This is a Ma’am’s World…


… This is a Ma’am’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothin’, nothin’  —

Oops — wrong music.

Eastside, westside, all around the town…

Recently, as I walk the sidewalks of New York, a strange thing has been happening. People are passing me by. In droves. I mention this as strange because I am one of those fast, clippy New York walkers. Apparently, the truth is that I used to be one of those fast, clippy New York walkers. The evidence is clear, in the sidewalk game, I’m no longer a leader of the pack.

Here in the city, sidewalks are actually pedestrian roadways. That means, just as with the yellow cabs zooming by, New Yorkers are bipedal vehicles getting where they need to go as quickly as possible (all while trying not to get ticketed for jaywalking.)

I pause for a little safety tip for NYC visitors: nothing marks a tourist faster than someone slowly meandering down the sidewalk. Or groups stopping to gawk at a map. That’s akin to a couple of cars braking mid-highway for a picnic lunch. It can be downright dangerous.

Sidewalk prowess is a point of identity for Manhattanites. Outta’ my way, sucker, I know where I’m going… So the realization that I might be losing my skills cut me to the quick. I started searching for an explanation. Clue #1: Perhaps it was the recent foot surgery. Despite having chucked the cane a few weeks ago, I guess it’s still a temporary handicap. Clue #2: Perhaps being off my feet for those weeks of recovery took a bite out of my usual stamina.

But none of that helps as people continue to step, even zoom past me on the sidewalk, without even breaking a sweat. I’m chagrined to share that recently, when boarding a bus, someone who appeared to be around my age got up to offer me their seat. This happened more than once. I actually checked behind me for their target before I understood it was me. Not that I’m not appreciative of a gracious gesture, but it makes me wonder “Just how tired do I look today?”

And I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the contribution of my old dance injuries, as I delight in romanticizing them, when it comes to getting around town. My knees are pretty much shot. So on a bad day, climbing into a bus or rising from a sitting position can sometimes appear to be an amuse-bouche for avant garde dances to come. Cue Mia Michaels and SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. I’m available to tour.

Despite these truths, I confess nothing makes me feel older than when I am called “ma’am.” I understand it’s a contraction of “madame,” a polite sign of respect, especially when addressing the Queen of England. But, I’m usually sans crown. (Although, there have been occasions.) So whenever that palindrome is tossed in my face, a virtual arthritis sets in. Suddenly I’m tucked into a rocking chair on some picturesque mid-west porch knitting my own lap robe as I watch life pass me by.

On the occasions I am met with a full-fledged, flat-out  “Pardon me, ma’am” I instantly shrink to become Miss Kitty’s wizened grandmother receiving a tip of the hat from that whippersnapper, Marshall Dillon. (What, you GUNSMOKE fans don’t remember Miss Kitty’s grandmother? Apparently she was too old to appear on television, even back in the kinder, gentler ’50s. That’s how old this makes me feel.)

Now, at the utterance of this delightful phrase, do I smile benignly like a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s? Nope, I want to reach out and slap someone. Apparently, I’m not alone. It’s a widely-held source of annoyance, as illustrated by U.S. Senator from California, Barbara Boxer (Please Don’t Call Me Ma’am) and my illustrious fellow blogger, Kristen Hansen Brakeman (Don’t Call Me Ma’am) — not even a ‘please’ there, it’s that serious. Check them out to appreciate the scope of this comprehensive sociological issue.

Me, I’ve decided to tackle this head on. I’m not interested in finishing out my game, a beachball with a slow leak. I’m back in training, sharpening my skills to rejoin the bustling New York throng. As to that four letter word? I vaccinate myself against it! From now on, I’ll jump up to offer my seat on the bus. I’ll take the E train instead of the C because (woo hoo!!) it means I can climb an additional two flights of stairs to reach the street. I will stop purchasing exercise equipment from TV and actually unpack the AbDoer Twist that’s been sitting in a box in my living room for the past 3 years. (Game on!)

So, there it is. I’ve decided. I will not go on living in a ma’am’s world. Not to be hard-nosed about this, for it’s a lovely form of address — just not for me, just not right now. Perhaps in my 90’s I’ll be ready to embrace it.

