“The greying afternoon…”

“…the diary that ends too soon.”
– Phoebe Snow “Majesty of Life”

Lynn (20), Lou (21), Marion (29) , Eugene (32)

On several occasions I’ve discussed the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on this year, due in large part to missing my mother.  I’ve mentioned how hard it has been for me to reconcile myself to the fact that she has been gone almost as long as she was here.  There aren’t any words that can express what that does to me.  I say all the time that the pain subsides a bit, and is more often than not replaced with memories.  I still believe that.  But there is this weight that spreads through my chest, that sometimes feels a bit too heavy to bear.

Coincidentally, this is the exact week, to the day (June 27, 1994 also fell on a Monday), that she almost slipped away from us the first time.  Her condition had gotten so serious, rumors that she died were already beginning to circulate.  (For years I would have dreams that her funeral was just a big mistake.  She would walk into my room, or my office and say, “They were wrong again.”)  Even in that time, she was so concerned about me having some sense of 17 year-old normalcy.  It’s funny how mothers manage to think of their kids first, regardless of the circumstances.

I’m now seventeen years older, and I’m nothing like that girl who had life and death staring her in the face.My mother was far from perfect.  Our relationship was far from easy.  We were both very fiery creatures who didn’t understand each other until the end.  The day after I graduated from high school, I tried to “run away.”  She refused to give up on me, despite having every right to do so. I always measure my humanity against her.  Would she be proud of the way I embrace people?  Would she understand my need to search my own spirituality and soul?

Mommy at 19

Sometimes I cry, because I have to rely on memories and water damaged pictures of her smile. Other times, she peeks at me through my son’s oddly shaped fingernails, or the point and flair in my daughter’s nose.  Still others, I can hear my voice saying her words.  I felt her spirit give me the gumption to move to a place that I’d never been, and carve out my own destiny.

Seventeen years later, I still have so much to learn.  I’m openly flawed and seeking to be a good person. I can only hope that good feeling I feel ever so often – that radiates through my eyes, smile and fingertips – is the sign that I’m doing my mama proud.

 

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Tig Ole Bitties

Or How I Had to Talk Myself Down From Jumping Off The High Rise

So every morning, my parents would proceed  on the LOOOONG trek of bringing my father to work, then dropping us off at school Uptown.  Every day, we passed the dreaded entity, known to all New Orleanians as “The High Rise.”  The mere act of getting on THR was a major feat.  It often meant the difference between getting a ride and being told to kiss someone’s ass:

“Can you drop me off?”

“Um…I’ll see.  Where do you live?”

“On the other side of The High Rise.”

“SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

It was high, it was fast, and people had this habit of driving like the other side might not be there once you reached the apex.  (Either that, or the entire city was filled with morons, completely unaware of the laws of physics.  ACCELERATE!)  It was basically the bridge to Downtown, and Uptown, and Mid-City, and anywhere else that wasn’t New Orleans East.  Of course, this made it prime ad space.  There was always some huge billboard or another.  Around my sophomore year of high school, Hooters advertised there.  We passed it daily for months sans incident.  Ultimately, it was too much for my mother to handle.

“So…what is this Hooters?”

“It’s a restaurant,” Daddy replied, CLEARLY not wanting to continue the conversation with my three sisters and I in the car.

“But…Hooters? What’s that name about?  It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“It’s something about the women that work there.”  He really wants this to be over.  He REALLY doesn’t want her to ask another question.  But Mom isn’t letting up, and at this point, she’s giving him the complete Scooby Doo “ruh?” face.  “Hooters is a slang term.”*

“Slang?  For Women?  Like ‘yahoo’?!”

At this point, my sister and I look at each other in horror.  What in the name of all the fuck shit are they doing in that bedroom?   Yahoo? Bruh…bruh…my damie.  No.  I guess Moms Duke didn’t get pregnant five times playing gin rummy, but still.  Gross.

At this point,  Pops is over it, so he sighs deeply and says, “Lou, Hooters is slang for BREASTS.  All of the women who work there have extremely large BREASTS.  [How YOU know, my n-word?]  So they named it Hooters because of the theme – BREASTS.”  (Yes, he emphasized it each and every time.)

And Mom, cool as a fan says, “Well I guess they won’t be hiring me.”

There are things you can never un-hear, and the fact that I did not slide open the door to our Aerostar and make my peace with Jesus is really a testament to my ability to survive anything.

That’s also probably why, when I started driving myself around, I took the long way, aka the Danzinger Bridge.

*Yes, my dad said “slang term.”  He also says relations or intercourse, and refuses to use the word gay, it’s always “homosexual” – for men and women. He has no time for your fancy talk.  Sometimes, I really just can’t with that dude.

How Mr. Rogers Gets Kids Beat Down

Or How Plums Became My Favorite Fruit

This guy's advice >than all that bull you're talking.

You may have heard this before, but I was born a Maverick.  I didn’t want to breastfeed, I tried climbing stairs in a body cast, and I got in a fight on my first day of kindergarten.  This also marks the first time I received one of the most diabolical tag team beat downs in Beauty Jackson history.  What can I say? First day of school – go hard or go home.

