Stephanie Haun: Thoughts on Beauty, Bologna, and Lewis Grizzard (essay)


Thoughts on Beauty, Bologna, and Lewis Grizzard

Anyone who knows me understands there are very few books or articles I haven’t read.  Amongst all the scholarly and literary reading I have done, I’ll even admit to enjoying the occasional trashy novel or magazine—who doesn’t?  I mean, I am the proud owner of the July 1978 Playboy magazine, and yes, I did read the articles and interviews in it.  The comics were some of my favorites, considering my warped sense of humor.  Let’s face it, who would have thought to illustrate a scene between Dr. Watson having a little daytime fun with the maid, and Sherlock walking in on them while searching for his cocaine solution?  I found that funny, but the real reason behind my ownership of that specific issue really was for the cover photo and the cover model’s interview—all for academic reasons, mind you.  You see, Pamela Sue Martin posed for the cover.  For those of you who don’t remember, Martin portrayed Nancy Drew in the television series “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” and was a teen heartthrob for boys everywhere.  However, she was anxious to shake off her good girl image and spring into adulthood, so naturally, posing for Playboy was obviously the only way to do that, or at least that’s how I remember the interview going, but that’s not the only reason why I have that issue.  She posed for the cover photo as a scantily clad detective wearing nothing but a trench coat and seductively holding a magnifying glass.  Basically, she was cashing in on her fame as Nancy Drew—and there lies the academics of this story.

I was in my final semester of graduate school, and my final research essay for a children’s literature class was about the evolution of Nancy Drew and the impact that character had on American girlhood, or whether the culture defined the character.  In my research, I discovered that Martin had posed for Playboy.  I know in our culture today, there are Disney stars (Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, etc.) working to shake off the Mousketeer image, but I can’t help believing that maybe it all started with Playboy and how certain characters impacts the culture.

With Nancy Drew, in her original 1930s glory, she was independent.  A trend-setter, if you will.  She was fearless but not reckless.  She was strong, out-going, and ultimately what her original author, Mildred Benson, felt girls should strive to be.  She was the product of what the suffragettes had worked for, and what was wrong with that?  Nothing.  However, there is something that no matter which incarnation of Nancy Drew is being discussed, they all had one thing in common.  They were all pretty.  Maybe not completely drop-dead gorgeous, but they definitely weren’t ugly.  She had the complete package: brains, looks, and common sense.  Nancy Drew hit the trifecta of what every girl should aspire to be—including me.

I’m not blonde, nor will I ever be blonde.  It doesn’t matter what kind of new hair bleaching/dying technique or chemical is on the market, my hair will always be brown with copper tones.  The one time I did try to bleach my hair, it turned out the color of a shiny new penny—copper.  A curl is something my hair will never hold, and any kind of body that hair could possibly have, mine didn’t get the memo that “body” was an option for hair.  So, I rely on product.  In this respect, I think Nancy Drew might have set me up for failure.  Her hair was always depicted as perfect, and in my imagination, it would remain perfect throughout a restless night.  She would wake up with perfect hair, and ready to go for the day.  No need to wash it first.  I, on the other hand, can’t do that.  As a high school student, incidentally Nancy Drew’s age, when I had longer, more feminine hair, this was never an option.  My skin, and therefore my hair, has always been extremely oily.  I could sleep for an hour at the least, and my hair would look like I had slept with my head in a seasoned cast iron skillet.  It was just greasy and had to be washed every single day.  Now with my short hair, it’s not much better.  It’s still greasy, but this time there is the bonus of waking up with a faux hawk, or some other bed head design.  The natural oils combined with whatever hair goo I used the day before create an unnatural paste.  My father has been known to rub my unwashed head saying that he always heard it was good luck to pet a porcupine.  I don’t think that is a compliment.  If it is, it’s not a very good one.

