March 29, 2012

Some Dreams are Garbage Bound


Once upon a time, long ago, I tried to be the Cool Chick. The unfortunate incident occurred during my mid-twenties, years before I had embraced my current Square Peg status. Here's what happened:
As I was perched railside at my favorite watering hole gabbing with my bartender friend, a tall, handsome stranger sauntered in. Our eyes met. Locked. I swear angels were singing. Instead of following my usual Square Peg M.O. of giggling like a schoolgirl because a cute guy was actually checking me out, I decided to become: the Cool Chick. I coquettishly raised my drink in slo-mo, never breaking my bewitching gaze (I thought it was bewitching anyway) with this debonair stranger and proceeded to sip it. From the straw….because that’s what cool chicks do. I tilted my head ever so slightly to greet the teeny tiny cocktail straw, eyes still locked with his and…
...missed my mouth completely and instead poked the teeny tiny straw halfway up my right nostril.
Needless to say, The Cool Chick dream was crushed right then and there in that bar, as was any prospect of ever dating that guy.  Listen, I’m more than happy with Jamie – he’s the love of my life, but geez – I swear I can still feel that straw up my nose every time I think about the time I tried to live the cool chick dream.
So why I tried to resurrect that dream again, I’ll never know.
This week is Spring Break -- a “Staycation.” Georgia and I decided to head over to Palermo’s Pizzeria in the Menomonee Valley for a factory tour (and a couple of slices).  I didn’t particularly feel like making myself presentable, after all, I was on vacation. On top of that I figured, I’m 42 years old. I’m married. I have a kid. I’m tired; and who the heck am I trying to impress anyway? But rather than just unleash my…um…Natural Self on unsuspecting people, I figured I’d at least go with the bare minimum of lip gloss and mascara.  But then I had another thought: Why not bust out those false eyelashes? They looked pretty good when I wore them to the Mad Men theme party a few weeks back.
It’s not like we’re on a schedule.  Why not?
Twenty minutes later I was ready.  Jamie looked at me: “So…you’re wearing your fake lashes?” No, my lashes grew a half inch in the past twenty minutes. [cue eye-rolling and internal DUH]  Then it was Georgia’s turn: “I think you look better without those.” Oh, how sweet. I love how kids think their moms are pretty no matter what. [cue warm fuzzies, kiss her on the head]
We headed out to Palermo’s. I greeted the front desk lady and she directed us to the café where we met our tour guide. I exchanged happy glances with parents of the other waiting families – about five – that were there for the tour. Then we went on the tour which was concluded with a pizza snack served family style. We sat with four other really nice ladies and chatted a bit. With the snack concluded, Georgia and I collected our souvenir shirts and hopped in the car.
I looked in the rearview mirror to back out and caught a glimpse of something not entirely unlike this:


If you happened to be on the Palermo’s tour that day and saw the Grinning Crazy Lady with Spiders on Her Eyes, please don’t hold it against me: I momentarily thought I could live the Cool Chick dream.  But I now realize that particular dream is far better off in the trash. The same place where I left those fake eyelashes. 

March 19, 2012

The Quiet Burden

It was nine years and a few months ago, but I clearly remember telling my OB that we didn’t want to find out the sex of prenatal Georgia. We said that we didn’t have a preference. All we wanted was a healthy baby, and that was true.  But not completely.

Deep down, I wanted a boy.

Not because I envisioned a star athlete, but because girls are talkers.  Sometimes even lippy.  I just didn’t think I was up for the task.  Didn’t think I had the chops for it.  More than that, I had reflected on my experience as a boy-crazy black teen in a predominately white school:  I was “too black” for some white kids and “too white” for some of the black kids.  So, there was no dating in high school. None. It did wonders for my self-esteem. Then I remembered being on the karaoke circuit back in the day (when I could stay awake past 10:00p) and having to tell deejays that, while I liked Aretha Franklin, my style was more Patsy Cline or Grace Slick. None of this bruised me for life, but I didn’t want my kid to go through it.

I thought of all this today because I read an article about a topic – no, a person -- that’s been blowing up in the Twitterverse.

Trayvon was a 17 year-old black boy who was visiting friends in a gated community. Upon seeing Trayvon, the community’s blockwatch captain called police about a suspicious person. He was told that a squad car was on the way. In the meantime, the boy and the blockwatch guy had a fight and boy ended up dead.  According to this article, Trayvon was armed only with Skittles and iced tea. The person who thought this boy was “suspicious,” the one who shot him, was white. This shooter hasn’t been charged with anything, and it seems like he won’t be, either.  Puzzling. Sad. And conversations about racial profiling are on again in full force.

