Robert Nowall




ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY: It’s Picture Day at Lawndale High, where alphabetical order makes for strange bedfellows.





"Attention, students!"

That voice, frightening and spine-chilling, that no student or teacher in Lawndale High ever wanted to hear, came across loud and clear. The speakers were cranked up so high that Daria yelped and grimaced, dropped her books back into her locker, and put her fingers in her ears.

Daria had only been at Lawndale High a couple of weeks, but she didn’t think she’d ever get used to it. She clenched her teeth. Putting fingers in ears cut down on the volume, but only a little. Someday, she knew, she would have to find the speaker controls and turn the volume down.

"As you know," Ms. Li went on, "today is Picture Day! That day when you show your school spirit by posing for the camera and smiling!"

"Smiling?" Daria said, and looked over at her friend Jane Lane. Jane smirked at her.

"Don’t worry, Daria, how could she be talking about you?"

"Classes for today are postponed!" There was a ragged cheer from the students. Ms. Li continued. "All students will report to their classrooms, where they will line up in alphabetical order and march to the gym! Now go in there and show your pride for Llawndale High!"

Daria waited until the tell-tale click told that Ms. Li had cut her microphone and gone off the air. Then she let go of her ears, tugged on her green jacket to straighten it, and looked at Jane. "Picture Day," she said. "Who dreamed this one up?"

"I think it’s something normal schools make their normal students do," Jane said, still smirking.

"What does that have to do with us?"

Daria gathered up her books again and they walked on. "There’s nothing to it, Daria!" Jane said, with some enthusiasm. Daria stayed wary; she hadn’t known Jane that long but had seen her excited over the oddest things. "You can make a grand artistic statement! You get to pick a background that suits you, and pose any way you feel like."

"A background like black on black, to match my mood?"

"They had a wide variety to choose from. You can always ask. Here!" They had reached Jane’s locker. She quickly opened it and rooted around inside for something. Soon she had it, a tiny wallet-sized picture of Jane against a forest background. Daria squinted and adjusted her glasses ever so slightly on the bridge of her nose. In the picture, Jane’s hair was disheveled and her mouth open, her expression radiating pure fear.

Daria handed it back. "Good acting."

"Yes, well, I try. Surprised the hell out of the photographer." She smirked again. "Ms. Li insisted I take another picture, a normal picture, but the photo lab messed up and printed these up."

"Made you happy?"

"Couldn’t have been more pleased if I had planned it!" Jane closed her locker door and handed the photo back to Daria. "Keep it. It’s the least I can do for you."

Daria glanced at it again, then put it in a pocket of her jacket. "I’ll carry it next to my heart. Another couple of pictures like that, and it’ll be ‘Today on "Sick Sad World"’ for you."

"I can only bring so much color to people’s humdrum lives, Daria."

They walked on. "There’s no chance we can make it to the roof or the quad?"

"Why would I want to do that?" Jane grinned, an evil grin. "Oh, I’ve got plans for this photo."


The photo shoot proceeded, slowly but surely, as the day wore on. Daria found it a big nuisance already. It was in the gym, the only room in the school big enough to hold all the students at once, in the way they wanted to hold them. They passed out combs to each student, then lined them up along the walls, class by class, in alphabetical order. Then, one at a time, one class at a time, they took a student to the makeshift booth and took a photo.

Then it was back to the line. There was no leaving once done. Everybody stood around, the popular and unpopular alike, bored, legs cramping and feet aching. Daria kicked the toes of her boots against the floor.

The problem with alphabetical grouping, Daria thought, was who you got grouped with. Their class turned up a real winner. Jodie Landon was ahead of Jane Lane, who preceded Michael "Mack" Mackenzie, who stood in front of Daria Morgendorffer. It wasn’t that Daria had anything against Jodie or Mack, but she didn’t know either of them that well. Mack was a jock, a football player and a friend of the brainless Kevin.

He was also dating Jodie. And Jodie, though, she remembered, too well. In the last few weeks, she’d seen Jodie in action, haunting half the students to get them to participate in some inane school activity. Jodie had even pestered her, not knowing how little chance she had. On that basis, she didn’t want to renew the acquaintance.

Daria didn’t know either of them that well. She didn’t know anyone, except Jane, that well. And, really, all she wanted to do was talk to Jane.

Daria whispered to Jane, "Well, at least none of us have to stand next to Upchuck." Daria and Jane---and Mack and Jodie, who heard---looked down the line. Five other students from their grade separated them from Charles Ruttheimer. They saw him, trying to talk to a girl standing next to him, who was studiously engaged in looking straight ahead.

"If he put as much effort into school," Jane began.

"---it still wouldn’t change his personality," Daria finished. "Poor girl. I actually feel sympathy for a fellow traveler on this planet."

"What?" Jane said, turning to Daria. "Becoming human?"

