January 25, 2008
By Chandra Hall, Mount Shasta, CA

"My mom's going to drive me over to Ben's tonight,” Arielle said to me, or possibly to the ground. “Gotta get away from this crazy Stepford-like place…”

She was walking by my side, her hands curled in to the pockets of her short, navy blue down feather coat. Her hair was spilling down her shoulders, layered, the ends in long, lean curls. Every time I saw her it seemed like her hair had grown, but now it appeared particularly thinner than it was in the summer.

When I asked her about it she told me she had layered it herself with a razor. I liked how it looked now, though. Clipped and cool, kind of rocker. College girl casual. The kind of look that I gazed at in endless awe, trying to figure out how she made it look so effortless. I always compliment Arielle on her perfectly messy bun, the kind that makes my own locks look like a big fuzzy beehive. But not on her, on her it looks like she has really lived the day and her bun is proof of it, every strand that hangs out, framing her face and representing each moment that was spent laughing and working and sighing and moving through life.

Arielle and I walked through the grass, stepping out on to the dark pavement. We had been in the garden for awhile, smelling the last roses of the year before their petals, too, wilted and fell resignedly down to cold, frosty dirt.

Above us the bright November sun shone through thin white clouds, casting warm rays through the chilly air. In front of us loomed a large building, painted a now-fading shade of ivory. I thought of myself as I examined each of the hundreds of tiny lights that adorned the upper awnings and white pillars. They were vacant of their sparkle in the late afternoon light.

Across the small stretch of dewy grass was another building, this one wider, with a low ceiling and glass walls. The sun glinted sharply against the glass, creating a glare. I could make out the handful of faceless white figures inside, placing sterling silver knives, forks and spoons on each carefully set table. My eyes lingered on the white cloth napkins rolled and tied with a delicate gold satin bow that sat diagonally on the bread plates; the dainty tea cups with their handles turned outwards; the crystal goblets brimming with a mysterious golden liquid; the brittle cream-colored dollies placed in front of each chair; and the strands of tiny lights that ran down the middle of the length of each table, their wires politely hidden under some type of translucent shimmery gauze.

Meanwhile, something important was going on inside the bigger building. If Arielle and I were to walk towards the big double doors and press our ears against their cool white wood, we would hear the droning of a couple hundred people, or perhaps the strands of an angelic Hallelujah chorus. Within half an hour all of these people would flood out of the double doors and make their way in to the glass building, all the while smiling and blessing each other as they swarmed around the rows of tables. Dressed completely in white, the lucky ones felt like they were divine and beautiful. The other ones, who weren’t so lucky, merely tugged down their off-white turtlenecks and looked for familiar faces.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a world of little kids playing dress up. It's messy, it's cute, it's annoying, it's depressing, it's exasperating, it's inspiring, it's amusing, it's puzzling. I don't see what Arielle means. It's nothing like Stepford.

"Stepford?" I repeated, as we made our way back on to the wet grass. We were wandering, knowing that eventually we’d go inside but toying with the idea that we might not want to.

"I wish we lived in Stepford. This is nothing like Stepford. This is so much worse! You know why? Because all these people THINK they are perfect. They go around in their costume jewelry and lipstick applied outside the lines of their lips, and frizzy hair pulled back with purple clips, and think they are divine beings. They go around blessing everyone and laughing and smiling and they want us to think that they represent this perfect world. I WISH it was that way. I wish we lived in a cult of beautiful people who are actually different from those who shop at Wal-Mart, but in reality everyone is just old and insane and wearing beige pumps from the 1970's."

I looked down at my own shoes, off-white strappy ones with a chunky heel that had a few disturbing yellowish spots on the back. I had picked them up at a garage sale this past spring. So who was I to talk? It's not like I was shopping at Chanel.

Moments later Arielle was pushing the door to the glass building open, and I walked in after her. Around us everyone was settling in to their chairs, slipping the napkins out of their golden bows. The room felt hot and fleshy with everyone’s smiles. The ones who had been here longer and more often than Arielle and I didn’t notice it, since they hardly ever experienced any other kind of atmosphere.

"Golden liquid light!" They exclaimed, picking up their goblets that brimmed with glistening liquid.

Each held their goblet up proudly, and the room sparkled with gold. I clasped my thin fingers around a goblet as well, holding it up by the rim as I looked around at all 250 of us. Opening my lips that were both flaky from winter dryness and moist from feverishly applied Chapstick, I said along with everyone else, "THE LIGHT OF GOD NEVER FAILS!"

Tipping my head back slightly, I took a sip of the "golden liquid light." It was ginger ale.

I smiled, though, as I swallowed the sweet fizz. So what if it's all pretend?

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