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Friday, July 11, 2014

The Story Behind "American Idols"

The title for this story doesn’t actually come from American Idol like some readers of the story first thought. My choice for title just comes from the idea that the kids of the story idolize these modern cultural “icons” (yes, I use that word loosely). So the idea just stemmed from the fact that these are idols and they are American. The fact that it came out sounding like that piece of “entertainment” (yes, I use that word loosely) was purely coincidental. It might be time to go through my music to find a song title to name it after.

The idea for this story started with a Halloween costume. Not mine, but Julianne Hough’s. At the time she had showed up at a Halloween party dressed up as Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black. The major issue is that Julianne Hough is white and Crazy Eyes is a black character. Naturally, people screamed “Black Face” without actually understanding what true “Black Face” is. Meanwhile it gave me an idea for a story.

The main kernel of the idea was a white kid going to school as a historical black figure. I wanted to play with the perceived offensiveness of this concept, the white kid dressing up as a black character to honor them rather than to denigrate them (which is what true “Black Face” is for, to denigrate). I used depictions of children dressing as modern over the top pop stars to juxtapose the absurdity of their idols with the one that Stephanie chooses.

I will do a revision of this story, most likely giving the teacher more of a reaction to Stephanie’s appearance and to keep the action from venturing too far from the event and the classroom setting.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

American Idols, Part 2

“Ok, class,” she said as she stood up from her desk. “It is so exciting to see all of you dressed up in such colorful outfits this morning.” The students took their seats as she spoke. She moved to the podium in the front of the room. “As always I’m so excited to see what you have come up with for your presentations.”
Stephanie gave one more look over her paper before placing it carefully back into her backpack.
“I know normally I’d take roll right now,” Mrs. Meyer continued, “but today I’ll take it as you go through your presentations. So that’s enough from me for now. First, we’ll bring up Stephanie Anderson.”
A shock of nerves ran down Stephanie’s back and settled in her stomach. For a moment she wasn’t sure if she could move from her seat. Finally, she stood up and made her way to the front of the class. As she walked up the row of desks the seated students quieted. She took her spot behind the podium and cleared her throat. She looked out at the silent classroom, the looks on her classmates’ faces not registering in her nervous mind.
“I have a dream,” she began.
Marcus began to sob. “She’s wearing blackface,” he shouted. Stephanie finally saw the faces of her fellow classmates. The faces registered shock. Tears trailed down Marcus’ cheeks washing trails in his pale makeup to reveal his dark skin underneath.
Mrs. Meyer stood up and walked to the front of the podium and faced Stephanie. “Stephanie Darla Anderson!” she said. “How dare you come into my classroom wearing blackface. Never have I seen such a thing in my classroom. To the principal’s office, now.”
The corners of Stephanie’s mouth turned down, and her chin dimpled as she walked back to her desk to grab her backpack. She tried to hold in the tears, but it became increasingly difficult as she felt the eyes of the class follow her out of the room.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Anderson, but...” Stephanie could hear Principal Fleury’s voice from his office.
“Tricia,” her mom said. “Please call me Tricia.”
Stephanie sat outside the principal’s office while he spoke to her mom. After she had left class, the principal had made her go to the bathroom and wash the makeup off her face so she wouldn’t look so offensive. Her face and neck mostly revealed her light complexion now, but with streaks of dark brown from the makeup she couldn’t clean off. A steady stream of light tears fell from her eyes since she left Mrs. Meyer’s class.
“I’m sorry, Tricia, but we can’t allow something as offensive as blackface in this school. White children should not dress up with brown makeup to darken their skin color, it’s just not right.”
“I understand,” Tricia said.
“We have a zero tolerance policy on this sort of violation. I have no other choice but to suspend Stephanie for three days.”
“Three days?”
“My hands are tied, Tricia.”
“Well, thank you for letting me know.” Tricia came out of the principal’s office and knelt in front of Stephanie and smiled at her. Stephanie didn’t look at her. Tricia pulled a tissue from her purse and wiped the tears from Stephanie’s cheeks. “Come on kiddo, let’s get you home.”
Tricia held out her hand and Stephanie took it without looking. They walked out of the school and back to the car. As Tricia opened the car door for Stephanie to get in, Stephanie grabbed on to Tricia and started crying.
“What did I do wrong, Momma?” she asked.
Tricia knelt down and put her arms around her daughter. “Nothing kiddo, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I thought I could be anything I wanted,” Stephanie said.

