Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Urban Woman: From Dirt Bike Wheels to Vegan Heels
To get this post, you'll have to be familiar with Ree Drummond, a.k.a., The Pioneer Woman. Oh, man - I mean, boy howdy! - is she ripe for satire. I cannot bring myself to link to her. Her website gets like 80 million visitors in the time it takes me to put on my shoes. My shoes are slip ons, too.
Basically, her Pioneer Woman empire is based on pure wish/fantasy fulfillment. Her story is so predictable as to be banal, something one would expect to find in the middle of the shush pile over at Harlequin Romance headquarters, yet somehow it is devoured by the masses. The story goes like this: The Pioneer Woman was a girl who grew up on a golf course fairway in an affluent suburb of Tulsa. She couldn't wait to leave this boring town so as soon as she could so she headed for LA to go to the university there and then to work. She loved the restaurants, the nightlife, the shops, the cafes, and, sweet Jesus, the sushi. How she loved the sushi!
The sushi is a symbol of her upwardly mobile, inwardly crumbling lifestyle. She had a laidback, drippy surfer for a boyfriend and they ate sushi together until she just couldn't take it anymore. She headed back for her parent's home in Oklahoma to sort out her feelings and plan for the future. She planned to go to law school in Chicago.
Little did Ree know, though, that an impossibly (and I mean impossibly) handsome, strong but sensitive, Adonis-meets-Gary Cooper-esque freaking cowboy would sweep her high heels out from under her, make her knees go continually wobbly and make her swoon like no one has swooned since at least 1953. The love of a simple cowboy coaxed the sushi-eating Ree into becoming the Pioneer Woman she is today, a rancher's wife who loves red meat and therefore real men with big, all American penises. (She refers to herself as a former vegetarian, though she refers to eating fish during her supposed vegetarian phase. Whatever.) She calls her husband, apparently without irony, Marlboro Man. Marlboro Man has since married Ree, taken her to his cattle ranch, impregnated her no fewer than four times and so forth. The Pioneer Woman spends her days homeschooling their children and taking a lot of photos of Marlboro Man's behind. There are layers and layers of loamy subtext here, dressed up in chaps and resting on a hammock in a mythical landscape. Naturally, my thoughts turned to satire.
Meet Urban Woman, the Pioneer Woman's counterpart. This is the first installment.
I was raised next door to a city. When I was growing up with a giant metropolis and all that came with it (crowds, sooty snow and honking cars) within easy access, I used to spend much of my time locked away in my room, daydreaming about living in the boondocks. I was a misfit, a suburban girl who couldn’t wait to ditch my black skirts and high heels for jeans or even overalls and sensible shoes. Instead of listening to bands with guys with spiky hair and eyeliner, I rebelled, turning to Hank Williams and Merle Haggard instead. My parents shook their heads at me in dismay, sighed every time I consulted the Farmer’s Almanac instead of just checking the weather forecast like a normal girl. Their efforts to raise an urban, edgy and sophisticated daughter seemed to be in vain: I was determined to leave the sky rises, shops and museums behind and head off to the uninterrupted, serene landscape I was certain was just beyond it. My above-it-all attitude was obvious to everyone.
At eighteen, I graduated from high school and my parents could no longer contain me. They warned me that there’d be no culture in the country, that I’d become adrift. They felt betrayed that I rejected their values. My mother wrung her hands over where she’d gone wrong; my father paced at night, worrying of what would become of me in the country. My urban friends patronized me and said that it was a phase, that I’d come running back when I found there were generally no great Thai restaurants along rural routes. Nothing anyone said had any effect. I packed my bags, kissed my parents goodbye and never expected to come back to the city except for holidays.
I was off chasing my dream: I had my plans together. I couldn’t wait to leave all the trappings of my urbanity behind: the mini-skirts, the dark nail polish, the progressive politics, the diversity. I would head for the tractors and cornfields. I was determined that there was a mobile home community somewhere for me where I could sip Mike’s Hard Lemonade, watch the butterflies flit around and make idle chitchat with the neighbors. I would find a simple job - maybe as a cashier at a local grocery store with no more than three aisles or putting together arrangements at the flower shop. I’d meet a townie every bit as sheltered and boring as the man of my dreams and we’d spend a couple of years together aimlessly floating on inner-tubes in the local river, shaking flags at Independence Day parades on folding chairs, holding hands outside our starter mobile home as the grasshoppers chirped. Then we’d get married in an adorable church and have a few adorable blond children. That would be my life. No one could stand in my way.
