Archive for April, 2010

Jillian Michaels – The Biggest Loser

April 27, 2010

When  The Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels stated that she would prefer to adopt rather than give birth because, as she put it, “I can’t handle doing that to my body,” I understood, in part, where Michaels is coming from.  Her body is her career.  Her very livelihood depends on her looking fit and trim. 

Plus, she’s a star of a popular TV show.  It would be difficult for her to train Biggest Loser contestants pregnant.   American audiences would not want to watch an immensely pregnant woman yelling at people and forcing them to run or lift weights.  The pressure on her to immediately drop the baby weight and return to her pre-pregnancy shape would be intense.  And contrary to popular belief, not every woman wants children, and not every woman who wants children, wants to give birth.

Logical or not, Michaels’ comments could prove to be a costly marketing move.

In addition to The Biggest Loser, Michaels has a burgeoning franchise centered around weight loss products.  Her website, jillianmichaels.com, features her eponymous weight loss program and sells DVDs, books and fitness equipment.  The Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred is an intense weight-loss and exercise regimen. 

In defending herself, Michaels adopted the oh-so-familiar claim that her comments were taken out of context.  But whether or not Michaels was talking about the effect of pregnancy on a woman’s figure, she should have known her statement would be taken as implying she didn’t ever want to be fat again (Michaels has admitted to weighing as much as 175 — oh, the horror!). 

Michaels’ biggest mistake may have been her criticism of “mommybloggers” in particular for their “disappointing” response.  Most of her customers are — you guessed it — women, many of whom are mothers who are looking for help shedding the excess baby weight.  Alienating the customer base = bad marketing.

Michaels reminds me of the character played by Ali Larter in Legally Blonde — the fitness maven who swore Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods to keep her alibi to a murder charge secret, because admitting to getting liposuction would expose her as a fraud.  Regardless of what she meant, in saying she would prefer to adopt because she “can’t do that” to her body, Michaels sounds as if she doesn’t have much confidence in her own weight loss products and philosophy.  And if you don’t even believe in what you’re selling, why should I buy it?

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A Good Woman – Part I

April 18, 2010

The day after my mother’s funeral, her baby sister,  my Aunt Mary, said to her grieving nieces:

“Well, your Mama sure had her ways, but couldn’t nobody say that Lennie wasn’t a good woman.”

We all nodded.  Mama most definitely had her ways, but the fact that she was a good woman was undeniable. 

I’ve thought about my aunt’s comment from time to time since my mom passed:

What made Mama a good woman?

Was it her unshakeable faith, her complete and utter devotion to the Lord?  Perhaps.  Mama was a Christian, but she was no church Christian.  She didn’t play church politics well at all.  In fact, she told me she was not-so-politely asked to leave her prayer group at her home church; she said it was because she was constantly challenging the group leader’s understanding of the Bible (of course, my mom was right and they were wrong).  Although her funeral was held at her home church, she hadn’t actually been inside it in years.

Mama called herself a student of the Bible.  We counted at least 30 bibles among her possessions, most of them ordered from the TV preachers she took to following when she stopped going to church.  She was not a Biblical scholar, but she had practically memorized the Bible.  She had committed her favorite passages to memory, and her recall didn’t diminish even as other parts of her memory began to fail. 

She gave, or tried to give, each of us a Bible.  She gave me two — a NIV translation, because I told her I preferred the NIV to the King James, and a Bible that had both the NIV and the King James texts side by side.  She must have been amused when, about a week before she died, I started quoting Scripture to her, using it to try to get her to consent to the medical treatment she had refused.

Mama was a good woman because she couldn’t stand to see people suffer.  It never ceased to amaze me — and, admittedly, sometimes disgusted me as well — the way she would feed the men and women who had been children with us, the ones who hadn’t done well enough to leave the block, many of them now mired in drug and alcohol addictions.  My mother hated to see people go hungry, especially children.  She was always sending a plate of food, whatever she had cooked that day, to families on the block.

We had neighbors who would come to her yard with buckets to draw water from the outside tap as if it were a well, because their water had been shut off.  I was outdone. 

Mama said, “They have children in that house.  They can’t be in that house with children and no water.”  And when I said too much in protest, she let me know it was her house, her water bill and her decision.   She never stopped doing what she could for the people in our neighborhood, until the day she died. 