My hair is my hair.  It is what it is, and I’m okay with not being blonde.  No one in my family is blonde anyway, and if my hair stays latched to my head and holds its color for as long as humanly possible, then I can truly say I’ve beaten the inherited gray hair curse.  So far, at thirty-six, I’m doing well.  My mother and her father were both completely gray, or close to it, when they were my age, so I must take this hair trait after my father.  Just like the rest of my hair traits—thanks, Dad.

My mother, like my perception of Nancy Drew, is petite.  She’s short, and relatively skinny, with a tiny bone structure.  Me . . . not so much.  Obviously, dear old Dad’s genes were the dominant ones.  My mother’s 5’4” tiny frame is nothing compared to my father’s 6’5” colossal one.  I am somewhere in the middle, standing at 5’10” and with the build of my father.  I’m just a slightly smaller version.  Both of my parents seem to have inherited their frames from their mothers, and their height from their fathers.  Not only did I get my height from my father, I also inherited the broad shouldered, unfeminine frame—thanks again, Dad.

From both my parents, I managed to inherit a couple other horrid traits.  Hair.  Not the  greasy mess on my head which came solely from my father.  But I’m talking about body hair.  I’m luckier than some.  My excess hair is focused solely on my arms, especially since I began shaving my legs as a teenager.  My mother had loads of arm hair, my father is just hairy.  I didn’t have a prayer in that respect.  Both of my parents have big feet and big ears.  Thanks to them, I have Dumbo ears and I can wear Bozo the Clown’s shoes.  Are we seeing where I am going with this?

I do not possess the physical attributes of the illustrated, or even film/television, Nancy Drew.  Hell, I’ve seen ALL of Pamela Sue Martin after that Playboy interview, and I can safely say, “Nope.  I’ve got none of that going on, either.”  So, what exactly do I have going on?  Like the characterizations of Nancy Drew, I like to think I also have a brain that I know how to use, but the only physical attribute I have that I am partial to is my nose.  Unlike my parents, I managed to have a small, dainty nose.  It’s the only thing about me that is dainty.  And I like it.  I suppose my eyes aren’t so bad.  They are green like my father’s.  Mom was blessed with blue eyes.  However, I do have a little unique thing that happens with my eyes.  The color sometimes changes.  They are either bright green, or sometimes they take on a grayish quality with a green hue.  It’s almost like I have mood ring irises.  They change color according to mood and surroundings.  I think that might be kind of interesting.

While I don’t naturally exhibit the traits that would make people call me pretty, I’m also missing out on the drive to attempt to look pretty (except on special occasions).  Care is something that I don’t take when it comes to getting ready for work in the morning.  I shower, attempt to fix my hair, get dressed, and head out the door.  I slap on some make-up in the car (of course while I’m sitting at the red light) to hide my rosacea—thanks, Mom—after I have had the air conditioner going full blast.  The Tennessee humidity is not kind enough to allow me to take a lot of effort in my appearance in the house, after a shower.  If you haven’t tried to apply foundation with perspiration on your forehead, you should be advised: don’t even try.  Streaked make-up is anything but sexy, and you can forget about trying to apply any form of eye make-up when you tend to sweat like Patrick Ewing playing a full, four-quarter game against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.  It just doesn’t work.  So, I don’t make the attempt daily.  I dress comfortably, and I apply as minimal make-up as humanly possible.  It’s not worth accompanying the physical meltdown with an emotional meltdown because my mascara can’t stick to my sweat-moistened eyelashes.  My sweating problem—thanks, Dad.

To me, Nancy Drew was the epitome of style and beauty.  She wore the trendiest clothes, she had the perfect hair, and no matter the situation, she never looked like a hot mess.  She was what I needed to work toward, but nature just wasn’t having it.  Or maybe it had something to do with that whole nurture thing like Lewis Grizzard mentioned in his book, Shoot Low Boys, They’re Ridin’ Shetland Ponies.  Maybe it all had to do with bologna.  In the chapter, “Ugly Goes Clear to the Bone,” Grizzard has it figured out that his overconsumption of bologna didn’t help his looks any.  For a man from Georgia, who bled Georgia Bulldog red and black, this Tennessee girl has to give him some credit.  He may be on to something there.  He discussed the adage, “you are what you eat,” and he also said that he “would have been a stick of bologna” by the time he was ten.  He already admitted to being an ugly child, but instead of looking to his genetics, he looked at his food choices, or lack thereof.

