Dec 24, 2010

Colonel Sanders Was a Sadistic Muthafucka (and Other Scenes from Childhood)


When I was a little girl, three things truly terrorized me that I can recall.

The first thing was garbage trucks. Actually, to this day, I still have the occasional recurrent nightmare about a garbage truck—something about the crushing mechanism is horribly brutal to me, not to mention that deep down I’m pretty sure I’m a potential (read: future) hoarder, and thus the idea of the discarding and destroying of personal items really stirs my demons.

Speaking of demons, the second thing that terrified me was my dad’s friend Frankie Brody. Whenever this dude came by our apartment, I would cower behind my mother’s blue twill swivel chair. Mind you, Frankie Brody never really did anything bad to me—as much as I’d like to report my fear and anxiety justified by some sort of salacious sexual abuse story that would pull both heartstrings and blog hits. But alas, Frankie, who looked a little like Gene Wilder circa Stir Crazy, really wasn’t guilty of committing any lewd acts other than the wearing of too-tight corduroy pants and a porno mustache. And I—a four-year-old little girl who stood at perfect eye-to-crotch level with most adult males-- was afraid of this? Go figure.

The third thing that scared the shit out of me—like pee-in-my-pants scared--was Colonel Sanders. I had forgotten about this until recently, when I saw one of those retro KFC ads they’ve been airing, and got an almost-instantaneous feeling of anxiety in my gut. This was not a reaction to the ad’s images of greasy fried chicken (one of my favorite foods as a child), nor was it a response to the shell of a character we now commonly see in illustrated ads for KFC (a character no more seemingly sentient than the Izod alligator or the Chicken of the Sea mermaid). No, my anxiety was triggered by the the actor-portrayed character who was featured in nearly every Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial of my youth, and the youth of every other kid who grew up in the seventies and eighties.

I was so afraid of the Colonel, that even though his eleven herbs and spices made me weak in the finger-lickin’ depths of my little-girl soul, I would only eat his chicken if my parents brought it home as takeout. Why? I was afraid that if I went to the restaurant, I’d actually have to see the Colonel. In person. Indeed, I was convinced that the Colonel lived at our local KFC. It really did not matter how many times my folks assured me that the man on the TV wasn’t the real Colonel, and that even if he were, they were pretty sure that the real Colonel was not hanging out at any of the KFCs in the greater New York tri-state area.

Still, I wasn’t taking any chances. Bring that bucket home. And don’t forget the coleslaw.

My friend Cherie and I have had a couple of conversations about chicken, which is funny, because neither of us actually eat the bird in real life. Recently we were having cocktails at the Guadalajara restaurant in Oakland, and I was waxing poetic about the Popeye’s in the strip mall across the street.

“Mm…Popeye’s,” I sighed wistfully, as I fiddled to adjust my large hoop earring that had somehow become bent and mangled during the course of the evening.

“You don’t even eat chicken.”

“Neither do you. But I eat shrimps! They have chicken-flavored shrimps there! Mm…fast-food shrimps…”

The next day, Cherie posted this on my Facebook page:

Ya know…big hoop earrings (with a dent in em no doubt)…and sitting in a Mexican restaurant but eyeballing the Popeye's chicken across the street. I'm beginning to believe you're a Black chick.

Coming from Cherie, my dear friend and one of the most fabulous black chicks ever, it goes without saying that I took this observation as a supreme compliment. Unfortunately, Cherie's chicken-centric Facebook post and my impending coronation as Honorary Black Chick only seemed to make me crave fast-food fried chicken even more. I logged out of Facebook and headed down to 70th and International for some popcorn shrimp and mashed potatoes at my local Popeye’s.

Of course, I contacted Cherie when I remembered my childhood issues with the Colonel. I knew she’d have something insightful to add to my revelations about the scary chicken-peddler. As it turns out, she too had been bad-vibed by the devil in the white suit. 

“I seriously used to ask my mama how come the Colonel could be famous in this day and age and continue to look like a slave owner," Cherie said. "She said, 'Because he's from Kentucky.' Ohh Colonel Sanders, you touched all our worlds in some psychotic way.”

Of course, the Colonel was born in 1890, many years after the abolition of slavery in the United States, but there have been allegations that he ripped-off a black woman for her chicken recipe. Some still continue to speculate that that he was racist, as well as possibly a member and/or supporter of the KKK, even though the once-popular urban legend that he willed 10% of his company's proceeds to the Klan has been debunked (Sanders turned the company's financial decisions and negotiations over to investors many years prior to his death).  But one might ask, are those the same investors who approved this now-notorious KFC advertisement? Hmm...

Was it possible that, as a small Jewish child, I had sensed what Cherie had also concluded about the old, wealthy Southerner? Was it possible that it wasn’t chicken I was smelling, but rather crow? Jim Crow, that is!

