The Secret Cool by James DiGiovanna


HOME ARCHIVE [Previous entry: "The Big Break by Darby McDevitt"][Next entry: "Flint Ford by Buzz Poole"]
The Secret Cool by James DiGiovanna


When Cassie and I developed our own language we shared it with everyone at school. Maybe that’s why our clothes set the trends. You remember when kids were making bracelets out of twisted comic book covers? That was me and Cassie. You ever see someone walking down the street with cigarettes braided in her hair? Cassie and I invented that. Wearing a dress tucked into jeans? Me and Cassie. But I when I saw the film crew from World News 1, I knew it was going to go bad.
  Our band played traditional Balinese music but with shuffled cards for rhythm and we had this old goat who’d bleat on command. We could tell, we were the next hot spot. In a few weeks, everyone would be doing it, and I think that’s what we’d wanted. But by the time the cameras descended, when we got that call from Conan O’Brien … I couldn’t have that. I couldn’t see it happen to cool again.
  So we had to find a secret way to be cool, a way that no one would ever pick up on. A cool that wouldn’t engender a series of books twenty years from now. I didn’t want anyone talking wistfully about the Smashter scene, but it was too late for that. We had to start something new that would never, ever be a source of hipness, trendiness or nostalgia. And that’s when we left.
  Cassie grabbed all her papier-mâché pants and batik underwear and I got my mini-socks and pink yarmulkes-skirts and we dumped them in the river and headed into the woods. We couldn’t do it alone, of course, so we brought Skeets and Billy and Treisha and Reishma and we went to the old tree house way back behind the skeleton of a 17th century church and set up shop.
  We were effectively invisible back there, and we began our new cool. Reishma started weaving clothes out of pussy-willow grass. Treisha created on 12-tone rag-time music, and I worked out all the jargon. It was free pucker, Boris and we spelled the granny, if you know what I mean. And you don’t, thank god.
  When we’d go into town to raid garage freezers for supplies we’d always don our plain-world clothes, hooded jackets and baggy, corduroy trousers, but underneath we wore our ferocious outfits, not for the eyes of the others. Then we’d hop back to the tree-house, start the music rolling, and dance to five-time until the sun came up.
  It was good. It was so good. We lived without any record, and we recruited some more so that our way of life could prosper.
  Carefully we’d spy out the kids who didn’t look like anyone had dressed them. At our high school it was too late: they were already all wearing our old look. But across the river we found a Jewish Orthodox day school where people were still relatively unspoiled. The ones with choppy hair, the kids who were knock kneed but danced when they walked, one boy who always wore football pants, these were our people, we knew, and we pulled them back to the tree house.
  They were glad to have friends, and we’d chosen well. Chaim showed us how to trap rabbits, and this became our version of drugs. Rebecca liked to masturbate while people watched, and we accepted and adopted this and made it into a vast, ritual theater that could only be performed on the nights of the waning gibbous moon. Rachel showed us how to flatten pill bugs into a kind of flour, and we baked them with poppy seeds for our post-midnight meals.
  It just got better. Everyone learned the terms, how to express approval by referencing something’s chromatically opposite color; how to express disapproval by a wiggling gesture of the shoulder; how to talk about people who weren’t there by leaving silent pauses in the place of pronouns. And we formed not just a new cool, but a new kind of love.
  Sleeping in a great pile for warmth, I don’t think any group of humans has been happier since before the invention of cities. We washed and groomed each other, and accepted this, too, as part of our scene.
  When Chaim and Cassie fell in love, we thought it might be the end, but then we realized that we could all love through their love. They’d lie together, gently stroking and touching each other’s faces, and, as per our custom, we’d stand on other side of them and cheer them on, each of us having chosen one of them to root for. I was on Cassie’s team, of course, and when she first put her tongue on Chaim’s nostril we jumped in the air and whooped like she’d scored the winning goal in the World Cup championship.
  Later, when the children came, we raised them as group and told them that babies were made by the cheering of the fans of a loving couple. Without fans, without cheering, we said, no true child could be conceived, but only empty-eyed monsters who would try to turn everything we created into a sign of itself so that it could be taken away from The People and sold to The Eaters, those who lived behind the garages and were incapable of making, only of taking.
  And the children grew, and more of us coupled and were cheered, and our tree house expanded into a village of arboreal dwellings thanks to the tools that so many Eaters left unguarded in their sheds and workshops.
  But of course when they children came of age they wanted their own cool, and so we let them leave, not without tears, painting them in flower dyes and plaiting their hair into great spirals before shooing them off to the world. We dismantled the tree forts and moved deeper into the woods, lest they youths tell anyone of our whereabouts.
  This ritual recurred four more times as new sets of kids reached the age when our customs demanded that we let them go. We loved them but we loved each other more, gray hair showing through our mud-cake hats. Our dances grew less frenetic, but the music still boomed with the sounds of splashing water and scraping of trees. And then one day we knew there would be no more children coming forth.
  That was when Skeets died. Triesha and Chaim followed a few years later, their bodies quartered and buried, one piece by a river, one by an oak, one by a Buick LeSabre, one beneath an old park bench, as was the tradition.
  At last it was only me and Cassie again. At night we held each other and told tales of the many doings and makings of the secret cool. We had defeated the salesman and re-packagers, but the nostalgia had gripped us. At least it was only us two, two who had really made the cool and not countless legions who had received it from their betters and then written about it as if it was their own. We weren’t like the ones before, thinking back to the days when they worshipped Dylan and the Stones. Instead, we recounted our deeds, not like fans or deluded scenesters, but like heroes do as the sun sets upon their lives.
  And when Cassie slipped away I wrote this document, because I couldn’t help myself. Because that, now, is also our way, has always been our way: the last survivor makes a record of what passed, and slips from the woods on a moonless night, and steals into a copy shop, and makes ten thousand little pamphlets, and mails them to all the publicists in the world, and then she dies, her final gift to herself the telling of the secrets of the secret cool.

James DiGiovanna is the award winning film reviewer for the Tucson Weekly, co-writer and co-director of the award winning feature film A Forked World, and he makes pictures of robots. You can find his robots at