We worried that people were taking advantage of an old lady living on a fixed income.  We feared that one of those people would decide to press that advantage by breaking into her home and robbing her, or worse.  Mama pooh-poohed us all.  She refused to leave her home, even when a stray bullet lodged itself in the wall just above her bed.  The neighborhood people never tried to harm her, and grieved her loss as deeply as the family did.

My mother was a good woman, but she was no saint.  As my aunt said, she had her ways.  She could be petty and small-minded.  She had a tongue that could cut you deep.  She always knew where the soft spot was, how deep to stick the knife and how far to twist it.  She defined stubbornness.  Once she had made up her mind about something, there was nothing — no logic, no reasoning, no nothing — that could change her mind.  She was as petulant as a two-year-old when she didn’t get her way.

All of those things mean she was human. 

But she was a good woman.

Mama raised us girls to be good women.  We were taught to cover our bosoms and our behinds, to close our legs and open our minds.  We were encouraged to be outspoken, independent, self-reliant.  She had seen first-hand how being financially dependent on a man could backfire, and wanted none of that for us.  As kids, we hadn’t been allowed to socialize with the people she wound up taking care of in her old age, after we moved away and they were left behind, struggling.  We were taught to comport ourselves with decorum, to treat others with respect, to associate with other good people, and to never give up on ourselves.

She was disgusted by Monica Lewinsky and would have been horrified by Rielle Hunter and Kiely Williams.  To her, a woman who used sex to get ahead was a prostitute, period.  Her insistence that looks were irrelevant, that only brains mattered, was so extreme that it seems only my oldest sister Cheryl knew she had any looks to trade upon, but it worked.  I may question her methods, but I can’t argue with the results.

I’m not a good woman in the same way that my mother was.  I’m not trying to feed the hungry in my neighborhood.  I consider myself a Christian, but some of my views of Christianity would shock and perhaps disappoint my mother.  I worry whether I have energy to fight the NYC Department of Education for my kids, the way she fought the Detroit Public Schools system to ensure that I received the best free public education I possibly could. 

And yet, I think I qualify.  I’m open-hearted and caring.  I believe everyone, from CEOs of multi-national conglomerates to the homeless, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.  I often decry the lack of civility in our discourse with each other, especially as people interact more and more with people they do not know personally via social media.   And while I try to get my daughter to feel good about herself inside and out, both beauty and brains, I’m an old-fashioned stickler for necklines up, hemlines down, knees together.

My mother lived long enough to see the type of woman I’ve become.  I’m pretty confident she approved.

Pimps Up, Hoes Up: Sexing Your Way to Your 15 Minutes of Fame

April 14, 2010

I am excited and honored to be today’s featured guest blogger on the popular Black ‘n Bougie blog.  Black ‘n Bougie is powered by Michele Grant (@OneChele on Twitter), author of the novel Heard It All Before.  My post, entitled “Pimps Up, Hoes Up: Sexing Your Way to Your 15 Minutes of Fame” talks about  what Michele refers to as “Mistresses and Groupies on Parade,” and how sexing up the rich and famous, and exploiting sex in general, seems to be a career strategy for some young woman. 

Please check it out and let me know what you think.  Feel free to post comments here or on the Black ‘n Bougie blog.

Cameran’s Camera: The Pearl Talk Show Script

April 10, 2010

My daughter read John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” for her 7th Grade ELA class, and was assigned to write a talk show script that identified the book’s central conflict.  She got a perfect score on the assignment.  I thought the work was so good, I decided to share it with you.  So, from my guest poster, Cameran: here’s the Cameran’s Camera script.

Cameran’s Camera

Me: Hello fans, and welcome to my show! My name is Cameran, and this is Cameran’s Camera!

Theme song plays

Me: Today we are doing a special segment on the world’s favorite piece of green paper: money, and how it can make people do the most unbelievable things. The show will be called “When Money Turns Other Types of Issues Green.” Here on the show with me today are various characters from the book The Pearl. Right now, I am going to bring out Kino, and he knows better than anyone how money can ruin your life. So here he is ladies and gentleman, Kino!

Crowd claps

Kino walks on stage

Me: Kino! Hi, how are you today?

Kino: Very well, thank you for having me.

Me: No problem, have a seat.

Kino sits

Me: So let’s cut to the chase, shall we? You know better than most people how badly you can screw up your life when money gets involved in the picture don’t you?

Kino: Umm…Well…I guess I do…

Me: Oh c’mon! Tell us the story!

Kino: Umm…Well it all started when my wife and I were fishing on the Gulf, and found the Pearl of the World.