“OH, total slave owner,” Cherie said. “I just don't see how we can make him all cartoon and precious when he clearly advocates slavery. Look at his outfit! That cane is a weapon!
He hates black people, he does."

Did I mention that I love Cherie?

Anyway, far be it from me to perpetuate scandalous rumors about a dead man, but they say children can sense evil, and I tend to think that’s true sometimes. A few years after we moved out of the area, my dad learned that his friend Frankie Brody had gotten into some trouble with the police, as well as with his insurance company, when he filed a dubious claim for the “accidental” incineration of his vehicle. I was proud to give my parents a lofty told-ya-so when this information came to light, and I credit my inner business-savvy Jew with allowing me to sense that Frankie dude was shady, even as a child. Having said that, I am not going to be so presumptuous (read: edgy!) as to suggest that it was my inner strong black woman who triggered my sixth sense about the Colonel and what could possibly have been his triflin’, white supremacist ways—but it sure was something.

Now pass the muthafuckin’ coleslaw.

Dec 21, 2010

The Holidays (or, When Crazy People Identify Themselves to the Public by Dressing Like Bill Cosby)


Last weekend at the mall, I saw a tall, portly man wearing that elusive Glamour Don’t of the holiday season: the Christmas sweater.

The garment was bright red and featured a big Christmas tree appliqu├ęd across the gut. Best of all, this gentleman made a bold fashion choice, opting to wear sweater tucked-in. To sweatpants. Soiled sweatpants.

His wife was also wearing a Christmas sweater, albeit a more subdued one--white with a green wreath--that paled in comparison to his. Indeed, she could have almost passed for lucid had she not been holding hands with Jingle-Bell Frankenstein in sweatpants.

The great thing about Christmas sweaters is that they make the holiday season a special time of year when the mentally ill can really feel free to share their psychosis with the general public.

Unless of course you’re Glenn Beck, author of the book-turned-one-man-play, The Christmas Sweater. In that case, every day is Christmas.

Dec 16, 2010

I Saw Mommy Kissing a Jewish Guy in a Santa Suit


You know you’ve officially punched your Liberal Jew Card when you find yourself at Wal-Mart buying a bunch of sweatshop-produced crap to hang on your big goyishe Christmas tree, and feel a tinge of the warm-and-fuzzies when the underpaid Mexican cashier wishes you a very heartfelt-sounding “Merry Christmas”.

I’d say that was me doing said card-punching this afternoon at the Hilltop Mall Wal-Mart, except that I’m pretty sure my Jew card was revoked a long time ago, if in fact I was ever issued one in the first place.

Far be it from me to join Bill O’Reilly in defending America against the War on Christmas, but I will say that I’m really okay with being wished a Merry Christmas by strangers. I like Christmas. I like Santa. I watch It’s a Wonderful Life each year without fail and, goddammit, I cry every single time.

I might be a Jew by blood, but I’ve celebrated Christmas my whole life, as has my entire family. Well, technically, that’s not completely true. My dad came from a fairly religious Jewish family that did not celebrate Christmas in the home; however, they did own a small-town retail store that ran an extravagant Christmas sale every year, complete with a gigantic Christmas tree that the whole family looked forward to decorating. Oh, and when he was old enough, my dad dressed up as the store Santa to spread cheer and goodwill and, most importantly, to make lofty promises he couldn’t keep to all the good little gentile boys and girls. Poor Billy and Sally. If only they’d known that was a big old Jew under that fluffy, disingenuous beard, hired for the sole purpose of luring their parents into the store in hopes they’d shell out the big bucks on a Flip Wilson Geraldine doll or a nice piece of Samsonite luggage.

Anyway, I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing wrong with Jews celebrating Christmas, just as there is nothing wrong with non-Irish people celebrating St. Patrick's day, non-Chinese celebrating Chinese New Year, and Tea-Partiers celebrating Black History Month. Besides, Christmas these days tends to be less about Jesus and more about shopping, overeating, and guilting people into doing charitable things they wouldn’t normally do—all things at which my people excel tremendously.

Oh, and regarding Wal-Mart—yes, I’m aware that they’re part of the reason many stores like the one my dad’s family owned are no longer in business. And yet, I think my grandfather would be okay with that if he knew how much money I saved on those crappy glitter balls and generic candy canes. What? You want I should spend twice that at some cockamamie tchotchke-peddler? Sheesh. I went to Wal-Mart for Christmas tree ornaments, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like I bought a fucking German car or something.

Dec 14, 2010

Of Sex and Sandwiches


I think I was about eight years old when I found out what a prostitute was. That’s pretty young. I didn’t even know what a banh mi sandwich was until I was in my thirties.

Of course, there are not a lot of similarities between a hooker and the great Vietnamese sandwich. Perhaps the only thing the two things share in common is that a variety of meats come inside both.

That being said, I have come to notice that often, wherever banh mi are sold, prostitutes are not far away. Probably because the best banh mi are generally found in the seedier of neighborhoods—the seedier the neighborhood, the more flavorful the Vietnamese sammy.

