If being a vegan is akin to belonging to a particular religion, then I must be
Catholic-Lite Episcopalian. What? you say. Vegans are nothing like Episcopalians; they’re militant, strict, judgmental – and they’re anxious to convert carnivores. Rather, vegans are the epitome of dogmatic zealots, much like the speaking-in-tongues, snake-handling, Born Again, fire and brimstone Charismatics that pepper the deep hollers of Appalachia and star in the Super Congregations we see on Sunday morning television. And you, Miss Snarky Pants, are nothing like that.
And you would be right about one thing; I am nothing like that. Although I grew up neck deep in a Pentecostal Christian guilt so mucky I was sucked beneath its surface every time I so much as played a Hall & Oates album, I am no longer that person. To be clear, though I once believed that only the metaphorical blood and body of Jesus – aptly played during Holy Communion by Welch’s grape juice and a stale water cracker, respectively – could save my soul, deep down a part of me was always asking pesky questions:
But there’s, like, hundreds or thousands of religions. How do we know that we’re right? What if the Jews nailed it from the beginning – they’re awfully good with money and just look what they’ve accomplished in the film industry?
What kind of God would send innocent people to Hell just because they live in a third world country and have never heard of The Bible? Is it because they have rickets?
Why would God want elderly people living on Social Security to tithe 10% of their income when they can’t afford their diabetes medication? Is God punishing them for Supersizing one time too many?
Why does God only heal people who attend church on television? And why don’t they have diseases or injuries that we can see? You know, like leprosy or missing limbs?
Despite my early indoctrination into the Assemblies of God faith, I’ve never been much of a follower in other areas of my life. I mean, once you’ve committed yourself to serving an invisible, holey (pun most definitely intended) half-man half-diety, his oft angry dad with a penchant for dishing out natural disasters, and some sort of third-wheel ghostie, becoming a member of the drill team is a bit anticlimatic.
As it turns out, my prospects as a leader were nil. I didn’t like leaders; they were typically mean girls who were good at kickball and quick with insulting and alliterative nicknames for their victims. Though I’m sure I could have become skilled at the latter, my legs were created to bang into stationary furniture with sharp edges. Kicking a rolling ball in a particular direction was beyond my capabilities, prompting me to ask more of my pesky questions:
Why does God want me to be picked last for kickball every single day of my life? Why did He make me so smart that the other kids hate me for setting the bell curve? Why can’t I grow breasts? Does God hate me, too?
As I aged, my disinterest in either leading or following left me in a precarious social position. Though I was no longer unpopular, I refused to fully commit to any particular clique. One day I’d eat lunch with my Smiths and Psychedelic Furs-loving friends and the next, I’d hunker down with my buddies-of-color so that we could argue about which one of us was going to be Michael Jackson’s first ex-wife. Then there were my Journey-loving compatriots; I’ll spare you the painful images of these mullet-sporting, muscle shirt-wearing, air guitar-playing fans, all of whom wore gold eighth notes around their necks in honor of their leader, Steve Perry. Athletics were out of the question. I declined my invitation to join The National Honor Society. Drama only held my interest if I had a lead role which was, erm, never.
After law school, I experimented with multiple careers, but none – including legal practice – satisfied me in the way writing does, though all paid considerably more. I know…poor, little lawyer girl. I’d hate myself, too, but then, I’ve seen my law school debt – and you haven’t.
If I was a devotee of anything at all, it was cow teets. I loved dairy. Cheese was something that I could commit to – after all, it could be sweet, sour, stinky, melty, salty, chewy, stringy, sharp, mild, nutty and creamy. It was as diverse as my interests and never expected me to tithe. Until I was introduced to the chocolate martini in my mid-thirties, milk held the title as my favorite beverage. Sexy, huh? Nothing says “fuck me” like your date ordering a glass of moo juice with her filet mignon.
So when I suddenly decided to abandon the
greatest love of my entire life second greatest love of my entire life (because, of course, Hubby is the first) to join the Church of Vegan, I can assure you that more than a few of my friends and family members were perplexed. After all, these are people who had, over the years, become accustomed to asking me, “What is it you do, again?” Hell, if I couldn’t dedicate myself to one career path, why should they believe that I would deliberately eschew meat and all animal products for the rest of my life just because it’s supposed to be healthier? That never stopped me from mainlining vodka.
However, as the weeks turned into months, it appeared that I had finally made a true commitment. I started cooking, posting photos of one vegan meal after another on Facebook
like those people who have absolutely nothing better to do with their time. Hubby and I joined a gym. I gave up hard liquor. I became the poster child for the kind of person who had embraced a plant-based diet; a kinder, gentler Miss Snarky Pants. Through the Internet, I met other local vegans and soon I was inundated with invitations to attend one non-carnivore event after another. Vegans adore newbies. And like Pentecostals, they love to recruit. Why else would they have some kind of vegan/animal rights festival every bloody weekend?
Being vegan made me feel accepted by a closely-knit group of people who looked at the world with the same pair of eyes. Despite the fact that Hubby and I had only moved to Tampa a few months before my big conversion, new friends were practically crawling out of the woodwork, ready to hang out just because I’d abandoned many of my beloved food choices. At restaurants, I no longer had to worry that the waiter would think I was cheap if I ordered a vegetarian entrée. Nope, all I had to do was explain, “I’m vegan” and every bit of judgment on the server’s face would vanish – only to be replaced with fear. At Whole Foods, it was as if I was wearing a flashing, neon sign around my neck. As the cashier rang up my items, she would invariably ask, “Are you vegan?” Before I could do more than nod, she’d burst out into a huge smile, then whisper loudly, “Me, too! Isn’t Daiya soy-free, vegan cheese the best?”
If by best, you mean barely edible and tastes nothing at all like cheese, then yes, it’s the best!
Gradually, I discovered that worshiping at the Church of Vegan was complicated. Initially, I thought I was giving up dairy, meat and eggs, but there’s a whole lot of small print in the Vegan Bible. Did you know that gelatin is made of horses’ hooves and other disgusting stuff? Adios, Jell-O. Sayonara, marshmallows. See ya later, candy corn and jelly beans. Don’t even think about taking that Nyquil Gel Cap. And what about animal bone char? It’s utilized to refine sugar and turn crude oil into petroleum jelly. Oh, and it’s also used in making many kinds of BEER. Did I type that loudly enough? BEER. At least six thousand newbie vegans just said, “What the fuck?”
However, as a non-beer drinker, my first what-the-fuck? moment occurred when I was informed that I could no longer eat honey. “Why?” I asked a vegan friend. “The bees are just doing their thing. Making honey is kinda like their job…and the last thing we need in this country is a higher unemployment rate.”
“The bees are enslaved,” she responded, without a hint of irony. “They’re exploited by humans.”
Suddenly, my brain was flooded with images of bees humming “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and picking cotton. I imagined them cringing in front of a white-hooded beekeeper, buzzing, “Don’t blow that smoke at me, Massa! I’ll eat mo’ nectar and vomit up mo’ honey!” It occurred to me that some vegans were more concerned about honey bees’ rights than they were about the rights of immigrant field workers – the people usually responsible for raising and harvesting the plant-based diet that sustains the vegan lifestyle.
Shortly after the bee incident, being vegan really hit me where it hurts the most: my liver. At a cooking party I was hosting, a guest advised me that the wine I was drinking may have been clarified with isinglass, a substance derived from fish bladders. Having given up the hard stuff, wine had become my slower, but still lovely, intoxicant. “You’ll want to go online and research the brands of wine that you enjoy. You might have to switch,” she suggested.
Seriously, God – you really hate me, right? You don’t just plant the “Become a Vegan” idea in my head, then casually – at a much later date – drop the wine bomb on me. Oh, and God, in case you’re wondering, I’m officially agnostic.
I realized that these people were serious. Veganism wasn’t a diet; it was an admirable commitment to living life in a way that doesn’t exploit animals in any manner whatsoever. Yet, as much as I respected my new friends for making this difficult, moral choice, I also recognized that I had to be true to myself…and my embossed leather Coach bags. If I didn’t opt for a more compassionate non-leather sofa, I’d soon be a hypocrite – not to mention, I’d spend every spare moment removing fur from
a friggin’ cat hair magnet a cruelty-free fabric recliner. It became clear that I was not an ethical vegan, as most of my friends called themselves. I was doing this for my health – and unless the occasional teaspoon of honey was going to give me cancer or cause Bob Barker’s head to explode, I wasn’t really worried about it. Where did that leave me? Was I an unethical vegan? And, more importantly, why was I letting the word vegan define who I was and what I ate? Vegans aren’t like virgins – you can be just a little bit vegan.
