Ever have one of those curious friendships with someone where primary interaction – besides making dinner or bar-hopping plans – is ladled with trite insults and creative name-calling? I have just such a relationship with one of my closest friends, Pierce*, whom I’ve known for some 30 years. People who don’t know us very well often say Pierce and I sound like an old married couple and / or wonder how we could possibly be friends. The reactions of the unfamiliars is funny in and of itself.
For one thing, Pierce and I are devout movie buffs, each having studied filmmaking in college. He actually earned a B.A. in film and produced an extraordinary short film for his final thesis. Sadly, despite many years of hard work and “paying his dues” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean! – his dreams of building a career in the personally brutal and emotionally unstable film industry disintegrated faster than foreskin-laced pizza rolls at a bar mitzvah. Feeling somewhat dejected, Pierce returned to Dallas in 1996 and tried getting into the local film and TV business without any luck. He worked in the marketing field for a bit and now labors over a hot p.c. for a company that’s as equally brutal and emotionally unstable as any cinematic enterprise. But he also concentrates on his own personal screenplays. So, like me with my writing, he hasn’t abandoned his dreams altogether! Dreams, after all, keep you moving forward – especially if you’re trapped in an ergonomically-designed office chair alongside people whose ambitions usually mean just getting from one weekend to another without hurting a constituent or ending up homeless.
We’re both fans of one of the campiest films ever made, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the 1962 black and white classic was intended to be a psychological drama, but turned out to be a desperate attempt by two aging Hollywood film divas to remain relative in a rapidly-changing American culture. I place it in the same realm as “Barbarella” (1968) and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) – it’s so deliciously crass and gut-wrenchingly entertaining. All three of those movies are hysterically bad and wrong on so many artistic levels that present-day viewers have to wonder how the cast and crew of each production managed to stay focused enough to get through the madness every day. I’m certain surviving cast members are reluctant to admit their involvement, while remaining perplexed how such crap could metamorphose into cult classic status. Jane Fonda usually dismisses her title role in “Barbarella” as if she was kidnaped and drugged by communist sympathizers, before being hustled off to Europe; much the same way Linda Marchiano explained her oral escapades in “Deep Throat.”
But they’re just too good to pass up! I’ve watched them again and again for the same reason I used to watch the “Jerry Springer Show”: they’re brainlessly funny, and you just know that shit’s not real!
When I worked for a bank in downtown Dallas in the 1990s, there were two receptionists in the department whom no one really liked. One was perpetually constipated, while the other (I’m sure) waited anxiously for the day the “Mother Ship” returned. The cranky one elicited the most vile reactions from people, especially the women. I jokingly referred to them as “Blanche” and “Baby Jane”, after the main characters in the aforementioned movie. Soon, most everyone else in the department began doing the same. I never thought sweet little me would start such a trend!
But Pierce and I often jokingly refer to each other as “Blanche” and “Baby Jane.”
“I’m like Blanche,” he tells people, “the desperate, victimized and more intelligent sibling. He’s the tired, washed-up, alcoholic skank!”
“She may be a tired alcoholic,” I say, “but that bitch could belt out a tune like no one’s business!”
And so it goes. He’s always mocking my appearance, and I’m always making fun of his weight.
“Mexicans who come across the border in the middle of the night, hot, hungry, thirsty and covered with burrs don’t look as half as bad as you do by 5:00 on Fridays!” he once told me.
While standing on a second-story veranda at a bar outside of down Dallas during a Friday happy hour, Pierce asked me to take a photo of him for a dating web site. “Make me look thin,” he said.
“Oh, well then, let me drive over to Fort Worth (some 50 miles west),” I replied.
After a Friday dinner, we stepped into a curio shop where a display table overrun with stuffed animals sat in the back. Pierce found a critter that, when wound up, would bounce around to a musical piece. “Look!” he loudly announced to me. “This one’s like you! It does tricks!” Whereupon he burst into a maniacal bwah-ha-ha type laugh.
I picked up a dachshund replica perched on its hind legs. “And this one’s like you – it sits up and begs for it!”
Pierce and I attended the same parochial elementary school in Dallas and were altar boys at the accompanying church. We didn’t know each other back then, but he often would tell people that we were sent there together by our frustrated parents, calling it “Bad Boys Reform School”; where he barely passed with a D-, while I ended up in a sanitarium because of my pornographic writings that involved lesbian nuns and the Mexican mafia.
Over the years I’ve cobbled together a number of the barbs Pierce and I have slung at one another. On the surface, they may come off as a ‘Jokes for Beginning Comics’ cache. But I it all makes for the type of goofy friendship that’s often hard to explain to outsiders.
A classic scene from a classic camp fest.
Pierce: You’re so ugly, if you get lost in the woods, they just have to look for the vultures circling overhead.
The Chief: You’re so fat, if you get lost in the woods, they just have to follow the sounds of flatulence.
Pierce: You’re so ugly grocery stores ban you from the dairy aisle.
The Chief: You’re so fat all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets turn off the ‘Open’ sign when they see you drive up.
Pierce: You’re so ugly you scared Bigfoot.
The Chief: The last time you stepped on a scale, it said ‘Oh Jesus Christ!’
Pierce: You’re so ugly a group of kids saw you sunbathing on the beach and said, “Look! A dead octopus washed up!”
The Chief: You’re so fat, when you were last on the beach, Green Peace tried to drag you into the water.
Pierce: You’re so ugly your own hands won’t masturbate you.
The Chief: You’re so fat you need two office chairs – one for your mouth, the other for your ass.
Pierce: Your own mother denies she was there when you were born.
The Chief: How many times have you walked down the street and people ask, “Have you named the quintuplets yet?”
Pierce: You walked into a doctor’s office and they said, “The vet’s next door!”
The Chief: People look at you and say, “Global warming is worse than I thought! There goes Rhode Island!”
Pierce: People see you and say, “He must have gone through hell surviving that chemical plant fire.”
The Chief: When you visited the zoo, someone announced over the loud speaker: “We found the lost elephant seal!”
Pierce: When you took your dog to the vet, they tried to neuter YOU.
The Chief: When you ask for a seat belt extension on an airplane, they hand you a 20-foot rope.
Pierce: When you visited a plastic surgeon, they gave you a chain saw and some Super Glue®.
The Chief: Last time the Houston Ship Channel flooded, they paid you to do a cannonball into the west side of the floodwaters and force it all into the Gulf.
Pierce: You wanted to be an organ donor, and they said, “We don’t accept zombies.”
The Chief: Last time you asked someone to have sex, they said, “Great! An orgy!”
Pierce: When you made funeral plans to be cremated, the funeral home offered you a fruit jar and a box of matches.
The Chief: Instead of a coffin, the funeral home offered you a piano case.
Pierce: You’re so fair-skinned you can’t go shirtless in the gym because people will think they’ve gone blind.
The Chief: Skin from your fat reduction surgery helped 1,000 burn victims.
Pierce: You accidentally fell into the recycle bin, and the city didn’t realize it until after they’d dragged your ass all the way to the dump.
The Chief: When you told some contractors your house had foundation problems, they said, “Move into a concrete bunker.”
Pierce: Every time you walk into a new gym, trainers say, “I don’t deal with abortion refuse.”
The Chief: Jenny Craig took one look at you and said, “Well, you win some; you lose some.”
One of my favorite scenes in “Barbarella” – the title character meets the “Black Queen” (Anita Pallenberg):