Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dusty Needs More Male Influence

              I have among my belongings a scrap book my mother and I put together many years ago.  My most recent perusal uncovered a copy of my Kindergarten progress report.  It wasn’t a report card, per se, as the nomenclature for grading was S (Satisfactory), I (Improving but not yet Satisfactory) and N (Needs Improvement).  I have always tried to excel in any grading context and I was proud to see I received an ‘S’ in 27 of 30 categories.  Of the three categories where I received an ‘I’, I am guilty of two.  The third was I apparently did not know my address.  Considering my people were nomadic Southern Baptists, I think I can be forgiven as we had only moved to Winnfield, Louisiana, two months prior to starting school.  Plus, I was only four years old, y’all. 

                The other two categories should surprise no one; I was not yet satisfactory in “Listens While Others Speak” and “Rests Quietly”.  I have been a talker from way back, people. 

                Eastside Elementary had two reporting periods per school year and each period offered an open narrative place to send notes to parents.  Although my teacher thought my talking was an issue, she chose to leave the narrative field empty of additional comments. 

                By the end of the school year, I had improved to an ‘S’ in 29 of 30 categories; I retained an ‘S-‘ in “Rests Quietly” category.  I did not and still don’t enjoy a mid-day nap.  I have things to do; conversations to have.  However, something happened or changed in the spring as the narrative notes for the year included the phrase, “Needs More Male Influence” followed by “Performs Beautifully”.

                I wonder the reasoning behind this particular choice of phrase.  What was the motivation to describe me as needing more male influence in Louisiana in 1976?  What was she hoping to accomplish?  Did she feel compelled to soften the blow with her declaration that I “performed beautifully”.  Was it a panicky response to a hasty decision on a document she couldn’t simply destroy and start over?  She also couldn’t use Liquid Paper as its inventor (Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith of the Monkees) didn’t have the product available throughout the country until 1979.  Was the added statement a pre-cursor to the now ubiquitous praise sandwich, where you praise, critique and then praise an employee or co-worker.  Was this an open-faced praise sandwich, a praise pizza, a praise frittata? 

My father was a welder at the local sawmill, but he was home most every night to my memory. He even attended church somewhat regularly and by that I mean at least twice more than Christmas, Easter and Family Photo Day.  He taught me how to ride a bike and when I wrecked the first time he taught me to “shut it up” instead of crying.

                What did my mother think?  She didn’t put too much stock in other’s opinions, except Jesus and her mother, but she taught us how to act appropriately in any situation.  Unfortunately, sometimes need overtook training.  I wonder if this was about the dentist visit/toy car debacle.

                I had a dental appointment and my mother came to pick me up from school right after nap time.  As I never really stopped talking during this time, I never received a prize.  Mrs. Brewer, my teacher, would reward good nappers with candy each day.  At the end of each week the best boy napper received a toy truck or car and the best girl napper a small doll; it was the South in the 1970s and we love giving a gift.  Having never once received candy, I was in no way in the running for Best Boy Napper.  My BFF Jason Tarver occasionally received candy, which I summarily decided he should share.  When he disagreed, I ate it anyway.  Yes, I know I was a handful and a half.  We had completed nap time and Mrs. Brewer was in the process of announcing the winners when my mother arrived.  Taking leave of my senses, I began to cry and state very plainly that Mrs. Brewer obviously did not like me as I had never been given the Best Boy Napper toy which invariably went to either Kyle Brewer or Floyd Lamb. 

My mother was caught off guard, without a frame of reference for toy distribution etiquette in a classroom setting.  With a look of horror and confusion, Mrs. Brewer handed me the toy ambulance.  Not wanting to “whoop me down” in front of my classmates, my mother let the scenario play out but I can assure you I was not allowed to enjoy the ill-gotten gain.  That privilege was bestowed upon my brother while I had to stand idly by watching him enjoy the doors that really opened and the wheels that really turned.  I was standing as sitting was not something I was able to accomplish so soon after my re-training session with both mother and father, concerning proper behavior in public.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Female Eunuch in a Homemade Bikini and Other Pageant Tales

             As you all know, I used to be heavily involved in the Miss America system as a Local Director, State Judge and Trainer.  My last hurrah, if you will, was in 2011 when I was part of the team accompanying my Miss DC to Miss America.  The lovely and talented Stephanie (Williams) Dekom is a pediatrician who used her scholarship money to complete her MD at George Washington University.  We recently reconnected when we realized we both live in LA, and this time I am not referring to Lower Alabama.

