There's Something About Virgins

The young stars of 'American Pie' — the summer's rauchiest teen teen comedy — reluctantly give up their own experiences on the film's Topic A: Virginity and How They Lost It

Jason Biggs putting his fingers in the pie in a scene from the film 'American Pie', 1999. Credit: Universal/Getty

The other day, Mena Suvari had the cosmos on her mind, while on our mind we had the loss of Mena Suvari's virginity. This took place during a poolside lunch at the superswank Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood. Maybe we should not have had Mena Suvari's virginity so much in our thoughts, but it wasn't our fault, not really, for she is one of the stars of the new movie American Pie, about four high school guys trying to get laid for the first time by the girls in the movie, Mena among them. So, naturally, our musings inclined in that direction. Plus, she is blond, beautiful, twenty years old, both pixie cute and kind of exotic, all of which left us basking in the brilliant California sunshine, food served, us with our thoughts, she with hers.

"I'm extremely interested in the cosmos," she is saying now. "I just think there is so much more than who we are and what we're doing right now."

"Very true," we say, absently.

"We're so minute, we can't even grasp it!"

"So true," we say.

Mena tilts her head and picks up a fork. "I once read how there are over 100 million galaxies — I don't know the exact figure — like our own. That means there could be other planets like ours. Yet we think we're the only ones here. It just blows me away how people think like that. We're absolutely like a little grain. And it is just so intense. Yet we can't think about that, because to think about that would destroy us. You know what I mean?"

We nod vigorously, though we do not have a clue what she means, so fixated are we on other matters. In American Pie, Mena plays Heather, angelic, beatific, choirgirl who becomes the love interest of the jock Oz, played by Chris Klein. They enjoy a particularly wholesome, goody-two-shoes romance. But what about the early romance in Mena's own life? We stuff ourselves with food, waiting for an opportunity to head in that direction, while Mena rattles on. She says she is of Estonian and Greek extraction, with maybe "a little Viking" thrown in, and that she was born in Newport, Rhode Island, to a nurse mom and a psychiatrist dad who held up his end of father-daughter chats mostly by endlessly saying, "Yes, yes." For a few years they lived in the Virgin Islands, where she once fell off a cliff, nearly impaling herself on an iron rod. Eventually she moved to New York; modeled for the Wilhelmina agency; showed up in a Rice-A-Roni ad; made her way to Bur-bank, California; showed up in Kiss the Girls, starring Morgan Freeman; in Slums of Beverly Hills, starring Pie cast mate Natasha Lyonne; and in The Rage: Carrie 2, as a suicide. Along the way, she became interested in the cosmos, among many other things.

"Nutrition!" Mena exclaims suddenly. "Did you know that our society is seriously saturated with partially hydrogenated oils? It is soooo bad!" She picks up a green food item, leans forward, dances it in the air. "O K, I'm eating this little vegetable right now," she says, "and when I'm eating it, I'm thinking, 'Mmm, good veggie!' And my body is happy, you know?"

Yes, we can see that, and we are happy for her, of course; but by the time she gets around to extolling the virtues of chromium picolinate, whatever that is, we have about had it.

"Hey," we say, abruptly and a little too loudly, "how old were you when you lost your virginity?" Mena stops talking. A couple of the people around us stop talking, too. In fact, they put down their forks and sit very still.

"What?" Mena says, eventually. "Are you serious?"

We are indeed serious. If American Pie is about virginity lost, then why shouldn't we ask about the same loss in real life? Thematically, it is legitimate, perfectly so, and surely no great cause for concern or alarm. Moreover, the same question will be asked of eight of the other Pie kids, both male (Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Seann William Scott) and female (Tara Reid, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan). Chuckling, we also say, "We're asking everybody, unless, of course, you get so mad that we have a bad experience here and lose our nerve." And then we chuckle some more, heartily.

But Mena isn't laughing. She is pensive. She is frowning. "I was about fifteen or sixteen, and it was a bad experience," she says levelly. "It was with a loser. But when I moved out here, I had a great boyfriend for a year, a soccer player, very sweet, and I like to say that I lost it to him."

