Fifth grade was the year I got really into reading YA series. I had started a few in fourth grade, and by fifth grade I was completely hooked. The queen of them all, of course, was The Baby-sitters Club—but its throne was actually a director's chair and it wore a visor instead of a crown. Ann M. Martin really tried to offer a little something for everyone: fashionistas, artists, tomboys, introverts, dancers, bookworms, health-food nuts, the learning disabled, diabetics, crybabies, catty beeyotches... There was surely one character you could relate to (e.g., Mary Anne: short, shy, overly sensitive, cried at the drop of a hat—most likely one of Claudia's many fedoras), and possibly an entirely different character you yearned to be like (e.g., Dawn: purportedly didn't care what anyone thought of her, was from California).
Gossip Central, although not a series, is definitely the first of my stories to show the obvious influence of the BSC. For one, it's about a club. With five female members (Mal and Jessi probably hadn't joined up yet) who look really different, but tend to sound exactly the same.
Of course, while the BSC formed their club around the wholesome act of caring for other people's children, my gals' club is dedicated to digging up dirt on their classmates. At times, illegally.
I'm really into the asterisks in this one. G*E*T U*S*E*D T*O I*T.
"Up higher." instructed Andrea, using her hand to sheild her gorgeous green eyes from the sun.
"Lower." demanded Denise, pushing her thick, black bangs out of her face.
"Left." insisted Sabrina, pointing a long skinny finger in that direction.
"Right." Tracy squeaked. When everyone turned and stared at her she blushed and softly said, "I think."
"Ugh." I muttered.
The Gossip Central Club couldn't decide where to hang the sign on our clubhouse. U*N*B*E*L*I*E*V*A*B*L*E. We usually agree on everything. My dad was having a heck of a time trying to follow everyones commands.
"Dad," I called. "Hang it where you want."
For a moment or two, everything was quiet.
"Thank you, Kim." said Dad. "Now, run along, girls."
"Yeah," agreed Denise. "Let's go to the mall and grab some gossip."
Gossip at the mall? In 1988? That's like shooting fish in a barrel!
"YEAH." We all shouted. Everyone made a dash for my back door and the five of us grabbed our "gossip bags".
Not to be confused with Kid-Kits.
"Gossip bags" are purses filled with gossip equipment: A cassette player, blank or re-usable tapes, pens and pencils, a special pen with special "invisible ink", a 5-way walkie-talkie that my dad made for us, binoculars, dark glasses, a notebook, emergency numbers, and a sheet of "phone bugs".
Holy God! Are they going to the mall or on a stakeout mission? Way to keep it discreet, girls. Recording devices? Walkie-talkies? Frigging binoculars? Yep, I'm sure no one's going to notice that in the middle of the food court. And what's up with the emergency numbers? Is that in the (likely) event that their cover gets blown? No amount of invisible ink can help you then!
Oh, but wait—what are these mysterious "phone bugs" you speak of, Kim?
"Phone bugs" are something I made using my dad's equipment. First, let me tell you something, my dad is an electrician. I'm going to be an electrician when I grow up..... or an inventor, if that's what they're called. I'm not sure..... anyway, back to "phone bugs". "Phone bugs" are round and they look like this:
Can you believe how precise and technical that drawing is? You've got an amazing career ahead of you as an electrician/inventor/whatever they're called, Kim! I can feel it!
This is how they work:
#1. Stick "phone bug" on any phone.
#2. Pick up phone (hook, receiver, whatever) If at pay-phone, put in 25¢.
#3. wait. If phone rings, hang up.
If the phone doesn't ring, guess what? You'll be listening to someone else's conversation. And it works.
That's right, you guys, another electronics lover. In case you're wondering, my dad owned a diner and I had absolutely zero electrical know-how. Although you probably guessed that from the nonchalance with which my characters wire clubhouses and tap phones from afar.
