~ GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE ~

A digital literary zine about side characters, bit parts, cameos, and the rest of the supporting cast.

Marley Shelton as
       Wendy Peffercorn in
            The Sandlot (1993)
                  by Nina Boutsikaris

Wendy shows up about a third of the way into The Sandlot, and appears just twice for a total of six minutes, first displayed in that scene where Squints and Yeah-Yeah are buying a baseball to bring back to the gang. She wears a pale green checkered knee-length shift dress and matching headband—an outfit I might have chosen for my American Girl Doll—and walks alone past the kitschy 1960s’ drugstore from which the two boys have just boisterously emerged, arguing over who gets to carry the new ball. Slow motion transforms Wendy’s casual walk into a meditated strut, emphasizing broad hips and voluminous strawberry blonde hair. Her face is vacant and passive, presumably unclouded by thought—bored eyes, closed lips—until she realizes she’s being watched by the two little boys, who look even smaller in contrast to her towering, fully-developed form. She lowers her eyes to meet their gaze, smirking over her shoulder with a backward glance, knowing her ample ass will be the lasting image, will eventually take up the entire frame, its exaggerated sway and gravitational bounce drawn out with each slowed step, as though both globular cheeks might burst through the confines of the fabric.

You know the shot. Name a film with a token hot chick that doesn’t have a shot like this.

When Squints—a runt, whose thick eyeglasses take up half his face—spots Wendy, he is so overcome he can barely stand. He forgets about the yarn-stitched sphere (so important a moment ago), lifts a limp finger, and points listlessly at the woman in front of him.

“Jeez laweez…,” is all he can muster, intoxicated as he cleans his glasses on his tee-shirt and blinks his eyes wide open again to better take in the sight.

After Yeah-Yeah finally drags Squints back to the sandlot, away from Wendy’s ass, the team votes to spend the rest of the day at the public pool. The dog days of summer have brought on a heat wave so stifling that not even Benny, the soft spoken pack leader and most talented athlete in the gang, can convince the boys to play ball. But the pool isn’t just a place to cool off—it’s also the only place to ogle “pool hunnies,” or the “next best thing to Playboy,” which none of boys have actually held in their hands. (Still, Benny goes begrudgingly—he would rather play baseball.)

So Wendy appears again, mere minutes after her debut, this time perched high up on a lifeguard chair. Decked out in a red bathing suit and red lipstick—transformed from cutie pie to temptress with just a few monochromatic accents—she massages suntan lotion into her bronzed skin, absently lording over the swimmers from behind white cat-eye sunglasses.

The boys watch her for a moment, huddled together in the shallow end.

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing,” says one, as if in a trance.

“Yeah she does,” replies another. “She knows exactly what she’s doing.”

This is the buildup to that Magic Moment, when Squints, who cannot swim, dives into the deep end, risking his life, faking his own drowning, so that when Wendy tries furiously tries to resuscitate him, he can ambush her with a passionate kiss—the dream he has been waiting to fulfill his “entire adult life.”

When I was seven my family lived in a suburb of Los Angeles and my highbrow-hippie parents sent me to a rustic day school in Topanga Canyon, with horses and a two-story tree house where art classes were sometimes held. One morning, after swim lessons in the outdoor pool, I skipped out of the girls’ changing room with no shirt on, wiggling in the thin morning sunlight, sticking out my tongue at the boys who were already dressed, lined up in a row on the asphalt. It was thrilling to have such an audience. Not only was I henceforth known as the class daredevil, willing and able to take on the authority of Miss Carla, but I was also a girl, emerging half naked from the secrecy of a space where boys were not allowed. Being ushered quickly back inside and scolded made me feel like I was doing something right, something girls were not supposed to do. And then, must do.

Maybe it was the freedom encouraged by our beachy lifestyle, or the shining, thong-clad glutes of rollerblading women in Santa Monica, or the way The Little Mermaid looked when she hoisted herself up onto the rock, chest heaving, bright red hair wet against her taut stomach—but I already knew there was something out there I wanted in on, something powerful.

That October I sat at the kitchen table and made a list of Halloween costumes while my mom scrambled eggs: Pippi Longstocking, Amelia Bedelia, and any Disney Princess before 1993. My mother would never have let me wear a store-bought costume, so I chose the one she thought we could make together. Amelia Bedelia, the confused maid from a series of children’s books, took everything literally and got everything wrong. I had just learned to read and she made me laugh. But she wasn’t exactly The Little Mermaid. Amelia lacked those bouncing breasts, held in place by a pair of shells. She had no exposed, toned torso, no mass of graspable hair. No one fell in love with her. I didn’t want to look like every other girl—my mother’s dedication to homemade ingenuity had taught me that. But Amelia, in her plain black dress, high collar, and neat bun, somehow went against what Halloween suddenly seemed it could be: a shot at that feeling akin to my swim-class scandal, this time, perhaps, with permission.

