I was 19 when I began working at Michigan Bell as a switchboard operator and another co-worker, Noreen Bonasse, and I soon became friends.
Noreen was five years older than me, in the process of divorcing her first husband, Tom, at the time we met and she had her own apartment. She seemed so much more worldly and sophisticated than I could ever hope to be.
Noreen was tall and slender and she looked like a true Irish gal. She had red hair (that I later learned she dyed twice a year: a lighter reddy-blonde for the spring and summer and then a darker red for the fall and winter), freckles, pale skin and light blue eyes.
She wore everything with a casual elegance that I greatly admired while knowing that was something I could never achieve because I had never been interested in clothes. Clothes were something that you legally had to wear and I was happy to just throw on a T-shirt and some jeans.
I was short but curvy, and even though my long hair was a pretty, glossy goldy-red light brown, it limply hung down my shoulders. I bit my nails, and I was about as sophisticated as the country bumpkin that I really was like.
I was still living at home with my parents while I attended college, I was still dating my high school boyfriend and marriage to anybody didn’t really interest me that much.
The fact that Noreen had already been married, was now getting a divorce, and had lived on her own for several years impressed me at the same time it depressed me. I felt like a little kid pretending to be an adult while Noreen was actually being an adult.
About six months after I had begun working at Michigan Bell, a large group of the women who worked second shift made plans to go to the Torch Bar in Buckham Alley in Flint after our shifts ended at 11pm. The Torch was right across Beech Street and a parking lot from Michigan Bell.
Several of the women, including my friend, Jeannie Dick, invited me to go with them and I was happy to be included. Most of us were young and single but I was most definitely the new kid on the block, being the youngest and probably the most naïve of them all.
I had seen Noreen at work several times, we were cordial to each other but we usually worked different days and times so this was the first real time we had been able to say more than “Hi!” to each other.
I matched her drink for drink and pretty soon Noreen and I were having the funniest time telling each other abbreviated life stories that became more and more humorous with each drink we guzzled.
In Michigan in 1975, the legal drinking age at that time was 18 so I wasn’t doing anything illegal…except for driving drunk, like I did that night.
We closed the Torch down and my co-workers and I drifted off to where our various cars were parked. Coincidentally, Noreen and I had parked in the same parking lot and I pleasantly discovered that we had another thing in common: we both drove 1969 Chevy Novas. Hers was blue, her favorite color, and mine was a light green, my favorite color.
It had snowed a bit while we had been inside the bar and Noreen and I lurched around our cars swiping off the accumulated snow and drunkenly laughing about what a lousy job we were doing.
We finally got the front and back windows cleared and we gave each other huge hugs and told each other how glad we both were to have made each other’s acquaintance. Then we jumped into our cars to start them up and go to our homes.
Well, at least my Nova started up. I watched Noreen try and try and try to get her Nova going while my car slowly heated up.
I finally got out of my Nova and I asked her to come over and sit in my car. She had flooded hers so she would have to wait a few minutes before trying to start her car again so she may as well be warm and toasty in my Nova.
She sat in my car getting warmed up for a few minutes and then she asked me, “How do you know I flooded my car? Maybe it’s the battery or something.”
I told her that I actually thought it was a different problem but I had to wait a few minutes longer to find out if I would be right.
Noreen gave me a very quizzical look that made me laugh as I told her that because I was the only girl in the family, I had learned quite a lot about cars from watching and helping my dad with his.
Noreen told me that there were clearly defined rules and roles in her family and women do not touch cars because that’s the man’s job.
I then asked her, “Well what if you do not have a husband or a boyfriend, or if you do, they know as little about cars as you do, what happens then? Take it every time to a repair shop where your bill is automatically jumped up 10-20% when you walk in simply because you’re a woman?”
I told her that I believed that women should know as much as possible about their cars, and they should also know how to do basic home repairs as well as take out the trash but that men should also know how to cook, sew, and change a diaper as well.
