Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lucy Ricardo gets a job. No. Really.

The name of the episode was "Lucy Wants a Career." It came later in 1957 in the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour series when the Ricardos and the Mertzes moved out to suburban Connecticut. Lucy, bored silly with dishes, cleaning and her lot at housewifery, complains about having nothing exciting to do. Little Ricky's in school and Big Ricky's gone all day. Since no one seems to need her after the chores are done, she makes the unilateral decision that she will find a job.

Of course, she says she can't do anything--even type. Isn't that what women did in the fifties? Type, teach school or become a nurse? Subordinate occupations, those that were inferior to men, were the most many women could hope for back then. After all, a large number of women went to college to "have something to fall back on," in case things didn't go well in the romance/marriage department...and to find a husband. How many times did I hear those exact same words? Shocking, but true. That fall back position was imprinted on my young mind like it was written in stone coming from a society who didn't seem to value women excelling in non-traditional roles.

Lucy, meanwhile, realizing her skill set is lacking, falls back to her familiar show business role and goes for one that places her as a second banana on a Good Morning America-style show with a then-famous celebrity, Paul Douglas. Her appearance is so funny that the show is a hit. The rest is history and Lucy is signed to a three-year contract. Predictably, the show's theme centered around another subordinate role--a Gal Friday. Not even that success was predicated on equality; rather, it revolved around the stupidity and twittiness of a woman sitting next to a powerful man.

In the meantime, everyone is thrilled about her success, even Ricky; however, the people in her old world are rolling along quite smoothly without her. Unfortunately, after time, she realizes she's only seeing her family for a few minutes every day, and Ethel has become a substitute mother for Little Ricky. She is so overwhelmed with homesickness and sadness that she decides she has to quit her lucrative, successful job and become a stay-at-home wife and mother again.

By the time Lucy finally gives up on her career, you realize that the big prize she earned by herself--for the first time in her life--she'll probably never see again. Of all the silly situations Lucy's ever found herself in, she's never actually been a true success in the meaning of the word. Suddenly, she was valuable to someone other than her family and brought in a paycheck to prove it.

By the time she's convinced that she's needed at home, after her ego needs are met outside the home, we all can breathe a major sigh of relief that Little Ricky's not calling Ethel "Mommy," and Big Ricky's happy to have his wife next to him at night, even if was in a twin bed deemed decent by the censors of the time. All's right with the world.

Except for a large number of the rest of female human race.

That episode belies the truth of a coming tsunami of baby boomer women who decided they didn't want to go back home. Unlike Lucy, they were the vanguard of feminists who were more interested in freedom than some sniveling kid and anxious husband. A huge number of them divorced over their choice of roles as wife.

So, somewhere in the middle I landed. I always wanted to be a wife and mother. Which I was. Afterwards, you've got to have something to "fall back on." That, for me, was my writing. Of course, the skill set for such a career was--you guessed it--typing! That one particular skill has given me more employment than one can imagine, from legal assistant to technical writer.

Maybe in the end, the message of the My Girl Friday episode was this: you can have it all, just not at the same time. These days, in our economic uncertainty, such a quaint theme must sound preposterous to working women. I, for one, do not know how they do it all. Having been a single mother of three, thinking back, I honestly don't know how I did it. And there is a difference between a career and a job.

Thanks for the read.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lucy transformed herself before our eyes

My "Ricky" aka my dearly beloved husband gave me the entire DVD set of the "I Love Lucy" series. I've saved some to watch on a soft, rainy afternoon, my favorite kind of lazy day. Like today. Naturally, now that I've watched so many epis, I've become interested in delving farther into Lucy's character development--from a writer's POV. Not the little kid's this time.

Lucy's submissive housewife routine seemed pretty phony the first season. But only Lucy Ball could carry it off with her fabulous comedic timing. Her voice was squeaky, sometimes it would crack...I thought it was an affectation, but realize it's probably because she smoked cigarettes. Regardless, the more assertive she became with Ricky, the lower her voice got, the more confidence she had, the funnier she was. However, her performance wasn't based in slapstick; the tension between husband and wife was more believable and mixed with her physical humor, the result was hilarious. These are subtleties we don't see till we're older.

