Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants: Based on a True Story

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9780743272179: Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants: Based on a True Story

When Jill Soloway was just thirteen, she and her best friend donned the tightest satin pants they could find, poufed up their hair and squeezed into Candies heels, then headed to downtown Chicago in search of their one-and-only true loves forever: the members of whichever rock band was touring through town. Never mind that both girls still had braces, coke-bottle-thick glasses and had only just bought their first bras...they were fabulous, they felt beautiful, they were "tiny ladies in shiny pants."Now that Jill is all grown up and a successful writer and producer, she can look back on her tiny self and share her shiny tales with fondness, absurdity and obsessive-compulsive attention to even the most embarrassing details. From the highly personal (conflating her own loss of virginity and the Kobe Bryant accusations), to the political (what she has in common with Monica and Chandra), to the outrageously Los Angelean (why women wear huge diamonds and what they must do to get them), "Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants" is a genre-defying combination of personal essay and memoir, or a hilarious, unruly and unapologetic evaluation of society, religion, sex, love, and -- best of all -- Jill.

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About the Author:

Jill Soloway is a comedian, playwright, feminist, Emmy-nominated TV writer and award-winning director. She was a writer for Six Feet Under for four seasons, after coming to the attention of Alan Ball when he read her short story `Courtney Cox's Asshole' (originally written as a joke for a friend). She is also the creator and writer of Transparent, inspired by her father when he came out as transgender. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Coming Home

(early)

Camp Pinecrest

Every summer, Camp Pinecrest welcomes hundreds of young women from all over the country and the world. Campers ages 6-16 will find a nurturing atmosphere where they can explore, compete, create and discover! Camp Pinecrest provides the tools necessary to grow from a confident young girl into a successful woman.

With over 30 acres of grounds and extensive waterfront property, campers at Pinecrest choose between any number of activities, from swimming in Lake Michigan to learning new crafts in the Recreational Lounge. Pinecrest also offers tennis, basketball, various athletic fields, an obstacle course, and stables, with forty horses.

Camp Pinecrest can accommodate up to 200 girls per session. Campers are assigned a tent cabin, depending on their age. Typically, there are 10-12 campers per cabin and a counselor. Showers and bathrooms are located just a few steps away from the tents -- which are equipped with electricity.

Nearby Camp Woodview is our brother camp. Though we share some facilities, activities and experiences at Camp Pinecrest are still strictly female. The two camps do commingle on special occasions during each session. Remember, sessions are filling fast!

When I was twelve my favorite book was about a girl named Marjorie. Marjorie wore pigtails and went to sleepaway camp, with woods and water and tents and friends. I wanted to hang out with Marjorie, or if that wasn't possible, have a life more like hers. Overnight camp sounded like the perfect place to help turn me into a real girl instead of the Formica girl I was becoming in our hi-rise luxury apartment. It was 1977, and we had just moved to the Gold Coast, a neighborhood on the near north side of Chicago.

Ours was a universe of glass, chrome, Berber carpet, and many, many cubes my mom lovingly referred to as Our Parsons Tables. Everything was clean and shiny and in a specific order that never budged. Dinner always featured one of four rotating meats (ground beef, chicken, pork chop, lamb chop, repeat) followed by a Jim Brooks or Burroughs sitcom, then a Pudding Pop. It never changed. Well, to be fair, for a few months in 1982, we tried Tuscan Bars, but returned to Pudding Pops shortly after.

Some deeply longing part of me believed there was something better than the four walls of our airconditioned splendor, a real place without decoratorchosen taupes and caramels and corners. Even though the capability to google the words "summer camp-Midwest" was two full decades into the future, I was a crafty information gatherer and ordered myself a handbook called The Camp and School Guide out of the back of the New York Times Magazine section.

After poring over the book for a few days, I found the perfect place: Camp Pinecrest, a couple hours north, in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Its brother camp was across the lake and contained boys with whom we would surely share socials and underpants-centered pranking. We asked around the families we knew and found out that Faith's best friend Shelly had been going there for years and loved it. Faith agreed to join me.

"I'm not sure if you're a sleepaway camp person," my mom warned me. But I knew she knew nothing! (said haughtily, to self) and had no idea about the new me, the me who would soon be whittling things from corncobs and singing, arm in arm, with other real girls. I hovered my hot breath over my mom's shoulder as she filled out the forms. She suggested we start with two weeks and see how it went, but I knew anything less than the full eight would be a disappointment. A week later, the welcome packet arrived, and I sharpened my pencil and began marching around, ticking items off the "Things to Bring" list.

The packet suggested we buy our supplies at a place called the Camp and School Store. It was in downtown Chicago, on the seventh floor of an old-style building on Wabash, all the units darkened by the L trains rushing past outside. The whole entity smelled like dentistry, with elevators that had kindly black men calling out the floors and gates that slid open revealing marble halls and gold-leaf lettering on cloudy white glass doors.

