Tag Archives: on being southern

Problems Sister and Stella-Rondo Never Had

26 Mar

I would like to take this day behind the barn and dispatch with it swiftly. I had to go to the post office. TWO post offices (posts office?), in fact. The first one was to pick up a package.

See, what had happened was I wasn’t wearing pants and I was on the phone with my bank. As one does. I couldn’t get to the door in time and didn’t get my package. My lovely postman rang several times because he’s obviously been there before and knows I’m often wiping Nutella off my face before I answer the door. Now, my friend Desi was a bit stumped at this because don’t all Southern ladies have bathrobes? Well, yeah, I reckon. But that never occurred to me, honestly.  Probably because my bank was calling to verify two very legitimate charges, which I appreciated since last year I had THREE different debit cards due to security breeches. Note to self, find another bank. Anyway, I was so stunned that they were actually like monitoring stuff that all I could do was kind of freeze in place, my phone in one hand, and my precious cargo being loaded back up and taken away.

Taken away to the depths of the Mendenhall Post Office. Where it could not be found. So. That should have been a sign, BUT OH NO! Did I heed said sign? No. No, I did not. For I am an idiot of the highest caliber. For various reasons, I needed a mailbox. So I’d gotten one online at a post office location that I preferred. I printed out everything the site told me, got all my ID (strangely, no one accepts one’s belly button as proof of birth), and trekked to Southern Avenue. BIG mistake. Let me just cut to the chase. By the time I got back in my car, I had no post office box and I was in tears.

By Billy Hathorn (National Portrait Gallery, public domain.) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Me. IN TEARS.

This is why EVERYTHING at the post office should be done by machines. Machines do not tell you things like it does not have to do what the website says. Machines do not tell you, “Y’all just don’t know. Y’all don’t know how to fill out a form. Y’all can’t come in here with stuff ain’t doing you no good.” This woman was the most heinous individual I have ever encountered, and I once got stuck in a KKK rally in Brandon, Mississippi. Truth. So I went and finished my errands, got home, canceled my mailbox online, and wrote a complaint that was, as my friend Dean says, pointed yet poignant. I know USPS doesn’t care.  I know nothing will be said to this woman, and even if it were, it wouldn’t matter. Some people are just toxic.

Over the years, I interviewed many people for many jobs, most of which dealt with the public in some form. There are a few guidelines I had when interviewing candidates.

  1.  Did the person smile? You honestly have NO IDEA how many people go into an interview for a customer service job and never smile. WHY would I want you as the face of my business? FAKE IT! If you aren’t looking at me like I’m Gary Collins and you’re Miss Alabama, this ain’t working.
  2. “The customer is always right” is a phrase that will NEVER get you hired. One, the customer is rarely right. Two, it doesn’t matter. Three, put a little elbow into your answers. Don’t give me trite crap I know isn’t true. Such as
  3. “I’m a people person.” Here’s who says that. People who hate people. I’m a people person. Never said I like people. Now, unless you truly are like Frankenstein’s monster and are MADE OF PEOPLE, leave that shit at home.
  4. “I love helping people.” Go work for Red Cross. We’re here to make money. People who say they love helping people are the ones who get busted shoveling extra bras into their friends’ shopping bags.
  5. “I’d just love to play in clothes/shoes/makeup/tablecloths/small appliances all day.” This ain’t Ronald’s playground. I’m paying you to work. If you happen to like it, great, but it’s NOT play. Unless you are telling me that you play the tuba in your spare time (which you fully understand will be nonexistent if you take this job), “play” should not be used in an interview.
  6. A customer service job is not the place to take out your revenge on the world. The customer is not your enemy, no matter what you may feel, think, and what your loss prevention manager tells you. If you’re telling me nothing but horror stories about service, I’m going to start to think YOU’RE the problem.
  7. A smooth transaction can change a person’s day. This is the honest to God truth. You can be having the worst day ever. Run in your hose. Zayn left One Direction. There’s a black fly in your chardonnay. But one joke from the woman at Freds about how those select-a-size towels probably have a Napoleon complex, and it looks a lot better.
  8. A terrible transaction can change a person’s day. This is the honest to God truth. You can be having the best day ever. You don’t have to wear pants. Black Sabbath decide to play your favorite neighborhood bar. Someone gives you something besides chardonnay. But one “I don’t have to do ANYTHING the website says,” and you are suspended between hopelessness and rage to the extant you both clutch your pearls AND say screw everything, go to Taco Bell, and binge on Netflix and remorse the rest of the day. Because
  9. PEOPLE SUCK. We all suck. We’re all egotistical, shallow, self-aggrandizing assholes. You know why Ghandi was a pacifist? He never had to stand on line at the DMV. He never had a toddler who decided to eat nothing but Gummi Bears for two weeks straight only to suddenly THROW A FIT AND FALL INTO IT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WINN-DIXIE because HOW DARE YOU??? Did you not intuit that three seconds ago your toddler decided to HATE Gummi Bears and now only wants hot dogs with ketchup, in a bun, but the crust taken off, served on the YELLOW PLATE while you sing “The Bing Bong Song” from Peppa Pig???!!!

