Monday, September 29, 2008

Perfectly Dressed to Un-Impress

© 2008 Leighann Lord

"I hate my uniform," I heard a middle aged teen complain to her identically dressed friends. I smiled to myself, remembering that feeling all too well. At least hers wasn’t puke plaid like mine had been.

I wore a uniform in grammar school until the eighth grade. It didn’t begin bothering me until the seventh, realizing a uniform was the antithesis of cool. So I, like many girls before and after me, heeded puberty’s siren song and began adjusting my uniform to better suit my burgeoning sense of style. Some of these tactics – none of which really worked for me – may sound painfully familiar to anyone who spent their formative years at Our Lady of Perpetual Purgatory.

Shortening the skirt by rolling it up. But so as not to reveal all the goodies, I wore a pair of shorts underneath. Rolling your socks down low to show as much leg as possible. I was tall for my age so my legs were long and skinny. Consequently I was way more Olive Oil than heroin chic.

Unbuttoning your blouse low to show off your cleavage. At 12 I didn’t have cleavage per se, so instead I was flashing lots of neck and collar bone.

In my mind I looked grown and sexy. In reality I looked a hot mess. Thankfully, this is way back when adults cared and society didn’t openly encourage young girls to embrace their inner Lolita. Any uniform adjustments I made had to be quickly returned to factory settings lest I be caught and shamed.

What I didn’t know at that age, and didn’t figure out for quite some time, is that the hard sell is completely unnecessary. Guys are wired to find you no matter what you’re wearing or how you’re wearing it.

I’ve also worn uniforms for Girl Scouts, color guard, and marching band. Looking back, the latter was more costume than uniform. We wore dark blue pants with white stripes down the side, dress military style bright red jackets with big gold buttons; topped off with dark blue, Three Musketeers style hats, with large white plumed feathers cascading from the upturned brim on the left side. Look out now! I was always a little jealous of the band leader. He got to wear the cape.

Color Guard had the same uniform as the marching band except we wore skirts instead of pants. I hated that. I’d freeze at the football games. It gave me a new respect for cheerleaders. Their skirts were skimpier than ours. It’s hard to look cute when you’re cold but they somehow managed to pull it off. On the practical side, marching and shivering while twirling and tossing a six foot pole just isn’t safe.

As a kid, caught up in my own plaid clad universe, it never occurred to me that most of the adult world wears a uniform: soldiers, policemen, firemen, postal workers, delivery men (I love when my UPS man wears shorts!) sanitation workers, doctors, nurses, judges, clergy, bouncers, janitors (I mean, maintenance engineers), waitresses, chefs, doormen, hotel staff, pilots, flight attendants, ground crew (love their shorts, too), brides, grooms, baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and cricket players (most impressive since they wear all white like athletic virgin grooms); just to name a few.

My least favorite uniform is the corporate one. In the broad strokes the rules are simple: Don’t wear a scrubs to a suit and tie job, and flip flops will get you fired. Almost everyone agrees you should dress for the job you want, not the one you have, but that’s easier said than done. When I had a "regular" job I damn near went broke trying to do just that. My co-workers resented it because they thought I was being uppity. My boss didn’t like it because she knew I wanted her job.

This rule does work well, however, at auditions. I had an audition one time that called for me to be an EMT. I wore dark blue work pants, a buttoned down, short sleeve, light blue work shirt and a stethoscope. I walked in looking the part. It was great. The casting director thought I was a real EMT. He wasn’t the only one. No one said anything, but I could sense that people on the street looked at me differently. I looked like someone who could help them in case of an emergency. I feared that if a medical situation arose – because that’s how Murphy’s Law works – I’d suddenly be on duty for a job I was only pretending to have. I regretted not bringing a change of clothes.

I ditched the stethoscope, undid the top two buttons on my shirt, and hoped I passed for an off duty security guard. Nobody expects them to do anything even when they’re on the clock.

There’s one uniform I hope to never wear. The Blue Suit. The one The Supportive Wife of The Philandering Politician wears as they stand together at the press conference podium. Knowing me, I’ll more likely be wearing a prison uniform, grousing about how horrible I look in orange, how jump suits do nothing for my figure (thank god!), and longing for the care free days of plaid skirts and penny loafers.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Mama's Baby, Papa's Shady

Good Luck, Dannielynn

© 2008 Leighann Lord

Okay, let me be very clear right up front: I have no idea what I’m talking about, but what kind of cultural commentator would I be if I let that stand in the way of giving my opinion. That said, here we go.

