In Judd Apatow’s book Sick in the Head, Sarah Silverman talks about how she could say anything as a kid, no matter how taboo, and not get into trouble. I think that’s a good thing, and it shouldn't stop in childhood, even if you have no plans to go into stand-up comedy.
One of my proudest moments came when my second grade teacher called my mother and told her I was “vulgar.” I don’t remember what I had said to prompt this call, but thanks to HBO and two chubby boys who sat near me in homeroom, I was no slouch when it came to swearing, off-color jokes and fart noises.
I’m not sure why these boys chose to take me under their ample wings and school me in the finer points of gross-boy ways, but just to give you an idea: One day in the cafeteria one of them took the top off his thermos (the old-school kind with the pink stopper that came in the square metal lunchboxes), started to suck on it, and loudly declared that it was “Christie Brinkley’s milk maker.” Did I mention there were nuns in the room?
I was amazed. The stopper bit was funny, creative and in my mind, cool. This was almost as good as the Richard Pryor and George Carlin HBO specials that I’d practically memorized before hitting puberty. As I tried to out-vile these boys, my skills grew stronger. Perhaps it was my way of rebelling against the constraints of Catholic school, or maybe I knew early on that making people laugh was a good strategy against getting bullied for an introverted kid.
I just know that today my love of risqué humor, like my hatred of okra and creamed corn, is as strong now as it was then. Yet it wasn’t until I met one of my best friends at work that I came to truly appreciate how off-color talk can be empowering and help women bond through tough times.
I should be clear that I’m not talking about walking into a meeting and asking colleagues to pull your finger. This isn’t about doing your best impression of a truck stop waitress or being that loud, obnoxious person who drops numerous F bombs no matter where she is or whom she’s with. It’s more about how women friends talk to each other. Men have been bonding this way forever, yet somehow women are expected to be “above” it or bond in a more touchy-feely way. But what if the guys are on to something?
Martha and I met when we sat near each other in an open-cube office a few years ago. Some artists work in oils or acrylics; we worked in instant messages and texts. I remember one of the first IMs she sent me at work said, “I had broccoli and tofu for lunch. I just brown clouded half my team. Waiting to see if they make the ‘who dealt it’ face.” Mature? No. Hilarious? Yes – to me, anyway. I knew I’d found a kindred spirit, and soon enough she was taking me into previously unexplored territory in terms of topics.
Another one of our early IM conversations was about the pros and cons of various vibrator styles. I don’t think I’d even said the word “vibrator” to my other friends, yet here I was discussing it in detail with someone I barely knew. Sex and the City told us that this is how women friends talk to each other, but that had not been my previous experience.
I don’t recall exactly how or why battery operated devices came into the conversation, but when she brought up the subject I figured I’d just go with it. It felt odd at first, and I kept expecting her at some point to say, “whoa, TMI,” but she never did. I found that refreshing and surprisingly freeing. Following is a snippet:
“The Rabbit is solid. That’s my go-to. Good dual action.”
“Really? I don’t like cute woodland creatures near the area. That thing looks like it should be hanging over a baby’s crib.”
“Wish my mom had hung one over mine.”
“One time mine was under the bed and the batteries were dying down. I hadn’t turned it all the way off and it was making weird squeaking sounds. I freaked out for a half hour thinking I had a mouse in my apartment.”
“Ever fall asleep on yourself? That’s the worst.”
“I guess you’re just not that into you.”
We also found endless material from our experiences in the office ladies room. Why should bathroom humor be solely for men?
“Why do the bathroom stalls look like period spin art? I can see getting some on the floor but the walls!? The door?! Do these women yank out their tampons and then sling them around?”
“I loved spin art as a kid.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t squat over it!”
“I thought about it once.”
“It looks like someone was murdered in stall four.”
“Thanks for the heads up. Maybe put ‘police line, do not cross’ tape across the door?”
“No, I save that for my butt when I go on dates.”
“Speaking of butts, I’m about to destroy another stall. Had Mexican for lunch. You might not want to go in there for at least an hour.”
This was the first female I’d ever met who was unapologetic about “going there.” With most of my other girlfriends, I find there’s an unspoken line. If I told them the things I can freely say to Martha, I’d get the WTF look, they’d tell me “that’s gross” or they just wouldn’t engage. That doesn’t mean I don’t love and value them as friends, but like the Bee Girl in the “No Rain” video, my talks with Martha felt like I’d finally found my people.
Aside from the obvious fun of making each other laugh, we found that our communication style wasn’t solely for frivolous topics. It has come naturally into play over the years whether we’re dealing with health scares, man troubles or deaths in the family. When Martha’s father died, I sent her a box of chocolates shaped like lady parts. I didn’t even have to sign the card; she knew they were from me. It was my way of making her smile in a way that said, “This is how we roll.”
I knew she’d get it. A sappy card and flowers would have seemed really odd and so not our thing.
When she had a health scare and needed an endometrial biopsy, which is apparently just above cheese-grater-to-the-feet on the pain scale, our discussion didn’t exactly sound like a Lifetime movie.
“They didn’t give you a local?”
“No! It felt like she was rooting around in there with a pipe cleaner. Seriously this is the most painful thing that has ever happened to my vaj.”
“With your vaj, that’s saying a lot. So she actually entered your uterine sanctum and you didn’t even get a valium?”
“I think she may have hit a lung at one point. I almost blacked out.”
“Damn. Are you sure you didn’t accidentally go to Roto-Rooter instead of the hospital?”
Then there’s menopause, which I have dreaded since I was 25. Somehow it becomes a little less frightening when I discuss it with Martha, even though she, for reasons I’ll never understand, is looking forward to it.
“I can’t wait till this thing stops gushing. I want to get it all scooped out surgically right now!”
“Ugh, it’s a slide towards death.”
“It’s not that bad. You won’t have to buy corks ever again.”
“Three words: rice paper vagina.”
“One word – lube. You’ll be fine. You know you can make cool origami from rice paper.”
“Great. If it gets loose enough down there, I can make balloon animals!”
“Forget the animals. Make one shaped like a schween.”
Though our style is certainly not for everyone, knowing that there’s nothing I can’t say to Martha – and in the way I prefer to say it – is a gift that I think is sadly all too rare, even among good friends. I come away from these conversations having laughed out loud (literally) at least once, feeling calmer and often more confident.
At a time when political correctness is making it harder even for comedians to speak their minds, these private conversations may soon be the only funny entertainment we have left. If you have a friend that you can talk to this way, be thankful. In fact, send her a box of genital-shaped chocolates while you’re at it. You’ll have a friend for life.