I first met Mary Jo in Mr. Pancake’s 8th grade science class. She had just moved from Baltimore City to the idyllic, Brady Bunch ‘burbs of the 1970’s. I guess she was trying to show me how tough she was–being from the city and all. I don’t remember the context of what she said, but I remember two words that came out of her mouth to me before Mr. Pancake even started class:
Okay, so I was no hard-ass what with living in a two-story colonial in a community with its own club–a large swimming pool and four tennis courts–along with a public golf course across the street, but even I knew there was a problem with Mary Jo’s word choice.
Admittedly, I sort of liked shitness. I liked the idea that “shit” could be an abstract noun. (Even then, I was an English geek.) So I adopted the word shitness, and marvel at its adaptability and usefulness even now, decades later. In fact, shit as an abstract noun really does sum up what life is like for adults.
But NIFTY? I mean, Girlfriend skipped a decade of slang going backwards. She went from our preferred term, flipped out, skipped the decade of groovy and was residing smack in the middle of the 1950’s–and this was before the show, Happy Days, made everyone long for the decade of the greased ducktail, the poodle skirt, and NIFTY guys like the Fonz who could take any girl to find her thrill on Blueberry Hill.
Turns out Girlfriend had three older–much older brothers, so nifty was likely a term she frequently heard at the dinner table. (In all the years since, they haven’t gotten much hipper either–they’re still the kind of guys who could moonlight in a sleep lab putting insomniacs down for the count–and they’ve been about as compassionate and kind to their sister as Type 2 Herpes. (And no, she doesn’t have the Type 2 baggage one carries through life–I’m speaking metaphorically.)
But I digress…
So by now you should gather that I never dreamed the blond in the purple half-zip shirt and matching hip-hugger pants–the one with the brightest blue eyes, crooked smile and odd colloquialisms would become such an important part of my life.
We took a bit of a roundabout way to get there, however. With alphabetically similar surnames, we were always assigned to the same homeroom, and so with the overcrowding of the schools, we volunteered to share a locker.
I used the entire six feet area of the locker and she used the upper shelf. Yes, I was a slob and she was a neat freak. There were frequent issues with rotting Braunschweiger sandwiches fermenting in the piles of trash in my area of the locker, BUT, on graduation day when I needed an emergency tampon, Mary Jo came through–there was one left on her shelf of the locker. Thank God. Our gowns were white. Talk about leaving a bloody impression on your graduating class.
But these days, we have complete role-reversal. I’m the neat freak and she’s, well, getting better. At least everything except her car. Hey, people grow and change, ya know?
So we walked the graduation stage one after the other, lifeguarded and taught swim lessons at our community club, and went to the same college.
Whenever my Greeky, Greek-American boyfriend was sent to Greece for the summer (Where else? The entire universe revolves around that country for some people–including his parents who sent him and his older brother with the express purpose of finding Greek girls to marry) Mary Jo was there to raise hell with me–and whatever hot guys we could find trouble with–since I was obviously losing my shit with the Greek boyfriend and all.
And then I moved to California. But whenever I came home to visit, I learned only one friend from the whole lot of them was willing to make time for me. It was Mary Jo.
And so, a few years later when I moved back during the glam-heyday of the mid-eighties, we became inseparable. We hit the bar scene. We met men. And more men. And even more men. We picked up Dutch sailors at Phillips Bar. We got kidnapped by a busload of guys out for a Baltimore bachelor party. We were adopted by another bachelor party in Ocean City. We got our YUPPIE on at The Water Street Exchange, and then got our punk on at Club Charles. We behaved badly. Like the bad-asses we were.
Thank God for guardian angels–they worked overtime in our case.
And then we married. We moved on. But we never moved apart.
Next came the babies. She had three girls and I had three boys.
And life marched on–up the steep mountains and across the raging rivers, and through it all, our loyalty to one another has been as firm as Michael Phelps’s ass. (Hey, we both love swimming.)
And our rock-solid credo has been pretty firm as well:
“Kicking Ass and Raising Hell Since the Nixon Administration.”
God willing, one day we will be old women–and I look forward to that, too.
But one more pause on Memory Lane before I wrap. When Mary Jo was a teenager, she was the only kid I knew who had her own phone number and also, the coveted princess-style phone model–for which she worked part-time jobs to afford. Most of us just used the family phone in our mother’s kitchens. But the phone seemed to mean more to MJ than the rest of us–and that hasn’t changed.
I swear, if MJ has a phone to her ear, she could talk the paint off the wall. I just can’t talk for three hours at a stretch.Or even listen. But Girlfriend can talk.
TRUE CONFESSION #1: I once took the garbage out and set the phone down while she talked and talked and talked and she never knew I was gone. I simply returned, uttered a well-timed “uh-huh,” and on she went.
TRUE CONFESSION #2:: I’m not great about calling my friends–even my BFF. I’d rather get in the car and meet for lunch than talk for longer than five minutes on the phone.
But she knows that about me and puts up with my long stretches of silence. And so, on this, the day after my BFF’s birthday, I just want to say loud and clear for all to hear:
Happy Birthday, Girlfriend. So thankful you are the Thelma to my Louise. (We can both rep Lucy–nobody wants to be Ethel Mertz.)