By Jane King

Two years ago I went to the hospital to visit a sick friend who just so happens to edit this mag, only to find he was being tortured by a sadistic nurse. At the time I was in nursing school and had already developed an elaborate theory about nursing as an apt profession for sadists, so I had not a moment’s hesitation to label her as such and put the booga-booga on the booga-booga she had put on my friend, thus earning in the field an invitation to write this column.

Much relived, my now on-the-way-back-to-health friend began calling me “Nurse Jane”, which I didn’t quite become until a month or so later when I graduated from nursing school - valedictorian of my class, in fact. Immediately, most of my other friends began, half-facetiously, calling me Nurse Jane. It reminded me that there had been a time earlier in my life, living in Chicago, when I had been known by that name and I was amused that so many years later, it had become true.

When I was about 23 or 24, I was best friends with a girl named Mary Beth Bush. MaryBeth was wild, 2 years older than me and the most creative person I’d met up to that point. She was the first person I’d ever run into who talked about art in an intellectual way, for example she had put all her paintings on the floor for her senior exhibit in art school and insisted the parents and other students walk on her work because she had wanted to make a statement about the temporary nature of all material objects. It had upset the entire school, but MaryBeth was quite forceful and hard to refuse.

When we first started hanging out, she was working for Bally Pinball. She drew Pacman and she invented Ms. Pacman. MaryBeth had her hair in a buzz cut with tendrils on the sides, had big lips always painted with bright red lipstick and drove a red convertible Cadillac very fast. She was fierce and quite frankly I was afraid of her. But of course, I was also compelled to hang out with her as much as I could.

I met her in 1979, during punk time or just on the cusp of punk/new wave. I had started doing a dressing experiment where Friday nights I would put on all white clothing and wear it through the weekend, curious to see exactly how bedraggled the pristine outfit could get. I had three outfits. One was a white prom dress, very chiffon, satin and floaty with a white bow, one was a nurse’s outfit and the third was a Marilyn Monroe dress, skintight, pretty much see-through, halter top, from the floor with a slit in the middle up to there. I wore all three dresses with high-heeled white pumps.
One weekend, I had been wearing the nurse’s outfit and MaryBeth had come to pick me up Saturday morning in her red Cadillac for breakfast and afterwards she was going to drive me to work. I had a waitressing job on the weekend and I worked as a rep for a printing company during the week. After we ate, she was driving and I was kind of basking in the sun so it took me a while to realize she was going in the wrong direction.

“Hey Mary Beth, what’re you doing?” Really, I thought. We were almost to downtown.

“You’re calling in sick to work today.”

“I can’t.” I said. I never called in sick.

“Well you don’t have a choice. I’m taking you to a party in the Indiana dunes.”

By the time I finished pleading to no avail, we were on the skyway and I figured there was really nothing I could do. MaryBeth was not the type to turn around and drive back. At best she might leave me by the side of the road and even if I was tremendously lucky hitchhiking, I wouldn’t make it to work on time so I gave up.

As soon as I conceded, MaryBeth pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of a big grocery store. I called in late to work and she went shopping. Ten minutes later, she came out triumphantly bearing a tiny white toy doctor’s bag which she had found in the grocery store as a present for me. Back in the car, she stuffed the tiny doctor’s bag with hits of LSD and gave it to me to give to people at the party.

“Okay,” I said. I knew my outfit and the accessory would make me very popular.

When we arrived, around 5 at night, the sun was still fairly high in the sky. It turned out that the house party was a group of actors who had all gone to Notre Dame philosophy graduate school together. They were very well-educated, witty and immensely out of control.

I was planning to join them for a weekend of debauchery and swimming – it was the dunes, but somehow late that first night I went up to the attic and LO! what did I find but a very large cache of old Esquires from the nineteen fifties and sixties. Wow!! I was in heaven. The minute I started reading them, I was immediately obsessed. The writing was so spectacularly good. John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion took turns writing a column called The Coast. On the covers were Marilyn Monroe, an Indian. There were stories by John Cheever, Truman Capote, William Styron. Unbelievable. So the entire weekend, while I could see out the window the other party guests gamboling in the sun, I stayed inside the cool house completely straight, reading while wearing my only outfit – the nurse’s uniform. It was one of the most fun weekends of my life. Everyone of course, called me Nurse Jane.

Later, back in Chicago, I became quite good friends with those philosophical actors and I’d see them around. They always called me Nurse Jane, no matter how I was dressed. The only problem was, that occasionally, I would go to parties with them and when I arrived they would joyfully proclaim, “Look, we have no need to fear, Nurse Jane is here.” Since they were really wild, I felt that it was better for them to not be too reassured since I did not want to find myself at 3am trying to put someone back together who’d decided they could fly off a third story fire escape. So always when I went to parties with those friends, I thought it was best for all concerned if I left before midnight no matter how good a time I was having.
Stay tuned for the next NURSE JANE, when she starts wearing her nurse’s outfit with a ball gag.

Jane King worked as a writer for many years, also secretary, waitress, landscape architect, security guard and maths
tutor. She graduated from nursing school, passed her boards and has started a clinic Food as Medicine in which she
teaches people who are well how to stay that way. If you are interested in her clinic write [email protected].

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