Friday, September 24, 2010

Adventures of a Part-Time-Never-Was-Beauty-Queen

In honor of the spirit of The Rejectionist's public humiliation post, I offer the following. All my spiral bound, purple inked attempts at fiction met their demise during a year of exceptionally fierce spring cleaning on the part of my mother. Apparently, she assumed that if I had not even lived there for ten years that meant that not every single item, decayed corsage, and hello kitty note was essential to the fiber of my being.

In the darker times of a slower place, back in the day, there once was an awkward girl who did something drastic. She tried her hand at living up to social expectations.

Girls who wanted to do a team sport tried out for cheerleading. This girl- the awkward one, or Miss A for short- was not cheerleading material. Not even a little bit. It's good to know your limits.

For the smart but cool anyway crowd, there was Leader's club. Miss A had the GPA but lacked whatever other elusive quality got you selected for Leader's club. She was aware enough to know that it wasn't the sort of thing you could lobby for. Very mysterious, the Leader's club. Thus far in her high school career, Miss A's club exploits were based solely on grades. Math honor society, Spanish honor society, stuff like that.

But Senior Year there was one thing, one major thing, that was judged by people that did not already know everyone at Jefferson Davis High School, where Miss A took the most AP classes in school history but did not attend many dances. It was a big deal coming-of-age ritual for twelfth grade young ladies in the cosmopolitan hub of culture known as Montgomery, Alabama. So big that even the girls from Luverne, which was practically Crenshaw County, turned out for it. Everyone started from the same place. Your GPA, talent, and interview counted just as much as anybody else's. No extra points for cheerleaders or Homecoming Queens. That's right. The ultimate level playing field. A truly egalitarian selection process. The Montgomery County Junior Miss Pageant.

Miss A examined the Herculean task of entering the pageant. She knew she wouldn't win, but placing in something might look good on college applications. Just like the Junior Miss people, the college people liked applicants who were "well rounded."

She took stock of the judging categories and how she might fare in each:

Academic: One area with no cause for concern
Appearance: Acceptable
Interview: Who doesn't like to talk? And how different can it be from college entrance interviews?
Talent: Hmm. Problematic. Don't sing. Don't dance. Refuse to do a Gone With The Wind monologue. I never should have quit trumpet. What to do, what to do?

All she could do reliably was perform well on standardized tests, which did not translate on stage unless people enjoyed watching someone completely fill circles with a number 2 pencil for 90 seconds. Well, she could also draw. But that wasn't much better than filling in circles for entertaining an audience.

Miss A's speech and drama teacher came up with a genius solution for the talent problem. She suggested drawing to music. In time to the music, an image from the song. So that's what Miss A did. She rocked her way through a giant cartoon frog, timing the strokes to "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog."

It wasn't great, but it sure beat the girl who played the piano in a hot dog costume, finishing with a flourished version of the "Oscar Meyer Weiner" song. Another girl walked on her hands, for Heaven's sake. In a clown costume. Really? Drawing to music…not as good as the girls who could sing but in the grand scheme of things it was not cause for massive embarrassment. And Miss A's primary goal, first and foremost, crucial to her estimation of a successful experience in this brave new world of "normal girl life," was to not humiliate herself.

During pageant prep she faced two major hurdles. One she was used to. One of the coaches plain old did not like her. She couldn't put her finger on it but she suspected he felt that she lowered the standard median of candidates for Montgomery County Junior Miss. He liked the girls who were the local rock stars of their high school lives. This was annoying but how seriously should you take a middle aged MAN who devoted three months of every year to coaching teenaged beauty queen wannabees? The other hurdle, though. Well, the other proved her downfall.

Miss A knew the second she laid eyes on the Poise and Appearance outfit that she wanted no part of that particular portion of the program. It was a hyper-feminine monstrosity of soft white chiffon with sleeves so puffy that they might have rendered the wearer airborne if she flapped her arms fast enough. And it had tiny sparkles on it. Anne Robertson, a much more traditional participant for Junior Miss, had been hand selected by the coaches as the outfit model. Anne couldn't even make it look reasonable and she was a good six inches shorter than Miss A, who was guaranteed to look ridiculous in it. Outside of a four year old on Easter Sunday- a four year old with indulgent parents who let her pick her own dress- nobody could have pulled it off.

