When my daughter was about to enter high school, I gave her just one piece of advice: "Find yourself a Lisa."
I don't remember the circumstances of the introduction to my Lisa, but I do know that within a few hours of it we were huddled in the library in side-by-side carrels joyously discovering the overlaps in our lives that fated us to be friends. You also like Wham? You are also the youngest of three kids? You also worry that you have weird teeth? By the time we realized that even our parents' names were symmetrical - hers were Al and Alma, mine Laurence and Laura - we had welded a "Best" and a "Forever" to the term "friend" and turned shoulder-to-shoulder to face the future, together.
Throughout high school, Lisa was my staunchest defender, the person who most believed that I was cool despite the utter lack of evidence. Every time my confidence wavered, there was Lisa blowing hot air to help it soar again: "No, your hair looks great with that solid wall of bangs!" or "He wore blue shoes! You should be glad he didn't call you!" We spent a fortune sending each other Cookiegrams from fake foreign boyfriends.
Lisa made me laugh for four years straight, a godsend during a time of terrific academic stress. Her giggle was more contagious than yawning. I could find Lisa in the crowded cafeteria merely by cocking my head and listening for the rings of mirth that emanated from where she sat, cracking up at nothing.
Time spent with Lisa was an invitation for the absurd to be invited in and amplified. Allow me to relay a typical day.
We were ensconced in Lisa's empty house one rainy afternoon doing what we always did after school, which was to drink Tab, read Glamour, and talk trash about the cheerleaders. Lisa went downstairs into the basement to get something. Seconds later I heard her say, "Oh crap!"
"What is it?"
"The basement is flooding!" A long pause. "I better try to clean this up."
Curious, I trotted down the wooden stairs, at the bottom of which an inch of water pooled on the concrete basement floor. Lisa stood in the middle of the room, pushing water towards the drain with a broom. She was wearing only her turtleneck, her underwear, a pair of argyle knee socks and her father's leather work shoes.
I should mention that Lisa was one of the best-dressed kids at school, always impeccably put together. Sure enough, her jeans and shoes were neatly stacked on the staircase, safely above the waterline.
When she saw the look on my face, she became indignant. "What?" she demanded, her white thighs reflected in the puddle and her father's shoes rapidly filling with rainwater. "I'm not gonna ruin MY shoes!"
Later, when she'd finished the half-a**ed, half-dressed job of saving the basement and put some pants back on, we decided to leave for my house. We ran through curtains of rain to climb into her mother's ginormous baby blue American-made sedan which, like the B-52's song says, seated about 20. We could sit in the front seat and extend our inside arms towards one another and barely touch fingertips.
We stopped for gas on the way, at a station that sat at the bottom of a steep hill off the main drag. After Lisa filled the gas tank and climbed back into the driver's seat, she maneuvered the car-boat to the bottom of the precipitous hill and pressed the gas pedal. Harder and harder and harder, because halfway up the rain-soaked hill we began hydroplaning, wheels spinning crazily, suspended just below the crest.
Lisa turned to me and we locked terrified stares, fully aware that the second the car-boat tires found purchase, we would fly blind into four lanes of traffic at 80 mph.
We survived. Later that day, her nerves still ragged, Lisa backed out of my driveway, hooked the bumper of the car-boat on my backyard fence, and proceeded to drag the entire thing four feet in a northerly direction.
On that day alone, I laughed so much that I may have sustained organ damage. But without Lisa's humor I doubt I would have survived the travails of high school to see the candles on my 18th birthday cake.
As friends go, Lisa had a final ace-in-the-hole. She was the weaver of cover stories for our youthful misdeeds, because she had the perfect scapegoat: her childhood friend and neighbor, our classmate Brian.
He was a big, good-looking, goofy jock whom Lisa's dad adored. Maybe because Al only had daughters, he believed Brian could do no wrong. Brian's own father was the district attorney. I once went to Brian's house and observed that the lamp next to his father's leather recliner was made from a gun. Who is going to tell a guy with a gun-lamp given to him by the Fraternal Order of Police Officers that his son is a troublemaker?
So Lisa spun our alibis to her dad, smooth as hair that's been brushed 100 times between classes in the second floor girl's bathroom.
"The reason the garbage disposal was clogged by Bartles & Jaymes caps when you and Mom came back from your weekend away was because Brian brought over some of his football buddies, Dad. I tried to get him and his friends to put the strawberry wine coolers back in their car, but they wouldn't!"
"Sorry we're late getting home from the party, but you know Brian drove and he and his friends insisted on a wrestling match in Amy's front yard and he wouldn't leave until there was a winner. That's also how I got this mark on my neck."
"Brian did it."
"It was Brian."
Al would just give us the "boys will be boys" shrug and wander off with a half-smile on his lips, no doubt remembering his own youthful exploits. Lisa and I would widen our eyes at each other, amazed we got away with it again.
On second thought, honey, don't worry about the Lisa. Find yourself a Brian.