Monday, November 17, 2014

MY JAW-DROPPINGLY GORGEOUS DAY



by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES
(c) 2011

It was the early 1980s, and I was driving to the East Coast to reconnect with a man whom I hadn’t seen for years. In my youth, what a crush I’d had on this sweet unsuspecting fellow! He, however, had never shown the slightest interest in me beyond that of a cordial friendship.


Now, more than 15 years later, I was going to visit him.
And his wife.
And his children.

Before I proceed any further, let me interject a disclaimer: I am not a shallow woman. I hold in disdain the kind of people who focus on superficialities and appearances. To me, a janitor has the same worth as a CEO; an 85-year-old grandma with a face full of wrinkles and hairs on her chin wearing K-Mart sweatpants is just as important to me as the latest hot Hollywood star boasting jewels and a designer gown.



Speaking of Hollywood… While working some years ago on the set of the TV show West Wing as a Professional Background Actor (translation: as an extra), I had the pleasure of meeting the show’s star, Martin Sheen. Sheen was an activist and a good guy. He’d even been jailed for his activism. He refused to discriminate against anyone; he treated his producers no differently from the way he treated me.

One night, when the cast was being transported some distance for a shoot at an airport, rather than use a limo, Sheen hopped into the van that was carrying all of us extras. 


He plopped down right in front of me, sitting next to an old wizened fellow.

“Where are you from?” Sheen asked the man amiably.
“I just got out of  prison,” the old guy answered. “I’m on parole.”
“No kidding!” exclaimed Sheen happily, clapping the man across his back. “Me too!”

His enthusiasm was not fake. He was simply the kind of person who refused to buy into status or appearances.
Like me. 

That being said, it was my intention to appear as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as I possibly could at my reunion with The Unrequited Crush. 



Why did I care so much how I looked for a man who had never even seemed to notice that I was a girl?

Well, if my host were to see me in all my splendor and appreciate the alluring vision I presented, and if he were, as a result, to experience even the slightest pang of regret at having never seized the opportunity of indulging in me when he’d had the chance…I certainly wouldn’t mind!

As for his wife, who was a talented and smart woman, my stunning appearance wouldn’t do any damage to her either. It could only serve to boost her confidence, since my former not-beau had chosen her when he could have had me, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous female! How could she not feel good about herself?

Talk about win-win-win!

The only problem—and it was a daunting one—was that of looking jaw-droppingly gorgeous. As soon as the date for our reunion drew near, I knew that I had work to do, for I am not a natural beauty. External devices would be required.


To this end, I deliberated for hours about exactly how I would style my hair.
I went on a crash diet.
I bought new underpants.

The rest of my wardrobe fell into place when a friend offered me a hand-me-down blouse. It was an expensive silky blouse that was quite flattering on me. I had no idea how she could part with such an exquisite garment. (I would, to my great dismay, find out later.)


The day of the meeting finally came. I dressed both with excitement and immense care before the long drive, wearing the new underpants, pulling on my sexiest open-toed high heels and, of course, putting on the flowing blouse.

It was a dreadfully humid day, so I decided that I wouldn’t attend to my makeup until I got close to my destination. Granted, I looked a little pasty-faced, but that was preferable to arriving on the doorstep of my youthful love interest with smeary lips, blotchy rouge, and raccoon eyes from melting eye-makeup.

I patted down the natural frizz of my hair, and then sprayed it mercilessly until it was as hard as the aluminum siding on a suburban tract house, hoping to close off all possible escape routes for even the smallest bit of fuzz. Just in case, though, I stuck a few bobby pins in my hardened hair at weird but key places. I would remove the bobby pins when I put on my makeup.


And I was off!

After several hours, my gas gauge began dipping down near the empty mark. I was driving on a crowded turnpike skirting New York City, so I exited into the designated gas station. Self-service had not yet become the norm, and this station was one of the kind where attendants still pumped the gas for their customers.

Do ever I miss those gas stations today! In most respects I am an ardent feminist, a woman’s libber from way back, but I’m sorry: pumping gas is just plain unfeminine.



