Monday, December 31, 2007

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

© 2007 Leighann Lord

We put up a Christmas tree this year. Big whoop, right? Actually it is. We haven't put a tree up in our house in years. I hate the hassle. Putting it up is cumbersome and taking it down is worse. A ubiquitous symbol of Christmas cheer becomes a monument to procrastination the deeper you get into the new year.

I'm not a complete Grinch. In lieu of a tree, I throw a little tinsel on the TV, put the presents around it and turn on the yule log. Ta Da, a modern Christmas. Adorning the TV was fine when I was single but my Dear Husband, God help me, loves to keep Christmas well. Unchecked I think he'd be one of those guys who turns the house into a landing strip for Santa.

This year I finally acquiesced. Maybe it was my husband’s sad face or his sparkling baby blues. My money is on the Oreo cookie bash (OCB) he made for Thanksgiving. Unfamiliar? Think Oreo cookies, pudding, whip cream, a big spoon, and Diana Ross crooning in the background, “If there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it.” A religious experience that will soften the hardest of hearts.

I savored the taste of the OCB as we dug the tree out of the attic. After years of disuse it was shoved way in the back and had to be excavated from the detritus of old clothes, books and furniture. My family doesn’t know how to throw anything away. We hang on to old possessions like life rafts. The idea of letting anything go, sheer blasphemy.

It might have been easier to buy a new tree, a “real” one perhaps. But to me an artificial tree is a real tree if by real you mean not imaginary. I don't quite see the logic of killing a living tree every year when you can use an artificial one again and again. Isn’t that recycling?

Once freed from the attic, the tree itself was simple to set up, but the fun came in decorating it. Some of the ornaments were gifts from folks unaware of my Christmas TV predilection. The bulk were inherited from my parents; the upside of being the progeny of pack rats.

Every ornament was a sweet memory. The best was a yarn stitched, oak tag Christmas stocking that I must have made in kindergarten. My name spelled out in gold sparkles looks to be the work of a five-year-old, or an inebriated college student. It was nicer than I expected seeing the tree lit with presents underneath. The TV could not compare.

I'm hoping to hang on to this good feeling when it’s time to take the tree down. We’ve set a date, saved space in the attic and will keep our strength up with regular infusions of Oreo cookie bash.
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Monday, December 17, 2007

The Worst Cup of Coffee, Ever

What Dementors Drink For Breakfast

© 2007 Leighann Lord

I just had the worst cup of coffee, ever. I know this claim is subjective. I’m sure you have your own personal remembrance of a cup of java gone wrong. Maybe it was the first time you had a cup of "regular coffee" at Starbucks.

I’ll agree with you on that. Starbucks’ regular coffee is purposely dreadful. It’s meant to subtly encourage you to buy on of the more expensive flavored lattes. Good plan. The caramel machiatto latte gets me every time.

Perhaps the worst cup of coffee you ever had came at the hands of a loved one. Coffee always tastes better when someone else makes it, right? Not exactly. My Mom hates the way my Dad makes her coffee. Understandable. They drink instant and that sucks no matter who makes it. But she won’t tell him, drinking it anyway so as not to hurt his feelings or stifle his romantic impulses. Ah, love.

Maybe your worst cup of coffee, ever, was the first cup. I know of very few people who take their maiden sip and shiver with joy. Usually it takes a lot of trial and error; figuring out the right brand, and combination of lighteners and sweeteners. Like sex, a good cup of coffee takes some experimentation to get it just right.

Whatever your Worst Cup of Coffee, Ever story, allow me to share mine.

I was enjoying a leisurely lunch at my favorite Greek restaurant. I know some people think the Greeks only run diners, but I was at an honest to God, Greek restaurant. I had a little time to kill so I ordered a cup of coffee.

I should have realized my mistake immediately from the blank look on the waiter’s face. He blinked a few times as if stunned. I don’t think he’d ever heard anyone order the coffee before. He hesitated for a moment perhaps giving me a chance to change my mind, or let him in on the joke; telling him Ashton Kutcher was in the kitchen and he was being punked. Just before the moment became too awkward the waiter recovered and scurried away.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of coffee snob. It’s not my fault. My first real cup for enjoyment – and not to stay awake on a long drive – was Jamaican Blue Mountain served one Christmas at my cousin’s house. Purchased domestically Blue Mountain is almost $50 per pound. Jamaica’s best known export may be Ganga and surly women, but the most profitable is the coffee.

Snobbery aside, I still try to keep an open mind. I had a surprisingly delicious cup of coffee, for instance, at a hotel bar in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They served a brand called Seattle’s Best; and, as it turns out, their best isn’t half bad.

Eventually the waiter returned with the coffee, milk, sugar and a plastic spoon. (I’d understand the latter later.) Glancing into the cup was my first inkling that all was not well. I may be a novice, but I don’t think coffee should have "legs" like wine or the viscosity of oil.

It didn’t move like any liquid I’ve ever seen, but more like an alien life form laying in wait to assume the shape of the first hapless human to touch it. Great minds think alike if you’re picturing the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) from "Terminator 2."

This wasn’t just an innocent cup of black coffee. This thing didn’t reflect light, but absorb it like a black hole. Forget Mr. Kutcher, I wondered seriously if the twin Stephens – King and Hawking – were collaborating on something in the kitchen that got away from them.

Gamely, I poured sugar and milk into the cup. The milk swirled feebly for a moment and then disappeared into the unchanged murky blackness. I poured off some of the "coffee" into my empty water glass; careful not to spill any, less I accidently set it free. Still no change, even after I stirred it; thankful now for the plastic spoon. If my "Terminator" theory was correct the substance in my cup would have assimilated a metal spoon. The last thing I wanted to do was arm my coffee with a weapon.

I plumbed the depths of my courage and took a taste. One sip and, while death was not immediate, I realized that in the time I do have left I owe Starbucks an apology. I was wrong to think they have the worst coffee in all of Christendom. Nay Friends, that distinction belongs to the bitter brew that brushed my lips at my former favorite Greek restaurant.

Like the black hole it appeared to be, it not only absorbed light and milk, but the memory of anything sweet and good I’ve ever imbibed. This was a cup of liquid evil. For my fellow Harry Potter fans, this is what Dementors drink for breakfast. I would have told the waiter how bad the coffee was, but I never saw him again. I hope he’s okay.

I still shudder at the memory, but modern psychology believes the best way to excise the demons is to share my story. I think the best remedy is a freshly brewed cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain, administered intravenously, stat.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kicking Ass On & Off Stage

The Delicate Flower Holds Her Own

© 2007 Leighann Lord

If anyone finds it shocking that I would participate in a mixed martial arts tournament, join the club. In high school I hated gym class and openly disdained organized sports. Sweating in public? How undignified. I’ve never even been in a fight. I was the geeky kid who learned to avoid physical confrontations through diplomacy, humor, quick thinking and fast talking. I also learned to read a situation, and to get gone while the getting was good. I never even stuck around to watch a fight. Why would I? It's the innocent bystanders who get hurt. So a fight, on purpose, is way outside my comfort zone.

Even with the extra training I put in, (see "I Love the Smell of Icy Hot in the Morning") I learned – day of – there are a few things you can’t prepare for, like the boredom of waiting around. My first match, scheduled for 3:15pm, didn't begin until after 6pm. There wasn't much for anyone to do but watch the other matches, chat with friends and surreptitiously size up the competition.

Actually, the latter wasn’t very subtle. The reckless eyeballing was intense and flagrant. If I had a dollar for every woman I caught boldly accessing my age and weight, I could pay off my Visa bill. Okay maybe not the whole bill, but at least the minimum monthly payment.

I think this explains why there are fewer women competitors than men. A woman's weight is as sacred as her age and lifetime number of sexual partners. While it’s standard practice to get weighed before you fight, I believe most women would fight not to get weighed.