Noreen just shrugged her shoulders in polite disagreement so I told her we should try something else now to see if we can get her Nova started before she had to have it towed.
I popped her car’s hood and then I removed her air-filter as I showed her where her carburetor was on top of her engine. Then I showed her the throat plate that should always be able to freely move up and down to allow air to enter the carburetor and mix with the gasoline.
But like I had suspected, the throat plate on her car had frozen shut. I explained to her, as I dug a pencil out of my car, sometimes moisture in the air in the winter time will freeze that throat plate shut and then the car won’t start unless you can pry the throat plate up and prop it open.
So after I had pried her throat plate up and held it open with the pencil wedged in it, I got into her front seat, turned the key in the ignition, and zoom! Noreen’s car immediately started up.
Noreen stood there with her mouth open in amazement as I retrieved my pencil and watched to make sure the carburetor was working okay before I replaced her air filter and slammed down her hood.
She said, “How did you do that so fast? How did you even know how to do that? I’ve had to have my car towed twice this winter because it wouldn’t start and you got it going with just a pencil? Oh, that makes me so mad about all of the money I spent when all I needed was a damn pencil!”
I laughed as I presented her with the gift of my pencil, explaining that I had another one I always kept in my car for just such purposes.
Then I told her, “See, sometimes knowing how to take care of some things yourself can save you oodles of money. And it doesn’t make you less of a girl either!”
She laughed and we waved good-bye to each other as we drove off.
That was the beginning of our friendship. We mutually admired the differences between us and we appreciated the similarities we had too. We also liked to hang out at bars and get trashed a lot.
Drinking with Noreen generated experiences I had not had before or since. I had been in bars since I was 16, but not on the regular basis as Noreen liked to go.
Noreen had been raised a staunch Roman Catholic by very strict parents but that good girl veneer quickly vanished after the second beer and the liberated party girl that always lurked inside her happily emerged.
And I don’t know why, but I could usually handle my drinking way, way better than Noreen ever could. So a lot of the time I became her keeper, trying to prevent her from doing things I knew she would deeply regret in the morning.
But there were a few times when I drank a lot more than I should have and then Noreen and I would happily swerve around town in her Nova going from bar to bar and having fun playing what I called “bumper curb”.
Noreen was not really a good driver but her driving skills, of course, became a helluva lot worse with each drink. But conversely the worse she drove, the harder I laughed until I would end up on the floor on the passenger side, convulsed with giggles.
Noreen never sped when she was drunk so she compensated for her drunken states by driving no more than 25-30 miles per hour. But she also couldn’t drive in a straight line so she would drift over until she would graze the curb on the right side of the street then she would drift over until she grazed the curb on the left side.
And I don’t know why but she was never pulled over when I was with her. The one time she killed the front end of her second husband’s car playing bumper curb and the police were called, another co-worker was with her.
But when she came close to killing her husband, Ed, and me and herself, I finally put my foot down and told her, “That’s it! I’m driving us around from now on!”
The little house that Ed and Noreen had bought on Winona Street in Flint had a short driveway. Noreen and I were returning to their house after a night of drinking and she hit the accelerator instead of the brake as she turned into the driveway.
Then in a panic, she flipped the wheel towards the corner of the house. I screamed, and somehow managed to scoot over far enough to jam my foot down on the brake as I whipped the steering wheel over away from the house.
After I put the car into “Park”, I got out of the car to see how close we had come to hitting the house. The front bumper was only an inch or two away.
I started yelling at Noreen, and Ed, who had heard the commotion, came outside to see what was going on.
After I had told him what Noreen had almost done and how close to the house the car had finally ended up, he blanched when he realized that he had been napping on the couch in that same corner where the car had almost plowed through.
So after that there was no more bumper-curb driving by Noreen when I was with her.
But we were both quite the stupid pair when we were out drinking. One time we went to a popular disco after we had been drinking at a few other bars and we were attempting to find some empty chairs or a table to sit at so that we could check out the place.
