Thursday, February 20, 2014

What to do when mistaken for a stripper

Yes, I write this from my middle-class pedestal. I’ve never fallen on life-threatening hard times, but I know this: Women, every single one of them, are worth more than their bodies. In an ideal world, everyone would see that.

-Amberly McAteer

I woke up and reached for my phone to check the time.  I had missed a call and received a text while I slept.  From a local number not saved in my phone.  No voice message, but the text came an hour after the call.  Simply, Hey.  I had a couple people in mind of who this might be, but didn't know for sure.

So, I replied: Hi. Who is this?


Now I had no idea who this could be.  This is where I may have made my first mistake (though some of you may be thinking I had already made a mistake), but it was early and my head was hurting and I reasoned this guy had heard my voice -- and my name -- when he got my voicemail. 

I'm sorry. Derek?... I'm Amy... Were you meaning to reach me?

His answer: Platinum

My stomach dropped.  That sounds like the name of a strip club, doesn't it?  I replied with a question mark, and then did an internet search.  Turns out there's a Platinum Salon in the area and a Platinum Plumbing Company.  But you don't normally make hair appointments at 2 am nor handle water emergencies via a one-word text. 

Most likely a local Platinum Club where sugar daddies meet sugar babies.

I figured my punctuated reply would be the last I heard from Derek, but I still couldn't help but think about who he might be -- his character.  His intentions with the girl the call and texts were meant for.  And what kind of life he must have to engage in that type of behavior.  And what about her?  Who was she?  Did she feel desperate?  Or unloved?  Or worthless?  Or was she feeding some addiction?  Or just trying to feed her babies?

In college, I worked the night shift at a hotel next to a similar type of establishment.  The small pieces of that industry I was exposed to there -- when greasy men and mostly-naked women would check in late at night -- was enough to make my skin crawl.

Another message box: Did i meet u at platinum

Okay, this guy was leaving less and less room for doubt.  I felt sorry for my secret sister.  I wondered if this guy had been such a creep she gave him the wrong number, or if he had just fumbled the number himself and got me.  I also felt sorry for him.  He obviously wasn't taught love or self-worth appropriately, either.  (And... well... I don't think this whole phone thing was going the way he had planned.)

And though I was safe at home on my couch I felt like I had come face-to-face with a man set on taking advantage of a woman.

Some disagree with me that an adult consenting to sexual acts in exchange for money is being taken advantage of.  Some might also argue that I really had no idea what Derek's true intentions were.  Still, I felt compelled to respond:

No, I have never been to Platinum.  Is that a "gentleman's" club?  I am sorry if I am being presumptuous, but I hope you were not trying to contact a woman to use her body.  I understand the allure of physical looks and pleasure alone, but women are so much more than that.  If that is all you are after, I would encourage you to seek out a woman who you can value and cherish and love and enjoy fully and completely, who will also value and respect you for all of who you are.  Commit to one another fully and for life.  It really is so much better that way.  I am speaking from experience.  Again, sorry if I misinterpreted this interaction.  I just feel passionately about this issue.

I usually am pretty agreeable and flexible on most issues.  I take a live and let live stance in my life and occupy a world filled with gray.  But for me, the commercial sex industry -- pornography, prostitution and all that goes with it -- is just downright unacceptable.  Intolerable.  I believe we can never, ever be okay with anyone trivializing sex to a business transaction.  (Which I also believe is actually impossible to do -- it will always be MORE than that, even in those one-time instances when money or goods change hands.)  It's even more deplorable when it is used to deliberately exploit and abuse.

I know many of my fellow humans, many of my fellow Americans, even many of my fellow women disagree with me on this.  That a little fun never hurt anyone.  That boys will be boys and it's one of womankind's longest-standing "professions."  But it is never okay to objectify and reduce a woman (or man, for that matter) down to just something pretty to look at or play with.

The more people who stand together on this one point, the better our world will be.

Please join me in taking every opportunity you can -- even those instances when you may be mistaken for a stripper -- to send a clear message about the true value and full worth of a woman.
To read more about my thoughts on the commercial sex industry as it relates to human trafficking, visit this previous post. (Explicit content warning)

Monday, February 17, 2014

On feeling accepted

So... what was your high school superlative?
-Grad school friend

We were sitting around a table at a restaurant just off campus.  Somehow the conversation turned to high school superlatives.  One friend had been voted Most Likely to Succeed, another Most Popular.  I laughed at jokes and stayed quiet until they asked me and I couldn't think of anything but the truth.  The gig was up.  They would know I'm a loser.

I wasn't voted anything.
Shocked faces.  And one friend said, "Not even class clown?"  I appreciated the sentiment, but no.

I never really had very many friends in school.  I never had to use more than three fingers to count them all, actually.  Everyone else was either mostly indifferent toward me or showed an open disdain.  They made fun of my glasses and made fun of my asthma and made fun of my clothes and made fun of my grades.  To the point that I didn't want to go to school anymore.  To the point that sometimes I didn't even want to live anymore.  To the point that I appreciated the people who just ignored me and I tried to stay ignored by as many people as I could as much as possible.  Things like high school superlatives were just another reminder that I was not in.