That's the other thing I wasn't really prepared for: fighting with strangers. Although The Challenge of Champions is an intramural tournament between the 40+ martial schools within one organization, you tend to know only the folks at your own school. You get so used to training and fighting with your friends, the idea of fighting strangers seems down right weird.

When my first match in submission grappling finally began it was relatively short. You’re supposed to be equally matched but after the referee said, "Go!" I quickly realized that while my opponent may have been a brown belt, she handled herself like a third degree black belt.

She got the take down and I got her in my guard with a guillotine choke. She swiftly worked out my guard and got a very tight side mount. If this sounds a little too technical, let me simplify: she was winning. I would have congratulated her superb technique, but I was too busy trying to breathe.

I was also in a catch 22. I was afraid to let go of her head, thinking she’d used the opportunity to get a full submission on me. But by not letting go I could not improve my position either. And so the match ended in a stale mate. I didn’t tap out (yea!) but she won the match on points and position.

And just like that it was over. All that training and I was knocked out of the box in three minutes. I felt terrible. My fellow class mates all hugged and congratulated me. My husband was proud too, although he kept casting menacing looks at my opponent. I, however, felt like a loser. It was like inviting everyone to come see me at a comedy show and bombing miserably.

I packed up my stuff and moved on to my next match: Kick Boxing. Oh great. Let me explain. Back in September I began testing for my brown belt. One of the things I was weak in was free sparring. No brown belt for me until I measurably improved my skills. Since I was already going to tournament training for grappling, I asked my Sensei if I could come for kick boxing as well. He said, "Yes," and added, "I think you should kick box in the tournament."

And here is where I began questioning his sanity. Why would he suggest I sign up to compete in a sport I wasn’t very good in? To me the answer was an unequivocal, "Hell no!" But as the weeks of training went by, and I saw improvement, my confidence grew. And with an equal mixture of "What the hell am I am doing?" and "Oh what the hell!" I signed up to compete in kick boxing on the very last day of registration.

So now it was with a heavy heart and a head full of doubt that dragged myself off to the next match. If I couldn’t do well in grappling, my supposed strong suit, how was I going to fare in an area where I needed the most work? To compound matters, I learned that the woman who just beat me and went on to win third place in grappling – a United States Marine – was going to be my opponent, again. Check please.

At this point I held onto one fragment of hope: that someone who was so good at grappling, might not be as good in kick boxing. Silly in retrospect, but it kept me from running out of the arena, into the car and off to the nearest Dunkin Donuts to drown my sorrow in a white hot chocolate.

In the ring, we bowed to each other, touched gloves and began the fight. All the training and advice of the last six weeks swirled through my head like an unending mantra:

"Elbows in... keep your head down... breathe... put your whole body into the punch... turn into it... breathe... open them up down the center with straight punches.... on the inside use body punches... start a combination with a punch, end with a kick... start with a kick, end with a punch... breathe... work combinations... look for an opening... don’t let a punch or kick go unanswered.... it’s never the other person’s ‘turn’ to hit... breathe..."
At the end of the two minute round, the referee separated us, turned to the judges, and raised the hand of the winner. He raised my hand. I was so stunned that the ref looked at the judges again to make sure he had ruled correctly. He did. "Oh my god, I won... the first round."

For some crazy reason I didn’t realize that winning one match doesn’t mean it’s over. You have to keep competing. I had exactly two minutes to catch my breath and fight the winner of the next match. Oh goody. I fought two more times and earned SECOND PLACE! "Hell yea!" Maybe my Sensei's not so crazy after all.

I’ve never been so exhausted and happy in my life. I felt exhilarated and proud, and vaguely grateful that nothing was broken or torn. The icing on the cake was when my husband hugged me tight and whispered sweetly in my ear, "Damn, Baby, you throw an upper cut like a man."

Afterwards, he treated me to quiet dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I don’t know when carbs ever tasted so good. And for a night cap, that sweet elixir of champions: the Dunkin Donuts white hot chocolate.

In the end I earned a pretty little plaque, a slightly larger comfort zone, and – at last - my brown belt! (For you long time blog readers who remember my post "The Yellow Belt Blues" let me assure you that yes I have brown hand wraps to match.)

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Knocking Boots

© 2007 Leighann Lord

I love shoes. I have a closet full of neatly boxed and labeled foot wear categorized by season (wearing opened toed shoes in the Winter is silly), color (life long New Yorker that I am, I believe black goes with everything), and heel height (there's a time for flip flops and a time for pumps). I hope one day to have two walk-in closets; one for clothes, one for shoes. Imelda Marcos and Adrian Monk would be proud.

I also have a small but functional boot collection; everything from construction worker style Timberland's to the patent leather, pointy toed stilettos. Not only are the latter drop dead sexy, but they were also dirt cheap. It doesn't get better than that.

Strutting down the street one day -- cause these are the kinda boots you strut, not walk, in -- a lady said, "Ooh, those are 'Cat Woman' boots." I took it as a compliment, but I couldn't help but wonder which Cat Woman she meant. I hoped for Eartha Kitt. She was the quintessential Cat Woman. Halle Berry was beautiful, of course, but her Cat Woman illustrated why secondary characters shouldn't have their own movie.

But I must confess that I'm a bit biased. I've never forgiven Halle for doing a half-assed job as Storm in "X-Men." I know. Let it go, Leighann. Let it go. Believe me, I've tried. Candles, meditation, scream therapy and still the nerve is raw.

I have a very special pair of boots that I wear so rarely they look brand new: A flat heeled, black leather boot that comes up to my thigh. The top can be folded down for the pirate look; unfolded and worn up to the thigh: pure Dominatrix. These boots taught me a valuable lesson very early in my comedy career: some outfits and accessories are too distracting to wear on stage.

I am a staunch advocate of dressing nicely for a show, but women have an interesting dilemma. Look too sexy and the men in the audience are paying attention to you for reasons that have nothing to do with comedy, and the women with them are none too pleased.

This is not an absolute. There are experienced comics who dress provocatively on stage, well aware of the effect they have on the audience and know how to use it. Back then I was not one of them. The boots looked great, but it was not one of my better shows. I got off stage sad and dejected and in need of relief.

Some comics turn to alcohol, I turn to sugar and so off I went to the candy store next door to the club to buy something sweet. There's nothing a little sugar can't fix. I walked into the candy store and saw just the thing to make it all better: a pack of Juicy Fruit gum. I picked it up and asked the man behind the counter, "How much?" And he said, "Nothing. Baby, in those boots you can have anything you want."

What? I was stunned, not only by what he said, but the sincerity and urgency with which he said it. It make me really look at him. He was an older man (there's a time in your life when all men are older) and he was serious.

I was not so naive as to be unfamiliar with the attentions of strange men. I've received bold glances, cat calls and the occasional proposal of marriage, but this was different. This was wasn’t just lust. He was enthralled. The boots were a siren that called to this man in some way I did not yet understand and was not mature enough to handle. I could indeed have had everything in the store I wanted including him.

I stammered a quick, "Uh... no thank you," and left the candy store sans gum. The Boots were neatly returned to my closet and not worn again for several years. They still aren't something I'd wear everyday, but they do make it into the rotation. I have never worn them on stage again, by choice. I know their power and prefer more subtle ways of engaging an audience. I can't have hordes of people offering to buy me gum now can I?

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Who Made The Mac & Cheese?

Why the Mack, Of Course
© 2007 Leighann Lord

On Thanksgiving I was most grateful that the family dinner was not at my house. With all the shopping, cooking and cleaning I'm ready for folks to leave before they ring the bell.