Miss A groaned, sucked it up, and resolved to do her best anyway. Her mother bought the material, found a seamstress, and had the dress made. At least it zipped up the side. The zipper went from hip to bust, leaving the dress accessibly wide open until every frill and ruffle was ready to hug the appropriate virginal curve. That disallowed unfair advantage to cheerleaders, who were by their very nature limber and better equipped to handle quick costume changes with zippers in the back.

She learned the stupid Poise and Appearance dance. This was not a bad attitude on her part. It was stupid. Everybody knew it. The song was Michael Jackson's I Just Can't Stop Loving You reformatted to elevator music and the choreography matched. Not even the Miss Congeniality types could find anything good to say so they were the only ones who did not say anything, having been raised better than everybody else. Miss A secretly bet they prayed about it, though.

She practiced enough to be reasonably certain that she would not flub it, confusing or possibly knocking down anyone unfortunate enough to dance near her on stage.

The night of judging rolled around. In the Montgomery County Pageant, Judging takes place the day prior to the public at large show. The audience is the judging panel only, not even family. This stroke of genius on the part of the pageant organizers creates a dress rehearsal that matters and eliminates crowd induced stage fright on the part of any particularly fluttery participant. Pageant people might have lousy taste in clothes and music, but they're good at event coordination.

Miss A did not suffer debilitating stage fright but she did get a little nervous. The Poise and Appearance routine went smoothly, though, with no forgotten steps or unfortunate episodes. Everyone finished in triumphant relief and flowed offstage like so much sparkly ice cream melting under the stage lights.

"What were the judges laughing at?" Ann Summerville asked as soon as they entered the stage wing. She was a veritable sprite, so tiny she looked like she might live in a mushroom. The dress almost worked on her.

"I didn't notice they were laughing," Miss A said. She had been concentrating too hard on NO MISTAKES.

"I don't know. Did somebody mess up?" Hot Dog girl asked.

"Are you kidding? They were laughing at the dresses," Shelley Garrison said. Shelley had an awesome talent. She did a dance routine to the theme from "Mission: Impossible" in a nude colored leotard that somehow looked more cute than sexy and therefore slipped through the approval process. She would make the top 10, for sure. Plus, Shelley was always nice to Miss A. Even though she had been a cheerleader in 10th grade AND was in the Leader's club. "Uh, Laurel? Please tell me you just now unzipped your dress."

Miss A glanced down to her left side, which was completely exposed to the world. Well, damn. No wonder she didn't get too hot on stage. Too bad they didn't award points for matching your underwear to your bra. Because make no mistake about it, everybody would have seen both.

"Whoops," she said. The stunned silence and sympathetic pats assured her she had officially knocked herself out of the running for anything. There are places where showing your goodies on stage is rewarded, but the Montgomery County Junior Miss Pageant is not one of them.

Sure enough, show night they announced the top 10. Miss A was not among them. Shelley wasn't either, surprisingly. Anne Robertson made it. And Crissy, the girl who walked on her hands for her talent. In fact, Crissy went on to win the whole thing, including a $500 scholarship to one of the local colleges. They had a few more consolation scholarships to hand out after the illustrious Junior Miss was crowned but the girls were all tired, a few of them weepy, and pretty much over it. Everybody but Crissy, anyway.

And for the next five minutes, Miss A did not get a chance to sit down. One college offered her a full tuition scholarship. Another stepped up with room, board, AND tuition. A third sweetened the deal with an additional $500 a semester stipend on top of the free ride.

Her suspicion that pageants might be a socially acceptable form of displaying goods for consumption was confirmed. She was the object of an outright bidding war. Being objectified was rather appealing after the previous day's fiasco.

Miss A became a lifetime supporter of pageantry that night even as she vowed never to do it again. She had learned a very valuable lesson:

If you flash the judges at the Junior Miss pageant, you probably won't win. But you get to go to college for free and that is even better.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Banned Book Week!

Yay for banned books! Banned book lists are the best place to find good stuff to read. If it weren't for the nutjobs out there trying to make sure we didn't get to read anything, you know, fun- or even worse, challenging- I would never have read Harry Potter. So cheers, guys! Thank you for highlighting the greatest books out there. Saves me lots of time.