Thus, in the interest of not being a vegan fraud, a hypocrite, a sober person or just plain grumpy, I’ve decided to start my own church: The Church of Vegan-Lite. With all of the health benefits, but only half the guilt and no rosary, a Vegan-Litist, as I like to think of myself, is mostly vegan, but makes exceptions here and there. For example, though I will inform food servers that I’m a vegan, I am quick to reassure them that I’m not militant about it and won’t douse them with a bucket of red paint if they suggest the steak tartare special to Hubby. Likewise, I’ve chosen to integrate certain foods back into my diet, but those foods can’t be too decadent or I’ll be required to self-flagellate like an albino monk. Thus, I’ve reintroduced egg whites to our refrigerator; after all, they’re fucking egg whites. Is there a less-offensive and healthier non-vegan food out there? Doctors practically prescribe them. Dr. Carrie Rubin, back me up here, will ya?
I’ve also discovered that if I drink a sufficient amount of vino, I completely forget all about fish bladders and bone char. Problem solved.
The only remaining issue is my hesitancy to lead – or follow, for that matter – which is why the Church of Vegan-Lite currently has only one member. So if any of you vegans out there are just jonesin’ to spoon some honey into your mug of cruelty-free, organic green tea, go for it. I grant you permission to become the bishop of your own Vegan-Lite parish. Just promise me one thing: switch the Welch’s out for a nice cabernet sauvignon, would ya?
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If you’re an ethical vegan, please know that I respect your views (and the fact that you aren’t, apparently, tempted by cheese every moment of the day) even though I don’t necessarily agree with them fully. So don’t be a hater. I really do love you guys!
***Photo credits: Communion: therubicon.org Madonna: articles.dailynews.com Holy Trinity: catholicbible101.com Kickball: keanradio.com Cheese: igourmet.com Daiya Cheese: mfablog.org Slaves: bbc.co.uk Dog Hair: blog.sfgate.com Albino monk: aveleyman.com
In Miami, it’s practically impossible to grow up surrounded by anything but diversity. My family moved there when I was six, but I first discovered I wasn’t in Kansas (okay, Sarasota) anymore when I noticed that many of our neighbors in our new apartment complex had nailed skinny, metal plates with strange lettering painted on them in their doorways at crooked angles. The OCD side of me wanted badly to straighten them, but they were clearly meant to be that way. Either that or they’d all hired a handyman with balance issues to hang what I later discovered to be their mezuzahs.
Until we moved to Miami, I’d never known a Jewish person. I’d known two midgets – both of whom had appeared in The Wizard of Oz, a dwarf and a girl who’d worn braces on her legs, but that was as interesting as it had ever gotten for me. No black people. No Latinos. No Asians. No Indians (dot, not feather). I didn’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was fully five years old. Clearly, I’d been sheltered. Of course, having been raised in the Assemblies of God church, I knew of Jews. Theywere God’s chosen people. As far as I was concerned, the Jews received all kinds of special treatment from God, while us “Born Agains” were the red-headed step-children of the world.
Of course, it took some time for me to discover that these nice people with whom my parents socialized and with whom I played in the pool, were different from me in any way. They looked the same. Except for the occasional foreign-sounding word, they sounded the same. In fact, they spoke more like me than my German grandmother, who peppered every sentence with words like hündchen and danke schön and bitte and auch du liebe. Unlike Grandma, all of our adult Jewish friends read The Miami Herald, rather than a newspaper written in a foreign tongue. Not to say that I didn’t pick up a little Yiddish. In fact, I was the only first grader at Westwood Christian School who, when something went wrong, often shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oy vey.” With a New Jersey accent, courtesy of Mrs. Schwartz in 3B.
As I discovered our differences, it became immediately apparent that they were minor. Some of our holidays were different, but it didn’t stop us – kids and adults alike – from dressing up for Halloween every year or celebrating one another’s birthdays. The introduction of Matzo ball soup into our diet was no stranger to me than I’m sure the butter and sugar sandwiches – a nod to my mother’s European heritage – was to them. The only truly distinguishing characteristic I could make out between my family and our Jewish friends was the fact that they seemed to possess no interest in converting others to their religion. Jews, apparently, didn’t recruit.
Protestant Christians make the U.S. Army look like amateurs when it comes to recruiting. “Be All That You Can Be” just can’t compete with “Become A Christian Or Burn In Hell For All Eternity.” Sure, the Army’s got the GI Bill and on-the-job-training, but compare that to eternity in a mansion encrusted with diamonds and precious stones and streets paved in gold surrounded by angels playing harps, and, suddenly, free college tuition in exchange for risking your life for several years doesn’t seem like such a bargain. During chapel at school, we were urged to share the gospel with our non-believing friends because we didn’t want them to spend an infinite number of years screaming from the pain of hellfire and brimstone raining down on them, now did we? Born with an innate sense of guilt that any Jewish mother would have been proud of, I bore the weight of the world upon my shoulders on a daily basis as it was. To add the fate of my friends’ immortal souls to that mix was unbearable. I had to lighten the load.
At the time, my closest friend was a pretty, raven-haired girl, we’ll call Simone. Half Jewish, the future of her soul concerned me more than some of my other friends in the apartment complex because her dolls were always naked. Barbie – naked. Even worse, Ken – naked. Absolutely shocking, Donny and Marie – naked and sometimes lying on top of each other. It’s not like they didn’t have clothes, she just didn’t choose to dress them in them very often.
Playing dolls at her apartment was like witnessing the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah over and over again. When we’d play Barbies, in my head, my Ken doll – his red bathing suit having never been removed since it was delivered to me factory-fresh – was Lot, Malibu Barbie was his wife, and Skipper and the Bionic Woman were his two daughters. Once poor “I’m-a-little-bit-country” Marie Osmond had been mounted by one of several paramours, including her brother and The Bionic Man, my dolls would turn their backs to the plastic orgy, climb The Twin Bed Mountain and wander off into the wilderness of Simone’s Wonder Woman bedspread. Being the Christian that I was, I didn’t even allow Malibu Barbie to glance back longingly at the brimstone falling down on the heads of her comically-proportioned, nude girlfriends. I mean, she was my best Barbie. It would have done none of us any good if she’d turned into a pillar of salt. Of course, back then I didn’t realize that Lot’s two daughters later got him drunk so that they could have incestuous relations with him. They didn’t teach that part of the story in Sunday School.
Though I was now seven, I had not yet developed the savvy conversion techniques possessed by our pastor. However, I’d listened carefully in church and I knew what selling points had worked on me. Still, this would be my first attempt at witnessing as they called it. What if I flubbed it? Would Simone give me a second chance to win her soul for God’s army of Christian soldiers? Inexperienced as I was, I became determined to save my friend’s precious, immortal soul. After all, if I didn’t, who would I play naked Barbies with in Heaven?
One afternoon, as we sat in front of my wooden dollhouse amusing ourselves with my Barbies (dolls that were between nine and thirteen inches high, plastic and not of the baby variety were collectively called Barbies then), all of which were fully-clothed (my apartment, my rules), it became apparent to me that I couldn’t put it off any longer. Simone, despite my warnings, undressed Malibu Barbie, presumably so the doll could take a bath in the pink whirlpool tub my parents had given me for my birthday the year prior. Making the situation even worse was the fact that the tub was located on the third floor of the dollhouse – in the master bedroom. And who do you think was seated in that room, on the bed, his head turned so that he stared directly at the plastic, jetted bathtub? Ken. Who’s mouth was practically salivating in anticipation of seeing Malibu Barbie’s uncovered boobies and hoo hoo? Ken. Who was being corrupted by a seven-year-old Jezebel intent upon bringing sin into my dollhouse? Ken. Poor, fully-dressed in a winter coat in the middle of April, celibate Ken.
As Simone plopped the naked and voluptuous blonde into the tub, I handed her a miniature bikini. “Put this on her,” I said firmly.
“But she’s taking a bath.”
“No, she’s soaking. Our parents don’t get naked in the Jacuzzi.” I could feel my nostrils flaring and my chest turning splotchy and red, a signal that I was becoming uncomfortable.
“That’s because the Jacuzzi’s outside,” Simone said, a smirk overtaking her perpetually-tanned face. “This one’s inside their bedroom.”
Oh. As if that explained everything. As if nakedness was okay just because it was confined to the walls of a plywood room intended for sleeping. Simone had a lot to learn and there was no time like the present. God forbid she should die in a horrible car accident the following day; certainly she’d end up sitting on the right hand of the devil, little horns sprouting through her shiny, dark bob and a long, red, spiked tail emerging from you-know-where and curling around her ankle. So, right then and there, I shared my secret with her.
Blinking back my tears, I confided, “Simone, I’m very concerned about you.”
“Why?” she asked, discarding the blue and white bathing suit I’d handed her moments earlier into a pile of doll-sized clothes.