This year my Cousin graciously invited us all to her home for Thanksgiving, and asked us to bring a dish. When people ask us to bring a dish, they don’t mean me. They mean my Husband. I'm a good cook, but he’s an excellent cook. Over time, our kitchen has become his kitchen and my culinary skills have become rusty. I can still make a mean pot of pasta but man can not live by carbs alone.

My Husband's cooking capabilities are well known. My girlfriends love his Israeli Salad. I don't know all what he puts in it, but I'm pretty sure one of the ingredients must be crack, because once you start eating it you can't stop. I was threatened with the end of life long friendships if I didn’t come across with the recipe. I did, of course. My Husband is always happy to share, but personally, I think stuff tastes better when other people make it.

My Mom's side of the family still speaks quite fondly of the ribs my Husband made one Christmas – pork, beef, AND lamb – with home made barbeque sauce. I, not so fondly, remember shopping with him for all the ingredients he needed to make said sauce. After the third store I asked why he didn’t just buy plain old barbeque sauce. Time stopped, the sky grew dark and he gave me a look that made my blood run cold. I believe this was the same look given to witches by the Inquisition before they were burned at the stake.

When my Cousin called to invite us for Thanksgiving dinner she asked my Husband to make The Mac & Cheese. Uh oh. I was worried. Excellent cook that he is, he's never made Mac & Cheese. That's my fault. I’m not a fan of The Mac. Actually The Mac is fine, it's The Cheese I can't stand. I’ll eat pizza, but no Mac & Cheese, cheese burgers, cheese fries, cheese cake, cheese doodles, Cheez-Its® or Cheez Whiz®.

Although my Husband often whips up new dishes for me to try, he won't make anything he knows I hate. It's not just wasting food, but I'm sure he got tired of seeing me pout like a five-year-old whenever he put something on my plate I wouldn't eat.

The center piece of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey, but the importance of the accompanying dishes can not be underestimated. A family favorite like Mac & Cheese can make or break the meal and your reputation. Mess it up and you'll never live it down. Children yet to be born into the family will know that Aunt or Uncle Whoever makes the worst whatchamacalit. I was worried about my Husband’s culinary legacy, and by extension my own.
"You messed up the Mac & Cheese!"
"Me? I didn’t make it. My Husband did."
"Yeah, but you married him!"
Oh the shame, but my in-house chef did not disappoint. I'm proud to say he threw it down like a pro and his Mac & Cheese was a hit with The Fam. It may not reach the legendary status of his ribs, but The Mack made good. The Mac & Cheese was so tasty I was sorry we didn't bring any back home. That's the bad part about not having Thanksgiving dinner at your house: No left overs to nibble on later. No worries though; The Mack made another batch just for me. Ain’t love grand?

I’m still not a complete Mac & Cheese convert. I’ll only eat it now if I know my Husband made it. Everybody else will still get the pout.

Now that he's proven himself, I have a feeling my husband will be asked to make the Christmas Mac & Cheese. And I'll be ready just in case anyone wants me to make my famous Holiday Spaghetti.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Black Credit Check

By Leighann Lord, © 2007

"What do you want me to say about you?" This is what any decent MC will ask before bringing you up on stage. A good MC will ask this even if they already know you. It gives you the chance to say how you want to be introduced to the audience. A very good MC, by the way, is one who not only asks, but remembers and does it.

Some comics don't care how they're introduced. They tell the MC, "Just say anything." I applaud their bravery. There are very few MCs I would trust to do this. Presentation is key and those few seconds when the microphone passes from MC to Comic are too precious to waste recouping from an off-color-meant-to-be-funny-but-not intro from an incompetent MC.

Another version of this is, "What are your credits?" Credits mean everything and nothing. They look and sound good on the resume, but you've still gotta do the job. I know comics who don't use credits, claiming the audience doesn't care. Saturday night, third show, drinking since noon? No, they probably don't care. But more often then not I've seen people's ears perk up, and their attention become focused, when they hear a show mentioned that they know and like.

Credits matter very much to a comedy club. It's their way of advertising that they have the best talent. "You've seen them on TV, now see them here!" When an audience member calls to make a reservation they usually ask, "Who's going to be on the show?" At a showcase club this could be 10 comics who, while great, are not household names yet. The club will then name the comics and their credits. The club is banking that even if the caller doesn't know the comic, they will recognize the name of the TV show.

Unlike an MC, a club does not ask a comic how he or she would like to be introduced or in this case, advertised to the public. Does that matter? I didn't think so until I learned that a local club was peddling me to prospective audience members as "... Leighann Lord from 'Def Comedy Jam'...." While it's true that I did appear on "Def Comedy All Star Jam" back 1996, I was perplexed as to why a comedy club would use a credit that was over 10 years old, especially when I have so many more recent ones.

Besides being true, credits should also be current. If you're introduced with a show that's no longer on the air it makes you sound old and dated. As great as it was in it's day, "Evening at the Improv" doesn't carry quite the same cache it once did. However, it's not just that the "Def Jam" credit is old, but I believe the club deliberately chose to use it because it does something my other credits do not: label me as a Black Comic.

Part of me understands. It's all about marketing. Admirably, some clubs want their line up to reflect the diversity of their audience and they do this using the United Colors of Benetton Formula: one of everything. However it's not quite politically correct to say, "Hey, we've got Caucasians, an Asian, a Black, and a Chic." And so I end up being "... Leighann Lord from 'Def Comedy Jam.'"

I should know better than to take this personally; but there are times when I'm more than a little hurt, pissed and perturbed that after 15 years in the business, somebody thinks "Black Comic" is the only label that fits me. But from a pure business stand point it's also a tad misleading.

"Def Jam" is not just the title of a TV show, but it has evolved into describing a genre of comedy. In the main, introducing or advertising a comic with the "Def Jam" credit tells the audience they are going to see some rough and raunchy, urban comedy. Not exactly my style. For the record the show that would have best described me was the wonderful but sadly short lived "Comic Justice." Hosted by AJ Jamal it featured Black comics who were hip, smart and I dare say cerebral.

Selfishly I wish the show had survived so I had a chance to do it. I also believe the show would have been a lovely counter balance to "Def Jam." It would have given us a little variety and diversity. The Black Community is not monolithic and yet that is how we're often represented. We are "Good Times", "The Cosby Show" and everything in between and beyond.

I guess I should just be grateful that the credit the club used for me was at least accurate. Some have no qualms about engaging in wholesale fabrication. Much like inattentive MCs who don't bother asking for my credits and just assume I've been on BET. Funny, they never assume I've been on the "Tonight Show" or "Letterman." I guess that's not part of the marketing plan.

Sometimes I think my husband has the right idea. When MC's ask him, "What do you want me to say about you?" He says, "Next act, very funny." And would you believe they still mess it up?

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Monday, November 12, 2007

I Love the Smell of Icy Hot in the Morning

© 2007 Leighann Lord

As I sit here with a ThermaCare Heat Wrap on my back, an Icy Hot Medicated Sleeve on my knee and liberal amounts of BenGay coating my triceps, biceps, and quads, I'm wondering how the hell I got here.

Back in 2006 I began doing mixed martial arts to get in shape. One class per week turned into two; two turned into four. Now I average six hours of training per week. I'm in the best shape of my life, I'm learning skills I hope I never need and I'm having fun.

Well apparently I messed around and got good enough to get invited to participate in an upcoming tournament. Holy crap, Bat Man! I was really just in this for fun and a killer set of abs. It never crossed my mind that I – The Delicate Flower – would ever compete in a tournament, but I was so stunned and flattered by the invitation that I said, yes. This is very reminiscent of how I accepted my husband’s proposal of marriage, but that's a story for another time.

So now in addition to my regular classes, I also go to tournament training: three hours on Sunday. Praise the Lord and let's get ready to rumble. If you’re keeping score at home, that nine hours of training. No wonder I don’t have time to go to the movies, see my friends or wander through mall clothing stores trying on cute outfits.

