(Title was “iinspired,” if that’s the right word, by the Geto Boys’ 1991 hit “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”)
One recent Friday evening, faced with the prospect of squaring off against my TV set for yet another staring match, I decided I was turning into too much of a couch potato. I grabbed the phone to give my buddy Mark a call and see what he was up to. But when I put the phone to my ear, there was no dial tone, but I could hear movement, like someone breathing into a phone. I ventured a confused, “Uh… hello?”
“What were you doing,” barked a familiar voice on the other end, “sittin’ on the phone? It never even rang!” It was Mark.
” Hello!” I said again.
The voice at the other end groaned. “Hello! and next time let the phone ring!”
“It didn’t ring because I had just picked it up to call you!”
“Well, don’t bother, ’cause I’m on the phone,” he deadpanned. “Whatcha doin’?”
“I *was* watching the TV watch me, up until a few minutes ago,” I replied. “Why? What’s up?”
“The Carters called, and they want me to come by. They told me to kidnap you if I had to and bring you with me.”
Since I wasn’t doing anything, I said “Sure, why not?” and we headed over there. I always had a ball hanging out with the Carters. He lives with two aunts, Shirley and Debbie, who aren’t much older than him, along with their mother, and *her* parents. The two aunts, in fact, are only a couple of years older than me (I’m 35), and fun to be around, and the grandmother is a riot.
I got to their house to find that the usual crowd was already there. Shirley was in the middle of an argument about something or other with her buddies Lisa and Rosita. They stopped arguing just long enough to speak to me, then resumed the “discussion.” Debbie entered the room shortly afterward from the side door off the kitchen, waving the TV remote control, looking slightly perturbed. “Who took the remote to the basement and left it there?” she asked, a little testily.
“Probably Alex,” Shirley replied. “You know how guys have to be in control of the remote when women are around. He probably had it in his hand when he went downstairs to get ice from the big freezer.”
“Hold up,” Alex countered. “What is it with this ‘you know how guys’ stuff? Why can’t you just say ‘It was probably Alex,’ without making it into a battle of the sexes?”
I was hanging out at my buddy Alex’s house, watching TV in his living room with his aunts Shirley and Debbie, their mother, and other friends. Lisa or one of the other women made some wisecrack about guys, and that started a “battle of the sexes” discussion/argument. In the course of the discussion I made some comment or other that I don’t remember, and Mark and Alex hooted their agreement. As the laughter died down, Lisa asserted that I only made that comment because “my boys” were there with me, suggesting that my comment didn’t reflect what I really thought.
“You really think so?” I replied, as I grabbed her hand and turned toward the kitchen. Of course, there was a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” at the sight of me taking Lisa’s hand, which prompted me to respond, “Oh, knock it off!”
I opened the door from the kitchen to the basement and headed down the stairs, with Lisa in tow, closing the door behind me. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, I repeated my earlier remark, adding, “See, ‘my boys’ didn’t hear it that time!”
Whatever it was that I had said seemed to stun Lisa, and I decided to just head back up the stairs and let her digest what I had told her. But as I turned toward the stairs, she grabbed my hand. “Hold on a sec,” she said. “Now that we’re down here, maybe this is a good chance for us to iron out a few things we need to discuss.” (All of our mutual friends, and there are plenty, can see that the two of us have been checking each other out for quite a while now, but she’s only 23 and says she’s not ready for the kind of relationship I want… besides the fact that she knows that it wasn’t long ago that I’d been gaga about Paula, the woman who inspired the story about the talking clothes).
“Yeah, we *do* need to talk about some thing,” I agreed, “but not here.” I saw the raised eyebrow and added, “We’d practically have to station ourselves by the basement door to be sure we’d have some privacy. How about we go get a bite to eat?”
“Sounds good to me,” she said, letting go of my hand and following my lead up the basement stairs. As I got to the creaky next-to-last step on the way up, I could hear all kinds of shoe soles squeaking and shuffling around on the other side of the closed door, so I knew that someone had been trying to listen in.
Sure enough, when I opened the door, everyone was trying just a little *too* hard to look nonchalant, which was a dead giveaway that *somebody* had been spying. But I didn’t say anything — I just stepped out into the front hall to retrieve my coat.
“Where you goin’?” Alex called out.
and I are heading over to Mickey D’s to get a bite to eat,” I said, as I helped her get her coat on.
“Hey, I wanna go too!” chirped Shirley, with an expectant grin on her face.
“Um, we need to discuss something in private,” Lisa said, “but if you want I can bring you something back.”
“‘S okay,” Shirley replied. “I just wanted to see what you would say. I think we all know you two have some things to work out.”
“All right,” I called out to no one in particular, “we should be back soon.” I noticed that Shirley and Lisa exchanged a strange grin when they glanced at one another, just before Lisa left the room. I didn’t know what that was about, but I figured I’d just ask about it when we were in the car, and Shirley was out of earshot.
The Carters live on the left side of a one-way street, and I had parked right outside their front walkway, so I decided that since Lisa already knew me to be a gentleman at times, there was no need to walk out in the street and open her door — I’d just unlock it for her from the inside.
As I was unlocking the door, I looked across the car at her, and she looked like her usual inhumanly cute self. But when she bent over to get into the car, I found myself face to face with Shirley, and she still had thatI-know-a-secret smile she was wearing inside when Lisa and I left.
I did at least a double take, maybe even a triple. People don’t usually change their heads when they get into cars, and it looked like that was what had happened. I was looking at Shirley’s face and head, but atop Lisa’s somewhat more shapely body.
“Well?” this hybrid person next to me said, with Shirley’s voice. “Are we going to McDonalds, or not?”