We nod sympathetically, silently urging her to say more. But Mena basically just glares at us from behind her cool tortoise-shell sunglasses, her blond hair cascading, her thoughts receding into the vast distance, possibly into the cosmos. Then, a few minutes later, she rises to her feet, wishes us well and walks quickly to her car. She does not look back, nor does she wave goodbye. She is a good girl, not given to easy talk about her sexual past, and we feel horrible about the discomfort we have caused her. Indeed, what are we after? What is the point? What could we hope to learn that goes beyond titillation? We do not know. All we know is that before watching American Pie, we'd never seen anyone screw an apple pie. Somehow, it seems like an epochal moment in teen movies — finally, honesty! And in the aftermath we desperately want to know more about those who have helped serve it up. And so on we go, driving deep into the heart of this new virgin territory.

Now it is right around midnight in the San Fernando Valley. We stop at a convenience store, where in the check-out line some beer-stinking weak-chin invites us back to his van to "party" with him and his slack-looking wife, or girlfriend, or whatever she is. They disgust us. They make us sick to our stomach. A couple of perverts so far gone from their moment of first-time bliss that it is probably beyond remembering. We decline the invitation, hit the road again and quickly make our way over to see Thomas Ian Nicholas. At one point in American Pie, his character, Kevin, gives first-time oral bliss to his girlfriend, Vicky (Tara Reid), while furtively glancing at an instructional "bible" that has been handed down from one generation of high school guy to the next. We found that not disgusting, not sick and really very funny; and we were also quite thrilled, as a matter of sexual politics, to see that it wasn't only guys getting off in the movie but girls as well. We are pondering these things when Thomas greets us at the door to his house, and it doesn't take us long to bring up the story of the two 7-Eleven pervs.

"Wow," Thomas says and scratches his head, looking both amused and concerned. Like most of the other actors in American Pie, he is a relative unknown, but we know him when we see him. As a thirteen-year-old, he played the rookie in that great kiddie hit Rookie of the Year, but mostly we remember him from his guest-starring spot in a Who's the Boss? episode, as a young Tony Danza. He always looked fresh faced, well scrubbed and dimpled, but with soulful eyes even so. And today, at the age of eighteen, he is still the same, a goodlooking kid who is probably a real smash hit with the girls.

Thomas takes us on a tour of his place. We end up in a back room, where he opens a closet door, grabs a CD from a stack of about 5,000 and presses it into our hands. The name of the band is the T.I.N.men, and it is Thomas' band and his music on the CD. It is, he says, Christian rock. That is what he plays. In fact, he goes on, he arrived home only moments before, having just finished performing at the local Tin Stories Ministry Bible study!

"I'm writing music with God," he says, "for God, about God or, you know, from God, or however you say it. It's just, God got combined into the music!"

"Wow," we say, both amused and concerned. We hadn't expected this. This is certainly interesting. And we wonder out loud how it has come to pass and what it means for a God-loving sort like Thomas to choose to appear in a sexed-up movie like American Pie.

Over time it becomes more or less clear. Thomas was born in Nevada, had as his dad a craps dealer and as his mom a dancer at a place called the Million-Dollar Dump. Soon his parents divorced and he moved with his mom to California, where they lived all over, sometimes on welfare, while he tried to establish himself as a young actor and, eventually, attended the San Fernando Valley Professional School. When he was fifteen, he and his mom moved into a Burbank apartment complex called Oakwood, where many aspiring actors come to live and where young Thomas fell in with a bad crowd. He began boozing and smoking both pot and cigarettes and kissing girls who weren't his girlfriend, who were, in fact, "some broad I just met!" Around this time, however, he also started hanging out with his cousin, who was a family man with three kids, a multiple-sclerosis sufferer and a practicing Christian. One day his cousin said to him, "I know you're a good person, but do you have a relationship with God? Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?" And so, Thomas says, in this way did he find the path that eventually led him to make music with God, for God and all the rest of it.

The tale leaves us slightly dazed, but we accept it without question, for in truth we have other things on our mind, American Pie-related kinds of things. "So," we say, casually taking a slightly different tack than we did with Mena Suvari, "has masturbation played a big part in your life?"