We tried sitting at the bar but the stools were all taken, then we slowly began to make our way through the dense crowd of dancing queens and John Travolta dance-a-likes.
We had spotted empty tables on the other side of the dancers and we aimed for those as we worked our way through the crowded dance floor, constantly apologizing for getting in people’s way or for stepping on their toes.
Suddenly we walked right smack into a mirrored wall. The tables we had seen had been the reflections of the ones we had already checked out that all had drinks or purses on them.
Embarrassed as all get out because we had drunkenly walked right into a wall, we quickly left the disco and vowed that since disco music sucks anyways, we didn’t need to be seen in such a place.
Another time we stopped off at a small bar on Ballenger Highway called the Knight’s Inn. Whenever we drank, for some reason we always got in the mood to play pool, even though we were lousy players when sober and horribly worse when we weren’t.
The back room of the Knight’s Inn was really way too small for two pool tables. There was only about 18 inches of room all around both the tables and only about three feet separated the two tables.
Two guys were already playing at the table closest to the door so Noreen and I staggered to the other one. I racked the balls and then stood off to the side as Noreen leaned over and tried to hold her pool cue steady enough to make the break.
She pulled the pool cue back and then I was shocked to see the rubber end hit the wall and bounce forward. I watched as the pool cue left her hands like a swift arrow flying from an archer’s bow.
That pool stick flew past my eyes and I turned to track it as I watched it fly, straight and true, to hit smack into the bent-over butt of one of the guys at the other table.
I collapsed at the side of our table down onto the floor with hysterical laughter as I watched the guy turn around and yell at Noreen. Then I turned, still laughing, to see Noreen’s reaction to what had just happened and I began to cry as I laughed even harder at her expression and at what she was doing.
All this time Noreen stood at the end of our table slowly looking at her hands and turning them over, as she kept saying, “Where did it go? I thought I had a pool cue in my hands, so where did it go, what happened to it?”
I clutched my sides as I sat on the floor and rocked back and forth, speechless and crying with laughter from the absurdity of this whole drunken situation.
The guy whose butt Noreen’s cue stick had hit was standing there cussing us out as the drunken chicks we were, with Noreen’s stick on the floor behind him, and Noreen still standing at the end of our table, continuing to turn her hands over and to look all around for her missing cue stick.
And all I could do was rock with almost silent laughter, tears running down my face, shakily pointing a finger at Noreen’s stick on the floor, while amazedly wondering how long it was going to take Noreen to figure out what had happened to it.
The two guys did not find it as funny as I had though, and one of them went to complain to the bartender as Noreen still stood, bemused, at the end of our pool table, still trying to figure out where her cue stick had gone, while I stupidly rocked in convulsions of laughter on the floor to the side of our table.
The bartender came in and curtly ordered us to leave, so I stood up, grabbed Noreen and our purses, and pulled her out with me into the parking lot.
We got into my Chevelle but before I could put it into Drive, she made me start laughing so hard all over again when she turned to me with the most confused look on her face and asked me, “I don’t get it, why did we get kicked out just because I lost the pool cue? That’s not fair. Do you think that’s fair?”
Between my renewed giggles and gasps of air I told her, “You didn’t lose your cue stick, Noreen, the rubber end bounced off the wall and then it flew out of your hands like an arrow and hit the butt of one of those other guys playing pool at the table right in front of us. They didn’t think it was as funny as I did and that’s why we got kicked out.”
She dropped her mouth open. “It did? Is that what happened to it? Oh, I’m so glad because I thought I had lost it somewhere.” “You did lose it, you lost it in that guy’s butt!”
Then as she began to imagine what I had described to her, she too began to giggle and giggle right along with me.
Another time after a completely unexpected and painful break-up with my boyfriend, Noreen accompanied me on another drunken round through several bars in Flint.