With two fingers, I plucked from the mess of clothes, the red one-piece that Malibu Barbie had worn the day she arrived under my Christmas tree two years prior. Tossing it at Simone, I casually said, “Because if you continue on this way, you’re going to burn in a lake of fire in Hell for all eternity.” I looked pointedly at the crimson bathing suit, now resting on her thigh, and then at the naked doll, who I’m sure was mortified to be stared at by Ken in a way that must have made her feel objectified.
The young girl’s forehead creased and I swear she snickered. “No, I’m not.” Snatching the bathing suit up, she folded it into the palm of her hand and tightened her fingers into a fist, before releasing her grip and allowing the crumpled bit of nylon to fall back into the pile from whence it had come. Clearly, fear-mongering wouldn’t work with this one. I doubted she’d ever become a Republican.
Okay, I’d take another tack. “Yeah, you will. But that’s fine. I mean, I just thought you’d like to hang out with me in my mansion.”
One eyebrow cocked skeptically, Simone retorted, “You don’t own a mansion.” But she hesitated. She waited. I’d caught her interest.
“I will. When Christians go to Heaven, they each get one,” I said, conveniently leaving about the part about dying first.
“Says who?” Simone was as tough as a vanilla wafer that had fallen between the sofa cushions and remained undiscovered for months.
Rolling my eyes as though the answer were obvious, I answered, “Jesus.” The name prompted a blank stare from Simone. “You know, the Son of God.” This earned me a half-hearted shrug of her sun-kissed shoulders. Sighing deeply, I dutifully recited: John 14:2. ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.’ I was so certain and dogmatic in my belief system as a second-grader in the Seventies, I’m glad I wasn’t born in another place and at another time – like Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. I’d have been running around handing out pamphlets and quoting The Communist Manifesto.
“Huh?” Simone said, her eyes widening. I’m not sure if her confusion was because another seven-year-old was quoting scripture or if she just had no idea what I was talking about. Looking back now, I realize that they only thing separating me from Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction at that particular moment was the absence of a gun and an afro. Perhaps it wasn’t confusion in her eyes, but terror.
“It’s from the New Testament.”
“What’s that?” she asked, her eyes never leaving my face. I’m also pretty sure scooted back a little, putting a good foot of green shag carpeting between the two of us.
“It’s part of The Bible,” I said incredulously. “It’s the sequel to the Old Testament.” Finally, Simone’s head nodded in recognition. “Anyway, that’s not important. What’s important is that when Christians go to Heaven they each get a mansion and the streets are paved with gold and there are diamonds and rubies and sapphires, like, everywhere. Even the gates are made completely of pearls.”
My friend’s eyes grew even larger and her lips formed a perfect “O.” Fear had been replaced with good old fashioned greed.
“And you get crowns. Jeweled crowns.” I vaguely remembered the pastor saying something about crowns. “And princess dresses and a pony.” Now I was just making stuff up, but deep in my heart, I was certain that God wouldn’t give me diamonds, yet refuse me a Shetland pony. What kind of Heaven would that be? And He sure as heck wouldn’t make me run around in my blue plaid parochial school jumper. That would just be cruel.
“Crowns are for boys,” Simone insisted, folding her arms tightly against her chest. “I want a tiara.”
Of course, she did. All girls want a tiara. “That’s what I meant,” I added quickly. “The boys get crowns and the girls get diamond tiaras.” C’mon. I was so close. Simone was salivating more than Ken with his prime time view of Porn Star Barbie. I could see the wheels in her head spinning; I could practically hear the whirring and clicking of the gears in her brain as she processed this new information about Heaven and how it might benefit her to give Christianity a go.
“I want one with sapphires. That’s my birthstone,” she said, her eyes narrowing. I smiled and nodded, indicating that it was a done deal. “Okay.” Simone shook her head. “What do I have to do?”
As simply as I could, I explained that she just had to believe with all her heart that Jesus Christ was the Son of God – the Golden Ticket that would magically open up the Pearly Gates (still leaving out the minor you’ve-got-to-be-dead-to-go-to-Heaven component) so that she could gain entry to her new life as a jewel-encrusted, Lady of the Manor – and that he had died on a cross and rose from the grave three days later. That’s when the fear crept back into her stare and she slid backwards another foot on the carpet. I’m pretty sure she had a really bad case of rug burn by the time this whole ordeal was over.
“What do you mean he died on the cross?” she asked. For some reason, a guy nailed to a wooden cross, a crown of thorns cutting into his scalp, who’d been stabbed and was going to eventually croak was a bit traumatizing for her. The happy, shiny Heaven story had suddenly turned into an Edgar Allen Poe tale of murder, with a ghostly apparition rising wispy and fog-like from a cracked gravestone.
In homage to my future legal career, I hurriedly glossed over the carnage. “Oh, it’s no big deal. He comes right back a few days later. And He’s fine. Just a few scars.” I pointed to my hand with my finger as though a hole clear through your palm was the equivalent of a pockmark. Still, Simone’s face remained doubtful. “Look, Jesus is up there with God in Heaven right now. Their thrones are right next to each other’s.” I painted a cozy picture of father and son, plopped down in adjacent recliners with their feet propped up, watching an episode of Sanford and Son together and laughing every time Redd Foxx fakes another heart attack or argues with Ernestine.
Soon, her forehead uncrinkled and she agreed to move forward. Then I helped Simone kneel and instructed her to pray to Jesus, asking Him to forgive her for all the sins she’d committed and informing Him that she was now accepting him as her personal Savior. When she was finished, I’d expected her body to convulse with a jolt of Born Again power. This is what always happened at church. The wicked sinner would kneel before the pastor, say the prayer and then the pastor would touch the new Christian’s forehead, causing him to fall back, shuddering, as if he’d been shocked with an animal prod. When Simone remained upright, I tentatively touched her brow with my finger tip. Nothing. Next I tried pushing her backwards using a tad bit more force, but either the Jesus Juice wasn’t flowing through her loins quite yet or she had figured out what was expected of her and was resisting. Frustrated, I finally flicked her hard – just below her hairline – with my thumb and finger, prompting her to wince and yell, “Ow.” Okay, it wasn’t a convulsion, but it was something.
“You’re done,” I announced, digging the tiny, red bathing suit out of the clothing pile and handing it to her. Without another word, Simone quietly removed Malibu Barbie from her bath and slid the one-piece onto her plastic body.
A week later, Mr. Adams, Simone’s non-Jewish father, cornered me by the public bathroom at the complex’s community pool. Dripping wet and chilled, I stared up into his contorted, angry face, and shivered uncontrollably as he launched into a diatribe that would have frightened a Mafia Don. I was emphatically informed that despite the fact that Mr. Adams was a Christian, Simone was being raised Jewish and I was to never try to convert her to a different religion again. As I cringed before this man twice my size, I thought of missionaries who’d been murdered in the rain forest for trying to save the souls of indigenous tribe members. What horrendous fate would I suffer in the name of spreading the Gospel? Before I could imagine myself being burned at the stake or my severed head dangling from the fist of a savage, pagan head hunter, it was over. At least, I thought it was. Mr. Adams had turned away, taking his shadow with him, leaving me panting from the adrenaline rush in the bright sunshine.
Suddenly, he twisted around and hissed, “And don’t you ever tell Simone that she’s going to burn in Hell again. You got that?” I nodded silently, my heart pounding in my throat.
Hah! I knew it. Simone had been scared shitless at the concept of swimming in a one million degree lava lake. I’d sold her from the beginning, but she’d held out for a sapphire tiara. Maybe she’d turn out to be a Republican after all.
I was a private school kid. Before you go there, I wasn’t that kind of private school kid. There were no limousines or drivers or designer bags or ivy-covered walls or disheveled teachers in tweed who lived onsite and inspired me to seize the day. In fact, I was a scholarship kid – which meant that 99% of the kids enrolled had more money than I did, but I was smarter than all of them. I raised the school’s overall standardized testing scores, won spelling bees for them, and served as my classmates’ verbal and physical punching bag – all for discounted tuition. Possessing a photographic memory and a passion for reading the World Book Encyclopedia at dinner, I knew I wasn’t normal. I quickly discovered that there wasn’t a single kid in my class who, as their mom served them meatloaf, thought to themselves, “Hmmm. I bet the R volume would be good with beef.” But I wanted to be normal. I so wanted to be.
Unlike the previous parochial school I attended, this one didn’t require the wearing of uniforms. Having spent every school day of my life in a blue plaid jumper paired with a light blue blouse with a Peter Pan collar, I was desperate for the opportunity to dress like the public school kids who waited for their bus on the opposite side of the street each morning. I pictured myself in bell bottom jeans, a crocheted halter top and bright yellow, patent leather platform heels. Because flat-chested – make that concave-chested – ten year olds don’t look at all ridiculous in see-through halter tops and neon platforms. Had my new school actually allowed pants and skimpy tops, I might have given Jodie Foster a run for her money and found myself a taxi-driving, psychotic boyfriend.
