The Friendship Files.  By A.K.A. Darla

The Friendship Files. By A.K.A. Darla

. 29 min read

As we gear up for another presidential campaign, one PrimeCrush writer visits the ghosts of election years past, with hope for a peaceful future.

And just like that, another election season is upon us. Time sure flies when you’ve been emotionally navigating a global pandemic, a gruesome insurrection, two presidential impeachments, devastating wildfires, and the death of Logan Roy.  Reviewing the list of 2024 presidential hopefuls, it’s officially time to prepare ourselves for a barrage of TV, radio, internet, and social media campaign ads that will seemingly come more often than Stormy Daniels. 

If you’re like me, you’re still in the throes of a PTSD that is attributed to rabid family members who spent all of 2020 berating our political choices and telling us what bad people we are. Fortunately, we are highly adaptable humans whose resilience has, somehow, enabled us to survive the wrath of our kin. Our resentment, however, lingers on.

This time around, I will make my best effort to be more level-headed. I will arrive at family functions armed with alcohol and my best coping skills, and I will vow to ignore the political baiting long enough to make it through coffee and dessert. I have fully accepted the fact that I did not choose my bloodline, and I have made peace with the reality that I have been removed from the Christmas card lists of Florida relatives.

Family will always disappoint.  I have come to expect it.  But one particular disappointment that is especially hurtful is the disappointment that some of my close,  lifelong friends do not share my political views. This was totally unexpected. I mean, it truly knocked me on my ass. If it is true that we forge friendships with like-minded people, how is it that we are so different when it comes to politics?  After all, it was not by blood that we became sisters, but by choice.  

Just what do you do when you discover that your “ride or die” of the last thirty years is riding shotgun with someone else? It seems the situation would have been far less complicated had they joined a real cult, as all I’d have to do is arrange for a covert rescue mission via airlift in the dead of night. Instead – assuming this time around will be anything like the 2020 campaign – I will turn a blind eye to some of my friends' mean-spirited social media posts and hope for an open mind and a loving heart in order to salvage what is left of those frayed friendships. 

No one can argue that socializing with besties doesn’t pack the same punch when one is walking on eggshells because certain subjects are suddenly off the table.  How is it that these are the same women with whom, over the decades, I consulted on the most intimate subject matter such as losing my virginity, optimum tampon insertion methods, how much spermicide goes into a diaphragm, pregnancy, childbirth, afterbirth, miscarriage, marriage, divorce, menopause, colonoscopy, etc., and yet “mail-in” (ballot) has suddenly become a dirty word?

When I was in the worst days of divorce, a very wise mediator who was counseling me and my ex-husband-to-be said, “Now is the time to think about the things that brought you together. You’ll need to call upon those things to get through this.”  Full of rage and embittered by betrayal, I ignored his words, certain he was paying lip service to some chapter he read decades ago in a Sociology 101 class. In hindsight, the mediator was right.  So, in the spirit of “better late than never,” I’ll apply his advice to those friendships left hanging by a thread as a result of the last election, and think back – in some cases, way back – on those things that brought us together. Was it that day in kindergarten when we both reached for the same burnt sienna crayon that no one but us wanted? Or was it the way I purposely made you laugh out loud when we were to be silent during our First Holy Communion practice? Perhaps it was because you and I were the only ones who loved the color your hair turned out that summer of the 8th grade when you intentionally poured a bottle of peroxide over your head. Or could it have been because I wouldn’t rat you out when our high school principal asked me for the names of all the girls who were smoking outside her window? Maybe it was that awful night I became defeated by my divorce and you took care of my baby even though you had your own babies to care for. And who could ever forget how, at my father’s funeral, you cursed out my step-mother because she was always such a bitch?

Sisterhood is powerful. So as the games begin let’s recall the words of famous sister, Anne Bronte: “The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than any one can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking.”

I Wanna Hold Your Hand by  A.K.A. Darla

We’ve all received that phone call.  A friend on the other end asks, “Can you do me a favor?”  In a fraction of a second, you anticipate a list of possible requests such as:

  1. Can you give me a ride to the airport?
  2. Can you watch my dog while I go out of town? 

And the dreaded…

  1. Can you lend me some money?

It was not at all unusual for Lorraine to ask a favor. Friends and partners in crime since we were five-years-old, we’ve called upon each other countless times. But as the saying goes, “timing is everything” and at the time of Lorraine’s call I happened to be knee-deep in my own life crisis: a disastrous real estate purchase – coupled with the breakup with the very person with whom I purchased the property –  had me physically, emotionally, and financially drained. So, as I waited to hear Lorraine’s request, I held my breath.

