The Aqua Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town by Jennifer Niven

  “Here I am, plain old Judy Diamond from a little nowhere town you’ve never even heard of. A sister who’s crazy, a suicidal brother, and a mother who doesn’t understand me. Silly me, I thought things would change when I turned into the ‘new Judy.’ The ‘new Judy.’ Funny, I feel an awful lot like the old one.”

  I looked out over the imaginary heads of my classmates, my teachers, of everyone I knew. “If only Daddy hadn’t gone away. Sometimes I wonder what everything would be like if he were still here. I don’t think they realize just how much I miss him. And they don’t understand. It would help if I could tell someone. If I had someone to talk to. But guess what? There’s no one. There’s only me.” Sitting side by side, down in the front row, I could just see my parents—my mom and my dad—holding hands, happy.

  I bowed my head. Then, from somewhere offstage— distant, but still quite audible—there was the sound of Joey singing: “God save our gracious Queen, Long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen: Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us: God save the Queen!”

  The simple art of making a fake ID

  The Business of Drinking

  After games we could be found doing what students through the years have done—cruisin’ East Main, scarfin’ on Big Macs at McDonald’s, doggin’ on some pizza at Noble Roman’s, or gathering at someone’s house for a party, always a welcome word at RHS. Then there were a few too easily entertained with their good friend “Mary Jane.”

  —1985 Pierian

  When Tommy Wissel was a senior in high school, he was hired at the County Market, which was a big grocery store on the west side of town. He was supposed to report to work his first day at seven p.m., but for some reason he thought he was supposed to be there at five. When he showed up and they told him he was early, he walked over to Hook’s Drugs next door and stole a fifth of Scotch. He went back behind Hook’s and County Market and played hackey sack and drank the entire bottle. Just before seven, he went back to work.

  When he got there, he was taken on a tour of the market and shown what to do and given his badge and his apron. Then he was let loose on his own. He walked back to the liquor department and got a case of beer and they found him an hour later, surrounded by cans, having drunk his way through it.

  He was brought into the back office. “We’re calling your parents,” his boss told him.

  “No way,” he said. He wasn’t sticking around for that. He took off his apron and walked right out the front door. They called his dad anyway.

  Tommy had been out with a girl from County Market a few times. She was pretty and fun and a good sport. Her name was Pam. She covered for him when his dad came to pick him up and he wasn’t there. Tommy never went back to County Market, but he kept going out with Pam. As he said, “I knew she either loved me or pitied me and that any girl who would lie for me was a keeper.”

  For a long time, the drinking age in nearby Ohio was eighteen, but this changed minutes before the class of 1986 turned eighteen, which, of course, was horribly unfair. Luckily, if you lived in Richmond and went to Richmond High School, there were several options open to you for drinking, no matter your age. These options were:

  The Grandfather Clause. In the 1980s, when the drinking age was raised from eighteen to nineteen and then to twenty-one, those of us (there weren’t any in our class) who were eighteen before the drinking age changed were still allowed to buy alcohol and get served in bars. This meant driving over the state line to Ohio, where the drinking age had been eighteen, and then nineteen (the Grandfather Clause wasn’t honored in Indiana because the drinking age had never been anything but twenty-one there).

  The Lampost. This was a little restaurant-bar in New Paris, Ohio, about six miles from Richmond through the dark, open countryside and cornfields. The Lampost had been there since 1945, started by a man named Joe DiFederico, known to regulars as Uncle Joe. It was a place famous for its special spaghetti sauce and 3.2 beer. Generations of eighteen-year-old Hoosiers slipped across the state line to eat dinner and drink that 3.2 beer, which was a little less potent than actual beer but was still beer just the same. It was easy to get served at the Lampost. If all else failed, you knew you could count on 3.2 beer.