Dannielynn, daughter of Anna Nicole Smith and Larry Birkhead, celebrated her second birthday like most two year olds: on the cover of the September 23rd issue of "Us Weekly Magazine." I am probably one of the few people in America, or even the world, who doesn’t know the intimate details of Anna Nicole Smith’s life and her baby daddy drama. Just because the circus is in town doesn’t mean you have to go. I know the big picture, water cooler facts but if Anna Nicole’s life were to find itself as a category on "Jeopardy," I’d lose.

Consequently, I don’t know anything about Larry Birkhead, but seeing him hold his baby daughter like a pay check, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was gazing into the eyes of an oily parlor snake. After the untimely deaths of her brother and notorious mother one would think a concerned father would want to give his child a quiet life outside the media spotlight. Instead Larry is all too willing to do a splashy photo shoot and discuss the minute details of her young life with a national magazine. Did I hear somewhere that Daddy Larry sold pictures of his daughter at her mother’s grave? Somebody please tell me that’s an urban legend.

One can’t help but wonder what the future holds for Dannielynn. How good are her chances for a normal life when her own papa pimps her out? How will the father-daughter relationship fare when she goes from happy toddler to sullen teen? Thankfully, she was born into money and she’s gonna need it. The media has shown us over and over again – Britney, Paris, Lindsey – that money and fame can fix any problem, ameliorate any hurt and gloss over any short coming. Technically, money doesn’t actually fix your flaws as much as it makes the people around you more willing to overlook them.

I really hope I’m wrong. Already destined to live a life in constant comparison to a mother she’ll never know, maybe Dannielynn will grow up without the desire to be part of the circus her Dad is hard selling tickets to. But with Larry at her side I get that nagging feeling that we may see Dannielynn on a future season of "Celebrity Rehab." Perhaps we’ll get to read her "Daddy Dearest" tell all book, if her father doesn’t beat her to it.

I paint a terrible picture of a man I don’t know. He can’t possibly be all bad. He’s probably a way better Dad than Darth Vader. Vader tried to kill Luke (Skywalker). Darth Larry just wants to sell photo ops to the highest bidder. Maybe he knows he’s got to strike while the iron is hot; get as much money as he can before the kid grows up and emancipates herself from his vampiric clutches.

I hope Dannielynn will not become that old, lonely, wealthy heiress, who falls for a dashing young man. The one that charms his way into her heart and will, which inexplicably upon her death leaves him the bulk of her estate. Now that’s magazine cover quality stuff.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Financial Fairy Tales

Slutty Wachovia & The Big Bad Wolf
© 2008 Leighann Lord

In a clear sign of our current economic woes, bank robberies are up 50% in New York City. According to the statistics the best NYC bank to burgle? Wachovia. Last year half its branches were robbed. This year, 10 out of 24 branches have been hit and thieves have gotten out the door with the money every time. Jesse James would have been proud. So, if you need a couple dollars, but forgot your pin number, head on over to Wachovia.

Thankfully, my bank hasn’t been robbed enough to make it into the top 10. I suspect it’s because they give away free coffee. Customers come in, transact their business, have a free cup of coffee, sit down on the comfy couches and plan to rob Wachovia.

The New York Police Department doesn’t credit the criminals with this increase in successful robberies. They claim that in the effort to be more open, warm and friendly, banks have become way too lax about security. Translation: They were asking for it. The banks are easy and Wachovia is a straight up slut; giving it up to any bad boy who walks through the revolving door with a gun and a note.

Is it really fair to blame the victim? Maybe Wachovia had a less than ideal upbringing: An absentee father; a disinterested mother? Low self esteem? Let he who is without a dysfunctional family cast the first stone. I’m not saying Wachovia doesn’t bear some culpability here. You can’t leave the doors unlocked after 6pm with money piled up in the lobby for the taking; but a little help and understanding from the authorities would be nice.

It’s been a really bad week overall in the financial world. The government stepped in and took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I’m a little jealous. I have money issues. Where’s my bailout? Where’s my financial do over?

The two CEO’s lost their jobs but that doesn’t seem like enough. Shouldn’t they have lost their homes as well? I like the cosmic justice of that. They should lose their homes and watch their stuff being put out on the side walk. If they ask for help, they should be told to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

We’re all deeply invested in who the next president will be, but in a way it doesn’t matter; Democrat or Republican. Same crap. Different suit. The person to keep your eye on is the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. That’s the guy who’s in charge of the money. When he sneezes people buy stock in Kleenex.