“I could really use some hand-holding.”  Whew! That was easy. I quietly exhaled and answered, “Sure.”  Then, Lorraine elaborated.  “There’s something on my mammogram.  Would you come with me to the oncologist?”

Though I could not find my words, somehow, I squeaked out, “yes.”  As Lorraine went into detail, my eyes roamed to a photo that mingled with my other treasured photos atop my piano.  In it, Lorraine and I are holding hands outside of school on our last day of Kindergarten, grinning ear-to-ear.  Though decades have passed, husbands are gone, and children are grown, in my mind’s eye, I still picture me and Lorraine this way. 

As Lorraine and I sat in the doctor’s office with hands entwined, we listened to her prognosis. Lorraine’s road would be a difficult one.  Later at lunch, we discussed what needed to be done: we would have to deliver the news to her three daughters; one living on another continent, one at a college on the opposite end of the country, and one local. Then we would have to tell her husband, though neither Lorraine or I had spoken to him since their divorce the previous year. Then we’d have to devise a way to keep her business running while we navigated her treatment plan and dealt with everyday life in general. 

With Lorraine about to undergo a double mastectomy, her daughters rallied.  The girls and I took turns with the six cycles of chemotherapy, three weeks apart. Throughout, Lorraine was stoic. In time, her treatment came to an end. Then, just as she eased back into her work and the girls went back to their lives, Lorraine was hospitalized with a serious infection.  She begged me not to tell the girls.  I explained to her that keeping this secret was a favor I could not grant.  We argued.  She insisted.  I stood my ground and refused, though it pained me greatly to deny her this request knowing the gravity of her condition. Lorraine’s concern was that her daughters would neglect their own lives in order to care for her. I promised Lorraine that I would not let that happen.  

When Lorraine was released from the hospital, I pitched in to tend to her daily needs. She grew stronger with each passing day and, at long last, life was moving along as it had before. I returned my attention to my own crisis which, after having Lorraine’s situation to lend some perspective, I now considered to be nothing more than a nerve-wracking nuisance. 

The time came for Lorraine to see the oncologist for her first major follow up and, once again, I’d be there to hold her hand. The night before her appointment, in the pitch black of 3 AM, my phone rang.  It was Lorraine, sobbing and heaving so hard that I could barely decipher her words. Finally, she got it out.  “Am I going to die?”

“What’s wrong, Lorraine?  Do you feel sick?  Did something happen?”

“I’m afraid.  I don’t want to leave my girls now. They need me. I’m afraid the doctor is going to tell us the worst news possible.” 

“Do you want me to come over?”

“No,” she answered.  “I’m just scared.”

“I can come over right now.”

“I’ll be okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t imagine what Lorraine was feeling that night as she faced her mortality alone in the dark. Unable to sleep, I got up to make a cup of tea.  Waiting for the water to boil, I sat at the piano and tinkered a bit, then looked up to see that decades-old photo of us.  Studying our innocent, smiling faces, who could have ever predicted the joy and pain and possibility that was before us? And suddenly it occurred to me just how very blessed we were that the universe saw to it that we found each other.

I didn’t get much sleep that night.  Neither did Lorraine.  That morning, I picked her up at her apartment, as scheduled.  Before leaving for the doctor’s office, I sneaked into her bedroom and set the photo of us on her bedside table. I hoped it would bring her a bit of comfort on those desperate nights. Perhaps it would even make her laugh. Or simply smile. But most of all, I hoped that in her darkest hour she would know that I am there to hold her hand, until she’s ready to let go.

The Goomada Diaries by A.K.A. Darla 

I knew her well. The Goomada.  Goomah.  Comare.  Mistress. The other woman. The side chick, the side piece, and my favorite– “inamorata.”