August, 1981:  Sesame Street, Electric Company, commercials and of course, Mr. Rogers have me chomping at the bit to go to school.  Daniel Striped Tiger, Prince Tuesday, and Ana Platypus all got on Trolley -dressed in full school bus regalia – and soaked up knowledge.  New children would be everywhere.  School was going to be great.

I began losing the moment we went back to school shopping.  Instead of Nikes and penny loafers, I got Zips and saddle loafers.  Instead of the backpack I’d created in my vision, my mother took her time and actually sewed a bag for me.  In retrospect, I was an unappreciative snot.  To my four year old self, the indignity of my dreams deferred were unbearable.    And then:

Ma, how am I going to find out my school bus number?  What time does it pick me up?

It doesn’t.  Auntie Shirley is going to pick you up and drop you off.

But that’s not what Mr. Rogers said.

Little girl, Mr. Rogers don’t run nothing here.  I am telling you not to catch the school bus.  Your mother.  You live on Beekman Road, not in the Land of Make-Believe.

Just maybe Aunt Shirley could be the voice of reason.  I picked my moment.  Just as School Bus Trolley went through the tunnel into the Land of Make-Believe I asked, all kindergarten-cool:

Aunt Shirley, where does the bus stop around here?

Melanie, I already know that you know the routine.  I’m going to bring you to school and pick you up!  Rocky, meet her at her class after school.

These people were screwing over my entire life.  Nothing was going as it should.  In my first day despair, I didn’t want to go to school.  I had to be forced into the car. Once I was at school, I calmed down, and was delighted to discover a tin with my name on it, full of Play Doh! Mentally, I frolicked in celebration of kindergarten dreams fulfilled.

Had that beast child not bitten my arm, hence exposing her cheek and veritably begging me to bite it, this story may have ended differently.  However, since that did happen, and despite the fact that she started it, I was punished during Play Doh time.  I was 0 for everything.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the last damned straw.  At the end of the day, I had a message for my parents, Aunt Shirley, and even that unwitting snitch Rocky:

FUCK YALL!  You don’t know shit.  Mr. Rogers said I’m getting Play dough, and back packs with flowers, and PENNY loafers.  NOT FUCKING SADDLE LOAFERS!  Are we on a farm? Why are you giving me saddles?  I’m supposed to ride a bus!!!  Did Mr. Rogers say, “Okay folks, let’s all pile into the fire trap that is Aunt Shirley’s Buick?  Hell no!!! Trolley was dressed to the nines!  What’s wrong with you people?  Did Prince Tuesday try to bite a chunk out of Daniel Striped Tiger, then get mad because he left his cheek exposed and Daniel bit him back?  HE WAS A TIGER FOR SHIT’S SAKE!  If Mr. Rogers’ school day can end without a tiger biting anyone, certainly I should expect to go unscathed.   This isn’t kindergarten!! THESE ARE LIES!!! This is bullshit.  I’m catching the damn bus.

When they called for bus students at day’s end, I scooped my dreaded bag, and marched to the cafeteria.  This marked the first time I ever experienced terror.  As they called buses, the cafeteria began to empty, and I knew I would miss my chance.  I dashed through the door, breathlessly explaining that I would miss my bus. I was unprepared to hear, “Well, what’s your bus number?”  Blast.  I hadn’t thought that far.  Obviously, I couldn’t say, “Well, every adult and older kid in my life is conspiring to murk my dream, so I don’t really have a bus number.  Can we just ride around until I know what a bus feels like?”  What they didn’t know was that I had been reading since I was 3 1/2.  I saw the bus that Chad, my new boo in my mind, was heading toward, and blurted out, “FOUR-ONE-FOUR!”  They loaded me on.

You know how you do something wrong, and the experience is awful.  Nothing about it is the way you thought it would be, and you find yourself learning a lesson for the ages?  That’s not what happened here.  Kids were laughing and shouting.  One of the big girls gave me a piece of candy.  We stopped twice and screamed, “BYYYYYE! SEE YOU TOMORROWWW!” to the departing student.  Glorious.  We arrived at the last stop – then known as Lawrence Creek Apartments.  The bus driver smiled and said, “Isn’t this your stop baby girl?  Time to go home.”  Obviously it wasn’t, but I hadn’t thought that far.  I knew the apartment complex.  Family friends lived  there.  Aunt Cassandra and Uncle Wayne.  They’d get me.  Total cakewalk.  As children filed to their parents, I debated turning left or right.

I halfheartedly called to them at the entrance of the complex, then started to cry.  A nice lady walked across the street, and I spilled my story.  She invited me indoors, but I was hesitant because she was a stranger.  Mr. Rogers told me not to mess with them, but I was admittedly out of options.  Plus, she had a little girl slightly younger than me wearing a Barbie shirt and eating a plum (exotic fruit to my apple and banana munching ass), so I’m winning again.  She saw me hungrily eye the plum, and offered me two.  As I was relishing in the taste of my first plum, she was calling the school to report that she’d found a lost child.  Within minutes, my aunt and the school principal pulled up to the house.