"That is an interesting question," Thomas says, smiling and, unlike Suvari, not at all offended by the line of inquiry. "I don't necessarily think it is a great thing, you know. I would say it is a natural bodily need. It is nothing I am proud of. But I can't sit here and lie and say that I've never experienced it."

He laughs, gets up, goes to the kitchen, returns with a cup of coffee and takes a seat. "Now, my girlfriend and I," he says, "we dated for five years, from the age of thirteen up until about two weeks ago, actually, and we went through a period of time where we were making love. We'd always said we'd wait until we were married. But, you know, given the sexual tendency of teens, as this film American Pie disgusts — "

"Disgusts?" we say, eyebrows arched.

"No, no, I meant discusses! Anyway, we did that, and then it just becomes more and more, until all of a sudden sex becomes — what? Your alcohol! Your cigarettes! Your pot! We never got that far, however, because we ended up deciding that we weren't going to have sex anymore. We practiced abstinence. In fact, I'm probably the only eighteen-year-old guy who's had sex and then opted not to have it anymore and to be a virgin again!"

Thomas looks at us, shrugs, smiles gently.

We, of course, rock back in our chair, flabbergasted. "Holy cow," we say.

Thomas then goes on to tell us many other things — for instance, that his ex-girlfriend gave him the nickname Pepe Le Pew, for the overwhelming stench of his farts, and that the last time he cried over the loss of his girlfriend was two days ago ("I'm a very sensitive guy, a very Nineties man, you might say"). And, changing topics, he tells us what he thought upon first reading the American Pie script ("This is disgusting! This is perverse! It is totally against everything I stand for!") and what he will say to those in the Christian movement should they criticize him for his role in the movie: "It is a character on the screen, not me! And let he who hasn't sinned cast the first stone! And the underlying message is that sex is not the most important thing — love is!"

We frown and shake our head, not in the least meaning to suggest that we are cynical about underlying messages and think they exist simply as the sop that allows the really important stuff — the oral sex, the pie-screwing, etc. — to get filmed. Not at all. No, it is involuntary head-shaking, a reaction to what Thomas has said about being a born-again virgin. For some reason, and almost against our will, we are suddenly outraged by this. Somehow it seems wrong, very wrong. Here he is, about to come out large in a movie about getting laid, the result of which in Hollywood would absolutely be to have tons of ultrahot Hollywood nookie banging down his door. And what is he going to do about it? Nothing!!!!!

We reel out of there, unsteady and unsure that the world as we know it is still the world as we know it.

It gets worse, only worse. One day we have lunch with Seann William Scott, who plays Stifler, the movie's jock-prick-jerk. Well, guess what? He tells us that like Thomas, he is a Christian and that he grew up in a family that "lived for our trust in God; even in junior high, people used to call me Church Boy." Indeed, during his high school years in Minnesota, he never drank, never smoked, was a member of the D.A.R.E. anti-drug brigade and was homecoming king. And, in his eighteen years on this earth, he's had only one girlfriend — and her for only two months. "You know how it is," he says, waving a hunk of sandwich. "When a guy would say, 'Dude, that chick wants to have sex with you,' I'm like, 'Yeah, but that would also mean I'd be having sex with that guy she also had sex with, 'cause she just had sex with him,' and so, you know."

Seann is a nice guy, a great guy even, and very funny, telling stories about his misadventures in L.A., like about how some South Central gangbangers once robbed him of his shirt, his shoes and a one-dollar bill while he was trying to get to a Baywatch audition. But we barely hear him, so appalled are we by this entire turn of events. Church Boy?

We shake our head, wondering about the future of the entire male sexual imperative as practiced even by our great nation's president, and we are still shaking our head when on Zuma Beach, around Malibu, we take a midafternoon stroll with Chris Klein. Besides playing the good jock Oz in American Pie, he also has a co-starring role in the wonderfully subversive high-school movie Election. He considers himself an Omaha, Nebraska, boy who adores his hometown, and in high school he played football (outside linebacker), dated a cheerleader, was Tony in West Side Story and sang in the school choir. Currently enrolled at Texas Christian University, he is (wouldn't you know it) a Christian. And instead of exclamatory phrases like, say, "shit fuck!" he says things like "Jeez, Louise!"