Back in the good old 80s, when my two roommates and I were ambitious twenty-somethings busy building our careers, my sweet, smart, and savvy roommate, Roz, did something not so smart; she fell in love with a married man. It all started when Roz was a student at a famed New York culinary school and met Johnny – a tall, dark, handsome, and wildly charismatic man, ten years her senior.  A retired commercial airline pilot, Johnny came in search of his second career. Despite his good looks, Roz regarded him as an “older man” and ignored his frequent flirtations.  Besides, she was a serious culinary student who was determined to not let anything distract her from making it big in the restaurant business.  So just how did she go from gourmand to goomada?  “He wore me down,” Roz admitted, “he just wore me down.”

The program at the institute was rigorous and left little time for dating or socializing, so Roz looked forward to joining her classmates for a drink at the end of their day. Johnny always made a point to sit near Roz, flirting, seducing, and flattering her, while he entertained the group with wild stories of his previous life flying planes and what it’s like being married to a fashion model. He was the kind of guy people wanted to be around and, before long, Roz wanted to be around him, too.

One Friday night after class, Johnny escorted Roz home and confessed that he thought about her every waking moment. Roz did not reveal her strong attraction toward him and told him she did not date married men. Johnny persisted, doing his best to convince Roz that they could enjoy a mutually advantageous relationship. “Think about it,” he said. “The next two years are gonna be wild for us.  We can make it ever wilder.”

The next night, Roz was home alone when the buzzer rang.  “It’s Johnny,” the voice said through the intercom. Roz opened the door to find Johnny holding a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue (“Because,” he said, “this Johnny is blue without you.”). Roz let him in (despite that dopey line) and, two scotch and sodas later, her goomada game was on.

Before long, Roz shared her secret to us. Though I was concerned for her I wished her well, while Jessie, our yoga teacher roommate, gave Roz a stern warning about the power of Karma. But Roz was in it too deep to care. Besides, she was a modern woman with no time to devote to a committed relationship and was perfectly content with a few hours a week of a little stimulating conversation and a lot of great sex.  And she especially looked forward to those bonus weekends when Johnny’s wife had a photo shoot far from home. It was those times that Johnny would whisk Roz away to somewhere no one knew them, and they could pretend to be a real couple for a while.

Christmas came and Roz spent the day with her family.  Johnny, of course, spent the day with his. Hoping to hear from him, Roz repeatedly checked her answering machine but there was no word. There was no word the next day, either. Or the day after that. Roz spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day going from sad to mad to sad again, growing more emotional with each day that passed without a call from Johnny.  Suddenly, her reality became clear: she and Johnny may enjoy their stolen moments, but they will never, ever enjoy the holidays together. And so, when classes resumed after the holiday break, Roz found the strength to break it off with Johnny. I was proud of my friend but that pride didn’t last long. Before the week was out, Johnny charmed himself back into Roz’s life, and she welcomed him with open legs. 

After two years of intense study, Roz graduated. An extravagant dinner party followed, and I was flattered that Roz brought me as her guest on one of the most important nights of her life. Johnny, as you would imagine, brought his wife. Seeing Johnny for the first time, I understood how it was easy for Roz to fall for him. Seeing his wife was another story. Tall and angular, she floated into the room looking as if she just slid off the cover of Vogue. She appeared chilly and unapproachable; the opposite of Roz in every way.

Johnny had the good sense to sit on opposite ends of the table from me and Roz. Every so often I’d catch a glimpse of him and the Mrs. and I wanted to get up and crack him in the head with an ice bucket. I could only imagine how difficult it was for Roz. I did my best to keep Roz distracted and her wine glass full.  Then, just before dessert, Roz got up to go to the ladies’ room. As my eyes went back to Johnny, I saw Mrs. Johnny rise from her chair and follow behind Roz. I sprung up and fought my way through a tsunami of waiters, bus boys, sommeliers, guests, and rolling tables of desserts. As I opened the bathroom door, I could hear the unmistakable sound of vomiting. Had I pumped Roz with too much wine?  Or was it just Mrs. Johnny barfing up her dinner in order to maintain her skin-and-bones silhouette? 

When Roz exited her stall, I gave her the sign to be quiet and motioned toward Mrs. Johnny’s stall.  More vomiting.  I washed my hands as Roz fumbled with her lipstick, her hands shaking. The door to the stall opened and Mrs. Johnny emerged, looking not quite as Vogue-ish as she did earlier. She found a spot at the sink, groaned, and began washing her face.