Earlier this week, as my man "G" and I were enjoying a long-anticipated lunch date, we stopped into Banh Mi Ba Le in Oakland for a #10 and a #16 and an order of fresh spring rolls. The ladies were really out in force that day—literally two on every corner. Just as we were about to cross International Boulevard in the middle of the block, we noticed an OPD patrol car about to make a turn from the side-street onto the main thoroughfare.

“I think he’s waiting to give us a ticket for jaywalking,” I said. “Let’s use to the crosswalk.”

G looked at the girls.

“Yeah, um, I don’t think he’s waiting on us.”

Sure enough, we heard a boop-boop siren sound as we stepped into the crosswalk, and the cop swerved around us, followed by a second patrol car. The cars then swooped in on two of the young ladies on the other side of the street, making a sort of V and cornering them. The officers jumped out, while on the other three corners of the intersection, the remaining prostitutes scattered like a handful of tossed marbles.

The cops had the other two girls cuffed and in the car, escorted away before you could say “veggie-ham banh mi”.

I’m not entirely aware how this works—that is, arresting an individuals for prostitution when they’ve clearly solicited nobody, individuals who, for all intents and purposes at that time were guilty of nothing other than waiting on a corner in “festive” attire. G swears the cops don’t need to catch them in the act if they’ve already got a record for tricking; evidently just seeing them loitering on the corner is basis enough to have them arrested.  No, I have not asked him how he knows so much about hookers and the law.  Stop looking at me like that.

That afternoon, as I ate my delicious sandwich, I thought about the women I'd seen get arrested. Had they had their lunch, yet? What had they eaten? What would they eat later in jail? Who was missing them, if anyone? What were their names?  Did they like banh mi, too? Melancholy began to set in, and I started to feel pangs of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I-with-my-tasty-little-sandwich. I almost lost my appetite.  Almost.  Sort of.  Okay, not at all, but have you had a sandwich from Banh Mi Ba Le?  They're really fucking good and wasting one is not going to get a hooker out of jail.

Still, I can’t look at a prostitute without thinking of Deisha, my old neighbor from years ago.  Deisha started out as an underage Vegas stripper before becoming an escort and moving to Oakland with her "husband" Craig. She was the mother of two very small children, one year apart in age, whom she would sometimes ask me to watch at my apartment while she went to work.  Deisha frequently needed someone to babysit her kids so that Craig could drive her to her “dates”--usually in motel rooms (often working bachelor parties and fraternity gigs), or at local hot tub places (this knowledge prompted me to subsequently rethink my enthusiastic patronage of public hot tub facilities)--where he would then wait in the car while she took care of her business. 

To be honest, I felt a little funny about the situation. Was it wrong for me to facilitate Deisha's dubious career by providing her with free childcare? Was I becoming the dreaded E-word? I heard Dr. Phil's voice in my head saying, "You're an enabler, enabler," (but because I am mildly touched in the head, he was singing it to the tune of the Greg Kihn Band's Jeopardy).

But when all was said and done, I really loved those kids.  And to be honest, Deisha was a pretty nice girl and a kind neighbor. She was in a Welfare-to-Work program and had recently begun school to become a nursing assistant, and I knew that the four of them were just barely scraping by (Craig was fresh out the pen and nobody was jumping to hire his convict ass). Besides, it really just seemed the neighborly thing to do--I mean, I'm sure that if Lucy were turning tricks down at the Tropicana, Ethel and Fred would have gladly watched Little Ricky once in a while.

They were never really gone for that long--two or three hours at the most, usually.  If it wasn’t too late, they’d always bring back Happy Meals for the kids, calling me ahead of time to see if I wanted anything. I never did. 

I always felt kind of funny when they came back, me knowing what Deisha had been doing, them knowing that I knew, me trying not to discern the smell of freshly paid-for sex on her, yet inhaling more and more deeply the harder I tried to suppress the urge. Awkward.

But in a matter of moments the weirdness would pass, all of it morphing into something so seemingly normal, something palpably wholesome and vital: money in the pocket, food in the belly, a list of groceries to be bought in the morning. For the next few minutes, my living room would turn quiet, all but for the occasional crinkle of a paper bag, as they all paused to take the edge off their hunger. I will always remember the look of her three-year-old’s face as she ate her French fries and chicken nuggets so intently, dipping one in ketchup, the other in sweet and sour, carefully, methodically, as if she were to be graded on the task later that evening. To this day, I am haunted by look of her son’s tiny hands gripping his cheeseburger life-preserver, and the placid stare of her 200-pound husband sucking on a pink strawberry shake like a calf on a teat. Everyone quiet as snowfall—slowly, silently, simply seeking satiation.

Anyhow, that's what I think about when I see hookers. That and banh mi. Mm...banh mi.

I hope those girls get out in time for Christmas.
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