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Skipper and Ken Visit Barbie's Pad 

by Steven McBrearty 

As befitting her exalted station in life, Barbie (yes, that one!) lived in an upscale apartment complex in Northwest Hills, with a panoramic view of the lowlanders in the city proper. Ken was but a few blocks away in a different but equally high-end complex, in which upcoming young doctors and attorneys and your more presentable drug dealers were prominent. Mercedes and BMW's parked in the white-lined parking slots outside the doors, a pair of kidney-shaped swimming pools, tennis courts painted a rich forest green. 

Skipper, wouldn't you know it, lived in not quite so opulent a pad, without the French doors to the patio, the 

deep-pile carpet, the Pfister-Price fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen. Skipper was a nice kid, a little too skinny, but her background was not nearly as unblemished as Barbie's. There were no elaborate skiing vacations in her past and there was even the hint she might have come from a broken home. Sure, she dined on Sushi now and knew her wine list, of course, but still . . .  

Presently, Skipper knocked on the door, dressed in a mustard-coloured culotte suit with a subdued floral design. Barbie thought it was the wrong thing to wear for the occasion, but held her opinion. 

"How do I look?" asked Skipper, striking a model's pose in the doorway. 

"Just great," lied Barbie. Actually, she thought the outfit made Skipper look bloated and ponderous. And an 

overload of makeup made her seem almost in costume. "You look wonderful." 

Skipper smiled and fussed with her hair. Obviously familiar with Barbie's apartment, she sat pertly on the armrest of a muted-white couch.  

"Okay, so who is this dude you've got me hooked up with tonight, anyway?" asked Skipper with a false nonchalance which was transparent. "Have you seen him?" 

"All I know is he's some friend of Ken's," Barbie said. "From his softball team. He's supposed to be athletic, good-looking. But Ken's never had him over before." 

"God," said Skipper, crossing her right leg deliberately over her left. "I hope he's not like that guy Ken knew from work -- the computer programmer. That guy really came on strong." 

Barbie stopped in the kitchen doorway with hands on hips. 

"I didn't think he was all that bad, really," Barbie said. She didn't enjoy Ken's friend selection impugned. "He seemed a little wild maybe. That's all." 

"Well," said Skipper, a trifle miffed. "You didn't have to deal with him alone, after we got back. He practically raped me." 

She uncrossed her right leg and crossed the left. Sometimes Barbie made her feel so -- inferior. 

"You're kidding," Barbie said. "I didn't know about that." But she felt certain Skipper was exaggerating. 

The doorbell rang and Barbie laid down the pearl-handled hairbrush she had been holding and straightened her dress. 

"That must be them," said Barbie, like some chiming musical instrument. Skipper arranged herself ladylike on the sofa. She prepared to smile upon meeting her date. 

"Hey, hey, hey," Ken said as he bustled inside, taking Barbie's hand over his head like a swing dancer, then while she stood tilted backward -- giving her a big wet smack on the lips. "How's my party girl?" 

"Ken!" said Barbie, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "You've been drinking!" 

"What, me drink?" said Ken, releasing Barbie and assuming an angelic posture. His lips formed into an exaggerated pout as he held his thumb and index finger .5 centimetres apart. "Maybe a little teeny nip now and then, but nothing I wouldn't tell my own mother about. Just a wee insy bitsy bit." 

"I think you're drunk," said Barbie defiantly, as Ken searched for a spark of humour in her eyes. 

"Not a chance," he blustered, standing now like an explorer surveying his domain. "Not old Ken. Not me." 

Skipper's date, meanwhile, stood uncertainly in the doorway, desperately, delicately maintaining a large, 

ponderous smile like a gigantic boulder on his back. A scrubbed and clean-shaven young man with the 

overbulked physique of a football lineman, he stood with hands on hips, balanced all to one side. He looked as though he were about to topple over a fallen defender on the line of scrimmage. 

"Well, Mr. Not Drunk," chimed Barbie, "How about introducing your friend?" The friend stood straighter, his soft, wide, unlined face changing to the colour of a new-born baby. Heavy-lidded, boyish, he appeared a bit unsavvy and slow-talking to be Skipper's type -- not that anybody had really determined what Skipper's type was. Skipper seemed to lose patience with guys very quickly. The most long-term relationship she ever had was with an aspiring writer type who was sharp and witty and considerate but with very little future, fiscally speaking, and he drove a campy, screwed-up old Volvo sedan that issued exhaust trails like an industrial plant. Embarrassed, Skipper dumped him. Never mind that he caused her to laugh, think deeply, explore life with a fresh, open mind -- in the final analysis, those things didn't matter a whole lot to her. 

