A Daria Episode Adaptation by Martin J. Pollard
Based on the screenplay by Glenn Eichler
Cast of Characters
Daria Morgendorffer, Quinn Morgendorffer, Helen Morgendorffer, Jake Morgendorffer, Jane Lane, Brittany Taylor, Kevin Thompson, Sandi Griffin, Stacy Rowe, Mr. Anthony DeMartino, Ms. Angela Li, Mrs. Margaret Manson, Mr. Timothy O'Neill, Corey, Artie
EN ROUTE TO LAWNDALE HIGH SCHOOL
"Girls, I just want you to know that your mother and I realize that it's not easy moving to a whole new town," Jake Morgendorffer said from behind the wheel of his car. He glanced into the rearview mirror, where he could see his eldest daughter, Daria, sitting in the back seat. "Especially for you, Daria. Right?"
Deadpan, Daria replied, "Did we move?" Jake laughed, causing Daria to roll her eyes towards the heavens. She and her family had just moved to Lawndale from Highland, and while she was glad to get away from that cesspool of a town, she also wasn't particularly looking forward to trying to acclimate to a new place. Daria generally made few friends, and she preferred to keep it that way -- less chance of emotional disappointment -- but that didn't make it any easier.
Daria blocked out her father's well-meaning but useless banter, and went over in her mind the events of the last few days: the farewell party for her in Mr. VanDriessen's class at Highland High School; the small celebration her family had held for her sixteenth birthday, which coincided with the day of the move; and, most vividly, her last encounter with Highland's weirdest inhabitants, Beavis and Butt-Head. She smirked as she remembered inviting them over to her old house on the day of the move; seeing those two in person had done wonders to convince her parents to get them the hell out of Highland as fast as possible.
The move itself was uneventful, though it was something of a long trip. Her sister, Quinn, had traveled with her parents in the car while she rode shotgun with the movers, as Quinn's wardrobe had overflowed from the trunk into the back seat. The arrangement suited her just fine, as she and Quinn probably would have been at each others' throats in less than twenty minutes. When they had arrived at the new house, Quinn had immediately claimed the "normal" bedroom for herself, leaving Daria to take the bedroom that had belonged to the schizophrenic mother of the house's former occupants. The room's padded walls and sawed-off bars on the windows added the perfect touch to her usual furnishings, and Daria gladly took the room as her own. The rest of the time was taken with the usual unpacking, exploring the house and the neighborhood, and making arrangements for Daria and Quinn to begin classes at Lawndale High School.
Daria glanced at the outfit she was wearing... green jacket, pleated black skirt, burnt orange blouse, and large Doc Martens boots: the birthday gift she had received from her family before leaving Highland. Quinn had picked it out, figuring that Daria would like it because "it was the most God-awful unsightly combination she could come up with." If she was hoping to get a chuckle out of her little joke, however, she was greatly disappointed, as Daria did like the outfit; it did a great job of driving away any creep that took it upon himself to approach her. In fact, she resolved to go out at the earliest opportunity and purchase several more just like it -- taking her cue from David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly, with Seth Brundle's five easy-to-maintain, no-thought-required identical suits -- and permanently retire her other two outfits. The brown jacket with brown skirt and leggings, and leather jacket with red skirt reminded her too much of Highland, a chapter of her life that she wanted to put behind her once and for all.
In the front seat, Jake finished chuckling and continued with his fatherly advice. "Seriously, though. I'm just saying that you don't make friends as easily as... umm... some people..." He glanced over at his youngest daughter, who was sitting in the front seat beside him. This was a delicate subject, as Daria and Quinn normally got along like two wet cats in a burlap sack.
Daria picked up on it right away. "Quinn, for instance?" she said wryly, as Quinn leaned over and turned up the radio. Quinn, too, knew enough to take her father's advice with a grain of salt, and figured that drowning him out would be the best solution until they reached the school.
Jake leaned over and turned off the radio. "That's not what I meant... necessarily. The point is," he labored to explain, "the first day at a new school is bound to be difficult..."
His last words were once again drowned out by music, as Daria had leaned forward and, reaching between the front seats, turned the radio back on again and cranked it even louder. Leaning back, Daria cupped her hands in front of her mouth like a megaphone and shouted, "Speak up, Dad! Can't hear you!"
"Oh... where was I?" Jake said, quickly turning off the radio again. As they pulled into the circular driveway in front of Lawndale High, Jake said, "Don't get upset if the other kids take a little while to warm up to you."
The students milling around the front of the school turned their attention to the car as Quinn stepped out of the passenger door. A girl with pigtails and a denim skirt greeted her. "Hi! You're cool. My name's Stacy. What's yours?"
"Cool name," said the girl standing next to Stacy. "I'm Sandi." The two girls were joined by a third, an Oriental girl who identified herself as Tiffany, and together they proceeded to chat it up with Quinn while several guys began fawning around her, complimenting her looks and begging for a date.
