The Regulars

photo/Jessie Banhazl

Mary Devou
Age: 42
Bar Regular at: Pizza Villa
Regular Since: 2006
Favorite Drink: IPAs

Pizza Villa, located between the old Greyhound bus station and the new Maine Med expansion on Congress Street in Portland, has been serving slices and suds since 1965. The comfortable pizzeria and sports bar has a small army of friendly regulars who refer to themselves as Villains, and at least one genuine superhero: Mary Devou. 

“I’ve never worked anywhere like this before,” said Cat, a Villa bartender. “If I don’t see someone daily, I worry!”

“We’re a family of misfits, it’s not just a bar,” a Villain named Jeannie added with a laugh. 

“Mary is a reason people come to stay here,” said Kip, a regular for 38 years. “She’s so friendly, and she gets people together outside the bar.”

How did you end up as a regular at Pizza Villa?

I had taken a bus to go cash a check down at the check-cashing place by Amato’s, and then I saw ”Pizza and Beer.” I was like, I like pizza and I like beer! Weekly, when I cashed my check, I would stop in. I met awesome people, and everybody was nice. I felt welcomed.

How does it feel to be a regular here? 

If you’re there regularly, you’re part of the family. It was funny, because my own family were like, “You hang out at the Pizza Villa?” They were quite judge-y about it. When I graduated from college, where did I want to celebrate? The Pizza Villa! This is community. These people know about my college, my artwork. I hadn’t joined SLAP [Superhero Lady Armwrestlers of Portland] at the time. They were a part of that process.

How did you get into arm wrestling?

Through my alma mater, SMCC [Southern Maine Community College]. They were talking about fundraising, and I was like, “I can help sell t-shirts.” But they were like, “No, you’re gonna arm wrestle!” They had to talk me into it, but once I did it, it was OK. I don’t think I won anything the first time. I was so nervous about being on stage. But then hearing everybody cheering! All the Villains were there cheering me on. I’ll never forget hearing all these people chant my name. I had never seen SLAP before, so I was also in shock: Oh my God, I gotta go pretend like I can arm wrestle! 

Were you a “character” when you were an arm wrestler?

They wanted me to wear spandex, and I was so not comfortable with my body then, so I was like, hell, no. That’s when I came up with Sister Mary, a nun, which turned into Slammin’ Sister Mary. I modified my graduation gown with a white turtleneck, and then we had removable sleeves so the Naughty School Girls, my entourage, could rip them off. When I first agreed to do this, I went to the Villa and was like, “We gotta work on this character. We need a theme song.” When you first come up, it’s hard, because a lot of people have really great characters. Like Black Mamba. She is mean and she’s scary, but in real life she’s a sweetheart. She’s got a PhD. She loves bunnies.

Did you win any competitions?

I started in 2014, and then I won the Super Claw in 2016. That was when I kind of retired from SLAP, because at that point I’d gotten introduced to competitive arm wrestling. I fell in love with the competition. I felt strong in my body.

You had a spinal injury. Is that why you stopped competitive arm wrestling?

I had two discs that were crushing my spinal cord. I had a double fusion and was pretty close to being paralyzed from the neck down, and I had to relearn to walk. I went from being super independent to things aren’t working so good to: Oh, fuck, now I can’t even walk. I felt really humbled by not being able to do anything. That isn’t why I stopped, though. I just felt like I had reached the top — I won all the competitions, why not make room for the next person? Nowadays, I like playing with printmaking. I like to make Valentine’s or Christmas cards and then I go and hand them out to the Villa.

Do people challenge you to arm wrestle at the bar?

All the damn time! I’ve learned that I do not need to prove my strength. I know I’m strong.