“Don’t be content with being average. Average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top.” — author unknown
Sober as a sow, my friend Mary is convinced that taking a sip of wine or slow dancing in public not only makes her splotchy, but it’s a surefire shortcut to Hell.
“If I did that, I’d be eternally doomed,” she says, emphasizing the doomed part.
Mary is a woman who prefers Emily Dickinson to Sylvia Plath, Law and Order to Sex and the City and tap water to Dom Perignon. Go figure.
“Mary,” I tell her, “if your plans don’t include becoming the Anal Retentive Poster Girl, then you might want to lighten up.”
Before I’m done admonishing her, she is shaking her head back and forth. Her face is redder than an over-ripe summer tomato.
“You just better hush up right now, you hear me? I can’t abide that kid of talk.” Then she adds, “And neither can Jesus.”
Mary thinks anal is a four-letter word. I often wonder if she has morphed into my mother right before my eyes.
“I’m not gonna hush, Mary, because I’m worried about you. You’re way too uptight and it’s unhealthy. You really need to chill, girl.”
She tosses her white as grits long hair, cut in a style much too youthful for a woman past her prime. “For your information, my doctor says I am in perfect health.”
“Who is he? Dr. Doolittle?”
She is unhappy with me (and not for the first time) for daring to confront her with a real-life issue, so before I can pull myself up on my high horse again, she changes the subject and I let it go for the time being, knowing full well that one of these days ...
Three weeks sail by before Mary decides not to be mad at me any more and calls to make a lunch date.
She is chronically late, but I long ago learned to deal with that by arriving late myself. If, by some small miracle, she should arrive at the appointed time and is sitting there waiting for me, then I hope I have enough strength left in my body to dial 911. Babe says Mary keeps a running list of excuses she can pull out and use at will. He may be right.
True to form, I arrive fifteen minutes late and she still does not show up on time. Eventually, I see her as she bolts out of her car and races into the restaurant. Before scanning the crowded room, she glances at the clock as if to confirm that she has indeed kept me waiting again. Her sly smile does not escape my notice.
She pauses in the doorway, stretches her long neck and pretends to search for me over the heads of screaming kids throwing chicken fingers, and seniors sipping twenty-five-cent coffee.
What looks to me like a local construction crew waits just outside the opened door behind Mary, who is blocking their entry. The men are sweating like pack mules in the 95 degree heat and humidity, their patience spiralling downward with every drop of perspiration. From time to time, they make X-rated remarks that drift over to where I am seated.
Oddly enough, Mary neither blushes nor takes umbrage at the swear words, as I might have expected. Nor does she does she pull out her well-worn Bible and talk about Jesus. She wheels around and starts cussing out the overweight roofer who told her to move her well developed tush so he and his friends can get back to shagging shingles.
Mary lifts her chin, looks him straight in the eye, and then calmly flips him off. She shoots him a bird right there in front of God and everybody. And then, pretty as you please, she tosses her hair like a teenager and glides over to me like she’s on roller blades.
“Mary?” I stammer. “Is that you?”
She quits batting her over-mascared eyes long enough to let out a throaty giggle. “Don’t be absurd, dahlin’. If I were Mary, I’d be preaching the gospel to that Neanderthal over there.”
I am speechless.
“I don’t believe you’ve had the ples-yah of meeting me,” she drawls while stretching out a hand with fingernails longer than a pregnant pause. “So glad you were able to snag us a table. Sweet. By the way, my name is Alzenia.”
Snagged us a table? We are not dining at The Ritz. We are in McDonald’s, where apparently Mary slash Alzenia is now a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
“What have you done to yourself, Mary?” It’s darn near impossible for me to get past the extra makeup she’s wearing, but I have got to know.
Breezing by me without even pretending to hear my question, she heads straight over to a table solely occupied by a handsome, middle-aged man. She fluffs her hair and gives the astonished fellow a broad smile. “It’s evah so hot outside, Big Boy, and I’m litrilly dyin’ of thurst. You wouldn’t mind giving a girl a teensy weensy sip of yo’ Co-cola, would you? I just hate it when I have to stand in line.”
Like a mesmerized fly about to go splat into the windshield of an oncoming semi, he picks up his drink and hands it over. “Take all you want,” he says in a breathy voice. “In fact, take it all. I don’t need it.”
She snatches up his drink, blows him a kiss, whirls around and saunters over to where I'm standing in line wishing McDonald’s had a liquor license. I pretend that I have never seen her before in my life.
Her lips are painted the color of Gallo Hearty Burgundy and she has no less than four coats of Maybelline on her lashes, which she bats at me as if I'm George Clooney.
I can ignore her for only so long. “What on God’s green earth have you done to yourself, Mary?”
“Nuh Uh. Mustn’t call me Mary, dahlin’. I told you awlready. My name is Alzenia but you can call me Zennie. All my close friends do.”
“Well then, perhaps you won’t mind telling me where my close friend is. You must know her. She’s the one whose name happens to be Mary and whose body you have obviously snatched. What have you done with her? You give her back right this minute, do you hear me?”
Alzenia yawns, pulls her long arms up in the air and stretches like a cat. “Oooh, body snatching. Now wouldn’t that have been worthwhile to write about in my journal. But I’m afraid the reason I’m heah is a tad less exciting, deah heart. You see, Mary was being particularly pious this maw-nin’ so I made her stay home. Sister Mary can be so capital “B” boring, can she not?”
A Styrofoam voice cuts through my escalating concern.
“Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?” I look over to this Mary slash Alzenia slash Zennie person, this woman who only slightly resembles my friend underneath the Mae West veneer. “We should order,” I say. “What do you want to eat?”
She pushes me aside, leans over the counter close to the cash register and flashes a set of molars that could light up a football stadium. Obviously, she's bleached her teeth way beyond the Chicklet stage.
“Hey, Maria,” she says to the Hispanic server after studying her name badge for a long minute. “How about you go over there and tell that big hunk of a chef to fix me up with a triple Mac. Oh, and you can fix me an Amaretto shake while he’s at it.”
Her smile widens.
I am now totally convinced that my friend has either been smoking something illegal or tooting something even more illegal.
Maria’s mouth opens and a computerized voice says, “Shake flavors are chocolate and vanilla.”
“Well, dang it awl,” Alzenia whines before glaring at me as though it’s my fault.
Glancing back only once, she strides like Zenyatta to the door while announcing to everyone in the crowded room, “We are soooo outta here. Come, come, come, Dahlin’!”
I stare at her retreating back and stall for only a moment before following behind her. I don’t know where on this small island the woman will ever find an Amaretto Shake, but I'm willing to bet Babe’s pension that she’s gonna, and I want to be there when she does.