The extra training has been intense. This is where I’m actually applying the skills and techniques I’ve learned in order to beat, I mean best my opponent. I've never considered myself a violent person — sale days not with standing. In my experience, a well-placed elbow will let a fellow shopper know that you mean business. Only one of you is leaving with that last pair of size eights and it's not her.

Kicking ass sounds like fun but I've learned that one can not kick ass without presenting one's own posterior for a reciprocal thrashing. There's always someone with more skill, speed, stamina and strength. Even if you’re winning it’s exhausting and giving can hurt just as much as receiving.

Recently while going for a take down I felt my knee do something a knee was never meant to do. It slipped out of place ever so slightly to the left and then, as if knowing it shouldn’t be there, quickly slid back to the right. For the record a knee is supposed to bend, not slide. Sliding bad. Bending good.

I remember in "A League of There Own" Tom Hanks shouting, "There’s no crying in baseball." Well, let me tell you, there is crying in martial arts. As a matter of fact, if you get whacked in the nose with just the right amount of force, it’s biologically impossible not to cry.

I also never realized how long a two minute round is. It doesn’t sound like much until you begin slugging it out, toe to toe. How anyone can do it for 12 rounds is beyond me. I have a new found respect for professional boxers. I even understand why someone would take a dive. For me, "Rocky IV" is now a horror movie. There's not enough BenGay in the world to make me fight the female equivalent of Dolph Lundgren.

Come to think of it, I don’t know who I’ll be fighting. Matches are based on belt ranking (red) and weight (a lady’s got to have some secrets). On one hand, I’m glad that I’ve trimmed down. Hopefully this means I won’t be up against any bruisers in the Amazon Division. But one the other hand, a little extra weight could be a nice cushion. Maybe getting punched in the fat hurts less.

For now, adrenaline gets me through the training, but the next day I’m a wreck. I walk like Fred Sanford and I smell like a medicine cabinet. In order of increasing pungency I’ve used Ben Gay, IcyHot and Tiger Balm. I guess the theory is the worse it smells the better it works. Perhaps the odor is meant to distract you from the pain. I personally prefer Sports Creme because it's odorless, but then I worry: If I can’t smell it, is it really working? What I wouldn’t pay for a muscle creme that smelled like cupcakes. Cupcakes are very distracting.

Muhammad Ali once said, "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'" While I’ve always loved that quote, I am ever so grateful that hitting to the head is not allowed in the tournament.

When it’s over, I’m going to treat myself to a trip to The Mall. The other shoppers will probably smell me coming and get out of the way before anybody gets hurts.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Succeed or Breed?

© 2007 Leighann Lord
As a former English major, bookstore clerk and all around bibliophile, I read a lot. I finish most of the books I start, but there are a couple I just can't seem to get through. Years ago I picked up the engagingly titled "How To Marry A Black Man" by Monique Jellerette. I didn't finish it which probably explains how I ended up marrying a white guy. Perhaps the book should be subtitled: "Read it Cover to Cover and You'll Get a Brother; Only Read Half and You'll Stray off the Path."

I've also never been able to finish reading "Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude" by Clement Stone. I pick it up every few months and begin re-reading it and I always stop shortly after the author begins to rail about the dangers of sex.

"Another force with which every human being has to contend, and which, if not met with PMA [Positive Mental Attitude], can cause physical, moral and mental destruction is the power of sex. Sex represents the greatest challenge of change! Each human being has the power to choose for himself whether he will use the tremendous power of sex for good or for evil. Each human being must contend with the problems that will arise in his life because of sex." (p. 86)

It’s not that I agree or disagree, but I feel like I’ve been baited and switched. I'm reading a book about success and then I'm blind sided by a sermon. Thankfully, the author doesn't leave you hanging. He asks and answers the question inquiring minds want to know: "How can you transmute the power of sex into the good and the beautiful?" (p. 87) I'm thinking dinner, candles, and soft music, but the author’s says:

"Keep your mind on the things you want and off the things you don't want. This means you keep your mind on immediate, intermediate, and distant desirable objects. The instinct of sex in the subconscious mind will be patient if it has hope that you will fulfill life's mission."
He also says:
"Work long hours at a labor of love. It will keep you busy, occupy your thoughts, and use up surplus energy."
So basically, work hard and don’t think about it? I guess that's how he wrote the book. I resent the implication that hard working, success oriented people aren’t having sex. Just because it has to be scheduled in one’s day planner, doesn’t mean its not happening.

This advice is a hard sell for the let it all hang out society that is modern America. We are loathe to postpone pleasure of any sort. We don't wait well and are unaccustomed to it. Two words: instant gratification. Think it, want it, have it NOW.

All the media messages that matter say if you want sex, have sex. What are you waiting for? Oh, right the video equipment. Apparently sex today must be taped and posted on You Tube. If it doesn't go viral, how good could it be? No boundaries. No privacy. No waiting. Today, all that wonderful sexual energy, Mr. Clement speaks so highly of is spent having sex. And when folks are done they have just enough energy left to roll over and turn off the camera.

I’m willing to wager, given his ardent sincerity on the subject of sex, that the author had a colorful youth. But for some, age and time dulls the ardor; makes us forget or want to. As my grandmother often said, "Many a gay blade, turns into a sword of righteousness."

The hormone haze of sex and love that begins at puberty thrusts us all headlong into a lifelong dance that has many missteps. The trick is to find the balance between being a wall flower and a video ho; between complete denial and full on hedonism.

A respectful acknowledgment perhaps?

As Spike ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer;" "Lover’s Walk;" Season 3) so eloquently said:
"Love isn't brains, children, it's blood... blood screaming inside you to
work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."
Love’s bitch indeed. Happy reading. Happy dancing.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hang Onto Your Skin

By Leighann Lord, © 2007

As cold and flu season approach, we are urged to frequently wash our hands to prevent and fight the spread of germs. Simple enough but it gets challenging in the nefarious and uncertain world of the public restroom. The washing part is easy – when you finally figure out how to turn on the water – but the drying part can get a little dicey.

Given the choice I prefer paper towels to the increasingly ubiquitous hand dryers. I hear the environmentally conscious among you crying, "Heretic!" But before you light your torches and storm the gates I implore you to think of all the needless carbon dioxide you'll be releasing into the atmosphere.

My distaste for hand dryers stems from their gross lack of uniformity. With no clear industry standard you can find yourself facing anything from the very basic to the intimidatingly high tech. The easiest ones sport a big "Press Here" button. The dignity of simplicity in action.
The more advanced models require you to wave your hand near an unseen sensor. Depending on it's sensitivity, or lack there of, you can find yourself full out dancing to get it to recognize you. This is annoying but if you've missed the gym, consider it your exercise for the day.

Temperature is another variable. Sometimes the air is too hot. Sometimes it's too cold. And sometimes, like Baby Bear's porridge, it's just right. Duration is also a mystery. One wave and the air could be still be blowing long after you leave. Usually though, most are so short that you have to press the button repeatedly, wave at the sensor more vigorously or dance more enthusiastically to get your hands thoroughly dry.

I thought I had the vagaries of bathroom dryers down to a science. But then I stuck my hand underneath a new one at my local Barnes & Noble and I got a blast of air so strong it blew off bits of nail polish, hang nails and some color. It was a wind much like this that transported Dorothy and Toto from Kansas to Oz.

My environmentalist friends should be very concerned. What would happen if in a crafty terrorist plot, all these powerful hand dryers were pressed simultaneously? Could they collectively cause cataclysmic climate change? Blow away an entire civilization? Now I miss paper towels even more. They harken back to a simpler time of the plain white box hanging on the bathroom wall. You reach up, grab a paper towel, dry and go; fingers, manicure, and melanin intact.

