Month: February 2017

My Greatest Affair, Part I: Honeymoon in Paris

For anyone expecting to read salacious details of my love life, you’ll need to check back once I have finally met my eternal demise, as any such details will not be forthcoming as long as I trod this earth, and for any myriad of reasons from not wanting to embarrass my son to not wanting long-since-left men to drag themselves from the recesses of my personal history and feel compelled to get in touch. No, the past is very much that and far from living with the regret or reflection — or what I refer to as the woulda/shoulda/coulda —  which I find especially common in women of southern progeny, I move only forward.  There are no men who have earned such a lofty moniker in any event, and even the ones who could potentially compete for it would never be able to hold a candle to the place which I only realized recently is actually title holder of my longest and greatest affair. I am currently in London – as I often am — and in my happiest of places; not just the city itself, but the hotel I have been blessed to call a second home for more than twenty years. It has been there for me and my family through thick and thin, good and bad, its protective staff and gilded halls carrying me through celebrations and devastations alike. Things go well in my life, I come here; things go badly in my life, I do the same. This is no fair-weathered love we have, and nor is it one that could ever be trumped or even threatened by any other place in the world.

The first time I stayed here was July 1996. My son was just over six months old and though very young, I was on a business trip for my first employer out of school, having already made enough of a name for myself — for better or worse — to be working directly for the co-founders of the company who allowed me perhaps more latitude than they should have, and in no other area was this as true as it was with travel. They were a married couple and though their company was considerable and successful, they could still be very hands on and involved when it came to the arrangements made — especially for their younger female charges — and would often give us their personal upgrades to first for our transatlantic flights and would similarly insist that if we were alone, we should stay in only the finest hotels in order to be as safe as possible. I, being a spoiled and unapologetic daddy’s girl, also still had a secondary card on my dad’s Platinum American Express card account. My parents worked very hard for everything they ever had in life, neither of them having graduated from college and both being born into poor southern families, and perhaps as a result of their hard graft as well as the guilt that was (and likely still is) poured onto parishioners every Sunday in many southern churches, never felt comfortable indulging in or enjoying the fruits of their labors. Dad used the platinum card for all things practical, from business related expenditures to paying for my wedding, but never once — in all the years he was a member — for anything frivolous or superfluous, and similarly never opened the Departures magazines that came with it or thumbed through the Platinum Card Hotel Guide which arrived annually. No, those were reserved for me and my lofty dreams as the kid who had seen one too many repeats of the I Love Lucy European episodes and just as much of The Love Boat. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to break free and explore, Departures along with the hotel guide serving as representatives of a life others lived and in which I longed to partake. But whereas this at least partially explains my initial taste of and for all things 5 star, the ongoing and severe repellant reaction to anything ‘less than’ was likely borne of and shaped by a singular, definitive event: the trauma of the Great Honeymoon Fiasco of ’92.

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The Bullies are Back in Town

I’m on the other side of forty-five. As those who read my blog know from other posts, I’ve lived and traveled all over the world, having worked in advertising for more than twenty years. I speak three languages and have three degrees, two undergrad and one post-grad. At my last job, I was the second highest paid person the company; I’ve done quite well for myself. I was divorced twenty years ago, but refused child support or alimony because I wanted to raise my child — who is now twenty-one — in the manner I saw fit. Though I am very happily divorced, we still spend Christmas morning with my ex-husband and my ex-in laws because we have known each other our entire lives and therefore still function much like a family. I take no shit, personally or professionally, and am either famous or infamous for it, depending on whose point of view you solicit. I was not born to a wealthy family, but I was born to one rich with unconditional love, being told almost every day of my life that I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whatever I wanted to be, as much — if not more so — by my dad as by my mom, that support being no small reason for the person I am today.