I thought the problem was me.  That I was unlikeable.  A loser.  It was a truth I accepted.  Until my sophomore year of college, when I made it to a departmental assembly early, signed in and retreated to a corner.  And a popular and beautiful classmate came over and began chatting.  Genuinely chatting.  My eyes darted around the room and I figured maybe I was better than no one to talk to.  But as the room filled up, and her friends filled out a circle that included me, she -- and the others -- were still acting friendly toward me.  Genuinely engaging me in conversation.  Genuinely including me.  And that was the beginning.  It was in the Department of Communication at Eastern Kentucky University that I felt accepted by my peers for the first time in my life.

I never let them in on the secret that I was an imposter -- that an uncool kid had infiltrated their fraternity and sorority and athletic ranks.

In grad school, I was afraid my loser status would be more obvious.  But for all their smarts, my classmates never picked up on it.  Until that fateful day when I had to confess: My school days had been completely different than theirs.  But they liked me anyway.  It was like a whole new world -- people knowing I'm not cool -- never had been even close -- and being friends with me anyway!

Out of school, I approached each new group of people with that same timidity I had as a child.  Expecting rejection, being surprised by acceptance.  Work friends, church friends.  I even scored an extremely hot husband, against all odds.

I didn't realize until well into my adulthood that I wasn't a loser.  I was just bullied by a few misguided classmates.  The problem wasn't me, it was them.  And while I still carry around some scars from those days, I'm getting more and more comfortable -- less shocked and surprised -- by the blessing of acceptance among friends.

Since moving back to Kentucky God has bonded me with a precious and beautiful group of women who have transcended friendship into sisterhood.  Last summer half of us were pregnant and those without a baby bump got an aunt-to-be shirt as a consolation prize.  Well, everyone but me.  Mine said, "I'm the cool aunt."  And it wasn't even a cruel joke.  If the eight-year-old Amy who sat crying at her birthday party because no one showed up could have only known this would happen.  That she'd have more friends and relationships than she felt like she could maintain.  That those friends would bestow on her such a coveted adjective.  That she really wasn't a loser after all.  I think it would have made those hard years easier.

And so, to all the other girls out there who sit alone and cry alone -- who don't have the right clothes or the right looks or the right social status.  To the girls (and boys) who have been made to believe you are not good enough: I can tell you that they're wrong about you.  You actually are the cool kid yourself.  And someday you'll feel loved and you'll feel accepted and you'll even have the t-shirt to prove it.

Friday, February 14, 2014


You'll know what to say.

I knew Pop was sick.  When I lived in Kansas I lived in fear of the phone call telling me he didn't wake up that morning.  Pop lived life large, full-speed always.  I always figured one day he'd just stop. 

That's why I was thankful he still hadn't stopped by the time I made it back to Kentucky.  And that's why once I got back home I soaked up time with him. 

I could see him getting worse during his last year.  His bad days were outnumbering his good ones.  His abilities, while still impressive, were subtly shrinking.  The first time I saw him walk with a limp I went home and cried.  My big strong Pop was breaking.

My heart knew our time couldn't be too long and I wanted to write words to honor him.  I wrestled with many that were never quite right.  I paid silent tribute to him when I quoted him in columns and speeches.  The audience and the speaker would never know from where those words came.  But I knew and I made sure Pop knew.  It was my way of spreading him out and sharing him with my world.

I kept wanting to write about Pop and how much he meant to me, but I'd give up in frustration each time I tried.  In the hospital his last month, after one of the sweetest (classic Pop) jokes I've ever heard, he asked me to write something to be read at his funeral.  We all knew it wouldn't be long.

And with that simple request I felt like I had been given a privilege I was all too unworthy of.  Me? Are you sure? And he nodded.  It would be an honor.  What do you want me to say?

"You'll know what to say," he said.

Our last Valentine's Day together for awhile.
I share with you today what I wrote back then as a tribute to my life-long Valentine, my Pop.  For me, I never really understood the romance wrapped up in today.  For me, this holiday always celebrated a different kind of love.  Pop showered me with love every day, but Valentine's Day was always special for us.  No matter where I was or where he was, he made sure I got my valentine.

Last year I didn't know it would be our last one together.  He was sick and I was swamped at work.  I didn't have time to drive up on Valentine's day, and I wasn't even sure he felt much like celebrating anyway.  I so wanted another holiday like the ones I remembered as a child.  But I told myself that love isn't expressed through chocolate on February 14th, and knew that I could go visit him later in the month for a make-shift celebration.  He didn't bring Valentine's Day up last year, and I tried not to make a big deal out of it.  Myself, I chose silence over the possibility of a vocal let down: "Not this year."

But off work that night, I turned left on my street and saw his red Impala.  And the tears just flowed.  Such a beautiful gift.  I opened my door and we hugged and we cried.  What are you doing here?

"I had to bring my baby her valentine," he said.  What a beautiful last Valentine's Day we had together.