“Are you okay?” asked Roz the Brave.

“I’m fine,” said the Mrs.  “I’m just pregnant.”

I was certain Roz would pass out.

“Congratulations!” I said, feigning excitement.

“Congratulations,” Roz echoed.

“Thanks, girls. But not a word. I’m not telling my husband ‘til the morning. I want tonight to be all about him.”

And at that moment, there were four of us standing in that ladies’ room; me, Roz, the Mrs., and a little lady called Karma, there to remind Roz that she may be a tasty side dish but she’ll never, ever be the main course.

For the next few weeks, Johnny phoned, sent flowers, and even spent a good part of one night calling Roz’s name from the street below our third floor window.  Roz closed the window on Johnny and we drank the last of his scotch, wishing his goomada a fond farewell.

Anatomy Of An Auntie. By A.K.A. Darla

Aunts can be the coolest mentors and the best of friends. Here’s one PrimeCrush writer’s story of hers.

Aunties are special. They are a perfect blend of a nurturing mother and a drunken bestie. They’re someone who will keep the secrets you can’t tell your mom, and keep you on track with some sound advice.

Being the first child born to my family, I am the oldest cousin. I am also an only child. Though my birth order had its advantages, it left me without an older contemporary to model and so, my mother‘s youngest sister, my aunt Palma, became my unlikely mentor. Oh, how the six-year-old me loved tagging along to a diner with Palma for iced tea and an English muffin when she was meeting her cousin, Janie, for an afternoon of girl talk. Unlike my mother, Palma would let me pour sugar into my tea and allowed me to stir it myself! And there, in that very diner, she taught me to properly squeeze a lemon wedge by taking it into my tiny right hand and cupping my tiny left hand over it before carefully squeezing the juice into my glass. Time would fly by as I sipped the forbidden sweetened tea and listened to the cousins recount their latest dating adventures. Every so often they would spell out a word and, though I could not decipher it, I knew they were discussing something naughty.

When I ran away from home (for one night) after my high school principal discovered I was in a group of freshman girls who’d been playing hooky once a week, Palma let me sleep in her apartment so I didn’t have to be home when my parents received the dreaded call from my school. Though she denies it, to this day I’m convinced she tipped-off my parents to my whereabouts.

Two years later, I decided it was time for birth control. When the clinic required my home address, Palma allowed me to use hers as my own so as not to create a paper trail that would find its way to my mother. When I stopped by her apartment after the clinic, she shared one of her Kool brand cigarettes with me, warning that they were too strong for a sixteen-year-old girl and, if I was going to smoke regularly, I should probably switch to Newports.

When my grandmother sold the family luncheonette, Palma took a job as a “barmaid” at a haunt in our Greenwich Village neighborhood. A statuesque woman with pale skin, green eyes, and flaming red hair, Palma looked like no one else in our southern Italian-American family, but her appearance and personality made her perfectly suited for her job. Her ten-hour shift began at 6:00 p.m., but getting dressed was an art form that began two hours prior. After arranging a stack of Lesley Gore albums on the living room turntable, Palma would enter the bathroom as I followed behind. Closing the lid on the toilet, she created a front-row seat from which I watched her perform a ritual that would transform her from an ordinary aunt to a 1960s icon. Each and every time, I was riveted.

Palma slid open the left side of her mirrored medicine cabinet to reveal her cache of beauty products: a cylinder of Max Factor Pan Stick foundation, brown Maybelline eyebrow pencil, a black liquid eyeliner, a pair of false eyelashes, a white tube of eyelash glue, two tubes of Coty lipstick (one in “Quiet Flame,” one in “Hanky Panky”), a rattail comb, a three-inch by four-inch cardboard with bobby pins hugging two sides, and a can of White Rain hairspray. As soon as Palma lit a Kool, took a drag, released some smoke through her nostrils, and laid the cigarette across the porcelain toothbrush holder that was built into the tile above the bathroom sink, it was officially show time.

