I’m glad things ended up that way, because otherwise I never would’ve been able to touch the Playboy Bunny, and carry on my sensual, if guilty, disposition.
The high school swim team was my ticket to an almost-prom, to halcyon schooldays, to a bartended, dress-up affair.
The Trotskyists, the Yippies, the lavender pinkos— they gave me guns and a good deal to think about, but nothing soft or fluffy.
I went to a school called University High— a white, mostly Jewish school in West Los Angeles. Its public face was one-part Hollywood Colony, one part UCLA professors' kids.
In the ‘70s, there was no truly integrated school in the district. A discreet number of black students from South Central Los Angeles were bused into white schools from the time they were in Kindergarten.
It was not a two-way street. It was a cradle-to-cap affair.
Schools with names like “Manual Arts High” beat “University High” in every team sport, on every occasion. Only boys competed, and the girls were either cheerleaders or “score-girls.”
When 10th-graders like me entered the school— and trailed the halls like lost lambs— we were asked by a clever opportunist from the Guidance Offices if we’d like to “get involved.” I was signed up to keep stats on the boys’ lightest-weight basketball teams, and the swim team.
I came to Uni from Canada, where I’d gone to junior high. I wasn’t Canadian, I was sim-ply the daughter of a woman who thought the grass was greener on the other side of a 500-mile marker. She’d get exasperated about once a year, and pack up our 1963 VW bug with all our belongings. My best friends were characters in library books. I wanted to be a movie star, a spy, Anne Frank, a dancing princess whose slippers wore out every night— anyone fantastical and romantic.
Canada’s classrooms were a relief, because I didn’t get beaten up for being a bookish girl with glasses. Everyone read books in Canada, even the kids who were flunking out. There was no basketball team. You could swim outside, maybe two months out of the year. I never saw anyone take stats for the hockey coach— maybe how many teeth they knocked out per period.
But in 1974, I was in Los Angeles, living with my father for the first time, and going to a new school that observed Jewish holidays. I was so sheltered from anything but the Irish Catholic fatalism of my mother, that I didn’t know a single thing about Jewish stereotypes. My knowledge of bar mitzvahs came from reading All-of-A-Kind-Family storybooks. The kids around me would rail about “JAPS,” and my cheeks would turn red because I thought they were making anti-Asian slurs. I’d never heard of anyone getting a "nose job," and I thought it was because they couldn’t breathe well.
In my first score-girl assignment, I was given printed sheets with diagrams of the basket-ball court, or the swim lanes, and a clutch of pencils to write down times and errors. It was a job where I remained invisible, with not one person speaking to me in an entire game.
I eavesdropped on the cheerleaders. I learned what a Jewish American Princess was, who the “fat Mexican sluts” were, (which I thought that meant they had just deplaned from Mexico) and how Kitty Kitano got thrown out of school for her skirt being too short— not a "nice quiet Japanese girl like the others.”
From the boys, I learned that to be a young black man bused in from Watts and ex-pected to play well on the University High school ‘C’ team was the depths of personal misery. Every boy on the ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams was called a "fag" by the J.V. and Varsity crowd. The cheerleaders never talked about the game. Their erotic and racial fantasies ran like diarrhea.
None of the boys who played ever asked to see my stats either. Coach Cross took my sheaf of papers and slammed them into an ankle-level file drawer at the end of the week. BANG!
One time he caught his fingers in the file drawer’s hinge and screamed, “You mother-fucking cunt!” I stayed in the room just long enough to make him even madder. I’d never heard anyone say that word before, and the sound of his rage made me shiver with envy. One day I wanted to let something like that out.
I had a private left-wing conscience— private, because I hated being laughed at. I asked Maureen Davidson, one of the other score-girls, “Why would you call a girl a JAP if you’re Jewish? Isn’t that like turning something against yourself that you’d only expect an enemy to say?”
I had to sputter to get even that far.
Maureen just shook her head at me: “Because some girls are JAPS— what’re you supposed to call’em?”
I learned that my outrage about “wrong words” was something only older people talked about. Like, how could someone be “Mexican” if their families had been in California longer than a single white cowboy?
My Spanish teacher, Mr. Gomez, liked to rant about that. We had plenty of radical teachers; the teachers were on the brink of revolt. They wanted to teach Women’s history, Black History, Labor History— they wanted to come out with their gay lovers, they wanted the Equal Rights Amendment passed. Even my typing teacher, who looked like Monroe in Some Like it Hot, supported the ERA. Most of the students? Not there yet.
