Our September selection is Chelsea Martin’s Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life.
Says NYLON’s Kristin Iversen:
“Caca Dolce is a strange, candid, often hilarious look into Martin’s life, dating back to when she was a young child who mistakenly thought she’d had sex with her similarly-aged cousin. (We’ve all been there, right?)...Perfect for anyone who has ever hated, loved, and laughed at themselves—particularly if they’ve done those things all at once—Caca Dolce serves to let all the weird millennials out there know that they’re not aliens at all, they’re actually normal. It’s the world that’s strange.”
Below is an excerpt from Caca Dolce. Read the book and join us for an interview and book discussion with Martin on Facebook Live September 19 at 11am EST.
In junior year of high school I became the bassist in a metal parody band called Sparkling Honeypuff. But if you asked my bandmates, Brandon and Charlie, they would probably have told you we were in a serious thrash metal band called Slaughtered Goat (or something), and they would probably have made some mean joke about how I couldn’t play even the simplest bass chords despite their six-plus months of effort to teach me. To this I would have said that it was funnier overall if I didn’t really know how to play bass, more in line with the parody aspect of the band, and also that it was more fun to simply hang out and have a good time than to listen to the same Black Sabbath song over and over, and slide my fingers across rough strings that gave me blisters, trying to imitate the bass line of some song I didn’t even like.
“How can you not like Black Sabbath?” Brandon would say.
“Is that a real question?” I would say, completely mystified. “You honestly like this music?”
These kinds of creative differences ultimately led to the band’s demise, at which point Brandon and Charlie started a new band, also called Slaughtered Goat (or whatever) with a new bassist, a role they didn’t actually fill.
I had known I wasn’t a musician since my second-grade keyboard recital, during which I stopped playing in the middle of the song and yelled to the audience, “I don’t know the rest!” I liked the idea of being part of a group and contributing to something larger than myself, and hanging out with my friends under the guise of being productive, but I didn’t actually want to play music. Especially not metal.
“Can I be the bassist in your new band?” I asked Charlie.
“Um,” said Charlie. “I’ll have to ask Brandon. We might not need a bassist.”
“Brandon is right there. Why don’t you ask him now?”
They let me back into the band after a small degree of persistence and manipulation, but things were never the same. For one, I had to promise never to refer to the band as Sparkling Honeypuff; also, we never had band practice again. Or, at least, I was never invited to band practice again.
“We’re never going to get the gig if we don’t work together on some jams,” I said to Charlie.
“What are you even talking about?” he said.
When I was invited to be the photographer for my friend Logan’s metal band, Broken Femur, I eagerly accepted. I didn’t like the responsibility of being in a band anyway; being a photographer was more my speed. I went to all of their practices and house shows, where I would halfheartedly snap a few action shots with my digital camera and then spend the rest of the night looking for snacks. Later, I would upload the photos onto my computer and never look at them or do anything with them again. It was a pretty sweet gig.
I first saw Sage at a Battle of the Bands concert that Broken Femur was competing in, which took place on my high school football field one Saturday in the summer.
“Who is that?” I said, looking at a pale, skinny dude with black bell-bottoms, no shirt, and shiny brown hair down to his butt.
“Which one? Tony?” Logan said. “Oh, that one? Sage. He’s the drummer in Johnny’s band.”
Maybe a hippie boy version of Alanis Morissette isn’t everyone’s idea of the perfect man, but it was mine. I took a few photographs of him with my camera, then switched to video mode and filmed a five-second clip of him walking across the field.
I didn’t see Sage again until Logan had a New Year’s Eve party six months later in the trailer adjacent to his parents’ house. I recognized Sage immediately, most likely due to how many times I had watched the clip I’d filmed the summer before. He wore the same bell-bottoms low on his waist, and I could see he was not wearing underwear. I ignored him for hours while trying to get as drunk as possible and playing Quarters with Brandon and Charlie.
Quarters is a game with simple rules: You put your knuckles on a table while your opponent launches quarters at your hand from the other side of the table. Every time they break the skin on your knuck- les they get a point. It is probably a good way to contract blood-borne infectious diseases, and an even better way to physically hurt people who have kicked you out of a band you were inexplicably desperate to be in.
Eventually I was drunk enough that I had the confidence to poke Sage with a stray drumstick as he walked past me. He looked at me as if I was a drunken moron and disappeared into some other room.