"Bill!" sang Ken, hands cupped around his mouth like a Bavarian yodeler, "Yo, B-i-i-i-l! Oh, there you are, right where I left you, Silly Boy. Impressive specimen, isn't he? Played defensive tackle for the Texas Longhorns from `89-'91. Would've made All-America, too, if it weren't for a broken ankle suffered during a gruelling panty raid during his sophomore year. Excuse me, during an extremely brutal scrimmage." 

Barbie and Skipper tried to act impressed. 

"Anyway," Ken continued. "Bill -- this is Skipper and this is Barbie. Skipper and Barbie -- this is Bill." They all shook hands politely. 

After the intros were completed, Barbie planted her hand on Ken's chest and propelled him forcefully toward the kitchen. 

"Say," Barbie said, "Why don't you two sit on the couch and get acquainted? I need to talk to Ken for a minute. Privately." She took Ken and dragged him through a swinging door and over to the maple dinette. 

"Okay, Hot Shot," hissed Barbie, three inches from Ken's face. "What's the big idea of showing up here looped? You know I don't like it one bit." 

"No big deal," slurred Ken. "I just love ya, Honey. I love ya a lot. You're the girl of my dreams. Marry me!" 

"You know we've discussed the matter previously, Kenneth," said Barbie, in a sharp, injunctive tone. "And you realise it's just not possible right now. Not while I'm still trying to -- " 

But Ken had lunged forward, pinning Barbie with his outstretched arms against the pine-panelled kitchen cabinet, which drew envious raves from female visitors. Grinning, he breathed beer fumes over Barbie's ideal face, causing her to contort her mouth as though she had just sucked a lemon. He closed his arms around her back and tried valiantly to kiss her, but she wouldn't have anything to do with it. 

"Ken!" said Barbie, squirming her face out of the path of Ken's jabbing lips, "Just what do you think you're 

doing?" 

"Come on, Babe?" said Ken, in a deep, Lothario voice, eyes pleading. "I'm horny as a mule." 

Barbie wriggled free from his hand and popped Ken across the cheekbone. He relaxed his grip in an instant. 

"Jeez, Kid," Ken said, tracing the blow with the tip of a finger. "When did you get so darn demure?" 

"What kind of example do you think you're setting for your friend?" lashed out Barbie. "He probably thinks he's got the A-Okay to move right in on poor Skipper." 

"Skipper'll probably ask him for his bank balance before she even speaks to him," Ken said, with a small, sardonic smile, a mere lopsidedness in his face. "After that there'll be the requisite check of MasterCard limits." 

"That's not nice," Barbie said, but not without a glimmer of perverse satisfaction. When you're the Golden Girl, everybody is a potential rival. 

Skipper and her date sat stiffly on the sofa, separated by a demilitarised zone of eight, maybe eight and one-quarter inches. They didn't speak, but Bill seemed to be humming under his breath -- a buzzing sound reminiscent of locusts. A TV show was on, some summer re-run with a laugh track, and they both focused intently on that. Skipper concentrated all of her willpower and snuck a tentative little peek in Bill's direction. 

"Well," she said blithely, after a deep, cleansing breath and shifting a tad to face him obliquely. "So you played football for UT, huh?" 

"Yes, ma'am," said Bill, blushing fiercely. Skipper was several years older than Bill, and being called "ma'am" made her feel absolutely ancient. She was already sensitive about reaching her late twenties still unmarried. What did this guy take her for -- an old maid? 

"Gosh," continued Skipper, deflated but forging ahead with feigned enthusiasm. "That's so exciting. I mean, the crowds and all, the cheerleaders, the media. What was it like playing in that huge stadium with all the spectators, the band cranking out the fight song, the big drum pounding? It must have been some thrill." 

"Well," said Bill slowly, tweaking the tip of his rather fleshy proboscis in a meek, self-effacing fashion, "I didn't play all that much, really. I got hurt early in my sophomore year and never rose above second string after that." Bill glanced wistfully at the ceiling. "You know, I mighta been one whale of a ballplayer if not for that old hamstring flare-up." 