I am not the only evolved woman who believes this. A childhood friend of mine named Joyce Jillson actually wrote a book once called Real Women Don’t Pump Gas. It was a clever response to another popular book that came out in the 80s called Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.


In her book, Joyce drew a chart that showed the highlights of a woman’s life. Almost at the top of the chart was losing your virginity. At the very top? Telling your friends you lost your virginity.

Here is something interesting about the author. She eventually became an astrologer, and she was one of the astrologers whom Nancy Reagan secretly consulted while hubby Ronald was president. She also chose the astrologically fortuitous date for the release of the movie Star Wars.


I knew Joyce before her astrology days. She lived next door to me when I was in the third grade. We didn’t have blogs back then, but we did the next best thing: Joyce and my sister and I put our heads together and created a neighborhood newspaper. We tried diligently to sell copies to people on our block; they only cost a nickel, but our readership never went beyond about five people. We put out two editions before we turned our attention to something else.


Back to pumping gas: Joyce was right. It is not something a woman should ever have to do, at least not this woman.
Why not?
First, whenever I  pump gasoline, some of it always seems to dribble on my shoes.
Second, my fingers wind up smelling like Exxon instead of Shalimar.
Third, I always feel icky when I have to grab onto a nasty gasoline pump handle that untold others have held. God knows where their hands have been!

So. It was a relief that someone else would be pumping my gas for me on this special occasion. I was especially glad because of the open-toed shoes I was wearing. It doesn’t feel good when gasoline drips through one’s nylons onto one’s toes. (Probably you have to be a woman to understand.)

The gas station attendant sauntered over to my car, and I rolled the window down. He was a scowling young black man wearing a grimy bandana across his forehead. His sweat-drenched tank top revealed muscular arms, and he spoke in a thick inner-city dialect which I couldn’t understand. He looked like he might be the member of a gang. A mean gang.

“Yeah?” he muttered in a surly voice. At least that’s what I think he said. His attitude meter was set on high.
“Fill ‘er up,” I said with a perky smile, pretending to be oblivious to the fact that he was scowling at me.


Racial prejudice was rampant in the early 1980s. Integration was still a recent concept. Mainstream role models like Obama and Oprah were young and unknown, and The Cosby Show, which would accomplish more to delete bigotry from people’s minds and hearts than any law could ever hope to do, wasn’t even on the air yet.

It was a really rough time to be black, young, and male.

I watched this gas-station attendant with growing compassion, thinking about how hard it must be for someone like him to find a job that paid a decent living; obviously pumping fuel in a dumpy gas station on a congested turnpike would be no one’s deliberate career choice. It was probably the only work this poor guy could find. His life must be lousy. It wasn’t fair.

I understood.

Unfortunately, I became smitten with the insane urge to make it clear to him that I understood.
We liberals do that sometimes.

When he had finished filling the tank and came to take my money, I launched an energetic barrage of sympathetic chatter at him.

“Wow, what a hot day,” I said, oozing empathy as I opened up my purse. “It’s got to be tough working in this kind of heat…”

I beamed my best “I’m-not-prejudiced” smile at him. He avoided making eye contact with me.

Determined to connect, I kept on chattering. Words spilled out of my mouth at a rapid pace.

“…Have you worked here long? It can’t be easy to find a job these days. Do you live in New York? Do you commute from there?...”

He didn’t answer. The more I chattered, the further he pulled away. The further he pulled away, the more desperately I tried to draw him in. I would prove to him that I was no bigot! I would make him see how much I cared, damn it!

“…because I don’t know what I would have done if I’d run out of gas on the turnpike in this heat. When it’s so hot outdoors, you must feel absolutely exhausted at the end of the day…”

As I blabbered, the observer part of me stood off to one side, utterly aghast.


“…Or maybe not. Maybe you don’t get tired. I mean, look at your muscles…”

Yikes. Now I not only had to let him know that I understood him and had compassion for him, but also that I wasn’t hitting on him!

“…Oh, it's not that I’m staring at your muscles!” I giggled, my voice artificially high. “I just said ‘look at your muscles’ because they show how strong you are, you know, so you probably don’t get tired as easily…”


I was floundering, unable to extricate myself, sucked so deeply into the whirlpool of my own fatuous jabbering that I had no choice but to persist.