  Fake IDs. Because they couldn’t always drive to New Paris, some of my classmates took matters into their own hands. The Indiana driver’s license had a dot matrix print scheme. Someone discovered that a simple pencil eraser could remove the ink on the surface of the license without creating too much of an obvious background change. It was easy to change a “1968” birth date into a “1965” by using a pencil—and even easier to change a “1967” into a “1963”—making someone twenty-one.

  Ned Mitchell was the master. For instance, he turned Tom Mangas’s “67” into a “63” using a very sharp pencil and some hair spray as a way to disguise the pencil dots, and then, one by one, he helped the rest of the fellas with their IDs. It always worked and usually passed close scrutiny, even a light thumb rub by a skeptical liquor store cashier. In a pinch, though, if the cops pulled them over, a simple lick of the thumb and a single hard rub returned the date to normal.

  The Liquor Barn. This was a dumpy little liquor store on the west side of town that was famous for serving even the most outlandish and improbable fake IDs. Laura was the only one in our group who had a fake ID (which said she was twenty-five). Jennie Burton would pull up in the parking lot before parties, the car idling in case we needed to speed away quickly, and Laura would go inside to buy whatever anyone wanted. She never once got carded even when she bought several bottles at a time. She would get back into the car and pass the bottles around and then we were ready to go to a party. Because we felt like we should, because it was somehow not as cool to show up empty-handed, everyone in our group chose a signature drink—mine was vodka, even though I hated the taste, because that’s what Demi Moore drank in St. Elmo’s Fire and I wanted to be just like her.

  Parties. In the beginning, Joey, Laura, Jennie, and the rest of us weren’t always told where the parties were. There were nights during our sophomore and junior years when we had to hunt them down. Part of the fun was talking about them and getting excited about them, in driving around in Jennie’s station wagon trying to find them. The parties weren’t widely advertised in an effort to keep out police, parents, and the wrong people. Once we found them, if we found them, we were welcome, but we envied the tightness and assuredness of Teresa’s group or Tom Mangas’s group. The Teresas and Tom Dehners of the world—the Sherri Dillons, the Jeff Shirazis, the Ronnie Stiers—knew exactly where they fit in. They didn’t have to drive around searching for parties because they always knew ahead of time where they were—sometimes at their own houses. They knew who would be there and they knew everyone would show and they knew it would be a great success. Other nights, we searched in vain and eventually went home frustrated, never having found them, knowing that somewhere in Richmond our classmates were together having a good time without us.

  There were always parties where there was a keg and some sort of canned beer, and maybe something harder—Southern Comfort was usually around. People smoked pot and I was aware of the boys who did drugs, some of them my friends who “dabbled” in them now and then. But there was somehow an innocence to it all. It wasn’t unusual to see parents at parties, staying carefully out of the way. More often than not they encouraged us to spend the night so we wouldn’t drive after drinking.

  By senior year, Joey, Laura, and I were invited to the parties. Joey got fully drunk for the first time in his life at Tom Dehner’s house the fall of senior year and was very proud because of where it happened. The best parties were at Tom’s house and at Rip’s, where Tommy Wissel was always yelling at me from an upstairs window or the roof or the TV tower, or at Eric Ruger’s, way out in the country under the stars, or at Ian Barnes’s, in a house with so many levels and a pond. There was one girl who came to every single party and always drank till she threw up—she threw up in bushes, in b
athrooms, in the backseats of cars. She was famous for it. There were random party places like Devon Johnson’s and Cathy Brawley’s and Jennie Burton’s and Fiona Ferguson’s and Jeff Shirazi’s, where there was an actual bonfire and a hayride.

  Laura and Monica gave a party at their house one night when their dad was away. Angie Oler and Leigh Torbeck danced on the fragile and expensive glass coffee table in the living room and broke it in half. Ross sat on an end chair and then Dwayne Flood sat on him and Cliff Lester sat on him until finally the chair collapsed. At the end of the night, the furniture was destroyed. Joey and Laura and Monica and I cleaned the house, and the next morning Laura and Monica Krazy Glued all the furniture before their dad got home.

