Monday, December 20, 2010

Every Holiday Begins With Ho

Classy, I know.

But the way advertisers try to disconnect men from their money around the holidays in the name of love and/or sex simply appalls me. Every jewelry ad boils down to, "If you want to get some, it'll cost you". Ahem. We have words for that, and they don't begin with K.

The holiday jewelry ads have annoyed me since forever. When Liv was still in grade school, she and her bestie worked up a very mockingly sarcastic "He went to Jared" bit that cracked my stuff up every time.

Yep, guys. We all want jewelry. It not only lets us know how much you love us (the bigger the diamond, the greater the love, of course), but it also provides us with the opportunity to make our girlfriends, in the words of that great role model, Scarlett O'Hara, "pea green with envy". Win/win. A man who wants us and women who want to be us. That right there is queen of the world stuff, baby. To quote another great role model, David Lee Roth, "you'll get some leg tonight, for sure!"

But lately I've been able to look past my white hot hatred of holiday jewelry commercials to take a look at - and give some thought to - holiday perfume commercials. The band Free famously said, "Love? Lord above. Now you're trying to trick me in love." The song was covered by another great role model, Rod Stewart. Just sayin'. If you want to skip all the pesky love stuff and get back, as those bad boys (and great role models) from Boston, Aerosmith, tell us, "to the real nitty gritty", well, look no further than perfume.

I clearly remember the first perfume ad that had an effect on me. The year was 1973, my age (for those of you keeping track) was 11, and the perfume was You're the Fire, by Yardley.

It was a drugstore perfume with a hot, hot, hot ad campaign. My fast changing, entering into adolescent territory body and mind looked at the women in that ad in open wonder. How, oh how, could my awkward little "not a girl not yet a woman" (another great role model quoted! Britney Spears!) self become a sizzling entity like THAT? Well, they gave me the answer right there in the ad. You're the Fire. I had to had to have some.

Well, I told my Aunt Gert this and - as she adored me and was very indulgent - she bought me a bottle for Christmas. I held this bottle of elixir like it was the answer to all of my many many (many many many) 11 year old questions.

Thank goodness my mother told me I wasn't allowed to spray any on right there at the Christmas party. Once home, though, I couldn't wait to pump that first spritz onto my wrist to begin my transformation from goofy girl to super-hottie. I closed my eyes and sprayed, then slowly lifted my wrist towards my nose to get a whiff of full-on womanhood. My wrist wasn't anywhere NEAR my nose before I was gagging. Apparently, full-on womanhood smells a lot like cat pee. But stronger. Now, of course, this in unfair to the fine folks at Yardley. I have since learned that no scent is universally pleasing - that wearing perfume is really more of a chemistry experiment. The experiment involving You're the Fire and me was an epic fail.

Since then, I've had two fragrance loyalties - two chemistry experiments that turned out well. Calvin Klein's Obsession in the 80's and Estee Lauder's Pleasures now. The Obsession ads were weird and avant garde and very very sexy. (You know. In a weird, avant garde sort of way...) Surely the woman who wore Obsession would be intelligent, mysterious and aloof. Not everyone would understand her, but she wouldn't care -because she would understand herself. Also, she would drive men to distraction and they would beg for a longer trip. Or - um - something. I don't know. I got a little confused. If living with obsession is a sin, let me be guilty.

Yep. I loved me some Obsession. I even decorated the bathroom in my sweet little townhouse in shades of brown that would match the bottles, so much of the product was housed there. Perfume, body lotion, hand lotion, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray - the list went on. If they made it, and it smelled like Obsession, I owned it. In retrospect my scent probably preceded me. At least it was a nice scent. Big. bold. 80's, baby.

Was I drawn to the ads or the scent? Oh, definitely the scent.

Also, the SNL spoof ad for Compulsion, by Calvin Kleen was classic. (not available online, but don't think for a minute that I didn't have a good time searching for it.....)