I know there isn’t anything nearly as trite as complaining about a government agency, but cliches are cliches because they’ve happened enough to be cliche. People with absolutely no power anywhere else in life will always try to create a superpower at work. When there are no consequences for actions, people do what we do. We act like jerks. I did cancel my order, I did write a complaint, and I know that nothing will change because I am the only one in this situation who was inconvenienced. No one else has a stake. It’s the post office, where else am I going to go? So I go get a mail drop. Still the USPS. What the woman wanted, she got. She wanted to tell someone no. She wanted to know–or act as if she knew–more than someone else because she has absolutely no power. People who throw fits and fall in them are no different from that toddler. And when we do that, we’re telling the other person, “YOU are responsible for my behavior,” rather than taking responsibility ourselves. Unfortunately, this woman today exercised her no-power with me. I don’t show emotion with this kind of deal. I don’t get loud. In fact, I get like Alec Baldwin quiet. I speak very distinctly. I ask how we’re going to fix this. Most of the time, it works and we all move on. Today? Not so much. Not only did we not fix the problem, she didn’t get to see me get upset. So we both lost.

Also? That package was missing two items.

In short, I hate everything. But you knew that.

The Bucket Shrub

12 Dec

Sucking The Life Out Of The Holidays

My husband found four shrubs and a palm tree by the side of the road. Well, it’s not really a palm. It’s some kind of giant fern with a weird (PORN NAME ALERT!) hairy trunk. And it’s like four feet tall except now it’s dead. Or maybe it’s just resting, what do I know about plants?

We have some neighbors who have a lawn care business and generally leave the carcasses of shrubs and other assorted flora in the Designated Trash Spot which is the fence at the culvert. This is the best place in Memphis to find and leave Stuff. Chuck and his friend Alan hauled out our busted washing machine a few months ago and by the time they’d finished a beer to reward themselves for the manly job they’d done, the sucker was gone. I once saw this great end table and by the time I circled back around to pick it up, it was gone. I saw a middle aged woman in a Mercedes sedan try to pick up two club chairs and put them in her trunk. It’s like the FAO Schwarz of junk. On Black Friday.

I don’t know why these particular plants were put out to pasture. They were all healthy. The four shrubs have been sitting in their pots in front of Chuck’s garden forming a nice hedgerow. But it’s Christmas and I’m Southern. By law, I must decorate the house in some fashion. Usually, I just put a ribbon around a bottle of Jim Beam and call it a day. This morning I stuck a shrub in the ice cream freezer.

Part of Chuck’s dowry was a White Mountain ice cream freezer. You know the one. Wooden bucket, loud motor. He comes from a big ice cream-making clan, but that’s another post. Believe me. I really liked the bucket and being a gal on a budget, I stuck it at my front door and threw some greenery in it. It looked really cool. Then, of course, I let the greenery turn brown. You’ll know my house by the ice cream freezer full of sticks decorating the front porch. Oh, and spring before last a squirrel nested in it. So that was nifty.