"It’s a distinct possibility."

"Better be careful. The next thing you know you’ll be putting flower stickers on your backpack and joining the Fashion Club." Jane squinted at students lined up across the room. "Speaking of which, isn’t that your sister over there?"

Daria looked across the gym. Quinn’s class was lined up against that wall. Quinn stood between two boys, who seemed to be arguing over her, quietly but intensely. They weren’t smiling, but Quinn was. "Typical," Daria said. "It’s a small mercy that she’s been separated from the Fashion Club."

Jane nodded. "So she has. Her acquaintance with the deep voice will just have to live with having no one to lord it over."

"The withdrawal symptoms should catch up to her any time now. See?" Daria pointed. Sure enough, Sandi Griffin, president of the Fashion Club, was glaring across several students and at Quinn.

"If you wanna be a leader," Jane said, "you’ve gotta have followers."

"And a good slogan wouldn’t hurt, either," Daria shot back. "What would be a good slogan for the Fashion Club?"

"How about ‘Who needs brains when you look as good as we do?’"

"Or ‘We’re young, we’re fashionable, we’re brain-dead.’"

" ‘We don’t need no education.’"

" ‘School’s out for summer.’"

" ‘Crazy little thing called love.’" Jane smirked. Daria quietly sighed. When Jane dropped a non-sequiter quote into the conversation, that usually brought it to an end.

But Mack spoke up just then. " ‘Another brick in the wall,’" he said, a smile on his face.

Daria and Jane looked at him, surprised. Jodie also looked at him but she wasn’t smiling. Jane recovered first and said, "We could always throw bricks."

"Better not to throw anything," Daria said. "You know how I feel about exercise."

"I’ve seen you in gym class. But you exercise your judgment all the time."

"I wish I could exercise my freedom to choose right now." Daria looked ahead. The photographer was just starting on their class. "It’ll be a long time before this lethargic lensman gets down to the ‘L’s’ and ‘M’s.’"

"Down about your photo being taken?" Mack asked.

Daria looked him over carefully, wondering what to make of him. She knew him, but they hadn’t really talked before. It didn’t matter. She was bored. She mentally shrugged, and said, "When you’ve got a spurious supermodel in your family, there’s no point in taking it."

"Go for something basic," Mack replied. "You could use it on your passport."

"No, Daria, go for the fun!" Jane said. "Make a face! Snarl! Grimace! Put your hands to your head and imitate ‘The Scream’?"

"And what effect are you going for this year, Ms. Lane?" Mack asked solemnly.

Jane smiled. "I’m not telling. You’ll just have to be surprised like everyone else."

"Well, I’m stuck," Mack said. "It was all I could do to not wear my football jersey."

Next to Jane, Jodie was decidedly not smiling.

"Ms. Li institute another so-called voluntary program?" Daria asked.

"Either her or Coach, I don’t know which." Mack grinned. "I like to think of myself as more than a football player."

"Unlike Kevin Thompson," Jane said, "who’s a football player, and less of everything else."

All three of them looked down the line, where the T’s were grouped. Daria smiled again. Fate had dealt Kevin Thompson a kind hand in this class, by putting him next to his personal flotation cushion, Brittany Taylor. Right now Kevin and Brittany were both fussing with Kevin’s hair.

"With Kevin," Daria said, "less couldn’t possibly be more."

"You’d never mistake him for an intellectual," Mack said. "Is that good or bad?"

"Gimme a break. I’m still trying to decide."

"But you should put your best asset on display," Jane said, pointing down the line. "Take Brittany, for example."

"I’d rather not, thank you." Daria said. "Brains can’t buy you happiness."

"And money can’t buy you love," Jane quipped. "Yes, yes, Daria, but when did you first realize your brain was making you unhappy?"

"When I first realized that ninety-nine percent of the people in this world had been replaced by moronic aliens."

Mack grinned. "Then you don’t think there are many bright people here at Lawndale High?"

"If there are," Daria replied, "they certainly aren’t teaching. I’ll be sitting in class and I’ll be thinking, ‘Where did they dig these people up?’"

"Except in Mr. D’s class," Jane added. "Then it’s, ‘What’s the deal with this guy and his eye?’"

"In Ms. Barch’s class," Mack said, "I’m generally thinking, ‘I will not show fear.’"

"We wouldn’t know about that," Jane said. "We’re girls, and in Barch’s Feminist Emporium, girls are good."

"Or ‘Greed is Good,’" Daria added. "Maybe that’s more Ms. Bennett."

"I couldn’t make sense of that diagram last Friday. What about you, Mack?"

Mack said, "I passed it on to Coach Gibson. He said it wasn’t bad for a play, but we’d all run into each other on the twenty-yard line." He paused, and shrugged. "Still, it’s easier to take than science with Ms. Barch."