The "phone bug" (the quotes seem to be an official part of their name) is something that I thought would be AWESOME. I was a bit insecure and always wondered what other people thought of me. However, if I'd had enough electronics love to miraculously invent such a device, I'm sure that listening in on my classmates' conversations would have resulted in nothing but misery. Well, that or extreme boredom.
"Let's go." shouted Sabrina.
Well, I guess it's only fair for me to tell you about my friends and fellow members of the Gossip Central Club.
...And welcome to the "Chapter Two" portion of our story.
#1. Denise Locker. Denise is actually rather pretty but, if you told her she'd simply reply, "Nonsense."
Yeah, she's 10. Going on 60.
She has straight black hair that is about shoulder-length. She has gray eyes and a pale complection. Denise moved here about a year ago and is very determined.
#2. Andrea Dolinger. Andrea is really strange, once you think about it. She has sand-colored hair and the most gorgeous eyes you've ever seen: aqua-green. She immediately became friends with Denise, who looks a little strange. She, Denise, and I are about average height. Andrea has an ear for gossip.
Wait, I thought Denise was pretty. Pretty weird-looking?
#3. Tracy Tackman. Tracy isn't your average girl. She has short dark brown curls and dark brown eyes. She's short, shy, and easily embarrassed. But listen to this: Tracy loves to read mysteries, and she solves them before the detectives in the book do. She's great. She and I have been best friends forever.
I love how Tracy's claim to fame is solving fictional mysteries. Perhaps she should think about relocating to Cabot Cove.
#4. Sabrina Long. Sabrina has long, reddish hair that just about reaches her waist. And glossy blue eyes that are almost as gorgeous as Andrea's. She's just about the opposite of Tracy, loud, bossy, gets what she wants, and she's big. Tall, I mean. She always knows what's going on first. Sabrina and I have known each other for a while, we live on the same street.
But there's no description of Kim! Fortunately, we have this illustration. Please note that she dots her i's with hearts. Of course she does.
I'm pretty sure I owned that exact outfit (and that it came from T.J. Maxx): a black sweater with purple polka dots and a matching black sweater-skirt. Man, they would make anything out of a sweater in 1988! However, my side pony was nowhere near as impressive as Kim's.
When we got to the mall we went our seperate ways. I got my notebook out and got busy. I wrote:
Thanks again, Ann M. Martin, for making me realize the integral role of notebook entries in exhibiting your extremely different characters' extremely different handwriting. I've scanned these in so you can fully appreciate the lengths I went to in order to give each character's handwriting its own personality. But I'll save you the squinting by transcribing the notes too:
August 28, 1988 #1. Jenni Stopner and Karla Philips were trying on bra's at the lingerie department, "LUXURY"! #2. Steve Philips was making goo-goo eyes at Linda Best, the high-schooler! #3. Barbara Nelson was looking at men's underwear, I mean fingering it!
This mall has completely awesome store names. On a sidenote, what 10-year-old girl fingers men's underwear? Especially when there are people with dark glasses and notebooks watching?
A*N*D*R*E*A*'*S P*A*G*E: Andrea wants to tell you about what happened to her at the mall.
Like in a BSC Super Special, the other club members get to put in their two cents.
I got into the booth and put a quarter in the pay-phone. I pulled out my cassette player, which I knew had a tape in it. I stuck a "phone bug" on and carefully dialed Stacy McKay's number. This was my first time using a phone bug and I wondered if they really worked.
Believe me, they work. Without "phone bugs," this story is nothing.
I was in luck. But the voice I heard wasn't Stacy's. It was Donna Worthington's.
"So," said Donna in a sugary voice. "Do you want to go to the movies with us?"
"Yeah," said Stacy, in a voice just as sweet. "Are you? Please come. Please. Pretty please with sugar on top and honey, too."
The voice on the other end cleared it's throat. "Well, I guess that would be..... okay." I almost dropped the phone and do you know why? That voice belonged to Scott Harris, the boy Denise has had a crush on for ages.
