The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

October 31, 2010

Lady-like Sports?

Here's a woman who plays ball like a lady

Again, I report merely what I have seen — an alien to the milieu in which I am transplanted, as odd a juxtaposition to the culture I have entered, as, I don’t know, a geisha at a bowling alley.

I attended a very lively volleyball game last night — Ole Miss’ women’s volleyball (there is no men’s team) met Florida last night, and although they played their hearts out, they got creamed.

During game time, the floor was covered by long-legged, strong young women who could spike a ball through a wall.  They whacked.  They dug.  They slapped.  They grunted.  They broke a sweat that would make the apprentice Geisha in the photograph taken in 1964 to the right of this text melt off all her white make-up and get bruises up and down her large-sleeved arms.

Also on the court during times out were the Reblettes, a junior varsity cheerleading squad, which was all made up, wearing shorts and tight tops, holding pom-poms that I swear look like larger versions of what the geisha in the photo to the right had in her hair.  They were less long-legged, less strong, slightly chubbier than the women on the team.

The house was packed, and most of the attendees were men, young men.  These guys had made an effort of one kind or another regarding their appearance.  I see these men or their counterparts all week on campus, but it was Friday night, the Friday before Halloween, and some of them wore costumes.  However, many of them just looked like men who wanted to make a good impression on young women.  They had shaved.  They had put on clean button-down shirts.  They were wearing more formal clothing than they would wear to class.

They certainly came to cheer on the team.  However, I noticed that they had a little bit more than school spirit.  They seemed to appreciate the spectacle of these beautiful, tall athletes bending over, jumping, stretching.  There was not a man in the stadium who was not paying rapt attention throughout the game.

When there were breaks, and the cheerleaders came out, they gave only a polite level of attention to them.  The young men generally focused more on the athletes than the made-up girls shaking tinsel poufs.

Now, I spoke after the game with the wife of the Ole Miss Volleyball coach, and she explained to me that there had been an effort to invite fraternities to come out and support the team, and they had had an unusual number of attendees.   They had even offered some kind of prize for the fraternity that showed the most volleyball spirit.  That said, I think that the marketing does not entirely explain what I observed.

The Ole Miss team posing with a trophy shaped like a Magnolia -- but make no mistake, they play a hardcore and ass-kicking game -- no ladies allowed

I sensed  that the young men in the stand found the women who were sweating and grunting more attractive than the decorative dancers.  That’s right, women of my generation — young men in their early twenties these  days just might prefer the jocks to the jasmine blossoms.

If I’m right — this represents some progress in gender relations.

I was interested to see that the movements of the Reblettes were subdued.  Hips swayed  but did not shake or jut.  This made more sense when they were dancing to an instrumental of  “Dixie” — a moment of surreal discomfort for me, I admit — but also to Lady Gaga (who is no lady when she dances) and other music that demanded more bootyliciousness.

I guess only non-bougie black girls are supposed to know how to really shake it down South.  Ladies, apparently, don’t know how to bounce.

Meanwhile, the winners of some Magnolia trophy or other in the photo to the left — everything for women down here seems to demand a magnolia blossom somehow —  moved with passion and force.  They were not trying to be cute.  They were trying to win a game.

Honestly, Volleyball Team of Ole Miss:  Florida‘s number 6 was so all-around amazing that unless you had cloroformed her before the game, she might have single-handedly beaten your squad, not because you’re bad — you’re not, but because she seems to have God’s hand on her fist whenever the ball gets near enough for her to spike it.

The young men in the stands were rooting for Ole Miss, but they did not seem to feel their manhood was implicated in the defeat.  Rather, at the end of the game, I saw a crowd of them standing to one side.  Had they chewed on some breath mints?  Had they applied another splash of aftershave?  I think they were waiting to offer shoulders to cry on for any disappointed players.  However, I don’t think these big girls cry all that much.

How did things work out for the fraternity brothers after the game?  I wasn’t invited to the afterparty to be the fly on the wall.

