Talking About That Little Lady

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Pondering What it Means to be Ladylike in the Modern Era


Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Several years ago, my husband and I had some friends who were members of one of the Yacht Clubs in San Francisco. We would occasionally join the couple for dinner after a day of sailing.

The views were fantastic, the bartenders gave a deep pour, and the food was good (but not great).

San Francisco is well known for its more liberal political leanings, but the yacht clubs are where the more conservative (i.e. wealthy) can be found in the notorious hippie city. The rules of the yacht club dictated that we had to mind our p’s and q’s while there.

On one memorable night after a hearty dinner, the four of us retired to the bar with drinks in hand and began a rousing and competitive game of liar’s dice.

Just as things really got rolling, as it were, an Admiral of the club who was a huffing old man with a bulbous nose blooming with red capillaries, bustled over to us. He leaned over the bar and blurted, “Ladies do NOT throw dice in bars!”

Remember when you were a kid riding in the front seat of the car? And that moment when your mom would hit the brakes and throw out that strong mom arm to protectively keep you from flying through the windshield?

That is roughly the approach my husband took to keep me from getting very unladylike in a real hurry.

After the adrenaline dissipated and another drink was poured, I remember thinking how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.


The George Moro Dancers at El Rancho Vegas, 1949 — Photo by Don English, photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

These days I’m a lot older and a lot less inclined to take any guff off of anyone, particularly a stuffy old rich man. But this concept of “being a lady” and acting ladylike is still something I think about. In fact, as I age, it’s on my mind more than ever.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and had me late in life so I ended up with a more old fashioned set of values than many of my peers in school. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, women weren’t having kids into their late thirties, so my parents were a generation older than my friend’s parents.

Where they had cool bell bottom pant wearing moms and sideburn wearing dads who were easy, open, and permissive, my folks were stodgy and carried a depression-era sensibility about almost everything, including but not limited to: money, discipline, and politics.

But to their credit, where many of my female friends grew up with their parents saying, “When you grow up and get married…” mine were saying, “When you grow up and graduate from college…”

Pretty forward thinking for my ultra conservative folks.

So I followed their advice, went to college, got a post graduate degree and these days I work in operations to support scientists, including both physicists and engineers. While the percentage of women in the various STEM fields is still small, it is certainly growing. I am lucky to work with a lot of strong women in non-traditionally female professions. This has me thinking more and more about what it means to be a lady.

If clothes make the man, does how a woman dresses define whether or not she is a lady? With each passing year, the dress code of employers becomes more casual. Both men and women can wear khakis and a button down, so maybe clothes are no longer a deciding factor.

Once the measure of being a lady was being demure, subservient, speaking in low and melodic tones. My mother’s 1950’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook explains that my job as wife is to have the children clean and tidy for when my husband comes home. I should dress in a pleasing way and greet him at the door. That advice was prudent for the times, but is no longer the measure of what makes me, or anyone, a lady.

I’ve been noodling over writing this piece for a little over a month. I had started getting down the words when the Be a Lady They Said video went viral. I saw it posted on all of the social platforms. I didn’t want to seem like riding the coattails of that sentiment so I set this story aside. Perhaps I’m not the only one thinking on this topic.

This question of what it means to be a lady continues to rattle around in my brain so I dusted this story off and starting thinking about it again. As I enter the time of my life where I will no longer have the ability to bear children, an aspect some say defines the very nature of womanliness, I wonder who and what I am now that I am no longer young, with the power and energy that youth brings.

My face in the mirror is changing, my hair is rapidly turning gray, and what it means to be a lady, for myself anyway, is also changing.

So I haven’t yet answered the question of what it means to be a lady, and maybe I never will. Or maybe the answer is being a lady means whatever I want it to mean.

And for the record, ladies most certainly do throw dice in bars.


Royalty Free image from corbisimages.com

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there

The Roots of My Raising Run Deep

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Part V, and the conclusion of a five part series.

It was a short plane ride, take off, cruising altitude for something like a minute, then get ready for final descent into Las Vegas.

Las Vegas. My kind of town. Vegas and I go way back. Now you know my not so secret secret, I wasn’t actually born in New Mexico, I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada.

My dad was working out at the Nevada Test Site and one thing led to another and…

Growing up some of my friends liked to tease me that my parents took a gamble and lost. Oh! Hey! Good looking crowd. We’re here all night. Tip your waitress.

My folks loved living in Las Vegas, but for various reasons moved back to Albuquerque when I was very small. Really too small to remember much of life in Las Vegas. All I’ve ever known is New Mexico, so I still rightfully call myself a native.

I scrambled off that Southwest Airlines jet, through the jetway, and hit the carpet in McCarran Airport. I walked without hesitation to a bank of slot machines that were unoccupied and pulled up a seat.

