“I have a request….”
Uh oh. From anyone else, the dreaded “I have a request” would not prompt an immediate block-and-report. But this was from Josh who, besides being the type to blurt penis jokes at funerals, had also just been given 4 to 6 months to live.
“My ex says I should stop doing this,” he wrote.
There was so much Josh needed to stop doing, it was hard to predict. “What?”
“Quit making a Death Registry – like for a wedding.”
I laughed. That’s the thing about my friend for the past 40 years, he’s got a helluva a sense of humor. Even in the past few weeks when a strange built-up of fluid led to disturbing test results and a more troublesome cancer diagnosis followed by what I personally feel was a brutal prognosis from the doctor – “four to six months to live, maybe twelve with chemo”- the guy’s been a laugh riot, in a sly way. Just last month, he posted a video of Donny Osmond from Jesus Christ Superstar (Or Jason and the Tecnicolor Dreamcoat, whatever, it was from the 1970s,) this being Josh’s “penultimate or maybe ultimate Easter.”
“Penultimate” was on a quiz in Latin, where Josh and I met in eighth grade, fellow victims in a vicious war launched by our parents to ruin our adolescence. Because every other normal kid was taking Spanish or French, We of the Doomed, were forced to trek to the high school from our respective junior high hell holes to study our declensions with the ever frustrated Miss Fay. Josh was from across town at Nitschmann. We were from Northeast, an orange-brick, Soviet-style fortress so infested with drugs and urine, it has since been demolished.
Josh was then, and still is, short-ish with wild curly hair and glasses, the cynical, wise-cracking Woody Allen figure (before the sexual assault charges), who could decimate the cocky jocks with a rapier slam. Unfortunately, one of those jocks, a wrestler, happened to have a thing for Josh’s secret crush, a brilliant, pretty and slightly awkward fellow Latin student who happened to be on Josh’s math team.
Hence began a love triangle that overtook our calculus class. Whom would she choose? The wrestler who was valiantly willing to cross the Forbidden Zone between jock and nerd to save the princess from a future of slide rules and pocket protectors? Or would she finally realize that no one would love and adore her more than Josh even though, upon receipt of his driver’s license, he took up the hobby of stalking.
If you’ve been through high school, you know the answer. And being a writer for whom another’s heartbreak is simply more copy (thank you, Nora Ephron), I later used this drama as a template for, um, Mike and Gigi in SMART GIRLS GET WHAT THEY WANT. No shame, no shame at all.
And that’s when it hit me. I knew what Josh wanted. Yes, yes, yes! “You want me to put you in a Bubbles book!”
Of course! Because being from Bethlehem, PA, the setting for Bubbles Yablonsky’s Lehigh, PA, Josh had been a good and loyal reader, often coming to my signings down in his area. And THIS TIME I’d see to it that Josh would get the girl.
Also, he would be a porn star because….hey, Josh.
In seconds, the old gang from The Lipstick Chronicles was on it. Kathy Sweeney (aka La Sweeney) started up the porn-o-meter, spitting out screen names rapid fire. Buck Naked, Roger R. Hard, Mike Hunt, Dick Strong, Heywood Jablome, and on and on and on.
The next I knew, I was several chapters in to my first NEW Bubbles book – Bubbles Reboots – in which Bubbles ventures to the Ingot Gold, the casino that replaced the Lehigh Steel mill, in search of a kidnapped teenager. Ends up in a Erotic Film Industry Annual (not Anal) Convention with Local #169 of the Adult Film Workers where Josh, aka Will Hung, is the hunky union boss triumphantly returning home from Hollywood for his high school reunion where, of course, his crush from high school will fall madly in love with him – if they can save her from her jealous ex, first. Along the way, the powerful Edgar Winters, CEO of the Edgar Winters Group (which naturally Bubbles consistently confuses with the Edgar Winter Group, creators of the masterful “Free Ride”) decides he will have Bubbles for his own, oh yes, and then Stiletto and then, as my former agent used to say, “madness ensues.”
I updated Josh, eagerly awaiting his thrilled response. “Is that what you wanted?”
Pause. “Actually, with chemo coming up, I wondered if you could knit me a Mike Nesmith hat. You know, from the Monkees. With a pom pom.”