As I watch Ricky go after Lucy when she's done something outrageously childish, I sometimes flash onto what their real marriage must have been like. Just as you could clearly see the chemistry between them in their many "let's make up" scenes, you can also imagine the fire and ashes that blew out the windows of their happy Hwood home. When I was a kid, I wouldn't have imagined there being anything cross between them in real life. To me, they were real life.

I've also begun to notice Lucy's choice of wardrobe which transformed her from silly housewife, wearing dowdy house dresses (one-piece creations) that looked like a pinafore and apron, to sophisticated New Yorker attired in gorgeously tailored coats and suits. Yet, Lucy's innocence showed through regardless of what she wore.

Lucy had great gams--racehorse legs--my Louisvillian sister calls them. After the first two seasons she was a reed and looked terrific fashion wise. She had one stunning, beautiful velvet suit she wore twice. Was it red? Purple, blue? With her hair and coloring, green velvet would have been my choice. I would love to see it and other memorable outfits in the original colors.

It's also interesting to look at Ethel's transformation in the shadow of Lucy. Even though she was what people used to call "plump," she was allowed to wear good looking clothes as well. Obviously, there was a strong person with great taste in charge of the show's wardrobe. She or he knew how American women wanted to look post WWII Rosie the Riveter.

Is this important? No, not if you look at things superficially. As long as it kept me and my childhood pals clueless about the Cold War, who am I to doubt why everyone loved Lucy? She kept us laughing.

You've just gotta love Lucy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lucy gets a maid

So that's where my ex-husband learned how to get out of changing diapers and getting up with the babies at night!

Lucy is dead on her feet while taking care of the baby, Ricky, the apartment, etc. She begs Ricky to get up in the middle of the night with the baby. He won't cuz he's being a silly jerk, but finally decides that Lucy needs a break. He tells Lucy the home is a business and she has to run it like one, that she must make great decisions like interview the maid.

After Lucy out of weakness, hires a woman who is overwhelming with the force of her peppery nature, including opposite "demands" from Lucy's, she finally finds the woman intolerable. Ricky makes Lucy fire her. Lucy's so afraid of this woman, she finally comes up with the scheme to mess up the apartment with the able help of Fred and Ethel. Of course, the last scene is Ricky as he enters the totally messed up apartment. He then informs them all he already fired the maid.

This had a gift of the magi kind of feel to it which compensated for the dictatorial, stubborn style of Ricky; but the message was clear that you'd better be Superwoman if you want this family idea to work. There was not much said about a lot in the fifties. It's amazing we didn't end up in a home for the terminally misled.

The upshot is Lucy asked for help, revealing weakness and inexperience, begged even when falling asleep. And still didn't get it! I know how she feels. All the woman wanted was to be able to get some deserved sleep. Ricky was teaching assertiveness, a tactic women didn't do then very well unless she lived in an "assertive" environment, and most didn't. It was easier to look like an idiot and stay helpless and stupid. Of course, it was a stereotype, but only a few years following the very invention of television, we were exposed to huge landscapes we'd never even imagined. The less serious of us wanted those situation comedies to be our lives. In other words, we didn't consciously think of it as stereotypical. Shoot. We didn't even know what the word meant.

The Fifties: love 'em or forget 'em
The episode appeared in 1952. I was seven and my then unknown husband-to-be would have been twelve (everyone watched I Love Lucy), so it's no wonder we were both so imprinted that we unwittingly acted out this Lucy episode down to the messing up the house so the maid would quit. Hardly a Shakespearean theme, I suppose, but it comforts somehow to know that much of what I did was a result of something NO ONE had any inkling of: the psychological effects of television on children and their ultimate behaviors, or something like that.

My ex-husband, I'll call him Ferdinand, the father of my three girls, refused to have his sleep interrupted to do the partner work thing when we had babies (two of whom are twins). Partners are supposed distribute jobs and pick up the slack when the one of you is down, like get up once in a while with the baby or change a diaper. Those were shockingly slacker behaviors coming from a young executive whom everyone thought was a wunderkind--where did he learn that silliness? He said he was the bread winner. Ricky did. So...

The maid Ferdie hired was an illiterate little thing with a crush on Tanya Tucker and her boyfriend's truck, the one with "No Fat Chicks" half-torn off his tacky bumper. (I imagine there's quite a story behind that ripped bumper sticker.) Her name was Amy. Ferdie insisted one of my twin daughters be named Amy. Good thing I always loved the name anyway.