The store was all business: ceiling-high stacks of boxes and forms, forms, forms being checked off everywhere we looked. A pudgy, white-haired Jewish man led us around the store, looking over his half-glasses and pointing at exactly what the list demanded. In reverence to the camp colors, we got Brown and Gold everything -- stiff brown shorts, three crusty mustard polo shirts, brown army-issue wool blankets, stiff white sheets, pillow and duffel bag, labels for our names, brown socks, and canteens made of aluminum with brown canvas covers. My mom paid an exorbitant amount of money, and we packed the shopping bags into a cab and went home.

The next week was made up of more planning and meticulous packing. Whenever anyone asked me if I was scared, I'd harrumph and brush them off. After all, my sister would be there and so would Shelly, who I kinda knew, and soon I'd have friends of my own.

When the day came to leave, all of the parents drove their children to a parking lot where everyone bravely hugged good-bye. I hopped on the yellow bus. My sister sat with Shelly and I sat behind them. As they chatted about the eighth-grade girls, I looked around to try to spot the ones going into seventh who would soon be my terrific new bunkmates. The city was leaving us behind and nature, beautiful, real nature, filled the windows as we buzzed up I-94, then off into the north woods of Wisconsin.

We arrived and hopped off the bus. Camp looked exactly how I expected -- mossy, meandering paths with leaves everywhere, tall trees and sun-dappled trails to our tent cabins. It was beautiful and crunchy and rustic and it smelled of wet wood. My counselor, a tall, bossy, Naomi-type with big camp thighs and a homemade leather belt, met with my expectations. But sadly, my bunkmates did not. Marjorie was not among them.

They were seven buzzing girls who had known each other since their parents began sending them sleepaway to camp, probably from the age of three. These people were Not Jews. Not at all. But they weren't nature-y either. They were exactly like those old-money blondes with names like Paige and Braeden who went to the private schools in downtown Chicago. They had the hardened, sun-burnt shells of children raised by alcoholic women, left in the yard to play during two-day family parties. Nothing like us Soloway sisters. We were watched like hawks, never out of sight of our mother, never hungry, never bored. I was sure they'd love the way my bubbly personality would provide antidote to their leathered gentile lackadaisy.

Boy, was I wrong. They hated the living shit out of me. Maybe it was my ebullience. But probably, it was my wardrobe. It turned out the Camp and School Store list had just been a SUGGESTED list and not a REQUIRED list. As I made my bed with the itchy brown wool blanket, I noticed the rest of the girls had fluffy pink comforters plus sheets pulled from their home linen cabinets, soft as butter, washed weekly since forever.

In addition to their home bedding, each girl also brought mostly regular clothes. Regular clothes. Brown and Gold were only to be worn on Spirit Days, and then only if you were an enormous dork. Certainly not every day. And when it was Spirit Day, everyone wore lemon yellow cotton scoop-necks and satiny brown jogging shorts with white piping. Like a travel-anxiety nightmare, something had gone wrong in my packing. I had brought almost entirely mustard shirts and cardboard brown army shorts that my mother hadn't even washed first. Just one set of regular clothes. I started crying that night and became known as the Brown-and-Gold Crybaby to the Seven Shiksas. I had eight whole weeks to get through. But I didn't think I could stand one more second.

Faith, on the other hand, was doing fine, probably dabbling in a burgeoning lesbianism with her best friend, Shelly. Her cabin was chockful of tomboys who took their camping seriously and didn't judge one another on things like clothes. Faith loved camp, which should have come as no surprise, as she was incredibly athletic and a great swimmer. I hated things that involved rowing and floating, which most things there did. I have no idea why this didn't occur to me when I signed on. Perhaps I should have looked for a camp where girls filled their days with activities like impeccable research, ordering brochures through the mail, and economical packing.

Plus, this place had mosquitoes and bugs and spiders everywhere, including in the toilet and on the toilet seat, and thus, potentially, up my vagina. I was an outcast -- the freak in the stiff regulation camp clothes who slept under an army blanket and never peed. In the brutal heat of the Wisconsin summer, I was lonely and boiling and sweaty and sad.

Nothing went right for me. On the second night there, I found myself awake in the middle of the night, outside, lying on the ground. I had no idea how I got there. It turned out I had rolled out of bed in my sleep, and onto the floor, then right out of the space between the tent flap and the bunk floor. I may have slept outside for an hour. I got up, snuck back around to the front, and let myself in while the rest of the girls snored. I slipped back under my hard white sheets, covered in bits of stick, and prayed I would make friends soon with whom I could laugh about such an incident.

But friends were not in the cards for me. The girls not only didn't talk to me, they even appeared to not see me. They lived in a bubble where they held loud private conversations in front of me that left no way in. They never specifically bullied me, they just behaved as if I wasn't there. In fact, I bet if you found any of these Paiges or Braedens today, they wouldn't even remember me.

My loneliness was overwhelming and my crying myself to sleep wasn't attracting the attention it was supposed to. Even though my sister was at the same camp...

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