Thirty-five years ago, I was a chubby, freckled red-head with a heart condition and the highest IQ in a school district replete with future Ole Miss beauty queen wannabes. If you don’t know what that means, it’s not that difficult to explain or to understand, whether it was the head cheerleader or homecoming queen at your school, or just one of the many mean girl portrayals you’ve seen in the movies. The difference is there wasn’t just one; there were loads. Such was life being raised in a small town in the South where your family was either rich or it wasn’t; they either belonged to the country club or they didn’t. You were either pretty or you weren’t, and the male counterparts – though fewer – were themselves no better, often being the ones who dug the moat and defended the walls of the stuck up clique who doled out condescension and abuse like Pez from a dispenser of hostility and pretense. I was almost mercilessly abused on a daily basis from the ages of six through sixteen. And then.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, something changed. The baby fat that had bade its farewell to most girls my age two years prior finally decided to take its leave from me. Realizing it was beginning to atrophy on its own, I became encouraged and began dieting, swimming more laps in our pool and hitting more balls on the court in the heat of the day. Finally down to a size six of then which is probably a four of now, 5’8” tall, with thick strawberry blonde hair, I was beginning to feel an inner confidence I had never before known. Much to my father’s dismay, I saved up my money and went to the best hairdresser in town and had my thick mop chopped to a severe, ‘80s Molly Ringwold type do. With what money was left, I bought a pair of much-coveted long clip on earrings from the fanciest store in town (I wasn’t allowed to have my ears pierced in my very strict family), and changed my style almost overnight. When we returned to register for school in August in the very casual atmosphere that day allowed, in the upstairs library still dressed in a short Esprit skirt and matching tee, one of the few football players who had — admirably — always been my friend, walked up from behind to me to introduce himself, asking me from whence I’d transferred. I turned to look at him, assuming he’d recognize me when I did, but the transformation had been so drastic and so complete that he did not. “Thomas,” I said, “it’s me, ” the pause between my last word and the final look of recognition on his face pregnant both with his confusion and my amusement. When finally the other shoe dropped, he picked me up off the floor and hugged me and said, “Girl, you look FIIINNNEE.” He was genuinely happy for me — he was one of the few good guys — but still not as pleased as I was for myself. For the first time in my school-going life, I did not dread the next day.

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The Ties that Blind

We are imploding, self-devouring and it’s only a matter of time, it feels, before we are required to wear badges which denote our political affiliation of choice. Race is no longer as dividing a topic as politics — despite the fact that we can choose not only our affiliation, but how we approach and manifest it — but we are not given the ability to choose the color of our skin. I was brought up in a city that is majority African-American, yet I am cotton ball white, blonde hair, green eyes and all. I never, though, really give it much thought. In the city of my birth we are blessed to have things which unite us like our NBA team, music, food and spirituality; of course we are different, and thank God for that. I’ve always felt that our city is more interesting and — unlike that bastion of white hipsterness in the center of our state — possesses a soul and a heartbeat all its own because of not only our African American population, but because of the similarly, wildly diverse influence of the considerable Jewish, Greek and Italian communities with which we are blessed. I read on the Twitter profile of someone last night who was tweeting about our team during their game (yes, OUR team), something along the lines of “Memphis born. Wherever I go, Memphis always.” To understand that, I suspect you would have to have been born here or at least have lived here for a large part of your life. I’ve lived all over the world, but Memphis is home. It is inexplicable, gut-wrenching, liberating, unique and at times frustrating. The first time I came home after moving to London almost 20 years ago, I remember flying over my alma mater on the descending flight path, as so many planes do, and the tears welling up uncontrollably and without warning in my eyes. I could not wait to get out of here, both as a child and in the early years of adulthood, so this unconscious reaction to returning to the city which I now recognize holds my roots — the true source of my spirit and fire as an individual — took me by surprise and caused me to question all that I had thought I knew of my home’s influence on me as a person.