I had kissed boys before. Plenty of them. I kept a single sheet of lined Hello Kitty paper tracking the names of everyone I’d kissed, and the paper was almost filled to capacity. There were boys I’d kissed while drunk. Boys I’d kissed while playing Truth or Dare when I was eleven. (It counted.) Boys I’d kissed while they were drunk and I was pretending to be drunk. Boys I’d heard from reliable sources that I’d kissed but couldn’t remember kissing because I had been too drunk. I looked at the list periodically to reassure myself that I was someone worth kissing. I wasn’t exactly anxious to add more names to the list, but I knew that if I wrote the next name big enough, the next name after that name would have to go on the other side of the paper, or another piece of paper altogether. At that point I could even begin to refine the taxonomy. But mostly I wanted a boyfriend. It was the mid- dle of my senior year and I had never really had one.
It seemed miraculous that anyone ever accomplished the task of finding someone they were willing to admit they liked who happened to like them back. When I liked someone I tended to stay far away from that person until my desperation became overwhelming, and I would force myself to approach them with no plan of what to say. Then, standing in front of them, I would have to think of some- thing to say on the spot, such as “Can I have a pen? I can’t give it back, though. It’s complicated.”
“I don’t,” the person would say, gesturing to the soccer field that surrounded us, on which our classmates apathetically kicked a ball around.
“Oh, that’s cool,” I would say, smiling and rolling my eyes, trying to convey that I was a chill girl with no pressing need for a pen.
Toward the end of the night, a guy I had seen hanging out with Sage most of the night approached me. He was drunk.
“What’s your name?” he said. “Chelsea,” I said. “What’s yours?”
“I’m Brian. What are you doing after the party?” He was pale, and had long, tangled dark hair like a rag doll. He seemed drugged out, stumbling while attempting to stand in one spot. I didn’t usually appreciate the drugged-out look, but it was a good look on him. He looked like a careless trashy rock star in need of heroin.
“I don’t know.” It was well past midnight, and I wasn’t planning on doing anything else. “I’m supposed to call my mom if I can’t find a ride home.”
“I can give you a ride home. I’m going to my sister Hannah’s house for an after-party but I can give you a ride in a little while.”
“How many people are going?” I said.
“Just me, Hannah and her boyfriend, Dave, that guy over there, Sage, and maybe our buddy Richard.”
I made some quick drunken calculations. If I left with Brian there was a good chance I would not make it home. Unfulfilled drunken promises of rides home were common in my life. I did not know any of these people and I wasn’t sure if any of my friends knew them, there was always the possibility of rape, and my friends might be mad at me for leaving. But Sage was going to be there.
I told Logan I was leaving with Brian and his friends, and Logan gave me a concerned, almost fatherly look. He never drank and so was often forced to be the voice of reason for his alcoholic friends.
Charlie fell or was pushed into the kitchen counter behind Logan, breaking the counter and causing the sink to fall into the cabinet below. People laughed and ooohed as Charlie tried to pick himself up out of the broken sink. Still, Logan seemed more concerned with my safety than with the damage to his property.
“You can stay here if you want, you know,” he said. “It’s okay. They said they’d give me a ride home.”
“What do you like to do for fun, Chelsea?” Brian said.
“I like to paint,” I said, trying to see Sage’s reaction in my periphery. “And, um, photography.” Then, completely forgetting the question, I added, “I go to high school.”
“How old are you?” A joint was being passed around but I declined to participate, as I had decided to “never smoke pot” a few years earlier.
“Sweet,” said Brian. He put a hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. “How old are you?” I said.
“Your fly is down,” I said to Sage, forgetting to look at him briefly before I said it, as I had planned, so that it wouldn’t be obvious that I had seen that it was down hours earlier and had intentionally de- layed giving him the information so that it could continue to be a conversation-starting option, and so that it seemed that for most of the night I hadn’t bothered to look at his crotch.
He wordlessly zipped it up and smiled at me.
“I’ll need to go home soon,” I said to Brian, knowing already that I was not going to be driven home.
“I can’t drive you home. I’m too drunk,” said Brian. It was 2 a.m. I called my mom and told her in my best attempt at sounding sober that I was spending the night at my new friend Hannah’s house, and gave her the address where she could pick me up in the morning. I was becoming increasingly worried about the sleeping arrangements, and of the intentions and/or tenacity of Brian, who had probably never meant to drive me home. I sat between them on the couch, wishing Logan was there to tell me what to do.
“I’m really tired,” said Sage. “Me too,” I said.
“You can sleep on the couch,” Brian said. “Sage and I will sleep on the floor.”
“No way,” Sage said. “This is my couch. Chelsea can share with me if she wants, though.”
I wish I could say that I usually had more grace and subtlety than my actions at this point suggest, but the truth was I did not surprise myself by leaping onto Sage and beginning to kiss his neck and face. Brian scooted off the couch and onto the floor.