Little did I know that this small freedom would be my downfall. Despite the fact that I’d been no less of a geek at my previous school, my uniform had shielded me in a way. We’d all looked alike and I’d managed to hide my ginormous brain – under a hat -but the kids thought I was just very fashion-forward. It made me look like Jughead, but no one ever suspected that he was smart, did they? More likely, the kids just didn’t care at that age. There’s something about puberty and hormones that transforms children into the fanged and winged raptors of Satan. I’m convinced that the case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde was really just delayed puberty. Think about it. Linda Blair was 12 when she pulled her spinning-head trick in The Exorcist. Right around the advent of puberty, Jodie Foster began turning tricks, Brooke Shields got herself naked and lost on a tropical island (on purpose, I bet!) and Scott Baio started saying stuff like, “Wa, wa, wa.” That’s not even English. That’s the secret language of Lucifer.
Unfortunately, my transfer to a non-uniform school coincided with puberty for many of my classmates. This was not the case for me. Puberty was a distant promise like the destruction of the Berlin Wall and colonies on Mars. Though the students weren’t forced to dress alike, there were rules and plenty of ‘em.
FCS DRESS CODE
1) FEMALE STUDENTS MAY NOT WEAR PANTS. This is not in all caps to emphasize the importance of this rule; this is actually how it appeared in the rule book. In truth, pants were allowed if the temperature was 45 degrees or below at 6 a.m. in the morning. Swear to God, this was also in the rule book. In these cases, slacks or courderoys were permitted, but absolutely no jeans because the Highway to Hell was paved with Jordache. The problem with this rule was that I grew up in Miami. It’s never that cold – and if it is, the entire family is in shock and fighting for space over the oven burners trying to warm their fingers and ward off frostbite. No one leaves the house on a chilly day in Miami. What was the school thinking? We could have died just trying to get there.
2) The Hem of the Skirt or Dress Must Measure Two Inches or Less from the Middle of The Knee. If you’ve read my earlier post, 5 Reasons Why God Loves Short People Best , you already know how unfair this rule is for a taller-than-average girl who’s built like Lurch and is so thin that her shadow is often mistaken for a crack in the sidewalk to be carefully side-stepped (no one wants to break their mother’s back…unless puberty has set in). Fortunately, the no-uniform rule opened up a world of fabrics to me so I was no longer putting a strain on the tartan-weavers in Scotland who worked day and night trying to create enough fabric to cover my endlessly long thighs.
3) No Bare Shoulders, Cleavage or Midriffs. Though a rule about no cleavage shouldn’t have seemed necessary for fifth graders in the Seventies, remember that I was growing up in Miami. Latino girls are like crocuses; they bloom early. My best friend was Cuban and she must have been a C-cup by the time we were in sixth grade. I didn’t even own a training bra yet. Heck, I still played with Barbies and I hadn’t yet removed the red bathing suit on my Ken doll to find out what was underneath – because I was afraid I’d go to Hell.
All the rules aside, my entrance into this new school necessitated a new wardrobe. As I was a scholarship student, my parents weren’t financially prepared to take me on a shopping spree at the mall. No, the wardrobe-buying process would have to be thought out. K-mart, as an option, was quickly discarded because the clothes would have to be extremely well-made and sturdy, in order to last all year – and into the next, if possible. After all, I’d lived in two uniforms per year for the previous four years. My parents had no intention of filling my closet with dozens of new outfits. Only a few dresses would be needed. A talented seamstress, my mother also planned whip up a few designs for me to “wow” my classmates with. Because nothing says, “Wow!” like hand-made clothes when you’re ten, right? I was so excited.
For about five whole seconds…but it all drained away as my mother pulled the car into a parking spot in front of a store called, Polly Flinders. Can we just start with the name here? What fifth grader in the Hip and Happenin’ Seventies wants a wardrobe manufactured by a company that sounds as though it makes pantaloons and petticoats. Worse, I’d already had a Polly Flinders experience.
In the second grade, I’d received one of their dreaded dresses for my birthday. I call it my Patriotic Pilgrim Dress. Blue with red and white smocking, its ginormous white collar ended in two sharp points, much like vampire fangs. God forbid my mother should buy me a dress that wasn’t the same color as my school uniform. With my buckled school shoes and 15th century hair style, the only thing needed to complete my look was a tri-cornered hat and a musket. The Patriotic Pilgrim Dress still fresh in my sponge-like memory, I wrinkled my nose and cringed when my mother announced, “We’re here!” My refusal to move from my fetal position on the front seat, along with me sobbing, “Oh, God. Not here! Please, I’ll be good,” apparently gave away my distaste for the idea of shopping at Polly Flinders. But my mother said it was this or nothing. The thought of attending school in my skivvies was a threat sufficient to make me scurry from the car.
Clearly, the store catered to the Toddlers and Tiaras crowd as tiny, frilly dresses with (you guessed it…crinoline petticoats) filled the front of the shop. The skirts were so full and so short, I wasn’t sure if this was pageant hell or the only ice-skating costume shop in all of Miami. Before I could ponder them more fully, Mom grabbed my hand and dragged me down the sole, narrow pathway through the center of the store, away from the cheerful, hand-smocked confections and towards the sober Laura Ingalls Wilder dresses for girls who hadn’t yet hit puberty, but had lost every bit of Shirley Temple cuteness they ever possessed.
Why is puberty relevant here? Smocking. Nearly everything manufactured by Polly Flinders was smocked and waistless, with decorative white Peter Pan or Pilgrim collars and sleeves that are gathered at the wrist and finished with lace. Now a flat-chested girl like myself could retain the image of childhood in a dress like this – granted, childhood in the Victorian era, but I looked like a kid, nonetheless. Once boobs entered the picture, however, you had yourself a maternity dress. And no one at a private, Christian school wanted their grade school students looking – erm – knocked up, if you catch my drift.
Not only were the dresses just plain ugly, the entire shopping experience was both depressing and mortifying. Chrome rounders of smocks were tightly crammed into the poorly-lit room like a twelve pack of soda cans, clearly intended to wean out any kid with boobs whose mother was intent on purchasing her a Polly Flinders’ dress. Scattered along the path were the bones of puberty-ridden girls who’d gotten stuck between the rounders and had never made it back out. Why hadn’t their the mothers gotten similarly mired, you ask? They were taller. Their boobs skimmed the tops of the racks.
My mother announced we would be buying four dresses. Mentally, I had one goal. Please don’t let any of them be blue. Nothing blue. Because I was taller-than-average, I needed to try them on because Mom was no longer sure of my dress size and we had to be certain that I didn’t violate the two-inch hemline rule. Here comes the mortifying part: the store had no fitting rooms. NO FITTING ROOMS. Okay, this may be fine when you’re five, but not when you’re ten, going on eleven. Especially not when you aren’t wearing a training bra to hide the boobs that you don’t yet have. Or when you’re wearing your Wonder Woman underwear. You’d think my mother would have warned me. At least told me to wear a bathing suit.
“Can’t I try it on over my clothes?” I asked, as Mom sifted through a rack filled with dresses my size.
“No, I won’t be able to tell if the dress fits right in the shoulders.”
“But it’s supposed to be loose so I can grow into it. That’s what you always say.” It is what she always said. Except for that day. No, not on the Let’s-Get-Naked-In-Front-Of-Everyone-Day.
My mother was losing her patience. “Just try it on,” she demanded, shoving a shit brown dress with a Pollyanna collar at me. “No one is watching you. There’s nothing to see, anyway.”
Thanks, Mom. Drive that point home why don’t you. By now, my only goal was to get out of the store as soon as possible. See, there were BOYS in there. Even though it was a store that catered to girls, mothers often brought all of their children with them, males included. Quickly, I slipped on and off every dress as instructed, my eyes tightly shut. I guess I thought, If I can’t see the people staring at me, maybe they can’t see me. This is a philosophy my cat believes in vehemently. Apparently, though a scholarship student, I wasn’t much smarter than a tabby named Dinsworth.
“Do you like this one?” Mom asked.
“How ’bout this one with Holly Hobbie on the collar? It’s blue. You love blue.”
“Uh-huh.” No, you love blue. I love not being naked in public.
“Oooh. This one’s nice!” That dressed turned out to look a lot like what Heidi would wear if her dirndl was made from a brown, patterned, Seventies hotel carpet. Did I mention that, after blue, brown was my least favorite color?
