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Plan Z by Leslie Kove


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As a little girl growing up in Squitchit, New York, Leslie Kove doubtless imagined that she and her two siblings would one day marry, have kids, and make ordinary productive lives for themselves. But by 1970, her brother, Peter, has died in Vietnam. Her sister, Susan, a scholarship student at Bennington College in Vermont, has changed her name to Sabra-Sou and dances topless in political demonstrations. And Leslie, a high school senior, has no idea what to say when people ask her what she’s going to do with her life: She needs a plan.

This first-person tragicomedy begins with Leslie’s visit to Bennington in May 1970 and continues over two decades as she journeys through “the rabbit hole”—like a modern-day Alice in the Wonderland that is America.

Enjoy the Excerpt


I am not a pretty girl. I mean "woman." I am fully grown, so I am not a girl, and I would like to be accurate. I'm not ugly, but I've got a large nose. Also no talent, a loser personality, no job, insomnia and a lot of very bad feelings.

At about 3 AM everything got to be too much, and that's when I thought of the library. Just because I don't read books doesn't mean other people don't, and despite my looks, my story could be of interest. So that’s what I’ve decided to do—write my story and put it in the library—because God knows nothing else has worked out, and this is the only Plan Z I've got.

The Background

I was born in Squitchit, a small town outside of New York City where my mother was a secretary who worked in a place that sold magazine subscriptions, and my father was a sometimes salesman who died.

I had a childhood. Then I grew up.

Towards the end of high school people kept asking me what I was going to do with my life. What was my plan?

My sister who's two and a half years older went to college after she graduated from high school. Her name is Susan, but she changed it to Sabra-Sou when she went to Bennington.

Actually that's where this all begins—at my trip to Bennington which led to my eventual downfall which led to my choice of writing this book or I don't know what. The details are a little hazy now, but maybe that's where I should start.

My Trip to Bennington

It was 1970, and I was a senior in high school. I never liked school, so when everybody started applying to colleges, I mostly didn't see the point. If I was "school smart" like my sister, Susan, it would make sense. But I'm not. And if I don't see the sense in something—say for instance algebra—then I just can't get myself to do it, and I flunk.

Susan did lots of senseless things. For instance, cheerleading: She went out in the cold in a tiny little skirt and yelled "Yay team" with seven other girls while a bunch of boys in stretch pants and shoulder pads ran around a field beating each other up.

She decided to go to Bennington because it was non-traditional and they gave her a scholarship—some special one for children of secretaries. Also she liked dancing which was kind of like cheerleading, and they did that a lot up there and, at the end, you got a diploma.

Anyway, it was some high school vacation; my brother was dead, my father wasn't, and Susan invited me to spend some time with her. We'd never spent much time together, but she was taking a psychology class that said families are important, and I was kind of sick of Squitchit and listening to my mother, so I said okay, a week in Vermont might be fun.

To be exact, it was May 3, 1970, and the reason I remember I'll get to in a minute. (The main thing to writing a sensible story is to tell it in order.) I rode the train from Squitchit to New York City where I left my keys in the Port Authority ladies room. From there, I got a bus to Bennington, then hitched a ride to the school where I got lost in the woods looking for the dance studio until a girl in a leather cape and moose antlers told me to go to Commons. Commons was the building where everyone hung out and ate meals. Odds were, said moose antlers, if I sat in the middle of it long enough, eventually Susan would come along.

Unfortunately the key case I lost was the new snap-open one with the secret compartment for money that my mother had given to me the previous Christmas. So I was broke. This was doubly unfortunate because there was a snack bar in Commons, and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I was standing next to it inhaling hot dog fumes and eyeing the racks of cheez doodles, corn chips and Hostess Twinkies, hoping Susan would find me, and that's when I met Robin.

"Hungry?" she asked.

"Yeah, kind of," I answered. "I haven't eaten since breakfast in Squitchit."

"What's Squitchit?" she asked, leaning up against the snack bar and polishing her granny glasses. "Sounds nauseating."

"It's where I live," I answered, trying to sound 20. "It's just temporary though—until I find my own place."

"You live with your folks?" She smiled and picked the broken cuticles on her massive hands.

"Yeah. Just until I find my own place though."

"That's a drag."


"I'm Robin. I'm into sculpture."

"I'm Leslie Kove. Nice to meet you." I stuck out my hand, and she laughed.

"How old are you?" she asked.

