Authors: T. Torrest
A Romantic Comedy
COME SEE THE PARADISE
Years before Trip Wiley could be seen on movie screens all over the world, he could be seen sitting in the desk behind me in my high school English class.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you who Trip Wiley is. But on the off chance you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, just know that these days, he’s the actor found at the top of every casting director’s wish list. He’s incredibly talented and insanely gorgeous, the combination of which has made him very rich, very famous and very desirable.
And not just to casting directors, either.
I can’t confirm any of the gossip from his early years out in Tinseltown, but based on what I knew of his life before he was a celebrity, I can tell you that the idea of Girls-Throwing-Themselves-At-Trip is not a new concept.
I should know. I was one of them.
And my life hasn’t been the same since.
Trip and I met when we were teenagers, way back before anyone, himself included, could even dream he’d turn into the Hollywood commodity that he is today. This was
back in 1990, and I cite the year only to avoid dumbfounding you when references to big hair or stretch pants are mentioned. Although, come to think of it, I am from Northern New Jersey, which may serve as explanation enough.
Make no mistake, I am not bashing Jersey. It is my home, where I was born and bred and is my absolute favorite place on God’s green Earth. We have beautiful beaches, miles of shopping malls, the best food in the country and the world’s greatest city only minutes outside our door. If you’ve ever been here, I don’t need to tell you, you’ve already learned for yourself.
And if you haven’t... Well, then please don’t believe everything you’ve ever seen on TV.
It is this mindset that gets our scrunchies in a twist whenever anyone outside our garden state feels they have the right to make a negative comment about it.
Just to avoid any bodily injury when visiting, I’ve compiled a short list of rules for out-of-towners. We New Jerseyans do not find the following comments entertaining:
1. “Oh, you live in New
y? What exit?”
2. “Hey, let’s all go
3. “Yo, fuggheddaboutit!”
Other commentary that can get your ass kicked quickly and efficiently:
Anything regarding the Turnpike, the smell, the toxic waste dumps or the swamps. This also includes, but is not limited to, references about the mafia, gobbagool or the Bada Bing, even though we all secretly love The Sopranos.
The vast majority of us are nothing like the people you’ve seen on “Jerseylicious” or “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”, and please don’t even get me started on those knuckleheads from “Jersey Shore”.
But obviously, I’m getting ahead of myself.
In 1990, Jerseyans didn’t have to deal with such negative representation. At that time, we were West Orange’s Thomas Edison and Paterson’s Allen Ginsberg. Sayreville laid claim to Bon Jovi, Elizabeth was home to Judy Blume and Freehold was all about Springsteen. Hoboken is where Frank Sinatra hung his hat, and Metuchen is where David Copperfield first pulled a rabbit out of
Back then, even Martha Stewart was only just starting to show off all the “good things” she’d learned as a crafty adolescent Jersey Girl from Nutley.
And even in boring old Norman, we had a brush with greatness, even if we didn’t know it at the time. These days, we can take credit for churning out the most sought-after leading man in Hollywood. Because today, Norman is the place that Trip Wiley always refers to as “home”.
Lisa DeSanto and I have been friends since she moved here
when we were both seven. Her family originated from Atlantic City (which seemed incredibly exotic and worldly at the time) to head north and plant roots in the forgettable little suburb of Norman. Thank God they just happened to buy a house on the same street where I had lived my entire life.
I remember being so excited when I first heard that a girl my age was going to be living only three houses away! Until that point, I was relegated to hanging around the neighborhood with my little brother and the four McAllister boys next door. The only other girls on our street were Flora and Phoebe Kopinsky who were just babies at the time.
It’s not that spending my formative childhood years around all those boys was all bad. I am an excellent kickball player and have been known to throw a mean whiffleball curve from time to time. To this day, I still retain the ability to scale a fence without breaking a sweat and I think my tolerance for pain is probably a little higher than most girls I know.
Looking through the family albums, I can count on one hand the number of pictures of me that don’t include scraped knees or a Band-Aid somewhere on my body. Even my First Communion photos show an otherwise unassuming little girl, hands folded innocently in prayer, dressed in a frilly, white dress... and wearing a cast on her forearm. I won’t get into the whole story here, but the particular circumstances in which I broke my wrist that spring involved a Wonder Woman costume, an invisible airplane and the roof of the McAllisters’ garage.
Lisa, on the other hand, was always more of a “real girl” than I was. I hadn’t realized I was such a tomboy until I went to her house for the first time.
