Mrs. Banas and Ms. Moonie

After distinguishing myself both in and out of the classroom, my parents decided to outsource their headaches to a prep school in western Massachusetts. For once, instead of relying on the advice of their friends, they consulted with an expert, who interviewed me and then recommended several schools where he thought I might not only survive, but might also thrive.

Before going to Williston, I had been a day student for three years at what was then known as The Mary C. Wheeler School. Because I had not learned any study skills at the elementary school I had attended before Wheeler, and because I suffered from unrecognized dyscalculia, I plummeted with each academic term like a broken elevator from the smart classes into the “has potential” classes.

Once I had become a certified dummy, and after I had faced up to the fact that I would never get any social traction with either the WASPy girls or the Jewish girls who had been together since kindergarten, I realized that the best way to compete with the them was to outperform them all in sheer bad-assery. I applied myself assiduously to cultivating delinquency and before I knew it, those snots in Fair Isle sweaters were buying joints from me in the bathroom.

Williston accepted me knowing that I would never be able to pass anything but the most rudimentary math class, but they were willing to make that concession in exchange for my best efforts in the humanities. I knew I loved everything about the school the day I interviewed there, and vowed that once I was a student there I would remake myself into something different from what I was.

The handiwork of the ladies at coiffures Unlimited.

My first order of business once I was accepted at Williston, was to ban my mother from my hair. Because of its thick and wild tendencies, she had taken charge of it when I was much younger and had conspired to have it cut short at the salon where she went for her own aesthetic mischief, a little place named “Coiffures Unlimited.”

1980, with hair

Liz Keiffer, 1980, with hair

All through middle school, the talent at Coiffures Unlimited had inflicted upon me various permutations of The Wedge and The Shag so that eventually I looked like I was channeling Farrah Fawcett and Dorothy Hamill at the same time. During the summer before Williston, after a year in recovery from the ladies of Coiffures Unlimited, my hair started to achieve some semblance of normal and I began to dimly recognize in myself something approaching not too bad.

Before discovering my own powers, the only experience I had with boys had been 1) the time that I had slow danced with one from Providence Country Day School, 2) being wedged between the two shithead Rubenstein brothers in the carpool up to Wheeler and back every day, 3) watching my new bad ass best friend make out with her twenty-one year old boyfriend and 4) fending off the advances of the lecherous carpool driver whenever the shithead brothers and the legally blind pressman were not in the car.

Once I got to Williston, I achieved academic success (minus the math) by identifying and carefully observing the practices of Jessica, the smartest girl in my class. By watching her I learned that instead of drawing pictures of pot leaves in her notebook, she paid attention and took notes; she did homework, participated in class and studied for tests!

I achieved social success and my first boyfriend once I forced myself to lift my eyes from the ground and look at people. My first catch was not so great but I didn’t realize that right away because he was an upperclassman. Thanks to him, I got invited to keg parties up on Mt. Tom and quickly ascended to the upper tiers of the class above mine. Obviously, all of these things came with a price, so it wasn’t too long before Michael was pressuring me to get a weekend off-campus with him.

As a sophomore, I was required to get my parents’ permission and an invitation from the host before the school would allow me to leave for the weekend. Of course, the whole point of our intended weekend getaway was to avoid any sort of host, and to that end, Michael had arranged to borrow his older brother’s girlfriend’s dorm room at Smith College. It was a solid plan and might have worked had the young woman’s name not been Julie Moonie.

I could have the spelling wrong, and Julie, if you ever read this, I apologize for implicating you in this. This was the name I was given, and this was the name I used. I cannot make up a pseudonym because no name could be better than yours. And the same goes for you, Mrs. Banas.

The opportunity for the dorm room at Smith had arisen on a Thursday, which must be why Michael and I decided that we would have to arrange for a phone call from Ms. Moonie, and forego the safer, more sensible letter of invitation that we could have either asked for or forged, had there been more time.

My romance with Michael had happened very quickly after arriving at Williston, which would explain why I had agreed to try to impersonate someone named Julie Moonie in the first place. Being a new student and a freshly minted cool girl, I had not fully taken into my heart the fact that the school had in its employ a powerful administrator named Mrs. Banas.

I am sure that there dwelt in Mrs. Banas a heart of gold. She was the person who I think, looking back, must have been the secretary to the Dean of Students. Most likely, her job was to play “Bad Cop” to the kindhearted Dean Saint George. It would only make sense that in her capacity, she would have been the one to make sure that our paperwork was in order before allowing us to leave for the weekend

Being an excellent student of literature, I can’t imagine why Mrs. Banas’s unfortunate sounding surname didn’t inspire more caution in me. At the time, I was heavily involved with the literary society and was very much enjoying my high-level English classes. I knew some things about rhyme, irony, and foreshadowing.

The only explanation for my reckless foray into the dramatic arts was an overarching desire to fuck my boyfriend all weekend long. Emboldened by the thought of two nights of sex unencumbered by pesky parents, I walked to the back of campus and scooted into the tiny little plaza that housed a public phone booth.

While waiting for the switchboard to connect me to Mrs. Banas, it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about how exactly someone named Julie Moonie would speak, or even what she would say to Mrs. Banas. I had not thought about any of the possible questions Mrs. Banas might ask, or how I would answer.

Before I could fully formulate a plan, Mrs. Banas briskly picked up the phone and without a second thought I affected a high pitched, slightly stilted tone of voice. I think that in that moment, I had decided that Julie Moonie was Asian, so I imbued her voice with my best Chinese accent. I had uttered just a sentence or two when Mrs. Banas abruptly interrupted and said “Liz, hang up the phone and get over here right now.”

It is important to realize that as much as I loved the idea of having unfettered sex all weekend long, I loved my friends, my classes, my teachers, and my life at Williston a thousand times more. I had never gotten in trouble with an authority figure, except for my parents. Before becoming the new me, I had been the last person to do anything risky or bad. At that moment, when Mrs. Banas outed me, I saw everything that was dear to my heart go up in smoke. I was sure I would be kicked out of school and sent home to my sad, alcoholic parents.

As I later came to recognize in myself, any kind of stress, tension, or anxiety instantaneously manifests in my stomach. I spent my late teens and twenties clenched up with anxiety-induced cramps, which ensured that I only took nourishment from beer, cigarettes and the occasional bagel.

Thanks to my friend John for finding this yearbook  picture of Mrs. B.

Thanks to my friend John for finding this yearbook picture of Mrs. B.

I was familiar with the idea of having the shit scared out of you, but had always assumed it was an overly hyperbolic way to describe abject terror. That was before I had tussled with Mrs. Banas in the phone booth. The moment I heard her spit out my name, the abstract became real and I found myself in the unenviable predicament of having to waddle from the pay phone behind campus to the inner sanctum of Mrs. Banas and Mr. Saint George.

I can’t remember what happened after that. It was that terrifying. But, I did not get kicked out of school. The weekend came and went and Michael didn’t get laid. The sun continued to rise and set.

Eventually, I did manage to get suspended for a week during my senior year for sneaking out at night. On my way across campus, headed in the opposite direction from where I should have been headed at that hour of the night, I had the misfortune of encountering our school chaplain as he was walking his dog. Once again, my dramatic skills failed me, but my intestinal tract did not.


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  1. Al says:

    You are still a badass!

    1. admin says:

      I wish that was still the case, but I am just a shadow of my former self, which wasn’t nearly as bad ass as I liked to think!

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