Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock and Nettie and I are on day two of our first-ever solo girls’ trip, in Savannah, Ga., without her little brother. She’s in the next bedroom, still asleep on a huge cloud of a white bed piled with white pillows under a gently revolving ceiling fan. Any moment, my typing will be interrupted by the delivery man from the Maple Street Biscuit Company of Savannah ringing the doorbell with breakfast biscuits and grits. There are three specialty biscuit restaurants within a short walk of our extremely plush vacation rental, which has been loaned to us by a very generous friend, who has decorated this very pretty row house (ca. 1892) for maximum comfort. We are positively purring with self-indulgence.
I’ve never been to Georgia before, but prepped for Savannah by watching Clint Eastwood’s 1990s adaptation of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” on my laptop in our room at the TWA Hotel at Kennedy Airport on Sunday night. This is our first trip as companions, Nettie and me, rather than as — how shall I put this? — an adult dragging a child behind her. She is 15. Our new dynamic became evident as we passed through the Rubicon of the airport metal detectors, and it was I who was the one holding up the security line — dropping my backpack, fumbling with jewelry — and Nettie who was efficient and capable, whipping her Nike Jordans off and on and retrieving my electronics from the gray plastic bin.
Monday was a montage of girls-trip clichés straight out of a chick flick. I’m Tina Fey, a bit goofy, and Nettie is Zendaya. We had brunch at the Collins Quarter in Forsyth Park as the fountains burbled and the azaleas bloomed, then wandered the historic squares snapping photos of the Spanish moss dripping from the old oaks. I bought her two flowery dresses in boutiques called Harper and Red Clover, one long and one short. My daughter calls this floral aesthetic “preppy”: a Southern, feminine, flouncy floral look with lots of leg, Love Shack Fancy on a more modest budget.
For the first time, Nettie allowed me a proper peek at her life at school, showing me photos and videos illustrating the fashions in vogue this year at Phillips Exeter Academy, where she is about to enter the spring trimester of her first year. She is a sophomore, what they call a “lower” in Exeter lingo. I’m fascinated by today’s prep-school fashions. The boys — the cute boys, the popular boys, the sporty boys — all wear a haircut they call “ice cream.” Nettie showed me a half-dozen cute, popular, sporty boys’ Instagram accounts, to explain to goofy Tina Fey what “ice cream” is: Ice cream is when you are a teenage white boy with a thick head of wholesome hair that forms a smooth helmet on top but then curves out over your ears, like a scoop of ice cream atop a waffle cone.
Spring is coming soon to New Hampshire. Spring is already here in Savannah. Nettie is enthusiastic: “Spring clothes!” she exclaims. “Spring trimester! Spring boyfriend?”
Nettie is a rizzler. “Rizz,” as I believe I may have explained in a previous column (for other old folks like me), is when you have charisma that attracts romantic or sexual attention. It’s akin to flirtatiousness, but comes naturally rather than being an art. Two boys with ice cream hair have been texting Nettie constantly; all day Sunday and Monday, the phone buzzing and buzzing in her pocket like a distant bee.
Girl talk. I told Nettie that if she wants to change the dynamic with one of these boys she’s rizzed up, turn it from friends into something else, all she needs to do is appear at one of the dorm teas this spring (an Exeter tradition) wearing the short floral minidress we bought on Bull Street. They’re used to seeing her in baggy sweats and oversize hoodies. Spring is coming, and soon the girls of Exeter will shed their baggy-sweat cocoons to reveal chiffon, flowers, and ruffles beneath.
We walked to Leopold’s ice cream parlor (ca. 1919) on Boughton Street for a treat between brunch and dinner, and I couldn’t help but notice the glances of middle-aged men we passed on the sidewalk sliding over in Nettie’s direction. (As if the glances were surreptitious! As if Tina Fey wouldn’t notice!) I told Nettie that the next middle-aged man who gave her the slidy eyeball was going to be smacked with a rolled up tourist map by her mother. The middle-aged men of Savannah are very preppie in the classical Southern-preppie mold: They are the fathers of the Exeter boys with ice cream hair. They wear khakis, needlepoint belts, and pastel-colored polo or Oxford shirts.
Nettie will be 16 in July and she thinks that what she wants for her 16th birthday is one piece of really good jewelry, to start her collection. She’s not sure yet if she is a silver girl or a gold girl. We looked at Tiffany charm bracelets in an estate-jewelry store on Bull, then had an ice cream soda — made with whipped cream beaten into the syrup, not just milk — at Leopold’s on Boughton, then went for a mother-daughter mani-pedi at La Bella Nails on Oglethorpe. Nettie is playing lacrosse this spring and so I told her, no, I’m not buying her a set of long acrylic nails, but she could get gel polish. Zendaya is no longer a child and is not appreciative of Tina Fey interfering with questions regarding the adornment of her own body, but she chose a dark red gel polish because she heard on TikTok that research shows boys are more attracted to girls with red nails.
You come to Savannah for its bonkers street characters — that’s what “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” sold us, anyway — but mostly we’ve only seen tourists. The tourists are wearing shorts and sandals here in Savannah; I’m told there’s snow this morning in New York. We did encounter a bonkers character in La Bella Nails, but she was — and we knew this because she was talking loudly, on purpose, so the entire salonful of women could hear — from Texas, not a local. She was the Queen of All Karens, and Nettie and I had a funny time eavesdropping on her. First, the Queen of All Karens wanted to know what toxins, exactly, the Detox Pedicure removed, because she suffers from bursitis, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel all at once. The Queen of All Karens demanded details. Nettie’s small face slid out from behind a row of nail-drying machines, smiling at her mom like a cat at the beauty-salon comedy of it all.
Then the Queen of All Karens started micromanaging the temperature of the foot bath. “The water’s too cold! Too cold! Too cold!” she complained to the woman bathing her feet. (And how has it not occurred to me before this moment that the foot-bathing of the contemporary nail salon has a religious aspect?) Then, five minutes later: “It’s not warm enough! It’s not warm! NOT WARM!” Nettie’s small face slid into view again, smiling slyly at the cosmic comedy of it all.
Then, last night, we wore our best flowery dresses to the Olde Pink House Restaurant (ca. 1771) on Reynolds Square. We had a 7 p.m. reservation but had to wait quite a while to be seated, joining a crowd of other tourists with reservations who stood on the street taking best advantage of a city ordinance permitting the public drinking of alcohol so long as it’s held in an approved takeaway cup. I had a Pink Lady cocktail in my plastic cup, and Nettie had a Shirley Temple with three cherries in hers, but I let her have a sip.