And to honor him again now, I share this excerpt from his eulogy:

When I was twelve years old, Poppaw baptized me.  It was significant as all baptisms are, but especially that he was the one to do it.  Several years earlier I had made the decision that when that day came for me I wanted to be baptized by Jesus.

When it was explained that someone else would have to fill in for Jesus, I picked Poppaw.  It wasn't the first time he did the work of Jesus in my life and it wouldn't be the last.

I didn't always understand Poppaw -- and maybe in some ways I still don't.

I used to think he was a spoil-sport.  He'd cut trips short just to get back home.  Too many people stressed him out, even if they were people he loved.  And he wasn't ever very eager to spend his money on fun things.  He wasn't really very eager to spend his money on anything, actually.  Except maybe a car.

And then only if he could get a bargain.  Poppaw could wheel and deal like no one else I know.  He was still making trades from his hospital bed in his final weeks.

He'd walk around the house turning off lights and picking up pop cans, shaking them to see how much was left.  He'd find their owners and remind them to finish their first drink before opening another.

But I've come to realize -- and appreciate -- his strength and resilience.  I've even come to love his quirks, born from a hard life of making do and getting by -- beautifully and gracefully -- with barely enough.

He parented children in his home for six consecutive decades.  As an adult, I've wondered where he learned to be a father.  His own dad died when he was nine and he spent much of his childhood being an adult.

The ones who came those first few decades would probably say he learned through trial and error.  From the stories I hear I wouldn't argue.  He wasn't perfect, but he did the best he could.  The best he knew how.  And all of us who came from him and granny -- children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and now the great-great grandchildren -- can be sure of one thing above all else: He loved us.  He loved his family.

Even more than he loved to fish.

Pop was stubborn.  Actually, stubborn isn't a strong enough word to describe it.  If something didn't work, he made it work however he could.

And you can't talk about Pop without talking about how hard he worked.

If he could get out of bed and wasn't at the river, you could guarantee he was doing one of three things: Working -- full throttle, sweat-dripping work.  Talking on the phone.  Or worrying.  Sometimes he managed to do all three at once.

But when I think about Pop, the thing uppermost in my mind -- other than the love and devotion and service to the Lord that colored the last half of his life -- is the way he loved people.  The way he helped and served.

Poppaw means different things to all of us.  But if there was one thing we could all come together on, it's this: If you needed him, he was there.  If you called him, he would come.  If you asked for help, he would give it.  Each one of us here could think of a time when he made things better for us.  It might have been a mess of green beans, a ride, a home repair, new shoes, or maybe a hug, a prayer, a good word.

And I think that's the legacy he leaves behind.

We learned from him -- and from granny -- how to love the Lord and do what we know to be right.

And I think Pop will live on in our hearts and in our actions, too.  When we stop on the side of the road to help a stranger.  When we plant a garden and share our harvest.  When we admire the mountains and the trees and the flowers and show care to animals.  When we cast our poles in the water.  When we make a good trade.  Or a quick fix with duct tape.  When we put in a hard day's work.  We saw him do those things so many times...

Happy Valentine's Day, Pop!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Write (Take 2)

The thing about writing is that at some point somebody's going to want to read it.
-Lisa Jo Baker

I can't remember a time without this passion, this drive.  A child, too innocent and ignorant to do anything but surrender to it.  An adult, too unsure to even acknowledge it.

So I put away childhood dreams and entered adulthood with this passion awkwardly beside me.  It straining around and around, me craning my neck further and further away.  I ignored it, but we both knew I knew it was there. 

It kept pecking on my shoulder and I kept pretending like I didn't feel a thing.

I was afraid to write.  Because who will read my words?  Who would see my heart laid bare?  I don't know.  Once on paper they could get to anyone.  Far too dangerous a risk for me.

And that was life.

Until I began to write for a living.  And hiding behind others' names and agency titles, I was free to let words flow anonymously.  Mine, but not really and I got to practice my craft.  And the passion grew and burned and became an overpowering flame.

And still these days, my page stays mostly blank.

[That's five minutes, but I'm going to continue...]

Fingers hovered above a keyboard, trembling.  Still afraid to write.  Because who will read my words? 

A different question than before.  No longer how can I keep them hidden, but now how can I see them exposed?  Flung into the world, will they even be relevant, significant at all?  I don't know.  And that makes exhausting work harder and leaves it undone.

But I am reminded that I am not the one in charge.  That there is One who is author, editor, publisher, reader.  That these words inside should be let out and entrusted to Him.  That the words I saw a girl today, legs stretched out, and a man hunched over her feet, shining her boots will rattle around until I release them.  And I only need to let them go, not worry who will receive them.

Because I know He read my words when they were written just on my heart.  And world aside, He reads what I write today.  And writing for an audience of One is more than enough for me.


Read my first take on the Write prompt here.

Lisa Jo Baker invites bloggers to freewrite for five minutes each week on specific prompts. And then to share with the world what's on the page when the buzzer sounds. Learn more about this anxiety-inducing freewrite flashmob here.