"Yes, I did have a girlfriend, and she was great," he says, kicking up sand. "I met her when I was sixteen. She was a cheerleader, and I thought she was the most precious thing I'd ever seen. We went down to Texas Christian together. But then, over Christmas, we broke up. Between school and acting, I couldn't really be her boyfriend."

"And how old were you when you lost your virginity?"

"I'll pass on that one. I pass. OK, I was sixteen. It was totally a spontaneous thing. Very crazy. I had no idea what I was doing. And then it was over."

We nod, knowing exactly what he means, as he goes on to tell us about the talk his dad once had with him on an airplane. "He explained to me what it meant to love somebody. He explained to me how he loved Mom. And what that means, to love somebody, and what it means, what that act means, you know, as opposed to just having sex."

We sigh, defeated. Of the Pie kids so far, Klein is the one who seems most likely to break out to stardom the soonest. He also has the looks and the charm to cut a Warren Beatty-size swath through Hollywood. But clearly he does not have the drive. What a waste. It almost seems criminal. And then he says, "I am one of the cheapest guys ever. I love putting money in the bank. When I was younger, all I would do is save all my money so my mom could take me to the bank, so I could put it in, so I could get a statement and stuff. There is nothing better than going to the bank and putting it in. It feels good!" This is the most disturbing thing we have heard yet, and we stagger away, thoroughly grossed out.

Before long, we are walking around Melrose Avenue, waiting for Shannon Elizabeth to show up. Of the girls in American Pie, only one appears in the raw, and that is Shannon, who plays Nadia, the sexy brunet exchange student who wants it so very badly from Jim, the movie's hapless main character, and who bounces around naked on his bed, her nakedness transmitted all over East Great Falls via computer. After the three Christians, we figure Shannon will offer us some much-needed relief. Finally she arrives, in jeans, sneakers and an Adidas sweat shirt, looking pretty glamorous nonetheless — tall, statuesque, rather an ageless beauty.

We settle in, liking her already. Unlike the guys who loved their Midwestern hometowns, she hated her hometown. It was Waco, Texas, where the social swirl revolved around house parties, dominoes, drinking, TV and cards. "Oh, it's just stupid!" she says, delightfully. "There is nothing happening there. It's ridiculous!"

In high school, Shannon was a champion tennis player, a cheerleader, a dance-team member, a student-council treasurer and a student-body historian — but perhaps not the nicest of girls. "I was a bitch," she recalls, happily. "I was always like, 'You have a problem? Come on, let's go. Right now, I'll take you outside!' Like, I wasn't scared of anybody! Like, I always talked like that! In fact, in high school, more than anything else, I liked making people mad!" And as soon as she graduated, she got the hell out of there, using modeling as her ticket to the high life in Japan, Paris, Milan, Miami and finally last-stop L.A., where she picked up roles in movies we've never heard of, like Dish Dogs, Seamless and Siren of the Pecos, and parts in TV shows we've never watched, like Totally Pauly, USA High and Arli$$.

As the minutes tick by, we are increasingly fascinated by Shannon. For instance, how many people is one likely to meet in life who, like Shannon, were "totally, totally star struck" when they met the star of Dish Dogs — Sean Astin?! She is a rare one, all right, and so we figure she'll have no problem with our little loss-of-virginity question.

Shannon stares at us like we are mad and without blinking says, "I don't remember. It's just one of those things I don't remember. I totally have a bad memory." Disappointed and irritated, we blow air through our lips at this total crock. But what can we say?

"First kiss?" we forge on.

"Don't remember."

"First orgasm?"

"I still don't know if I've had one," she says and then, for whatever reason, warms up to the question. "I was in Paris the first time I had one. And the guy I was living with then, he knew I'd never had one, and he kept telling me it was something I was going to have to work on myself. And he kept pulling things out of magazines that talked about how to do it. And we just worked on it together until it happened. But even then I still didn't believe it happened. Because I don't get the feeling that you guys describe it being like. It doesn't feel like this huge thing. It's not as big a deal for me as it is for you guys. Actually, I have more fun doing it on my own than with you guys. That's why you guys don't buy us toys, 'cause you know the toys are better."