But the 80's passed and I no longer wanted to identify as an international woman of mystery and avant garde intrigue, plus, I was really tired of the brown bathroom, so I began the search for a new scent. As I mentioned, the eventual result of that search was Pleasures and, as I am still quite frequently complimented on it, I think I made the right decision. What? People only say "you smell great" when they can't think of anything nice to say about the way you look? Damn. You're mean.

The ads for Pleasures feature Gwyneth Paltrow and look a little something like this:

Now, anyone who knows me in real life knows that I DEFINITELY did not choose this scent based on the ad. Gwyneth is the anti-me. Between the voice overs and the puppies and the white dresses and the fields of wild flowers, I keep expecting to hear, "Now? You are a woman. Your body has gone through some changes recently....."



The ads worked on me when I was an adolescent looking for my fire, they were a pleasant enough reinforcement when I was in my 20's pursuing my obsession, but now, if they have an effect on me at all, it's a negative one.

So who are these ads aimed at?

Why, men, of course.

Men who dig that visual of Gwynnie doing her weird hip thrust thing in the meadow, for example, might present their lady with a bottle of Pleasures.

A quick google search on perfume ads 2010 turned up such words as: topless, guilty, racy, banned, soft porn, sexy, too hot... WAIT! Come back! I wasn't done talking to you!!!

A few tips for guys thinking of going the perfume route:

1. A nice scent does NOT make our clothes fall off. Seriously.

2. It's not a good idea to choose a scent for a woman based on what it smells like in the bottle. You need to see - um - smell - how it reacts with her chemistry. There is often quite a bit of disparity between the two, and perfume ain't cheap. Buy her a scent you know she likes or go for something else. Jared might have some suggestions.

3. Women over the age of consent don't like AXE. We really really don't. So - if you go to a club doused in it, women will not pull each others hair to get to you, even though the commercials imply that they might. It does, however, seem to have an effect on young adolescent females. Stay out of jail, guys. Step away from the AXE.

Now if you'll excuse me - I have some bacon to fry (and I know a couple few men - AND women - who would find that scent to be far more alluring than any of those previously discussed...)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What's in a Name?

Back when my kids used to watch Sesame Street, a clip of the amazing Maya Angelou singing The Name Song was in heavy rotation on the show. It went like this:

Maya's my name.

It's a fine name.
It's not your name, but it's fine just the same.
Stand right up and say it proudly.

Maya is my name.

Oh, yes, it's my name
and I'm not gonna change it.
It's my name and I like it just fine.
It's my name and no one can take it.
Maya's my name and I'm proud that it's mine.

(other verses like):

Your name's Lexine.

That's a fine name.
It's not my name, but it's fine just the same.
Stand right up and say it proudly.

Lexine is my name.

Oh, yes, it's my name and I'm not gonna change it.
It's my name and I like it just fine.
It's my name and no one can take it.
Lexine's my name and I'm proud that it's mine.
[ From:

I sang that with my children all the time, with my name, of course, being replaced by "Mommy" and your name being replaced by, um, their names. You probably figured that part out, you're pretty bright like that. Sometimes we'd look through family photo albums and add the names (or titles - like Mommy) of loved ones to the song, too. I would be remiss if I didn't add at this point, Mommy and Daddy and all the rest of those familial titles are wonderful - and they're great - incomparable - roles. Just don't EVER forget that there's a name behind them.

Say my name.

It's a good song and a simple way to reinforce the notion that you are someone.

I couldn't help but be reminded of Kunta Kinte. He never became Toby. They beat him, they enslaved him, they cut off his foot, but, though they tried, he never let them take his name from him.

Sometimes I'd picture him with Maya and a lovely racially diverse group of Sesame Street kids singing: Kunta Kinte's my name. It's a fine name...

(I know - I should really limit the glimpses I give you into my mind. It's weird there. And not always entirely appropriate. Sorry.)