My family likes to gamble. A trip to Vegas was my present for my twenty-first birthday. My folks used to get out there at least once, maybe twice a year and we kids often went along. I didn’t grow up in Vegas but I grew up an awful lot on the many casino floors through the course of my life.

The Vegas I know is an old school Vegas, from the 1970’s, and it always feels a little right to be there.

With twenty dollars in the slot machine, I managed to make it play for a little over a half hour. I’d get down to the last dollar then the machine would pay off again. I was on a nice hot streak. Not hot enough to cash out, but hot enough to have some fun.

When that was gone, I picked another machine and chased another twenty dollars around for about fifteen minutes.

When that was gone, I got up from the seat with a sigh. I felt hungry and went in search of something not airport-awful to eat. Over a really disappointing slice of Sbarro’s pizza, I stopped chewing for a minute and smiled.

A thought occurred to me. In that same day, I had been in New Mexico, I was in Las Vegas, and I’d soon be in California. Those are all of the places I have ever lived. Those are all of the places I know.

Those are all of the places I belong.

Kind of cool, really. Kind of a nice way to end my journey. A full circle kind of a thing.

My trip to New Mexico was, all in, pretty good. I was so glad I made the trip, so glad to see my best friend and my goddaughters, so glad to go home and immerse myself in memories (and make new ones too).

My trip to New Mexico was also a little difficult. You see, my dad died in 2005 and he’s buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. There was no way I could live with myself if I was in Santa Fe and didn’t go to the cemetery. And yet I really, really didn’t want to go to the cemetery. It’s not a joyful thing.

The last time I had visited was in 2009 and I was without a job and had lost my mind a little bit. I was scrambling to find a way to get back on my feet. That year I took a trip home to New Mexico to see if going back to my roots could help me find my compass needle.

I had cried a bit when my dad had died, but I was also a little stoic. My mom had asked me to be strong so that she didn’t have to be, and I agreed. I was as strong as I knew how to be back then, and a few years later there may have been some pent up stuff that needed to come out.

In 2009 when I found the stone that marks the place where my dad’s ashes are stored, it was a surreal experience. Gray skies opened up with rain and I stood there with my hand tracing the letters in stone and I cried, I keened, I howled. I scared the grounds crew. I honestly did, I freaked out this nice man taking care of the row of headstones nearby.

I guess back then I had some things I had to work out. On that recent spring day in March 2014, I was afraid that monster was still inside of me. I was terrified I’d find myself keening again at my father’s graveside. When considering going to the cemetery, I balked, I stalled, and finally I borrowed the keys to my friend’s new Suburban and set up Apple maps on my phone and took off on the highway, dreading it all the way.

Apple maps led me on quite a merry chase through the streets of downtown Santa Fe. That is a very old city, built by the Spanish Conquistadors so the roads are narrow and the sidewalks are high to accommodate horse drawn carriages.

With a little bit of axel grease and a shoehorn, I was able to navigate a huge Suburban through the streets, getting more lost by the moment.

Eventually, Siri found her head and I found my way, and there I was again, at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, both ready and not quite ready for what lay ahead.

That cemetery is always a difficult place for me. Rows upon rows of headstones mark all of my fellow New Mexicans who served in the military and who passed on, either in service of their country or later, as my dad had done. It is quite a humbling place for me, and that is even before I get to the place where I have to face my personal sorrow.

I had a bit of a false start, stopping at the wrong row of stones and realizing I was off by a bit. It didn’t take me a long time to find the right row and my father’s stone.

His ashes are in what is called a columbarium and it’s covered with a lovely piece of what I think is marble and secured to the wall with these connectors that look, to me anyway, like conchos.

They are so beautiful and so New Mexico appropriate.




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth


For personal reasons, I will decline to post the entire stone, but I wanted to share a nice photo of that fastener. It stands on its own as a useful reminder.

On this visit I didn’t keen and I didn’t wail, but I sure did cry an awful lot. I put my hands on the now weathered stone and I traced his name and the word “Korea,” the war in which he participated. I felt the cold marble and I noted the sand blasted wear and tear and laughed at the unyielding New Mexico elements that caused the letters to already become faded. It’s only been nine years.

“Well, dad, I guess I’m doing a lot better than I was the last time I was here,” I said aloud. And I was.

Seeing my father’s name carved into stone never fails to break me on some level. After pacing a bit and having a pretty hard cry, I walked up the row and sat on one of the benches. It looks out over the valley and has a gorgeous view.




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth



The mountains at my back and the dried grass and valley in front of me. The New Mexico unrelenting wind dried my tears the moment they slipped from my eyes. I laughed as the wind whipped at my hair. “Goddamn springtime wind,” I said to no one as I sat there alone.

