Finding Fran's Shoes

 

            Dinah, Fran, and I were a unique trio. We had met at work. We were teachers at an elementary school near Annapolis, Maryland. Dinah and Fran had worked there for several years before I arrived. Dinah taught second grade, and Fran taught first grade. The only contact I had with them during my first year was in faculty meetings for I was a sixth grade teacher, and, as in most large elementary schools of the times, there was not too much communication between the primary and secondary grades. I had decided, after listening to her comments and observing her behavior in faculty meetings, that Dinah was a horrible pushy broad with whom I wanted no contact. Fran was always so quiet that I really did not form an opinion of her until later.

            I got to observe Dinah more closely the next school year because she transferred to sixth grade to replace her friend, Paula, with whom I had already survived working for a full year. To refer to Paula as a "ball busting bitch" would be far too kind considering her usual demeanor, so I was absolutely thrilled when her friend Pushy Broad replaced her on the team. Dinah took to me as a pampered cat might take to a stray dog who had just entered her house and crawled into her bed. You might say that it was a match made in Hell, but had the Devil been assigned to our school, he surely would have bolted into the night screaming in fear. I thought I knew it all but didn't. Dinah knew considerably more than I and was not afraid to let me or anyone else within range know it. Our tornadoes of dispute engulfed all who were unfortunate enough to be within striking distance.

            Dinah had an enormous will, but she also possessed a sympathetic heart that matched her will in magnitude. I was foolish in that I would say things that would offend almost everyone with whom I came in contact, but I never really meant any harm. I also enjoyed a caustic wit that some found to be entertaining, but many found off-putting. After several months of conflict, Dinah and I began to appreciate each other's special qualities. The tornadoes continued but blew no ill wind. We actually began to enjoy the conflict for it was merely our way of expressing different, yet respected, opinions. As time went on, mutual respect led to mutual affection and true friendship.

            Dinah, Fran, and I began to socialize outside of work. We were all young and single and enjoyed the commonality of our profession. Dinah and Fran lived in the same apartment complex, and I lived nearby. Our friendship grew through common interests and adventures.

            Fran had a tender soul that was no match for Dinah's will or my sarcasm. Fran was strong and healthy but would have been lucky to weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet. Fran's consumption of food would have made a hog envious. She ate whatever she wanted whenever she wanted and never gained a pound. This ability made constant fodder for Dinah and me. Dinah was Rubenesqué in form, and I, though thin, had to constantly battle my weight. Our envy of Fran's ability to eat as a pig and still not gain an ounce expressed itself in sarcastic, yet loving, barbs about Fran's eating habits.

            Fran's personality was a dichotomy for she tried to make her own life and home perfect in every way yet was forgiving of the weaknesses of others. Her apartment was always spotlessly clean with ne'er a thing out of place. She made sure that all of the occupants of her kitchen cabinets were standing in correct order with their faces toward the front. When you opened the cabinet beneath the basin in her bathroom, you found all of the items arranged in alphabetical order. Her clothes, makeup, and hair were always perfectly arranged. She had enormous pride in her furniture, her china, her silver, and her crystal. Whenever you dined at her apartment, you were always treated as royalty. Fran was oft teased by Dinah and me about her completely ordered home and her perfection in dress and manner. One of my favorite railings was the declaration that Fran was so perfect that I could never imagine her performing necessary bodily functions. I would have the group laughing to despair while ruminating upon how I could not picture Fran being constipated, sitting on the toilet, and straining to eject an impacted turd. Ah, the sophistication of scatological humor! Fran, who knew I meant no harm, would laugh as loudly as the others. Dinah had assigned the nickname "Bird" to Fran because she ate constantly as birds are wont to do, and when Fran was angry or flustered, she would tend to flit around. Fran used her assigned name whenever bantering with me for she would tell me that, if I didn't stop teasing her, she would peck, peck, peck me as she formed her hand into a pseudo beak and rapped me in the chest.

            Fran was a loving friend, but her life had not always been roses. Her father had left her mother to raise Fran alone. They lived a hard life, but were devoted to each other. Fran's mother worked hard at a local mill in New Jersey. They lived in a small apartment with few amenities, but Fran's mother provided what was truly required - love and encouragement. She worked hard and was able to help Fran succeed in her ambition to become a teacher, and that enabled Fran to send her mother a little money each month as a small form of love and appreciation. Fran was married at an early age to a man whom she truly loved. She thought they had the perfect marriage until one day he announced that he was unhappy and left Fran lonely and on her own living in a state far away from the support of her mother. As with many young people separated from their biological families, Fran formed a "family" with Dinah and, later, me. Fran and Dinah were "sisters," and I was a close cousin.