This retrospective seemed to trigger some deep-seated romantic impulse in Bill, as he scooted his big old lineman's butt across the couch and looped his arm loosely around Skipper's narrow upper lumbar section. His fingertips rested lightly on her far shoulder blade.  

"Oh, God," sighed Skipper, beneath her breath, though undoubtedly all that Bill intended, with Barbie and Ken snuggled up next door in the kitchen, was a little innocent make-out action. "You get out of your teens and everybody assumes you're ready for sex the minute you say hello."  

She screwed up her shoulders and tightened into a foetal shell. They sat locked in silence for the next five minutes, while Bill queued up courage for a direct frontal assault. But he decided that a bit more conversation was in order first. 

"Ken tells me you work over at the Capitol, in some state senator's office," said Bill, in a plagiarism of 

cosmopolitanese. "That must be awfully exciting." 

"Ahhh," said Skipper, picking haphazardly at her bangs with her fingertips, "It's alright. Actually, it's pretty hum-drum except for a for weeks late in the legislative session." 

Bill nodded in rabid appreciation. Then there was another long silence. 

"After I got out of school," offered Bill, finally, bashfully, as if revealing one of the secrets of the ages, "the 

Assistant Athletic Director called some guy he knew over at MBank and got me fixed up with a job. I'm Accounts Manager over there now." 

"Mmmm," said Skipper, abstractedly, pulling long hairs from the top of her scalp and inspecting each painstakingly. "Sounds utterly divine. Perhaps you could set me up with a payment-free note of ten million dollars?" 

Bill required a moment of profound reflection to determine that his leg was being pulled and then he laughed, his puffy little ice-blue eyes hooded in his obelisk-like face. A soft, cautious laugh in its nascence, it ripened into a great, immoderate, locker-room guffaw. Backslapping time. Skipper rode it out with a firmly noncommittal expression. 

Apparently, Bill decided that the onset of this jovial ambience was an invitation to make a major move. Leaning close to Skipper's face suddenly, he swivelled his head and lowered his lips onto hers. When he did, she reared back and whopped him a good one right across the chops. The women were in a fighting mood tonight. But immediately after, Skipper's face contorted in dread and self-disgust. She lowered her head and covered her face with her hands. 

"Oh, God," wailed Skipper. "I'm so sorry. I'm all screwed up. I don't know what's wrong with me." 

Bill sat sheepish and uncertain as she sobbed into a latticework of fingers, flagellating herself. A vivid red stripe lay across Bill's square jaw like a road map to a desolate country. 

"It's okay," said Bill, hands folded on his knees. "Maybe I was just a tad too forward." 

"No," said Skipper, decisively, self-derisively, "It's me. I've got this horrible hang-up about people touching me. It drives me nuts. I need to see a psychiatrist or something." 

Bill sat leaning forward, thinking hard. One could almost detect the old cranium bulging outward. 

"You know what," said Bill, in a soft, earnest, get-down-to-business manner, "I think you're a real cute little old girl. It bothers a lot of folks to have somebody come up and just grab `em." 

Skipper shrugged, Bill reached gingerly for her hand and held just the tips of her fingers in a soft, passive embrace. Skipper shivered at first, but let it be, the title of her favourite Beatles song. 

Barbie stood stock still in the doorway, quivering with amazed excitement. 

"Ken," she whispered fiercely, waving like a highway flagman, "You gotta get a load of this. They're holding hands." 

"You're kidding," whispered Ken, fingertips on Barbie's slender shoulders. He whistled softly. "My God, Bill was absolutely the last person on earth I figured would get along with Skipper. I racked my brain for other eligible candidates before asking Bill. But a lot of folks have already gotten burned by Skipper." 

Barbie's limpid powder-blue eyes sparkled unabashedly and she smiled as she inclined her face upward toward Ken. She wrapped her hand in his. 

"Hey," Barbie coaxed. "I was acting kind of snooty in there just now. Now that we've got a little time on our hands, why don't we . . ." 

Ah, but just then the doorbell rang and it was Barbie's token Black friend, her token Oriental friend, and her token Hispanic friend, all dressed up to party. Barbie sighed and got with the program.

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