“…and because of how much you’re sweating...but wait, now. I don't mean that you’re sweating too much! No way! It’s so hot! Hey, I’m sweating too. Everyone’s sweating. We’re all sweating…”

Avoiding the onslaught of the well-intended words pouring from my mouth, he held himself as far away from me as he possibly could, taking my money with a stiff arm. There was something peculiar in his facial expression; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. As he started to hand me my change, he made very sure not to touch me, or even to brush my hand by accident.

“…Why, thank you for the change. No, no, no, don’t be silly. You don’t have to count it out for me. I trust you…”

And that was a lie, because I didn’t trust him. I felt compassion for his circumstances, I’m sure his path had been difficult, I would’ve liked to have given him a break, but that did not belie the fact that he was a menacing-looking man and by no means did I trust him.

On and on I rambled as he gave me the last of my change. Despite the fact that my mission had failed, despite the fact that I knew how goofy I sounded, I couldn’t stop talking.

Maybe it was the heat.

The guy’s expression, meanwhile, had compressed into something so unreachable that I’d have had better success at getting on a flight to the moon than of establishing any sort of rapport with him.

With crude mercy, kind of like shooting a crippled horse, he finally put an end to our mutual misery by stalking away from me right in the middle of one of my long, rabidly rambling sentences. He shook his head as he walked away.

Defeated, humbled, but mostly relieved, I called out a final weak goodbye and reached for the key to turn on the ignition. As I did so, I glanced at my reflection in the rearview mirror—and I saw, to my horror, the vision I had presented to the young man at the pumps.

See, in those days I needed glasses to drive. I owned some fashionable aviator-style glasses, but they were so bottom-heavy that whenever I wore them, they left deep red creases in the middle of my cheeks. The indentations would remain on my face for hours, looking like fiery wrinkles.




Needless to say, in my guise of being a spectacular beauty, I wasn’t going to wear glasses while visiting the former desire of my heart, nor did I intend to appear at his front door with dark red gouges in my cheeks.

So on the last rest stop before this one, when I went to the bathroom, I’d grabbed two large handfuls of toilet paper before exiting the stall. In the car, I had shoved these wads of paper mindlessly under the bottom rims of my glasses to protect my cheeks. Then I promptly forgot about it. As I gazed in the rearview mirror, I saw that the toilet paper was still there on my cheeks, two big crumpled puffs of it, with tails of perforated squares streaming down both sides of my face.

Furthermore, my gorgeous new silky blouse, which I was wearing for the very first time, had somehow become unbuttoned. That, it turns out, is why my friend wanted to get rid of it. I’m not talking about one or two buttons here. All the buttons had come undone. The blouse had slipped back to the sides, fully exposing me in my bra.

There sat I, grinning too hard and chattering like a crazed blue jay at that poor guy, with toilet paper wafting over my cheeks, bobby pins stuck in my hair at weird angles, and my open blouse fluttering in the breeze...



I imagine he tells his friends about me to this day. Maybe I’m on a blog somewhere.

(c) M. E. Raines, 2011
Copying or reproducing in any form prohibited by law.
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Friday, September 12, 2014

THE SONG OF THE QUEEN


by MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES
© 2014, M. E. Raines

“The hive of the honeybee centers around its queen. When the hive needs a new queen, the workers select several larvae from eggs that had been laid in the cells of the honeycomb by the previous queen. The  workers feed these larvae a special substance called royal jelly and the cells they inhabit are later sealed. Because of the royal jelly, the larvae in these particular cells will eventually turn into queen bees. 

“Upon hatching, the very first queen to emerge from her cell begins to make a high-pitched piping sound. She sings to her still-unhatched sisters. From within their cells, they sing back to her. Tracing the location of their cells by the sound of their calls, she finds each of her unborn sisters and stings them to death. This is because there can only be one queen bee.”


Her name was Bodacious Bea and the club where she performed was called, ironically, The Beehive. Bodacious Bea had soft tawny-colored skin, fleshy breasts, and flawless, if spectacularly overdone, makeup. Her glitter-strewn scarlet hair was perfectly curled and coifed, piled high on her head.