"How was it," Jane asked, "standing in front of the blackboard writing ‘Men are scum’ a thousand times?"

"I don’t know how Bart Simpson does it every week."

"Well," Daria said, "with her, it’s ‘I am woman, hear me roar at the men.’"

"How about," Mack added, ‘I never met a man I didn’t hate.’"

" ‘Walk a mile in my sneakers,’" Jane added to that.

" ‘If I were queen of the forest,’" Daria said.

They never knew what depths that chain of clichés might have sunk to, because just then their teacher Mr. O’Neill came up to them. He carried a clipboard, and ran a pen over the list clipped to it. "Um, Jodie, it’s your turn."

"Right," Jodie said, a little irritation creeping into her voice. She glanced at Mack, and went off with Mr. O’Neill.

"There goes a teacher who cares," Mack said, "but about what, I have no idea."

"Pseudo New Age platitudes, I suppose," Daria replied.

"Yes, yes," Jane said, "it’s as if he were a refugee from a gentler time than this."

Mack grinned. "The sixties?"

"Hey," Daria said, "my parents were hippies. That kinder and gentler stuff came out of the late eighties."

"Your parents were hippies?" Jane asked, surprised. "Your mother the corporate lawyer and your father does he do again?"

"Consultant," Daria said, "It’s my secret shame."

"That they were hippies or that he’s a consultant?" Mack asked.

"Pick one. I’m embarrassed by both."

Just then Jodie came back. She was a little calmer now, but still looked uptight. Mr. O’Neill followed her, looking at his clipboard. "Ah, Jane. It’s your turn now."

"Wish me luck," Jane said.

"Break an egg," Daria said as Jane started to walk away.

"Fry some bacon, too," Mack called after her. "Cook up a good breakfast!"

Ms. Li came running up as Mr. O’Neill started to take Jane away. "Ms. Lane! We will not have a repeat of last year’s fiasco!"

"But my artistic sensibilities!" Jane said.

"Art is one thing," Ms. Li replied, "but I will not have you making a mockery of Picture Day once again..."

"Jane has quite the artistic eye," Mack said.

"Oh, yes," Daria replied. "She has it firing on all cylinders today."

"I saw her masterpiece from last year." Mack grinned. "Wonder what she’ll come up with this time around."

"What Ms. Li will let her get away with, you mean."

"She’ll think of something. Subtle and devious. You wait and see." Mack paused. "So your parents are ex-hippies. Cool."

"As ‘ex’ as you can get." Daria gave a slight smile. "You wouldn’t think former flower children would move into such a high stress job as corporate shills."

"Oh? Which parent is that?"

"Either one. Take your pick. My mother spends her eighteen hour days helping Corporate America wiggle out of everything they can, while my father sucks up to those same sleazebags while caving in on every issue that’s important to him."

"Hmm." Mack paused. "Sounds more interesting than my family. My dad’s a major sports freak. He even changed my name to ‘Michael Jordan Mackenzie.’"

Daria smiled at that. "I knew you weren’t old enough for that to be your real name."

"Hey, I was overdrawn on my allowance. What choice did I have?" Mack grinned. "At least he only changed my middle name."

"My sister talks of changing her name to Starr," Daria said.

"Starr Morgendorffer?"

"That or Quinn Starr. She didn’t say, and I wasn’t motivated enough to ask." Daria frowned. "She can really come up with the ideas, as long as they’re shallow."


"As shallow as the kiddie pools in Slippery Slide World."

Jane came back then, with Mr. O’Neill right behind her. "Okay. Um, Mack?"

Mack smiled and nodded to Daria and Jane. He did the same to Jodie, but Jodie "hhrmphed" and turned away from him, arms crossed. The surprise he felt at that showed on his face as he was lead away.

"How’d it go?"

"Basic blue background," Jane said. "So bland, so...uninteresting. Wouldn’t even let me choose. They had a waterfall. I could have done something with a waterfall." Jane paused, then said, "Have an interesting time while I was out?"

"Pretty much. Mack can keep up with the best of them."

"Well, in this school, that’s us."

"Perhaps we should write them down. Some magazines will pay good money for the right kind of jokes."

"I’d hate to sell out to sell, Daria. Look at my brother. He’s never sold out. And look where it’s gotten him."

"Sleeping all day and playing all night. Living at home."

"Exactly! All his needs are catered to!"

"With your parents absent for months on end? Some catering."

"They’re always there for us." Jane paused. "Though sometimes I wish I knew where ‘there’ is."

"They can cater to you and Trent and the band by long distance. Instead of magazine jokes, perhaps we should write some lyrics for Trent."

"Could be, amiga, if we stayed away from the clichés."

"What was that one he sung the other night, when you took me down to that grunge club? How did it go? ‘Ow, my nose, ow, my face...’"

Jane chuckled. "It’s hard to stand there and listen to them play...I mean without laughing out loud."