Upon entering Lisa’s room, I was immediately informed of the fact that her mother had let her decorate it almost entirely by herself. It was actually painted pink and there were white, eyelet curtains at the windows and a rainbow comforter on her wicker bed. My only attempt at decorating at that time involved a Scooby Doo blanket that I had won on the boardwalk. The pictures on her walls were of David Cassidy and Scott Baio and Donny Osmond, a bit of a departure from the Burger-King-issued, 1978 Yankees and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band posters that hung on mine.
In spite of our differences, or maybe because of them, Lisa and I have been best friends ever since. It seems that it was within ten minutes of our first meeting that she taught me how to feather my hair, make braided ribbon barrettes and draw a proper unicorn, necessary survival traits for any girl in the late seventies.
Over the years, she has dragged me to the mall repeatedly, making me buy Jordache jeans, parachute pants, Guess denims and ultimately, to my enduring mortification, ZCavaricci’s. She ran me through the gauntlet of makeup and clothes enough to help me get my act together in time for high school.
Prior to that, I was sort of clueless. I used to play football with the guys at recess and spent more time climbing trees than playing dollies. That tomboy stuff was fine during elementary school, but by sixth grade, my body had begun to sprout boobs and that’s when all the boys started looking at me a little funny.
All the boys except the one I’d started to really like, however.
I had the hugest crush on Brian Hollander during that time and I just couldn’t understand why my superior athletic ability wasn’t helping to catch his eye. Lisa stepped in and gently explained that boys liked girls who were, well... more like
, and I’d have more of a fighting chance if I started acting like one right quick.
It was the summer between seventh and eighth grade when Lisa went into full-on Frankenstein mode with me. She armed me with a bottle of Love’s Baby Soft and a tube of Zinc Pink lipstick and gave me a complete beauty lesson, showing me how to put on makeup to suit my “season”, and went clothes shopping with me to find outfits that would best show off my new boobs without making me look trashy. When all was said and done, I was surprised to find the girl looking back at me through the mirror. Until that moment, I had no idea that I ever wanted to be...
. But there I was, all made up, hair done and dressed like a real, live girl, and I realized that Lisa’s description actually held some truth.
The makeover did wonders for my self-esteem. Not that anyone would have mistaken me for the most popular girl in school (that distinction belonged exclusively to Lisa), but I was confident that I was going to be able to carve out a nice little social status on my own, even without the fact that I had hitched my wagon to her star.
I couldn’t wait to run into Brian and his friends at the lake or the park or something, envisioning myself making a smash as big as Sandy’s at the end of
. I would walk onto the playground or someplace where all our friends would be hanging out and I’d snub a cigarette out with my high-heeled shoe. Every guy’s jaw would drop and then we’d all break into “
We Go Together”.
That fantasy was squelched, however, when my father refused to let me buy a pair of black, spandex pants that I’d found at the nearby Clothing Town. Plus, there was a slight problem with the perm that I had gotten, because it made me look more like Little Orphan Annie than Olivia Newton-John.
Lisa spent her allowance that week to buy me a home permanent kit, explaining that if we just brushed it straight through my hair and let it set for a few minutes, the afro on my head should relax.
She turned out to be right, because the treatment ended up giving me a decent head of soft waves. Thank God, because otherwise, I would have spent the summer looking like Weird Al Yankovic.
Throughout our relationship, Lisa has always loved the challenge of introducing me to a new movie. She’s responsible for some of my all-time favorites, including the aforementioned
, where my girliness finally kicked in enough to swoon over Danny Zukko and Sodapop Curtis, before graduating to actual
A Streetcar Named Desire
A Place in the Sun
, where our crushes matured enough to include Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift on our wishlists.
She knew everything about everything and tried to impart her all-encompassing wisdom to me on a daily basis. Such relevant bits of knowledge on topics ranging from fashion to mascara to French-kissing etiquette. The latter of which led to my first real kiss with Brian Hollander in the basement of Lisa’s house during a game of Spin-the-Bottle.
It was a setup, for sure, because lucky Brian was the only boy in the room at the time she suggested the three of us play. We agreed, and Lisa, ever the best friend, argued the direction of the pointed bottle any time it landed in her vicinity. On the two times she wasn’t able to dispute the call, she merely pecked old Brian on the lips, allowing me to be the only one to swap actual spit with him. Of course, Brian’s joy in the revelation that I was the easier conquest prompted him to lead me into the bathroom for a real makeout session. I even let him put his hands into the back pockets of my jeans! It was quite a memorable afternoon.
Even though kissing Brian should have been unforgettable enough on its own, there’s another reason that notorious day sticks out in my mind.
It was the day my mother left us.
After all these years, it’s still difficult for me to flat-out make that statement.
When you’re a child who’s been abandoned, it’s the very center of who you are as a person. It’s like having a parent die, but without any sort of finality. You suddenly turn from being a regular, everyday person who nobody blinks an eye at into That Girl Without A Mother.