I truly do not believe this, Daria said to herself. She's not here ten seconds and she practically has the entire school wrapped around her little finger. It's a new record, even for her. Turning to her father, she commented dryly, "Don't worry, Dad. I'll try to help her through this difficult period of adjustment."
"That's my girl!" Jake exclaimed. He then took in the scene outside the car, and realized just exactly what Daria was saying. "Wait a minute..." he muttered.
"See ya, Dad," she said, and stepped out of the car. As expected, Daria was totally ignored by the other students. Well, I'm certainly starting out on the right foot, she thought. Putting on her best poker face, she strolled past the assembled students and headed for the office to check in for her first day of school.
A group of students stood in the hallway as the principal, Angela Li, concluded her tour of the building. Daria and Quinn stood amongst the other new students as they listened to Ms. Li finish her speech. "As you can see, our Lawndale High students take great pride in our school. That's why you'll be taking a small psychological exam to spot any little clouds on the horizon as you sail the student seas of Lawndale High."
Daria suppressed a smirk; Ms. Li had drawn out the last two words as if they were straight out of the Holy Scriptures. Leaning over to a long-haired girl standing next to her, she quipped, "SOS. Girl overboard." Frowning, the girl stepped back a pace, not wanting to associate herself with someone who was obviously a complete weirdo.
Quinn suddenly piped up. "No one told me about any tests!"
"Don't worry," Daria assured her. "It's a psychological test. You're automatically exempt."
Quinn frowned. "Oh... all right." Daria practically sighed out loud; quality sarcasm was wasted on Quinn. She and the rest of the students filed behind Ms. Li as she led them to the office of the school psychiatrist, Margaret Manson. They sat in the waiting room as Mrs. Manson took them in groups of two, arriving after a while to Daria and Quinn, who went into the inner office and sat opposite Mrs. Manson at a large round table.
After the introductions and obligatory speech about what the tests would be about, Mrs. Manson pulled out a picture of a man and a woman and showed it to Quinn. "Now, Quinn, what do you see here?" she asked.
"It's a picture of two people talking."
"That's right!" Mrs. Manson replied. "Can you make up a little story about what they might be discussing?"
"I'm not even supposed to be taking this test," Quinn informed her. "I'm exempt." Sitting beside her, Daria had to once again suppress a smirk at Quinn's gullibility.
"You won't be graded," Mrs. Manson assured her.
"Oh," Quinn replied, visibly relieved. "Okay then. Let's see..." She thought for a moment, then launched into one of her air-headed thought-spiels. "They've been going out for a while, and he's upset because other people keep asking her out, and she's saying she can't help it if she's attractive and popular, and besides, nobody ever said they were going steady, and if he does want to go steady, he's got to do a lot better than 'movie, burger, backseat, movie, burger, backseat,' because there are plenty of guys with bigger backseats waiting to take her someplace nice."
Mrs. Manson nodded. "Very good, Quinn." She then turned to Daria. "Now, Dora, let's see if you can make up a story as vivid as..."
"It's 'Daria,'" she replied, slightly annoyed.
"I'm sorry, Daria," Mrs. Manson said. "What do you see in the picture, Dara?"
Glad we got that straightened out, she said to herself. Time to have a little fun. "Umm... a herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plains."
Mrs. Manson looked slightly nettled. "Uh... there aren't any ponies. It's two people."
Daria put on a frown. "Last time I took one of these tests they told me they were clouds. They said they could be whatever I wanted."
"That's a different test, dear," she said patiently. "In this test, they're people, and you tell me what they're discussing."
"Oh," Daria replied. "I see. All right, then." She pretended to concentrate hard on the photo. "It's a guy and a girl, and they're discussing..." She paused for a heartbeat. "... a herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plains."
Mrs. Manson frowned and slowly set the photo down on the table, as Daria finally let out the smirk she had been holding back. She leaned back in her chair, and waited for the next test with obvious relish.
The first actual class Daria attended was History, and it put the perfect cap on the day. Her teacher, Anthony DeMartino, looked and acted like a refugee from an insane asylum, what with his penchant for shouting every fifth word... an act that caused one of his eyes to bulge out of his head. The combined effect was quite alarming.
"Class," he said to his assembled students, "we have a new student joining us today. Please welcome Daria Morgendorffer. Daria, raise your hand, please." Daria did so, obviously not relishing the attention, and DeMartino instantly pounced. "Well, Daria! As long as you have your hand raised..." he said with a slightly evil chuckle. "Last week, we began a unit on westward expansion. Perhaps you feel it's unfair to be asked a question on your first day of class?" he said, putting a slight mocking tone into the last few words.
Daria frowned. "Excuse me?"
"Daria, can you concisely and unemotionally sum up for us the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny?"
Daria sighed to herself -- she seemed to be doing that a lot today -- and dug into her memory for the answer. "Manifest Destiny was a slogan popular in the 1840s. It was used by people who claimed it was God's will for the U.S. to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean." She added, "These people did not include many Mexicans."