Last week my youngest daughter told me about a girl who was being bullied at school. She wasn't really a friend of my daughter, but my daughter was aware of her. I listened while she talked, then asked, "How could you help this girl feel better?" Her answer surprised me: "When I see her in the halls, I'm going to smile and say hi and always use her name."

"Always use her name?"

"Sure. It feels great when someone says hi to you and calls you by name - especially if they're not really one of your friends."

My eldest daughter jumped in at this point to offer her unqualified agreement.

Say my name.

My name is easy. Every little bit of it. Tammy Lu Hunter Howard. No one has EVER mispronounced my name. But some of you are not so lucky. My daughter Lea (pronounced Lee-ah) is called as Lea (pronounced Lee) in waiting rooms and classrooms all the time. That one's an easy fix. But many names are more difficult. When I taught ESOL I had a student who always said, "Call me Johnny." This concerned me. If he WANTED to be called Johnny because he was trying to Americanize his identity, I could respect that. But if he wanted me to call him Johnny because he was just tired of correcting people and wanted to make it easier on them - on me - well - I really didn't want to encourage that. It's your NAME, dude! We deserve to hear our names pronounced correctly. Often. We may even - at the risk of appearing melodramatic - need it.

Say my name.

A couple days ago a pink envelope arrived in the mail, addressed to me, not the family. "Why did Memaw send a Christmas card just to you?" asked my daughter, who had brought in the mail.

"And why is it pink?" asked the other. I smiled and told them it wasn't a Christmas card, it was a birthday card.

"Bit late, isn't she? Your birthday is in September. You'd think your mom would know..."

"It's not the anniversary of my birth", I reminded them, "it's the anniversary of my adoption. It's an anniversary that only really means something to Memaw and Pepaw and me."

They had run off by that point, bored with it already - but I considered: It's not the day I came into the world, but it's the day I got my name.

Now, I'll be honest with you - because I always am. I have not always been in love with that name. Tammy Lu? Really? What sort of future did they have in mind for me when they settled on Tammy Lu? (shudder) Tammy Lu was Dad's idea. Mom liked Anna Marie. I wonder if Anna Marie would have had a different life than I did.... It's possible, but entirely theoretical. Because I'm not Anna, I'm Tammy. Tammy's my name, it's a fine name...

And 48 years ago today - although I'd been born months before - it became so.

Say my name.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just Kidding

Growing up, we generally took our camping trips with a few other families. There was a core group and several others who made it when they could. One summer on our (almost) annual trip to Myrtle Beach our group was spread out over two campers, a van and two tents. The two Daves stayed in one tent (this is my friend Dave, and this is my other friend Dave) and four of us girls slept in the other. The four of us were the reason Dave was allowed to bring his friend Dave. I reckon it was sort of hard to be the only boy with four girls. It must have been hard to be the only Dave, too.

We never actually entered the boys' tent and they never actually entered ours, but one fine afternoon we were surprised by a frog on one of our pillows. Our tent had been zipped up pretty tightly, so it hardly seemed like a coincidence.

We didn't say a word.

The next night, after the boys were asleep, we thought we would be very cute. We took the boys' swim trunks down from the clothesline and hung them, liner side out, above the entrance to their tent. We made a big sign and posted it between the trunks: Two Jocks Live Here.

We thought it was harmless and funny.

The next morning we woke to a sign on OUR temporary abode. It was flanked by two bikini tops and read: Four Boobs Live Here.


Bested by boys.

That would never do.

So we upped the ante.

One of us had an old wind-up alarm clock. We set the alarm for 3:00 am then reached into their tent and tucked it under a sleeping bag. Probably Dave's. The next morning the boys looked a little rough, but they didn't say a word.

This made us a little nervous.

As it was intended to.

When we turned in that night the four of us looked everywhere for that alarm clock, but to no avail. We changed our sleeping arrangements so that there was no way they could sneak anything in without disturbing one of us. We all fell asleep, but it was an uneasy sleep. Those boys weren't going to let that go. Payback was coming.

At 3:00 am the alarm went off.