Gazing into the closed side of the mirrored cabinet, Palma would turn her head from left to right, before reaching for the cylinder of the pan-stick foundation. After removing the cover, she’d twist up the product and swipe it across her forehead, down her nose, under her eyes, across her cheeks, chin, and eyelids, and finally over her lips. Then, with her fingers, she’d massage it all in, producing a flawless alabaster finish. Between the application of each cosmetic product, Palma would take another drag of her cigarette, return it to its perch on the toothbrush holder, then sing along with Lesley Gore. When eyebrows, eyeliner, and false eyelashes were complete, she would take a final drag on the cigarette, turn on the faucet, and douse the butt in the water stream before tossing it in the tiny trash can under the sink. After taking another left to right turn of the head with eyes on the mirror, Palma lit her second cigarette and began act two: the beehive hairdo. This intricate arrangement of hair sat twelve inches above her hairline, and was achieved with nothing but a rat tail comb and a dozen bobby pins that I had the honor of holding in my lap to hand over, one by one, as needed.

Bending at the waist, Palma would tease every single strand of her hair. When she stood up with the ends of her hair pointing to the heavens, she’d take another drag on her cigarette, set it down once again, then begin forming small sections of the beehive with the tail of the comb before smoothing it into place with the teeth of the comb. Once a section was held in place, she’d open her hand for me to pass her a bobby pin. I never missed a beat. Palma would bring the bobby pin to her lips and separate the tiny tines with her teeth before securing it somewhere deep inside the do. When the last pin was in place, Palma would take another drag on her cigarette, this time leaving it to dangle between her lips. Next, she’d remove the cap from the can of White Rain and spray the hive like she was killing wasps. It was a masterpiece. It was indestructible. Had she fallen head first from atop the Empire State Building and broken every bone in her body, her skull would have remained intact.

Palma removed the cigarette from her mouth and doused it in the same way she did the first one. Then, depending on her mood, she’d apply either the “Hanky Panky” or the “Quiet Flame” lipstick. Whichever shade she chose, she’d dab a hint of the “Quiet Flame” onto her cheeks to create a blush. For her final act, Palma would ask me to tear off one square of toilet paper. She’d take the square, place it between her lips, blot gently, then toss the square into the trash atop the two soggy cigarette butts. For me, this signaled that Palma would soon be dressed and off into the night, laughing and serving cocktails to grownups in a magical place where children were not permitted. I would have given anything to go with her.

Years passed. Palma moved to Florida and always looked forward to her visits back to New York. One visit she did not look forward to was to attend the wake of my mother, her big sister, the woman she had looked up to.

Standing before my mother’s coffin, I felt someone sidle up to me. It was Palma. Overcome with grief, she could no longer stand and fell against me. The colorful, larger-than-life woman I had leaned on for so long was now leaning on me and somehow, filled with my own sorrow, I had to find the strength to hold her up. It was the least I could do.


In this month’s installment—“SHIMRIT: A May-December Friendship”—our series’ author shares a personal story of her own.

Every so often, I encounter a woman with whom I immediately connect. The conversation is easy yet electric, the laughs are frequent, and before going our separate ways, phone numbers are exchanged. These encounters, few and far between, always surprise and delight me, but one particular meeting held an element of magic.

Just before turning fifty, I decided to explore a new occupation in the field of music therapy. I enrolled in one of the few educational institutions that offered the program and showed up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my first class in decades: Introduction to Music Therapy.

Our instructor asked each class member to choose one of the many instruments available for us to play. The point of the exercise was for a classroom full of strangers to exchange musical ideas and play in concert. Minutes into this exercise, we were indeed making music as a unit. Just when we were in full swing, a young woman entered the classroom. She approached the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk, and repeatedly drew massive, concentric circles. The rise and fall of the chalk swooshing against the blackboard sounded like a combination of a snare drum and a rain stick playing in time to our instruments. I was intrigued by this woman’s brave and creative musical choice and was curious to know more about her.

The following week I stopped at a coffee house before our next class. I looked up from my cup to see the young woman walking toward my table. She pulled out a chair, sat next to me, and said, “So what do you think of our instructor?”

“I like him,” I answered.
“Me too. No boo-sheet.”

I could not identify the accent that caused her to pronounce the word “bullshit” in this way. In the years to follow, she would use the word often and her mispronunciation tickled me every time. I came to learn that the accent was Israeli and my new friend was Shimrit Shoshan, an up-and-coming pianist in her third year of the university’s Jazz program.

