Chapter One: The Banding

"Students, we have an exciting fund-raising activity coming up," Ms. Li said from behind the imposing podium at the hastily-called assembly.

Most students were more interested in getting out the door at the end of the school day than any plans Ms. Li had to collect more revenue to disappear into her unknown slush funds. Some, however, paid more attention as she expounded.

"On Friday afternoon we are going to crown Mr. Irresistible; Ms. Hard-to-get, and-chortle snicker-Ms. Easy Street."

She held up and shook a brace of bright red rubber wrist bands. The bands flopped as she waved them in excitement or her attempt to elicit excitement from the students.

"As you leave the auditorium today each female student will be coerced...or, strongly encouraged to take ten bands, at a modest donation of fifty-cents each."

Ms. Li paused in apparent surprise as the distaff half of her audience began a soft undercurrent of protest.

She held up her hands and continued. "Don't worry, girls. If you lack the necessary funds today, you have until Thursday to make your donations and receive your wristbands. Then on Friday the fun begins, people. Girls, wear all ten bands on Friday. Boys, you lucky, lucky boys, be ready for a special challenge."

She paused and pursed her lips attempting to create an excitement and suspense that only she was feeling. Students were glancing at each other in dread, especially the girls.

"Girls, your task on Friday is to not talk to any male student for the entire day. Boys, you are allowed to use any," snort, chuckle "legal, non-physical means necessary to get a girl to talk to you. Each time a girl talks to you she must surrender one of her precious bands."

Boys were beginning to buzz and chatter with each other, rising to the challenge. Reactions among the girls were decidedly mixed: many were sitting in shocked silence; more were murmuring in protest, a few were relishing the challenge themselves.

Ms. Li took the susurration of student reaction as approval and went on. "At the end of Friday, the boy who has garnered the most bands will be crowned Mr. Irresistible. For the honor he will donate fifty cents per band. All other boys will donate fifty cents per band as well. Girls who retain all their bands will be deemed Ms. Hard-to-get."

Her voice went lower. "Any girl who loses all ten bands will be deemed Ms. Easy Street. But remember, it's all for a good cause." chortle chortle. "Now pick up your bands as you go out the door, girls, and have a wonderful Monday evening."

DM DM DM DM DM

Despite Li's exhortation, Daria and Jane walked home in less than wonderful moods.

"Li came up with possibly the most offensive, degrading thing I ever heard," Jane declared. "Not only does it enforce stereotypes of female chatterlyness but it's only boys against girls. Totally ignoring Lawndale's LGB...uh...N-E-S-T-L-E-S students. What a blatant promotion of heteronormality."

Daria cocked an eyebrow at Jane's outrage and possibly her choice of words. She nodded in agreement and waved a single red wrist band.

"You actually bought one?"

Daria nodded in resignation. "Yeah, Jane, you know eventually we'll have to shell out the five clams each."

Jane sighed and nodded in turn. Both girls hated Li's money-raising schemes but they rarely found a way out. Jane and Daria uneasily found it more expedient to compromise and get on with other interests rather than resisting shelling out minor ducats. For Jane, the ducats on occasion were not so minor and Daria would dip into her Montana cabin fund to help her penurious friend with a loan.

"And this will go into my Scrapbook of the Absurd," Daria said. "Next to the pictures of Quinn's kindergarten graduation."

Daria paused on the sidewalk and meditatively stretched the red band this way and that.

"Hrmm...bright red," she mused. "Obviously symbolizes a boy taking a girl's virgin…"

She was cut off by Jane sticking fingers in her ears and humming loudly. Jane removed her fingers when she saw Daria fall silent.

"More likely the cheapest bands Li could find or finagle out some chump donor," Jane speculated.

Daria nodded in agreement as they continued to Jane's house. They paused at the front door.

"The whole thing's actually spurred up my creative juices," Jane announced. "Canvas, here I come. I hope I have enough red and umber."

"And I feel Melody Power is now in need of a particularly violent Commie bloodletting. Later, Lane."

"Into the breach again tomorrow, Morgendorffer."

Daria gave a half-wave and walked home.

DM DM DM DM DM

As foolish as she thought Friday's activities would be, Daria was not as upset as Jane. It gave her a compelling excuse not to talk to half the student body and she thought that if she acted more than usually intimidating for the next three days the boys would stay away from her anyway. She was also a bit interested in observing what could possibly go wrong with Li's plans as something surely would.

As Daria approached home she heard noises and muted cursing from the garage. Her father, Jake was puttering about a portable workbench.

"Dad, remember the little talk the county sheriff had with you the last time you tried to make a squirrel eliminator?"

"Oh hey, kiddo. Nothing dangerous this time. I'm making a live trap, trying to make something useful from this pile of wristbands my deadbeat client left me instead of my moolah."

Jake gestured at a wooden and wire contraption strung and stretched with red bands of a type instantly recognizable to Daria. Broken bands littered the garage floor.

"Wow, that's a lot of wristbands," she said inanely, the wheels and gears turning in her head.

"Yeah! And what am I going to do with three gross more?" Jake waved at three plastic bags bulging with red bands.

"Three gross?" Daria asked as the gears and wheels got lubed and began to turn faster. A few red band belt drives were added to the machinery.

"Hey, Daria. Do you know? Can squirrels see red? Would it scare them away?"

She pulled up her extant knowledge of squirrel optics. "I think they can distinguish red and green from other colors, but not the difference between the two. Red shouldn't scare them, Dad. It doesn't mean DANGER in the squirrel world."

"That's my girl. Always got a good answer for her old dad."

Daria jumped as a band stretched tight on the trap broke with a twang, flew past her nose and hit Jake on the cheek. She quickly regained her composure.

"My pleasure, Dad. Say, Jane might want those for an art project. You know her, always looking for unique materials. Could we buy those three gross for, say, ten cents each?"

"Buy? For good old Jane? No way. Here just take 'em all. Just remember to have her give old Jakey credit when credit is due."

Daria took the bags with a small smile. When she got to her room she verified that Jake's bands matched exactly the plain red band Li had extorted out of her that afternoon. She checked that Quinn was not in her room before making a call on the cordless phone system which her parents had just purchased.

"Hi Jane, you know you may not have to buy those red bands after all. In fact, how about you come over later and we discuss a possible business opportunity?"