Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Check

Every now and then I like to go through the archives and dust off stories of shenanigans past. The summer between sophomore and junior year, I landed my first -- and last -- job in retail. Thank God I started eventually started working at WAMO too, or else it would have been one very, VERY, unhappy summer in Pittsburgh.

August 2003

Yesterday I was excited. I went to work at the mall, knowing at the end of the night I'd have a few more dollars in my hand.

I was receiving my first paycheck from Lerner's. Though I knew it would be small (the only time I had put in for the pay period was for a two-hour training session), it didn't matter, because a couple of dollars looks and feels a whole lot better than an obese zero rolling around my checking account.

Finally the store is closed, and I ask my manager for my check. "You were only here for training, right?" she asks. "With those taxes, it's not going to be a whole lot."

"I know," I shrugged. "But a few dollars is better than nothing."

I take look at my check.

Gross pay: $12.50.

FICA/MED tax: 96 cents.

PA state tax: 35 cents.

City of Pittsburgh tax: 37 cents.

PA Occupational tax: $10.00

Net pay: $0.82.

...you've got to be fucking kidding me.

They cut me a check for 82 cents.

Eighty. Two.

18 cents short of an actual dollar.

So now I'm thinking... what the hee haw do I do with an 82-cent check? Can I really take it to the bank and cash it? Will the teller collapse into convulsions, hysterically laughing and pointing at me? Can I take to the ATM, or will the machine cough it back out at me and display a message on the screen asking, "Are you serious?"

82 cents.

Jazz told me not to spend it all at once.

I told my boyfriend I'd go to the one bead store in Pittsburgh and buy one bead with it.

Then my mom interjected, informing me that that would be impossible. Because in order to get to the bead store, I'd need to pay bus fare, which is $1.60, and I wouldn't even have enough to do that.

I can't even pay my tithes. Maybe that's why I didn't go to church this morning. You're supposed to give God 10% of your gross pay, which would be $1.25.

I have 82 cents.

I can't go to the dollar store, unless they have something on sale.

I can't buy my usual pack of Winterfresh gum.

I can't order off McDonald's Dollar Menu, or Wendy's 99-cent Menu.

I can't even dial 10-10-220.

82 mutha[CENSORED] cents.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Letter to Little Girls -- You Have A Choice

I was 15 years old. It was September, school had just started back up, and a classmate (We’ll call her Vanna), was asking me if my boyfriend and I were still together.

“Yep,” I said. “Still together.”

“Even through the whole summer?” she asked, incredulous.

“Uh... yeah,” I replied. “He came to my birthday party and everything.” (Which was an absolutely huge deal, the time, I tell ya. Huge.)

“Oh,” Vanna said. “Well... you let him hit it yet?”

Wait, what?

Vanna must have seen the confusion that registered on my face, because she repeated the question. “Did you let him hit yet?”

“No!” I finally spat out. Let him hit? Really? I’m 15 years old! No! Ew! Yuck! Ick! Gag!

“Soooo...” Vanna countered, “Y’all been together the entire summer, and you ain’t let him hit?” She paused. “Damn,” she said, turning to walk away, “He must really love you.”

What I didn’t know at the time was that it was expected for a girl like me -- 15, starting to develop, starting to be interested in boys -- to let her boyfriend hit. To have sex with him, or, more precisely, to give sex to him, since he was doing me the favor of being my boyfriend. Vanna had let her boyfriend hit. So had Stephanie, Kristen, Kendra and Chanel. Sophomore year soon turned into a 9-month long campaign to get Veronica to just “go ahead and have sex already.” Because, you know, everyone else was doing it.

Despite the peer pressure, the concept of letting him hit never sat right with me. I didn’t want to have sex. I mean, ew. Gross. Yes, I was curious about it, but everything I wanted to know at the time could be garnered from human sexuality books and Janet Jackson albums.  And by the time I turned 15, I had learned a few key things from reading and from listening to “The Velvet Rope” on repeat:

One -- Sex was supposed to feel good.

Two -- Sex was supposed to happen with someone you loved or felt connected to.

Three -- Most importantly, sex was supposed to be my choice. MY choice.

So damn that if a few girls at school would pressure me into doing something I knew I wasn’t ready to do. And why would I want to, listening to these friends? They didn’t make sex sound fun at all.

“You have to do it if you wanna keep your man,” Vanna advised.

“He’s gonna get it from some other chick if he don’t get it from you,” Kendra offered.

“It doesn’t hurt that much,” Chanel assured me. “It’s just a lot of pressure” -- she demonstrated by poking her finger into my belly button -- “like that.”

“Um, that doesn’t feel good,” I said, stepping away from Chanel’s offending finger.

She shrugged. “You get used to it.”

No! I thought. I don’t want to “get used to it.” And I didn’t want to have to do it, and if a guy was going to dump me for another girl because should would do it, then so be it. I was only 15, and I got teased and called the Virgin Veronica for my "radical" choice, but I was fully aware that no one got to tell me what to do with my body. The NO stood, all the way through graduation.

Trouble is, my girlfriends didn’t know they could take that stand too.

What I realize now, in remembering those high school years, is that my girlfriends didn’t feel entitled to making their own choice. The concept of autonomy over their bodies? Foreign. Their understanding -- even at 15 years old -- was that sex was expected of them. That their “men” were entitled to access to their bodies, and that they had little say it. With my girlfriends, our conversation about sex were never about their pleasure. There was no excitement, no curiosity or sense of thrill. Rather, there was a detachment, a resignation, sometimes a palatable sadness. They didn’t have sex because they wanted to; they did it they thought they had to.

It’s no surprise, then, that a girl who feels she has little autonomy over her body would feel she has little autonomy over her womb. Several of those girlfriends became mothers before we were old enough to vote. I’m pretty sure none of those pregnancies was planned. And none of them remained with the boyfriends who got them pregnant.

What leads to a girl thinking that she has no say over her own body? I have no idea. I grew up in a household where my mom would raise a fit if a I let another little girl play in my hair. So early on I got the message that no one touches me without my consent (or without my mom’s consent, when it came to my perfect coiffed braids). But do other girls learn that? I’m not so sure.

When my brother was in high school, he dated a cute young girl who lived two neighborhoods over. He liked the girl and went to visit her often, but he soon became uncomfortable around her mom. “She always makes me hug Jasmine,” he told me. “And when I try to leave, she’ll say, ‘No, come back! Come back and give Jasmine a hug.... now give her a kiss. You know you can’t leave without giving Jasmine a kiss’.” He shuddered. “It’s weird.”

Jasmine was another one who ended up being pregnant in high school. (Not by my brother, by the way.) I can’t help but wonder whether her mom’s encouragement of physical intimacy had something to do with it.

What are these girls learning?

If I could go back, what would I say to Jasmine? What would I say to Vanna, Chanel and all those other girls I went to high school with?

I tell them: Your body is not someone else’s toy. Your body is yours, your sexuality is yours, and your womb is yours too. Unplanned pregnancy is not inevitable for you. Early motherhood is not inevitable for you. You have the power to make the choices that lead you to the life you want. You have a choice over your body. You have a choice over you.

This essay is part of today's No Wedding No Womb Campaign. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Watch Out For That Tree."

In lieu of an actual post, I submit to you this:

Yes, that's a Number 4 Curly Ponytail. And yes, it's in a tree.

And because the universe is awesome, this foilage of fuckery outside Tryst on 18th Street provides the perfect preview for tomorrow's post: "Weaves in Trees And Other Shit I Don't Wanna See This Summer."

Hope ya'll had an awesome Memorial Day. See you tomorrow.