WITH THE AMERICAN presidential campaigns dominating the news, I can’t help reminiscing about my own political aspirations: In sixth grade, I ran for class president. It all started the year before, in fifth grade, when the other girls got training bras and formed a club called The Sisters. The Sisters didn’t do anything club-like. They never held a bake sale, for example. They just admired their budding boobs and excluded me. I also got a bra, but gratuitously, like icing an ankle that wasn’t swollen.
The ring leader of the newly breasted was Samantha. When I didn’t request Samantha as a roommate on our fifth grade class trip to Washington D.C., she called me “a conniving little cunt” and made everyone ignore me for a week. Another time, when I slipped and fell in a mud puddle, she stood over me, laughing and pointing like a bully from a cartoon. And yet, we were “best friends,” Jessica-Tandy-and-Morgan-Freeman-in-Driving–Miss–Daisy-style. (I was Morgan Freeman.)
Samantha’s power was awe-inspiring—she could rest assured that every opinion she expressed was right, that she’d never wear the wrong headband or fall in the mud. “I’m going to be famous,” she often said. “I just have to find out if I’m marketable.”
No one knew what “marketable” meant. “Of course you’re marketable!” we cried.
In the early summer after fifth grade, I grew a boob. And a couple of months later, another. By the time sixth grade began, everyone but me had forgotten about The Sisters, but had the club not disbanded, I could have out-boobed all of its members combined. I also could have pole danced professionally. I was eleven years old. I wore a pale yellow sweat suit adorned with an appliqué ice cream cone. A ponytail secured by pink plastic balls. Day-of-the-week underpants. And a 32D-cup bra from Sears.
But back to politics. I didn’t even know what being president of a sixth grade class would entail; I knew only that “president” equaled “power.” Thanks in part to Samantha and in part to my stripper boobs, power was in my proximity, and for the first time in my life, it felt achievable, especially because I was running uncontested.
Until one day in art class, when Samantha sidled up to me while I was drawing a three-dimensional box. “Hey,” she said, in the voice of a man gently waking his lover.
“Hey,” I said, in the voice of a hostage addressing her captor.
“So I have some news,” she said. She took a deep breath and sighed, as if this wasn’t going to be easy. “Someone’s running against you,” she said.
I drew a lid on my box. And with the edge of my pencil, some “shading.”
Samantha laid a hand on my shoulder. She sighed again. “It’s me.”
Here was the thing: I wasn’t going to lose because people liked Samantha. No one liked Samantha. (Especially our moms. “Who does that little bitch think she is?” they wondered.) I was going to lose because Samantha was politically savvy: She governed with fear. “Where did you get those jeans?” she would ask you in front of everyone. And you would have to yell, “J. Crew!” or “Bloomingdales!” even though the truth was, “Marshall’s.”
“Those are not J. Crew,” she would say, hands on hips.
“I swear! They are!”
“Right,” she’d say. “Let’s see.” Then she would check the label. And sneer. And the ostracizing would commence. I quickly learned to cut the labels out of my clothes. But Samantha could smell cheapness.
In addition to her J. Crew sweaters and Z. Cavaricci pants, Samantha had a maid from Guatemala and an indoor swimming pool. She and her sisters wore real diamond jewelry and carried Prada tote bags. In third grade, for Samantha’s ninth birthday, a limo ferried her friends to the Ritz-Carlton for lunch.
In sixth grade, no one knew the word “tacky.” But we knew to be afraid.
Before Samantha’s announcement of her candidacy, I’d thought my worst problem was that my name didn’t lend itself to a campaign slogan. At home, my family brainstormed.
“Spechler is special?” my mother suggested.
But my dad gave it to me straight: “It’s no use. Nothing rhymes with Spechler. When I ran for class president, I had the same problem.”
So I settled for “Vote for Diana Spechler!” posters, and compensated with copious glitter. Glitter represented my base. We didn’t need real diamonds. We were proudly proletariat. We would overthrow the tyrant and I would rule benevolently in Velcro Reebok knockoffs.
Meanwhile, Samantha’s campaign consisted of mind-fucking our classmates. She would corner one of the girls. “Who are you voting for?” she would ask.
“You,” the girl would say nervously.
“And who are you voting for?” she’d ask someone else.
“You know,” she told me, “you’re not allowed to vote for yourself.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Then who are you voting for?”
“You,” I said.
But when she wasn’t looking, I hung posters in every classroom, in the gym, in the boys’ bathroom. And then I distributed fliers to everyone but Samantha, like an early Twentieth Century union organizer.
On election day, while the teacher counted the votes, Samantha held my hand. “You’ll always be my best friend,” she said, and my horrible future unfurled before me: a lifetime of pretending I shopped at J. Crew and found Samantha marketable.
“And your new class president,” our teacher said, holding up the empty ballot box, “is…”
Samantha straightened her shoulders and flipped her hair. Before anyone else had so much as a pube, Samantha had perfected the sexy hair flip. My hair was unflippable—animal-like, massive, coated with Jon Freida Frizz-Ease hair serum.
The teacher smiled. “Diana!”
Swiftly, I tried to affect devastation. My classmates applauded tentatively while staring down at their high-tops. Samantha was squeezing my hand with all her strength, her nails digging into my flesh. “Come on,” she said, pulling me to my feet. “We’re going to tell Mrs. K. that we want to be president together.”
“Ow,” I said. “Good idea.”
But I didn’t want to share my presidency with Samantha, who blabbed to everyone the time I laughed so hard, I peed in my leggings. Besides, the people had spoken. But I followed her to Mrs. K. Following Samantha was my specialty.
Mrs. K. looked down her bifocals at us. She knotted her arms across her chest. “No,” she said.
Years later, I would hear that Samantha had a summer job hostessing at Friendly’s—“just for fun,” of course, or maybe “to learn responsibility.” One day, she’d arrive wearing pants instead of the required skirt, and the manager would send her home. That evening, her father would march into Friendly’s and scream at the manager: “My daughter’s pants cost five hundred dollars! What do you know about fashion?”
In other words, Samantha wasn’t raised on “no.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“No,” Mrs. K. said again. “The vote was unanimous.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means Diana got all the votes,” said Mrs. K., who abhorred Samantha as much as our mothers did. “All except one.”
I turned to Samantha. “I voted for you,” I said. But my lie sounded hollow like a chocolate Easter bunny.
These days, on Facebook, Samantha posts pictures of her baby and pretends he’s written the captions: “I’m so cozy!” claims the baby. “I love story time with Daddy.” But in sixth grade, Samantha possessed none of the lobotomized softness of Facebook motherhood. “You,” she growled at me, “are a shitty, shitty friend.” (Samantha’s mother loved the word “shitty.” I’d heard her employ it liberally. Also, “conniving little cunt.”) “Aren’t you!” Samantha said, shaking my arm.
“Yes.” I nodded. “I wish you’d won.”
To Samantha, I habitually lied through my teeth. I guess that’s how I beat her: I was the better politician.