  Aldo Lonigro came in the door minutes after they were done gluing the broken chair and marched over to it. He said, “How are my girls? What did you do while I was gone?” He was in a chatting sort of mood. Laura and Monica stopped breathing as their dad sat down in the newly mended chair and kept talking. He was a large man—as big as a Vigran. They waited for it to collapse under his weight. He sat there, wanting to talk for a long time. By some miracle, the chair held firm.

  Sometimes the parties weren’t in a house, but on bridges, which weren’t even bridges but really the sides of roads. It was always hard to find them, and we would drive and drive down country back roads, where everything looked the same, until we suddenly came upon a line of cars and a crowd of people. All the car radios would be tuned to the same channel—the music filling the night along with laughter and talking and the clattering of cans and bottles.


  And so we come to the end of yet another school year—our last year at RHS. As graduation approaches, we wonder how we could ever have been sophomores, why we ever felt the need to pray our way through Geometry and Chemistry. For many, the years have flown by. For others, these years have been an eternity. Each school year finds at RHS a class of students matured, educated, and longing to spread their wings; the spring of each year finds those wings stronger and itching to fly, and their masters ready to take to the air and see what the world offers to those who are brave enough to rise and embrace it, forever soaring, forever ascending, forever free.

  One of Jennifer’s many senior picture poses

  The Rules of Senior Poker

  I just want the best wallet ever, is that too much to ask?

  —Jennifer to Joey, November 13, 1985

  Senior pictures were a Very Big Deal at Richmond High School. When we got them back from the photographer (there were three in town) in the fall of senior year, everyone walked the halls with a clear wallet-sized box that contained their favorite poses, and then the race was on to collect the best people. Joey, Laura, Hether, Jennie, Hill, and I were in a frenzy trying to accumulate them.

  After our wallets were completed, there was nothing much to do but flip through them every now and then. We forgot about the pictures we had worked so hard to collect until one New Year’s Eve at Hether’s house, when Joey and Jennie came up with Senior Poker. We all sat in a circle and drank champagne as they explained the rules, which weren’t really rules at all.

  1. The rules had nothing to do with regular poker.

  2. Everyone (Joey, Hether, Jennie, Hill, Laura, me) contributed the pictures from his or her wallet to the card pile.

  3. Senior Poker could be played anywhere. We played one memorable game on a trip to Indianapolis, with Hether at the wheel of her Cougar, going a hundred miles an hour, me in the front seat next to her, and Joey, Jennie, and Hill in the backseat. I had to play Hether’s hand for her. (Hether yelling: “Don’t trade my Danny Allen! I know Joey wants it!”)

  4. The entire game was based on the Richmond High School social system. For instance: “I’ll give you two Danny Dickmans for one Jeff Shirazi.” Or, “I’ll trade you a Cliff Lester and a Brian Lamar for a Ronnie Stier.” Or, “My Ross Vigran or Robert Ignacio beats your Martha Schunks” (which were the equivalent of the nine of clubs or some other useless card).

  5. It was a wild, fast-paced game. Pandemonium ensued and there were many disputes. You had to argue for points and negotiate the point value of people as you went. It was most challenging with the middle people on the social ladder—the Ian Barneses, the Deanna Hasketts—because you really had to argue their worth.

  6. Tom Dehner trumped everyone, even Teresa Ripperger (who had points deducted for wearing a turquoise pantsuit in her pictures). But Rip trumped everyone but Dehner.

  7. Tommy Wissel was the joker. We all screamed when we got him and he wasn’t worth any points, even though everyone liked him. But I secretly didn’t mind drawing his card. One, because it was my actual picture that he had given me with a flirty message on the back, and two, because he was so cute.

  8. The game was over after all the cards had been traded. Whoever had the most points—that is, the pictures of the best people—won.

  9. Once a round ended, everyone had to get their own pictures back, and you tried to steal someone else’s pictures if they had someone you wanted. (Which was how Joey got pictures of Jeff Shirazi and Danny Allen, how Hether got Tom Dehner, how I got Teresa, and how Laura got Troy Hildreth.)