            Dinah and Fran were opposites, as is often the case with good friends. Dinah's apartment, car, and classroom were always in a constant state of clutter. Clutter probably cannot really describe Dinah's surroundings for one might say the local city dump is cluttered. If the editors of House and Garden had had to choose between the city dump and Dinah's apartment for a photo spread, I'm sure they would have chosen the dump because it would have been neater and have had more potential. Fran and I constantly chided Dinah about her piles, but she remained unaffected. Dinah had an amazing ability to be able to locate anything at a moment's notice amongst her piles. It was, needless-to-say a most peculiar filing system.

            Because of Dinah's warmth and completely giving nature, being at her home was always a marvelous experience. So what if there were piles. So what if you had to clear a place before you could sit down. It didn't really matter because being at Dinah's was special. Dinah was reared in North Carolina and was a true southern hostess. There were always potent drinks, delicious food, and invigorating conversation at Dinah's. It's as if she came by all of this naturally and never really had to try to make everyone feel welcome. Dinah was a child of privilege, but you would have never known it from her actions except that money seemed to mean nothing to her. She always spent as she wished but not in a way as if to flaunt. Fran and I had been relatively poor growing up and would occasionally comment to Dinah as to how she came from a rich family, but she would always poo poo the statement. For Dinah, money was simply something that she had and used to make life more pleasant for her friends and herself.

            Dinah's only fault, if it can be described as a fault, was that she was truly a clutz. She seemed to be always tripping, breaking, or spraining some body part. If there were one tiny hole in a field or one tiny piece of ice on the sidewalk in winter, Dinah would find it and gift herself with some injury. Trips to the emergency room became just normal aspects of our activities.

            I have already confessed to being a smart ass know-it-all who easily offended many. It was not long after our relationship had begun that Dinah had nicknamed me "Turd" because of all of my shitty comments. Of course, it was a name of affection because Dinah was able to see beneath the hard, sarcastic shell that I had created for myself.

            Now we have to consider my voice. I know that no one likes the sound of his own voice, but my voice is really, really irritating. I am the product of a mother from North Carolina and a father from Alabama and, therefore, have an irritating feminine drawl. I am very loud and have a weird giggle of a laugh - eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle - which causes people to stare in either fright or disgust. Add to these my constantly sarcastic tone, and you have a nightmare voice that might have been created by Dr. Frankenstein had he combined the voices of Bette Midler and Truman Capote. When you consider what I said, and the way it sounded, calling me "Turd" was probably a kindness.

            There is something else that must be understood about Dinah - general appearance was not her priority. Dinah was prone to dress casually whereas The Bird and The Turd were prone to overdress. Dinah dressed for comfort - especially in footwear. The Bird and The Turd could not understand this as they squeezed their feet into each of the latest styles of the Seventies and Eighties. Of course, she had to endure the barbs of The Turd about her apparel, but Dinah loved The Turd so she was her usual forgiving self.

            Dinah's mother was a wonderful woman with the most intriguing raspy voice, who often took Dinah to the finest shops in order to attempt to clothe her in the latest fashion. This never worked, and Dinah had nightmares of being in the dressing room and hearing her mother's distinctive voice calling, "Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii na, perhaps this one will fit, and you'll like it." I loved Dinah's mother and had taken to getting Dinah's attention at times imitating her mother with my obnoxious Midler/Capone voice. Our students in sixth grade would look upon me in wonder and dismay when I would stand in the middle of the hallway and call, "Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii na, I need help with a problem." Are you beginning to understand why Dinah named me The Turd?

            Dinah, Fran, and I had many good times together. Every Wednesday evening we would dine together in the restaurant of the local department store. We were usually the youngest people in the restaurant because it catered to an older clientele. We would observe a group of older women dragging along one old man and joke that that would, someday, be us. Even though we had all had romances, none seemed to stick, so we were convinced that we would end up as two old maids dragging along one old bachelor to dinner. The Love Boat changed all of that.