“You can. But this is America, honey, it has to be within reason.” 

Monday, July 7, 2014

American Idols, Part 1

            Stephanie Anderson was excited when she walked into Mrs. Meyer’s second grade class on Tuesday morning. It was American Idols day in class; a day to celebrate the people that the class held as heroes. There were some restrictions: your hero had to be someone famous, either a celebrity or a historical figure. This meant that Stephanie couldn’t go as her grandma, which is what she really wanted to do. She had a great idea, though, and she couldn’t wait to show off her hero for the class. They also had to come in dressed as their hero, and they had to give a short presentation.
            That morning, her mom helped her with her costume, which they had picked out over the weekend at the local Goodwill. For her presentation, she would get up in front of the class and give a speech. Not one that she had made up herself, but one that came from her American hero. She knew that she wouldn’t have time to give the entire speech, but she wanted to give enough of the speech so that the class knew who her hero was.
            When she entered the classroom, no one noticed her. The seating arrangement was set up in reverse alphabetical order by last name, so Stephanie was seated toward the rear of the class close to the door. She didn’t really want to be noticed though, not now. She wanted to make her grand entrance at the podium when she went up to give her speech.
            Her main concern now was making sure that no one else had picked the same hero that she had chosen. She scanned the classroom, looking around at the students that had arrived in class before she had. There was a buzz of excitement around the room as the students showed off their costumes to each other. It looked like almost everyone had already arrived in class, and they were dressed in a colorful array of costumes.
            Brenda Mackey wore a one piece with a winking teddy bear on the front. The teddy bear had its tongue sticking out, and the ears were where Brenda’s breasts would be if she were old enough to have any. On her hand, she had a foam finger that she kept making suggestive motions with that she had seen on TV, motions that she wasn’t quite old enough to discern what they meant. She was grinding on her brother Tyson who was dressed in a black and white striped suit. They were showing Marcus Redford the dance moves they had been practicing for their joint presentation.
            Marcus leaned against a desk as he watched Tyson and Brenda dance, nodding his head as if listening to music they were performing. For his idol, Marcus had to have his face done up with make-up to lighten his black complexion. He wore a blond Halloween wig that flowed past his shoulders, and a dress made out of pink and red fabric sown together to look like slabs of meat. As Tyson and Brenda finished their dance, Marcus started singing, “I’m on the right track, baby/ I was born this way.”
            Stephanie saw Jeremy Spencer across the room. He had his hair styled into a modified pompadour with a considerable amount of gel and hair products. His skin was covered in an uneven and dark fake tanning spray. He carried around a Fisher Price Turntable that he sat on a desk and acted like he was a DJ in a nightclub getting the attention of some of the other students. Jeremy started pumping his fist in the air, shouting, “GTL! GTL! GTL!”
Mrs. Meyer laughed at the display from her desk at the front of the classroom and asked Jeremy, “What does GTL stand for?”
“Gym Tan Laundry,” Jeremy said in an unconvincing Jersey accent. “Maybe you should try it out, Mrs. M.” The teacher laughed as the rest of the class went back to cheering him on.

There were a lot of different costumes among the class, and some were repeated, but no one seemed to have thought of wearing the same costume as Stephanie. While everyone was showing off their costumes, she opened up her backpack and pulled out a piece of paper. On the paper was her speech. She didn’t want to forget it and make her hero look bad, so she studied until Mrs. Meyer called the class to order.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Story Behind "All the Money in the World"

Surprise, surprise! Another short story with a song title; this one comes courtesy of Black Lab’s track “All the Money in the World”.

I wrote this story while working in a Pleasures of Satire class. At the time I was working on various ideas for a concept. Among them was the idea of a play where a man was creating an atomic bomb in his basement because the 2nd amendment. I was also annoyed by how people walk the halls of building on campus, so I considered writing a “Campus Walking License Manual” that would be a licensing program for incoming freshman that they would have to complete prior to walking on campus. I will probably return to the former idea, the latter doesn’t hold much interest for me at this point though.

A news story and a debate broke my final concept of the story. The day I came up with the concept I was having a debate about how McDonald’s is costing taxpayers about $1.2 billion a year due to low wages for employees. That same day the story broke about how Wal-Mart management was asking employees to donate food and items to other less fortunate employees who weren’t getting paid enough to provide their families for the holidays.