DeMartino nodded. "Very good, Daria. Almost... suspiciously good." He turned to the rest of the class. "All right, class. Who can tell me which war Manifest Destiny was used to justify? Kevin!" All eyes turned to Kevin Thompson, a tall, dark-haired boy in a football uniform and pads. "How about you?"
Kevin thought for a moment, obviously straining for the answer. "The Vietnam War?"
"That came a little later, Kevin," DeMartino said slowly. "A hundred years later! A lot of good men died in that conflict, Kevin. I believe we owe it to them to at least get the century right!"
"Uh... Operation Watergate?"
DeMartino strove to contain his temper. "Son... promise me you'll come back and see me one day when you have the Heisman trophy and a chain of auto dealerships, and I'm saving up for a second pair of pants! Will you promise me that, Kevin?"
"Can I come, too?" said Brittany Taylor, a blonde-haired girl in a cheerleader's uniform. "That is, if Kevin and I are still together?" Daria smirked inwardly as Kevin reassured his sweetheart that they'd always be together. She hadn't needed to be told that Kevin and Brittany were an item; if there's one truism about high school, it's that cheerleaders always dated football players... and that both usually sported the I.Q. of a head of lettuce.
Daria was proven right by DeMartino's reaction. "Ah... Brittany," he said, rubbing his hands together with glee and adopting an absolutely evil grin. "Can you guess which war we fought against the Mexicans over Manifest Destiny?" He said the last few words as if he were speaking to a dim-witted child. Apparently, he knew his audience well.
And Brittany didn't disappoint him. Tilting her head to one side, she replied with a confident, "Nope."
"Please try, Brittany..." he said, his patience nearly at an end.
Brittany grabbed one of her double ponytails and began twirling the hair around her finger, while simultaneously adopting a totally glazed look in her eyes. Finally, after a few moments of intense thought -- during which time Daria swore she could see smoke coming out of her ears -- Brittany replied, "Uh... the Viet Cong War?"
That was the final straw for DeMartino. Shaking with barely controlled rage, he addressed the class calmly and softly, which put a greater scare into them than anything else he had said thus far. "Either someone gives me the answer, or I give you all double homework and a quiz tomorrow. I want a volunteer with the answer." When no one spoke up within two seconds, he shouted, "Now!"
Sighing out loud, Daria succumbed to the inevitable. If I'm going to become a social outcast, I might as well get it over with as quickly as possible, she thought to herself, and raised her hand.
"Daria, stop showing off!"
Flinching, Daria slowly lowered her hand, a look of resigned misery on her face. This is going to be a long day...
At home, Daria and her family sat around the kitchen table, plates of microwaved lasagna in front of them. Helen and Jake had just finished describing their first days at their new jobs -- Helen a lawyer at a power law firm, Jake self-employed as a marketing consultant -- and Quinn was now busy prattling on about her first day at school. Daria sat and ate in silence, all the while attempting to block out the annoying sound of her sister's voice.
"... so then they asked me to join the pep squad. They said I didn't have to try out or anything, but I said, 'Look, I'm new here; give me a chance to get used to the place first.' So for now, I'm the vice president of the Fashion Club, and that's it."
"As long as you can join pep squad later, if you want to," Helen replied. "It's your choice. You never know how much you can handle until you try, though!"
Jake turned to his eldest daughter, the conversation they had in the car still on his mind. "How about you, Daria? How was your first day?"
"Well," she replied, "my history teacher hates me because I know all the answers. But on the bright side, there are some interesting idiots in my class."
"That's great!" he replied, only to cower when Helen glared at him. "I mean..."
Helen interrupted before Jake could shove his other foot in his mouth. "Daria, your father is trying to tell you not to judge people until you know them. You're in a brand new school in a brand new town. You don't want it to be Highland all over again."
"Not much chance of that happening," Daria said, remembering the village idiots Beavis and Butt-Head, "unless there's uranium in the drinking water here, too."
"I'm talking about you making a friend or two," Helen replied patiently. "Don't be so critical. Give people the benefit of the doubt."
"It all boils down to trust."
"Exactly!" Helen said. "It all boils down to trust. Show a little trust."
Daria glanced at her mother, then her father. Let's see if you're ready to practice what you preach. "Mom... Dad... you're right. Can I borrow either car?" She wasn't surprised when both her parents responded with an emphatic "no."
The phone rang just as Daria was warming up to tweak her parents some more. Hope that's not the new owners of our old house looking for the front doorknob. Urged by Mr. VanDriessen's suggestion to take along a memento of her former life, she had removed the doorknob while her parents weren't looking, before they had shipped off for Lawndale.
"God, I hope that's not the booster society again," Quinn exclaimed. "They just won't take 'no' for an answer, especially this one black girl... though she does have the cutest dreadlocks..."