            The Love Boat was a popular seventies television program on which, each week, the protagonists found true happiness, but the love boat that changed our lives was a plain old commercial cruise ship. Dinah and Fran went on a cruise, and that is where The Bird found true love. It was love at first sight and happened on the last day of the cruise. Fran met Phil, they started writing to each other, and the next thing you knew, a wedding was announced. It is easy to understand how the circumstances caused her friends to say that Fran had met Phil on The Love Boat.

            Fran was in hog's heaven and flitting quite a bit over the wedding plans. She was also a little sad because marrying Phil was going to take her away from the trio. Phil lived in Texas. By this time, Fran had bought a house and was involved in selling it, ending her teaching career in Maryland, planning a wedding, and getting ready to move away to Texas. A New Jersey bird in Texas! It's a good thing she had fallen so hard for Phil or else the flitting and the pecking would have been uncontrollable. Part of the flitting was finding an outfit to wear in the wedding. Dinah was to be Fran's maid of honor and had selected a pink suit with a jaunty hat. I was to give Fran away and had found a light tan silk blend vested suit. Fran had found an elegant white suit she really liked. Phil? Who cared about Phil? The three friends were going to be the knockout at the wedding. Phil was only there to marry Fran and make her happy for the rest of her life. Dinah, The Bird, and The Turd were concerned about what was important - the ultimate outfits. There was one problem - The Bird had not yet found the perfect shoes.

            The Quest for the Perfect Shoes started in Garfinkel's. Garfinkel's, long since bankrupted by changing times, was one of those old, distinguished department stores that catered to only the best clientele. It was one of those places in which the salespersons, working for minimum wage, spoke in whispers in a sanctified tone better suited for a cathedral. Enter Dinah, The Bird, and The Turd. Women's shoes were on the second floor. We proceeded up the escalator and to the shoe department without event. Fran studied all of the appropriate shoes intently while Dinah and I gave comments and suggestions. We looked at a lot of shoes, but not one pair suited Fran's vision of herself walking down the aisle. We retreated in defeat. As we boarded the down escalator, - Dinah in front, then Fran, then I - Fran decided that she wanted to look at something else on the second floor. Dinah had gotten onto the escalator and started down. Jokingly, I called, "Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii na, come back. Fran wants to look at something else." It must be understood that I never expected Dinah to do so, but she turned around and attempted, in her clutzy way, to go up the down escalator. Well, of course, the minute she tried, she fell down and then proceeded to attempt to claw her way up the escalator on her belly. This was a sight that sent me into gales of laughter.   "Well, Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii na, what are you doing? Eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle," boomed through out the dignified departments of Garfinkel's.

            There was Dinah wallowing and clawing on her belly attempting to drag herself to the crest of the down escalator. There was The Bird flitting and not knowing what to do. There was a Minimum Wager looking upon the scene in horror and disgust - the disgust that can only be expressed by a Minimum Wager. And there I was, "Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii na, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle." It was not a pretty sight.

            And Dinah was not a pretty sight when she finally did manage to drag herself, with absolutely no help from The Bird, The Turd, or The Minimum Wager, onto solid ground at the top of the escalator. Her hose were in rags, her legs were scratched, and she was mad as hell. Somehow she had decided that the whole event was my fault - innocent me? I told her that I never expected her to take me seriously, and that it was insane to try to go up the down escalator with each phrase punctuated with the loud and obnoxious, "Eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle." Dinah, in her usual good-hearted way, finally calmed down and dismissed the affair in the way she had dismissed so many others with, "You are such a turd!"

            After we had managed to get all of our actions under control and ascertain that Dinah was not badly damaged, we continued to search the mall for Fran's shoes. I could not, however, get the sight of Dinah lumbering as some sort of beached sea creature on that escalator so I continued to loudly regale the entire mall with, "Eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle." Dinah and Fran finally had to remove me from public view and hearing in fear of arrest or confinement to the local state mental hospital.

            Poor Dinah. One cannot imagine how many times she has had to endure the retelling of her floundering to the top of that escalator. Each time we retell it, it seems to get funnier. I was with Dinah and friends just a few weeks ago when the subject came up, and even though it has been almost twenty years since the event, we were all rolling on the floor after I had - eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle, eeeeeeee, cackle, cackle, cackle - retold it for another time.

            Fran finally did find those shoes, got married, and moved away to Texas. True love separated the friends but did not hinder the friendship. Dinah and I still see each other often, but every few years when we get together with Fran, it is as though no time has passed. We are still The Three and will be so until the end of our times.

 

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