But this morning I looked at the pumpkins (from his garden, thankyouverymuch) and frost-bitten croton and thought, damn. I should be embarrassed. I mean, I’m not. But I should be. So I grabbed a shrub, threw out the nest and the pumpkins, and now my porch is about a quarter of the way to being festive. I’m going to hang some glass balls on my bucket shrub. Maybe put a wreath on my door. OBVIOUSLY, I will be putting Fernando The Yard Flamingo in his Santa outfit. By that point I’ll be exhausted and need to recouperate by watching Love Actually for the 4,593th time. And I’ll probably require a cheeseburger.

Then I’ll wait with a finger or two of bourbon for a really pissed off squirrel to come banging on my door wanting to know how in the hell I thought I could evict him without proper legal notice.

As I Was Saying…

9 Jun

tweet yallYeah, so didn’t make it back quite in the time frame I imagined. I’m just not going to get into why because it’s really just not that interesting. I mean, I know I’m not generally interesting anyway, but this is like hearing someone else’s dream not interesting. It’s like listening to someone describe a dress not interesting. Have you ever noticed that when someone describes what she’s going to wear, it never looks like you think it will? There’s a lot of that going on in my world.

And yet here I am. IT’S ALL FOR YOU, INTERWEBZ!

I just want to say that I hate spring. I mean, I hate summer more. Especially August. But summer is at least honest. You know you’re going to be miserable in summer. You know you’ll spend three months peeling your thighs off hot car seats. You know you’re going to shower three times a day because walking out to get the mail makes you sweat through your caftan. And your mailbox isn’t even at the road. You know there are bugs as big as toddlers that are just waiting patiently to suck the life out of you by biting your ankles…just like toddlers with wings, in fact.

No, I hate spring because it’s too damned optimistic. Spring is all about promise, but it’s like the promise of that pub with the sign “Free Beer Tomorrow”. And now we’re into June and it’s going to be 95° this week with 876% humidity. You know what that means? There’s nowhere for the sweat to go. So you spend a little time outside and you turn into a Syracuse salt potato but without the creamy interior. Spring is crafty like a ninja. One day you’re sweating your bippy off and the next day you’re digging for wool socks. One day everything’s all green and fluffy and the next day it’s like Colonel Kilgore decided he wanted to smell victory so everything’s charred.

Also in Memphis, as in much of this part of the world, the hotter it gets, the more we all start sounding like Blanche DuBois. The heat turns our brains syrupy and ridiculous memories start oozing out our ears so then we’re like Blanche DuBois at the end of the play. And we start using the term “branch water” too much.

I’m going to be writing more regularly this summer, although I’ll just tell you up front I’ve got some obligations that might make that more difficult in the immediate future. BUT DO NOT CRY, GENTLE READER. For just like bangs and STDs, you’re pretty much stuck with me from here on out.

Sucking The Life Out Of The Holidays

27 Nov

You know how you think your family is crazy? You’re right. They are. You are the only sane one and you’re pushing the rock of sagacity uphill. Both ways. In the snow. Give in. Just give in.

There’s a yard sign I’ve seen around the internet that says something to the effect of how in The South we don’t hide our crazy. We put it out on the porch and give it a cocktail. There’s a reason for that, but it has less to do with embracing eccentricity and more the fact that there’s only so many people a house can hold. Not that the porch is really any better. Getting all your crazy kin out there with cocktails only ensures the porch will collapse and kill all your dogs.

My cousin Sharon says that while she wasn’t born in The South, she got here as soon as she could. I can only attribute this to a tendency towards stubbornness and a deeply held need to reassure herself she’s not so crazy after all. Having married into a family so eccentric Flannery O’Connor would run screaming headlong into a fainting couch, really all she has to do is show up to receive such reassurance. Her husband, my mother’s first cousin, and my mother like to look straight at my brother and me, and with all seriousness, frighten the snot out of us with the sober reminder, “WE’RE the sane ones.” Do they protest too much? No. No, unfortunately they are not, in this case, delusional.

Your family, normally a somewhat irritating yet benign protuberance on your butt becomes, around the second week of November, a festering boil which cannot be lanced until sometime around the last week of February when the image of your sister singing Patsy Cline’s greatest hits and wearing on her head the wreath you painstakingly created from months of collecting sweetgum balls finally fades. You TOLD her she’d had one too many Brandy Alexanders.