Tumbleweeds of thoughts bounced in my mind. Through tears of sorrow, I smiled, because of that view, that place, that moment.

I had spent the past three days wondering I was even a New Mexican anymore. Sitting there, letting the climate steal my moisture and feeling grounded, I remembered that I always was and will always be.

I can never not be a New Mexican. Just as I can never not be born in Las Vegas. And I can never not be a damn near twenty-year veteran of California.

I am all of that. I am none of that. I am more than that.

I am greater than the sum of all my parts.

My version of New Mexico may not exist anymore but it’s mine. My particular brand of Las Vegas may not exist anymore, but I own it. My California is still telling me its story.

There is a lot left to learn about all of those places and as I gaze forward to the celebration of another revolution around the sun, I humbly admit there is an awful lot yet to learn about me.

What started as a fun trip to see my best friend in the entire world and my gorgeous godkids turned out to be something of a journey. A grounding moment in time that changed me, humbled me, reminded me and helped me grow.

I had no idea that was going to happen. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know. To paraphrase one of my oldest goddaughter’s favorite songs (that dates back to my college years), I might have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss that dance.

And there is no way I’d ever miss out on a good dance with some of my most favorite people in the world, back home where I belong.





Both photos Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. The fastener photo was further edited in Instagram.




Back Up Gig

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The morning team for my local sports radio is out in Scottsdale this week covering all the Spring Training fun.

This morning they observed the groundskeeper hosing down the infield and remarked that could be a possible fallback gig if this whole radio thing didn’t work out…

Hmmm….groundskeeper….not bad. I could pull that rake-boxey thing around the infield between innings. I could make those straight chalk lines. I could roll out that big ass tarp and unfurl it on the field. Yeeahhh.

I think I’ll add that to my list.

What list, you ask?

The list of “things that might pay less but would be a lot more fun” or also known as “what else I could do if this job doesn’t work out.”

You know, good, noble, hardworking gigs that don’t pay enough but also might let me sleep soundly at the end of the night.

Let’s see…what else might be on the list…

Rinse out girl at the hair salon. Sure, my hands would get a little worn out, but hey, all you gotta think about is lather, rinse, repeat.

Gate agent at the Kona International Airport. I think that explains itself.

Guy who stands there with a “slow” sign, waving traffic past a construction zone. Not that I want to actually *do* construction, just be that guy in the orange vest with the disaffected look waving at cars. I hear it pays pretty well!

Run the Ferris wheel at the amusement park. Sure, there is the occasional barfing incident, but mostly you bring people joy. Collect a ticket, strap ’em in and let centrifugal force do the rest.

Cocktail waitress at a Vegas casino. I may not have the legs for it anymore, so it might have to be one of those “off the strip” and rather dark casinos. But I could so wear a spangly dress and wander around saying “Drinks? Anyone need a drink? Drinks?” I imagine you meet some interesting folks with that gig.

Bartender. You know, back in my twenties, even though I had a pretty good office job, I often thought about going to bartender school so I’d have that as a backup. Bartending is more than pulling a tap and washing glasses if you do it right.

Of course, I’d want to be the kind of bartender who could make pretty much any drink you call out without looking at the book. It would be a point of pride. Good bartending is a lost art.

For a while, I thought I could be a Starbucks barista, but after hearing the tales from my New Mexico friend Natalie, I decided maybe not.

When I’d screw up at work, my boss at Sandia used to say I’d be perfect as slurpee machine maintenance man at the local 7-Eleven. Mainly because I’d matriculated at NMSU (as did he) I’m sure.

But being a 7-Eleven employee has often crossed my mind. In my early days in California, when my money was very tight, my local 7-Eleven had a sign up for a night clerk. I *seriously* considered applying.

Sure, it’s one of the most dangerous jobs you can have. But it’s not so bad, I think. You get to vend many of the most vital food groups in life like beef jerky, 40 ounce malt liquor and day old donuts. This is a key element of the running of our society in a smooth fashion!

Then there is always the ball washer at the local golf course (a job that sounds naughty but isn’t). If I also get to scuba dive in the water traps, that’s a TOTAL bonus!

Long haul trucker. Weirdly, that’s always appealed to me. I suppose that says something about my personality.

Anyhow…there’s a lot more on the list. This is but a sampling. But yup, I’m adding Spring Training ballpark groundskeeper.

I’d have to work my way up to nozzle girl, huh? I’d likely have to apprentice as hose holder first.

Verbal-Foo Skillz…I has them

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: cue the wavy lines and smoke :

Yes, we’re in the wayback machine, set to “semi-wayback”

Lo, these many years ago when I’d first moved to California, I started dating a guy who was (and is) a musician.