"African American, sweetie," Helen corrected, her political correctness kicking in as she got up to answer the phone. "Hello?" she said as she switched on the cordless phone. "Yes... yes, she's my daughter... I see... listen, is this going to require any parent/teacher conferences or anything, and if so, is this the sort of thing my assistant can handle? Okay, great. Bye!"
She switched off the phone and turned her attention to the table. "You girls took a psychological test at school today?"
Quinn leaped up from her chair. "They said we wouldn't be graded!"
"This isn't about you, Quinn." Helen turned to her eldest daughter. "Daria, they want you to take a special class for a few weeks, then they'll test you again."
"You flunked the test?" Quinn exclaimed as she sat back down, grinning from ear to ear.
Helen scowled. "She didn't flunk anything." She turned to her husband. "It seems she has low self-esteem."
Jake became incensed. "What?! That really stinks, Daria!"
"Easy, Jake... focus." Helen regarded Daria once again. "We tell you over and over again that you're wonderful, and you just don't get it." She slammed her fists on the table, rattling the dishes and causing Jake and Quinn to jump. Daria didn't move. "What's wrong with you?!"
Quinn put her elbow on the table and rested her cheek in her hand. "Is she gonna have, like, a breakdown or something? Because that could really mess me up with my new friends." She thought about her new companions in the Fashion Club -- Sandi, Stacy, and Tiffany -- and how she'd be mortified if they ever found out that Daria was her sister, much less one with some kind of mental problem.
"Don't worry," Daria assured them. "I don't have low self-esteem. It's a mistake."
"I'll say!" Jake exclaimed.
"I have low esteem for everyone else."
LAWNDALE HIGH SCHOOL
After-School Self-Esteem Class
Daria sat with about a half dozen other students in the after-school self-esteem class at Lawndale High. The faculty member chosen to teach the course this semester was her new English teacher, Timothy O'Neill. Knowing that her situation was a total crock, and having experienced Mr. O'Neill's over-the-top enthusiasm earlier in the day, Daria sat and doodled in her notebook, only half-listening, while Mr. O'Neill spouted large amounts of psychobabble... most of it obviously from a textbook.
He was giving it his all, though. "Esteem... a teen," O'Neill was saying as he leaned against his desk. "They don't really rhyme, do they? The sounds don't quite mesh. And that, in fact, is often the case when it comes to a teen and esteem. The two just don't seem to go together." He shifted to a more comfortable position. "But we are here today to begin realizing your actuality..."
Realizing my what??? Daria said to herself, frowning slightly. She hadn't meant to pay close attention, but this concept was so bizarre that it flew right past her. She raised her hand in order to get O'Neill's attention, but he didn't seem to notice.
"... and when we do, each of you will be able to stand proudly and proclaim, 'I am!' Now, before we..."
"Excuse me," Daria interrupted, her raised hand obviously not having any effect. "I have a question."
"Sorry," O'Neill replied, barely missing a beat. "Question and answer time is later. Now..."
"But I want to know what 'realizing your actuality' means."
O'Neill frowned slightly. "It means..." He suddenly got a slightly panicked look on his face. "Look, just let me get through this part, okay? Then there'll be a video!" Returning to his enthusiastic mode once again, O'Neill continued on with his speech.
Daria frowned, and was about to try again, when a voice from behind cut through her thoughts. "He doesn't know what it means," the voice said. "He's got the speech memorized." She turned to see who was talking to her, and saw a girl with short black hair, a black V-neck shirt, dark gray shorts, black tights, and a red jacket with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. She had three small silver hoops in each ear, and was wearing boots that, if anything, were even larger and more menacing than Daria's own Doc Martens. "Just relax and enjoy the nice man's soothing voice."
Still frowning, Daria said, quite reasonably, "How am I supposed to follow him if I don't know what he's talking about?" Daria was wary, yet intrigued at the same time. She had noticed this girl in several of her classes, and had a good feeling about her. The fact that the girl kept to herself and didn't say a word -- and, in fact, went out of her way to avoid interacting with anyone -- was a definite plus in Daria's book.
"I can fill you in later," the girl assured her. "I've taken this course six times." That caused Daria to raise an appreciative eyebrow, though she didn't quite know why. She did know, however, that that good feeling had just gotten better.
RETURNING FROM LAWNDALE HIGH SCHOOL
After class, the girl with the earrings introduced herself to Daria as Jane Lane. As it turned out, she lived only a few blocks from Morgendorffer Home Base. As they walked home, Jane revealed herself to be an artist, and had done work with both sculpture and canvas, the latter being her favorite. In fact, her whole family was artistic, from her mother Amanda's clay pottery -- she even had her own kiln, situated in an underground bunker that used to be a bomb shelter back in the paranoid '50s -- to her brother Trent's rock music.