We all woke up and looked at each other in a panic. We knew it wasn't in our tent, but it was so loud! We followed the sound and eventually realized that they'd placed it just outside our tent. By the time we figured this out and got it turned off we were so agitated there would be no getting back to sleep.

We laid on top of our sleeping bags, seething and plotting our next move. We were tired and angry and a lot of our plans included fire. Even in our sleepless state we realized that THAT wasn't a good idea.

The pranking had to end.

The next day, out of parental earshot, we approached the Daves about it. It was easy to get them to agree to a truce, because they'd had the last laugh. All six of us shook on it - there would be no more pranking.

Let me amend that.

There would be no more pranking each other.

While we were drawing up our truce it became apparent that all six of us had really enjoyed the evil creativity that went into a good prank. So we did the only logical thing. We joined forces. The game was no longer boys against girls, it was kids against adults.

It was ON, and the poor, unsuspecting grown-ups didn't even know it.

We decided our first target would be the only couple who did not have children. Well, that's not technically true. They DID have children, but they were grown with children of their own. That hardly counted. Miss Lucy and Mr. Cliff were, for our intents and purposes, childless.

We returned to our trusty alarm clock.

It had served us well.

We set it for 5:00 am. We thought maybe an alarm at 3:00 am might give them a heart attack. After all, they were older than our parents, and our parents were OLD!

The next problem became where to put it. We were all pretty much welcome in everyone's camper, so getting in would be easy. But it was a small space. Distracting them enough to actually be able to secure a hiding place was just too risky.

And then it hit us.

We'd use the boys' frustratingly crafty technique of putting it OUTSIDE their actual van. After they'd turned in, we secured it to their rear bumper, just below their bed. We tied it down with a bit of clothesline so that it wouldn't get bumped or blown off.

What we failed to anticipate was this: An alarm clock on a soft sleeping bag will wake the inhabitants of a tent. An alarm clock on soft dirt and pine needles will wake the inhabitants of a tent. An alarm clock tied loosely to the bumper of a van - vibrating - banging - metal on metal - will wake everyone in a fifty mile radius.

Well, maybe not a fifty mile radius.

But you can bet for sure that it will wake your parents, sleeping in campers on either side of that van.

And you can bet for sure that they won't think is was anywhere NEAR as funny as you thought it was going to be.

And you can bet for sure that the six of us didn't sleep very well the next couple nights, because our parents had quite publicly given Miss Lucy and Mr. Cliff carte blanche with our sorry butts.

Which they never took advantage of.

Even though we were always sort of waiting for it.

Which might have been the most wicked prank of them all.

R.I.P. Mr. Cliff. July 22, 1922 - December 12, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Blue Hat

The Christmas Lea was three, all she wanted was a blue hat. This is what she told Santa, this is what she told me, and this is what she told every relative who asked. Lea was the first grandchild to three sets of grandparents, three great-grandparents, and the first baby in years on both sides of the family. She was kind of adored. I'm sure it goes without saying that she got some very lovely blue hats that year. I remember asking my mom to buy her a blue coat so she'd have something to wear them all with. She did. But she bought her a hat, too. For Pete's sake! She was three! And it was all that she wanted! How do you deny that?

Nobody did.

I remember people telling me at the time to enjoy it because it wouldn't be long before all she wanted would be a blue car.

She was three.

I laughed and laughed.

A car.

She was still struggling to write her name.

By the time she was old enough to drive a car, we'd all be using jet packs as our predominant method of transportation.

My little doodlebug driving a car. The very thought.

Before next Christmas she'll have her permit.

The very thought.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bah, Humbug

There was a Christmas - about one hundred and three years ago - when all I wanted was the latest Donny Osmond album. I mean, I wanted it bad. I could taste the want. The sweet, purple want. I remember the thought going through my head that night, keeping me from sleep, "Please, please, please, if nothing else, PLEASE let me have that album!" It was a mantra - it was a prayer - to God? to Santa Claus? to my parents? I don't know now and I didn't know then - it was just a way to put inadequate words to my deep desire.

