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.