One thing I liked about being a score-girl, was that I got to see the whole city on Away games. But the night we went to play Crenshaw High, I climbed onto the schoolbus and there wasn’t a single other scoregirl or cheerleader on board.
“Where is everybody?” I asked Darryl, one of the prominent “faggots.”
He rolled his eyes. “Crenshaw’s tough… they’re scared.” “Tough” was a euphemism for black; I’d picked that up by now.
Wiley, another ‘C’ team member sitting next to him, sang, “Their parents won’t let them go—”looking at me like, “Where are yours?”
Crenshaw cheerleaders weren’t scared of our turf. They were a wall of sound— every girl was a baritone, and when they opened their mouths, they hit the first syllable “CREN-” like a anvil splitting open the sun— and then the “-SHAW” blasted what was left of you against the earth.
They did military cadence with their feet and their voices. Scary?— it was exhilarating.
I took the bus to Crenshaw, and not only did no one beat me up, but I sat with the team for the first time, and it was like getting a sex change— the boys talked to me like I was… there. It wasn’t bitchy. I got a slice of pizza and a Coke. I had the best time of my meager high school social life, and Darryl turned to me and said:
“Are you going to the swim team banquet at the end of the season?”
“It’s at the Playboy Club, in Century City. Dan and Jimmy need dates.” He tipped his head back, nodding to them on the bench, like they needed socks.
“The Playboy Club? Don’t you have to be twenty-one?”
Plus, I was thinking, “And a guy? And old?”
“I know Jimmy.” Jimmy was fine, he wasn’t rude, he was passing as “not-Mexican” be-cause his mom’s last name was Irish.
“Dan Margolis’s his friend,” I said, one eyebrow going up. That was how everyone said Dan’s name, like dubiousness was in order. Dan Margolis thought he was a player, but he looked like he was going to split his pants.
Darryl laughed. “Yeah, Dan says he’s going to nail a Bunny.”
I snorted. I was getting comfortable. “Does that mean that his date doesn’t have to touch him?”
“Aw, c’mon, you gotta know someone. Everyone’s gotta have a date.”
“Did you ask Tracey?” I thought of her because she was a scoregirl like me— filling out stat forms no one read, quiet. I never heard her call anyone a name.
The next day, Tracey spotted me standing in the hash lines at recess. I thought she was going to walk up and say, “You hooked me up with Dan Margolis; now I’m going to kill you,”
But instead, she handed me a flyer. A petition, actually.
It read: “We… want to bring... lesbians and birth control… on campus… we demand the administration allow them on campus.”
That wasn’t exactly what it said, but that was the important part. Lesbians and birth con-trol! They sounded like a couple of armies who could take on Crenshaw. Of course I wanted them to come. I was bored out of my mind.
“This sounds cool,” I said, signing it. “You’re not going to believe this, but I was going to ask you if you wanna go to the swim team banquet."
“The Bunnies!” she said. That’s the first time I heard her laugh.
Yeah, if we’re lucky, they’ll be lesbians.” I had to act tough now, because I realized she was so hip I could not, would not, sell her out to Dan Margolis.
"Dan’s already asked me,” she said. She started braiding her long hair behind her back, like it was nothing.
“Great! —I mean, you’ll be the only person there I know.”
“It’s not ‘til June, you’ll know everyone by then,” she said, as if I were charm itself.
She took my place at the hash window and lowered her head so her voice could be heard through the wire screen. “Does the burrito have Union lettuce in it?”
The lady back there in the hairnet stared back, like she’d like to cram Union lettuce up your butt.
Tracey took me to my first Red Tide meeting. The Red Tide was behind the lettuce boy-cott/Farmworker drive, the lesbians/birth control-ladies-are-coming-plan, and a support caravan to Wounded Knee which had already been stopped on the Nevada border by the state police. The Red Tide was the name of the newspaper that a couple dozen high school students, most of them at Uni, produced and published, much to the distress of the Boy’s Dean and the Principal. The paper’s masthead went like this:
It came— flooding the schools, crushing everything that stood in its way, leaving in its wake a trial of destruction, havoc, rebellion.
It razed classrooms, flinging textbooks to the winds, screaming out of turn, leaving foul stains on the desks, ripping the flags from their poles. It caught scores of students, sweeping them onward in its headlong course, trapping them in the whirlpool of its frenzy.
Administrators reeled, choking on its noxious reek as it tore their offices asunder. Cut slips, tardy slips, suspension notices, bad con-duct notices, report cards— all were swept away in its churning mist. It was… the RED TIDE.