Me: The Pearl of the World? That sounds intense, explain what you mean by that.

Kino: It is what we called it, because it was the largest pearl I had ever seen in my life. It was about the size of an ostrich egg. The pearl was also the most beautiful one too…I loved that pearl…

Kino sighs

Me: You keep talking about this in the past tense, what happened to you and this pearl?

Kino: That thing destroyed my life! It hurt my family, it hurt me, and it killed my baby! In the end, there was nothing left to do except throw it back into the sea where it belonged.

Me: The pearl could not have killed your baby and ruined your family itself…

Kino: Don’t be stupid, of course it did not do all of this itself. I became its slave. I did all those things to my family because I was trying to save the pearl so that I could give my family a better life.

Me: Wow, kind of ironic huh? You destroy your family by protecting the thing you think is going to save you, and then you end up just throwing it away in the end.

Kino: I know…and now my own wife will not even talk to me! As soon as we got back to our village, she left me! She said that I needed to know what I wanted before she could consider being with me again. She said that I needed to learn what was important in my life.

Me: If you could speak to her again, what would you say?

Kino: I would apologize for what happened to our son, I would tell her I loved her!

Me: Well today is your lucky day because tonight, I have her here, backstage in the studio, waiting to talk to you. Come on out Juana!

The crowd claps

Juana walks out

Me: Hello Juana, have a seat!

Juana sits

Juana: This is a waste of my time.

Juana rolls her eyes/crosses her arms

Me: Okay then…Kino, why don’t you say to Juana what you said to me just now.

Kino: Well…Umm, I—

Juana: Save it, do not waste your breath. There is nothing you can say to me now that will change my decision about leaving you!

Kino: But Juana, I love you!

Juana: How could you?! Why did you do what you did?! How could you!?

Kino: I only did it to save us! I thought that by doing whatever necessary to save the pearl, it would prove to you and to myself that I was worth it, and that we all deserved it!

Juana: But you know that I do not need all the material possessions to make me happy Kino! Why do you not understand that? I loved you Kino, and I still do, but you have always wanted so much more than what is right in front of you…Why couldn’t you just accept what we had?

Kino: We had nothing Juana! We barely had enough for the both of us, let alone…Coyotito…I am a man! And as a man, it is my job to make sure my family has everything!

Juana: Do you still not understand?! We did have everything, we had each other! But since you felt the need to have everything, we lost everything we had before. We lost our son, our house, our friends, our town, our pride…our marriage…

Me: Wow, this is intense…if you do not mind me asking, why can’t you just go back to the way things were before?

Juana: I cannot just go back to the way things were!!!!!! Do you know what it is like to want to lose so much when all you wanted is a little more??

Me: I know what it is like to want, and not get it…and that is what happened to you guys right?

Kino and Juana nod simultaneously

Me: To slightly alter the topic, I hear that there were some other people involved with the pearl. Is that true?

Kino and Juana: Ummm…

Me: So I take that as a yes right?

Kino: Sort of. The doctor “cured” Coyotito right after he found out we had the pearl, and said we could repay him when we got the money from it.

Me: That’s funny, because I have the doctor with me right now! Come on out doctor!

The doctor walks on stage

Crowd claps

Me: Hello doctor, why don’t you take a seat?

Doctor: Okay

Doctor sits

Me: You do remember the Pearl of the World right?

Doctor: Of course I do!  I was supposed to receive some of the money that was made from it, but Kino still cannot pay me back for my duties.

Kino: I could not sell the pearl, and I could not continue living with the evil it brought to my family and me.

Doctor: Not to worry, it is still the most prized possession in the village.

Me: Still? I thought Kino and Juana disposed of it?

Doctor smiles

Doctor: They may have thrown it back into the water, but they did not get rid of it. It only took a few weeks for the word to spread that you two were no longer in the possession of the pearl, and it only took a few more weeks after that for me to find where it was.

Doctor takes out package

Doctor opens package

Crowd gasps

Juana, Kino, and I gasp as well

Me: Is that…

Juana: Is that…??

Kino: THE PEARL

Doctor: Yes, now I have the Pearl of the World, and all the wealth will finally be mine! I will be getting what I deserve…

Juana: How…I do not understand, how could you have found it!?

Doctor rolls his eyes

Doctor: I have already explained this to you, I had my men search for it.

Kino: Why have you brought this to me!? Why have you brought back the evil to us!?