Shimrit invited me to one of her gigs. Her style was exciting, impressive, moving, intelligent, and inventive. When the bottom half of her keyboard stopped working just minutes into her performance, it did not inhibit her from playing three sets of marvelous music. At some point in the show, she introduced me to the audience as her “U.S. mother.” Until that moment, I hadn't given any real thought to our age chasm. I began wondering just what we two had in common. It was more than the music. Though Shimrit was half my age, we deeply connected somehow, and I was certain I had known this very old soul before.

After the gig, we walked to her boyfriend’s apartment, with Shimrit cradling her broken keyboard as if it were an injured child. She trusted me with her secrets and told me of her wish to have a life together with her well-known musician boyfriend and her deep desire to have a child with him. She was working hard to become a respected musician in her own right, with no link to her boyfriend’s successful career. She ached to spend more time with him, but he was committed to his music and his life on the road.

Another of Shimrit’s gifts was her way with children. When she became my daughter’s piano teacher, I looked forward to their lesson days when they would fill the apartment with their jazz repertoire. When my daughter would complain to Shimrit that a piece was beyond her ability, Shimrit would reply, “That’s boo-sheet,” and masterfully guide her through the tune. Excited to witness my daughter’s musical growth, I asked her what she liked about studying with Shimrit. “I like that she curses,” she quipped.

One day, Shimrit phoned me from Paris to say she was stuck in traffic on a taxi ride from her hotel to her gig. In the middle of our conversation, she screamed. Shimrit had looked out the taxi window to see her face and name emblazoned on a billboard, advertising the very gig she was running late for. It was at that moment Shimrit realized she had arrived, and I realized that I was sitting as a passenger in the sidecar of her joyous journey.

On an August evening in 2012, Shimrit called again. This time from New York. She wasn’t feeling well. I told her to get to an ER and call me back. There was no word. When she didn’t show up for that weekend’s piano lesson, I worried. Without warning, my beautiful friend had left my world as suddenly and mysteriously as she entered it, leaving behind a tremendous spirit that will forever live in my heart, and in the music of every student she had ever instructed, every life she had ever touched.
And that’s no “boo-sheet.

Sunday in the Park with Gus. By A.K.A. Darla

A friendship built on show tunes is a friendship built to last. Here our own AKA Darla revisits one of her favorites.

No girl ever forgets her first gay husband. Mine was Gus, a gifted pianist and a full-on lover of life. We met in college in an “Intro to Musical Theater” class, bonding over the deep fear we shared of Karen Swensen, the prickly instructor who would berate us for being ill-prepared, singing the wrong lyric, or anything else she considered unfit for the piece we were presenting. Whenever she critiqued our performances, she would gesture wildly with her arms, causing her signature wooden bangles to click and clack with each movement. It was not until we embarked on the real world of show business that we appreciated how Swensen had thickened our skin enough so that we could endure the slings and arrows of auditioning. Gus would often help me prepare for those auditions and, on occasion, come along as my accompanist. Over time, my encounters with Gus became as infrequent as my auditions, until the day my phone rang.

“This is Mrs. Swensen. Did you vocalize today, you lazy bitch?“

Knowing it could be no one but Gus, I roared. After catching up, Gus confessed his reason for calling. “Honey, I’m gonna cut to the chase. I booked a duo gig at a cute little queer-friendly nudist park and the chick singer I hired backed out. You’re the only singer I know with enough balls to do it.”

“Do I have to take off my clothes?”
“Only if you want to.”
“I don’t.”
“Are YOU taking off your clothes?”
“Only if you want me to.”
“I don’t.”
“Fine. So are you in?”
“I don’t know…”
“It’s just a bunch of people doing their thing. I promise you’ll get used to it.”
“Can I think about it?”
And then Gus said those magic words. “It pays a ton of money and we’ll have a barrel of laughs.”

And that Sunday I found myself driving up to the mountains with my truly outrageous college counterpart.

The mood was festive and our beach party setlist was well-received. Hiding behind sunglasses, we delighted in watching people engage in everyday activities that took on a whole new meaning in the absence of wearing a bathing suit: bouncing on a diving board, climbing the ladder to the water slide, playing ping pong, dropping your cell phone, and finally, toweling dry. Gus was right; after a while, you get used to it and I actually felt a tiny bit out of place wearing clothes.