Shannon gives us a flippant, smart-ass look and we are pleased. At the same time, we feel sorry for Shannon's current boyfriend, a fellow name Joe. And yet not too sorry, for Shannon allows as how she's more than willing to cut his toenails for him and even had no problem puckering up to his lips when he was once addicted to dip. We express our admiration.

"Oh, yes, I'm perfect!" she trills.

"Well," we say, "perfect but for the molehill orgasms."

This gives Shannon pause. But a moment later, she leans forward, eyes flashing. "It's just different than what you guys feel," she says. "Anyway, people have described two different kinds of orgasms for girls, and I apparently have the kind that most girls want. So there!"

Two different kinds of orgasms? This is news to us. What is she talking about?

Eyes fluttering, she crosses her arms and looks pretty darn pleased with herself. "I guess some are much wetter than others — watery, like a dam breaking. I mean, it's not like a guy's dinky little bit of mayonnaise-looking stuff. It's where it feels like you've got to change the mattress, and when that happens, oh, does a guy feel accomplished!"

We are speechless and now totally envy Joe. We don't know what to say. We have no idea where to go next. But, as we've come to expect from Shannon, she is well ahead of us.

"What time is it?" she asks, rising. "Well, good luck," she adds, and then she is gone, our head still spinning.

So far, compared with the girls, the American Pie guys have been a real letdown. We meet Jason Biggs, who plays Jim, the movie's main character and the guy whose dad always manages to catch him in midwank and with a variety of wank aids, including the apple pie. He gives us a high-school-years summary that sounded depressingly familiar. "I didn't do anything!" he says. "Never partied. Never drank. Never did anything!" This was in Hackensack, New Jersey, where at the age of five, he started modeling for the JCPenney sale circulars. He went on to act in plays on Broadway, received a Daytime Emmy nomination for his recurring role on the soap As the World Turns and got some sitcom work (Drexel's Class, with Dabney Coleman), and, somewhere along the way, around the age of seventeen, lost his virginity, no story worth telling. Currently, Jason fears bees, wasps, hornets, spiders, reading books and always being known as Jim from American Pie, "the kid that fucked an apple pie."

All of this was rather dull and left us fretting over the whereabouts of the Charlie Sheens of tomorrow. We stumble into the L.A. night. Suddenly, outside some snooty restaurant on Wilshire, we find ourselves shaking hands with Eddie Kaye Thomas, who slouches forth in khakis and slitted-out eyes. In American Pie, he's a dweeb who suffers numerous humiliations, the most severe of which involves a massive case of diarrhea, but in the end he comes on James Bond cool with Stifler's mom, played by Jennifer Coolidge. We grab a table and Eddie, who lives in New York, immediately starts off on everything he hates about L.A. For instance, he wants to order the fish, but the fish on the plates in L.A. give him the willies, because they're mostly imported from Alaska, and "if Alaska is the closest you can get to good fish, well, then, what does that say?!"

"You're right about that," we say, committing ourselves to his point of view.

And why not? His favorite movie is Scarface, starring the great Al Pacino. "I've seen that close to 100 times," he says, squinting. "Yeah, I'd say that a good 200 hours of my life has been spent watching that movie. I could recite most of the movie. Tony Montana. I mean, it's like Richard III, basically, which is one of my favorite plays. And then, you know, to put some cocaine in the story — well, God, man!"

The New York bars Eddie favors are the barfly specials, "with depressed alcoholics." And then there's his nickname, Leaf, which may have something to do with his fondness for pot. "Pot's my thing. If I want to unwind, Mary Jane's my friend. I mean, no one's ever died from smoking pot."

Eddie orders a Coke with grenadine, and we go outside for a smoke. He talks for a while about a girl who recently broke his heart. Really crushed it. Told him she'd been fucking around on him and that they were finished. "Afterward," he says, "I dreamed about her every fucking night. Man, I was sick. And she wasn't that great a girl. But when a woman gets in my brain, she stays there. She shows up at night. She haunts me. Man, she really got me good."