The latest issue has something about the P.L.O. on the cover, condemning Israel. The Varsity team's star forward, David Berry, found me alone, reading it on Coach Cross’s desk before a Friday game. Why was he in there? He was part of the athletics elite; I never got within ten feet of people like that.
"DB"— that’s what I heard his friends call him— was sweating. He’d come to find Coach, but instead there was me, reading something that made him lose whatever deli-cate balance he’d come in with.
The headline set him off.
“Anyone who reads this crap is a fascist and an anti-Semite,” he said, like he was quot-ing from the playbook.
“That’s not fascist—” I started to say. “It says here that the people who wrote it are Jewish; they’re socialists,” I tried again. “How can it be anti-Semetic and fascist?”
I couldn’t believe this was my first conversation with the most popular guy at school. He had wavy hair with a blond streak; he surfed when he wasn’t playing ball.
“What are you, a fucking communist?” he said, snatching The Red Tide off Coach’s desk in front of me, and ripping it in half. “If I ever catch you reading this again, I’ll kick your cunt in.”
I got out of the chair, and realized I was taller than DB. I’m sure I was redder in the face. I grabbed the basketball stat reports for the past week, and ripped them in half. Of course, they weren’t Varsity stats.
Now the floor was covered in paper. There was a torn photograph of a Vietcong dead person lying on top of the C-team’s pathetic performance the previous night.
“Is that fucking communist enough for you?” I had never used either of those big words out loud. But DB had already slammed the door and I was alone.
That was my last time in Coach Cross’s office. I couldn’t explain what happened. I started to panic, because I realized there was only one thing I cared about.
I ran five blocks, and called Tracey from the pay phone at the A&W stand:
“Do you think I can still go to the Swim Team banquet at the Playboy club? I’ve just 86'ed myself from the basketball team.”
She cracked up. “I can’t believe you’re still thinking about that.”
“I’ve never seen a Bunny; I really want to.”
I picketed liquor stores selling non-union Gallo wine, I marched to impeach Nixon, I listened to every word the lesbians and the birth control women had to say from Planned Parenthood— and I talked to my “Marilyn Monroe” teacher in Typing about why the ERA didn’t go nearly far enough.
I read Marx’s Wage Labor and Capital to make a presentation to the Red Tide Thursday night study group— and it was the hardest "pamphlet" I’d ever read in my life. I had to read single sentences more than once.
Mid-struggle, I walked into my after-school job at McDonald’s on Santa Monica Boulevard, and it hit me like a brick. Why did people put up with this exploitation? Why was every-one falling for it? Capitalism was a con job beyond anything P.T. Barnum ever dreamed of. Why had people formulated revolution so long ago, and nothing, nothing, nothing had changed yet?
That night I got off work and took the bus home. I smelled bad and my feet were killing me. There was a old lady in the next seat playing her transistor radio, oblivious to my fry stench.
It was the news hour:
“HOW CAN THEY SAY THAT?”
I pounded my seat like Khrushchev with a shoe. The radio lady darted her eyes at me. I had tears in my mine. “THEY’RE LYING AND EVERYONE JUST KEEPS SLEEPING!”
I stood up, even though it wasn’t my stop, and hailed the bus driver: “When was the last time you got a raise?”
He pointed at the red plastic sign dangling by his mirror: Favor De No Estar Chingando.
“Exactly my point,” I said, and got off a mile early to walk the rest of the way. That was the day I became a devoted communist.
I abandoned most of high school — other than protesting their petty nuisances, and at-tending swim meets. Swimming was not as square as basketball. I was sure the swim coach, Dale Swensen, smoked pot— he was under 30, a “substitute,” and seemed to be doing something progressive at UCLA that he cared more about than high school sports. He was not an overt racist; that alone made him bearable.
Better than that, were the swimmers themselves. They were so beautiful. Plus, there were no cheerleader squad. Those girls were harpies with pom-poms.
I also started having sex. Not with anyone at school, but with the socialists, the ones with all the ideas in their heads. Some of them were married. Some of them were hookers. Some of them drank all the time. But lucky for me, some of them were really, really, good in bed— and since everyone was down with women’s liberation and non-monogamy, that made things extra good for me.
What little I thought about school any-more, was when I felt bad about how scared everyone was: scared of having sex, scared to leave their gilded cage, scared to dream for anything that hadn’t been pre-meditated by their parents.