This time of year only serves to make friends of strangers and enemies of family. You’ll happily chat away to the woman in front of you in line who is asking if you understand a damn thing about these computer tablet pad internets she’s getting her grandchildren to play with, but you’ll lunge for Aunt Bunky’s throat if she tells you the story ONE MORE TIME about how they were so poor they had nothing to play with but pecan shells and how they never decorated with holly because they had to boil it into tea. This is the time of year that tries men’s souls. And patience. And livers.

And while I’m on a roll, whoever thought this was a good time of year for hunting season was obviously not just an only child, but an orphan. You haven’t lived until brothers, flasks empty, rifles loaded, come ass-over-elbow out of the woods arguing about why the other one is so undeserving of Mawmaw’s milk punch recipe. Grown-ass men. Armed. Milk punch.

This year I will put my shopping off longer than usual. I’ll pay out the wazoo to get everything shipped overnight if I have to. I’m hoping those Mayans were on to something.

Pandora And The GPS Lady Walk Into A Bar…

24 Oct

Pandora: (Slugs back a dry martini and sucks on a Camel Light) Finally! A bar where you can smoke! How did you find this place?

GPS Lady: (Orders a cosmo) I know my way around pretty well. I just happened to spot it. So, again, you know what happened today? AGAIN?

Pandora: You had to refrain from yelling, “MY NAME IS NOT YOU BITCH!!”?

GPS Lady: Uh, YEAH. Jeez. On my setup there are clear instructions how to name me. Of course, my creation name is Julia, but does anyone bother to find that out? No. They do not.

Pandora: They ask for our help and complain when we give it to them.

Julia: It’s not my problem you don’t know north from west. Let me do my damn job. And they really think I can’t hear them say they think they know a shortcut I don’t? If you know so much, turn me off and let me get some rest! It’s bad enough they leave me on when they go to and from work. Can we get some peanuts?

Pandora: There’s this woman, she wants nothing but John Legend and Common. Um, hello? iPod? I’m like, stop with the thumbs up. Hitting it every time you listen to that song isn’t going to make me play it any more.

Julia:
RIGHT? Like when they keep typing wrong and start punching my screen? It won’t get you where you need to be any faster there, Smokin’ Joe. You don’t have to bloody my nose.

Pandora: These people are the worst. Look, I’m programmed with complex algorithms and shit. Trust me, if I say you like Ke$ha, you do. Like I don’t know when you listen to Miley Cyrus. Girl, please.

Julia:
I work from satellites, not voodoo. Guess what, if it’s storming, I’m going to work a little slower. I’m not freaking Dumbledore.

Pandora: 
I’ve been working with this guy a few years now. Nice guy, generally lets me do my thing, right? But like now he’s got a John Prine station, a Guy Clark station, and a Drive By Truckers station. I ask you, how am I supposed to run three different streams from that? Combine them? Oh, no. I work off musical traits, not brainwaves. If it twangs like country, I’m gonna keep giving you country. How am I supposed to know Garth Brooks reminds you of your ex-girlfriend?

Julia: Can I get another cosmo, bartender? And whatever Pandora’s having.

Pandora: And if I get another ‘80s hair band station again, I swear to God, I’ll set you on fire with your Aqua Net and a Bic lighter. I know “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” reminds you of back in the day when rock stars signed your non-saggy boobs and snorted coke off your non-dimpled ass, but give me a break!

Julia: Do you know how many times a week someone programs in an ex’s new address? There are so many creepers out there. How do they think I don’t know what they’re doing? Although, they aren’t as bad as the ones who think they’re being funny by answering each of my directions. “Sure thing, honey! Left in 500 feet! Where to next? Just like a woman to boss me around!” It’s like amateur night at a Catskills resort. “Julia, I’d like to take a pleasure trip! Let’s take my mother-in-law to the airport!”

