Mamie loves me. I know this because she ends plenty of phone conversations gasping for breath as she yelps, “Oh my God! I LOVE you!” Next thing, I stare at the phone waiting for the squeal of brakes and the perfectly logical crunch of folding metal. Mamie goes through a lot of cars. You’d think she’d quit calling me from 287 and 78, where my likeness should appear on those signs convicts and other state employees tow to embattled road shoulders to warn you of hazards. The sign under my face should read:
HANG UP ON HER!
And Mamie should, but she’s the uptight Shell Answer Man compared to Lala who casually says, “That’s where I rolled the Jeep…” It’s the phone, I think. If I had a dollar for every time I nearly broke my neck turning to gasp, “You WHAT?” I could quit my job and pay a beautiful burly man named Jurgen for daily Swedish massage.
Last night, Mamie called from 287. She, her cousin, two friends and a hanger-on were headed for the Somerset Diner in five separate cars. I felt a new hole open in the ozone layer as Mamie described the wrong turn the four other cars took as Mamie watched in her rear view mirror. About the fifth wheel:
Tata: Do I know her?
Mamie: Oh no. I’ve made sure you’re never in the same room. She’s shrill.
Tata: In close quarters? I can fix that.
Mamie: If I killed her I’d go to jail.
Tata: If I killed her, you wouldn’t go to jail.
Tata: We’re separate people. If I go to jail you’re not there.
Mamie: How am I going to get through dinner? This is the most un-Mamie evening ever!
Tata: Make it more Mamie. When she says something you don’t like squirt her like a kitten on the counter. You’re not hurting her and she’ll stop behaving in an irritating manner.
Mamie: She swore she could eat 4000 calories a day without gaining a pound.
Tata: Lean across the table and spritz. Make eye contact to discipline her properly.
Mamie: Would…Drug Fair have small spray bottles?
Tata: Try hair care products. Be firm! They need rules at this age.
Yes, the declaration of love that followed had the usual smashing consequences that didn’t delay Mamie’s evening plans because her cousin, friends and the hanger-on were driving in circles up in Bridgewater, causing OPEC ministers to watusi with joy. Possibly the most important element of this story is that Mamie tries to protect gentle people from my violent logic. This scene has occurred and recurred:
Random Weeping Friend: …and then my boyfriend showed me his tax returns and he’d claimed our cat and I said, “Ralph, you’re some kind of liar, aren’t you? I bought all that plastic surgery and you know it!”
Tata: Oh. My. God. You cannot tolerate that kind of treatment from a man! You have got to sit him down and –
Mamie: Is that Normal Mailer in Vera Wang OFF THE RACK?
Lightning strikes. Horses whinny. Everyone looks toward the doorway she’s pointing to with her left hand. With her right, she’s grabbed the Random Weeping Friend by the collar. A terrible light comes up beneath her face. The room goes dark. She growls with a strange and fearsome power.
Mamie: NEVER ASK HER FOR RELATIONSHIP ADVICE.
The lights come up. We see it’s a stringer for the Associated Press in ill-fitting Jennifer Lopez by Kohl’s and I notice my beer’s empty. Our Random Weeping Friend is already dialing Ralph to apologize. It’s like hypnosis. I never remember what happened until someone tells me I’m clucking like a chicken. All this is to say: there’s what you say you’d do, and there’s what I will do, despite the wise counsel of Miss Manners and those relatively civilized wolves that raised me. Thus, I was shocked when Miss Sasha crossed me on Friday night with a phone call I’ll never forget, because I could’ve said or done anything, I still might, and the wedding is five days away.
I need a lovely bracelet with bells and an inscription: What Would Auntie Mame Do?