So exactly how did Polly Flinders destroy my life? Simple. I showed up on the first day of fifth grade, Holly Hobbie shyly shielding her face with a bonnet on the collar of my – ugh – blue dress, and I was quickly targeted as an outsider. How? Was my gigantic brain on display? No, I’d worn a scarf. Still, my inherent geekiness was immediately obvious. Why? No one else was wearing a dress. Not a single girl in the class was wearing a dress. Not one. Neither were any of the boys, but it was a very conservative school. Apparently, dresses were for little girls with ringlets who wore frilly socks and patent leather shoes. The fact that I was wearing the ugliest dress ever sewn didn’t improve my situation. It became abundantly clear that any girl who wasn’t a complete dork wore skirts. Every day. Skirts were grown up. Skirts were cool. Denim skirts were The Holy Grail. So why couldn’t I just wear skirts? Two reasons:
1) I only had one skirt. Exactly one. It was not denim. To wear it every day would have been as ostracizing as wearing ugly dresses four days out of the week.
2) My mother refused to buy me any more skirts. She claimed that since I had absolutely no hips to speak of, to look at, or to identify under a microscope, that skirts were NOT appropriate. They would slip right off my body and I’d be walking around school in my Wonder Woman underwear. Funny, that didn’t seem to bother her at the Polly Flinders store. This begs the question: why did I have a skirt at all? No good answer for that. It had an elastic waist and, despite my mother’s fears, never once just slipped off my hips and collapsed into a red, flowered puddle around my feet.
Surely, I must be exaggerating. How could an entire class of girls convince their parents to let them wear skirts every single school day? Don’t forget, most of these girls were starting puberty – unlike me. As Lucifer’s newest minions, they had already mastered parental mind control, and spent their evenings slaughtering the bunnies and raccoons that lived beneath Florida’s palmetto bushes, then – drenched in blood – danced around bonfires, celebrating their kills – and training bras.
Once identified as a freak, I’m afraid that I only made things worse by offering to write my essay on “The Ark of the Covenant” in rhyme, and by being the only kid in the entire class to complete all the books on the reading list. The final blow may have been bringing a few of my pet grasshoppers to school so that my classmates could also enjoy the thrill of watching Southeastern Lubbers metamorphosize over the span of several months, shedding their exoskeleton approximately five times. Who wants to learn The Hustle or how to French-braid when you can do that?
Had I not been wearing a Polly Flinders dress that first day – and 4/5 of the time after that – perhaps the kids would have overlooked my other quirks. Maybe I wouldn’t have become mesmerized by the molting and reproductive cycle of the Romalea guttata and would have gone to a slumber party or two, instead of sitting at home, burning through all the books on the friggin’ reading list. I guess we’ll never know. Still, I hate you, Polly Flinders. And one day, I may just write a rhyming poem about it.
As a taller-than-average woman who has studied – and envied – the privileges enjoyed by those who are limited in physical stature, it has become overwhelmingly clear to me that God loves short people best. I’m not saying He hates tall people, but we’re definitely God’s middle child.
His eldest are average-sized people and they’re beloved because they’re just so normal. It’s as if God sighed in relief when he discovered that His first kid turned out just right – not too short, not too tall. No one was ever gonna call this kid beanpole. He’d never be stuck in the back row of the class photo. “How’s the weather up there?” would never be the first question asked of God’s eldest by absolutely everyone he meets for the rest of his life.
God’s youngest, though short, immediately climbed the ranks of popularity because she was the baby of the family. And everyone knows that small things are cute. Infants are cute. Puppies are cute. Kittens are cute. Hello Kitty erasers are cute. Gnomes – you got it, cute. Roaches, you ask? No, roaches have too many legs to be cute. You probably think a six-legged baby is cute. Freak! Go read your latest issue of Chernobyl Cuties and get your rocks off – this blog is not for you. Anyway, so God is totally entranced with his youngest bundle of compact joy, and even though she eventually hits 5’1”, has three illegitimate children and becomes a meth addict, she remains adorable in His eyes because she’s the baby of the family. And everyone knows that the baby can do no wrong. Nor can anyone ever put Baby in a corner. At least not if Patrick Swayze’s around.
That leaves us with gargantuan, taller-than-average people. The forgotten middle children. There’s a syndrome named after us, you know. Taller-Than-Average-People-Who-Wear-Shorter-Than-Average-Pants Syndrome. It’s incurable, but treatable if you know anything about hemming and don’t mind your trousers being cuffed in an entirely different color and fabric. Think of it as a fashion statement. For a short time (no pun intended), we were the babies of the God family, but we quickly grew into long, gangly things resembling weeds, roots, seaweed, ganglion cysts, intestines, Bridges to Nowhere, tapeworms and Lindsay Lohan’s hair extensions. Once we did, God quickly procreated again with some nameless vestal virgin and a petite baby was born, it’s teeny-weeny, dimpled everything eclipsing our lankiness forever.
History of our conception aside, you may be wondering how I know, for certain, that God loves short people best. Hence, here are:
THE TOP FIVE REASONS WHY GOD LOVES SHORT PEOPLE BEST
1) MINIONS– Ever been strolling through a grocery store when, out of the blue, a munchkin-sized elderly woman with one of those walkers with tennis ball feet suddenly asks you to hand her the expensive bottle of mustard that’s stored on the very tippy-top shelf? Of course, you have. And you did it. Graciously. If you’re a really nice, tall person, you may have even offered to help her acquire a few other grocery items that were placed out of her reach. However, she likely declined you because a few other tall ass suckers already helped her.
What you didn’t realize is that, at that moment, you became one of her minions. That’s right. You did her bidding. For that split second, she controlled you completely. And remember, it was expensive mustard. That shrimpy Blue Hair was hardly destitute. She bought Apple stock when a Macintosh was still just a raincoat. She could have hired an assistant to help with her shopping, but she knew that a tall person like yourself would quickly cave upon hearing the opening line she used to lure you into her web of slavery. “Oh, dear,” she purred seductively, “I’ve always wanted long legs like yours. You wouldn’t mind helping me reach that jar of…” But she had you at “wanted long legs like yours.” You were sucked in like a stream of particles circling a black hole. And in space, no one can hear you scream.
2) PETITE SECTIONS: Ever seen a “Tall” section in a department store? No? Bet you’ve seen a Petite section, though. In fact, practically every major designer has petite versions of their clothes for their pint-sized clientele. If a tall chick is lucky, she might find a few pair of “long” length jeans if she gets there just as the department store opens and she’s willing to search through 8,000 pairs of denim – most of which are marked with the words regular or petite. ‘Cause we’re not regular, folks. We’re not normal. And we don’t get a sophisticated French sounding word like petite to describe our overall lankiness. Don’t forget, a tall girl in search of jeans will have to be prepared to fight off all the other ginormous girls who also arrived at the store early so that they wouldn’t have to wear another pair of cropped pants – or worse, another skirt – next weekend. Which means a tall girl must be fit and capable of taking down a chick who can nail a windmill dunk over Shaquille O’Neal with her eyes closed.
There are likely a few of you out there who will be quick to point out that there are “Big and Tall” shops in nearly every major town. Yes, we have our own stores – because you short and average people won’t allow us big and tall freaks to shop at the mall like the rest of you. Hell, no! It’d be like letting the bull into the china shop. Our larger-than-average frames would stretch out your sweaters and bust your zippers. “Omigosh, Molly. I was totally gonna buy that cute little black dress, but a six foot chick tried it on first and now it’s got tall cooties.” It’s also worth noting that most of these stores cater to men. I’m not a man. I’d consider becoming a man if it meant I could buy a pair of jeans without having to beat up the local female volleyball team to get my hands on them, but then my husband would divorce me – and I’d spend the rest of my days depressed, wearing too-short sweatpants and stained concert t-shirts, which would negate the necessity for the jeans in the first place.
3) SCHOOL DRESS CODES – Why are short people so darn cute? In part, it’s because their clothes are smaller than ours. I don’t mean that their apparel is proportionally smaller than tall people’s, but unfairly smaller than ours. This trend began with plaid jumpers and skirts in private schools. I’m sure any of you who attended such a school are familiar with the traditional rules:
– Your skirt may not be shorter than your fingertips; or, in the alternative;
– The hem of your skirt may not be more than two inches above the middle of the knee.
The first version of this rule would have prevented me from wearing any clothing produced post-Edwardian era for the entirety of my parochial school education. I was tall and skinny. Really scrawny. I made Kate Moss feel like she needed to go purge. My torso was the size of a Tootsie roll. You know that expression, “Her legs went all the way up.” Well, mine went up to my chin and my fingertips scraped the floor when I walked. If you look at old photos of me, my hands are often curled into fists. It’s not because I was angry, I was just trying to prevent my fingertips from getting calloused.