Still, we took a trip to the fabric store and I helped my mom sew a bonnet and fasten plastic flowers with a hot glue gun, finishing the get-up in time for my school’s Halloween parade. She snapped photos with her vintage Nikon while helping me change into the leotard I’d wear beneath a long black skirt. But as the group of transformed children made its way to the treehouse, where prizes would be awarded and candy bars administered, I took a chance, slipping the sleeves of my leotard down over my shoulders, exposing the smooth, pale rounds to the Pacific autumn air. It felt good. It felt right. My very own thing to wield. Until my mother saw me and yanked the cloth back into place.

“That’s not how the costume is supposed to look,” she said. She must have known what was happening, even if I wasn’t sure, and maybe it was fear that drove her to shake me; those first fleeting glimpses of ungendered freedom leaving the body, falling away like feathers coming loose; a lonely artifact on the first-grade classroom floor.

~

Aside from Wendy, the only other female speaking part in The Sandlot is the narrator’s mother: a kind, pretty housewife played by Karen Allen. “You play baseball like a girl” is the final insult that instigates an angry revenge ballgame against the boys’ rival team. And in fact, there is no direct acknowledgement of any girl who might be even in the same age range as the nine young boys, even among the lineup of sunbathing pool hunnies. Girls are a blurry wash; slurs, archetypes, mysteries; out of reach or peripheral—the visual equivalent of garbled adult voices in an episode of Charlie Brown. This particular disconnect is sort of striking to think about now, now that I worry about things like assumed universalism, about the male experience as a stand in for humanity. Part of me accepts that these boys are meant to be at an age when they are still potentially talking about girls, not talking to them; where mothers and token hot chicks are the only female frame of reference. But by all accounts, this is an exclusionary film.

So why, as a little girl, who played tee-ball and got into scrapes like The Sandlot boys did, was I obsessed by it? I knew what was coming; even in kindergarten I understood what it meant to be looked at, to be special on the street, at the pool. I sat on Brian’s lap during story time, I kissed Alex on the lips under his parents deck when I knew his best friend Max had a “crush” on me. I felt weird and excited when Kevin, the gym teacher, let me sit alone with him on the bleachers while I was still recovering from the chicken pox. I was already distracted by desire, a lust for lust pounding within me like a terrified herd. I felt the hot, fluttery anxiety of needing to matter more than baseball. I knew which slow motion, six-minute part I was eventually meant to play. But it wasn’t quite Wendy who I studied so carefully each time my brother and I rented the bulky video cassette from the library—and those times were countless.

Truly The Sandlot is the narrator’s story, looking back from a middle-aged vantage point, of his idolization of Benny: an alpha kid who takes a nerdy loner under his wing, transforming him into someone who has friends and treehouse campouts, who plays sports, pukes up chewing tobacco, and gets into trouble. Benny looked the part of a heartthrob, with a classically handsome face, full lips, and dark eyes. He was taller and stronger than the other boys, too. A sexy, husky voice and effortless swagger, combined with the loyalty and courage to lace up a fresh pair of PF Flyers and knowingly risk his life in a last chance effort to help a the narrator get out of “the biggest pickle of all.” Kind, patient, and unselfconscious in his preteen body, white tee-shirt falling perfectly over new shoulders, he was a leader in all physical and emotional respects, with the intense gaze of someone focused and brooding, wise even, beyond his years. And yet. There was something distant about that gaze. Benny was a lone wolf, even among his tight-knit cohort, and viewers are made to understand this hierarchical divide many times throughout the unforgettable summer of 1963. For the other ragtag kids at the sandlot, the narrator reminds us, baseball was a game—for Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, “baseball was life.”

Maybe that’s why Squints held my attention instead. He was goofy and full of himself in a way that charmed me. And best of all, he was in touch with his own sexual desire beyond anything the other boys could grasp, especially Benny. This desire for Wendy was not only a desire I wanted directed at me, but also a desire I related to. In Squints’ desperate lust I saw myself. Presumably I wanted to be Wendy, but I also wanted to be Squints, allowed to brandish my own sexuality so openly and without feeling like it was frivolous or bad; to fake my own drowning in order to be saved by a beautiful lifeguard, kiss the unsuspecting mouth that worked to save me, doing its job so earnestly. To own agency, not just take what was handed to me by the look of others.