The new guy, Ben Bernanke, is okay but I miss Alan Greenspan. He’s sexy in an old wrinkly white guy kinda way. Whenever I saw him on TV he always looked exhausted and disheveled; like he could open every speech with "Hello, I’m Alan Greenspan and I haven’t slept in 12 years. I can’t talk long. The euro is kicking my ass." And by God, that’s how the Chairman of the Federal Reserve should act. He should look like he’s walking the wire of high finance and counting every penny.

I don’t know why but I felt economically safe when Papa Greenspan was on the job. I’d like to think if he was still in charge he’d be able to steer us through this economic fiasco. He probably wouldn’t have allowed us to get into it in the first place. Greenspanie did in fact sound the alarm – albeit right before the release of his book "The Age of Turbulence" – but the market couldn’t hear him over the roar of their own greed.

I cringe when people say that the housing crisis was caused by homeowners who couldn’t pay their mortgage. Does that mean slavery was caused by people who couldn’t run fast enough to evade capture? The crime of the former was hoping that this was their shot at the American dream of home ownership and not reading the ultra fine print on their crooked contracts.

The beauty of predatory lending is that the big bad wolf doesn’t need to blow your house down anymore. He just overvalues your dream home, sells you a mortgage you can’t afford, with a variable rate you can’t keep up with, and then sells it off to respectable companies that should know better. Sometimes the biggest robberies are an inside job. "I’ll take Lehman Brothers for a thousand, Alex."

Talks are hot and heavy to rescue the 158 year old institution, but don’t hold your breath for a personal bail out. If you’re lucky, your parting gift will be a tee shirt that says, "I Bought a No Money down House and All I Got Was this Crappy Credit Score." See you at Wachovia.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008


Really, America?
© 2008 Leighann Lord

“You know what the difference is between pit bull and a hockey mom? Lipstick.” -- Sarah Palin, Republican Vice Presidential Nominee

"You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years." -- Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential Nominee

“The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put makeup on two faces.” -- Maureen Murphy Former Illinois State Rep. (R)

I’m not sure who I’m more disgusted with right now, the Republican Party or the media. Are they serious? Barack Obama should apologize for his “lipstick on a pig” comment right after George Bush, senior, apologizes for “No new taxes.” and Junior apologizes for deceiving the American people about weapons of mass of destruction. The difference is the lipstick issue is a non issue.

We don’t have much time left between now and November 4. We certainly don’t have it waste on silliness like this. I want to hear about healthcare, education, housing, energy, and why spinach and tomatoes are trying to kill me.

If we’re gonna go there, let’s go there with gusto! Let’s talk about lipstick. If ever there was an industry in need of government regulation it’s the makeup industry. Let’s start with price regulation. Why does the same tube of lipstick cost $5 in one store and $8 in another? How about the elimination of false claims – “Look better!” Than who? “Feel better!” Than what? “Look years younger!” Really? Exactly how many years are we talking? Two? 10? 20?

You can’t buy a cup of coffee in this country without being warned about it’s hotness and yet makeup comes with no directions whatsoever. Nothing. Zip. Nada. You buy at your own risk. That’ll change the minute someone shoves a stick of lip liner up their nose.

We could also stand a little government oversight on lipstick color. When you buy it at the store the package says it’s pink, but looks peach and it goes on purple. Iraq, Fannie Mae, and tainted food supply be damned. Let’s get serious about makeup. Who’s going to lead on this most serious of issues? John McCain? Barack Obama? Tyra? The American People need somebody to take a stand.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Angry Black Woman

Oh, So It's Like That?

© 2008 Leighann Lord

I like to think of myself as a nice and likable person. Logically, I know it's impossible for everyone, everywhere to like me all the time. Some will. Some won't. That's life. It's a numbers game. One of my favorite books, "The Four Agreements" says, don't take anything personally but sometimes it's hard not to.

Even when someone doesn't like you, they usually have the good manners not to show it. That’s not being two faced, that’s diplomacy; besides, open hostility is no way to go through life. It's become so rare that someone tells me by word or deed that they dislike me that when it happened recently it caught me off guard. While at a gig a few weeks ago I met an industry colleague who's dislike for me was blatant.