So the next time that term of honor comes tumbling from someone’s lips, I’ll put my hand on my hip and pointedly say:

“You can call me Madame. You can even call me Miss. But please…don’t call me Ma’am.”

Grandma 2

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This Sponge Is Saturated


As I begin this official ripening process, I need to face down a major conundrum in my life. And leave it to a 1958 Rosalind Russell movie to effectively frame the issue for me.

Auntie Mame:  Oh, Agnes! Here you’ve been taking my dictation for weeks and you haven’t gotten the message of my book: LIVE!
Agnes Gooch: (tepidly)  Live?
Auntie Mame:  Yes, LIVE! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving themselves to death!

See, here’s my deal. For years now, apparently I’ve been waiting for the right moment to start my actual life. Not consciously, mind you. I’ve been cleaning my closets and paying my taxes along with the rest of you.

Maybe it was the palm reading by that Argentinian folk singer, Nehuseniã, back in college. She took my hand, looked deeply into my eyes and said with great portent and a thick Brazilian accent, “You are an old soul. You will come to prominence later in life recreating something from the past.” Perhaps it was playing all those mothers, maids and matriarchs early in my career [I was tall. What’s your point?] That alone could have thrown me off my trajectory and into an unfulfilled ingénue loop where I’ve sat waiting for the appointed poison apple/wolf/fairy godmother to stop by and release me into adulthood.

Whatever the truth, living the “solitary life” (i.e., no kids, husband or mortgage) is not unusual in my circle here in the city. This scenario can seem poetically free or just plain sad, depending on the weather. But one thing is certain, it leaves everything up to me — the good and the bad. And since I don’t have to negotiate with anyone but myself to make changes in my life, where’s the big deal?

Given the choice [Ed. Note: Didn’t she just say that’s EXACTLY what she has?], I’d take living as Auntie Mame over Agnes Gooch. But for some reason, I keep stepping back into the Gooch’s shoes. To many — sometimes even myself — I am Auntie Mame. Extravagant, flamboyant, creative. Sixteen years ago when her daughter was born, my sister-in-law, Michelle, revealed she’d immediately cast me in that role with my newest niece, Claire. Since my nom de tante was already “Auntie Dee,” the stage was set. All right, I didn’t so much take them all on travels around the world as gift them of books to read. Educational. Enlightening. Infinitely cheaper to ship.

To others — and I head up this list — I’m Agnes Gooch, the faithful, schlumpy, diligent admin support for just about everyone’s life but my own.  I used to trip over myself making sure the new co-worker felt welcome. “Help paint your apartment, neighbor, why sure!!!” More than once on the job I’ve volunteered to take over someone else’s workload just because I could. Ever vigilant in my ear was my Mom whispering, “Be quiet. Work hard. Eventually you’ll be noticed.” But that path hasn’t ended up taking me where I want to go. And I’m pretty sure by the end of her life, even my Mom would have tweaked that advice.

So, who am I? Yes, yes, we all know the answer — I’m both. I’m everybody, as are we all, Amen. I’m Mame. I’m Gooch. I’m Catwoman and Donna Reed. I’m the Flying Nun and Shirley Partridge. I’m Peggy AND Kelly Bundy. I’m even Roseanne, with and without the Barr nuts. [The iconography of my youth. Keep it moving…]

Back to my original framework, most of the time in my world, I feel like Gooch. For years, I’ve been that thirsty sponge of obedience, standing on the sidelines waiting to soak up instruction and excitement, attuned for permission to finally what? Wipe up life’s messes? Ring myself out? Well, ladies and gentlemen, as a manager I once worked with used to keen in frustration when that “one too many” of items was introduced at a team meeting:

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. This sponge is saturated!!”

More of her anon. Me, I’ve reached my tipping point. The time has come to throw down Gooch’s dictation book and whip off the Coke-bottle glasses. I intend to slip into Mame’s opera pumps and toss that ermine-trimmed cape [Figure of speech. ONLY faux.] grandly about my shoulders. I finally have an appointment with the precipice of my own womanhood and I’m not about to be late. Because, in the brilliantly absorbent words of that “femme fatale,” Agnes Gooch:

Can I have an AMEN. And… Scene.