The alternate universe started one night when my comic boss Carl Rizo showed me the magnificence of a Los Bros Hernandez book. It’s called Love and Rockets. The comics are lurid, luscious, and badass, feminist and bawdy. I love the hipster adventures of dark haired Maggie and her Latina clique. It knocked me out.
At comic book heart, I’ve always been a Veronica girl. She wooed Archie. Even at 10, I wanted Veronica’s life, more than Betty. Veronica exuded sexuality; she was hot, in a raven haired way, and she had a big house.
One heated Jersey night, I met Jezebel, some 18 year old, at our job, in the Shore comic book store. This is Jackson, Jersey — home of the Jersey Devil, or so lore goes.
Jezebel is not tacky, or gauche. She glows like a American Apparel hipster goddess. It’s not like I’m jealous. I’m 23, which is young too! Yet, there is something so poignant and perfect about a teenage girl.
Also, boys can’t take their eyes off her. She looks like Betty, and acts like Veronica.
This brutal chick, with a heroin chic body, and that ash blonde hair — a light, light, platinum . Shingled short as Jean Harlow. It glows like a potent white fire. Blazing in the dingy Jersey Shore darkness.
This summer, after college, I hang with high school friends on the Jersey shore. I can see the stars at night, at my woodsy and big home in Colts Neck. After work at the comic store, Jezebel stops by my house. She holds up a bottle of red wine, and white Opi nail polish.
We lounge on the black leather couch, watching Girls on HBO. She paints my nails French manicure, the pallor glittering. She’s good with makeup, for a tomboy. We get drunk as sin, as we kvetch about our boss, Rizo.
Rizo has a good heart. He’s not a bad person, technically. But with his accent and sleek hair gel, he’s a little tacky.
By eight o’ clock, guys show up, and it’s an art scene. Some of them are older, bearded art guys from North Jersey. They’re scoping hot stuff from Monty Heights, like Jez.
“The bikers come in,” murmurs Jezebel. “This one place in the eastern section of Monty Heights. It’s in Ocean County. The senior citizens with their big glasses and Hawaiian shirts take a bus here. I don’t think they’ve ever been young.”
Jezebel reaches across the register to read my palm. She has beautiful white, almost aristocratic, hands.
“I have the gyspy in me. That’s what they told my adopted parents. I predict you will meet someone with a Hungarian accent.”
She gives me my hand back, with perfect confidence.
“The young men want to get in your pants. I don’t date guidos.”
“Really? Your last name is Mancuso.”
“That’s my foster care family.”
Her pale face glows.
“I absolutely cannot date guidos.”
“I like those artsy 24 year old boys who dig Japanese Manga, Mona.”
Quite suddenly a middle aged man enters our store, with perfect timing. He was a hot Hasidic Jewish guy with a full, dark, rambling beard and black suit and tie.
I love the Orthodox men in Duvosky Township, who visit.
I love all the things outsider people seem to despise. That they pay no taxes, that they cut you off in traffic, that they keep their women chained to minivans, and become baby machines. This may be true. But every time, I pass a Hasidic man with those pale complexions against those starched black jackets, my heart thunders.
He glanced at me, showing some appreciative interest in the sexy dark girl. I blush. He winked at me, sensing carnal potential. Under his gaze, I am Liz Taylor in Ivanhoe : the beautiful Rebecca, the stunning, buxom, raven haired Jewess.
“Sorry to bother. Is Jezebel Mancuso in?”
I nod to the back door, as Jez emerges from the bathroom, retouching her red lipstick. She’s wearing those short shorts like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, all spaghetti legs. It is almost cinematic – that girl they’re not supposed to look at, to desire.
Ah, yes, the untouchable, American shiksa!
“Darling Jezebel. You look well.”
So they obviously knew each other. I gave a peek outside. A battered minivan was running.
In the passenger seat was a young woman who looked far too young for Levi. Clearly the wife.
She had a shoulder length wig, a mahogany brown one, with bangs. Her skin shimmered like porcelain. She was shockingly beautiful, as much as Jezebel.
Levi rang up a Spiderman comic, and gave Jezebel a meaningful look.
“Holy cow.” I slid my zaftig tush onto the counter and poked her. “Tell me what that was about, Jez!”
“His name is Levi. Mr. Levi Herskowitz. I call him Levi.”
I bundle up my Hernandez comic, as it is late at night, and farewell hug this quirky Jezebel chick who was rough around the edges, dirty under her shore nails, and totally in love. Someone going someplace with the certainty of a teenage girl.
Cassandra Rittenhause has been in over 20 journals, among them Eunioa Review, and White Ash Review.