Lunchtime. We entered the air-conditioned dining room and removed our sunglasses. Though it was freezing, no one but me, and Gus wore a stitch. We followed the naked hostess to our table. As she kindly pulled out my chair I realized that the last person to sit there was NOT wearing pants. I opened my napkin and laid it across my seat. Gus laughed. We ordered lunch and talked about what tunes to do for our next and final set as the waitress returned and handed Gus a note. “The lady at table six asked me to give this to you.” He opened the note and read it out loud. “Don’t you kids know any show tunes?” He looked around the room and noticed a woman waving at us. As Gus waved back, the woman stood up and approached our table. She was eighty if she was a day, burnt like bacon, and wore nothing but an armful of wooden bangles that clicked and clacked with each of her movements.

“People wanna hear show tunes, baby!” she bellowed.
“Ms. Swensen?” Gus whispered.
“Call me Karen.”
“We know show tunes,” I sheepishly muttered.
“You bet your ass you do. Now get out there and sell it!”

And “sell it” we did. For the next couple of hours, we were the Patti Lupone and Lin-Manuel Miranda of the nudist scene. Two Broadway Babes singing our hearts out for a clammy but wildly receptive audience. From time to time, we would spot old Swensen out there in the sea of skin, singing along, clicking and clacking, and – for the first time ever – criticism-free.

That night, Gus and I sang show tunes all the way home. Just a couple of people doing our thing.

A Friend I Lost & Found Through the Years. by A.K.A. Darla

Our very own A.K.A. Darla shares a personal story about losing a friend to precarious circumstances—and finding her 30 years later.

Watching my daughter prepare to move into her new apartment brought me back to when I first left home in the early, edgy ‘80s. Just a half-block off Manhattan’s Gramercy Park, I found a 300 square-foot studio with hallway lighting that flickered each time someone closed their door, and a lone window that faced a brick wall. I shared the five-story walk-up with Jana, an easygoing young woman I met in acting class. For two struggling actresses who went home only to sleep, shower, and dress, the price was just right.

A year into this arrangement, the novelty wore thin and I began to wonder if I would ever get to live independently in a space I could walk through in more than three strides. Then one day, the angels sang: Jana fell in love with a guy who had his own apartment on the Upper West Side! As soon as he proposed, Jana arranged an engagement party at her fiance’s place. Oddly, none of the fiance’s friends were in attendance. Not one. In an attempt to make conversation, I asked the fiance what he did for a living. He told me my question was rude. As I laughed a nervous laugh, the fiance leaned into me and dropped a bomb. “Why don’t you and I get together?” I was stunned. “I don’t think so,” I answered. And like in one of those flipbooks we made as kids, I saw Jana’s life with this creep play out before my eyes. “This conversation never happened,” the fiance said. “Understand?” I certainly did.

I left the party early and headed home, partly to wash the slime off my body, partly to enjoy having the apartment to myself. And so began my first adult moral dilemma: to tell Jana or not to tell Jana. I rehearsed just how I would break the news to her, but nothing seemed right. I was certain that telling her would break her heart, and I couldn’t even imagine breaking her heart. And if I did tell her, perhaps she would think I imagined it. Besides, the fiance made it quite clear that he would deny it. Unsure of what to do, I took the path of least resistance: I didn’t tell a soul. Three months later, on New Year’s Eve, Jana was married.

In an effort to avoid her husband, I avoided Jana. Renee, a mutual friend, told me Jana was upset with me for not returning her calls. I made excuses. And I made believe I didn’t miss Jana.

Thanksgiving came and with it came a call from Renee. Instead of phoning to wish me Happy Thanksgiving, she was phoning to say that Jana’s husband ran off that morning with his secretary. He told Jana she shouldn’t worry because he was leaving her the apartment, along with a few other things: thirty thousand dollars in credit card debt and three months of rent arrears. I sat down to dinner and pushed my stuffing and yams around my plate, thinking Jana might have been spared all that pain and anguish if I had spoken up. Still, I wondered, is it really one’s duty to blow the whistle if they are hit upon by their friend’s significant other?

Years passed and Jana moved away. Decades passed. There was to be a reunion of our acting class. I wanted to see Jana. I wanted to know that she was okay. Indeed she was, beaming and beautiful as ever. She introduced me to her husband, a personable, attentive man who loved his work. And she loved hers. She showed me photos of their children, their pets, their home, their sailboat. She was truly happy. We reminisced about the carefree days in that tiny apartment, astonished by our ability to make it through an entire year without ever losing our sense of humor. And we laughed. Then, Jana leaned into me. “I owe you an apology.”