Daria also discovered that Jane was a fellow outcast: snide, antisocial to the "popular" crowd, and resentful of the stupidity and banality of the world around her. Finally, a friend, Daria thought to herself. She had not encountered anyone like Jane during her time in Highland, and in any event, friendships were hard for Daria to make. She had, however, taken an instant liking to Jane, and listened with interest while they walked as Jane proceeded to describe step-by-step the entire agenda for the self-esteem class.
"... so, then, after the role-playing, next class they put the girls and the guys in separate rooms, and a female counselor talks to us about body image."
"What do they talk to the boys about?" Daria asked.
Jane looked at Daria askance. "A classroom full of guys and a male teacher?"
They both stopped and looked at each other. "Nocturnal emissions," they said simultaneously, and resumed their walk.
"I don't get it, Jane," Daria said. "You've got the entire course memorized. How come you can't pass the test to get out?"
"Oh, I could pass the test," Jane assured her, "but I like having low self-esteem. It makes me feel special."
They reached the Morgendorffer house first and both girls parted, with Jane issuing an invitation to Daria to come to her house one day after school to watch Sick, Sad World. Again, Daria's opinion of Jane elevated a notch. Jane continued down the street -- breaking into a small run, in fact -- while Daria strolled up the walk to the front door. When she opened the door, she was floored to find Helen standing in the living room.
"Mom?" Daria exclaimed as Helen greeted her. "Are you feeling all right? It's not even 5:00 yet." Despite her promise to spend more time with her family, Helen had dived right into her new job with the law firm of Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter with even more energy and drive than she did at the firm back in Highland. Which, of course, suited Daria just fine. Less "parenting" that way.
Helen put on her best reassuring smile. "I'm talking the rest of the day off," she informed her daughter, "to work with you on your self-esteem."
Oh, God... I should have seen this one coming. "Mom," Daria said warily, "I'm in the care of experts. Any meddling by an amateur could be dangerous." She hoped that this would knock her mother off track, though she knew the chances were slim.
Very slim, as it turned out. "I don't pretend I can cure you, Daria, but if a lack of mother/daughter bonding is part of your problem, we're going to remedy that right now." She put her hands on Daria's shoulders. "We're going out to do something you want to do!"
An hour later, they were in the women's clothing section at Cashman's department store, located in the Cranberry Commons shopping mall. As Daria sat on a small couch, convinced that her mother had confused her desires with those of her fashion fanatic sister, Helen came out of the dressing room. "What do you think of this one?" she inquired, striking a pose.
Daria stared at the outfit and repressed a smirk. It was blue rather than red, but otherwise was completely identical to Helen's "power suit" jacket/skirt outfit. Deadpan, she said, "It stands proudly and says, 'I am.'"
Helen beamed. "Really?" she said, totally oblivious. Daria simply sighed and rolled her eyes as her mother strode back into the dressing room to try on the next outfit, and wondered if she could convince the security guard to do the humane thing and put her out of her misery.
LAWNDALE HIGH SCHOOL
The Next Day
As Daria made her way down the hall to the self-esteem class, Jane at her side, she noticed her sister leaning against the wall and talking to a boy... or, rather, listening as the boy did all the talking. "So, like, what do you like to do after school?" he asked.
Quinn made a small dismissive gesture with her hand. "Oh, nothing special," she said, putting on her "indifferent" voice. "Go to the movies, or, like, a theme park, or out for a really fancy meal now and then, or maybe go to a concert if, like, I know someone who's got really good seats and is renting a limo and stuff."
Jane watched with morbid fascination as Quinn continued to wrap the guy around her little finger. She was an expert at it, too, if Jane was any judge of these things. Turning to Daria as they passed, Jane commented, "You hear that? He hasn't got a prayer."
"Tell me about it," Daria said wryly. "That's my sister."
Jane got an anguished expression. "Bummer," she replied sympathetically, then became somewhat amused when Quinn replied to the guy's question about having any brothers or sisters with "I'm an only child." She glanced at her new friend, who definitely had a sour look on her face, and opened the door so that they could proceed into the classroom.
Daria and Jane once again endured Mr. O'Neill's prattling on about psychobabble concepts he probably didn't even fully understand. To pass the time, they passed a piece of paper back and forth, each girl adding to a caricature drawing of Mr. O'Neill.
"So, what are we talking abut when we talk about ourselves? Anyone?" A boy sitting a few rows behind Daria and Jane raised his hand. "Yes?" O'Neill said, pointing to the boy.
"We're... talking about us!" the boy exclaimed. Daria and Jane glanced at each other, with both girls wearing a "well, duh!" expression.
"Excellent!" O'Neill exclaimed. "When we talk about 'ourselves,' we're talking about 'us!'" He turned to the rest of the class. "Now, guys, I've got a little challenge for you. Today, we talked about turning your daydreams into reality. Tonight, I want each one of you to go home and do just that. What do you say?"
He scanned the room, and finally settled on Daria. "Um... you," he said, pointing at her. "What's a daydream that you would like to see come true?"
Other than seeing you spontaneously burst into flames? Daria thought. "Well..." she finally said, "I guess I'd like my whole family to do something together."
