There are three rules every Southern girl has hammered into her consciousness, and they shape you and haunt you until the day you die.
Cardinal Rule Number One: Mind your manners.
This is of course the most important rule, especially early on in your upbringing, as it applies to everything from 'watch your mouth' to 'mind your elders,' and encompasses all forms of behavior from 'elbows off that table rightnow' to 'do not look at me in that tone of voice.' As you get on up in years you learn to mind your manners by not pitching a hissy fit when a smile and firm but pleasant tone will do, and by always being strong and kind, and of course you never smoke standing upright or while wearing your sorority pin. Because that is just tacky.
Cardinal Rule Number Two: Make the best of a situation.
When delivered by your Uncle Truman or a male teacher or your softball coach, this rule can sound like 'Keep your chin up' or 'Put your game face on.' Sometimes there's a bait-and-switch approach, where you may have (in a moment of weakness) confessed some sad or upsetting thing to a willing human listener, and they reply back with a long, often horribly detailed story of the so-and-so girl who faces a far worse and more disastrous situation than you yourself could even imagine, which I suppose is meant to make you feel better about your own pathetic sob story but on me has the opposite effect.
Cardinal Rule Number Three: Always wear clean panties.
This particular gem was amended by my mother when I was sixteen, as she warned me in no uncertain terms to always wear clean panties and keep them on.
These rules presented for me a dilemma of decorum at the best of times and a true test of character at the worst of times. My comportment was once again in the crosshairs on the day this story begins, a day like any other, really, a completely normal day.
Although I was a married woman of thirty-three years of age living in cosmopolitan Los Angeles, California, and working in a downtown skyscraper (I work at a bank, but it sounds more glamorous to say downtown skyscraper), quite a remarkable departure from my small-town roots, I was now facing the trifecta of Southern Cardinal Rules, brought on by a rather strange and airy sensation in the back regions of my gray pinstripe skirt.
I felt a draft. Back there.
Today, the day of my inconvenient new rear-facing air-conditioning system, was a day of precarious underwear selection. While I had every intention of going home that very evening and facing Mount Washmore, the laundry pile in my bedroom closet, I was currently Making The Best Of Things. The wash-day panties I was wearing were nothing more than a string holding together some cotton, and not only was it an unfortunate thong-style contraption, it had the novelty of being green and red because I was on my Christmas undies. I had not embarked upon any lunchtime calisthenics, or lobbed kung fu kicks on my coffee break, or done anything, really, aside from sit on my ass in an air-conditioned office and Look Busy. Graphic designers at financial institutions do not have physically vexing jobs. But as soon as I stood up to stretch, I felt ityesa definite draft.
First I performed the not-so-subtle maneuver of slightly pulling my skirt to the left and craning my head back to see if I could spot the damage. Nothing.
A quick recon mission with my hands told me all I needed to know: my skirt had distinctly more air-conditioning in the backyard than it had this morning when I pulled it on. Sans panty hose. Meaning, at any moment my Christmas-themed under-things could be exposed to the cruel office air, in August, and also, this was maybe not the sort of impression I wanted my coworkers to have of me.
I stood in my cubicle and considered the alternatives. No sewing kit, so there's that. No safety pins either. I started for a moment toward the tape dispenser, but let's be honest here: no amount of Scotch tape in the world could keep my ample behind encased in pinstripes. So I did the only thing I could think of, and with my heavy black corporate stapler in hand, I crab-walked demurely through the hallway into the ladies' room. I moved pretty quickly considering all the wind rustling in the eaves behind me, desperately hoping not to run into any chatty or curious or breathing coworkers who might wonder why I had to take my stapler to the restroom with me.
I made it into the ladies' room without running into anyone, locked myself into the stall (the big one, of course, better for maneuvering), and stripped off my skirt to perform the necessary stapling surgery on the back seam.
One might imagine that sitting with staples up your backside for the rest of the workday would not be a particularly comfortable thing to do. One would be right. But that's what I did for the rest of that afternoon, squirming as little as possible, wondering if I were up-to-date on my tetanus shots, wondering if I could actually drink a glass of wine the size of my head when I got home, wondering if my mother had envisioned this very scenario when she advised keeping my panties on. I doubted it.
I drove home that night, a normal night like any other, tired, staples pressing into the backs of my thighs. It was a Thursday, and I sat in traffic trying to decide what to make me and my husband Charlie for dinner. Spaghetti? Baked chicken? Meat loaf? He had very particular tastes when it came to eating, nothing with sauce (except pasta), chunks, or garnishes. No salads and no vegetables besides fried or mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, and (surprisingly) peas. During the first year of our marriage this seemed unusually cruel for a new, young wife who couldn't cook.
'So you'll eat tomato sauce, like on pizza or pasta, but not actual tomatoes?'
Somewhere around year four, I rose to the challenge and began to see cooking as an experiment in creativity: what could I prepare, with my limited skills and his limited palate, that would be edible and also pass the Picky Test?
That night, I walked through the door, said hi to my husband, 'Hey! Howwasyourday, I got staples in my behind, be right back,' scratched a cat on the head, and stripped off my poor mangled skirt. I made dinner-spaghetti after all. Charlie liked it with extra Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, and we sat eating it at the table on a Thursday night just like any other. And that is when my husband told me he was leaving.
And then he did.
And that is where this story begins.
© 2007. Laurie Perry. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair: The True-Life Misadventures of a 30-Something Who Learned to Knit After He Split. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.