“For what?”

“For not keeping in touch,” she said softly.

“Please don’t apologize. It works both ways.”

Jana put her hand on mine. “Life gets in the way, sometimes. Can you forgive me?”

Now was my chance, thirty years later. “Jana…?”

Just then, Jana's husband appeared, handing us cocktails.

“What are you ladies whispering about?” he asked.

I raised my glass and smiled. “I’ll never tell.”

The Friendship Files: Like A Tattoo. By A.K.A. Darla

My father often told me that one would be rich in life if they had just one friend. A real friend. A person who would traverse life with you through the good, the bad, and the ugly. You may fight with them and cry with them, but you’ll laugh with them and love with them. Sometimes, you may not want to talk to them, but you know they are there. And if a long time goes by when you don’t speak to them, you will eventually pick up exactly where you left off, as if no time passed at all.

For some reason, the universe has paired you with this person. If you journaled the notable moments shared with them, you’d have volumes. This new column tells some of those stories.

I am an only child. I have never rued the absence of siblings, and I relish every childhood moment spent in the solitude of my room, writing poems, reading books, playing guitar, eavesdropping on grown-ups, and daydreaming.

The closest thing I’ve experienced to sisterhood is the friendship I share with three women I’ve known since nursery school. Between us, we’ve had four Holy Communions, five marriages, six children, and four divorces. Three of us once spent a particular New Year’s Eve trying to get the fourth out of jail. We’ve celebrated the milestones of our children, and held each other at the passing of our parents. We live in four different cities now, but make a point to get together at every possible opportunity.

One such get-together took place on a chilly Spring morning when we met for brunch at the Greenwich Village bar we’ve frequented since getting our hands on our first fake I.D. Over champagne and French toast, we discussed politics (until a fight broke out), a son’s new job, a kitchen renovation, a trip to Iceland, Eastern medicine, and my daughter’s massive tattoo.

“We should all get tattoos!” said the one who was most drunk.

“You don’t have the balls!” I snapped back, challenging her.

“We’ll do it next time I’m in town. We need time to think about a design.”

Refusing to let this moment go by, I suggested we each get four small stars of different colors, each star representing a member of our pack. As we finished our meals, we scrolled through our phones to find a tattoo parlor open on a Sunday morning. With no results, we decided to go for a walk instead.

We stopped at a liquor store for more champagne, then made our way to the large city park where we played as kids. We climbed up to the bleachers and drank the champagne from paper coffee cups, reminiscing about the hundreds of hours we had spent here. Each story played out like a home movie before our eyes, with scenes of softball, swimming, bocce, and boys.

We left the park and walked uptown through our old neighborhood when we came across a familiar storefront that had been taken over by a headshop. Through its grimy window, one could see scores of bongs and pipes, with a sprinkling of dildos thrown in for good measure. Then, like a rose in the desert, stood a hand-written index card that read, “WE DO TATTOO.”

“Look!” I screamed, pointing to the card. Emboldened by champagne, I walked through the doors of iniquity, as the posse followed for protection. The tattoo artist/bong salesman/dildo merchant spoke little English, but somehow the thrifty one in our pack convinced him to give us a rock bottom price since we were all getting the same design.

Wanting to “just get it over with”, the cautious one in our pack went first. She cried all the way through, while the compassionate one in our pack held her hand before taking her own turn. Having naturally birthed three boys in four years, she didn’t even flinch. The thrifty one in our pack went next, still trying to negotiate a better price with the owner as he dug his instrument into the top of her right buttock. I went last, as everyone watched, shaking their heads at the absurdity of it all.

When it was time to say goodbye, we made a pact to watch for signs of Hepatitis C, then went our separate ways.

Yes, I am the impetuous one in our pack and -- truth be told -- I regret our decision. Ours are the ugliest tattoos I have ever seen. But each time I happen to glance at the figure on my right hip, I am reminded how we have been blessed with a lifetime of love, and I make a silent wish upon our tiny stars that we four will forever remain as close as this ink is to our skin.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter curated by Dish Stanley on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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