Lucy and Ethel. Lavergne and Shirley. Kevin and Pelka. It doesn't surprise me that I didn't end up with a best friend named Tammy Sue. Or Butch.
Named after a pelican in a Russian movie, Pelka's a waif-like, green-eyed blonde with way too much Euro-chic for her own good. She sings Elvis when she's stressed, country when she's sad, owns several pairs of kick-ass cowboy boots, and sizzles in a red mini-suit.
We met when we were students at Vanderbilt, where we used to ponder the important issues of life together.
Like, if you sleep with a priest, when he says "Oh, God," how do you know if he's talking to you?
Or, how do you deal with an annoying sorority girl? Super glue in the lip gloss, of course.
Or, do men or don't men like the feel of teeth during oral sex? She still thinks they like that smooth molar feel. I still vote "Ouch!"
In our first serious talk, at a revolving bar atop a Nashville skyscraper, I listened to her provincial views on homosexuality. Then I nearly screamed at her for an hour, imparting my own more enlightened views, which at age 20 were still pretty primitive. But she sat through it, listening and learning, and I respected her for that.
We grew closer from then on. I liked her sense of humor, which was as twisted as mine. She was definitely an original. She was also a frightened, lonely girl behind an intentionally wild exterior. As frightened, at the time, as I was behind my cultivated aloofness.
I'll never forget the first time she said, "Here. Catch." I caught the strange object and said, "What's this?" "My diaphragm," she replied. Sometimes there was more information than I needed.
If we were bored, we'd go to Nashville's Heart Throb Cafe. She knew how to terrorize men, with just the right combination of helpless little girl and quietly stalking nympho. Sometimes we'd go to the gay disco, which often had stripper shows. When the announcer would say, "How would you like to wake up next to this man," Pelka was always up front screaming, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
After college, when she went to New York while I went to law school, we'd occasionally terrorize my current beau. We'd call on a conference call and say, "We have and announcement to make." Pause. "Kevin's pregnant." My boyfriends were not always amused.
On Wall Street, Pelka fought sexism in her own way. If a client said, "Thank you, Sweetheart," she'd reply, "You're welcome, Cupcake." She even came up with an acronym for a new product: Steer. Which, she gleefully pointed out, is what's left of a bull after his ambition's been snipped.
Pelka's grandmother is her only family, so when she gets serious with a guy, I double as prospective mother-in-law, Inquisitor, and, if need be, Executi oner. My favorite part is "the chat." The measured, soft, "You seem like a nice guy." Pause. "But if you ever hurt her, keep in mind that hell hath no fury like a pissed-off queer." The momentary straight-boy fear, the glimpse into the abyss, is priceless.
With relationships come and gone, Pelka and I sometimes wonder if either of us will ever marry. I wonder how any mere man would survive with her. Or how any man would ever understand her twisted sense of humor. I think she wonders the same things about me.
But we have a contingency plan. Since we both love Paris, we've agreed that if neither of us marries, we'll buy a house beside the River Seine, where we can laugh quietly old together. I'll tell her when her new haircut has more feathers than Big Bird, and when I'm moody she'll throw the back of her hand to her forehead and cry, "Oh, woe is me! Woe is me!" Which, much to my annoyance, always makes me smile.
Someday maybe one of us will be able to answer that sex-with-a-priest question. I suspect I'll get there first.
Either way, it doesn't really matter. Because with a bosom buddy, the answer doesn't matter so much. The fun part is asking the question together.