I'm going with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is way off the beaten path for me since I avoid books with major downer topics like the plague. Sorry, lovers of issue and important books, but I get plenty of drama in my real life. I want my book life to be a predominately happy place. Hence, YA Fantasy.

I'm making an exception for a couple of reasons. After the internet kerfuffle over the Op-Ed piece by the idiot in Missouri I grew curious. Looked up the book, read the excerpt. I feel for this girl. I was this girl but with a different issue. I remember being the one in the cafeteria that everyone assumed must be contagious if pariah was a communicable disease.

I'm also reeeeaaal tired of blame the victim/cover it up. A rape survivor is entitled to do whatever she (or he) needs to in order to cope. Even if that is keeping it private. We shouldn't force or shame people into telling their stories. But we sure as hell shouldn't shame them into keeping quiet, either. For the quiet victims out there, the ones who are too scared or too private to talk to an IRL human about their experience, there has got to be a venue. A place. Nothing is safer than a book. It won't tell anyone your secrets even though it pours its own out. Books like this one are a lifeline.

People like the man who believes recounting an attack is equivalent to soft porn are a perfect example of why we need books like this. Can you imagine being the daughter of someone who thinks like this? You would be terrified of telling your family what happened to you. Speaking of it makes you dirty (dirtier?). You can't tell the truth because then everyone will know you are damaged. Your stock will go down. Who will want to marry you?

Where would you turn for understanding? Solace? Recovery?

So I'm going to read this book. I imagine my kids will, too, eventually. I'm good with that. I'd like them to be sympathetic, have some way to understand or relate to anyone they meet who may have experienced this. And God forbid they have personal experience with it, but if they do, I want them to feel not so isolated. I want them to know their parents don't think they are dirty or at fault. I want them to trust that I won't see them as less than they are because someone else did something very wrong.

We can't ban rape victims. Banning their stories, their truth, doesn't make the criminal part of this saga not happen. It returns the power to the aggressor again and again. Enduring a rape does not make you dirty. It makes you a survivor. Telling the truth does not make you pornographic. It makes you brave.


Since posting I done hauled myself to the libary and read this book. Holy crap. Phenomenal. It is hugely funny despite the immense weight of the issues Melinda is dealing with and a very redemptive ending. It is also artistically damn near perfect. So, so, so glad this book got some book banner's dander up enough to catch my attention. I tore through it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Save the Cat!

Blog buddy Lydia Sharp highly recommends
Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder as an instructional resource for all sorts of nifty writing tools like tag lines and pacing. The title is explained in a character development section. You have an unapproachable, bitter, or otherwise unlikeable character who is actually a good guy. The first inkling of inner goodness comes in the save the cat moment, when this character runs into the burning building to rescue the cat from certain incendiary death. Through one act of kindness, this person is now redeemable in the context of the story.

Well, cats and kittens, I have my very own real life Save the Cat story! For realz!

An acquaintance/BFF/relative (anonymous person) I know has been dating a guy who insists on acting like a teenaged asshat a lot of the time. To the point that people who know better (me and all her other friends) are killing the sacred cow and advising her to be rid of him.

So she got engaged. C'est la vie, right?

A week ago she received a phone call from someone claiming to represent an attorney seeking to claim an outstanding debt. Should she ignore/refuse said debt, she faces jail time. BUT. Lucky her. They would settle for a bank draft...immediately...and consider the matter clear.

Our heroine did not just fall off the turnip truck. She knows something is fishy but is concerned about identity theft. So she wastes a goodly portion of the workday contacting her bank, credit card companies, and credit agencies to get to the bottom of the matter. Turns out the whole thing is a scam designed to intimidate people into getting robbed.

Since she has a phone number for this "attorney", she traces the number to California. Eureka, California. She alerts the appropriate authorities in Eureka and the Great State of California but is none too optimistic that anything will happen to shut this shady operation down.

So. The formerly mentioned asshat calls the number. He somehow hacks into their voicemail system. He changes the outgoing message to say:

"If you received a call from this number it is a scam. Do NOT send them money. Do NOT give them any information about your bank or your router numbers. You do not owe these people money. They are THIEVES."

And then, for good measure, he changes the password so they can't get back in to their own voicemail. It has now been their outgoing message for several days. Boo-YAH!