"Something that'll really make them suffer," she finished, deadpan. Beside her, Jane wore an appreciative smirk.
"Um..." O'Neill replied hesitantly. "Well... it's healthy to have these feelings... I think." Saved by the dismissal bell, he said, "We'll talk more about this tomorrow. Class dismissed!"
As the group filed out of the classroom, Jane remarked to Daria, "Nice one."
The Morgendorffers sat around the kitchen table feasting on re-microwaved lasagna, Helen having worked late again. After Quinn finished her commentary on the day's events in her little world, Jake turned to Daria. "How's the old self-esteem going, kiddo?"
"My self-esteem teacher says that being addressed all my life with childish epithets like 'kiddo' is probably a key source of my problem."
Jake looked stricken. "Really?"
He burst out laughing. "Isn't she great? She's the greatest!"
"She sure is," Helen agreed. "But seriously, what does your self-esteem teacher say?"
Daria sighed. "He says I should think back to circumstances that brought me happiness as a child, and replicate them." She then looked pointedly at her sister. "But I suppose Quinn's here to stay."
Quinn frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?" she said indignantly.
"You ought to know," Daria shot back. "You're the only child."
"How would you like to have a sister with a... a 'thing'!"
"Quinn, hush," Helen scolded. "Come on, Daria, finish what you were saying."
"Well," Daria said, an evil thought forming in her mind, "I thought, why don't we go to Pizza Forest for dinner like we did when we were kids!" In truth, she hated the place -- it was aimed towards younger children, with games and activities for them and, worst of all, a troupe of singers in animal costumes that come to the tables and embarrass the hell out of you -- and she had always dreaded going there. However, she decided, it would be worth it to annoy her family.
She wasn't disappointed, either, judging by the looks of horror on each of their faces; Helen had even dropped her fork on her plate. "The place with the singers?!!" Quinn exclaimed.
"Boy," Daria said fake-wistfully, "do I miss those songs..."
The next evening, the Morgendorffers found themselves sitting in a booth at the Lawndale branch of Pizza Forest, a pizza in front of them and a slice on each plate. Helen and Jake looked extremely uncomfortable, while Quinn sported an interesting combination of anger and misery at having been forced to come along "for her sister's sake." Daria, however, was having the time of her life watching her family suffer.
As expected, the troupe of animal singers came over to the table and serenaded the family with a rousing chorus of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," all the while encouraging them to join in. After a few moments, Daria chimed in with a verse of the song, all the while wearing a delighted smirk. She couldn't wait to tell Jane about the experience.
The Next Afternoon
At Jane's house, Daria and Jane were listening to music and waiting for Sick, Sad World to return from commercial break. Jane had gotten a big kick out of Daria's description of the ordeal to which she subjected her family, and had laughed out loud when Daria reached the point where she described how she guilt-tripped her father into playing Whack-a-Mole.
Daria glanced at the muted television, and noticed the familiar Sick, Sad World logo appear. "Show's on," she commented. Jane pointed the remote at the stereo and muted the volume, then turned it on the television and brought up the volume. "And now, back to Sick, Sad World," droned the announcer.
On the screen, the interviewer -- a smartly dressed lady with an unusual accent -- was seated in what looked like the library of a mansion, opposite an extremely old man with dark glasses and a cane. "This is just astounding!" she said. "Here you are, blind, deaf, and barely able to walk, yet you conducted simultaneous affairs with three members of the royal family! The question on all of America's minds is: how did you do it?"
The man paused for a moment. Then: "What?"
"She doesn't get it," Jane commented. "It's the royal family. You'd have to be blind."
The scene on the television shifted to what looked like a large auditorium, or possibly a school gymnasium, filled with UFO memorabilia and all manner of people. "UFO conventions," the announcer was saying, "once sneered at as the domain of so-called kooks, have become big, big business. Fueled by such popular entertainment as Star Trek and The X-Files, these conventions draw hundreds of thousands of people each year, people as sane and rational as you and I, who come simply to satisfy a normal curiosity."
At that moment, a nerdy-looking kid with freckles walked up to the announcer. "Hi! I'm Artie."
"Artie, hello. Tell me what brought you here, Artie."
"It was a cone-shaped craft about 15 feet long, with an airspeed of, oh, I'd estimate Mach 12," he explained. "They kidnapped and stripped me, examined me briefly, returned my clothes, and brought me here."
"Oh," said the announcer, who had been trying to hide her growing apprehension while Artie was talking... and not doing a completely successful job of it. "I see..."
"They pressed my pants," he said to the camera. "Did a nice job!"
Daria muted the television and turned to Jane. "You know all the answers to the questions on the release test, right?"
"I've got 'em in my notebook," Jane replied, jerking a thumb in the direction of the chair sitting next to the bed, upon which sat her notebook and assorted textbooks.
"Then why don't we just take the test tomorrow and get out of the class once and for all?"
