“You can’t microwave frozen pot pies. They won’t turn out right,” I said.
“Yes, you can. I do it all the time,” my friend responded. It was the summer of 1990. The air was thick with humidity and Aqua Net hairspray.
“It says right on the box DO NOT MICROWAVE,” I persisted.
“You just have to take the pie out of the aluminum pan and put it into a bowl first,” she explained.
“Does the crust get brown in the microwave, or does it stay white?” I inquired.
“Oh, it stays white, but don’t worry. You just need to know the secret,” she said solemnly. I was 17, and she was 20. I was eager to absorb the wisdom of my older, glamorous friend. “The secret is to sprinkle the top of the pot pie with black pepper. It adds the color.” My friend, who I will refer to as M in this post, has been sharing this type of wisdom with me for over 30 years.
I don’t remember exactly when M and I met or when we started hanging out together. Our circle of friends overlapped, and with time we became a duo. A large portion of the summer of 1990 was spent riding around with M in her 1977 Ford Pinto Hatchback. That car was our chariot to adventure, and usually the chariot carried us to a picnic table by the river where we sat at night talking. I would love to tell you that M and I had deep, philosophical conversations about world peace and the impact of the fall of the Berlin wall. Mostly we talked about the latest Madonna videos, Richard Gere, and men in Dockers. Madonna released The Immaculate Collection that year, and she hadn’t yet started adopting children from foreign countries. The movie Pretty Woman was released that spring, and Richard Gere in a tuxedo had all the girls thinking that prostitution could be a viable career option. (That movie didn’t age well. The soundtrack was great, but at the end of the day it was still a movie that glamorized sex work.) I’m not even going to try to explain what was going on in that era with the craze over men in Dockers pants. If you know, you know.
Our other favorite topic was the Jimmy Buffett concert that marked the start of summer. We camped out all night with our friends and fellow Parrot Heads so we could race to buy tickets when the box office opened. Today you buy concert tickets online, and I don’t think that is an improvement. Recently I tried to buy Miranda Lambert tickets, and my Ticketmaster account crashed right after the tickets went on sale. You know what never crashed? The lawn chair I sat in waiting to get tickets for Jimmy Buffett back in the 90s.
One night M said, “We should write a book.”
“We should call it Potpies, Pintos, and Parrot Heads,” I said. I had recently studied alliteration in English and was eager to apply what I learned. From that point forward, whenever something good happened in our lives, we would look at each other and smile and say, “This will make a lovely chapter.” We had material for many beautiful chapters back then. We took a road trip to Gatlinburg one fall. At the end of a fabulous day, we were headed home when we were propositioned by a shifty parking lot attendant with a bad mullet. I’m not going to write what he said, but nicely put it was an invitation to participate in a hillbilly menage a troi. I was in the driver’s seat and managed to blurt out, “You’re disgusting!” before I drove away. M, who had already started to go to sleep in the passenger seat woke up and asked, “Why are you yelling?” I told her what mullet man said, and she just shrugged and went back to sleep.
The following year my college roommate and I threw a Christmas party. We asked everyone to bring a homemade ornament for the tree. M brought a replica of Madonna’s stage costume, which was a black bustier complete with gold tassels. (See picture below.) That ornament is on my Christmas tree every year. “Are you really going to put that up? We are going to have children present,” my husband said one year before our nephews came to visit. We compromised, and I agreed to put the ornament on the back of the tree that year.
As time passed, our adventures became less frequent. M was raising children, and I was climbing a corporate ladder. Yet, we would always find ways to come back together. There were weddings, baby showers, and Longaberger basket parties. (Those Longaberger baskets did not turn out to be the investment everyone said they would be.)
“I don’t understand how you two became such good friends,” my brother once said. Whenever my brother says something, I must proceed with caution. I never know if he is making a serious statement or if he is baiting me as only big brothers can do.
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, you are just so,” he paused searching for the right word. “Different!”
Were we that different? I hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it. Let’s see. M has beautiful long, blonde hair and a double dose of charisma. Heads always turn when she enters a room. I have short dark hair that resembles a bird’s nest on days with high humidity. I also turn heads when I walk into a room so long as I am walking into a room of people studying for a chemistry exam. M has a broad appeal, and my core demographic is more narrowly focused. We practice our faith differently. I think we have different views on politics, but I don’t know for sure because we never talk politics. M has a flair for the dramatic, and I prefer to be understated. Those differences never mattered when we were cruising in the Pinto or singing at a concert with thousands of other Parrot Heads.
M and I do have one fundamental difference, and I think it is the reason that our friendship has endured for so long. I always lead with my head, and M always leads with her heart. I need people in my life that can say, “Don’t worry. We can take a road trip to Gatlinburg without a map or a cell phone or even a plan. It will be fine.” People who lead with their hearts need to have someone around that can anticipate risks and ask, “Are you sure about this?” People who lead with their heads understand if you receive an indecent proposal from a parking lot attendant, you must make sure the exit gate is up before you start shouting your refusal. I always feel like I am a better version of myself when I am with M, and I hope she feels the same about me.
The trend today is for people to only associate with like minded individuals. We categorize ourselves and others based on looks, religious preferences, political views, socio-economic status, and a myriad of other nuances. People cling to those who are like themselves and push away people who are different. Currently the Unites States is going through a population shift where people are moving to parts of the country that they feel best align with their political views, and this only makes our society more polarized. That thought is terrifying to me.
We should all think of our lives like a story in a novel. The people we spend time with become our co-authors. If you want a novel that has one-dimensional characters and a predictable story line, then keep associating only with people who think and act like you do. If you want the story of your life to be a page turner with loads of plot twists, then start seeking out and embracing people who are different from you. In my perfect world, people would say, “I can see why you are friends because you are so different.”
Even with all our differences, M and I agree on one very important point. If either of us wins the lottery, we are going to scour the country until we find a 1977 Ford Pinto to buy and have restored. THAT will make a lovely chapter!