Doctor: What is so evil about a little extra money? I have brought it because I got an offer at the capital, and I believe you will find the price extremely reasonable

Doctor whispers in Kino’s ear

Kino’s eyes widen

Doctor: I am willing to split the money with you and your family, if you agree to come back to the village and be my personal pearl diver. You and your family would be able to stay in my mansion, and live the very luxurious life that I have. What do you think?

Kino: Oh. My. God.  Juana! We can—

Juana: NO! Absolutely NOT! There is no way I am having anything to do with that pearl Kino! Let him have it, let him live in hell until he gets rid of it, and realizes that no amount of money in the world is worth sacrificing sanity.

Kino hesitates

Doctor: I think Kino does not fully agree with you Juana, look at him! He is eyeing the pearl the way starving children admire food.

Juana looks back at Kino

Juana: Kino…

Kino:…

Juana: No, Kino!!!! NO!! This is exactly what I was talking about Kino, you always want more, ALWAYS! You are willing to give up being with me just so you can have a little extra money!

Kino: You could come—

Juana shakes her head

Juana: No Kino, You know that is not possible. It is either the money and the pearl, or me!

Kino buries his hands in his face

Kino: I need my brother! I need him to tell me what to do!

Me: Well you’re in luck, because he is here with us today! Come on out Juan Thomás!

Crowd claps

Juan Thomás walks on stage

Kino: BOTHER!!! Oh how I miss you!

Me: Hello! Why don’t you have a seat right next to Kino.

Juan Thomás sits

Me: If you have been tuning in to our show this past hour, many things have been going on. Now Kino has a decision to make, and he wants you to tell him what to do.

Juan Thomás: Kino, I cannot tell you what to do with your life, for in the end, you are the one making the decision. However, before you leave for wealth and riches, take a look at the people here with you today. Your old friends, old townspeople, fellow pearl divers, they are all here tonight to support you! Is the money worth giving up all of this?

Kino: But I don’t want to give it up! I want to have both! Why can I not have both?

Juan Thomás: Kino, you know that is not possible. The last time you tried to have both, you lost everything. You lost your son, Kino. If there is any reason for you not to go, it should be for him! Don’t do it for Coyotito!

Kino cries

Kino: You are right! I cannot do this, there is too much that could go wrong, and I cannot leave the people I love. I am doing this for Coyotito, and hopefully my again-soon-to-be-wife

Doctor: Fine! I was offering you wealth and happiness, but if you don’t want it, more for me! Go back to being poor and worthless!

Kino: Doctor, you are mistaken. I am not poor, nor was I ever poor, because I have all the wealth and worth I could ever ask for right here, in my family.

Kino hugs Juana and Juan Thomás

Crowd screams (in happiness)

Me: Well that concludes our time for today, so be here next time for our special surprise guest! Bye!

Audience leaves

Juana, Juan Thomás, the doctor, and Kino all exit

I smile as I leave, knowing that I have just changed someone’s life forever.

The Spelling Test

April 7, 2010

Inspired by some of my favorite writers on Twitter, @DeeshaPhilyaw, @llapen and @OneChele, I’ve decided to post some of my own unpublished short fiction on my blog. Comments welcome.

I rifled through the papers I had just dumped out of my book bag, knowing the search was futile.  The noise attracted Mama, who smelled trouble the way a dog smells fear. 

When she looked at the pile on the floor, I trembled.

“What are you looking for?”

I took a deep breath and blew out the truth. “We have a spelling test tomorrow, and I think I left the list of words at school.”

I looked up at her, trying to guess my punishment by the number of wrinkles in her forehead. All four were there. Not good.

“How could you do that?” she asked, I think just to make me more afraid.

It was clear no answer I could come up with would make a difference. So I gave the standard child’s response: “I don’t know!”

She sighed in disgust.  I knew why she was mad.  She had just successfully battled with the principal to have me transferred into Mrs. Linden’s third grade class because I told Mama the other third grade teacher, Mrs. Hoover, was mean.  

Mrs. Hoover didn’t paddle us, but what she did was worse – she punished us for every little thing we did by making us crouch under our desks for up to an hour.  The principal liked Mrs. Hoover because her classroom was always quiet.  I hated Mrs. Hoover’s classroom because the quiet reminded me of the funeral home where Granddaddy was laid out last year – silence occasionally broken by the sniffling of muffled tears.