"Nearly 18," I answered. "How about you?"

"I love it," she laughed, "a virgin."

Just then the lights went out and a high female voice announced "Capitalist Consumer Pigs Drown in their Slimy Swamp of Ill Gotten Possessions" and the room exploded with Mick Jagger yelling how he couldn't get no satisfaction. Robin laughed again, and the lights came back on—pink this time—pointed on six girls in the middle of the room dressed in bikini bottoms and sunglasses doing strange twisting movements and then lots of little hopping steps, not quite in time to the Rolling Stones. Then I noticed that one pair of bikini bottoms looked awfully familiar. This was because I had their matching top in my dresser drawer at home in Squitchit and had been looking for them for two weeks so I could sunbathe. I would have gotten angry except that I was so surprised to see them on Susan, who wouldn't even undress in the same room with me, jumping around in the middle of this room full of people with her naked breasts bobbing up and down not quite in time to the Rolling Stones.

"That's my sister." I gasped. "What's she doing?"

As the counter girl turned to see my sister, Robin leaned over the snack bar and grabbed a Hostess Twinkie. "Here," she said passing it to me. "Have some lunch."

"Huh?" I said.

"It's a Hostess Twinkie," said Robin. "On the house."

"No, I mean what's that? What's she doing?" I said, pointing at my undulating orange bikini bottoms.

"Modern dance," yawned Robin as she stuffed half a bag of stolen corn chips into her mouth. "They do it all the time here."

"Oh," I answered and bit into the Twinkie.

There were no dorms at Bennington. The students lived in white shingled houses with names. I don't remember Susan's house's name. It started with a "B." Barnum. Or Bailey. I really can't remember. But that's where we went after the naked dancing. Susan said I was awfully uptight for a kid my age, and if I called her Susan instead of Sabra-Sou once more in front of one of her naked dancing friends, she'd send me home on the next bus. She said my possessiveness about my bikini bottoms was a sign that I was uncentered and far too involved with meaningless tangibles and that unless I refocused my karma, my life would become a trivial desert wasteland ultimately signifying nothing.

I said, all that aside, I still wanted my bikini bottoms back.

We ate in a blue dining room upstairs in Commons. Actually I ate. Susan was a waitress. The waitresses ate earlier and then, at the normal dinner time, took orders for coffee, tea, water, regular and chocolate milk from the other students who'd already gone through a cafeteria line getting their solid food on trays. I didn't understand why—if they were going to get their food on trays in the first place—why at the same time they couldn't just pick up what they wanted to drink, but Susan said shut up and eat before someone noticed that I wasn't a student and was eating stolen food. I offered to pay if she'd lend me the money, but she told me to shut up again and smiled at the other girls at my table like what can you do when you have such a dumb little sister.

After dinner Robin wandered over to my table and told me there was a movie of some French guy and did I want to see it. I said I would adore to normally, but I was sure my big sister would be terribly hurt since she'd been missing me so much, being away at college and not seeing me for so long, and probably she'd want us to sit together and have sister-talk all night, so maybe another time.

Susan gave me the keys to her room since she had a naked dance rehearsal and then worked until midnight in the library. She'd borrowed the cushions from a couch in the Barnum & Bailey living room and they were hidden under her bed. She said if I wanted, I could use the bed, just to leave my sleeping bag out so that when she came in, dead tired from the library, she could unroll it on top of the lumpy cushions. She could be really nice when she wanted to be.

And it was that night, Sunday, May 3rd, 1970, lying there in my sleeping bag on top of those couch cushions, that I first began thinking about my future: considering Plan A.

Here was my sister, a straight A student and a head cheerleader on partial scholarship to the most expensive school in the country, waiting on tables and working in a library until midnight every night to pay off her tuition. To do what? Dance around naked in the middle of a snack bar? Even though I was only a 17 year old virgin I knew that there were plenty of places—in New Jersey, for instance—where they paid you a whole lot to do that sort of thing, and you didn't have to subsidize it by waiting on tables. I could only imagine what my father would say if he weren't so busy going bankrupt and having affairs. He'd have driven right up here and said "Susan, you idiot, put on your damn clothes, I'm taking you home!" I swear I'd have done it myself if I'd been five years older and had a driver's license. But instead I fell asleep and didn't wake up until Susan tripped on my head getting into bed.

Copyright © 2001 Betsy Robinson. All rights reserved.

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