Later, I probably shouldn't have, but I actually became offended with Ferdie's comment not long after the birth of our twins and close to our divorce being final, "You'll never be a helpmate."

Me Tarzan, you chump...Him, Tarzan, me idiot...Him, Tarzan, me poor...I could go on and on and on...

What I learned
It took me a long time to understand that the craziness caused by fatigue, post pregnancy hormones, stressors like staying up with babies for protracted periods without a break is only cured by sleeping for two or three long nights straight through. It's your body's way of telling you you need to hit the sack and another way of telling people to back off unless they're there to help; you're tired. Nothing personal. Really.

About marriage? Unfortunately, anything I learned came too late to be of much value. Get my room ready at the home. Please, no calendars.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A perfect size ten

Poor Lucy.

Until vanity sizing came to ready-to-wear women's apparel, Lucy wore the perfect size ten. Oh, you could always be two sizes lower than your regular size in an expensive designer dress, tell yourself and everyone else you're a six ( how many of your friends have bought nothing but designer stuff?). Most of us were perfect size tens (nowadays they're perfect size sixes) which was a common term that came to be popular after Jimmy Stewart said it when he described his beloved, recently missing wife in one of his hero movies. Average women in height, such as I, looked for an exemplar. In the late fifties, early sixties the perfect size ten was Doris Day, or Kim Novak. That was a safe size for a wife and mother.

I know. I was surprised too.

Compared to what?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): one's self perception that she is a fat person, regardless of her weight, usually either at a "good" weight or slightly over. I know I have it but didn't know I had it until it was way too late to change a lot of things. After Doris Day imprinted us with her size ten, those of us who matured in the sixties began seeing people like Gidget--not too big, not too small. Breasts were as large as they needed to be, naturally, and if you did have 'em, no one really knew. It was a time when women didn't put out the way they do now (I believe modern terminology for the act is "hooking up"). In those days, having gigantic mammaries didn't make or break a relationship...that I know of. Not every guy is a "breast man," after all.

Now, of course, everyone knows if you're endowed or not, and God help you if you aren't. No longer are men forced to look at women as people because that's all they could see.

Skinny bitches
BDD is an inherited disorder; you get it from your sisters and your mothers, television, magazines, bitch peers, ex-lovers and husbands, anyone who doesn't like you. Much of BDD comes from ourselves when we try to compare our bodies to oh, pick anyone who's too rich and too thin...there's even a name for them: skinny bitches.

When I was a kid, I was very athletic and probably in pretty good shape. But there was never a time when I considered myself skinny. When I was at my smallest, a size four in my late 30s, I wanted to eat my typewriter. It was truly wonderful when I gave myself permission to gain a little weight, although I was running sixteen miles a week then to support my eating habit.

My biggest dream when I was a college kid, in fact, was to be able to shop regularly at The House of Nine. I was always a ten, not a nine. Dang. Today the House of Nine provides the training racks for Elizabeth Pluses (14 and up). The sizes my beautiful grown daughters wear (zero, two, four) can be found in their own personal Tiny Persons section. Of course, their idea of a Tiny Persons Plus customer would be someone like Pamela Anderson, for whom the manufacturer would build a huge top and a tiny bottom.

How cute.

Nevermind them
Does this vanity resizing mean instead of my current rotating dress sizes of 12-14, I would've been a 20 back in the day? Or when my mother was a perfect size ten, she was actually a six? She was always very thin. Or did the manufacturers get together at their last convention to take a look at the average woman and figure there'd be a new "baseline" for the perfect size ten, like a perfect size four? Like those girls they took to their rooms were average?

Well. That just sucks.

Thanks for the read.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The babysitter upstairs

Occasionally, Ricky would "allow" Lucy to take a job, or buy something; we all knew who wore the pants in the Ricardo family. My orientation was the opposite; the women in my family pretty much did what we wanted. Too bad I didn't pay attention to the reality around me.

Mothers and grandmothers didn't compete
I recall a friend of Lucy's, an elderly woman who sometimes babysat and who lived upstairs. I remember her sweet and loving attitude toward Lucy. She knew Lucy was constantly playing to get Ricky's attention. How wonderful that she was able to give Lucy a wink, to let Lucy know she understood. In today's sitcoms, the grandmothers would be taking their breasteses out the door on their way to meet a new man. No, dear. Babysit? Are you crazy? With my schedule?