The next morning I ran down the stairs. There was a mountain of gifts around the tree, as there was every year. Propped right in the front and center was a flat square gift, addressed to me. My eyes widened. Could it be? I wanted it so badly and there it - probably - was. I picked it up and held it for a moment - wanting to savor that feeling of anticipation. I looked at my parents - roused far too early, but smiling indulgently at me - "Open it!" I ripped back the paper to reveal the face of one harmless, cute boy with big brown eyes and huge white teeth. I hugged it. I squealed. I slit the thin protective covering with my thumbnail and ripped it from the album cover. I slid back the lid of the hi-fi so that I could play it immediately. Surely this would be a grand contribution to the Christmas joy of my entire family. (Christmases yet to come were generally set to soundtracks, too - most memorably Jethro Tull's Aqualung and Queen's News of the World. My parents - lovers of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass that they were - could not possibly have appreciated this - but they understood and always allowed it.)

There were more gifts - a lot more - but I couldn't tell you what another one of them was. I had to be torn away from reading the liner notes to even be coerced into opening the rest of my presents. Sigh. That album - which probably set my parents back $7 - was all that I needed or wanted. It satisfied me to my core.

Albums (and tapes and CDs...) were always high on my wish list. Weren't albums great? I mean - you got the music, sure, but you also more often than not got a work of art. Sometimes you got a poster. Usually you got all the lyrics. Generally, there were photos. Every now and then there were stories. Yep. There was a lot more to getting an album than getting some songs to listen to. Getting a new album was an experience.

I can't imagine that the same joy is present when one opens a gift card good for a download.

There is a lack of - tangibility. Maybe that is what is lacking from Christmas present.

I loved buying (and making!) Christmas gifts. I made it a year round activity - carefully choosing items that I felt the recipient would enjoy - cherish, even. I never wanted anyone to feel like they were an afterthought. Oh, and I bought gifts for EVERYbody. If you were in my life, you were getting a present (and it was probably going to be a good one). When I erred, it was always on the side of excess. I lost a boyfriend or two because I went a little prematurely overboard with the giftage, inadvertently creating a situation of obligation and guilt (and probably fear). It wasn't my intent - I just - liked buying gifts. I made a co-worker or two uncomfortable when I presented gifts that were clearly not anticipated. Flowers were generally delivered to me later that day. Again - I'd clearly incited guilt, when all I'd meant to do was spread the love. When my kids were in elementary school, they not only took gifts for their teachers, and for each of their 'specials' teachers (art, gym, music..), but they were also sent with a little bag of treats on the last day before break - lip balms, candies, things like that, which they gave to the crossing guard and the cafeteria workers and, and, and..... I know those people liked being acknowledged, but I know that it meant even more to my kids to be able to give them something.

It feels wonderful to give.

And that is DEFINITELY something that is lacking from Christmas present. We live on a budget and every year it feels like a tight one and every year it manages to get just a little tighter. A few years ago I started really paring down that list of people I bought for. Then I pared it down some more. I stopped sending Christmas cards. I pared it down some more. Then I pared down the amount I could spend on the very small handful of people I still bought for. And then I pared it down some more. This year I am buying next to nothing for next to no-one.

And it makes me sad.

It makes me sad when I'm in a store and I think, "so and so would love that!" And I pick it up and consider it and put it back. I don't exchange gifts with so and so anymore. If I buy something for so and so, then I need to buy something for..... it snowballs quickly and gets out of hand. I walk away, humbug setting in just a little more deeply.

It's hard to decorate a tree that I know will not be buried in presents.

It's hard to go shopping.

It's hard to bake cookies for company that won't be coming - and will be watching their carbs if they do. Entertaining costs money.

I remember loving Christmas...

I used to relate to the Bacchanalian Ghost of Christmas Present. Now I am undeniably a ringer for good old Ebenezer.

What would Donny Osmond think?