I will probably do a few revisions to this piece, but mostly I’m pretty happy with it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

All the Money in the World, Part 2

            “Hello,” the voice on the other end of the call said.
            “Jim, you old coot,” Charles said, “how you doin’?” Charles and Jim grew up in Virginia together. While in the business world Charles maintained a professional manner, when talking to the good old boys from home he lapsed into the parlance of his youth.
            “I’m in recess, so I’d say I’m doin’ mighty fine,” Jim said.
            “Workin’ on your golf swing.”
            “Five below par, wouldn’t you know.”
            “Yeah, we’ll see about that next time you’re near the city. By the way, thanks for pushing that tax cut through. Thanks to that cut I was able to take Loretta to the Burj Khalifa, even after the $500,000 contribution I promised you. She’s been wanting to go there ever since she saw a picture of Tom Cruise sitting on it.”
            “Now, Charlie, you know those cuts are meant to increase productivity and work force for corporations and businesses.”
            Charles sat at his desk motionless, then he burst into laughter. Jim soon followed. “You almost had me there, Jim.”
            “I thought you had a heart attack there for a minute.”
            Tears streamed down Charles’ face, he took a handkerchief from his trousers’ pocket and wiped away the tears. The laughter between them slowly died down. “Hey, Jim, I need a favor.”
            “What can I do ya for?”
            “You still oversee that food stamp committee in Congress?”
            “The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight and Nutrition? Yeah, why?”
            “I just found out that most of our employees can’t afford our food, and...”
            “You thinkin’ about giving them raises.”
            “Enough joking around, Jim, I’ve got business to discuss.”
            “Sorry, go on.”
            “Well, I know right now food stamps aren’t allowed to be used for fast food.”
            “Across most of the country, there are a couple states that allow it.”
            “And that ain’t enough for me. Profits are up this year, but if the employees could buy our food I know we could get them higher.”
            “That’s going to be a hard one to push through Charles.”
            “My bonus is riding on it. I’ll tell you what, you push this through for me, and I’ll promise you a $1.5 million contribution.”
            “That big a deal, huh?”
            “Let’s just say, if this works out, even after that contribution I could buy Devin this custom Lamborghini MurciĆ©lago I saw while I was in Dubai for his thirteenth birthday.”
            “Nice gift. For that contribution, though, I’ll move heaven and earth to get that passed for you.”
            “Thanks Jim, it means a lot.”
            “Hey Charlie?”
            “Where’s Devin gonna drive that thing at thirteen?”
            “I bought a racetrack last month. He doesn’t know it yet, figured I’d surprise him with the car and track.”
            “Lucky kid, kind of wish you were my dad.”
            “Get that thing passed and I’ll see what I can do.”
            “Alright Charlie, I’ll talk at ya later.”
            Charles hung up the phone and shook his head. He wore a big smile on his face. He picked up the budget and looked it over again before pushing the intercom.
            “Ms. Terrien, can you come in here again please.”
            The glass door to Charles’ office opened, and Stephanie walked back into the room with her yellow legal pad.
            “I think I have a way we can help our employees have a better holiday this season.”
            “Yes sir.”
            “Write this down, please.”
            Stephanie sat down across from Charles and readied her legal pad. “I’m ready sir.”
            “At the next managers’ meeting, which I believe is next week...”
            “Next Saturday,” she said.
            “Yes,” he said. “I want all of the managers to set up some kind of giving tree, nothing too ornate or expensive. Come up with some wording to communicate that this giving tree will be for employees to give to other needy employees to help them have a better holiday season.”
            Stephanie had stopped writing before Charles finished, and she stared at him.
            “Is there something wrong Ms. Terrien?” he asked.
            She shook her head and turned her attention back to the legal pad. “No sir. So the employees should offer to donate supplies to the other employees.”
            “Exactly, this should help foster a sense of team spirit among the franchise employees.”
            “They will definitely be united in a common cause, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you at this moment?”
            “That will be all, Stephanie.” He smiled at her.
            She stood up and began to leave the room.
            “Ms. Terrien?”
            She turned around at the door.
            “How much do you make?”
            A puzzled look came across her face. “Currently, I am salaried at $60,000 annually. May I ask why, sir?”
            “Oh, no reason,” he said turning his attention back to the budget on the desk. “Thank you Stephanie.”
            Stephanie left the room, and the door closed behind her.

            “We may have to find some way to rectify that,” Charles said to himself.