If you are really, really lucky, you have a friend who can make you smile just by appearing on your caller ID or in your inbox. You just know that any communication from her will be fresh, funny and perceptive, salted with that fine edge of irony and self-deprecation that makes you laugh at her and yourself, and just the basic craziness of life.
For 14 years now, the readers of this magazine have had a friend like that in Jeanne Marie Laskas. From her first column in 1994, about playing the then-scandalous Mortal Kombat video game with her 12-year-old nephew, she came right out with that distinctive blend of informality, humility, insight and goofiness that was instantly endearing.
"I'm not sure what to say about the violence," she wrote in that first column. "I'm not sure what is good and what is bad to put into the minds of kids. I mean, I watched 'The Three Stooges' when I was little and I have to admit one day I did do a Moe move on my best friends, Judy and Maria. They were walking one step ahead of me and I took their heads and bonked them together. It was an act of love. Moe did it all the time. I didn't know it would hurt. Judy and Maria ran home crying and I learned, that day, something about the consequences of my actions."
An act of love. That's what always came through in Jeanne Marie's visits with us. Her column could move you to tears, or make you blow tea out your nose with unexpected laughter. But there was always a palpable force lurking beyond the words. It was a lot of things, I suppose -- her regard for her readers, her connection with her subjects -- but it was also just her pure affection for all the inscrutable twists of life lived up close, and that's where so many of us saw ourselves, as well.
Yes, I'm writing about her column in the past tense. Today, as you'll read on Page 27, Jeanne Marie Laskas retires Significant Others. She's been working overtime to fit it in among so many other deadlines -- for her books, her articles in national publications and her teaching, not to mention her daughters' softball practices and dance recitals. Now she'll have a saner schedule and leave some very big shoe-shopping jokes for us to fill. (Remember the column in which her friend Sally was planning to take a promising second date shoe shopping?)
Beginning next week, we'll inaugurate a new column, XX Files, written by a variety of authors of a certain chromosomal makeup, some of whom we discovered last year through a call in this space for fresh new voices. I'll tell you more about that later, but for now I just want to thank Jeanne Marie for being such a good friend, to us all.
Tom Shroder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.