The second version of this rule was no less unfair. When your femur can be used as a ruler by which to judge the length of an Olympic sprint, there isn’t a skirt in the world that’s going to land within two inches of the middle of your knee. They don’t manufacture that much plaid in Scotland. Apparently, they do weave it in South Carolina and eventually, a jumper was created long enough to cover most of my thighs. Having trouble picturing this in your head? Okay, imagine Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Got that in your head? Now, replace his goth black suit with a blue, plaid parochial school jumper and squash a long brown wig with bangs onto his bald head. For kicks, you can fold his bony fingers around one of those Tupperware lunch boxes. I had one for about five minutes – until an average-sized kid threw it out the bus window. I still hate you, L.J. – just in case you were wondering.
My point is that my arms and legs were not in proportion to the rest of my body. This isn’t uncommon in taller-than-average people. Sure, Victoria Secret model, Gisele Bundchen’s got a long torso with a tiny waist and huge natural breasts and billions of dollars and thicker than average hair and no visible acne scars – but she’s not normal. Everyone knows she was grown in some Brazilian laboratory and that there’s a button under all that luxurious, naturally-highlighted hair which reveals her bot brain. In fact, if you pour water over her head while her bot brain is exposed, she’ll do The Hustle. You know. The dance. From the Seventies. You’re not that old? F**k off!
But short people are typically well-proportioned. Their knuckles don’t usually scrape the floor. Their hip bones rarely impede their breathing by pushing against their tracheas. So their parochial school plaid skirts are in proportion to their bodies and, as such, look cute. Even sexy. You know, like in a Britney Spears’ video – who, by the way, at 5’4” is officially shorter-than-average. Bitch. My skirt, on the other hand, looked liked a nostalgic Coleman tent for a family of eight.
4) SYMPATHY– Short people evoke sympathy because being undertall is viewed as a deficit of some kind by average-sized people. A deficit, you ask? You mean, in the same way that being tall is a negative? No, not at all. Half-pints are viewed as being helpless with big, fluttering eyelashes and a need for consolation and protection. They’re the Scarlett O’Haras of height – who, by the way, was about 5’3″. Tall people are the brash, obnoxious, aggressive Rhett Butlers, which means they aren’t often viewed as being feminine (fine, if you’re a guy, but really annoyingif you’re not) and they’re considered threatening to the frail, oh-so-fragile-I-might-just-disintegrate-at-the-touch-but-as-God-as-my-witness-I’ll-never-be-hungry-again Southern Belles out there.
How do I know this? My aunt is short. And she loves to point out exactly how short she is compared to the rest of the family. Why? Because when she emphasizes her tininess, our relatives invariably console her with compliments about her other attributes. “Well, at least you’ve got boobs!” or “But your boobs are huge.” or “Are those real? I mean, they look real.” What? She’s got two rather impressive attributes. Nevertheless, when I’m around her, I find myself buying into the scam and also pointing out her limited physical stature – because it’s nicer than just saying she’s a bitch. As a short person, she likes to claim shyness and quietness (sorry, I just vomited in my mouth) as her virtues, but the truth is that she’s got the biggest personality – and mouth – in the room. And that’s saying a lot in our family.
The other day at a family function, my aunt noticed a need for chairs on the porch. I suggested that we haul out the kitchen chairs, and proceeded to lift one and carry it in the appropriate direction. My pint-sized aunt, on the other hand, wandered around aimlessly, doing absolutely nothing, while me and my average-sized husband moved all – yes, all – the chairs. They weren’t heavy chairs. By their very nature, kitchen chairs tend to be lightweight. But she didn’t lift one. Perhaps she’s just too tiny? Too delicate? Maybe her green velvet gown weighed her down? So much for the whole, As God as my witness, they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill, as God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again. Apparently, her folk won’t starve, but they’ll have to sit on the floor. Unless there are tall people around, in which case, she has her minions, doesn’t she?
5) THE TOM CRUISE EFFECT – If there’s a perfect example out there of someone who simply doesn’t deserve to be a leading man, it’s Tom Cruise. Yeah, spare me all the talk of how hot he was in Top Gun and Risky Business. Scott Baio and John Stamos both graced many more covers of Tiger Beat than Cruise did at the time – but you don’t see either of them starring in Mission Impossible 12. Why? Because they can’t act? Possibly (particularly when we’re talkin’ about Chachi, here), but neither can Tom Cruise. C’mon – when your most famous catch phrase is “I feel the need, the need fer speed,” you’re not an actor, you’re an action film animatronic robot.
And, may I point out, neither Scott Baio, nor John Stamos is CA-RAY-ZEE! They didn’t jump on Oprah’s couch or scare the Beckhams away from Los Angeles or call Matt Lauer glib or insist that “psychiatry should be outlawed” on national television. But, then, lots of famous actors are nuts. The question is: Are they short? Scott Baio is 5’10” – average height for an American male. John Stamos is also average at just over 5’11’’. Tom Cruise’s height, on the other hand, is a closely guarded secret. Supposedly, he’s at least 5’7”, but it’s rumored that he may be as tiny as 5’4”. Either way, he’s short. Petite, even. But he’s a star. Why?
Ever pissed off a height-challenged person? They get quite indignant about it. For example, Cruise is currently slated to play Jack Reacher, the 6’5” protagonist in the big screen adaptation of Lee Child’s One Shot novel. Of the criticism regarding his, erm, stature as an actor to play the role, Cruise admitted, “Firstly, I’m very sensitive to it. This is Lee’s book and Lee’s character. Him giving me his blessing is what made me do it. If he hadn’t then I wouldn’t have done it.”
Just like with my aunt, no one wants to argue with a short person. Why? Ummm, maybe because the first thing they do is play the short card – something a tall person never does. Need an example? When Davy Jones’ (The Monkees, people. C’mon!) producer reminded him that they were on Take 7A of the classic, “Daydream Believer,” Davy’s response – on the record, no less – was predictably, as a tiny person, “Okay. I mean, don’t get excited, man. It’s just ’cause I’m short, I know.” Yeah, we’re excited – i.e. really pissed off – because you’re burning up studio time – which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with your height. (Or your lack thereof. Davy Jones was 5’3”.) It also has nothing to do with the fact that this will turn out to be the only hit Monkees’ hit that you sing lead on, and you’re taking forever to do it!
Likewise, people coddle short people. It’s acceptable to make fun of tall people, but not short ones. Maybe this has something to do with dwarfism or little people or whatever – but, for the record, I think that little people and dwarves and midgets are freaking awesome. I mean, they’re not just short. They’re much shorter than what is considered “normal” or “average,” and that’s totally cool. Us tall people get them. Even if we’re only 5’10” and female, we get them. There’s no groovy tall range, so we appreciate those in the non-groovy short range. The last interesting tall celebrity person of record was Andre the Giant – and he’s been dead for 18 years. We have no representation. So we relate to our “little people” counterparts who also have few role models. We’re ostracized by the mainstream media – as are they, for the most part – and by run-of-the-mill short people, like Tom Cruise. That said, we don’t coddle them. We don’t treat them as “special.” That would be offensive. And these are people who understand that term and demand that we treat it – and them – with respect.
But your standard short person wants special attention. They love the word “petite” and revel in being compared to notoriously itsy-bitsy celebrities like Dolly Parton (approximately 5 feet even), Christina Aguilera (5’1.5”), Eva Longoria (5’2”), Jennifer Love Hewitt (5’2.5”) or Jessica Simpson (5’3”). They also love comparisons to the size of their boobage and, for some reason, short people seem to have a lot of it. Obviously, we’re talking about women here. Men don’t like to be referred to as being “short.” If this is unclear, re-read the Tom Cruise section or Google anything about Napoleon’s need for overcompensation. Of course, you do have a few undertall celebrities with balls the size of Jupiter – like Al Pacino (5’7”) and Robert Downey, Jr. (5’8”) – both of whom are super hot and at least 6’5” horizontally, I’m sure. I doubt either of them would care if you propped your elbow upon their head as long as your breasts were at eye level.
However, if you so much as bump up against my aunt, she’ll raise a hissy fit, pat her hair as though you’ve ripped out clumps of it with the bent corner of your sleeve, and insist she’s no leaning post. Fortunately, as a taller-than-average person, you know the secret password: bethedevilsminion. To calm her ranting, you ask my aunt, “Can I get you a can of soda…off the top shelf of the pantry?” She’ll acquiesce, of course, and you’ll hand it to her and be on good terms again. As long as you can tolerate being a minion, that is. But sometimes, minions revolt. And this is what you short people out there need to worry about. Because I’m biding my time, along with all the other taller-than-average-people out there who don’t find you cute at all.