                Dr. Gorgeous, her equally adorable husband and I met for dinner and the Miss LA County/Miss Culver City pageants for the Miss America system.  It’s been five years since I was involved in anything pageant-related other than watching Miss America and explaining to my friends and family why some of the winners won.  I was looking forward to experiencing the local talent which is occasionally astounding, dependably horrifying and always entertaining,

                The theatre was a wood-paneled relic of days gone by.  I felt as if we were in a finished basement waiting to join the cast of That 70s Show to play Twister.  This made sense when the Directors were introduced and out walked a couple in late, laaaaate middle age.  The wife had a unique hairstyle; an interesting combo of a Bump-It® for the front bangs, a smaller back-up Bump-It ® and a pony tail almost to her waist.  Her profile was similar to photos of the mythical Monster surfacing in The Loch Ness: bump, bump, tail.

                The contestants were an interesting mix from extremely beautiful but marginally talented future Miss USA contestants, marginally attractive but extremely talented eventual titleholders and those both marginally attractive and marginally talented, a potent combination for last place, to be sure. 

In true LA fashion, there were a couple of atypical Miss America contestants.  The first was a 4’12” young lady of Hispanic origin who came armed with white patent leather stripper heels and a rendition of Peggy Lee’s Fever that wouldn’t feel out of place at a burlesque show, with hair and make-up which would’ve won her RuPaul’s Drag Race. 

The other was the most unique contestant I’ve ever seen and I’m including the young lady I saw at a local pageant in 1992 that sang The Judd’s Grandpa and forgot the words.  This young lady who’s slicked down, parted-in-the-middle bangs made her look like Amy Farrah Fowler’s less attractive, more awkward cousin.  She was bedaubed with heavy blue eye shadow and Chapstick ® but no other attempt at make-up.  She wore pants for the on-stage question.  She seemed to have made her swimsuit at home, with bikini bottoms in a faded earth tone I called Adobe Wall and a moss green/white striped bikini top with some sort of Peter Pan collar flap thingie. 

For her talent she sang a self-composed ditty, accompanying herself on piano, energetically pounding the three chords and cleverly rhyming ‘life’ with ‘life’.  She repeated the same verse several times, singing in a British accent not unlike Audrey Hepburn’s “Flars fer sayul” in My Fair Lady.  At no other point in the pageant did she have an accent of any sort other than Disinterested Scientist, which is what I posited to my companions.  I feel fairly certain this contestant is, at present, putting the finishing touches on a Psychology, Anthropology or Feminist Studies research paper or a missive on gender norms, feminism and the American Beauty Pageant, entitled something like, Female Eunuch in a Homemade Bikini, that is simply begging to be performed at a Slam Poetry reading by a off-duty Barista in a tattered Sleater-Kinney t-shirt, reeking of ennui and electronic cigarettes.

Other contestants were reasonably talented except for some of the singers.  Is it a national rule now that someone has to sing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” every beauty pageant?  This one had two, neither who had anywhere near the singing chops to belt a song that is meant to be belted.  And if you’re going to sing Sia’s “Titanium” and you can’t hit the high notes, you should choose a different song.  You should not suddenly sing in a lower register sounding like Barry White in the throes of puberty. 

Dramatic monologues are a mixed bag.  When I judged Miss Arizona in 2009, there was a contestant who did scenes from Les Miserables and was awarded 1st Runner-up because she was a talented actress.  At this pageant a contestant did scenes from the movie Clueless.  Yes, you read that correctly. 

The winners were predicted by our little group:   Intelligent-Sorta-Pretty-Like-Meryl-Streep-Piano-Player and Pageant-Ready-Adele-Lite-Diva-in-a-Catsuit.  They will do well at Miss California, although Adele-Lite had a monstrously confusing evening gown which looked like something Ursula the Sea Witch would have worn to Prom had she been on land and enrolled in Jenny Craig. 

In other words, the pageant was awesomeness abounding and I can’t wait for the next one.