On the past Thanksgiving, Bea’s brother had commented rudely about the color of her hair. “That shade of red is not even in the spectrum,” he had remarked, mumbling through a mouth crammed with stuffing and mashed potatoes. “It’s just wrong. Like seeing a blue popsicle.”

He did not approve of her being a drag queen. None of her family did. She consoled herself with the thought that even Jesus couldn’t preach in his home town.

Despite the sneers of her brother, Bodacious Bea was clearly the star act at The Beehive. And everyone always told her that they loved her hair!

“What makes me so special,” she said haughtily in a recent radio interview, enunciating each word carefully and lisping ever so slightly, “is my size. I am sooo not one of those gargantuan, ludicrous imposters. You can see right through them in a second. I am only 5’4”, and except for certain portions of my anatomy, I am very petite.” She rolled her “r” when she said the word very. With a little giggle, she added, “I am feminine, you see, to the hilt.

Night after night, audiences screamed their approval of Bodacious Bea. She had a bit where would return for a curtain call and stand in the spotlight. As the roars subsided, she would bat her eyelashes and cry to the audience, “Ooh, you naughty men! You make me want to throw my panties at you!” Of course, this made them begin to cheer her loudly all over again.

In her mind, it was indisputable: she was the queen of the queens…or she would have been if it weren’t for her rivals, Kurvee Kittee and Luscious Lou-Lou.


It was almost time for the show. Bea was punctual, and she was always ready well before everyone else. Emerging from her dressing room, wearing a snug turquoise sheath that glittered with the garish reflections from thousands of embedded rhinestones, Bodacious Bea minced confidently down the backstage hallway. Her dress was so tight that she had no choice but to mince. It wasn't a problem. She liked to mince.

In a high-pitched piping voice, Bea sang out, “Kittee! Kittee? Where are you? I so need to see you!”

Kurvee Kittee had galloped in only a few minutes ago, and she was decidedly grumpy. From one of the dressing rooms, a masculine voice growled, “What the hell do you want? I’m late, damn it.”

Whenever Kittee was stressed, she fell out of character. She could be decidedly unfeminine. This bothered Bea, who wished that Kittee’s fans could hear her now. Bea herself was always genuine; she never forgot for a moment who and where she was.

Bea opened the door to the dressing room from which the voice had sounded. Kittee, in her underwear, sat awkwardly on a stool before the mirror, legs splayed for balance, and was frantically attempting to glue her false eyelashes on. They kept falling off. Kittee’s red-smeared lips were curled back in a furious, impatient snarl.

Posturing coquettishly with one hand on her hip, Bea moved in behind Kittee and shook her head at the scene. “Oh Kittee, darling,” she crooned, “You always have so much trouble with your makeup...." She leaned in more closely and murmured softly, "You know, honey, I’m not sure you really belong here. You should leave.”

Kittee swiveled angrily around on her stool. She seemed to be preparing to shout obscenities at Bea, but she choked on her words as the latter waggled her hips and departed swiftly from the dressing room.

Re-entering the hallway, Bea turned in a new direction and, in a high-pitched falsetto, trilled out, “Lou-Lou? Oh, Lo-o-o-u? Where are yo-o-o-u?”

“I’m here, Bea, in wardrobe. And oh my god, I need help!”

The sad wobbly alto voice came from behind the clothing rack in the costume department. Bea sashayed over to the gleaming, gaudy garments. It was easy to spot Lou-Lou. 
She hovered high over the rack of clothes, for she was nearly a foot taller than Bea, and she was decidedly not thin. Nobody else was present in the room except for the two drag queens.

Unlike Kittee, Lou-Lou never lost sight of her feminity, but still, in Bea’s mind, she was always just a little bit off the mark. Yes, Lou-Lou tried too hard, but it wasn’t that. Trying too hard and being over the top were expected of the girls. Lou-Lou’s height was a flaw in Bea’s mind, but most of Lou-Lou’s fans enjoyed her gigantic frame. No, the problem was that Lou was just…pathetic. There was something whiney and droopy about her. Her voice constantly quavered and she always seemed ready to burst into tears. Granted, she did a good Judy Garland, despite her size, but otherwise, Bea felt that Lou-Lou was distressingly inferior.