"That’s not a problem for me."

Mack came back, then. "Piece of cake."

Mr. O’Neill, clipboard in hand, followed. "Um. Daria? Your turn."

Daria took a step forward. "Adios!" Jane said. "Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!"

Mack laughed as Daria left.


The photographer’s set was basic. The camera, one of those umbrella flash thingys, and a portable screen gizmo that Daria didn’t doubt contained a pile of different backgrounds. A plain pastel background was down right now.

"We have several backgrounds," the photographer said. "One of our most popular is this." He pulled one down from the gizmo. It showed a waterfall in the distance.

"And I’m to stand in front of that," Daria replied. "My hair would get wet."

"Okay, how about Southwestern Desert?" He slid the waterfall back up and pulled down a sunset-on-the-desert colors scene.

"I sunburn so easily."

"How about Ocean Cliff?" This one proved to be some rugged West Coast beach and rocks.

"Too high. I could get vertigo."

"Well, how about Starlight over Yosemite---"

"Enough!" Ms. Li popped up. "Pick something appropriate, Ms. Morgendorffer. You’re holding up the line."

"But I haven’t seen all of them."

"Please, Ms. Morgendorffer! We need to move this along. Just stand in front of a neutral background and let the photographer shoot you."

"Shoot me?" Daria faked a frown. "What is this school’s policy on firearms?"

"Ms. Morgendorffer!" Now Ms. Li’s voice was quite cold. "This is a school picture, not a chance for expressing some flamboyant deviation from the norm!" Ms. Li crossed her arms across her chest. "Consider this guilt by association, Ms. Morgendorffer. But make a selection."

Daria thought about that for a split second, then asked, "Do you have basic black?"


Daria came back from the photographer’s stand, blinking the flash afterimages from her eyes. Jodie was scowling, Mack was frowning, and Jane...well, Jane looked a little upset. Neither she nor Mack spoke as Daria took her place in line next to Mack.

Neither Mack nor Jodie looked at Daria. Daria tried to make eye contact with Jane. Jane glanced at her, then hastily glanced away. Daria frowned. Something had gone down while she was getting her picture taken. What was up?

It was awful quiet.

"So that’s a photo shoot at Lawndale High," Daria said.

No answer.

"No runway, no fashion models, just camera and background and flash."


"I couldn’t get black on black. A dark gray was all I could manage."

Still nothing.

Daria mentally shrugged, and did not speak again. The day wore on.


"Jodie blew up after you left," Jane said. She and Daria were walking home from Lawndale High. The photo shoot had lasted all day, and once Jane and Mack had clammed up it was interminable.

"Was it something we said?" Daria asked.

"Apparently it was everything we said. You, me, and Mack. She was really unhappy that Mack joined in."

"He kept up with us."

"Yeah. There may be hope for the man yet." Jane paused, and looked solemn. "But I think Jodie was unhappy with the way we ran down anybody and everybody we could think of. She takes things too seriously."

"Everybody?" Daria ran over what she could remember of their conversation in her head. "Well, yes, I think we touched base with almost everybody I’ve met so far in Lawndale. Did I insult her?"

"You know Jodie."

"No!" Daria said, with a little more vigor than usual. "I don’t know Jodie. I don’t know anybody. I just moved here a couple of weeks ago."

"Hmm. Well, you know Jodie’s career as staff, um, staff involver." Jane smiled. "Sooner or later, she’ll rope you in. You’ll get to know her then."

"Thanks for the warning. I’ve seen her in action." Daria paused, thinking, wondering what to do. She stayed quiet for a whole block. "After I left..." she said, eventually.


"Did you talk about me?"

Jane smiled. "We tried to, but that’s when Jodie cut us off."

Daria smiled. "We’re as hard on ourselves as we are on everybody else."

"We’d have to be. How else would anybody know we meant what we said?"

They walked on, thinking...


"Yeah, Daria?"

"What did you say about me?"

"Mack said you looked like Marcie."

"Marcie?" Daria thought a moment, trying to place the reference. "Um...from ‘Peanuts?’"

"Don’t look at me. I didn’t say it."


Daria figured out what to do. The next day, in Mr. DeMartino’s class, when DeMartino’s back was turned, Daria tossed a crumpled-up piece of paper onto Jodie’s desk. Jodie unfolded the paper, read it, looked at Daria, and smiled. Written on the paper were a word and a contraction:

I’m sorry.



DISCLAIMER: "Daria" and the characters and settings from it are the property of MTV Networks / Viacom International.

This parody of "Daria" is copyright © 2000 by Robert Nowall. It is not intended to profit the author in any way, and may not be distributed without permission of the author. (That means please don’t post or circulate this without getting in touch with me first.) For the time being, Robert Nowall can be reached at:

Written 9/14/00 to 9/19/00