Not only does Andrea have an ear for gossip, she also has an ear for identifying voices. That's no small feat! It's hard even to discern that a prepubescent boy is male over the phone. My poor brother was mistaken for our mother for YEARS.
"Great my mom will pick you up at 12:30 on Saturday." Stacy gushed.
"Don't forget," cooed Donna. "Roger Rabbit, Oz Theater, 1:00."
It is, of course, completely unnecessary for her to repeat this information since Stacy's mom will be picking Scott up, but okay...
"See you then." replied Scott.
"Thanks, Donna." I muttered. Looks like the club is going to see Roger Rabbit..... plus Stacy, Scott, and Donna. I took off the bug and left to meet the rest of the club. My time was up.
Next we have the rest of the club's notebooks entries. Go ahead and click if you'd like to see my chameleon-like writing abilities, but I'll transcribe below.
N*O*T*E*B*O*O*K P*A*G*E: This page is everyone's notebook entries for August 28, 1988.
Sabrina's Notebook: 8-28-88
I stopped at "Burger's" and heard this:
Cindy Lane was telling a bunch of girls that she goes steady with Bobby Ellsworth! [Did I say it was 1988? Excuse me, I meant 1968.]
(Listen to my "Gossip Tape #3")
Yeah, she totally busted out the cassette player at "Burger's." Slick! And yes, I said Burger's, which implies that the restaurant is actually owned by a hamburger.
Denise's Notebook: August 28, 1988
#1. Barbara Nelson was running around screaming out the lyrics to "Monkey" and doing "The Monkey"!
#2. Justin Harlin was looking in Audrey Farell's dressing room at "Luxury", while she tried on a bra!
Okay, fingering men's underpants and then singing George Michael songs at top volume in the mall? Accompanied by embarrassing dance moves? Barbara Nelson is either starved for attention or has some sort of substance abuse problem.
Also, "Luxury" is clearly staffed by a bunch of apathetic high school students.
Tracy's Notebook: 8/28/88
I looked around and saw about 10 girls following Drew Stevenson, who was with Kathy Simons! (They don't have a chance)
Tracy, that's the best you could come up with? Didn't Barbara Nelson fellate a corn dog on a stick or something? Yeesh.
I "phone bugged" Stacy McKay. I found out about her and Donna Worthington going to the movies with Scott Harris!
(Listen to my "Gossip Tape #1")
The Gossip Central clubmates are rather liberal with their quotation marks usage, "aren't they"? Also, I like how all the gossip is punctuated with an exclamation point because it's so! exciting!
When we all got to our meeting place at the mall, we didn't say what had happened to us. We said "hi" and we walked outside together and hopped on our bikes. We got to my house and compared notes.
I like how THIS is when they choose to be discreet. Not when they were taking notes and tape-recording conversations at the mall.
"Drew Stevenson." I said softly. I've had a crush on him since second grade (we're going into fifth). Kathy Simon is a girl in our grade but only the stuck-up kids hang around her (besides Drew). She's also overdeveloped youknow. Very.
Because we all know that boobs make you instantly evil.
And then there's Drew, one word: adorable ADORABLE A*D*O*R*A*B*L*E. I think he's the cutest boy I know.
Her attraction to Drew obviously runs very deep.
"Scott Harris." moaned Denise. I couldn't believe it that Scott would actually do that.
Going to the movies = a mortal sin.
Denise has a mondo crush on him and, to make things worst, Stacy McKay is her worst enemy. They hate each other. H*A*T*E.
"Well," Andrea said brightly. "Has anyone seen Roger Rabbit yet?"
* * * * *
"I don't feel right about this." Tracy told me as she pulled up her sock.
"Don't worry." Sabrina called over her shoulder.
"Yeah." agreed Andrea. "It's for a good cause."
"Yep." agreed Denise through clenched teeth. Her hands formed fists at her side. "To get even with that brat.... Stacy McKay and her fat little sidekick, Hefty Donna."