I, of course, rationalized her behavior. As Frieda Friendly and I were introduced, she gave me a tepid handshake. Hmm, maybe she's germaphobic. She didn't offer me the perfunctory polite smile. Tooth ache? No eye contact. Shy? And although she muttered a terse, "Nice to meet you." I could see it wasn't nice for her at all.

What sealed the deal was when I saw she had plenty of teeth to flash and personality to share with everybody and anybody there but me. She froze me out so completely I could have died of hypothermia. I thought perhaps this was an isolated incident, but when I ran into her again a day later and said hello, she assiduously ignored me and seemed angry that I had even spoken to her. Seems pretty personal to me.

As far as I know this was our first meeting so I don’t know where any of this was coming from. I began to wonder, "Why doesn't she like me? Why do I make her so angry? Is it something I said; something I did?" It could be anything. It could be nothing. I could look like the chic who stole her ex or she could dislike me by proxy on behalf of a friend. Maybe something about me just doesn't sit well with her. It happens. And sometimes people don't need a reason. They just don't like you and that's all she wrote.

It isn’t really wise to put too much thought into this. The mind can posit all kinds of questions, and lacking real answers, fabricate them. That’s how drama gets started. Better questions may be why do I care? Does it matter? Do I really have the time and energy for this? No, probably not.

Another one of "The Four Agreements" is "Don’t assume anything." I realize now, that’s exactly what I did. I assumed since we were the only two "Sisters" in the group at our initial meeting that we’d share an automatic comradery. And in a way we did. We are both members of the Angry Black Woman club.

A Svengali like comedy club booker once told me he thought I was "a very angry person." I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but that would have given too much credence to his theory.

The image of The Angry Black Woman is iconic bordering on stereotypical. Everybody gets mad, but nobody does anger quite like us. That's our thing. We nurture, cultivate and unleash it at a moment's notice. Black Women go from zero to mad in a minute. If our anger was a car it would be a Lamborghini.

Most people remember and reminisce about happy times. Black Women fondly remember the angry times. "Remember that time you pissed me off and I wanted to kill you? Whew, that was great!" We Angry Black Women don't believe in closure. That's some new age nonsense that doesn't apply to us. For us anger is like air. We live, survive and thrive on it.

Paradoxically, many Angry Black Women are also Good Christian Women, trying to get and stay right with the Lord. God asks that we forgive, and we try our best to do that, but we don't ever forget. As a matter of fact, Black Women make excellent historians because of our amazing memory. No matter how old the transgression we can call it up and relive it with immediate intensity. The combination of instant anger and total recall is why most men find it difficult to argue with us.

My Dad complains – not to my Mother, of course, - that sometimes they go to sleep at night and everything is fine; and in the morning my Mother wakes up mad at him. He has no idea why. It could be his snoring but most likely it's again a matter of memory.

Men have great short term memory. This helps them argue about what is happening right now. Women have great long term memory which helps us argue about what happened yesterday, last week and last month. When my Mom wakes up mad she has probably remembered something my Dad did years ago. She won't get around to being mad about what he did yesterday until next year.

I'm amazed that more Black Women aren't serial killers. It's a natural fit: We're angry and amazing multitaskers. We don't kill however because being mad at someone is lot more fun when they're around to feel your fury.

Where does all this anger come from? Is it nature or is it nurture? I certainly get a lot of my surliness from my Mom. It's common to see girls at play with hands on undeveloped hips, necks cranking, eyes rolling, and teeth sucking giving somebody what for in picture perfect imitations of their momma's and aunties.

I, however, think we're born with it. Ever have a baby girl who can't talk yet, stare at you with a very intense look on her face? You know she's thinking about something serious. And she is. She's thinking, "As soon as I learn how to talk, I'm gonna cuss you out."

Sometimes you'll see a random Happy Black Woman. She's usually young. In place of the traditional scowl she is smiling. Somehow the poor thing has gotten separated from the group and is way off message. Other Black Women will look at her and wonder: "What's she so happy about?" And an Elder will look on and sagely say, "Humph. Give it time."

They say it takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 muscles to frown. With all the scowling, the average Angry Black Woman has enough strength in her facial muscles to bench press a Buick. It's not that we can't smile -- Miracles do happen -- but a frown is our default face.

I must confess, I haven’t been going to the Angry Black Woman meetings as much as I used to. I’m at the stage in my life where I realize anger – constant anger – is enervating. It saps my strength, increases my stress, and undirected or unresolved accomplishes nothing. I’m not saying I don’t angry. I do. It’s a habit and I’m good at it, but before I turn myself into a weapon of mass destruction I light a candle, take a breath and remind myself that I don’t have bail money.