A blues musician, which means he played a lot of dark and, well let’s go with “gritty,” bars in the San Francisco and greater Bay Area.

So, being young and a fairly naïve rube from New Mexico, I used to get all dressed up in cute clothes and impossibly high heels, then head out, by myself, to these bars and clubs to see if I could get the musician to notice me.

So being a young, naïve girl all gussied up to go out, it stands to reason that I used to get hit on by the other patrons of the bars I attended.

A lot.

I mean, *a lot*.

Not because I’m exceptionally pretty, though I’m not a mud fence either. But mainly because I was a girl. Alone. In a bar.

Sort of a siren call for the drunk and lonely.

I have pretty much heard every pickup line in the book. And some from books that no one has written and never should.

Oh yes, I’ve heard ’em all…twice.

When I was feeling convivial, I’d play with the drunk, slurring sportos like a cat plays with a dying mouse. I’d bat them around a little bit before slamming down the paw.

If I wasn’t feeling convivial, I’d get out my acid tongue, a genetic gift from a rather acerbic aunt in my family tree, and burn them on the spot.

One of my favorites is still a late night when all the lights had come up in the bar. The guy I was dating was through working and before he began packing up his stuff, he came over to hang out with me for a minute.

Some very drunk fellow, sensing that the lights were up, began scrambling around to find a warm body, ANY body, to take home.

And of course, since I’m the freak magnet (it’s true, been observed by many a friend and even a family member or two), the slobbering drunk made a beeline for me.

His opening gamble was something slurred and incoherent. Honestly, I don’t remember what he said. I do remember his glassy eyed look as he slurred out something and waggled his eyebrows at me.

Weary with a night of fending off such fellows, I looked him square in the eye and asked, loudly, “Are you hitting on me?”

He slurred in return…”um…well, yes. Is it working?”

I replied, “Let me get this straight…you are hitting on me. And *that’s* your opening line? That’s the best you can do?”

Not to be deterred, he nodded and asked again, “It is working?”

“No,” I said very caustically, “And have you met my boyfriend?” who had been standing next to me the whole time.

Thankfully the very large and take-no-prisoners bartender then placed a beefy hand roughly on the drunk’s shoulder and shouted, “Get out!”

I relate all of this to place a context on the story that follows. So that you understand that, basically, I have learned how to handle myself.

However…

I stopped going to those sorts of clubs and bars a very, very long time ago. And I don’t miss them, honestly. Well, I miss the amazing music that the San Francisco blues musicians pump out, because there is some amazing untapped talent in that City.

But the clubs…I don’t miss them.

Which means, in my now suburban lifestyle, I don’t really get hit on like that anymore.

And you’d think my skills in handling the weirdos might have slipped.

Turns out, I still got it.

So there I was…down on Fremont street in Las Vegas with my trusty camera and the goal to shoot many of the restored old Vegas signs that the Neon Museum installed in the area.

It was about 10:00 in the morning, so that was probably my first mistake. Second, I was alone. Third, I was behind the camera and really in creative head.

All of this mixed together meant the moths came dashing over to knock themselves against my flame…so to speak.

At 10:00 in the morning, the tourists aren’t really out, so it was me and the, ahem, locals.

I got a lot of “heeey…wanna take *my* picture?”

Um, no.

“Heeey, what’s *your* name?” (my least fave opening line, btw)

But the best interaction went like this….

“Hey! Hey? HEY!?!?”

And so I finally turned to see who was bellowing at me.

“You are a big girl! I saw you walking by and I said to myself, I said, you know, big girls need loving too…”

Yep. That was his opening line. He called me fat and then decided I was so lonely cuz I’m such a big girl that I needed his, what would it be…pity? Charity? Selfless giving?

I said, “Uh huh.”

“Say baby, what’s your name?” he said, turning on ALL the charm.

“Lucy,” I replied (using my Nom de Bebida) followed by, “And my husband’s name is David.”

My suitor then sharply spun on one heel and walked away.

The rest of the morning was not just photography, but a continual improv show in which I was the only performer.

I was Lucy, I was a photography student at UNLV, my teacher had given me the assignment to shoot the signs, and ONLY the signs (in answer to the continual request to “take my picture!”), I was a local, I lived with an aunt and uncle, I’d been living here for a while, no I don’t have any spare change and by god I have a husband and don’t need your affections.

It was exhausting.

The final straw was the guy smoking a spliff who came up carrying a Wal-Mart plastic bag which he held out to me. “Wanna buy a Coach purse?” he offered.

And with that, I was done. I caught a cab back to my hotel and stayed inside the rest of the day.

I still got it, but mostly, I just don’t want to have to use it anymore.