“I just cannot find a thing to wear tonight,” the tall queen moaned helplessly. “I’m retaining water and it’s made me puffy. Nothing fits!”

Bea wanted to make a bitchy comment about the three puffy beers and two puffy cheesteak subs that Lou-Lou had wolfed down last night when they went out after the show, but she held her tongue.

Grabbing a large-sized emerald green frock from the rack and moving around to the other side to get closer to Lou-Lou, she warbled, “Why don’t you try this one on, dear?”

The dress served as a shield when she stabbed Lou-Lou. She didn’t want any more blood to spatter her turquoise gown the way it had when she had cut Kittee’s throat…although she realized that the audience might simply see the red spots as a wonderfully chic way of balancing out the glorious red color of her hair.

That night Bea gave the most splendid performance she’d ever given! The audience went wild! They loved her! They couldn’t get enough of her! It was the best night of her life. Bodacious Bea was truly the queen of queens!


A year later, sitting with her legs crossed on a chair in her prison cell, impatiently thumbing through a magazine, she came across the article describing the behavior of honeybee queens. Bea reflected sadly upon this. Why did the rules for one species have to be so different for another? She sighed, and wished she could freshen her lipstick. They would not let her wear her makeup in prison.

It wasn’t so bad, though. She still quite popular. She looked good in orange. And she was the only queen on her cell block.




Sunday, July 20, 2014

RIP, JAMES GARNER


by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines


© 2014, M. E. Raines


The death today of James Garner is a loss to our world, but definitely a boon to the world of spirit if you believe in an afterlife. Many people feel as though a good friend has died.

I was a Professional Background Actor (e.g., an Extra) on a TV show called "First Monday" with him where he played a conservative Supreme Court Justice. It was a stellar cast, but it only lasted one season, I believe. Garner, like Martin Sheen, was that very rare actor who didn't give a fig whether you were a producer or the janitor pushing a broom. In fact, both of them might prefer you a bit if you were the broom pusher.

The very first time I saw him, we were all seated on benches on the courtroom set, waiting excitedly for him to appear. The filming hadn't started yet. He made his entrance and swept down the aisles in his black robes, looking pompous and serious. Everyone was a little in awe. As he brushed past us, he said in a booming voice, "Please now open your hymnals to page 342."

When the director is giving instructions about the next scene on a TV show, everyone on the entire set, including cast and crew, is expected to be hushed and alert, and they are. TV is extremely disciplined in this matter; if you don't pay attention, you get axed. Jim is the only actor I ever saw who could get away with breaking that rule. As the director talked, he would be laughing and wiggling in his seat, joking boisterously throughout like a 13-year-old class clown. The exact moment, however, that they shouted, "Action," his face would instantly age, his demeanor would stiffen, and in a flash, he would be fully in character. It bowled me over. I have never, ever seen an actor who could shift into his part that easily and flawlessly.

James Garner and I never conversed, other than him offering me a grin and a "Hi, how are you," as I passed by when he was sitting outside one day taking a break. (I was only on two episodes.) His smile was warm and genuine. I felt as though the sun had broken through the clouds.

Some of the other justices in the cast included Joe Mantegna, Charles Durning, and Liz Torres. At that time, my ex-husband and Joe Mantegna were doppel-gangers. Every time Joe Mantegna walked past me, I had to suppress an overwhelming desire either to yell at him or to hug him.

Friday, May 16, 2014

THE WEIGHT A WOMAN MUST BEAR


by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES

Kiddos, I am going to reveal a truth now. Pay attention.

There are certain places—places that all of us know well—where the morals of the most honest, truth-telling, honorable, scrupulous, spiritual, decent, conscientious women on the planet are routinely shredded. That's right: destroyed. In an instant, we are turned from angels into lying scoundrels of the lowest order. This ugly, degrading transformation of nice women into sinners routinely happens in less than 30 seconds. I'm not kidding. It's real, and it infects nearly all females in our society.

Where is this hell that undermines our integrity so swiftly, so viciously, and so thoroughly?

