Once my best friend Sheila Silverstone’s uncle was visiting her and he went into the kitchen and got down on all fours and started eating dog food out of the dog’s dish. Sheila’s dog, a boxer named Murray, didn’t like it, so he bit Sheila’s uncle on the nose. I heard that her uncle’s nose fell off but Sheila told me no, it didn’t, it just got smooshy.
This made me scared of Murray and after that I always asked Sheila to come to my apartment instead of us going upstairs to hers. But one weekend when her parents went to Atlantic City and her older sister, Blanche, was going to babysit, Sheila invited me to sleep over. A real live slumber party! It was too exciting to pass up, Murray or no Murray. My mother packed an overnight bag for me in one of her big old pocketbooks: toothbrush, hair brush, and a brand new nightgown that looked just like a fancy lady’s dress-up dress.
The very first thing we did was go into Sheila’s bedroom to make crank phone calls to Michael Cutter and Michael Stein, the most popular boys in our class. Sheila was in love with Michael C. and I was in love with Michael S. When the phone rang in the Cutter house some woman answered, she went “Yeah? Yeah?” It was probably Michael’s mother. We hung up right away.
But Michael Stein answered the phone himself and Sheila said “Mi-chael.... Mi-chael.... Is that you, Michael? I’m your long-lost-dead ancestor calling you from the grave of beyond” and then she gave me the phone and I just went “whooooooooo, whooooooooo,” like a ghost who’d been dead for a long time. Then I hung up.
Sheila’s sister, Blanche, was in the living room polishing her toenails. She said we could use the polish on our fingers but not our toes, and if we spilled any on the rug she would have to kill us. We tried hard to keep the polish on our nails and not on the skin around our nails. This was not easy; it took a lot of concentration, and I forgot all about Blanche until she jumped up from the couch and said she heard funny noises coming from the apartment next door. I stopped polishing and listened, but all I could hear was Murray in the kitchen, and I hoped he wasn’t planning to chomp on any more noses. Blanche was upset. She said the voices were getting louder, the people next door were yelling, but it sounded like she said the people in the wall were yelling, and then she got so angry at us, she said “Don’t you hear them, you snot-heads, don’t you hear that yelling?” I shook my head, no. Sheila just sat there, frozen, staring at her fingernails.
I could still hear Murray scrabbling around on the kitchen linoleum, but nothing else, nothing from next door and nothing from the wall. Then Blanche said she was going to her room to get away from us and we better not get into any trouble. “You cow-breaths better not screw things up,” was how she put it.
I kept waiting for Sheila to say something but she didn’t. She just put the caps back on the nail polish bottles, slowly, like she was handling chemicals in a science experiment and something might explode. Then we went into her room and put on our nighties. We didn’t make any more crank calls, we didn’t even brush our teeth; we just went to sleep. Sheila never said a word about my new nightgown, the one that was like a grown-up lady’s dress. I don’t think she even noticed it.
A couple weeks later, Sheila and I weren’t best friends anymore. She was best friends with a girl named Rachel Klein. They were both in love with George Chakiris, the leader of the Sharks in West Side Story. They got together every day after school so they could cut his picture out of magazines and glue the pictures into their scrapbooks. I didn’t think George Chakiris was even cute. I went looking for a new best friend.
Her name was Judy MacArthur and she lived just around the corner. I loved to go to her apartment. She didn’t have a dog. Judy’s father worked for a company that made hula hoops. She had them in every color, some even had stripes on them, racing stripes, so they would go faster. I could keep four hoops spinning at the same time. Judy could do eight but that’s only because she had them all in her apartment and could practice any time she wanted.
We told each other secrets. Ultra-private, top-secret-secrets — “You’re-my-best-friend-for-life” secrets. Judy told me how once in assembly, when she was chosen for the color guard, she was standing up there on the auditorium stage in front of the whole school, and she let out a fart. A quiet one. But a stinker. After the pledge of allegiance and “The Star Bangled Banner,” the color guard went into the little backstage closet to put away the flags, and Judy said “Who made that fart?” The other kids said “Not me, Not me,” but Judy looked over at Carol Brenner, so then everyone figured it must have been Carol, and the more she said it wasn’t her the more it seemed like it was.
And I told Judy how once I asked Mrs. Gutterman to let me be excused from gym because I had killer cramps, only I didn’t really have my period. I hadn’t had it yet, not once, but that was ropes day, everybody was supposed to climb up, practically to the gymnasium ceiling, and the thought of that gave me such a pain, it was almost like a period cramp. Mrs.Gutterman let me sit in the library until gym class was over.
I told Judy about the crank calls Sheila and I made to the two Michaels, and she told me about her cousin, Francine, who had to get married right away because she French-kissed a boy and now she was going to have a baby.
That spring I caught the flu and had to stay home for a week, and when I went back to school Amy Woodrow, who sat in the seat in front of me, turned all the way around in her chair and said in that voice of hers, “Did you finally get your period?” And I knew exactly what happened while I was absent. Judy MacArthur told Rhonda Sapperstein my most secret-secret. And Rhonda told Loretta Landeau and Loretta told Amy. So then I knew that Judy MacArthur and I were no longer best-friends-for-life. We were nothing to each other. We were less than nothing. I wouldn’t even recognize her if I tripped over her.
In the summer, Marsha Gable came to stay with her Grandma, Mrs. G., who lived in our building, while her parents were in Europe for a month. My mother said I should be friendly because Mrs. G. was a good neighbor, and Marsha didn’t have any other friends, and even though she didn’t come right out and say it, it was almost like my mother thought I didn’t have any friends either. Which would have made me really mad, except it was true.
Marsha and I hung out together in the courtyard in front of the apartment building. We played jacks, though we didn’t really like that game, we kept losing the little rubber ball. And we played “A My Name Is Alice,” and hopscotch, and gin rummy with Mrs. G’s deck of cards. We didn’t talk much, though. I was not about to tell Marsha Gable a single, solitary secret. I did not consider her my best friend.
One day my father took Marsha and me to Palisades Amusement Park. He wouldn't let us go on the roller coaster, he said my mother would slit his throat if he did. So we went on The Spin Devil, instead. Marsha sat next to me in a little box with a greasy handrail we had to hold onto or else the ride man would throw us off. It spun around so fast we thought our guts would fall out. We couldn't stop screaming, we loved it so much. When the ride came to an end we climbed out of the little box and we were still screaming.
That’s when Marsha Gable threw up on me. All over my bermuda shorts and down my leg. That made me scream even more.
My father told me and Marsha to stay where we were — “Don’t move an inch” — while he went to get something to wipe up the mess. We stood there, neither one of us saying a word. I was waiting for her to say she was sorry and then I’d tell her that I forgave her. But she didn’t apologize, so I didn’t say “I forgive you.”
The longer the silence went on the harder it was to say anything. I knew she was going home soon, her parents would come back from Europe and pick her up from her grandmother’s. I probably wouldn’t ever see her again. It’s not like we were best friends. So I didn’t really have to forgive her for throwing up on me. I just stood there, waiting for my father to come back, and I kept my mouth shut.