Dear Readers, I took one look at my aunt and walked to the principal’s car like I’d never seen that woman or Buick in all my days.  Though all smiles with the principal,  I knew that she was totally over me and my big bag of bull.  I was prepared for it to get really bad, really quickly.

Auntie Shirley, have you ever had a plum?  They are SO GOOD.

To this date, I believe that only fear of incarceration prevented her from putting the remaining plum in my sock and bludgeoned me to death.  Instructed to finish the plum,  I savored it as though it was my last meal.  For couple of epidermal layers, I’m sure it was.  Shirley had first dibs, then before my nose dried, Mama tagged in.  When Daddy got home and she explained the story to him, I took one look at his face and laid across the bed.  I knew the drill.

My family and I always recount this with a mixture of humor and terror; it could have been a really bad scene.   But, this is a story I’m sure I’ll tell well into old age.  I defied all odds to ride the yellow dragon, and lived to tell the tale.  Plus I still roll with plums.  HARD.

What if Opes was one of us?

So in the first episode of the last season of Oprah’s show, she surprised her audience members (300 of them) with a trip to Australia.  I don’ t care who you are and what you do, I am willing to wager that the majority of my readers are working stiffs just like me, or even if you have cheddar, you’re still balling within the acceptable limits of ballification.  Not so for Oprah. So I just had a conversation with Oprah in my mind, and I’ll share it with you.

[Oprah teleports next to me in the Hyundai]

M: Oh snap!!! It’s Oprah!

O: Hi Mel. How are you today?

M: Oh, everything is everything, Oprah. I’m just grinding, working hard trying to make this come up happen.  Had to run for the bus this morning, but I didn’t let a little thing like that get me down.  You know, when I look at you, and the fact that you were relentless in the pursuit of success, I could only appreciate that.  I don’t always see eye to eye with you on things, but I admire that about you.  You really are every woman.

O: Well, to be frank, that’s just something I tell yall.  I’m a billionaire.  Are you a billionaire?  I’m not trying to be a douche about it.  Sometimes my info is off. If you’re not, I’m stating facts.  I’m not every woman, but I used to be, and put your mind to it, you can come up in the game and add dollar signs to your name, as your friend likes to say.

M: As my friend likes to…you look at my chat logs Oprah?

O:  [Gives the “Heaux do you know who I am?” hand motion] Oh, and I read your lil funky ass blog too.  You were talking real greasy about the kid.  Not the one you have now – that Mental Oasis joint. *toothpick appears in her mouth* Yeah.  You better be glad you killed that noise a while back, because I was gonna have to send my peoples to come see you.  You got it together though.

M:  Well damn Oprah, I mean you’re just gonna roll up in the Hyundai and…

O:  Look, before your mouth gets you in trouble, I’m not coming for beef. I just like to pop in and check on people from time to time.  You’re doing your little writing thing, and that’s good, I like that.  Just keep handling your business and don’t quit.

M: That’s really decent of you man.  I kinda thought…well, you know what I thought.  You’re alright though.  So enough about me, what’s going on with you? What’s good in Oprah’s world?

O: [Rolling a spliff] Ain’t shit.  Just a routine day for me: drank some coffee flavored with the highest quality Cambodian breast milk.  After yoga, I rode my unicorn around Pluto.  You know, they said it’s not a planet, but that joint is still big as fuck.  Act right and maybe you can roll through and see for yourself.

M:  That’s what’s up Oprah.  So, that’s all you got going on?

O:  Yeah. [Pauses to think] Oh, know what I did? I sent 300 heads that I never met to Australia.  Just some ole pedestrian ass run of the mill shit for me. [Opes shrug] We were having a set your money on fire party, and I came up with that idea.  You ever been to one of those joints?

M: A party where you set the money on fire, Oprah?  No.  I can’t say I’ve had the occasion to be in attendance.

O: [Mocking] “The occasion to be in…” bitch, we at school?  What? You salty ‘cuz you broke?  Being broke builds character playa.  Don’t sweat it.  Your time is gonna come.  Until then…[snaps fingers and a “Oprah Could Have Sent Me To Sydney but Created This Punk Ass T-Shirt Instead” shirt appears on my body]

M:  Uh, thanks Oprah.

O: [Licks the side of my face] ENJOY YO’SELF! [disappears]

M:  Ugh.

O: [Reappears] Oh, and that was not at all gay.  I just did it because I’m Oprah and I could.

M: I dunno Oprah, that was a little bit gay.

O: [Gives me the once over] Eh, you’ve got a better rack than Gayle, but she can make it clap.  [Does shaky “so-so” hand motion] Yours needs work.

M:  Oprah…you be wa…

O: [Cuts me off with the “Duh bitch! I’m Oprah!” stare again and disappears]

[Hyundai-with-the-butterfly-doors becomes an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster]

M: AWWWWWWW SHIT!

O:  [Echoing in the distance] SIKE! Stop talking shit on yo bloooooooog bitch!

[The car is once more a Hyundai-with-the-butterfly-doors]

Fin