I decided to drop out of school in June, and take one of those instant diploma tests the state was starting to offer. I saw a preview that examined whether you could figure out the best deal on toothpaste in a given supermarket comparison. I could do that. I’d been doing all the shopping and cooking for both my parents for years.
Tracey, Jimmy, and Darryl found me curled up with a box of flyers after we swam in an inter-city conference Memorial Day weekend. I had to hurry; I was on my way to a Labor Unity Picnic. My double life!
“We have to plan this Playboy thing,” Jimmy said.
“What’s to plan?” I said. “I’m not wearing a dress.”
Darryl was more explanatory. “Everyone wants ‘ludes, but no one seems to be able to score.”
“You should ask coach,” I said. “He’s probably wrapping it up in boxes at Royce Hall.”
Tracey said we should call Chris Durchek, but that I had better connections with him, cause his old man was a burnt-out Maoist. She was in such a good mood, I had to ask her about Dan Margolis, who was now seen on campus in gold chains, shiny shirts, and a cloud of cigarette smoke. He looked like Hollywood pornographer. Now that I was actually fucking, I had the strangest feeling Dan was still a virgin.
“Oh Susie, it doesn’t matter. I’m only seeing women.” She had a little smile like a halo over her head.
So there really were going to be lesbians at the Playboy Club.
Jimmy interrupted. “I promise you I’ll keep Dan ten feet away. He’ll be mesmerized, anyway, by the—”
“BUNNIES.” We all said it.
The morning of the swim banquet, I had my first headache.
I’d spend the whole day before target-shooting with comrade Jerry’s guns out out be-yond Magic Mountain, in the scrub off of Highway 5. Jerry and five other guys brought several 12-packs, two shotguns, three rifes, a .45 automatic, and a .357 magnum. I had no idea they had such a kick.
I never knew my head could hurt so bad. I went into my dad’s little bathroom, with the mirror above the sink, and I didn’t look like myself anymore. I had something stuck in my teeth from the night before. Besides the beer yesterday, I’d only had a burrito.
I was sixteen; I couldn’t really be old, but it was the first time I noticed I wasn’t a child. I didn’t have a bowl haircut, I had visible breasts, I’d picked out the glasses I was wearing. I had calluses on my hands.
When I sat down on the toilet, I could see my stomach slightly curving out instead of in.
“I’m fat; I can’t go anywhere, it’s the end.” Then I was ashamed of myself for caring. I felt like I was six, sixteen, sixty.
After target practice ended, we’d had to drive all the way back to Lynwood for a cadre meeting. One of my lovers, Joe, who’d skipped the firearms training, passed me a note during a Teamster-organizing agenda item.
He scrawled, “As Marx said to his Jenny, ‘I care more for your sweet thighs than anything else.’ ”
“Really?” I wrote back. I was so endeared to Marxism now.
After the meeting, when we rendezvoused in the bathroom, he kissed me and said,” I hate to tell you I made it up... you’re so cute.”
That was the last thing I remembered before night fell. My hangover was a first; it was blinding. I resolved, on the can, that if we shot guns in Simi Valley again, I wasn’t going to drink anything just to make empty targets. I went back to sleep on my sloshy water-bed, and when I woke up, it was Tracey calling to ask me what I was going to wear.
I had this halter-top leotard I really liked. It was baby-blue, frosty stretch velvet. It snapped underneath at the crotch and was skin-tight, so I could wrestle on my jeans that had two zippers on each side of my belly, like sailor pants with zips instead of buttons.
I put them on lying down for maximum tummy flatness. Then I slipped on the silver laby-ris earrings that Tracey had got me. Finally, my hippie sandals, and my mother’s ring— I didn’t like to hear from her, but I liked to wear that ring every day.
Jimmy picked me up in his mom’s Chevy Nova. I realized it was a real date, and I’d never been on a date... I just went to meetings and demos and ended up in bed.
We went to pick up Darryl, then Tracey, who jumped in the car, wearing the same jeans as me, maybe tighter.
“Bunny!” she said, sliding in.
“Bunny-Bunny!” I echoed back.
“You guys are embarrassing me,” Jimmy said, who had a nifty technique of rolling a joint and driving with no hands. I finally zeroed in on what he was wearing.
“Your blue tuxedo matches Sue’s leotard,” Darryl noted.
Tracey was nicer. “I’ve never seen you guys look so good out of Speedos.”
I thought when we got to the Club, it was going to be like the way Uni organized us for games, where the coach herded us into a group, and we marched around like summer campers.
But this was like we had graduated. Jimmy drove his car up to the valet, and pulled a wad of money out of his blue trousers. “I’ve got it.”