I had never been made to crouch under my desk, but I couldn’t take it any more after watching Mrs. Hoover force poor sweet Jacques Pennyman spend almost the entire day under his desk for popping gum.  I told Mama about it as soon as I got home from school.   

Mama made me tell her everything that went on in Mrs. Hoover’s room. The next day, she put on her good dress, coat and hat, and marched me to school the next day, walking so fast I had to run to keep up.  She didn’t even walk me to my classroom, just went straight to the principal’s office and left me standing in the hallway wondering what was going on.  I had no idea how long she was there, but when I got home, she told me, “You won’t be going back to Mrs. Hoover’s classroom.”

I was glad to be out of Mrs. Hoover’s room, and Mrs. Linden quickly became my favorite teacher of all time.  I knew whatever Mama had done in the principal’s office, it was a Very Big Thing and I couldn’t mess it up by failing my first test in Mrs. Linden’s room.

As for the spelling test, I expected yelling, but instead, Mama opened the side table drawer and pulled out her phone book, with numbers written on the covers and on envelopes stuck between them – everywhere, it seemed, but on the alphabetical tabbed pages.  She paged through the book, careful not to drop any of the loose pages, and then shut it. The creases around her pursed lips matched the ones in her forehead.

“I don’t have Mrs. Linden’s home phone number,” she announced. I knew that oversight soon would be corrected.

I thought quickly. “Michelle Gary is in my class. Do you have the Garys’ number in there?”

Mama’s frown lines grew deeper.  The Garys lived in the corner house at the other end of our block but acted like they lived in the rich part of town.  Mr. Gary worked in the auto plant like my father, but he was a foreman and had only two children, not six, to support on his salary.  Plus, Mrs. Gary was a seamstress whose most notable client was Selma Gaston, the co-host of the eleven o’clock news.

Mama was convinced she was a better seamstress than Mrs. Gary and believed, somehow, that Selma Gaston shared her opinion, but we kids were her only clients and we complained all the time about having to wear “homemade” versus “store-bought” clothes.  Michelle Gary was slim and popular and never wore her mama’s handmade clothes, three things I could never claim.  Mama’s reasons were solid, but I had my own reasons for not liking the Garys.

I hated to ask Michelle for a favor, and Mama knew it.  Mama’s anger lines softened. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“I don’t think I have much choice.”

She nodded but looked displeased.  Back when they were sort of friends, before Mrs. Gary started sewing for Selma Gaston, Mrs. Gary had told Mama she felt their oldest daughter, Renee, had been unfairly denied the school’s academic achievement trophy and she was going to make certain Michelle got it. 

Sometimes, Mrs. Gary acted like she didn’t know Mama didn’t like her and came down to our house to visit.  Mrs. Gary would ask some polite questions about the family, then walk right over to my mother’s sewing machine to inspect whatever my mother was working on, all the while bragging about the clothes she was making for Selma Gaston and how Selma was so impressed with her work that she was introducing Mrs. Gary to all of her friends.  Mrs. Gary would pretend to admire something Mama was making and innocently ask her how she had gotten the seams to lie so flat, or the fabric patterns to match, and Mama would end up revealing one of her sewing secrets, something she had learned from her own mother or from the sewing classes she always seemed to be taking. 

I had learned to leave Mama alone for about half an hour after those visits – long enough to watch Speed Racer or Underdog or one of my other favorite cartoons, with Mama muttering in the background, “she ought to go to a tailoring class instead of coming here and trying to get me to teach her how to sew.” 

Mama would also mutter to herself about the way Mrs. Gary looked around our house when she came to visit, looking down her nose at our things compared to all the nice things the Garys had in their house.  The Garys had done a lot of work on their house ever since Selma Gaston started coming by for fittings, and Mama said Mrs. Gary was “phony as all get out” and was trying to make her house look like Selma Gaston’s house. 

Mama often wondered aloud if Selma Gaston “knew who Mrs. Gary was.”  One of our neighbors had told Mama that Mrs. Gary used to work in a bar somewhere near the old Motown recording studio and that she had “gone with” several famous entertainers before marrying Mr. Gary.  In Mama’s view, a woman of such low morals had no business sewing for a pillar of the community like Selma Gaston.

Mama watched the evening news every night so she could find Mrs. Gary’s mistakes in Selma Gaston’s outfits.  “Look how that collar curls up on the end,” she would say, drowning out whatever news was being reported. “I can’t believe she charges Selma Gaston all that money and she won’t even take the time to do it right.”