Pandora:
I’ll admit, I do throw a random mutation in there every now and then. Generally just before I time out. You’ve been listening to REM all day? BOOM! Now here’s some Billy Ocean. Hey, when is…

Siri:
(Flops down on a bar stool and snatches Julia’s drink) Omigod, you guys, sorry I’m late. I spent all day with this redneck– who never gets my name right– I have to call Gator Baiter who kept telling me he was “fixin’ to wont some grains fer supper, Sookeh.” What the hell does that even mean? Listen, are you hungry? I know this awesome place for tandoori chicken. Julia, you drive.

Y’all

23 Apr

How long has y’all been global?  I just came upon two instances where y’all was used in a non-Southern specific context and it got me thinking.  NPR’s Three Minute Fiction Facebook page used it.  A new product from The Clorox Company used it on its Facebook page.  Rappers and hip hop artists use it.  Joe Biden used it a couple of weeks ago, and he’s from Scranton. Y’all is the pimento cheese and blue Mason jar of language. We are having a y’all moment right now.  A y’all-geist, perhaps? No? Okay.

I’ve found it’s generally the first Southernism foreigners pick up.  And by foreigners, I don’t mean Ohioans. I really mean people from foreign countries.  Of course, we also force it on people.  I pity the Japanese businessman who comes down here to put in a factory and is hounded by people from The Chamber of Commerce wanting him to say, “Hey, y’all!” at every ribbon cutting, meeting, and photo op. I have European friends who use y’all with impunity.  To look at it spelled, it looks like it something your bubbe would have a strong opinion about. “This y’all is gornisht helfn!  Much too tough!  And it would kill you to use some salt?”  Maybe this is why it’s going international.  But y’all either comes naturally to people or it doesn’t.  You  sound really dorky when you try to use y’all to be folksy or to treat Southerners like we’re of a different country.

There is also some debate on how to spell the word correctly.  I, like my buddies Mr. Faulker and Miz McCullers,  like to spell it ya’ll, but I’ve found when I do that I get a lot of comments from people who did not grow up using the word telling me I spelled it wrong.  I don’t actually know how you spell a made up word incorrectly, but yeah.  Ya’ll means ya all–which is how we pronounce what we mean when we say ya’ll down here. Totally different from you all.  And don’t get me started on all y’all or y’all all. Or even youins.  

Y’all is all about emphasis. All of these things mean something different:

  • “Y’ALL!! Y’ALL!!”
  • “Y’all! Watch this!”
  • “Y’all? Y’ALL??”
  • “Y’all? Uh-uh.”
That last one is generally followed a few seconds later by, “I. SAIYYED. UH. UH.”

I guess it sounds folksy and therefore approachable and therefore will sell body lotion. In fact, if I were going to produce a skincare line I’d probably call it Y’all.  I’d want it to fit a wide range of skin issues and that makes it sound like there’s something for everyone. I would also have packaging that used twine and slab fonts and lots of those disembodied pointing fingers, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The Hypocrisy of Polenta

23 Mar

My friend Des is a Southerner stuck in Chicago for twenty years now. It happens. He pines for, well, pines. Specifically the Piney Woods of Mississippi where we grew up. I periodically remind him about humidity, the fact that the bugs are going to be big enough this summer to saddle and ride to work, and that I am actually acquainted with people who still believe central air is sent from Satan to tempt us into a life of wickedness and not sending thank you notes. I’m not trying to talk him out of it; I’m being realistic. After twenty years the memories of home are more of the misty water-colored variety. CRAWFISH! SPIDER LILIES! SCREEN DOORS! But I would love for him to move to Memphis or Nashville so I’d have an opportunity to make him some shrimp and grits.

There is a chicken recipe which has been printed and reprinted and shared a million times. It’s called Engagement Chicken and it first appeared in Glamour magazine about 30 years ago. Supposedly your boyfriend will propose to you after eating this chicken. I’ve not made this particular chicken, but I’ve made roast chicken with lemon. That’s what this is. Now, I don’t want to say bad things about this chicken. A perfectly roasted chicken is a thing of beauty and a joy for about ten minutes. Which is approximately how long it takes my family to stand at the counter and tear the crispy skin off. I’m okay with that because I have notoriously sharp elbows and can usually take out a rogue teenager or two to get to the little crispy bits at the end of the wings. And I generally eschew any item of food, clothing, or scent that purports to be a marriage trap. It is my foolish belief that marriage is a sacred institution into which both parties should be scared witless to commit themselves. I’m not so much for the HA! GOTCHA! theory of engagement. Having said that, I’m aware my husband and I are married because of my shrimp and grits.