Valet parking jobs looked much better than McDonald’s. We saw some other kids we knew, but everyone was just walking into the Playboy Club as if it were their usual date on a Friday night.
Dan Margolis hadn’t made an entrance yet. “Is everything okay with him?” I whispered. This was too good to be true.
“Oh yeah, he hooked up with Durchek; I’m sure he’ll be here soon,” Darryl said. He was resplendent in peach satin.
We walked down a long red-carpet-style foyer. A maitre d’ greeted us like old friends, and we could see Coach Swensen waving his hand— gaily, no less— from a table near the dance floor. He had a shirt on with at least five buttons undone, and a peace pen-dant around his neck.
And, finally, everywhere, like pixie dust, were the Playboy Bunnies. They were more magnificent than the magazine had ever showcased. Their figures were— unbeliev-able— packed into satin bathing-beauty suits like pastel cupcakes: periwinkle, coral, and lavender hourglasses. Their breasts spilled out almost to the nipple, poured in like sweet batter. You couldn’t help but stare. Their faces were heavily made-up, every one of them with false eyelashes— and their hair was teased high and long, like Nashville’s Loretta Lynn. At the tippy-top were their fuzzy rabbit ears.
Coach Swensen handed me a glass of champagne, as if I were free, white, and 21. I couldn’t thank him, because our Bunny waitress had just turned her back to me.
Her satin cupcake suit was cut way up on the sides, so her legs looked unstoppable to the waist. The suit had princess seams in what was left of the back, that cleft her cheeks. Right where the outfit almost disappeared into a thong, where “X” marked the spot, where all donkey tails must be fixed— was a giant, cotton-candy puff of a bunny tail.
When I was a little girl, my mother had a talcum box, from Nina Ricci, that had a powder puff under its lid. I wasn’t supposed touch it, but I loved the smell, and I longed to take that soft cloud out of its box and dust myself like I saw my mother do. The puff was soft as a kitten’s ears. When she was at work, I took baths that lasted two hours, and I let myself take the plunge.
That Bunny’s tail took me right back. I had to touch it. Had to. Dan Margolis was a per-fect gentleman, wherever he was, compared to my single-minded perversion.
I peeked around the table to see if anyone had noticed my drool, but the others were in a similar hypnotic state. No one was being ID’ed. Dan Margolis, "The Man "himself, came right up to me and crowed, “Hey there baby, Poppa’s got a brand new bag!” — kissing me wet on the cheek, reeking of Hai Karate. He clasped my hands together as he slipped something small and hard, like a bead, into my palm. It had to be the Quaa-lude.
I saw Darryl across the table drop his pill into a flute of champagne and hold it aloft, like he was coming out for a encore. God, these Swim Banquets were a gas! Is this what Mark Spitz got to do every weekend?
The Disco ball lit up and swept the floor next to our table with rainbow sparkles. The DJ, with a voice as low as the hottest Crenshaw bitch, said, “And now... Ladies and
Gentle-men…. Let’s… Get… It…. Onnn- ah!”
The bass hook started up:
Money money money money
Money money money money
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it
Listen to me y'all, do things, do things, do bad things with it—
I jumped up in my electric blue bodysuit and joined the whole Uni High, very high swim team undulating in one booty-dipping, glittering wave of grind.
A Bunny caught my bump, and gave me the eye. She was brown, with a towering Ro-man ponytail. The pink soles of her feet were firmly planted in four-inch mules.
“How old are you, anyway, baby?” she asked, one hand on her hip, the other perching two martinis on a tray.
I breathed out. “Really, really, close to you.”
It took so long to say that. Would she wait for me? I had to get one more thing out be-fore she disappeared like a genie into a bunny bottle.
“Could— could I touch it?” She had to know what I meant; I couldn’t get my mouth to form any more words.
“Oh, for you, baby, anything,” she said, taking a perfumed step closer to my reach. Not spilling one drop, she turned around, and bent, just slightly, at the waist.
Photo: The gorgeous b&w's are from Joel Levine's Red Tide collection. The graffiti on the Uni High bungalows, Jane Fonda on our Girls Athletic Field speaking against the War, after a furious fight between the The Red Tide and the administration to allow her, Michael, Andy, and Larry with a new issue for sale.
The color photos are of me, and I don't know who took them. The first is my first acid trip, at Cal Jam I at the Ontario Motory Speedway. The second, in lieu of a Playboy Club outing photo, is what I looked like at the time when I got dressed up. I think this was a Christmas photo.