"But how would I spend my afternoons?" Jane said melodramatically.
Daria nodded to the television. "UFO conventions."
"Now you're talking."
LAWNDALE HIGH SCHOOL
After-School Self-Esteem Class
"... and so, for tomorrow, I want you to make a list of ten ways the world would be a sadder place if you weren't in it."
The kid that had been asking questions left and right raised his hand again and waved. "Mr. O'Neill, Mr. O'Neill!"
O'Neill struggled to remember his name. "Yes... uh... you," he finally said, pointing to the kid.
"Is that if we've never been born, or if we died suddenly and unexpectedly?"
"Never been born," Mr. O'Neill assured him, gave him a thumbs-up sign as the dismissal bell rang. "See you all tomorrow!" He watched the students file past his desk, then noticed Daria and Jane standing expectantly. "Hi! Did you need any clarification on something we covered today?"
"We feel really good about ourselves," Daria informed him.
Jane nodded. "We want to take the graduation test."
O'Neill's expression showed his surprise and delight. "Well, I'm glad your self-image meter is on the up-tick! But there's still three more weeks of class left."
"This first week has been a real eye-opener," Daria informed him, laying it on thick. "It must be the way you teach."
"Oh... well... thank you very much," O'Neill said modestly. He then looked at Jane curiously. "You know, you look familiar somehow..."
"So can we take the test?"
"Well... it's not the way we usually do it... but I guess so." Daria and Jane glanced at each other with satisfaction as O'Neill reached over his desk and picked up the graduation test question sheet. "Okay, question one: 'Self-esteem is important because...'"
"It's a quality that will stand us in good stead for the rest of our lives," Daria finished.
O'Neill beamed. "Very good. Now, 'the next time I feel bad about myself...'"
Jane fielded this one. "Stand before the mirror, look myself in the eye, and say, 'You are special. No one else is like you.'"
"You two really have been paying attention!" O'Neill exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. "Okay, 'there's no such thing...'"
"As the right weight..." Jane finished.
"... or the right height..." added Daria.
"... there's only what's right for me..."
"... because me is who I am."
O'Neill looked up from the test sheet, pure astonishment written on his face. "I don't think we need to go any further. I am really pleased!" Both girls glanced at each other with satisfaction, but their private celebration turned instantly to disappointment as O'Neill continued. "I think the whole school needs to hear about this at assembly!"
LAWNDALE HIGH SCHOOL
"... and once again, the bake sale was a tremendous success." Ms. Li stood behind a podium on the auditorium stage, a row of chairs behind her. To her right sat the coach of the football team; to her left, Mr. O'Neill, with Daria and Jane sitting on the far end, wishing they were anyplace else. In the audience, the students were paying half-attention, as usual. "We raised $400," she continued, "which was subsequently stolen from the office, but I am confident we will get that money back. In a related note, the school nurse will be visiting homerooms tomorrow to collect DNA samples." She gestured to O'Neill, who stood and approached the podium. "Now, Mr. O'Neill has exciting news about our after-school self-esteem class."
Daria turned to Jane. "This is really gonna help me gradually ease into student life," she said dryly.
Jane raised her eyebrow. "Usually when I have this dream, I'm wearing pink taffeta."
O'Neill stepped up to the microphone. "Thank you. You know, self-esteem is a little like your car's break fluid. You may not even know you're low on it until, one day, you go to shift gears, and nothing happens."
"That's transmission fluid!" a student from the audience shouted, eliciting a round of snickering and laughter at O'Neill's flub.
"That's what I said," O'Neill replied, refusing to be flustered. "Anyway, I'd like you to meet two students who have completed the self-esteem course faster than anyone ever before! Please join me in congratulations as I present these certificates of self-esteem to..." He consulted the card in his hand. "Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane."
A smattering of half-hearted applause was heard from the audience as Daria and Jane rose and approached the podium, with Jane commenting, "Ah, what the hell." Each girl took a certificate from O'Neill, then O'Neill stepped aside to let Jane approach the podium and say a few words.
"I just want to say how proud I am today. Knowing that I have self-esteem gives me even more self-esteem." Jane glanced at Daria, who was staring expressionlessly. Raising her eyebrow and giving her friend a knowing look, Jane turned her attention back to the audience. "On the other hand, having all of you know that I had low self-esteem makes me feel kinda bad... like a big failure or something." Jane put her arm to her forehead, as if in distress. "I... um... I want to go home!" She then tilted her head back, let out an exaggerated sob, and ran off the stage, with a concerned O'Neill running after her and calling her "Daria."
Daria smiled appreciatively at Jane's theatrics, then stepped up to the microphone, a little plan of her own ready to hatch. "No one can battle a terrible problem like low self-esteem on their own. It takes good coaching..."
As Daria made her speech, Quinn sat about halfway up the auditorium, with two boys seated on opposite sides. One of them commented to the other, "Who cares about these losers."