I guess it could have been worse. What if I were an elderly woman caught unawares by this localized tornado? It could have knocked me down, broken my hip and blown off epidermis to the marrow. But who am I kidding? I'll be one of those old ladies who carries paper towels in her handbag, right next to my rain bonnet, stale peppermints and crumpled Kleenex.
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Monday, October 22, 2007

Next Guest?

The check out line was long at the Burlington Coat Factory, the discount clothing store, but it moved. Perhaps they're afraid if you wait in line too long, you'll realize the money you're saving isn't worth the time you're spending. And, of course, instead of putting the clothes back where you found them, you'll toss them willy nilly into the Juniors Department, which runs parallel to the line. I have never done this. If I love something enough to get on line with it, I'm taking it home.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bitchy About Butter

© 2007 Leighann Lord
So I'm ordering a bagel from the drive thru at Dunkin Donuts. Yes, I know. This is wrong on many levels. First: I'm ordering a bagel at Dunkin Donuts. Their bagels aren't bad, but they pale in comparison to the bagels you can get in any New York City deli. This is like buying frozen fish sticks when you can have Tuna Steak.

As if ordering second rate carbs isn't bad enough, I'm getting them at the drive through; a step above having them intravenously fed. I do try to make it better by ordering a whole wheat bagel. So maybe there's hope for me yet.

On the surface, ordering a buttered bagel sounds like a simple affair. And it would be if everyone didn't have their own butter application technique. No two people butter the same way. I prepare for this universal truth by always asking for a knife with my order. Some clerks seem reluctant to give me said utensil, as if the value of it is coming out of their check. These are the places that don't keep plastic utensils handy and I have to wait for them to liberate one from of the vault.

In some places the person who takes my order also applies the butter. Sanitary concerns aside, they take my request for a knife personally, as if I don't trust their professional judgment. I don't. That's because there are two types of butterers. The Slatherers, who pile it on with a spatula making what can only be described as a butter sandwich. My cholesterol goes up just looking at it. I use the plastic knife to remove the excess which, if saved, is enough to bake a cake.

If The Slatherer gives me too much butter, then The Economist gives too little. Efficiency experts at heart, they don’t so much spread the butter as they do skim it quickly across the surface. Today I got The Economist.

When I first opened my bagel, I thought they had neglected to butter it at all. I had to look closely, turning it to the light to see a faint greasy sheen. Gee, could they spare it? I didn't mean to cut into the war rations. The other side of the bagel was, of course, dry and bare as a bone. I couldn't resist turning to my husband and saying, "I can't believe it's not buttered."

I showed the lady at the drive thru window my half naked bagel and she said, "Oh, I'll get you some butter." At least that's what I think she said because I think I momentarily lost consciousness. While my inner diva has resigned herself to making butter alterations on the fly, she believes the initial layer of butter should be included in the cost of the bagel. I agree with her.

I'm funny like that. I also hate when I ask to get my left overs wrapped up at a restaurant and they bring a To Go box to the table for me to do it myself. When did that become my job? Do we split the tip too?

I think the drive thru lady saw the look on my face, as my inner Diva strutted to the surface to handle the situation. The fine folks at Dunkin Donuts quickly buttered the dry side of my bagel and sent me on my way. They must have taken the first guy out of the game and sent in their relief Butter Guy, because he did a great job. His butter technique was on point. Not too much, not too little.

Now I know what you're thinking. How can I be so bitchy about butter? But it's not about butter, my friends. It's about making a stand for good service and a correctly buttered bagel is my line in the sand. If I let the butter slide can civilization be far behind? There comes a time to stand and fight. If not now, then when? If not this, then what? If not here, then where? No butter, No peace!
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Monday, October 8, 2007

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Muggles

© 2007 Leighann Lord

I've been a licensed driver for many years which means I have my fair share of Department of Motor Vehicle horror stories. It's been a while since I've read "Dante's Inferno," but I'm pretty sure there was some reference to the DMV as one of the nine circles of hell.

So when I had to go and re-register my car this week I had a plan. The night before I lit a candle, meditated and studied the relevant biblical passages on the value of patience. I packed my handbag with extra tissues, pain reliever, bottled water and power bars. I laid out my clothes from the night before, set my alarm and went to bed early.

The next morning I arrived at the DMV fully expecting to circle, wait and perhaps even fight for a parking space. Wonder of wonders, I found one right in front of the building; time still on the meter. I went in, all necessary paper work in hand and got my number. I took a seat and settled in to play the waiting game.

Now earlier this Summer I rushed out with all the other muggles and bought the seventh and final Harry Potter book. In an amazing show of self restraint I didn't read it. I decided instead to re-read the first six books to get myself up to speed on all the goings on at Hogwarts. I'm up to book four, "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire" which I brought with me to the DMV. I was looking forward to enjoying a few hours of leisure reading. "Order of the Phoenix" here I come.

I was shocked when my number was called before I was even a good chapter in. There must be some mistake. I looked at my number. I looked up at the digital display board. Indeed number F130 was up there and instructing me to go window number 10, which just happened to be right in front of me.

I hurriedly gathered up my things and stepped over to the window. The clerk courteously took my paper work. I handed over my check. She gave me my new registration and said, "Have a nice day." I was sitting in my car less than 30 minutes later, with time left on the meter. I was deeply troubled and suspicious.

It felt like that episode of "The Twilight Zone" where a man (Jack Klugman) goes to heaven and it’s wonderful. Everything goes his way, all the time. He wins every pool and poker game. The women are gorgeous and only have eyes for him. He gets the best table at his favorite restaurant and the food is fabulous. But after while, it gets a little old. Finally he says to an angel, "This isn’t right. Everything is too perfect. I don’t deserve this. I don’t belong in heaven. I want to go to the other place." And the Angel said, "This is the other place." Meaning of course, the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I know I should be grateful but I wonder if things would have gone so smoothly had I not been uberly prepared. Would I be sitting in the DMV for hours with nothing to do, if I had brought nothing to do? I’d probably still be circling for parking.

And so with my car re-registered in record time I’m no closer to beginning "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows." I guess I’ll have to make an emergency appointment with my doctor.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Black Comic Perspective? I'm Not Qualified

Leighann Lord © 2007

Mr. Elon James White has kindly asked me to write a blog for The Black Comedy Project about my experience in the business as a Black comic. While I'm very flattered by his request I'm not entirely sure I'm qualified to share my thoughts on the subject. Yes I'm Black, I'm a comic, and I've been in the business for a while, but it's not that simple. It never is.

I started my career with the absurdly naive notion that I just wanted to be a comic; not a Black comic, but a funny comic. I wanted to be myself with all the complexities that implies. Why only tell jokes from just one facet of my experience when I'm blessed with so many? We all are. There's color, culture, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, education, political stance, mental and physical health, height, weight, favorite color. Is any one these influences more important, valid or defining than the other? I guess it depends on who you talk to.

A club owner/manager/booker once said to me, "Leighann you're very funny, but can you be a little bit more black?" He wasn't suggesting I get a tan. He was telling me he'd be more comfortable with his stereotypical image of who a black person should be, rather than who I really am. I don't know what image of blackness he had in mind. Perhaps I should have asked him to give me an example. It would have been interesting to see what influences shaped his expert opinion. Did he watch music videos? Take a black literature or history class in college? Perhaps some of his best friends were Black.

I wonder how many Jewish comics he suggested be more Jewish, or if he told male comics to be more masculine.
To sweeten the pot, this happened at a comedy club in New York City: The capital of the world; the cross roads of culture where diversity is embraced, celebrated and encouraged. As you can see I have a healthy fantasy life. I dream. That's what artists do. I know we're not there yet as a species, but I hope someday we can be. Perhaps when science is finally able to unlock the 90% of our brains that we're clearly not using.