We were leaving a bar on Dort Highway with a doggy bag of the remains of the burgers and onion rings we had ordered inside along with our many drinks.
A very cute and shaggy dog came up to greet me, probably because of the delectable food smells coming from our paper bags.
I crouched down, cooing at him and petting him, as he wolfed down the remains of my burger. Then when he was done, I stood up and opened up my car door to get in to drive me and Noreen back to her house, and the dog immediately jumped into the back seat!
He sat up, lightly panting with anticipation at an unexpected treat of a car ride as me and Noreen looked at each other over the roof of my car in puzzled amusement.
She asked me, “You’re not going to take that dog with you, are you? He probably belongs to somebody, maybe a family with kids!”
I told her, “I don’t need or want a dog but he seems to be expecting me to take him somewhere, doesn’t he? But I’ll get him out, because no, he’s not coming back with us.”
So I pulled back the front seat and I tried, and Noreen tried, to coax him to get out of my back seat. But when Noreen tried to gently tug on his collar, he growled at her, and she jumped back. He was determined he was going to get a car ride!
So too drunk to figure out what to do next, I drove Noreen and I and the dog back to her house. The dog then happily left my back seat and walked into Noreen’s house and made himself at home on one of her rugs.
So we gave him a bowl of water and Noreen collapsed onto her bed as I collapsed onto her couch, covered up with one of her afghans, and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
At 7 in the morning, Noreen’s roommate, Linda, woke up to get ready for work. She was used to seeing me sleeping it off on the couch but she was not used to finding a strange dog also asleep on the floor next to me.
Linda kept shaking me until I was groggily semi-coherent and I stared at her in stupid amazement when she kept asking me about the dog.
“What dog?” “This dog on the floor next to you.” I leaned over, groaned, and then I leaned back, “Oh, yeah, that dog.”
I closed my eyes but Linda kept persistently asking me, “So is this dog yours?” “No.” “Well, where did he come from?” “He jumped into my car at a bar on Dort Highway and Noreen and I couldn’t make him leave so we brought him here.” “Are you or Noreen adopting him?” “No, he has a collar so he belongs to somebody.” “So you guys dog-napped a dog?” “No, he held us hostage in my own car by growling at us and refusing to leave and that meant that he forced us to drive him here.” “That doesn’t make any sense! How could a dog force you to do that?”
I sat back up again with great difficulty because my head pounded and I saw stars but I asked her, “Well, Linda, what would you have done if a strange dog suddenly jumped into your car just as you were going to get into it to drive home and the dog kept growling at you and snapping at you when you tried to pull him back out of your car? Call Animal Control who isn’t open at that time in the morning? Call the police when Noreen and I are drunk as skunks? So the dog got to have a sleep-over for a few hours, no big deal. Noreen and I will take him back to that bar and coax him out with some treats and then he will trot his way back to his own house, I hope.” Then I rolled over and went back to sleep.
After Noreen had finally woken up for the day, we took the dog out onto her enclosed back yard to go potty and then we were able to easily coax him back into my car with some cat treats.
We drove the dog back to that same bar on Dort Highway and as I opened up my door and pulled back my driver’s seat, the dog jumped out and trotted off without even a good-bye or a backward glance at either of us.
Noreen yelled at him, “Hey, you should thank us because we were nice to you and you also need to be more careful in the future about who picks you up again in the middle of the night and takes you home with them!”
I started laughing like crazy when I reminded Noreen about exactly where we were and she began to laugh too as she looked around, hoping that nobody had overheard what she had yelled at that dog. Dort Highway has been very notorious for a long time as Flint’s prolific hooker zone so what she had yelled at the dog was even more humorous!
Noreen and I remained friends for about 15 more years. We went through 3 of her marriages, one of mine, different jobs, many moves that we helped each other with, several boyfriends etc.
Noreen and I eventually drifted apart but I will always fondly remember and treasure our once-close friendship and the many fun times we shared, drunk and sober.