them her confrontation. She would play the game with as calm an exterior as she could, given her natural, reflexive flush. The battle of wills had begun. SLAM BOOK 2, round 1.