Then Eddie fires up a Camel filter with a dexterous flick of his lighter and leans back into the night. His previous movies include The Rage: Carrie 2, Ill-town and Mr. Jealousy. He's done Broadway. He is also a recent graduate of the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, and one of his best friends there was Macaulay Culkin.

Eddie laughs, blows out a stream of smoke and fondly recalls the time a gorgeous girl came up to Macaulay in the school cafeteria and said to him, "Oh, my God, Macaulay, fucking rape me right now. Just take me! You don't have to do anything but just take me!"

Eddie chuckles. "And that happened all the time. Girls were just all over him."

"Really?" we say.

"Fuck the fame," says Eddie, nodding, and then he adds: "I'll take the pussy over the fame. I don't have a girlfriend at the moment. I'm trying to stay clear of the girlfriend thing. Just because. I mean, fuck, I've got a movie coming up! It's the most fucking exciting thing. I love acting, and I love the craft, but the fringe benefits, man, I'm going to take advantage of them! And, you know, the great thing about it is, you're talking about American Pie, so the conversation just naturally takes a turn in the right direction!"

We lean back, take a drag on our own cigarette and blow a long, satisfying stream of haze out toward the horizon. Suddenly, everything is OK. Nothing is changed in the world. All is as we know it to be, and for that, alone among all the American Pie guys, we have Eddie to thank. 

And yet we are still hoping to find someone a bit more to our liking on the girls' side of the American Pie lineup. Shannon Elizabeth, for all of her charms, was a little too cool for us. For a while, then, we think the perfect Pie girl might be Alyson Hannigan, who plays a funny, goofy band-girl flutist in the movie and is also Willow on the WB network's Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. Alyson tells us that in elementary school, the other kids called her both Casper, because her skin was so white, and Eddie Munster, because of her pronounced widow's peak. She confides that her favorite cuss word is fuck. Alyson lost her virginity at the age of seventeen and tells the story with ease: "It was, like, my first love. It was like bases: We're coming around third . . . here we go! It was fine. Then it got better, of course."

Alone among the Pie people, Alyson has a rule she can articulate about sex: "My rule is, I'm not going to fuck anyone who if I get hit by a bus and die, then I'll be like, 'Oh, God, why did I sleep with him? I don't want him being the last guy I had!' So, anyway, that's my rule." We believe that is a good rule, one that still leaves plenty of room for plenty of action. And so we think that Alyson Hannigan is it — the one.

But that's before we meet the last of our American Pie girls. And that last one's name is Tara Reid.

We sit down with Tara at Benihana on La Cienega, where your food is cooked on your own little table-side grill. Tara plays Vicky in American Pie, Thomas Ian Nicholas' virtuous though willing girlfriend. She is blond. Tonight, she has some nut-brown tummy exposed. She wobbles in on high heels made of straw. Her face is a little shiny, her lips a little wet, and her eyes glitter, moistly. She looks like trouble, and her voice sounds like trouble, too: It is almost husky, compounded by sweetness, a tantalizing combination — a cat purring as its rough tongue licks your ear.

Tara pulls herself up close and tells of her previous evening. She spent it partying at the Playboy mansion with Hugh Hefner, and if only she'd had our number, she might have brought us along. Oh, such a time she had. It was "nuts!" "wild!" and "crazy!" she says, using a trio of words that trip off her tongue seventy-six times during our few short hours together, often in close proximity, as in, "It was nuts! Like, Oscar De La Hoya was there, and Kevin Costner was there. And it was just wild!"

Tara seems to shiver with happiness, and we find ourselves shivering along with her. She grew up in New Jersey, near the world-famous Paramus Mall, attended the same professional-kids school as Eddie Kaye Thomas and now is in Hollywood, loving it. She recently had parts in Urban Legend and Cruel Intentions, but her breakthrough role was Bunny in The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers film starring Jeff Bridges. After that movie, the Tara Who? agents at ICM and CAA were suddenly pounding on her door. They knew exactly who she was now — the girl who said to Jeff Bridges, "I'll suck your cock for $1,000."

And yet, says Tara, it is not all parties and high living. She sighs, deeply. "Hollywood is a lonely place. It really is. You may have friends, but it's all industry. And you've always got to be careful of what you're doing, what you're saying. But I just love acting. I just love being someone else and having someone else's problems. I know that sounds super-warped. But, like, really I do!"