Mama leafed through the phone book again, and after a couple of tries, she put her finger on a number written neatly on a page tabbed G.  “There’s one in here, but I don’t know if it’s right,” she said.  Mama only trusted the numbers that were scribbled on odd pages or envelopes.  She sighed. “I’ll try it.”

As I listened to her dial the phone, I put my head in my hands and looked down at the table.  Mama seemed calmer now, but I still had a test to worry about.  I had never gotten a bad grade in my life.  Granted, I was only in third grade and it wasn’t much of a track record, but getting good grades and being smart was what I was known for.  If I got a bad grade on my spelling test because I left the words at school, maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was.

I heard my mother’s business voice, the one she used when she called to complain about a bill or when Mrs. Gary came to visit.  “May I speak to Mrs. Gary, please?”  I tuned out the business voice and kept my head down until I heard her say, “Carmen, you can take the phone now, Mrs. Gary is going to put Michelle on.”

I felt naked as I stammered my way through my introduction, my mother’s eyes watching me the whole time.

“Hel-hello Michelle? Yeah, it’s Carmen, Carmen Bishop?  I accidentally left my word list at school for tomorrow’s spelling test and– You do? Great!  Okay, I have a pencil” –

I took the pencil my mother shoved my way.  I scribbled the words down on the front of an envelope my mother had pushed over with the pencil, careful to make sure I wasn’t writing over any phone numbers.  But the words didn’t make sense.

“Are you sure this is the right list?”

My mother looked up, the frown lines returning.

“Okay.  Thank you, Michelle.  See you in school tomorrow.”

I hung up the phone and looked at the words I had just written down.

“What’s wrong?” Mama asked.

“I don’t think she gave me the right word list.  I looked at it before I left school – these words weren’t on that list.”

“Are you sure?” my mother asked, but I could tell she believed me.

I didn’t want to accuse Michelle of playing a bad trick on me, but something was wrong.  I could tell from the look on Mama’s face that she was no longer angry at me about losing the word list.  Now, we were in this together, Bishops versus Garys.

“Do you remember any of the words?”

“Let me think.”  I closed my eyes. “If I can picture the paper in my mind, I can remember at least some of them.”

Mama raised an eyebrow at me. “If you think you can do that,” she said, sounding impressed. She got up and got me a clean sheet of paper, sharpened my pencil for me and left me alone at the dining room table.

I concentrated on the patterns behind my eyelids.  I was back at school, sitting at my desk, holding the paper, still slightly warm from the copier. “I got it!”

I wrote down as many of the words as I could remember.  By the time I stopped I had fifteen words, none of which was the same as any Michelle had given me.  “I think there were twenty; I know I’m forgetting some. But this is what I remember.”

Mama looked at my list and nodded her approval.  “Good. That’s really good, Carmen.”  I could see I’d done something she thought was pretty amazing.  “Can you do that all the time – you know, memorize things like that?”

 “Not all the time, but sometimes.”  I was glad she was impressed, but I was a little embarrassed to talk about it.  It wasn’t anything special, just something I could do.  I had other things on my mind, anyway.

“Are you going to call Mrs. Gary back and tell her about Michelle’s mistake?” I asked.

“For what?”  Mama looked at me with a sad smile on her face. “Carmen.  Michelle didn’t make no mistake.”  Mama said nothing about the tears that suddenly filled my eyes, just patted my hand and went into the kitchen. “Go on and wash up for dinner.”

I did as she told me and managed not to let more than one or two tears fall.  I looked again at the list I had made, fighting the doubts that counseled me to look at Michelle’s list in case my memory and my mother were both wrong.

I was mad at Mama for not calling Mrs. Gary back.  After dinner, I tried to raise the subject again.

“Mama, what if Michelle took the wrong list home?  Shouldn’t I tell her?”

Mama sighed again. “I don’t think Michelle took the wrong list home.”

“But why else would she give me the wrong words?”

“Carmen, if you keep thinking about what that girl did and why she did it, you’re going to wind up failing that test just like she wants you to.  Best thing you can do for yourself is to believe what your memory told you, and go in there tomorrow and take that test with confidence.  That’s the best revenge you can get.”

I was confused and unsatisfied by Mama’s answers, but I knew I wasn’t going to get anything more from her. It didn’t make sense to me.  Why would Michelle deliberately give me the wrong list of words?  Her mother could talk all she wanted about Michelle winning the scholarship trophy, but I knew Michelle’s grades were definitely not the best in the school, because they were nowhere near as good as mine.  