"Hey, beats Algebra though, doesn't it?" Laughing, the two boys high-fived each other over Quinn's head. "Did you hear what I said, Quinn? I said, like, who cares how bad this is, it's still better than Algebra!"
Quinn did her best to tolerate the two boys. She normally loved attention, but these guys were getting on her nerves. "Funny," she commented to the second boy. "That's funny, Corey."
"... realize my actuality," Daria was saying. "Winning the fight against low self-esteem takes support... from teachers, from friends, and most of all, from family."
"Is that loser still talking?" the first boy commented, and he and Corey high-fived each other again. Quinn became even more annoyed, but held her tongue as she didn't want to draw any attention to herself.
"And so, the one person I would like to thank more than any other is my very own sister, Quinn Morgendorffer." At that, there was a series of loud gasps from the audience, but none more loud than from Quinn herself, who was mortified that Daria had identified who she was. "My sister Quinn" -- she particularly emphasized the name -- "has forgotten more about self-esteem than I'll ever know. Are you out there, sis? Stand up and let me thank you."
"That, like, brain is your sister?" the first guy exclaimed.
"Are you a brain, too?" Corey asked.
In the row in front of her, Sandi and Stacy turned around and, shocked, stared at Quinn, their jaws slack with disbelief. For her part, Quinn was terminally embarrassed, and tried to hide her head behind her arms. Up on the stage, Daria watched the drama unfold with a little Mona Lisa smile. Revenge is a dish best served cold, sis!
"... so then she gets up in front of the whole school and makes a big deal about thanking me!" Quinn said to her parents as she described the events during dinner. She had been able to smooth things over with her new friends in the Fashion Club by doing a lot of fast-talking -- and claiming that Daria was actually her cousin, and a big kidder -- but she was still mortified beyond words.
Helen, however, simply said, "That's really sweet, Daria." She either didn't understand Quinn's situation, or chose to ignore it... most likely the latter, as she had been through many similar crises while raising her youngest daughter.
"Good for you, honey," Jake agreed. He was so proud of his daughter, and was immensely relieved.
"Ooh!" Quinn exclaimed, slamming her fists on the table for emphasis. "I'll have to go lock myself in my room until I die! I'll never talk to anyone for the rest of my life!" As if on cue, the phone rang, and Quinn scooped up the cordless phone almost immediately. "That's for me!" She clicked it on as she got up and left the table. "Hello? Matthew!"
"What was she upset about, exactly?" Jake asked as he watched Quinn scamper into the living room, chattering excitedly.
"She felt I should have thanked you and Mom as well," Daria replied, deadpan.
Helen made a dismissive gesture. "No, we should thank you for being such a great kid. Graduating from self-esteem school three weeks early is quite an achievement."
Really? Hmmm... I sense another opportunity for torture here... and, of course, it would be rude of me not to take it. "Maybe we should all go out and celebrate!" Daria said.
Remembering their little trip to Pizza Forest, Helen quickly backed off. "Oh, I'd love to, Daria, but..." She held up her day planner and put on a "what can I do?" expression.
"Yeah," Jake agreed, just as eager as his wife to avoid another such experience. "Take a rain check, though!"
"I don't know..." Daria said, putting on an air of skepticism. "My self-esteem feels like it's starting to slip..."
The next evening, the Morgendorffers found themselves attending the UFO convention previously featured on Sick, Sad World. Daria stood with her extremely uncomfortable family on the side of the room, taking in the sights. "Let's get our picture taken with the cardboard alien!" Daria exclaimed, turning the knife even further.
"Uh... sure, honey," Jake said, giving in. "Whatever you want." He turned and started to follow Daria down the aisle, with Helen bringing up the rear.
Helen paused to look over her shoulder. "Quinn? Are you coming?"
Quinn, who was angry, miserable and uncomfortable, didn't budge. "I'll wait here," she informed them. "Or in the ladies room. Or maybe out in the parking lot."
"Okay," Jake said. "We'll be right back."
As Quinn watched her sister and parents recede into the distance, a nerdy-looking freckle-faced kid approached her... a kid that would be instantly recognized by anyone who had watched the UFO convention story on Sick, Sad World. "Hi! I'm Artie!" he said. Leaning closer to Quinn, he added, "You're cool..."
Quinn shivered, then broke into a run to catch up with her family. "Mom! Dad! You guys, wait up!"
"Daria," "Beavis and Butt-Head," and all related titles, logos, and characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International, Inc. All rights reserved by trademark-holders under United States National and International Law and Convention.
"Esteemsters" is copyright © 1997 by MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International, Inc.
This adaptation of "Esteemsters" is copyright © 1998 by Martin J. Pollard. While he does not claim copyright or moral rights to the characters, titles, or stories from "Daria," he does claim copyright on this particular adaptation of the indicated story from the "Daria" milieu. Martin J. Pollard will not profit from these adaptations, and will not tolerate their being distributed in any manner which requires money to change hands for distribution.