I am a Grizzlies fanatic, often flying home from cities distant to make it to important games and always finding a way to watch, regardless of where I am in the world. I am also, as my son would tell you, at times embarrassingly passionate, yelling at refs for what I see as biased calls or scolding our players for blowing a screen or squandering a full shot clock with an attempt at a 3 when everyone knows your strength is defense (Ahem, TA). When we sit shoulder to shoulder, as close to floor level as we can get, I never give a thought to the tone of the skin of the person sitting next to, in front or behind me; the only thing I notice is whether or not they are wearing the colors of my team or if they are an opponent import who is likely to wish me dead by halfway through the first quarter. We are not black, white, yellow, purple, gay, straight, whatever — we are Grizz fans and largely, we are Memphians. The same sort of dynamic can be seen in some of the best restaurants in town or in the church pews of any number of congregations, and it does not necessarily depend on generation. My son’s generation, I am proud to say – though rife with liberal faux righteousness – is as color blind as any ever born. My 70 year old mom, born in rural Tennessee to a father who freely made use of the N-word, truly believes that Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Mike Conley are her kids, despite her being a size zero white woman. I can tell you that she would, without hesitation, throw me over for any one of them on any given day and would nag them to within an inch of their lives with her motherly orders just has she has me every day of mine. She would also, it must be added, give a kidney to marry me off to Vince Carter. I am not saying we are immune to divisiveness or that it isn’t more prevalent for or to others than it is to me; I’m saying that there is a sense that the toughness that comes from having been brought up in a place like Memphis, — and the reputation we have amongst outsiders who have never spent time here — gives us the bond of a siege mentality; “Memphis vs. Errbody,” as our growl towels and t-shirts proudly state. Prejudice exists – I’m not denying that – but transcendence of it is possible, if only momentarily, and it is often in spite of all other obvious attributes that would otherwise divide.

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A Breakup Letter to the Left

I’ve been having a very hard time this week trying to distinguish from amongst the milieu about which topic I should write. Not because there is nothing that has grabbed my attention or riled my furor, but because I am so spoiled for choice that its like being already stuffed with a four course meal while having a trey of sumptuous desserts waved before you. Yes, absolutely, but no, I would feel like a glutton. On top of that, this week has been so highly charged with negativity that the piece I was going to write began to feel like a too heavy addition to an already heaving pile of unhappy that has been foisted upon the media landscape. I had come up with a half clever concept about playing “Never Have I Ever” with Nancy Pelosi, but it was so simple to draft it didn’t even feel like sport. This has to be challenging lest I should revert to my 7 year old self and try to set the library reading camel on fire because it never seemed to be my turn. Or blow up my school, which I also pondered at 7, and tried at 12. But I digress. The point is that if I do not find it energizing or entertaining to write, I simply won’t, and this week because of the fog of partisan war, no one single topic has clearly risen to the level of drawing my writerly ire, or inspired my sarcastic sensibilities.

Further, to join the cacophony of voices in outrage would make me “one of,” which is something I have never aspired to be. And when I do begin to rant about those on the Left who seem to now be competing in an increasingly tight race for head crazy of the week, I feel that I am suddenly no better than they, meeting their insane, treason-like calls for coup or assassination with ad hominem attacks on things like the fact that nary a one of the celebrities calling for such even has a college degree, let alone a grasp of reality. And that’s how quickly the descent to their level can occur. Though I have reasoned that my growing allegiance to, and alignment with the right has been galvanized by the behavior of those on the left, it has not materially changed my own behavior or who I am, and I do not wish for it to do so now.

My ex-husband and I were legally separated in 2.5 days; it’s something of which we are very proud. No fighting, no fussing, prenup honored, buh-bye. So though a passionate person I am, I prefer not to drag emotions into situations which can or should be dominated or decided by facts or common sense. Further, though I never cared for Twain, I can still appreciate the wisdom in his words, “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” In that same spirit, I am quite proud that the right has, almost universally, not lowered itself to the level of the Left or “argued with a fool,” though we have likewise struggled to raise them to our level or saved them from making fools of themselves. Yet the constant verbal quagmires of this week have filled me with some despair, and I have tried time and again to figure out what — if anything — will put an end to all of the senseless sniping, obstructionism, protests, crocodile tears (can we please coin the phrase Crocodile Chuck?), and calls for boycotts and coups.

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