My blogosphere buddy, Kitchen Slattern wrote a rebuttal piece in response to this post from the perspective of an undertall person. Although many of you liked my post, Kitchen Slattern’s was just published by More Magazine. You know, a website with some serious readership. And editors. Not that it makes her opinion any more right or valid, but I must grudgingly admit that she’s a gifted, hilarious and clever writer. Why else would I follow her blog every day? Still, in the interest of fairness and because Kitchen Slattern offers some awesome cocktail recipes – along with sobering, and not-so-sobering, wisdom – on her blog, Kitchen Slattern, I’ve decided the right thing to do is to include a link to the domestic diva’s article. Did I mention she references THIS post in it? Makes me love her even more. Anyway, read on and be impressed (I’m not saying you have to be convinced…):
This weekend we buried my favorite redneck.
Many people who know me would be surprised to discover that I dearly loved someone who used to scoot across the Everglades in an air boat, not to point gators out to tourists with cameras, but to hunt them (the gators, not the tourists). Their eyebrows might shoot up to hear that I’ve seen a deer skinned and many a hog smoked. My grandfather – who was more of a Florida cracker than a redneck – gifted me with dozens of boar tails during my childhood, without even bothering to clean the congealed blood off the severed ends first. I’d wrinkle my nose, thank him, and then stick them in a drawer until our visit ended and I could dispose of them properly.
You see, I’m Southern. I’ve had kin living in one part of Florida or another for a good 150 years. I take my tea sweet and my grits cheesy. And I don’t have to be drunk for my accent to emerge. Yesterday, at my uncle’s funeral, the y’alls and fixin’ tos started creeping into my vocabulary, and my syllables began stretching out like a long country road meandering through the mountains. This is tough for a loquacious chick like myself – when surrounded by Southerners, it can take me forever just to ask for another piece of pie. My husband doesn’t know what to think about my transformation at these family get-togethers. Suddenly, he’s married to Reba McEntire, but despite this, it doesn’t make him any richer.
I’ve never been a fan of Pentecostal Southern funerals with their open-casket visitations and absence of alcohol. Having visited with Uncle Danny only a couple months before his passing, I was anxious to preserve that happy memory of him and avoid having it replaced by the image of his pale body in a gleaming steel blue box. We’d laughed and chatted that afternoon in November. He’d teased his wife, my Aunt Kay, in the way that people who’ve been married to one another for forty-five years tend to do. As my uncle had quite the sweet tooth, we’d eaten a carrot cake I’d picked up at Publix (to have attempted to bake him a cake might have brought about his death much sooner). It had been a nice day.
Visiting my Uncle Danny in his natural habitat was like visiting the Hall of Mammals at the National History Museum. He’d sit there, sprawled in his well-worn lounger surrounded by his victims: a wild boar with its tongue lolling over its teeth like a thirsty labrador; several eight and ten point bucks – the largest of which served as a hat rack for Danny’s collection of trucker caps and his solar-powered pith helmet; and an otter. Unlike the other animals, the otter was in possession of more than just it’s head and actually stood upright next to a chair, its front paws frozen in mid-air as though it should be wearing a chef’s hat and holding a chalkboard sign with the evening’s specials listed on it.
Mounted on wooden placards around the vintage 70’s paneled living room were at least eight or ten stuffed bass, their mouths gaping, gills frilled, and tails bent in final, desperate swishes. As you perched nervously on the sofa (and who wouldn’t be anxious with a dozen or more dead animals glaring at you, vengeance on their minds), each largemouth bass would watch you, unblinking, with its single, bulging eye. Every fish had a story that may or may not have been true. For my husband, whose favorite t-shirt reads “I Make Stuff Up,” my uncle was an immediate compatriot. Even though he only met him a handful of times, Matt enjoyed Danny’s stories – told in a raspy voice that tuned up into a whine as the story became less and less likely. Like everyone, my husband wasn’t always sure what to make of my uncle’s tales – were they tall or just average in height? But Uncle Danny used to say that there were only three kinds of lies:
1) Whoppers: Lies that were so outlandish that everyone knew they weren’t true. (Know how I caught that gator? I tied Junior to a fishin’ line and told him to go swimmin’ in the swamp.);
2) White Lies: The lies you told others to avoid hurting their feelings. (Nah, those cowboy boots don’t make your ass look big.); and
3) Fishing Lies: These weren’t lies at all.
As sedentary as he was in the latter months of his life (cancer sucks the life out of you…literally), Uncle Danny had always been one of those feisty, mischievous men who was quick with a joke and always up to something. Over the years, he’d operated an auto body shop, raised gopher tortoises (“Mmmm! Gopher soup is goooood,” he used to say) and, finally, ran a plant nursery with my aunt. If he wasn’t puttering around his property, puffing away on one of the cheap Grenadier cigars he stored in a box in his front shirt pocket, or eating breakfast at Granny’s Restaurant as he did every morning, then he was hunting or fishing or being a devoted friend, father and husband.
At the funeral, the pastor shared a story about my uncle that summed up the kind of man he was. There’d been a bad storm. A tree had fallen, ripping gaping holes in the roof of the church. Now, my aunt, she never missed a church service. Sunday night, Wednesday night, choir practice, Bible study – church was and is her life. Uncle Danny – not so much. He had no problem with his wife and son’s devotion to their church but, for him, that was time that could be better spent doing pretty much anything else. However, the day after the storm, the pastor and a couple other members of the church were struggling to remove tree limbs and repair the damage before the rains came again. Suddenly, a ladder banged against the roof and a man’s head rose above the roof line. As the pastor recounted, “This was a man I didn’t know.” But Uncle Danny knew all about him and, more importantly, had been informed that help was needed. So he was there.
On the surface, it may have seemed that Uncle Danny and I were very different people. He was a Tea Party Republican and I’m a bleeding-from-every-possible-orifice liberal. He shot animals with a rifle; I shoot them with my camera. Rural life felt natural to him, whereas I start to break out in hives if I can’t throw a rock and hit someone while blindfolded. He drove a pick up truck with a horn that sounded like a duck call. At least, I think it was a duck call. I mean, how would I know? I drive a hybrid. My ringtone is “So What” by Pink. Uncle Danny watched fishing shows; I watch shows about nerdy physicists who are obsessed with super heroes and video games.
But at our core, we were extraordinarily similar. Both strong-willed, religiously rebellious and prone to humor in uncomfortable situations, I’d swear we shared genes even though he was only my uncle by marriage. At the cemetery, the folding chairs meant for immediate family members were covered in a bright blue faux fur. I kept thinking that if Danny had been alive, we’d be giggling over the fact that it looked as though someone had skinned Cookie Monster and his entire family in order to cover those chairs.
Over the years, Uncle Danny was confronted by many people about everything from his hunting to the manner in which he raised his hunting dogs (outside, in a cage – they’re work animals, not pets) to whether or not he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Up until the very end, this last question was the one which consumed Aunt Kay’s pastor, so much so that his entire funeral sermon focused on Danny showing up fashionably late at Heaven’s Gates, waiting until the last second to become a Christian. While he may have finally done it because he sensed his life had grown shorter than a Kardashian marriage, or to make Aunt Kay happy, I suspect it was the only way to get the pastor to talk about something else. Regardless, much was made of Uncle Danny coming late to the dance, which was a disappointment to me. Though I’m sure it pleased him that his wife and son were certain he would one day see them again in Heaven, I doubt he would have wanted the rest of the congregation to know about his personal struggles with his spirituality. I doubt he would have wanted them to know he’d caved. Because, like myself, Uncle Danny was wholly unapologetic about who he was and what he believed.
My aunt told me that Uncle Danny had wanted jokes and laughter at the funeral, but I can’t say I heard much of either. At one point, while the coffin was being lowered in his grave, I stood with my family watching solemnly. Aunt Kay and Jason embraced one another, their eyes bleary with tears. For some reason, I felt an inexplicable need to sing “Amazing Grace” in order to break the heaviness of the moment, but I didn’t. I feared that it might be one of those situations in which I started singing…and no one else did. I’d be left trailing off and then everyone would talk about the weird niece who began belting out a hymn at the graveside. You know, stealing the grave-lowering thunder. The fact that I only know the first verse of “Amazing Grace” could have also been problematic.
The most difficult part of the day for me and my husband, however, was it’s start – the open-casket visitation and the funeral. Even though I knew the body in the casket was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt with a trucker cap resting next to his bald head, it felt as though an intruder masquerading as my uncle was in the sanctuary. I couldn’t look. From my second row seat in the “Family Section,” I could just make out a nose peeking out above the white satin and I didn’t recognize it. When I hugged my aunt and cousin at the front of the room, I averted my eyes from his body, burying my head into their shoulders and focused on squeezing all my love and sympathy into their bodies.
At the beginning of the pastor’s sermon, he mentioned Uncle Danny’s penchant for jokes. Smiling to myself, I felt the anticipation grow inside of me as I waited for the pastor to launch into a few of my uncle’s classics. But he didn’t. “I was gonna tell some of his jokes, but y’all knew him. You already know all his jokes,” he said. But at that second, I couldn’t think of a single one. I still can’t. It’s as if when he died, they went with him into that cold casket. C’mon, just one joke, I begged the pastor mentally. I was certain that one would serve as the chink in the proverbial dike and the rest would come flowing through. I never got my joke, though. Uncle Danny took that last laugh with him.