He is getting phone calls from many a grateful soul who were terrified they faced some prolonged legal battle or emptying their liquid assets in an effort to avoid jail. He is now promoted from asshat to asshelmet.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

To the Dogs

In honor of Chris Eldin's triumphant return to blogworld with
Alpha Bitch Whisperer and per her request, here are photos of our own canine companions. Many, many photos. We're a little funny about our dogs.

This is George. He is a golden/chow mix. Here is Lulu:

Here are some more of Lulu when she was a young whippersnapper. She is a purebred German Wirehaired Pointer, bred for show from field trial champions. The white spot on her body is a major flaw for show. Since I have never shown a dog in my life and have no plans to start, I don't mind it. In fact, I think it is sort of adorable.

The next photos are of the best dog who ever graced God's green Earth. Her name was Mazie and she was my first German Wirehair. When I had my shop in Atlanta, she came to work with me every day. She stayed perfectly still, not moving unless someone came up to her or spoke to her. Then her stump of a tail would wag so hard it shook her whole backside. She wouldn't let anyone in the stockroom unless they were with me but somehow knew the front of the shop was public. She died right before the pirate turned one and we got Lulu three weeks later. I love Lu and George, but Mazie was special. I'd have given her a kidney if she needed it. I miss that damn dog.

And these are just the general chaos that rules our house. If you don't know them, it's hard to keep Mazie and Lu straight so don't bother trying. The yellow lab who shows up in some of the photos is a rescue I foisted on my mom and dad. Her name is Peaches and she is pretty awesome. She reminds me of Mazie with her smarts and stubborn. I found her in the street the same week we got Lu. I thought that boy I married would have an apoplexy when I brought another puppy into the house but the story ended up with a very happy ending. Peaches is the highlight of my parent's life and since Dad has a farm- complete with a pond- she landed in it pretty good.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Can't Stand It

I know who I want to be when I grow up. I've known for a while. She's one of my mom's best friends and her name is Carolyn.

We've been trying to put together a trip to Charleston, SC for a couple of years- me, my mom, and Carolyn. Never seems to work out. This year turned out to be a bust because Carolyn got diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. She's tough, though, dealing with chemo the same way she deals with everything. Practical humor and keeping her cards close to the vest except for a very select group of supportive friends that she knows are as tough as she is and won't get sucked down in her drama. Today is her last day of chemo. We've all been holding our breath and praying a lot.

Carolyn has an important job. She's the secret keeper. You can tell her the dirtiest, darkest, career ruiningest, marriage wreckingest secret you know. Ten years later, even if all parties are deceased and no harm can be done, Carolyn still won't have told a soul.

Carolyn's kids are my age-ish. Her oldest son, Frank, was my first homecoming date. He was taller than me so he qualified. Prior to the eighth grade homecoming dance, most of our interaction involved the annual innertube down the river trip and occasional visits to their farm where Frank and his younger brother Avery threw dried out cow pies at me and my sister. They weren't being tacky, they just thought it was fun. Susan is the youngest of the clan and wisely avoided her brothers. She hovered on the edge of the action and enjoyed the respite of having a different set of targets in the vicinity. Susan grew up to be the only one that a yankee wouldn't immediately assume was a redneck.

It's been years since I've seen any of the kids. I keep up with them through Carolyn. I know how many children they have but not their names, what stresses they have in the marriages, their strengths and shortcomings. Carolyn has a special way of talking about even her near and dear that doesn't sugarcoat anything but doesn't paint them in a bad light. She sees the truth of things and works with that.

Frank died last night.

Avery was in the car in front of him. He saw Frank lose control of the vehicle on a bridge and get ejected from the car. In classic Frank form, he never wore a seatbelt.

The only thing I can think to hope for today is that Carolyn is insulated by shock. For the first time, I hope that chemo knocks her on her ass so she can sleep through the next week. Her friends and family can set out the casseroles, answer the phone, haul her bleary, drugged self to the funeral, and cry for her while she's sleeping. Avery and Susan can entertain Frank's four kids. I don't know who will run the Greyhound bus business. It was a family business and Frank was the current patriarch in charge. Avery never wanted it.

I can't stand it. Today is going to be one of those "I wish I were anywhere but here, in any moment but this" days.