I thought one of the goals of the civil rights movement was for African Americans to be seen as human beings. I don't see how playing to a stereotype serves that end. That's a game I'm not sure you can win. I call it the "How Black are You?" game. It puts Blackness on a quantifiable scale and how you rate depends on which faction you’re trying to appease, be it the ever vigilant "Soul Patrol" or pale pop culture enthusiasts who fancy themselves on the cutting edge of cool. They judge you on how well you "keep it real," whatever that is. In this context it is subtly implied that being "Cosby Show Black" is somehow less authentic than being "Good Times Black." I can not be both urban and urbane. One is a betrayal of the other.

Some would say I have been naive and foolish. Being yourself is a sweet ideal, but if I had any true business sense at all I’d see that stereotypes sell. Why not simply embrace my Blackness for creative expediency and financial gain? I don’t know. Sex sells too, but I have been equally reluctant to stroll the boulevard. I don’t wear my culture on my sleeve. Color really is only skin deep. These things are an important part of who I am as a person and as an artist, but again they’re not the only part.

So I’m not sure I rate high enough on the Barometer of Blackness to write this blog, but for Elon, I’ll try. Because as my experience with the club owner clearly demonstrates, while I see myself as a multifaceted human being, many do not or can not. Some of these folks work in the industry. This makes my job and how I choose to do it even more important. Every time I get on stage and inspire an audience to see past the obvious, and laugh, I win. If all you see at the end of my show is the color of my skin, then I haven't done my job right. Kumbya. Power to the people.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Angel of Death? Please Hold

I have some older folks in my family who refuse to use voice mail. My mom has it on her cell phone don’t bother leaving her a message. She’s not checking it. I’ve shown her how, but just having a mobile is as far as she is willing to go on the tech front. This is a woman who doesn't have e-mail or an ATM card, and doesn’t want them. How she survives without the modern convenience of computer viruses and ATM fees is beyond me.

Older folks seem equally unenthusiastic about text messaging. For them the opposable thumb is merely a symbol of human superiority; a reminder of why we - for good or ill – are the species in charge. Historically, the thumb has gotten a bit of a work out from hitchhikers and Fonzi fans, but hither to the fingers that did the most work were the index and middle.

Who foresaw the rise of texting and the active role the thumb would play? The muscles and fine motor skills of older thumbs are not always up to the task of texting. They require a full size qwerty keyboard to express their thoughts. And most can still proudly do so at 80 to 100 full, correctly spelled words a minute; sans cute abbreviations, a la LOL.

Fresh in my memory is The Great Text Messaging Debacle of 2005. I won’t go into it, but suffice it to say: if someone (who shall remain nameless, but we’ll call her, "Mom") is unfamiliar with text messaging, explain it to them first so the messages and sounds don’t surprise them and make them think their phone is broken or, god forbid, "possessed."

I have a few aunts and uncles who are truly old school. They don't have cell phones, voice mail or answering machines. If they're home they answer the phone. If they're not, they don't. And I love how they answer. They are the generation that still actively practices telephone etiquette. They don't pick up with, "Yo!" "Wuzzzup!" "Speak!" "Who dis?" "Where you at?" They are so polite and formal I sometimes think I’ve mis-dialed and reached a business.

Lately when I call I hear worry and hesitation in their voices as if they are finally beginning to regret not having an answering machine to screen their calls. I hope hearing the voice of their favorite niece, god daughter or cousin will dispel their disquiet, but it doesn’t. Why would they be worried about talking to me? I’m not calling to borrow money.

The problem is I’m just a special occasion caller. And since I call so infrequently, they assume that when I do it’s going to be bad news. They expect the worst. They expect death. When I called one of my Uncles to invite him my birthday dinner. We were barely through the pleasantries when he said, "Is everything okay?" Sub text: "Who died?"
"Yes, everything's fine," I said. Sub text: "Nobody."

He went on to say, in his ever so poetic way, "At my age, I never know when someone is calling to invite me to sing 'Nearer My God to Thee.'" Well if that doesn’t make me feel like the angel of death, I don’t know what does.

Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, is considering a plan that would send text messages to the citizens of Gotham in case of an emergency. It could say: "OMG! BFD! Get your BFF, leave NYC, PDQ! GL, Have a GR8 day!"

Translation: "Oh my, God! Big freakin’ deal! Get your best friend forever, leave New York City, pretty damn quick! Good luck, Have a great day."

Is this "Logan’s Run" for the new millennium? Text messaging ensures that the Razor, Sidekick and Black Berry crowd will survive the next calamity, but the older people are on their own. They’ll be standing around wondering why they’re cell phones are flashing and beeping. The ones with answering machines will be screening their calls. Those with neither modern convenience -- what's left of The Great Generation -- will have to resort to the classic duck and cover. GL.

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Milkshake Brings My Dog To The Car

We have a tradition in our family. After a visit to the Veterinarian, which is very traumatic for our eight year old cocker spaniel, Rolie, (he trembles pathetically and looks at us with big, sad eyes as if to say, "Please don't leave me here. These people are animals.") we buy him a milkshake. Now the dog doesn't get a whole milkshake. We’re not that indulgent. We share. Apparently a Vet visit is traumatic for all of us. And nothing soothes the nerves like a vanilla shake.

We discovered his love of milkshakes early on. One hot Summer day my husband and I picked up a couple to cool us down. Previously lounging in the back seat, Rolie became suddenly alert and excited, as if waiting patiently for his turn at the straw. Intrigued I held my empty cup out to him and he ever so gently took it from my hand and licked it clean. Note to self, the dog likes milkshakes.

Rolie also loves car rides, except when they end up at the Vet. The other day when my husband was dropping me off at the train station, Rolie decided he wanted to come along. By decided I mean when we let him out to run around in the yard a bit before we left, we had a difficult time getting him back in the house. We called. He wouldn't come. We’d get near him and he stealthily evaded capture. He doesn't normally act like this. (Oh God, I sound like one of those parents who's in denial about their child's aberrant behavior. This doesn't bode well if we ever have to raise a human child.)

I was running late so rather than continue the struggle we took Rolie with us, which I’m sure was his plan all along. That's right. Two adults caved in to a manipulative cocker spaniel. But it's not just any cocker spaniel, it's Rolie. And what Rolie wants, Rolie gets.

The problem is that His Lordship is absolutely adorable. Shiny black coat, soulful eyes, cute nub of a tail. I'm also a sucker for a sad story. His previous "family" abandoned him. We adopted The Old Man (he's eight, with a distinguished ring of grey around his muzzle) since his foster family could not keep him. He survived kennel cough, two ear surgeries that have rendered him partially deaf and he takes medication every other day for his thyroid.

Thinking about what he's been through makes us feel sorry for him and perhaps be a little more lenient than we should. Yup, old fur face has got us tightly wrapped around his well groomed paw. At this rate a kid would walk all over us and make us beg for more.

When my husband returned home from the train station, his route took him past McDonald's, our milkshake purveyor of choice. As the car sped by, Rolie sounded the alarm from the back seat. Our normally quiet and contemplative Spaniel began barking while gazing fixedly at the golden arches as if to say, "Here! Turn here! This is the milkshake place!"

My husband was shocked. We knew His Lordship was smart, but this was creepy; like something straight out of a commercial. "So," I said, "How did Rolie enjoy his milkshake?" "I didn't get him one," my husband said. "What?" I couldn't believe it. "Who are you?" I said. "And what have you done with my husband?"

Part of me was annoyed that Rolie was smart enough in his own way to ask for a milkshake and my husband didn't come across with the goods. A slightly bigger part of me was proud of him for resisting the urge. "It would have set a bad precedent," he said. "Rolie would think it was milkshake time whenever we passed a McDonald's."