While we indulged in over-priced Peruvian fare last night, our friend, Jarrod, shared a story about his now-deceased aunt, who apparently was a member of the only Pentecostal church in Florida that doesn’t believe in Jesus. How is that possible? Pentecostals live for Jesus. They eat his body and drink his blood at communion…yet never fail to condemn a healthy interest in vampires as devil worship. To a member of a Pentecostal Christian church, Jesus is – seriously – one righteous dude. A Pentecostal who doesn’t believe in Jesus is like a Mormon who doesn’t believe in ironed shirts and holy underwear. Hello…hard to be a Christian if you don’t believe in the whole “Christ” component, right? I mean, then you’d just be a “Tian,” pronounced shun, so I suppose all you’d do is cut off contact with everyone you know and live in cave somewhere. According to Jarrod, his aunt also dabbled in the New Age movement (She’ll burn in Hell for that for sure!), so this may possibly explain her “off-the-cross” views of Christianity.
Like all good Christians or even the wacky New Age Pentecostals who don’t believe in Jesus, Jarrod’s aunt always insisted on saying grace before eating. Closing her eyes, she’d raise her hands as if she was about to speak in tongues or just “raise the roof” old school style. ” Please bless this food, Oh Holy White Man!” she would cry. Not, “Please bless this food, Oh Holy Father!” or even “Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Thanks for the Grub. Amen, God. ” Nope, his aunt stuck to the physically-descriptive and….erm, slightly racist, Holy White Man nomenclature – at every single meal. Knowing that Jesus didn’t figure into her equation, I was left pondering who exactly this Holy White Man is. Perhaps there is a Holy White Man worthy of our praise and capable of blessing our food who I’m just not aware of.
In order to examine this theory further, it must be broken up into it’s four basic components: (1) Holy, (2) White (3) Man and (4) Capable of Blessing Dinner. The first is the trickiest. As Jarrod failed to ask his aunt to transcribe her dinner blessing before she passed, we can’t confirm whether she meant that the White Man was holy, holey or wholly. However, as Jarrod’s aunt never indicated that she didn’t believe in God (just not his son), little research is necessary to determine that the most conspicuous possibility for Holy White Man is probably this guy:
Considered holy by many and having already blessed billions of meals, Uber White God fits the bill. For years, white people have envisioned the Christian God as an old white guy with white hair and a draped white gown. Are you getting the over-the-top white theme here? It’s like a P Diddy party in the Hamptons. Except for the black people. Anyway, Jarrod’s aunt may have been operating under the perception that the Christian God is white. Logic, however, tells us that this conception of God must be inaccurate. Why? Christians believe in The Bible and it states that “God created man in his own image.” As you probably know, God sent Adam scampering around a place called the Garden of Eden – which it turns out was most likely located somewhere in northern Africa or Iraq. Not Iceland or Greenland or even the Cotswolds. And, uh, back in the day, not a lot of white people in northern Africa. So if man was truly created in God’s own image, he probably had a tan. I’d go so far as to say that he likely had a wicked ass tan. A more accurate rendering of the Christian God probably looks something like this:
Concerned that there may be other worthy Holy White Men to consider, I invested a strenuous fifteen minutes or so doing some Internet research, uncovering several potential candidates. Some are beloved by many. Two have born-and-raised-in-the-Arctic white skin. You could even say that one, in particular, is as pale as a marshmallow. Two of the candidates claim to be male, but as both are a bit, ummm, husky, shall we say, and have a bit of a belly, no one has yet to confirm this fact. Still, I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt. The first has been a part of our consumer heritage since at least 1898, when a rubber and tire manufacturing company ran the following ad featuring a new mascot, O’Galop of Bibendum, the original Michelin Man:
O’Galop possessed a sun-kissed glow that I doubt Holy White Man would have, but he is male and he is holey, as tires aren’t tires without holes. Regardless, Michelin cleared up any doubt for me by revamping their mascot years later, whitening him up – even though tires are black – so that the people who could afford bicycles and, eventually, cars (yes, white people) could relate to him. By dropping the monocle, disposing of the warty Jabba the Hut hangers on, and plastering a huge, trustworthy smile on his face, the Michelin Man became a welcome character on television and in print media. After all, he’s white, he’s chubby – with rolls of fat placed conveniently to hide any threatening genitalia – and everyone knows that fat, white, tire people are jolly and won’t mug you in an alley. Children wanted to hug him, and who wouldn’t want him to bless your chicken cacciatore?
Another worthy of consideration is a fictional character, both beloved for his devilish smile and beguiling sailor suit. Like the Uber White God, however, he is also feared for his sheer size and power; his ferocious temper and willingness to destroy the world’s greatest city at a moment’s notice is the stuff of legends. And Harold Ramis films, specifically the Ghostbusters franchise. I can already hear some of you clearing your throats. “But Cristy, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, of whom I know you speak, is not holey, holy or wholly.” Au contraire. Marshmallow batter is whipped, forming small air bubbles, thus making marshmallows porous and giving them their spongy texture. In fact, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is super holey. For some, another concern may be the fact that Stay Puft was once temporarily possessed by a Sumerian god named Gozer, but let me reassure you that he reformed his ways in the animated The Real Ghostbustersseries and went on to help the Ghostbusters defeat a giant praying mantis. Every diety has his bad days – Uber White God destroyed the entire earth by flood, allowed Jonah to be swallowed by a whale, and let his son be crucified. Crushing a few buildings that were probably going to be demolished eventually by Donald Trump seems trivial by comparison, if you think about it. Of course, the final portion of the analysis is whether or not Stay Puft is capable of blessing your food. I say, “Yes!” Who better to sanctify your sweet potato casserole than the Big Marshmallow himself? There’s nothing like having your food give you express permission to eat it.
Our final contender isn’t jolly, chubby or particularly lovable. However, as previously discussed, Uber White God is not always Mr. Happy Pants either. In fact, many of the more obscure religions are based almost exclusively on the concept of fear, employing tactics like human and animal sacrifice, threats of eternal damnation in a pit of fire, and destruction of the world. I’m sure if you put your research cap on and spend two or three months in the library, you can come up with a few belief systems that practice this type of fear-mongering, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Regardless, this particular candidate – though a tad anti-social – is white. Pasty, really. Definitely male – though I can’t guarantee that evidence of this is still intact – and holey. In fact, he’s getting holier by the minute. And despite the fact that he isn’t very gregarious, he is extremely popular these days. Shows, films, books, figurines, comics – you name it – are devoted to him exclusively. As with some religions that have multiple gods, there are many of him. Hordes of him. But rather than overwhelm you with the thousands of depictions that exist, I’ve chosen just one:
As you can see from this photo, this zombie has clearly already blessed his own food. Now, I’m sure some of you reject the notion that a zombie could possibly be Holey White Man because he is no longer alive. He used to be a man, but now he is some manner of the undead. I ask you in response, “What makes a man?” Blood coursing through his veins or blood dripping from his mouth? Neither the Michelin Man or Stay Puft have a heart, a digestive system, a brain or a penis (that we can see, anyway). I’m pretty certain Uber White God doesn’t have a belly button and I’ve never seen beneath that loose gown he wears, so I’m taking him on his word that he’s a man, period. Technically, of all the candidates, this zombie is the only one who was a man in the true, earthly sense. Granted, it looks like it’s been a few weeks since he took a breath (or brushed his teeth), but if he can avoid large artillery or an axe to the head, he’s basically immortal, an important quality in any deity. His power isn’t in question. If zombies were so easily destroyed, no one would be writing books about how to protect yourself in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Brad Pitt would be starring in another boring moving about whatever he makes movies about instead of World War Z. Whether or not you’d ask a zombie to bless your food is a moot point in my book. I mean, if you could keep him at bay long enough, you might. Lord knows, he enjoys his food. Why wouldn’t he want you to enjoy yours?
We may never know the identity of Holy or Holey or Wholly White Man, but I suspect he’d be comfortable if, in the name of not being racist as hell, we just call him Holy, Holey or Wholly Man. Wait, maybe Jarrod’s aunt meant Ho Lee White Man. But only a Chinaman would be named Ho Lee. Nope. I don’t think so.
(If this post pissed you off and you are about to send me a hate-filled comment, please don’t. This is satire. I am not a racist. Jarrod’s aunt may have been as she was real and truly did pray to The Holy White Man. She may have also just been a kook. Regardless, I’m in a bi-racial marriage, and I’ve also known many very nice Chinamen over the years, all of whom were excellent at math. That was also satire. Catching on yet? Don’t worry, you will.)