Maybe she did want me to flunk, but one test wouldn’t make much of a difference either way.  Maybe her mother had put her up to it, but it seemed to me the Garys had plenty to lord over us Bishops already.  And it seemed wrong not to tell them about the word list mix-up in case Michelle had studied the wrong list by mistake.

I also questioned Mama’s advice. If Michelle had done it on purpose, I wasn’t so sure confidence was the best revenge.  My fist to her jaw might be better.  But I had never punched anybody in my life, and I wasn’t about to get suspended from school for fighting Michelle Gary.

I decided Mama was right, in part – I would try being confident in the list I remembered – and wrong, in part.  I decided to tell Michelle she had studied the wrong list of words as soon as I got to school the next day. 

The next morning at school, I found my word list in my desk, where I’d apparently left it, and compared it to the one I’d made at home. They were the same except the five I’d forgotten, and I committed those to memory in the minutes before the test began.

I tried to talk to Michelle before class, but she was surrounded by her usual clique of popular girls and pretended not to hear me when I called her name.  I began to think Mama may have been right on both counts.  Even if Mama wasn’t right, if Michelle was going to ignore me, there was nothing I could do to help her.  But I did turn around for a few seconds when Mrs. Linden called out the first spelling word, and Michelle’s face didn’t register shock or surprise upon hearing what would have been an unfamiliar word if she had studied the wrong list. Perhaps Mama was right after all. 

I focused on the words the teacher was calling out.  We had to raise our hands when we were done, and my hand was the first to go up.  For a change, I was glad my last name seated me in the front of the classroom. 

Mrs. Linden looked over my test as she collected it, and a broad smile crossed her face. “Nice work, Carmen,” she stage-whispered.

“Thank you,” I said.

I couldn’t help turning in my seat to look back at Michelle.  She had seen everything, and the shocked look on her face was worth the teacher’s sharp admonishment for me to turn back around in my seat. 

I got an A on the test, and proudly showed it to Mama when I got home from school.

“See!” she said, giving me a rare hug, “I told you, just be confident!”

But later that night, listening to her nightly recital of Mrs. Gary’s sewing errors during the evening news, I wondered why she didn’t have enough confidence in her own sewing skills to take her own advice.

A Donk By Any Other Name

April 2, 2010

Opinions may vary about the message and merit of Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” video, but men and women alike seem to have reached consensus on one thing: Badu has an impressive ass.

Badu’s behind has inspired love, lust and envy among many, including the hilarious blogger Luvvie, who wrote rhapsodically about Badu’s “onion.”

But all this has got me to wondering: what exactly is an onion, anyway?

Not having done (or wanted to do) an exhaustive study, I’m guessing it’s a booty that’s shaped like the winner of the American Apparel Best Bottoms contest:

And that leads me to ask this question: is just having a big booty no longer enough?

I’ve had a big behind all my life.  (No, I’m not posting pictures of it.)  Thanks to my mother, I used to hate it.  My mother made all of my clothes until I went to middle school, and she would complain endlessly about my “high behind” and how she had to adjust skirt and dress patterns so the hemline would fall even all the way around, instead of being uplifted in the back by my butt.

Around the time I went to high school, I discovered that the size of my butt was actually not the problem I’d been led to believe it was.  I found out that people — and by people, I mean men — liked my big chest, small waist and big butt.

My butt has inspired some amusingly stupid commentary from men over the years, like the guy who used to tell me how much he loved my “black woman’s body,” although he apparently didn’t love it enough to leave his white girlfriend for me.  Or the guy who told me I was “fat,” and then explained he didn’t mean F-A-T but P-H-A-T, which stood for “plenty hips, ass and titties.”

And no, I didn’t smack him, or put on my clothes and leave.  I giggled and held that as a treasured memory, until my sister told me, “If I were you, I wouldn’t tell people that story anymore.  Makes you look stupid.”

Oops.

Anyway, now it seems that just having an ass isn’t enough.  It has to be the right-shaped ass.  This onion preference seems unfair to the legions of black women who have been proud of their watermelons or pears or apples.  Mine is more like a honeydew, I think.  I don’t know.  It’s a butt.  And while it may not be the current state-of-the-art, it has served me well over the years.

So, admire the onions out there, including Badu’s.  Those of us possessing other fruits and vegetables will just rest easy in the knowledge that our shapes have their admirers, too.