Yes, that would be bad. And potentially expensive. It’s already hard to believe that we thought having a dog would be cheaper than a kid. It hasn’t been working out that way. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we had a backbone between us. But who knows perhaps one milkshake denied in the furry face of adorable brilliance means there’s hope. But to be honest, I’m a little worried about even writing this, since the evidence suggests that Rolie can read.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Judge Not, I'll Try (No I Won't)

The Bible says, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" but that's not enough of a deterrent. Judging other peoples lives and choices is fun, free and entertaining. You just have to pay for the popcorn.

To compound my sin I love watching "Judge Judy." She judges the legal merits of each case. We the viewers judge the litigants. With practice you can even predict the outcome of a case by the outfit they’re wearing. Being sued on national television may not call for a tie and tails, but I think a sweat suit is a tad too casual for court.

The best part of TV judge shows is the post verdict wrap up. This is where the litigants get to speak up for themselves; sounding off about the judge's decision, their opponent and offering sage advice to the viewer. Occasionally there are thoughtful and coherent remarks but for the most part it’s a rapid exchange of insults spewed in a desperate attempt to get in the last word. American entertainment at its finest. Pass the popcorn.

Sadly, the majority of cases are disgruntled couples. They’ve shacked up, procreated, co-mingled finances and when it doesn’t work out, they run to court. The law provides some remedy for marrieds, but even so it can’t fix bad choices or a broken heart. You cannot litigate love. That’s what makes these cases so compelling, yet difficult to watch. We’ve all been there.

A recent case featured a young couple who began their relationship when She was 16 and He was 19. We’re talking statutory rape for those of you inclined to quibble over such trivial legalities. Four years and two kids later they were broken up. Surprising, I know. She was suing him for the return of Her clothes. She and the kids had quickly moved out when She could no longer put up with His controlling nature.

Ah, the impetuousness of youth. The Grown Woman’s Guide to Relationships clearly states, if you’re gonna leave – and deep down you always know – you’ve got to plan ahead. Take everything you have a right to because there’s no going back.

He was counter suing for the return of his dignity.

Their case was pretty straight forward, but as expected the post verdict comments were enlightening.

She said: "He has tons of guns. He'd pull ‘em and threaten to shoot me."
Funny, that never came up in court. She said He was controlling, not crazy. If I were trying to build a case against my ex to get my stuff back I think I'd open with the gun.

He said, "I never threatened to kill her with no gun."

Eerily implying that he had threatened to kill her, just not with a gun. A rifle perhaps? Strangulation? Arsenic?

She said, "If I would do my hair and makeup, I was trying to sleep with
everybody. I told him I wasn't but he didn't believe me."

Of course he didn’t. He couldn’t hear through the deafening sound of his own insecurity.

He said, "She'd never wore makeup before, ever, in her life. And then she wore
it to go bartend at a party, what's that telling you?"

That tempting though it may be, not every woman wants to sashay about town in a house coat and curlers? That’s the trouble with young love. It doesn’t realize that people grow and change. Hell, older people don’t handle it all that well either.

When I was 16 I didn't wear makeup. A little Vaseline mixed with Kool Aid was all the lip stick I needed. A few years later I could tell you every color in the Wet & Wild lipstick line as if I’d mixed in the lab myself. In essence, a funny thing happened between 16 and now. I grew up. That’s what children do.

Did He really think that She would stay 16 and naive forever? Two babies before 21 pretty much put the kibosh on that. You’d think he’d be so busy raising the two kids he already had, that he wouldn’t have time to treat his girlfriend like one. And they say men don’t multitask.

But it’s a catch 22. If she had acquiesced to his wishes by not doing her hair, makeup – oh hell, why even bother bathing – in time he might have left her because she was such a mess. No man wants to be seen with a hag on his arm; especially not a young one. Then we might have seen Him on a talk show telling the world that He doesn’t understand how such a beautiful girl could let herself go; and how He’d love to see Her get a make over.

It makes me wonder if the most famous of young lovers – Romeo and Juliet – had actually hooked up, how their relationship would have faired. Would we see them on "Divorce Court" getting a stern talking to from Judge Toler? Would she urge them to put aside their differences and focus on the needs of their children? Or would Juliet be crying her eyes out on "Maury Povich" as a vindicated Romeo pumps his fist in the air yelling, "I knew they weren’t mine!" The obligatory back drop screen featuring two adorable children who look curiously like Mercucio.

As the bard so correctly said, "The course of true love never did run smooth."

Dammit, I’m all out of popcorn.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Lucky One

Last week I participated in the first round of HBO's Lucky 21; a nationwide comedy competition to win a chance to perform at The Comedy Festival this November in Las Vegas. While I was not chosen be one of The 21, I still feel very lucky.

First, the folks at Morty's Comedy Joint in Indianapolis gave me a lot of love. Two very special fans out did themselves. Meka and Tasha came to the show sporting "Girl You So Funny" tee-shirts with my picture! Game over. I win! Now, of course I'm sharing these ladies with fellow comedienne Mel Fine who's face was on the back but I don't mind.

Ironically, I’m also glad that I didn’t win and advance to the next round. Why? I read the contract. Pesky little habit of mine I picked up out of necessity (no attorney on retainer) and the disturbing tendency of the entertainment industry to legally sodomize talent whenever it can. It’s nothing personal. Just business. Actors have SAG, AFTRA and Equity. Musicians have ASCAP. Standup Comics? We don’t have a union, unless we also happen to be actors or musicians; so we fall through the cracks.

Contracts are rarely written in an artist’s favor. There are always intimidating phrases like, "promise to indemnify," "in perpetuity," and "throughout the universe" which promise in some vague but sure way that not only are you getting screwed, but that it’s going to hurt. And later on in your career, when you least expect, it’ll pop up and hurt some more.

In The Lucky 21 Contest contract, the Grand Prize section reads:

"Winner will have the opportunity to meet with network and industry executives selected by the Sponsor, participate in a television appearance and receive $10,000 cash."
To a trusting person this sounds great, but it becomes a little less glamourous when reread with a more critical eye. What’s to stop the Sponsor from simply introducing you to the head of accounting? That TV appearance could be a back ground part in a non union commercial, that when edited only shows your elbow.

Okay, but you still win $10,000, right? Take the money and run, but before you mentally spend it all in one place, the contract goes on to say:

"If, for whatever reason, sponsor is unable to provide any prize element, no compensation or substitution will be provided; however, remainder of prize package will be awarded and sponsor will have no further obligation to Winner."

In other words, if for whatever reason, Sponsor is unable to provide you $10,000, they don’t have to give it to you. Your recourse? None. You signed the contract. Are you feeling lucky yet?

The good news is, you don't have a lot of time to fret over these contractual ambiguities. It’s industry standard to give comics a contract on the day of, usually a few hours before your performance. They don't expect you to actually read it or make any changes. What they do expect is that you will just sign it, no questions asked.

And most of us do, because we hope. We hope this opportunity will be our big break. We hope that it will bring us the success we’ve been chasing. We hope this will be the last inequitable contract we’ll ever have to sign.

It’s like dating. No matter how many times you get burned, you still put your best foot forward and go out again hoping this will be The One.

It wasn’t for me but I feel like I won something more important: fans. And fans don’t need a contract. We go on a handshake, a laugh and a tee-shirt. (Thank you, Meka & Tasha! You made my year!)

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Monday, August 20, 2007

When Slim Ain't In

I came across an interesting theory recently that gave me pause: "Big Black Women (BBW) in entertainment are destined for success because America loves the mammy image." Normally, I would have dismissed such an inherently racist, sexist and ignorant notion out of hand, but then as a Small Black Woman (SBW) I began to wonder.