“Um, how did you do that?” I said.
“Do what?” she said, flashing Shirley’s adorable smile.
“Change places with Lisa like that? And… how is it you have her figure?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, with a smile that said that she knew *exactly* what I was talking about but wasn’t telling.
“C-could we go back inside, and straighten this out?” I said, but I didn’t wait for an answer. I was already halfway out of the car by the time I’d finished the question. She opened her door and stepped out, but when she turned to face me, holding the door open, it was Lisa’s face that smiled at me from across the car.
“Why are we going back inside?” she asked.
I did another double take. Then, a familiar voice called out from the Carters’ front porch, “You two still here? Thought you were long gone!” I turned around to find Shirley and Rosita watching us from the porch, Shirley still with that same smile, and Rosita with a matching one.
I climbed back into the car, and noticed that Shirley and Rosita seemed to be in a big hurry to get back inside the house and out of sight.
“Do you wanna–” I started, before turning and finding myself again facing Shirley’s smiling face perched atop Lisa’s voluptuous body. I stifled a gasp. “Will you please stop that?! What are you two up to, anyway?”
“Who two?” she said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now, are we going to McDonald’s o
“We’re going,” I said, “but not until I know what’s going on. I don’t know how you and Lisa keep switching places, but I need her back here now, so we can work things out!”
“I *am* here,” the girl next to me said.
“No, you’re Shirley. You have all her mannerisms and everything.”
“Tell you what,” she said, while she dug around in her purse. “I’ll give you my cell phone, so you can call inside and see for yourself that Shirley’s in there. Maybe *then* we can finally get something to eat, before I starve to death.”
I took the phone, and made the call. A voice answered, “Carter residence.” It was Shirley’s mother.
“Hello,” I said.
“Whatsamatter?” Mrs. Carter said. “Car conveniently break down?”
“No, nothing like that,” I said, chuckling. “Is Shirley around?”
“Yeah, she’s here,” Mrs. Carter replied. “Hold on a second, I’ll get her.” There was a bit of shuffling around and quite a bit of chuckling, making me wonder if this was a big joke they were all in on. Finally, Mrs. Carter came back to the phone. “Um, Shirley can’t come to the phone right this second. Is there something you want me to tell her?”
“Um, no. But she *is* there, right?”
“Yeah, she’s here,” Mrs. Carter said, with a telltale chuckle. Right away that told me that whatever it was they were up to, she knew about it.
I opened the car door and got out. The hybrid girl asked, “Why are you getting out of the car?”
“Because I want to know what’s going on, that’s why,” I said. “You and Shirley– you and Lisa— Lisa and Shirley and you, whoever you are, are up to something, and I want to know what, and I want it to stop. At least long enough for me and Lisa to handle our business.”
But as soon as I was facing the house, I saw Shirley standing on the porch, with her arms crossed, and an angry expression on her face. “I thought you two had business to take care of,” she said.
“We do, once y’all quit playing your little game.”
“What do you mean?” Shirley shot back, plainly having trouble keeping her ever-present smile off her face.. “We’re not playing any game, are we, Lisa?”
I turned back towards the car, and wasn’t surprised to see Lisa’s face looking back from across the roof of the car. “I don’t know what his problem is,” she said. “I *thought* we were gonna go to Mickey D’s and get some food, and work on some things.”
“Right now, y’all need to work on telling me what’s going on,” I said.
They looked at each other, sighed in unison, and finally Shirley said, “Yeah, I guess we’ve played with you long enough. But instead of an explanation, how about a demonstration?” I shrugged, as Lisa and I both headed back towards the porch. She took her stand next to Shirley, both of them facing me.
“Now, take my right hand in your left,” Shirley instructed, “and Lisa’s left in your right, close your eyes, squeeze both hands, and then open your eyes.” I did, and when I opened my eyes I found myself holding onto the real Shirley and the hybrid girl from inside the car, both smiling Shirley’s adorable smile.
I just stood there speechless for a few seconds. The hybrid turned to the “real” Shirley, and said, with a perfect mimic of Shirley’s voice and mannerisms, “Weren’t we supposed to switch?”
“I just wanted to cross him up a little,” Shirley replied.
“But she *is* Lisa, right?” I asked Shirley.
“Why are you asking me? Ask her!”
Before I could say anything, the hybrid girl piped up, “I’m the one you sent that email to that time, remember? You know which one I’m talking about. And I’m the one who stared at you all night at that party down in Queens, at Wendy’s place, remember? Now, are we gonna go get some food, or do I have to start eating my clothes?”
“Ooh, you didn’t tell me about that party, Lisa,” Shirley drawled.
“All right, I’m convinced,” I announced. “Let’s go, before I have to help you with those clothes. Just promise me that you and Shirley will stop your little game.”
“Close your eyes for a second,” Shirley said. I’d forgotten Lisa still had a Shirley-head. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them Lisa was back to normal; then they both promised to stop their little game. But for some reason Shirley added, “Lisa and I will stop playing with you.”
*Why’d she throw that in there?* I wondered, but kept it to myself. We — Lisa and I — got into the car and went on to McDonalds without further delay or any more games. When we got there, I climbed out of the car, but as I was getting out I started asking, “What did you two get out of that, anyway?”
“What are you talking about?” asked a familiar voice from the other side of the car, one that didn’t belong to Lisa or Shirley.
“I thought you said–” I started, as I turned towards the source of the voice… and found myself facing Rosita. And not just her head on Lisa’s body, but head-to-toe Rosita. “Hey, where’d *you* come from??”
She just laughed… in *Lisa’s* voice…