The place is called the Department of Motor Vehicles. It happens when we are required to fill out the line on the form for our driver's licenses that asks, "How much do you weigh?"

In one fell swoop, the sweetest woman you know will instantly turn into an outrageous liar, and probably a criminal as well, because we are not supposed to lie to the government. I do not know a single one of my sex who would ever write down what her actual weight would be if you were to place her on a scale at that exact moment she is standing in line at the DMV.

She might rationalize to make herself feel better. "Normally I'd weigh less because I wouldn't be wearing shoes. Or earrings. Or lipstick," or "It's the wrong time of day (or month)," or "I'm going to start juicing this week. Really, I am!" Regardless of her rationalizations, whatever she puts down on the form will, I guarantee, be a lie.

Every time I am in an airport and TSA is scrutinizing my driver's license to make sure that I am who I say that I am, I fully expect them to pull out their revolvers, drop me to the floor, and put me in cuffs, screaming, "You couldn't possibly be Mary Elizabeth Raines. This license says that Mary Elizabeth Raines weighs 135 pounds!"

Either that, or I wait for the agent to begin howling with uncontrollable laughter as he cries out, "You're saying you weigh how much?!?"



Women have a strange and uncomfortable relationship with the scale, and this relationship brings me to an important lesson I want to teach. It involves shopping for swimsuits. First, a disclaimer. To those of you who understand that the value and self-esteem of a woman should not and does not hinge on appearance: yes. You are absolutely correct. And lest you worry, my self-esteem is fine. Regardless, the following story is completely true and I hold firmly to the lesson learned.

I learned this lesson when I was 19. It came about because I went shopping for bikinis with the most gorgeous girl in the music conservatory where I went to college. I’ll call her Julie. Not only did she have long, tawny blonde hair, even longer tawny legs, and huge turqoise blue eyes; she was, as they used to say, stacked.

 Alas, as a grown-up, and one who has also grown, I do not know how bikinis are sold nowadays, but I imagine tops and bottoms are sold separately. Back in my day, however, bikinis were sold as one set; the top and bottom were the same size and shared a hanger. Most women just aren't built that proportionately, so it was common for girls to sneak-switch the tops on the hangers when the store saleswomen weren't looking. They would, say, put a size 10 top with a size 12 bottom.

To my embarrassment, Julie began doing just that. She peeked over her shoulder to make sure that the saleswoman wasn't watching, and then slyly switched the top of the bikini she wanted with one of another size. But here's the thing: I discovered that she was replacing her bikini top with one that was two sizes larger!

We went into separate dressing rooms to try on our bikinis. The mirror stood outside the dressing rooms, so we had to come out into the main room of the store if wanted to see what we looked like in our swimwear. Both of us emerged in our bikinis at the same time. MASSIVE MISTAKE!



Julie stood happily in front of the mirror, wiggling her hips and making some sexy dance moves, as she exclaimed about how much she loved her bikini. Me? I huddled in a dark corner and prayed to the gods that this ordeal would pass quickly. I will not write at length about the horror and humiliation of staring aghast in the mirror, desperately trying to suck in my thighs, whilst standing next to a girl half a foot taller than me who looked like a combination surfer-movie-babe/enhanced supermodel.

It didn't make me look good, is what I am saying.

The fact that she was so pretty really wasn't Julie's fault. She was very nice, as well as good looking, and all the boys in school had massive crushes on her. Even the blind boy in our class was in love with her. I did not love her, however, as we stood in front of the mirror.

The lesson I learned is one I am happy to pass on to all younger women who do not yet know the ways of the world and who need to enhance their self-esteem. It is this. Never, never, never shop for a bikini with someone far more gorgeous than you could ever dream of being! Pretty girls make fine friends, of course, but not when you’re bikini shopping. No, this is the time to boost your friendships with all the women who are chubbier and homelier than you. They might wind up hating you, but you will feel wonderful about yourself.

I am painfully aware of the truth, of course, which is that Julie already knew that lesson, which was why she invited the likes of me to go bikini shopping along with her on that fateful day.


(c) 2014, Mary Elizabeth Raines

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