In the morning, Sage had large red hickeys covering his neck. I had never given anyone a hickey before, and I was astonished by how easy it had been. I didn’t even remember doing it. Sage pulled his long hair into a bun, exposing his entire neck, evidently unashamed of the damage I’d done.
“It looks like you were stuck in a cage all night with a rabid monkey,” Hannah said.
Sage laughed. “It was worth it,” he said.
I checked my own neck in the bathroom and noticed one small tender mark, which I covered up with some of Hannah’s makeup so that my mom wouldn’t see it when she picked me up.
At home, I unfolded my sheet of Hello Kitty paper and wrote Sage’s name at the bottom, filling what remained of the page.
On Monday at school, I recounted the details of this most exciting make-out session to friends, who mostly didn’t care.
“Oh, that guy?” Logan said. “That’s weird.”
“I’m in love with Sage,” I said, feigning melodrama by covering my heart with my right hand to conceal the very real melodrama I was feeling.
Sage was possibly the hottest guy I had ever seen in person. I had fantasized about him for six months, thinking I would never see him again, and then I’d kissed him. It was surreal. It felt like a teen movie, the kind where the protagonist loses her virginity at the end and everyone rejoices. I was that protagonist. This was my movie.
I was more eager than ever to participate in band-related events with Logan, as I thought it was my best chance at seeing Sage, who had my phone number but had not yet called. But Logan’s band was taking some kind of hiatus.
“We’re kind of just into writing and practicing right now,” Logan said. “I don’t think we’re going to play any more shows this month.”
“You’re never going to get anywhere with that kind of attitude, you know,” I said.
A few weeks later, I found myself at Hannah’s house again. It turned out Sage was “without a home” and was sleeping on Hannah and Dave’s couch in exchange for groceries purchased by Sage’s mother. Sage had invited me over but had left soon after I arrived, as an awesome opportunity to practice drums with some members of his band had arisen, and that was not the kind of thing one can simply decline, apparently.
I did my best to react neutrally. I wanted to convey how great of a girlfriend I would be, if given the opportunity. I wouldn’t be needy or inflexible. I could hang out with his friends while he casually ditched me.
I watched football with Hannah and Dave for hours and did my best to appear to believe I belonged there, which got easier as the day turned to night as Hannah and Dave made sure there was always a fresh beer in my hand. Brian arrived and appeared happy to see me, and I was happy to see someone who appeared happy to see me. He quoted some lyrics from the Darkness, which seemed ironic to me because I thought he looked like the singer from that band. I sang the rest of the line using my best chipmunk voice.
“I believe in a thing called love / Just listen to the rhythm of my heart.”
“Do you think the Darkness is a real band or a joke band?” Brian said. He had a slight Southern drawl for some reason, which made everything he said seem slightly sexual to me.
“What difference does it make?” I said.
“I just wonder if they take themselves super seriously or if they understand the irony.”
“Definitely both,” I said.
“Definitely?” he said, smiling, revealing his crooked, over-crowded teeth. “You sound pretty confident.”
“I guess I could be wrong,” I said, sitting on the arm of the couch and looking up at him, coming as close to flirtatious body language as I probably ever would.
Late in the night, when everyone was drunk, Sage came back to Hannah’s house with his bandmates and intercepted my conversation with Brian to hug and kiss me. It felt more territorial than passionate, but I was delighted by it.
“She’s a virgin,” Dave said loudly to Sage. I suppose I knew, when they had asked me if I was a virgin earlier, that they would tell Sage. I suppose I wanted them to tell Sage, because I knew it made me special in a place like Clearlake, where nearly every girl lost her virginity by age thirteen, but I did find it a little odd that Dave chose to announce it the second Sage came home.
“Is that true?” Sage said, looking at me earnestly. I declared my virginity to the whole room.
I had not held on to my virginity for any reason. It was incidental. It felt out of my control. And it didn’t mean anything to me. I had simply never had the opportunity to get rid of it.
A few hours later, Sage asked me to be his girlfriend. “Yes,” I said very formally. “I will be that.”
The next time we hung out, a couple of days later, Sage and I had sex. Hannah and Dave had made their bedroom available to us while they watched football in their living room with some friends.
Sage turned on a k.d. lang album and lit some incense. He was making an effort, I guess. I didn’t really understand the appeal of k.d. lang but Sage was older and wiser and I had no experience with sex, so who was I to say what was sexy? I decided to keep an open mind about gross hippie music and stinky burning perfume sticks.
Sex was easy. Eerily easy. I checked several times to make sure that the right thing was happening down there, because I didn’t feel much of anything. Wasn’t it supposed to hurt?
Wasn’t I supposed to be crying and sopping up blood with my own underwear?