So ultimately I’m not mad at Sister Frieda. Several years my junior, she’s just getting started on her anger journey. I can only hope her immaturity, inappropriate behavior and un-professionalism don’t get her into too much trouble. Next time she may not be so lucky. She may meet the fellow Angry Black Woman who says, "Oh, so it’s like that?" takes up gauntlet and proceeds to beat her ass with it. My professional opinion? Give it time.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back to School Supplies

It's The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

© 2008 Leighann Lord

I always get a little nostalgic this time of year. I have fond memories of that First Day of School Smell: a combination of polished wood, fresh paint, chalk and teachers' perfume.

I often joke that because my birthday is in September, my birthday presents were always back to school supplies; but to be honest, I miss it. I love the accoutrement of education. There was nothing like reaching into your brand new book bag, cracking open a pristine hard cover notebook, writing on fresh clean pages with a spiffy new pen. As a serious note taker I had pens in blue, black and red ink. I still have an affinity for the old blue barrel, medium point, four color BiC pen. The orange barrel means it's a fine point.

I'm a fiend for stationery. I still take pleasure in cruising through the pen section at Staples. I even know where all the cool pen purveyors are in New York City like, Rebecca Moss. I've made a pilgrimage to The Fountain Pen Hospital, and I can easily while away an afternoon at Kate's Paperie.

My love of pens is genetic and even great penmanship tends to run in the family. My Great Grandfather was a calligrapher who earned money on the side doing wedding invitations by hand. My Grandmother was ambidextrous, writing beautifully with both hands. My Mom's penmanship and prolific letter writing is legendary among our family and friends. My penmanship doesn't quite reach calligrapher quality. I've had to work on it to uphold the family honor, but I'm proud to say there's no doctor's chicken scratch here. We actually have a few doctors in my family, and we couldn't be more mortified.

Back to school shopping isn't just about stationery, there are clothes too, but I went to Catholic School. I wore a uniform in grammar school and endured a strict dress code in high school. All shirts and blouses had to have collars, skirts had to reach your knee cap and we were not allowed to wear laced, rubber soled shoes. Violation of the dress code meant a trip to the Girls Dean, Mrs. Spear (retired Army), would choose an appropriate outfit for you change into from the clothing rack in her office; a very scarring experience, but a valuable lesson that no one ever repeated.

Today's back to school necessities include quite a bit of technology, but when I was in school the gotta have gadgets were a compass, an electric pencil sharpener and a protractor. We needed the compass to draw circles and stab classmates. The electric pencil sharpener came in handy to weaponize your pencils in case you lost your compass. I'm pretty sure the protractor had a purpose but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. Either I never learned it or that knowledge has been replaced by the lyrics to "When I Grow Up" by the Pussy Cat Dolls.

If you were really high tech, you had a scientific calculator. "Oooh! Ahhh!" I never quite learned to master it. Given it's level of user friendliness it must be running on Windows Vista.

Parents don't get off that cheap anymore. Today's kids can't learn without an iPod, a cellphone and a laptop. And they out grow their gadgets almost as fast as their clothes. Luckily, technology is always in season. It would seem though that there are no hard and fast seasons for anything anymore.

This year the back to school sales ads began appearing about an hour after school let out for the summer. I guess they can't run them any later or they'll interfere with Christmas advertising. An early August visit to the craft store, Michael's, treated me to the surreal vision of Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. The felt pumpkins looked wilted and the Pilgrims looked hot and sweaty.

I'm beginning to suspect why I, and most folks I know, feel so anxious, rushed and fatigued all the time. The retail world has become too out of sync with everyday life. Being advertised to so far out of season is disorienting. I stand by the conviction that hawking swim wear in January is wrong. I feel sorry for the mannequins. They look so cold.

I'd like to dash off an email to imploring the industry to please stop rushing me but email is easy to ignore. I blame the Nigerians who keep looking for people to help them with all the bank accounts that have been mysteriously abandoned in their country.

I wonder then if a more old fashioned approach would be more effective. It might indeed be time to marshal my stationery forces and pen a hand written letter. Of course nothing grabs the attention more than a good old fashion note scribbled in purple crayon. I'd love to use the box of Crayola 64s that I bought on sale back in June.

Welcome Back to School everybody!

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