Again, this could all be my interpretation.  I’m a foreigner here.  I find it hard to squat and aim the ball in my kimono.  My obi keeps getting in the way.  If I’m too active in the game, one of my hair ornaments falls out, and the mother of my Okiya would flip out if I lost one — they’re expensive.  I’m glad that not all women are as constricted in their apparel and inner decorum as I am when they play sports.

If anyone has an opinion about what the frat boys were thinking, I would love to read it here.  Send me a comment.

February 28, 2010


My hair with recently done Southern color

“The Higher the hair, the closer to God.” — K.D. Lang

Not quite the look I was going for

While there are good hair days and bad hair days  everywhere, in the South, there are superhuman challenges to good hair days.  Astonishing humidity turns even the most flat-ironed tresses into brillo pads.  Provincial hair cuts seem like a bad day in Dollywood.   And not all Southern women have given up complex up-dos for moderately formal occasions.  However, the ladies of the South have a sense of hair warfare when it comes to battling their sundry hair challenges.  If there are white women without flat irons here, I haven’t met them.  Some even carry them in their purse along with the ubiquitous can of hair spray.  I used to wonder why all the stiffness occupied the coifs of the sisters of gamma delta phi, but now I understand — surrender doesn’t mean a return to antebellum sausage curls.  In this era of global warming and life without parasols, it means a tenure as the bride of Frankenstein.  Between monster movie hair and sorority hair, I pick sorority hair, too.

Despite my trepidations about potential bee hives and under-cultured characters straight from the drag play of Steel Magnolias on Christopher Street in the 1980s, I discovered that my fears were largely unfounded in the twenty-first century.

My lawyer in Vicksburg, Leslie Rowe Sadler, has  lovely hair.  If I had her permission (I have not asked — I’m writing this post around midnight, and I imagine she’s out of the office), I’d post her photo here — she has a conservative, CNN newscast-worthy blonde bob.  Now, I had seen some nasty hair coloring around town, but Leslie, when I went to see her — she put my name on the house with my husband’s — and she was gracious enough to give me some advice about where I could go and entrust my hair and my nails, where the independent book sellers were, where the places were that I might find a  smattering of urbanity.

She told me to go to Barnette’s salon in Jackson, the one above the bridal salon across from the nice independent bookstore.

Understand that my colorist in New  York and I have a special bond.  Florentina is one of my favorite people on Earth.  In a city of sultry brunettes, Florentina instinctively understood my need for big blonde hair and did not try to make me into either a frosted Debbie Harry, an aging Carmela Soprano, a who-are-we-kidding Lady Gaga or  an overly subdued Hillary Clinton.  She understood my need for verisimilitude.  She understood my need to be that blonde actually having more fun but not necessarily the kind that gentlemen prefer.  She neither over nor under processed my hair, and I count among my happier hours in New York hours where Florentina told me about her daughter while wrapping small bits of my hair in individual foil packets and where I percolated to a  nice golden blonde with dozens of aluminum boxy antennae pointing outward toward my mother ship.

I miss Florentina.

That said, I have made a marvelous discovery.  Most Southern white women want my color.  My hair, which is coarse, is every woman’s hair in a Mississippi summertime.  Unlike in Florentina’s chair, where I think I had a relatively unusual request, color-wise, my hair is the absolute happy meal of the deep South.  Every colorist here trains to give it, so while replacing  Florentina the woman  is unthinkable, finding a suitable professional was sufficient to guarantee success.

I found hapiness in a stool at Barnettes.  My requests for cut and color were implicitly understood.  The aging cheerleader who marries the ex-football  player — she  has this hair.  The non-obsessive Martha Stewart matron, she has this hair.  The head of the alumni committee for Delta Nu, she has this hair.

My hair has found its roots.  The roots have stubborn gray, these days, but the color — the root of it — is the Southern bodacious blonde.  While Mississippi remains a disorienting landscape culturally to me, my hair has found its mother ship.  Those antennae pointed to a GPS system that guided it home, down home.

I don’t think I  look  half bad, do you?

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