Tracy blushed. "Watch what you say." I hissed into Denise's ear. Luckily, Tracy was too busy being embarrassed to notice why I was giving Denise 'the look'.
If you've seen the pictures, you should realize I would have made a toothpick look hefty. However, I beg you to consider the millimeter of progress I've made with my treatment of supposedly overweight characters:
1) The protagonist's BFF is chubby, and
2) This was (surprisingly, I'll admit) not mentioned in her initial description!
Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
"All right." Sabrina announced in her usual-loud tone. We had just approached Oz Theater. The reason for its name is simple. The first movie played there was, you got it, The Wizard Of Oz. Oz Theater is really a beautiful theater- in one part they show movies, in another they hold plays and concerts- past the doorman (yes, it's so fancy there's a doorman) are cardboard Oz characters- Dorothy, Toto(in her basket), Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, 2 munchkins, Glinda the good witch of the North or South [I could never keep that straight], and finally, The Wicked Witch of the West.
This theater has absolutely no basis in reality. A doorman? Ritzy.
We got drinks, popcorn(except Andrea who's got braces), and candy. Except for Tracy who said, "i'lljusthaveadietcokethanksanyway."
Nooooo! Don't feel bad, Tracy! Remember, Denise is funny-looking!
We sat down in the back row, waiting for Stacy, Scott, and Donna.
I'll admit, we got fidgety. All of us except Tracy. Tracy was too busy sucking in her cheeks and stomach and hiding her stubby legs under her skirt. Sabrina was buckling and unbuckling her sandals, I was checking my watch every 5 seconds, Andrea was picking at her braces and humming Wait. But Denise was plotting revenge.
D*E*N*I*S*E*'*S P*A*G*E: Denise would like to tell you about what we did, in her own words, at Oz Theater.
R*E*V*E*N*G*E. But Kim was wrong. W$R$O$N$G.
Whoa! Way to switch it up!
I was trying to plot revenge while at the same time pick the wad of gum from under my seat. I had no good ideas.
That goes double for me as the author.
That's when they came. Donna was walking in front, swaying her hips from side to side. She took up so much room that Stacey and Scott had to walk behind her.
Have you noticed that hip swaying seems to be a detestable character action in my novels?
Stacy was swinging her hips too. [See? SEE?] She kept bumping into Scott(purposely)until, finally, she banged against his side so hard that he dropped the popcorn and half of it spilled on the floor.
Andrea giggled. She started laughing(silently)so hard that Kim and I had to pat her on the back so she wouldn't choke on the sip of 7 up she had just taken. Some things that really aren't very funny strike Andrea as hilarious.
I actually found that pretty funny myself. That must mean I'm a big weirdo like Andrea! However, choking in the middle (er, back row) of the theater is probably not the best way to remain incognito.
Big Donna, Screwy Stacy, and Sweet Scott sat down in the middle of the theater so we all got up and moved down so that we were in the row behind them but so that we weren't directly in back of them. They were on the end and we were more in the middle of the row behind them.
The conversation was boring. They talked about school, oh I hope I get so-and-so for a teacher, and stuff like that. Stacey kept giggling when it wasn't funny. The best part was when Stacy spilled her pop on Donna. What a bore.
But I liked the movie.
And that's it! So much for the crazy revenge plots. I hope Denise was at least able to unstick the wad of gum from under her seat. I'll bet she was—she's very determined.
I think my favorite thing about this one is how they seem to have the club purely for the love of gossip. Because seriously, what are they doing with all of those gossip tapes and invisible-ink-penned notes? I know Denise said she wanted revenge, but I'm not buying it. I think they just want to be in the know so that later they can head to the clubhouse and secretly talk some mondo smack about everyone.
Gossip Girl would be appalled.
NEXT TIME: This book may have been only eight pages long, but that didn't stop me from writing a sequel! Or, you know, the beginning of one.
11 months ago