The first Black woman to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel in "Gone With The Wind." Who didn't love Nell Carter in her 80's sitcom "Gimme A Break?" Would Medea be as successful if Tyler Perry portrayed her more like Ru Paul? And who can argue with Monique's amazing success as a comedian and actress? Not I. I begrudge my sisters in the struggle nothing. But does this preference, real or imagined, put an SBW at a disadvantage?

To complicate matters there are quite a few sisters I can think of who's careers took a dive when they slimmed down. Remember Mother Love? When she began to lose weight, they replaced her with Robin Givens. The show was ultimately cancelled, of course, because who wants advice from an SBW with an attitude.

Was it really a contract dispute that led to Judge Toler replacing Judge Mablean on "Divorce Court?" Or perhaps Mablean’s days were numbered when she did a stint on "Celebrity Fit Club." Maybe she started looking a little too good underneath her judge's robes.

Before the talented Jennifer Hudson tackled the role, Jennifer Holiday brought the house down every night with her heart rendering rendition of "I'm Not Going" in the Broadway run of "Dream Girls." What happened to Miss Holiday? With a voice like hers she should have been a superstar. But she, like Judge Mablean, slimmed down and disappeared.

I hear you saying, "But wait Leighann. What about Tyra Banks?" What about her? While she still looks great, she is no longer in tip top runway, super model form. In fact the press has had a field day over her weight gain. But if Tyra subscribes to the BBW theory, she’ll carry those extra pounds right into a lucrative syndication deal, taking a page out of Oprah’s book.

Oprah took a lot of flack for her very public cycle of weight loss, weight gain. What made people so angry: that she had trouble keeping the weight off, or that she had the audacity to lose it in the first place? But Oprah's a genius. She didn’t begin the weight loss process in earnest until her media empire was firmly entrenched.

Does the average BBW in the public eye, slim down at her own peril? Americans pay lip service to the benefits of weight loss, but when it comes to Sisters, maybe they do prefer the image of the BBW. It's comfortable and familiar; the epitome of strength and stability. Is there nothing a smothering hug can't fix?

What's that? Oh, yes. The Weather Girls. No, I didn't forget about them. "It's Raining Men" is one of my all time favorite songs. Given the BBW theory they should still be topping the charts, right? But I think this may fall under the category of too much of a good thing.

Now that Starr Jones is taking up less space in the universe, it will be interesting to see if her career will suffer for it. Will people still be as anxious to hear what she has to say? God, I hope not. Sorry. I’m just not a fan.

But the bigger question is: in a media culture where the BBW image seems preferred, what's an SBW to do? Have I inadvertently harmed my comedy career by working out and slimming down even more? Thin doesn’t seem to be in for Black women unless you want to dance in music videos. Then the world is your oyster. I don't want to be a video vixen. The microphone stand at a comedy club is as close to the pole as I ever want to get.

Maybe it’d be different if I could sing. But then again, these days singing ability isn’t really all that necessary. If you can shake your hips and move your lips, the sound techs will take care of the rest.

I always knew a career in entertainment required sacrifices, but I wasn’t expecting anything like this. I’m left to wonder: is my weight, or lack there of, really what’s holding me back from super stardom? Will I have to bulk up like Barry Bonds and eat my way to a sitcom? I’ve always been heartened by the success of shows like "Girlfriends." But now I have doubts. Maybe in the public subconscious four SWB’s equals one BBW. Oh dear. Bring on the carbs.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Friendly's Almost Pushed Me To the Dark Side

I hadn't eaten at Friendly's Restaurant in ages but after a morning of traipsing through the mall with my Mom, we were hungry. Friendly’s seemed like a step up from the food court. The waitress came and took our order promptly enough – turkey clubs all around -- but she was a bit brisk and dare I say, not very friendly. Small grievance. Maybe she was overwhelmed. I've never waited tables. I don't think I have the temperament. But my spidey senses began tingling when she snatched the menu from my hand so fast I'm surprised I didn't get a paper cut. This is what we call in the literary trade a foreshadowing of worse to come. And come it did, or rather didn't.

My Mom and I sat and talked. And talked. And talked. And we watched people who came in after us get their food. What the deuce? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy conversing with my Mother. I don't get to do it as often as I would like, but I was also hungry. Now it wasn't distended belly Red Cross hungry, but I was ready to knosh.

How long does it take to make a club sandwich? Bread, meat, lettuce, tomato. I'd even ordered mine without tomato so it should have been easier and faster to make. What could the problem be? Did they run out of turkey? Were they growing the grain for the bread or behind on churning the mayonnaise? I have no idea how mayonnaise is actually made, and I don't want to know. A little mystery in life is a good thing

Sensing my growing disquiet, the waitress swung by and assured me that our "ticket" was the next one up. I discovered, however, that she was working with a more liberal interpretation of the word next than I was used to. Not only was our order not next, it wasn't even second or third. Now her assurances – there were two – were nothing but hollow platitudes. I came to the inescapable conclusion that "Tiffany" would not be getting a tip. In fact, it was becoming ever more likely that what she would get was cussed out.

I have a very active imagination. As we sat there, stomachs growling, I fantasized that at the 30 minute mark the manager would come over and explain what was going on. Maybe while trying to corner the turkey it teamed up with some renegade chickens and they were fighting back with the coordinated tactical precision of a Special Ops team. Due to an unexpected quantum flux, our order had been delivered to an alternate universe. Right now in some other reality I had already finished my meal and was enjoying a dish of black raspberry ice cream. Or perhaps, more mundanely, the cook had suffered an unfortunate mayonnaise churning accident. But alas, these are champaign wishes and caviar dreams. No explanation was forthcoming, fanciful or otherwise.

When the next plate of food came out that wasn't ours I was done. At this point, I don't know if that table had come in before or after us. It no longer mattered. I had reached a dangerous point where irrational thoughts began to bubble up from the dark side of my mind and sound plausible. My hand wrapped menacingly around my glass of ice water -- the only "food" on the table -- and I had a strong urge to throw it at the waitress.

First of all, that kind of behavior was only cute on "Dynasty." Who didn't love it when Alexis slapped the crap out of Crystal? Blunt hair cuts and shoulder pads flying; it was fabulous. Second, some my best friends are waitresses. If a customer did that to one them I'd be ready to put my hair up in a pony tail, take off the jewelry, grease up and roll.

When you're having an ethical quandary conventional wisdom suggests you that ask yourself What Would Jesus Do? As evidenced many times in the bible (changing water into wine, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the last supper) Jesus likes to eat. I think he would have wanted his turkey club in a timely manner or know the reason why.

Besides, I think What Would Jesus Do?, is not a fair question. I know we're all God's children, but it's pretty safe to say Jesus is God's favorite. No matter what he does, God is gonna cut him a little slack.

A much better question to bring oneself back from the hunger induced brink is What Would Judge Judy Do? Given the facts she would agree that, yes, the service at Friendly's was bad, but it didn't excuse me tossing plates like frisbees and lobbing cutlery at the register like it was a dart board. It's moments like these when I miss my terrible twos. Those heady, free wheeling days when I could throw a tantrum without legal repercussions. Ah, youth.

Besides, you never know. Maybe the waitress had skills. Given the right set of circumstances, I might be willing to kick ass over a turkey club, but I'm pretty sure a reciprocal ass whipping would not be as pleasant. And if the rest of the staff jumped in too, some serious injury could be in the offing and not just my pride.

And so eschewing the dark side, and potential legal problems, we left. Walked out sans meal. I'm sure by the time I got home, cooked, ate, and cleaned the kitchen, our order was finally ready, complete with tomatoes.

I have since emailed the Friendly’s website, which seemed eager to know my comments, but I have yet to hear back. So what I thought was anomalous bad service is really emblematic of the wider corporate culture. Well, at least they’re consistent, or would be if they changed their name to Unfriendly’s.