We dip our head in her direction and wonder what she does in her spare time, when she isn't living someone else's problems.

She sits back tough-gal style, slouched in her seat, legs flung. "I'm very moment to moment," she says. "Just living free. I do what I want to do when I want to do it. And I always want to try everything! Do you know what I mean? I like to take everything right up to the limit. I love adventure, excitement, energy, the rush. I love when my adrenaline's going."

We squirm where we sit.

"I am such an emotional person," she says with another of her sighs. "I feel so much. I have so much going on inside me that I can't handle it sometimes. Like, when I'm out to drink, I really drink. I black out. You know what I mean? I don't know how I manage my life when I'm blacked out, but I still function. I just keep on going."

Tara shakes her head, her lips pursed and as inviting as an orange wedge, and looks almost sad, and we have the urge to reach out and comfort her, for she seems in need of comforting. Suddenly, though, she begins talking about her fear of the dark. "I'm scared of the dark, yet I sleep in the dark. I get so terrified that someone's going to break in and hurt me, even though there's a doorman downstairs, I have three deadbolts on my door and another lock on my bedroom door. So everything's locked. Then I get scared. Like, I mess with myself, you know? I don't know why I'm like that. I really am crazy!"

She is crazy, all right; and we are crazy for her!

"Losing my virginity sucked!" she says, with hardly any prompting, while in the middle of chewing a ton of food. "It was down at my Jersey Shore beach house when I was seventeen, on the sand. It was disgusting. Four hundred mosquitoes. I had hives everywhere. He was kind of an idiot, so I don't know what I was thinking, you know? I think I was just really horny and probably couldn't control my, you know —"

Tara pauses, leans somewhat closer to us and grabs us by our eyes.

"You know," she says, "control of that area is something I'm good at. I never sleep around. But if I want to hook up with a guy, there's no way that's not going to happen."

"Really?" we say, almost trembling.

Tara licks her lips. "Oh, yeah," she says. "I am just the most passionate person. Oh, I'm crazy. Like, I'm nuts! Like, say I have a friend who's my friend but we also, you know, have benefits on the side. There's definitely been moments where when we get going, that's it — like, I just need to do it fifteen times. Not literally, of course, but I love it. And then I'll want it every day. And it'll literally be like where I want to call someone and say, 'Hey, what's up, it's Tara. I just ate a cheeseburger, and so can I come over and be fucked?'"

This is almost too much for us to hear. We flag down the waitress and order another ginger ale, quickly.

"I'm very orgasmic!" Tara is saying, peppily, cruising along on some nonstop roll. "Listen, I knew at a young age that sex is a very powerful tool and not to abuse it. 'Cause if you use it right, it's a big benefit. In my work, in everything I do, there's a sexiness. I mean, who do you like to watch on the screen? Sexy motherfuckers! And if I have that in me, why not put it out there? Because that's my power!"

Tara keeps on talking and we keep on listening, half understanding, half lost. She seems kind of lost, too, among a shower of fragmenting words, thoughts and feelings.

"Love," she says, throwing herself back against her seat. "I love the whole thing of love. But do I really want it? Is it really real? Or is my reality and my opinion of love like a movie? Oh, I don't know sometimes! And does love happen anymore? And am I going to wait forever? Oh, I don't know anymore!"

Suddenly she is close to tears. Something new has swept over her — some unseen complication that at once makes her the most knowing of all the American Pie kids we've met and the most fragile; and in this way the most completely perfect. Our considerations of virginity suddenly seem entirely beside the point. And once again we want to reach out to her. But once again we don't. "I like intensity," she says after a while. "I like to feel the highest degrees of emotion in my life. And then I drown in it. I hate it, yet I love it. I'm so miserable. I'm so sad. I'm so lonely, but when I'm in that feeling, there's something so at home and comfortable about it. You know?"

We nod, our heart pounding with conflicts of its own.

"It's really weird," she says, and then she says her name. She says, "Tara." She says it both as a statement and as a question, and maybe as a curse and maybe as a wish. And right at that moment, we know exactly what she means.