I think it's important that today's aging baby boomer women understand that most of the "attention" rightfully goes to younger people. That's the natural order of things. I don't believe our children want us to be "like" them. I believe they want us to show them alternatives. Besides, it's a matter of moving forward as a species. I haven't always felt this way, unfortunately since I messed up with my own kids early. Now I'm seeing things differently.

As an older woman, I have become aware that my own vanity keeps me from growing old gracefully inside. It's difficult to overcome the guilt some people feel when it comes to maintaining one's looks to the point of obsession. When I watch how people used to act and be, when I was a little girl, it's unfathomable that we've traveled, as a culture, so diametrically opposite of that brash and certain American spirit. It's hard to break those old ideas, especially when you're not prepared to deal in a new world.

As for Lucy, she was smarter than she looked. She loved when Ricky went nuts because of her antics. Lucy was, after all, the best feminist I ever knew. She always got what she wanted. So did Ricky.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Birth order is destiny

Lucy and Ethel used red herrings and tricks to get what they wanted. They were valuable tools for this baby of the family.

I don't know about the rest of you family stragglers, accidents, oopsies, last little deductions--whatever charming euphemisms your parents used for you--being the baby of the family, especially if one's parents are older, is about as much fun as a selecting a homeless person's funeral attire. In fact there's only one thing worse than being the baby of a family of four. That, of course, would be ending up the baby in a family of five. Two, four, five. It's all the same. The oldest(er)one(s) gets the emotional loot.

There are exceptions, however. My husband, the last born in his family, was able to saunter into life thinking absolutely everyone loved him--except for maybe his older siblings.

Black sheep
I've often wondered if the baby can also be the black sheep of the family. That seems kind of remote as most don't truly detach until they're well into their 30s. By then, black sheep activity has usually come and past. It's hard to get the black sheep reputation when you're old. It's almost as if your parents know you have the imagination to become a black sheep, what with all the benign indifference they've shown you, and if they let you become independent, you'll become a serial killer. Strange dichotomy: they want you leave but they keep you dependent.

I recall our talking once about my eventually leaving home. I think I was about 16.

A's Parent
Andrea, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Medical doctor.

A's Parent
That's nice, Honey. Sure.
We'll talk about that in a couple of years.
Pass me that magazine, will ya?

All right, all right. It wasn't really like that. But you get the drift of my rudderless childhood. I suppose my parents felt I had enough examples around me of those who had become educated and went off to their lives and to get married, which is what I think my folks wanted for me all along, i.e., to get married.

So, I got married
Remember when Lucy dressed up in the Carmen Miranda costume to fool Ricky and sneak on stage as a dancer so she could feel like she had a life too? That's kind of how I did things for a very long time after I got married. I was always trying to sneak onto some one's stage, scared to death the fruit would fall off my head and I'd be found out.

Giving myself a break
Then I finally realized, all the while I was simply unprepared for marriage, in particular and life, in general

When I watch myself in a Lucy get-up, I realize much of my conflict came as a result of the times in which we lived. My parents weren't the problem. After all, I certainly didn't have to be introduced to educational advantages. They were all around me in my own family. I knew deep down that if I decided to "be" something, my parents would've pressed the issue. They knew my personality enough to understand they couldn't drag me to anything I didn't want to go to. What my parents did to me really was normal for the times.

The pressure on young married woman to "become something" was insidiously powerful. Lucy, meanwhile, laughed in the feminists' ugly mugs by doing what she did best. Be herself. Maybe my own Lucy outfits help me be myself.

Time and experience relieved me from most of the old feelings of insecurity. Recalling respectable accomplishments(sailing in a 32-foot sailboat from Hawaii to Tahiti and back is one; raising my children as a single parent with no emotional help and very little financial aid is another) helps when I feel like an idiot who will never be anything in life, let alone the great writer.

I wish Mother and Daddy could be here to see what I'm turning into. I think they'd feel pretty okay about it. Certainly, they wouldn't be surprised. ..not surprised at all.

Now where did I put my Harpo Marx hat and horn?

Thanks for the read.