Julie Marie Wade
From the Jeopardy! category SPOILER ALERTS
First, the light & how to describe it—part Manila envelope, part Ticonderoga pencil. Casserole golden at times, then orange as a giant brick of cheese, then brown as tater tots crammed into cargo pant pockets. Idaho may make you squint & squirm, crave some nachos, drink raw eggs from a glass. Yes, the chickens have large talons. It’s an underdog state fit for an underdog story. Note the tetherball sun & the boondoggle clouds. Note the iconic llama cameo. (There’s a small chance our cat is called Tina because of this film.) Second, the plot & how to recount it—Uncle Rico never did throw a football over them mountains, never did strike it rich selling knock-off Tupperware or breast-enhancing supplements. But Pedro shaved his head & became class president. Kip & LaFawnduh fell in love online, then boarded a Greyhound bus together. And our eponymous protagonist, unlikely hero of the Gemstone State, won a talent show dancing to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.” Preston seems a sparse, dry place, far from the grid, nary the site of a tourist’s pilgrimage. Dust coats bicycle tires & Rollerblades, hovers above the highways like an unholy halo. It would be nice if you could pull me into town. Third, the supporting cast & how we remember them—Grandma breaks her coccyx on a dune buggy ride; Starla blushes at a Bust Must testimonial; Rex dubs himself sensei of his own dojo while clad in Hammer pants fashioned from an American flag. Critics called it a “quirky charmer,” a “one-hit wonder,” a “weird-ass fairy tale.” They’re not wrong. If you got it, odds are you drew some ligers in your notebooks, too, took some Glamour shots in your basement once upon a time. Now just imagine you’re weightless, in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by tiny seahorses. If you loved it, you’re probably more Deb than Summer Wheatley to this day. More enterprising than prize-winning perhaps, but with a certain staying power, the paradox of which is the way it helps you leave. (Even then, Deb was earning money for college with her home-woven handicrafts.) What amazes me is how we all know a Summer Wheatley, don’t we? Mine was Marissa Sheldon, was Kendra Kostrich, was Julie Winder—who still lives in my town & works at the bowling alley. The other two are unfindable on Facebook. They were cheerleaders way back when, with ESPRIT sweatshirts slipping off their slender shoulders & Keds tennis shoes forever bright-white as the day they bought them. They washed their hair with exotic products like Pantene & VO5 clarifying shampoo. Somehow they always chewed gum the teachers never confiscated, ate Funyuns & SweeTarts by the carton but never gained weight. These were the girls who had it easy or made it look easy—it’s hard to know which. They never seemed to sweat or stink or spill on their clothes, let alone bleed. Whatever they said became Gospel. Whatever they did set the newest trend. But they don’t make many movies about the goodfits, do they? Summer Wheatley isn’t a film in my Netflix queue. I wonder about her, though, like I wonder about Marissa & Kendra & Julie, who shared my name but not my story. Is Summer snickering at her boss from behind her Steno-thin cubicle walls, sending NSFW memes at work, cyberbullying on the Moms of Preston message board? Or maybe she’s flirting with customers at Big J’s Burgers, some of whom remember her when, one of whom offered to pay for Botox if she’d spend one night with him. “What do you think this is—Indecent Proposal?” But then she did it because Trisha, her still-BFF, said she should. Both of them are tired of the old joke: “Is it I-da-ho or you-da-ho?” Tired of guys who stop by for some curly fries & to reminisce about the Happy Hand Jobs Club. “I swear that’s what it was called,” Don smirks, like he’s been smirking all his life. Maybe Summer married him right after high school. Maybe they have a tribe of towheaded children by now. Or maybe they’re divorced but still fight daily over the phone. Can’t stop running into each other in their one exit ramp town. If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that you can make a piñata of whomever you like. Better, perhaps—a piñata of whatever you want. Don’t ask the principal for permission. Just go outside, close your eyes & strike with all your might.
“What is Napoleon Dynamite?”