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  • Home > Simone Elkeles > How to Ruin > How to Ruin My Teenage Life     


    In conversion class, Rabbi Glassman told me that every word in the Torah is meant to be there for a reason.

    No wasted words. It makes me think about all the wasted words I've used in my life.


    My name is Amy Nelson-Barak. My mom is a Nelson and my dad is a Barak. And no, they were never married. Being an illegitimate kid used to freak me out, but I guess this past summer when my Israeli dad took me to his homeland I got over it.

    Mom got married a few months ago to Marc "with a c. " He's okay, I guess, if you like the über-conservative type. They moved to the 'burbs after the wedding, as if marriage somehow warrants moving to a place where you have to drive a car to get to the nearest Starbucks.

    I'm living with my father in Chicago. I call him Aba, which means Dad in Hebrew. He owns this cool condo in a building in Chicago on the fortieth floor. He was pretty non-existent in my life up until a few months ago. To make a long story short, this past summer my dad and I got to know each other and worked out our issues. He's learning how to be a dad to a teenage girl (me) and I'm learning how to deal with an overprotective father. I've decided to live with him until I graduate high school so I don't have to change schools. The best part about his place is it's situated directly next to a coffee shop called Perk Me Up! It's like a Starbucks, only it has better coffee.

    Okay, so I don't exactly drink coffee. I just turned seventeen in December and haven't gotten that acquired taste thing goin' on. But that's not the point. I'm a city girl. And a coffee shop steps away from your front door equals city.

    I'm sitting at Perk Me Up! right now, doing algebra homework on this frosty January day. Winter break ended a week ago, but I'm still struggling to get into the swing of things at school. I could go upstairs and study in a quiet place, but since my dad is coming home late tonight I'm vegging out here. Besides, the owner of Perk Me Up!, Maria, is super cool. She always piles the whipped cream on my hot chocolate extra high.

    Did you know whipped cream has little or no carbs? It's true. You could spray a whole can of whipped cream into your mouth all in one sitting and still have less carbs in your system than one nutritious apple. Nothing compares with extra whipped cream, unless it's a spicy tuna roll from my fave sushi restaurant, Hanabi. Okay, so I admit sushi rolls surrounded by rice aren't exactly lacking in the carb intake department. Sushi rolls are my obsession and addiction, so I give them a wide berth when it comes to counting sushi as high in carb content.

    "Your dad working late again?" Maria asks as she wipes off the table next to mine.

    I close my algebra book. "Yep. I swear, it's as if the world will collapse if he misses one day."

    "He's a dedicated man," Maria says, a newspaper in her hand from someone who left it on a table. "It's admirable."

    "I guess."

    New customers walk in the door. Maria heads to the register, leaving the newspaper on my table. I notice it's open to the personals. Men seeking women. Women seeking men.

    Man, how desperate are people? I mean, who would actually need to go out and advertise for a date?

    "What are you doing?" a familiar voice says.

    I look up at my best friend, Jessica. She's got dark hair and dark eyes, just like her parents. And her brother and sister. And her cousins. They all look like dark-haired, dark-eyed clones of each other. I swear there's not one recessive gene in her entire Jewish family tree.

    "Me? I'm not doing anything." I say, then shove the paper in my backpack.

    "Amy," Jess says. "I saw you reading the personals."

    "Okay, you caught me." I show her the paper. "Get a load of these ads, Jess. They're so...personal." I feel like I'm peeping tomming into these people's lives.

    Jess leans in and we both read:

    Big-Hearted Taurus

    SWF, 38, 5'10", lazy but likes music, dancing, casinos, dining out. Seeking SWM, 30-42, who likes lazy women for LTR.

    "She can't be serious," I say.

    Jess snickers. "Who'd want a lazy gambler?" We lean our heads together and read more:

    Professional Model

    Sexy SWF, 28, 54", 110 lbs., blonde hair, blue eyes, enjoys trying new things and having fun. Seeking SWM, 25-65, for LTR.

    Seriously, I'm confused. "Can you please tell me what an LTR is?"

    "Long-term relationship."

    Oh. I guess I don't have the personals lingo down pat. "Why would a skinny blonde model want a sixty-five-year-old?" I could understand the lazy chick, but the model?

    I call Maria over to our table.

    "Need more whipped cream, honey?"

    "No, thanks," I say. "Why would a model advertise for an LTR in the paper?"


    Jess shakes her head. "Long-term relationship." She holds out the paper to Maria.

    "Don't knock it," Maria says. "I know plenty of people who've met their soul mate online or in the personals section."

    Jess takes a sip of my hot chocolate. "Amy can't understand. Avi is the perfect guy, right?"

    I smile at the mention of my non-boyfriend, who is serving in the Israeli army. We can't really be boyfriend and girlfriend with him a billion miles away. And he's not perfect. A perfect boyfriend wouldn't be living in another country. "What about Mitch?" I ask Jess. "Last week you told me God made him just for you."

    She makes a yuck face. "Don't even mention his name around me."