  10. We never included our own pictures in the game.

  Laura, Joey, and Jennifer finish out their Richmond sentence


  A student at Richmond Senior High School has before him the facilities with which to train himself for any profession of his choice, be it housekeeping, vocational work, engineering, or a job with the fine arts. The counseling department is always willing to help students with schedule problems, classroom problems, and after–high school plans.

  —1964 Pierian

  Sometimes, instead of going to study hall, Joey and I went to the school library and sat in ascorner table at the back, where the ceiling seemed lowest and the lights were dimmest, and wrote stories together. Sheila Loeber walked in one day to return some books and we watched her as she stood at the desk. We wondered what she thought about and what it was like to be her—overweight, with a face covered in acne and oversized glasses, and body odor that everyone made fun of. She was a smart girl, a nice girl, but we felt sorry for her. She made us mad because she didn’t do anything to help herself. When she left, we wrote a story about her hunting out hamburgers in the ceiling.

  What we didn’t say to each other, sitting in that library, was a lot. My dad was staying at the office more and more, which made me wonder if everything was okay. My mom and I ate dinner alone most nights, sometimes bringing out the blow-up plastic Christmas Santa and propping it in Dad’s chair. “How was your day?” we would ask it, and then we would tell it all about ours. We called it Santa Dad. I didn’t say anything about any of this to Joey.

  Joey was struggling with feelings about himself, about boys, about girls, about expectations from his parents. There were inklings in his mind, but he didn’t say anything about any of this to me. So we kept each other company and filled the silence with chatter and noise, with laughter and silly stories and loud songs, and everything else in the world but what was most on our minds.

  We saw St. Elmo’s Fire the summer before senior year on a night that seemed to be like any other. Pizza at Clara’s. A quick drive-around looking for parties. When we could see that the town was dead, dead, dead, we drove out to the east side and over to the Mall Cinema, next to Mr. G’s, which was, as usual, buzzing with people and loud music.

  We had seen The Breakfast Club, of course, and liked it, although neither of us loved it the way everyone else seemed to. We liked stories about people older than we were because we liked people and things we could aspire to. Little did we know St. Elmo’s Fire would become the most seminal movie we had ever seen and that it would change our lives. The scenery of Georgetown. Autumn in D.C. A close-knit group of friends that does everything together (and looks good doing it). Friends who understood each other and who always fit in with one another and their big-city school. Demi Moore’s
cool glasses and clothes and raspy voice. Her vodka. Her Jeep. Ally Sheedy’s pearls. Judd Nelson’s confidence. Andrew McCarthy’s wit and coffin. All their crazy times, good and bad. The school itself. Rob Lowe. It was love at first sight.

  That was the night we decided where we would go to college. It would be Georgetown. We would go there together and continue our great adventure, best friends forever. Jennifer and Joey. Joey and Jennifer. We had made up our minds.

  “Don’t you think you should apply to other schools?” my mom said.

  “No. I’m going to Georgetown.” I was in my room, sitting at my sewing desk, working on my college essay. My mom was standing over me, frowning.

  “I understand that, but it’s a very competitive school, and while I’m sure you’ll be accepted, I think it’s a good idea to apply to some other schools just to have a backup.”

  I sighed a little and laid down my pencil. She was, no doubt, thinking of my bad math grades (which, given my gene pool, couldn’t be considered entirely my fault) and my low math SAT scores.

  “Besides,” she said, “I thought you wanted to go to New York and be an actress and a writer. Georgetown seems like a detour from that.”

  “Not really,” I said. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if Georgetown even offered a theater program or writing classes. Did they even have an English department? I was applying to the College of Arts and Sciences. Joey was applying to the School of Foreign Service. I pictured college parties with me in my Demi Moore glasses, swilling vodka, and making out with guys who looked just like Rob Lowe.

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