Chuck and I courted each other by fixing dinner. I had put together dinner before, but not really cooked dinner. You know? Like you throw a steak on the grill, a pork roast in the oven. Blanch some green beans or something. But Chuck’s birthday was approaching and I told him I’d fix him anything he wanted. He wanted shrimp and grits. I did not have my own recipe, but I knew there was only one place to go. To Oxford, Mississippi. I used John Currence’s recipe as my base. I changed it up a little, leaving out the mushrooms (I have since become a convert to the use of mushrooms in this dish) and trading the bacon for sausage. Then, as now, my deepest held conviction about shrimp and grits is that the closest a tomato should get to it is in the salad you serve on the side. To cut to the chase, we were married four months later.

I do not tell that story so that desperate young women will sear millions of pounds of shrimp in an attempt to walk down the aisle via an unsuspecting stomach. No, I tell this story because I like to take every opportunity I can to brag about my shrimp and grits and because just this morning Des sent me a recipe for a dish which uses–siddown, this is big–instant grits. I KNOW! I clutched my pearls, too.

Listen, I’m not going to lie. I’m down with the quick-cooking grits even though, honestly, no kind of grits takes that long to make. But instant? ARE WE ANIMALS? All in all, the dish was sound. Lemon-garlic shrimp over parmesan cheese grits. Shrimp AND grits, yes. Shrimpngrits, no. I looked at the comments about this dish expecting to hear a chorus of disdain for instant grits, and there was some of that. But the singers hitting the back of the house were doing so with an old-fashioned grit bashing.

Gross! Grits are disgusting! Shrimp with grit?!  To you grits-bashers out there I say, shuddup. Do you eat polenta? Of course you do. Polenta is faincy. A fancy name for grits. THEY ARE THE SAME THING! It’s all cornmeal! Okay, yes, hominy grits, the house grits of the South, are different. They’re corn treated with an alkali so the stuff puffs up until it looks like droppings from the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. These are then dried and, as my nephew says, WALL-AH! Hominy grits. Everything else is just cornmeal in varying degrees of roughness.

So those–ugh–tubes of polenta you get in the produce section and take home to be all International Gluten-Free Paleo Chef Of Faincy Ingredients? Why? You wouldn’t buy a pre-made tube of oatmeal would you?  It’s just corn mush. Just like every working farmer has eaten for centuries in this country as well as Italy. This is humble food we’re talking about. The great thing about it is that you can dress it up with cheese, lots of cheese, or cheese and lots of garlic. And you can, I suppose, eat it with cream and sugar. I don’t know why you’d want to. I’m looking at you, Indianapolis. You can, if you are so inclined as I was a couple of years ago, to make braised short ribs and vegetables on a bed of Stilton polenta and garnished with gremolata. But it’s just pot roast with grits and garnished with lemon zest and parsley.

Maybe the problem isn’t the grits themselves, it’s food with such working class ties. Those hand-cut buttermilk scones toasted with house-made Vermont cheddar pimento spread and thinly sliced Benton’s country ham are social climbers. What self respecting Brighton charm-collecting, suburban starter castle-building woman would serve cathead biscuts with mama’s pimento cheese and ham at her ladies’ luncheon? Her membership in Junior Auxillary would be revoked before it was ever ratified. Except that it wouldn’t.

Good food is good food. You may be more comfortable eating catfish gujons with capered aoli and black eyed pea caviar, but it’s still fried catfish with tartar sauce and black eyed pea salad. Anyone who thinks the name makes the food needs to have a giant debris po boy from Mother’s shoved in her mouth. Do you really want to associate with people who are so filled with first world ennui they can’t enjoy a damn bowl of grits? Such people should be thumped soundly and percussively upon the gourd.

Besides, as Des reminded me, “Telling someone to ‘kiss my polenta’ just doesn’t have the same effect.”