Four years later, I was well on my way with my plan. I found my idyllic small town with just the right Mayberry-esque qualities, including a bumbling deputy sheriff named Bo. I set my sites on him right away and he returned my interest. When he wasn’t accidentally locking himself out of his police vehicle or unintentionally discharging his gun at inopportune times (is there ever an opportune time?), he was a catch. A little dangerous at times, but still a catch. Bo was cute but in retrospect, something nagged at me that he wasn’t right for me. I ignored that inner-voice, though, because he was by far the hottest commodity in our town of 650. I was determined to live the dream and he was part of the dream. My parents hated him, of course. They met him twice and my mother just cried.
I loved my life there, though. Aside for the frequent drunken arguments at the trailer court and Def Leppard being blasted at three in the morning, things were peaceful. Once in a while the local water sanitation system would be faulty or the town’s supply of firecrackers would get stolen and ignited by pack of teen ne’er-do-wells, but generally my little town helped to keep me in a state of perpetual boredom.
Meanwhile, I worked as a cashier at the Rexall two towns over and continued reaching my goals with my plan of downward mobility. I slept no fewer than ten hours a night, my career trajectory was stagnant at best. I harbored no illusions of grandeur, no desire to leave my mark on the world. My life was developing exactly as I’d planned it out as a young girl. I was on pace to being married to the guy I thought would bring me years of predictability – he’d proposed to me one night but I don’t remember much about it – and we were looking at houses together. My life was rote and exhilaratingly stable. I was on the path I’d laid out for myself years before.
Then I got the call that changed my life.
My mother had to have surgery on her knee: it was nothing serious but she would be out-of-commission for a few weeks. Could I come back home and help around the split-level? As much as I hated the idea of going back near the city – and the fact that this would mean missing probably at least two fish boils – I felt I needed to go. I also looked forward to getting out of town to plot out my ten-year plan with Bo, the optimal spacing of our future children, the eventual cessation of my job. I was nervous to come back and interact with the people who felt I was a snob when I’d abandoned their values: how would they accept me and my new downward lifestyle, my preference for one stoplight towns over bustling cities? I was wary but I also knew that going back to the big city was what I needed to do, at least for a few weeks.
I have to admit, in retrospect, I got a pleasant little rush and butterflies in my stomach as I drove through the city and looked at the high rises and skyscrapers all lit up against the skyline. I tried to deny the excitement I felt as if that would make it disappear. “I’m a country girl now,” I reminded myself. “I am on the slow track.” I got goose bumps seeing the outdoor cafés, though, the posters for foreign films, the multiculturalism, the fashion that considered both form and function. I buried myself in helping out at my parent’s house. I understand now that I felt if I could just distract myself with caring for my mom, I could ignore the pangs that kept burbling up and return to the life I insisted that I wanted, the one I’d created for myself with Bo in the country, the one I had more-or-less ambled toward my whole life.
We talked, predictable like clock work, at 6:45 every evening before Bo’s programs came on and hung up by 6:58. Bo was insecure about me being near the city. “Don’t find yourself getting swept away by some city slicker in black,” he told me, half-jokingly. “I need you and your child-bearing hips back here where they belong.” I reassured him that I would be back as soon as things were in order. He would talk to me more about his day and I would use the time to take a little catnap. He told me about the traffic violations ha almost issued tickets for that day, the cars he pushed out of ditches. I tried to sound interested but I was distracted. I told myself that it was just the fast pace of urban living that was wearing me out, that once I was back home, everything would return to normal. The truth was, though, that the thought of returning made me feel a little ball of dread in the pit of my belly. I labeled this as nerves and I kept myself busy.
A week before I was to return, though, I got a call from a childhood friend of mine, Suzanne. I’d been putting her off all week but she was insistent that I go to a bar with her and some friends Friday night. “You need to get out,” she told me. “You deserve to have a little fun.” Finally, Suzanne wore down my resolve. As stubborn as I was, I could still see that she was right, that I could use a little lift. I agreed. I would go out.
Friday night rolled around and I tried to get out of it. I called Suzanne and told her that I was tired, that I didn’t feel well. It was as though I sensed that my life was about to change and I was making a last ditch effort to circumvent that. Suzanne wouldn’t hear of it, though. She threatened that she would come and pick me up herself if I tried to get out of it. “Okay, okay,” I laughed. I picked out my one remaining black mini-skirt, my black heels for special occasions (none had really come up since I’d moved), a cute little top and fire engine red lipstick. It was as though after all these years, it all intuitively came back to me. My parents could scarcely hide their delight, standing in the foyer as I went out for the night.
“I’ll be home early,” I said. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
Little did I know that two hours later, I would be head-over-heels in love with a vegan graphic artist-stud with long, flaxen hair, ripped up jeans and a bike-toned backside who lived in a Wicker Park loft. All my aspirations of a peaceful country life on the slow-track would be shattered in one fateful night.
Stay tuned for my next installment 0f Urban Woman.