It was early February and I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. My friend and co-hort, Angela, had sent me a simply stated text: “Stopped at a light by a White Castle. Sign says they’re taking Valentine’s reservations.”
She has a way about her, that one.
She also has another friend whom she tells me about once in a while. I don’t quite remember, I think her name is Charlie or Rocky or…wait. It’s Phoebe. That’s right. Angela insists upon sharing stories about this woman with me, mostly because we like to note the extreme plausibility of an alter-ego existing. A bedazzling one, to be certain.
Since Angela and I are good friends, obvious line-quoters, and do everything in good taste, we immediately agreed to crown Phoebe’s alter ego, “Regina Phalange.” In reality, however, when surrounded by the typical commoner, her majesty regularly goes by “Pheebs” for short. Not that she’s short, mind you, but there’s something intimate about calling someone by a name other than their first one. And we like Pheebs.
We like her because she is messy. Not unkempt Zul seeks the Keymaster messy; experience messy. Apparently, she’s been through a lot of crap in her life – of the usual and unusual variety alike – and remembers all of it. Hell, she can even remember to turn the stove off in twenty minutes.
Not only do I sit Indian-style with my hands clasped the moment Angela dials my extension and starts the conversation with, “You will LOVE this one,” I also cringe in anticipation, waiting to hear about Pheebs’ latest stalker-de-jour. No matter how jacked up the story unfolds, I always end up channeling an incurable strain of sorority-cheerleader harpy. I want to both laugh in Pheebs’ face and befriend her all in one fell swoop. But mostly, I just want answers to questions. There will be so many!
“He was how old? What was she gonna wear, leotards, two-tanks, stilettos, and gold bangle bracelets adorning her entire radius and ulna? Good god, like she even knows how to crack gum anymore.”
“She seriously threw a right hook when he wouldn’t leave her alone? Like, Fight Club punch? Good thing she can run fast.”
The stories, while endless and requiring no caption of “You cannot make this [email protected]!# up,” are wearisome. They’ve quickly become exhausting to both Angela and me, so I can only imagine how Pheebs sometimes feels about all the feculence.
Lately and admittedly, I’ve been letting Angela go into voicemail, even if I’m in the office when she calls. Her delivery is more monotone, the stories more hackneyed, and my patience for platitudes has only ever been rivaled by one person.
“Really, that jerk face tried to impress her by talking about his Rolex, his place in Aspen, and the slew of Swiss models and vehicles he stores in his checkerboard floor-lined museum of a garage? You and I both know she couldn’t care less about money, and that loser can’t tell time, ski, do it, or drive, so c’mon! Tell me what Pheebs did next!”
“She didn’t do anything, didn’t say a word. She was just deathly silent when I asked her about the whole thing. And that’s when I knew she meant it.”
Pheebs giving up is like Moses devouring that pork chop he’s holding in his hairy palm.
Yet the elephant-like irony which Angela and I were grappling over was this: don’t you have to try to accomplish something first, before actually waving the white flag? Pheebs hadn’t given up, because she hadn’t been trying. She’d been avoiding, ignoring, and once in a while appeasing just to keep her relentless friends off her back.
Why did she or anyone else have to adhere to some absurd societal standard anyway? Her jerk friends know full well she doesn’t need some dude for any of the reasons those broke, wrinkly, perma-smile, sequin-wearing bamboozlers on the prowl at Chop’s need dudes. Those Midwest floozies are the ones hanging on to every manther’s word which you know they can’t hear over everyone else’s fake laughter anyway. They make total spectacles of themselves by tossing their fried hair back until an innocent, twirled up finger involuntarily catapults their head right back into place. Or, conveniently, right smack dab into Richard Rich Sr.’s lap. Hook. Line. Something.
Not to mention, one super-duper jaded Pheebs.
Yet, she had gotten to a place where she was totally fine with her new normal. And I had selfishly accepted that no more jacked up stories would be coming my way, and Angela and I would be relegated to discussing only real business.
Enter the cliché.
“You will LOVE this one.”
“Nope, I can’t take hearing about it so what else you got?”
“Seriously, this is different. She wasn’t looking. It was this whole thing, totally on the up and up, she met him, he was kind of aloof so you know…she was immediately intrigued.”
“Whatever, we know how this story ends.”
I was in no mood to hear about how someone I thought I respected had relented. How she was now two-timing her druthers in favor of some guy she met when she wasn’t looking. Hey Nicole Kidman, I don’t give a flying you-know-what if he is Tom Cruise. Open your eyes. You have 8-ish inches on him.
“Fine, I give, what’d she say?”
“Mostly it’s what she didn’t say. I could tell by the embarrassingly annoying giggle-thing as she was trying to tell me. I guess it’s easy and …
“Wait,” I interrupt. “Can he keep up with her in ways that matter?”
“I asked her the exact same thing, because you and I both know what happens when they either can’t or refuse to try.”
“She told me begrudgingly, that was a rhetorical question. Apparently, he isn’t one bit off-put by her sometimes smarts, mostly because he is smarter; but you and I also know hell will freeze over before she ever admits it to him.”
“Uh-oh. She never says any of that.”
“I know. And there was more, something along the lines of wanting to be with him when she wasn’t, thinking about him way more than she ever anticipated, kicking his ass at all-things Milton Bradley, haiku-writing, running, and a bunch of other Hot Pockety gooey kinda stuff that made me want to puke.”
“Yikes, Pheebs is in trouble,” I say to Angela.
And we both just hung up. Nothing else needed to be said.