Anyway, the article made me flash back to my mom’s routine talks with my older brothers about being careful when they went out for a night on the town. I can still hear her voice: “I don’t want you to end up like Ernest Lacey or Daniel Bell” and “I don’t ever want to get that call.”  Daniel Bell was stopped by the police in the 1958. Ernest Lacy was stopped in 1981.  Both ended up dead.  My brothers would "yes-mom" her with eyes-rolled. They’d kiss her and dash out the door; and it seemed as though her teeth were clenched until she knew they were back home safely -- no matter how late.

Back in the 1980’s, having a son stopped by police and "mysteriously" die while in custody were real fears for Milwaukee mothers of black sons. By 2002, I guess I was so far removed from that history that, despite having two brothers, I had forgotten this quiet burden carried someplace in the subconscious of all moms, but especially by moms of black sons.

If I could talk to my pregnant self, the one who secretly wanted a boy for all the wrong reasons, I’d ask that naïve mom-to-be if she had the strength to navigate the sometimes scary territory that moms of black boys travel.  But I’m not sure of what her answer would even be.

It’s something she never considered…until she read about Trayvon.

March 2, 2012

Old Enough to Know Better


I often joke about looking forward to my senior years because when you're a senior, you can get away with everything because: "you're old."  Like my dad. He was driving someplace and just decided to turn left. Out of the blue. No blinker. No courtesy "Sorry-I-forgot-to-blinker" wave to the poor soul behind us. Nothing. He just up and turned left. I said "Um...you really oughta use your blinker." And in that old southern man tone of his, he fanned me off and said "Girl, I'M OLD!" Evidently old people don't have to blinker. Guess I missed that lesson in driver's ed.

Then there was the gentleman with whom I chatted on a cruise. He mentioned being a WWII vet and I told that him my dad was also a WWII vet. He started reminiscing about the segregated troops, and offered an apology for using the term "black." He said he preferred saying "colored" because it doesn't sound bad like black does. Don't cringe; that's what black people were called back then and that was his comfort level. (Not to mention, that whole topic is a confusing one. Even I don't know what we're supposed to be calling ourselves these days, but that's a different talk show.)  Anyway, the point is that he wasn't being facetious, I wasn't offended and I don't expect him to change.  He's OLD.

But does being old afford a multi-billion dollar organization the same leeway?

Take McDonald's. They're 64. That's kind of oldish, right?  Diffference is that they've got all the marketing gurus, consumer surveys and probably wiretaps on all our phones. They've got the pulse of America.  They know what we want. How else can you explain the genius that is the Shamrock Shake? Or McRib? They're socially conscious.

Which is why I don't understand this.

It's 365Black.com. At first I wanted to believe it was some national initiative to wear black for one year and proceeds would go to charity, but alas, no. 365Black.com is McDonald's online outreach to black people. No, I'm not misinterpreting it - just look at the georgous black family in that picture. Still don't believe me?
At McDonald's®, we believe that African-American culture and achievement should be celebrated 365 days a year — not just during Black History Month. That's the idea behind 365Black.com. 
So create a separate website? What the what? That's as sensible as city planners who say that MLK and Ceasar Chevez were so important to all Americans that they rename streets after them...and then those streets only span the black and Latino neighborhoods. I don't know...if I had McDonald's kind of money and influence and saw a flawed national history curriculum, and knew I had marketing geniuses at my beck and call to sell it, I'd buy some people, have them create a McDonald's history curriculum that's inclusive of all ethnicities and implement it in school districts.

Then for everyone who doubts that McDonald's is "rooted in the community" like the "African Baobab tree" (seriously, they say that on the website), they let the "real" people talk.
video

Hey, McDonald's [with megaphone] We can see through that!  [megaphone down, in a polite whisper] It's kind of um...patronizing. Who did you consult about this whole thing anyway? At a time when you're being attacked from all sides about your food's nutritional value (especially as it relates to certain communities), not to mention the tone and timber of the country's racial, ethnic and political landscape -- do you really think a separate website is the way to cultivate inclusion?

If I was McDonald's and wanted to ensure a certain demographic felt included, I'd save myself the money on creating a slick a new website and just include them as models on my fancy existing website. Then when I was producing my quarterly (semi-quarterly, weekly or whatever it is) new commercials, I'd make sure that demographic was represented in them and run the commercials on all networks -- not just specific networks or programming geared toward that particular demographic.  I'd even make sure music accompanying those commercials wasn't the stereotypical music associated with that demographic.

Meh...what do I know.

What I know is this: old people deserve a pass on blinkering, left-handed compliments, calling me Rachel instead of Rochelle and being politically incorrect because they've paid their dues. Life is hard. They've gone through its hills and valleys and have the gray hairs and wrinkles to prove it. They have a wisdom I wish I could bottle. So yeah. Seniors get a pass.

But McDonalds? Come on...they're old enough to know better.