~

But. I might be avoiding something. Something kind of ugly. Something I don’t want to admit. Benny’s ambivalence toward Wendy pissed me off. And so I deemed him uninteresting. Squints, on the other hand, saw Wendy and wanted to worship her. Wanted to worship me. I think my fantasy had something to do with all three of them. Something about the respective attentions they each paid. Stop caring about baseball and care about me. Validate my existence. Give me power. Want me most of all.

And I was jealous. Benny didn’t have room for women in any regard—not as friends or even objects of desire—because he only loved baseball. And he was damn good at it. What did I know about loving something like that? What did I care about more than anything? I wasn’t just jealous that Benny loved baseball more than women, I was jealous that I was not as focused and brooding, that I did not love anything that much. Not so freely. Nothing, it seemed, had the power to absorb me enough to block out the nagging awareness of whether I was being watched or not, and why.

Last fall I was seeing a boy who was much younger than me. A boy who was short and wore glasses, who had a million best friends and made everyone laugh. I met him just weeks after graduating from my MFA program, after being relaunched back into life outside the lulling cradle of the university, back into New York; now as a “writer,” still not knowing what that meant; terrified, as I still am, that I did not have the dedication or ambition to succeed as any kind of serious literary person. It was New Year’s Eve, a party in Brooklyn, and he was holding court in the kitchen by the booze. Thirty minutes later he grabbed my face and kissed me without warning in the back of a loud, cramped taxi on our way to a nightclub (he knew the promoter and would get us in for free). His punky confidence and locked-in desire was intoxicating, claiming me as “baby” before he even knew my last name. In him I saw myself, both reflected and validated. The next morning my forehead was bruised from where it had repeatedly and rhythmically smashed into someone’s bathroom cabinets while he fucked me from behind. Within a week he loved me, so of course I felt the same. Everything was as it should be. Recently he texted to ask about my fondest memory of our time together: “Probably the sex we had when u spit in my mouth,” was my honest reply.

Before breaking it off at the end of September, we joked about dressing up as Wendy and Squints for Halloween. They were uncanny, the resemblances. Everyone agreed. I googled the costume idea and found, of course, that it had been done many times before. It was nothing more than another “hoes and bros” get up, thinly masked by the nostalgia for a childhood film.

In the end I don’t know what makes me sadder:

-that being desired so purely and intensely was not enough, that I could not stay in love with someone even though he seemed to be validating my worth in every “right” sense, or perhaps because of that;

-or that for eight months, while my first book was rejected by one publisher after another, I distracted myself with the anxiety that if I abandoned the relationship I would certainly die alone, that it was him or nothing, and that I’d be a fool to let go of someone who had chosen me with such intensity;

-or, ultimately, that I still do not know which of those failures I feel worse about.

For me, Wendy Peffercorn represents all that—a slosh of fears based around success and hetero female sexual identity, and the paradox of its priority in a culture that expects me to both care and not care about being chosen by men. To take up the entire frame, and yet not take attention entirely away from the male lead. The fear that my sexuality and desire for desire are both somehow required and yet unsustainable and potentially detrimentally distracting—to me if I am to be taken seriously, and to men who might love me or at least want me around.

Wendy and Squints marry someday, have nine children, take over the drugstore on the street where Wendy was first introduced, and never leave their hometown. What did they have in common beyond proximity and corresponding expectations of love? Who’s to say how boring or “unsuccessful,” or simple and satisfying their life together might have been, or how their lives might have turned out if they’d pursued more worldly interests with the same passion/complacency they had for their roles as desirer/desired.

But I can’t help feeling like it is somehow meant to be her fault. That it is meant to be my fault. Without Wendy’s cameos, her comical influence over Squints, the depth of Benny’s detachment from anything unrelated to baseball, and therefore the reason for his “success,” would not have been as clear—why he was a legend as a kid and a hero as pro ballplayer Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. The final scene of the film takes place thirty-some years later, just as The Jet triumphantly steals home plate and wins the game for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Our narrator, who still idolizes him, now from an announcer’s booth above the gleaming green diamond of Dodger Stadium, literally jumps for joy while The Jet’s teammates surround him and lift him up on their shoulders. Then the two men’s eyes meet and they give each other an emphatic thumbs up, The Jet’s handsome face plastered huge and grainy across the jumbotron, both of them beaming, comfortable in their lives, their bodies, their fortunes; no women to distract them, no women at all.

Nina Boutsikaris was raised in Los Angeles, California and Nyack, New York. The daughter of two actors, she was drawn to various forms of performance from a young age, and eventually went on to earn her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona. Recent work appears in Third Coast and Fourth Genre. Awards and honors include a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016 and a 2016 Peter Taylor Teaching Fellowship at The Kenyon Review Writer's Workshop. She teaches at The New School and the Gotham Writers Workshop.

~