In August 1993, Ms. B., legendary P.E. teacher, rumored lesbian, an archery buff rigorously dedicated to speaking in anatomical terms and to tucking her long brown hair into her shorts, holds a meeting on the quad for potential cheer candidates. First, dutifully and without an ounce of enthusiasm, Ms. B. leads us through several routines then distributes photocopies of chants complete with charts that detail the new moves we've acquired. Anyone not already equipped with a tryout partner is assigned one. I'm paired with K., a sturdy, tennis-looking girl with stick straight blonde hair and a beakish nose I instantly covet. K. wears bobby socks and Keds as though the '80s never ended but her parents, unlike mine, have invested in braces. K's smile belongs on a tube of Crest. It's so un-grunge and I'm so won over by it, I find myself questioning whether I might be onto something good in my new mate, an unbeknownst genre of wholesome verve. Before trotting off to the cars that wait for K. and I—behind the wheel of mine, my older brother Jeff, a baseball cap tilted sideways on his head, behind the wheel of hers, a Christie Brinkley type twinkly-eyed mom munching on a bagel—we vow to meet twice each week to practice cheers. We never quite get around to it.
As the summer winds down, I attend a party with my junior high friends where, on a sagging back porch, someone teaches me how to make myself faint. It's supposed to be trippy, like Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board or sniffing Mr. Sketch pens. After a few ineffectual minutes of holding my breath and pressing my fingers into the veins on my neck as instructed, I fake it. Then I get drunk on hard cider and lead people through my tryout routine, which is a huge hit, in terms of making us all collapse into fits of laughter. →