Sage reassured me several times that he had a big dick.
“There’s no way for me to know if that’s true or not,” I said. But I sort of believed him, because how else would he have had the confidence to play k.d. lang, which I had determined was not sexy at all, not even a little bit, not even considering all the beers I had drunk at that point?
When we were done (when he was done), I felt extremely accomplished. Before I had even finished getting dressed, I started trying to figure out the right wording to use when I told my friends about my newfound state of womanhood. Basically it was a choice between “I lost my virginity” and “I had sex.” I sort of hated the word “virgin,” with its religious connotations or implications of sacredness, but saying “I had sex” seemed creepier and embarrassing. But that might be because I imagined saying it in a whisper, with the last word only mouthed and not spoken while making a creepy, villainous smile and widening my eyes as much as I could. So maybe if I said it in a normal tone of voice and didn’t do anything weird with my face it wouldn’t come off so creepy.
Sage and I left Hannah’s bedroom and joined Hannah and Brian and the half-dozen people who I had been introduced to earlier but who still were nameless and random to me. I drank more beer and, for the first time, felt almost comfortable hanging out with this group of people, watching, for hours on end, a sport I could not begin to understand.
That night we slept on the couch, and I held on to Sage tightly, letting my hands fall to places they hadn’t when we’d slept together before, places I had never explored on another human body. His butt, for example. He hugged me tightly and we breathed into each other’s faces all night.
“I had sex,” I said to Logan before class started on Monday, whispering the first two words and mouthing the last, my face scrunched up like a deranged and possibly rabid feral child.
“Really?” he said, trying to sound impressed by something that was not at all impressive. “Wow, cool!”
“It was cool,” I said.
I started seeing Sage almost every weekend. My school was less than a block away from Hannah’s house, so I would walk there after school on Friday, usually uninvited, and stay all weekend. Sage and I contin- ued having sex. I didn’t really understand what was so great about sex but I felt extremely excited by it nonetheless. It was strange and cool to be naked in front of another person, and strange and cool to see a naked person up close. In the moment, everything felt serious and straightforward. There was no pretense or humor or subtlety to any of our actions, just the flagrant search for pleasure—his, mostly. Af- terward I felt embarrassed by how serious we had been, tried to make jokes about how weird naked bodies were, and then felt embarrassed about the jokes.
Sex, I would think happily to myself afterward. It was now a word that belonged to me. Everybody else in the world, and me.
Sometimes Sage would invite me to watch him practice with his band in the garage of a middle-aged developmentally disabled man who somehow had a lot of music equipment. Other times I would stay at Hannah’s while Sage went to practice, and I would hang out with Brian.
“How’s your painting going?’ Brian said one day. “What?” I said.
“You said you were a painter.”
“Oh yeah. Good. Some of my paintings are on display in a meeting room for my school district, so that’s pretty cool, I guess.”
“You’ve got a lot of talent,” he said.
“How would you know that? I’ve never shown you anything.”
“I can sense these things, Chelsea,” Brian said. “Oh, hey, do you want to go to my cousin’s wedding?”
“Your cousin’s wedding? Where is it?”
“Clearlake. Hannah and everybody will be there. I can pick you up.”
“Is Sage going?”
Sage seemed surprised to see me show up to the wedding of his room- mate’s cousin with his roommate’s brother, but he didn’t ask any questions. He hugged me and took my hand, leading me to a pew in the back of the church.
We held hands during the ceremony. He squeezed my hand at what felt like significant moments in the bride and groom’s speeches, and I imagined his inner monologue describing all the great things about me, urging him to realize that I could be this for him, like in The Little Mermaid when Sebastian tries to get Prince Eric to kiss Ariel.
That night, we had sex on Hannah and Dave’s couch after everyone had gone to sleep. Afterward, Sage calmly said, “I think we need to break up. I’m looking for a job right now and I know I’m not giving you the attention you deserve,” and, without waiting for my response, gently fell into sleep.
I was too stunned to say anything, anyway. I stayed up for several hours, trying to figure out the best way to appreciate being wrapped in his arms while believing that I was likely never going to experience such a physical arrangement with anybody ever again.
In the morning, I said goodbye to Sage and waited in the driveway for my mom to pick me up.
At home, after crying for an hour in the shower, I found my scrap of Hello Kitty paper and threw it away. I didn’t need it anymore. It was a relic of my childhood, which was gone now. I was a non-virgin woman who had “been with men,” and who wasn’t obsessed with the number of them she had been with, and who couldn’t be bothered to remember their names.
And anyway, I had already transcribed the information into a Word document on my laptop and backed it up on an external flash drive.