Thanks to his family economics, he was not fond of all the bologna he had to eat, and I’m not really sure why.  I think I might agree more with his mother.  Bologna has a staying power, the taste isn’t all that bad, and—most importantly—it’s cheap.  Bologna has a staying power.  And the taste isn’t all that bad.  At one point, he does ask what bologna is exactly, and while his account of his mother’s reaction might be slightly exaggerated, claiming that the question was like he had asked, “for an explanation of sexual reproduction.”  The response was a “hush” and that “you would have thought [he] had asked for an explanation of sexual reproduction.”  I can understand the reaction to the hard questions, but about bologna?  However, that thought did strike a chord in my mind.  What is bologna?

I know when I go shopping at the grocery store, there are different kinds of bologna.  There are the ever so popular Oscar Mayer varieties of beef bologna, regular bologna, chicken bologna, thick sliced bologna, fat free bologna, 98% fat free bologna, bologna with the red casing still attached, bologna that’s still in the casing and not sliced.  I mean, it seems like there are a thousand different kinds of Oscar Mayer bologna.  Not to mention the other thousand brands like Bryan, Elm Hill, Gwaltney, Boar’s Head, and the list goes on and on.  Out of all these types of bologna, I can see why Grizzard’s mother was appalled at his question.  How do you answer a loaded question like that?

Other than going through the store to read every single ingredient, on every single package of bologna, I decided to use something Grizzard’s mother didn’t have available to her—the internet.  Upon my research, maybe I can see more of Grizzard’s point about bologna—consumption an ugly food caused the consumer’s lack of attractiveness.  Bologna production is slightly disturbing to one’s stomach, but I kept reading.  I learned that bologna products are considered to be a type of sausage, especially since they are packaged in a casing, which can be edible or not (my only experience has been with the inedible red plastic kind, but more on that later), it is generally made from a combination pork and beef (unless the label says otherwise), and that in order to give it a smooth, slimy texture it has to be pulverized into an unrecognizable paste and flavored with spices and other not-so-nutritious additives before the machinery stuffs it into the casing.  This pulverization process is denoted on the ingredients list as some form of mechanically separated meat, or in other words, the leftovers from whatever animal has already been processed for the typical cuts of chops, sirloin, ribs, etc.  That gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “waste not, want not.”

Growing up, I have eaten my fair share of bologna and other assorted potted meats, and I have enjoyed every bit of it.  My earliest memory of eating potted meat dates back to my preschool years.  In the early 80s, my parents decided to take me to Lewis Grizzard’s home state of Georgia to visit Six Flags.  After a three-hour trip in the car, we arrived at the park and found it closed.  A meltdown did happen.  I’m not proud of it, but I was also four.  Like loving parents, they did their best to calm me down.  Before their days of having a credit card, and only bringing a set amount of cash for the trip, they made their money work for them, and me.  We stayed in a cheap Days Inn, and they bought a few meager groceries to get us through the night.  Among those groceries were cans of Vienna sausages and canned Coca-Colas.  The Coke products had a coupon for a reduced admission price to the theme park, and luckily, I loved the Vienna sausages.  And to this day, I still do.

At this point, even with a meltdown over not getting to meet Bugs Bunny on the day promised, I think I was a cute kid.  My mother didn’t try to switch me in the hospital, I don’t remember kids calling me ugly, or as in Grizzard’s case, “double ugly.”  Even with my parents’ least endearing features, I was still young and small enough to be cute.  However, after that trip to Six Flags, Vienna sausages became a staple food in the house.  And with it came bologna—and the beginning of the end of my cuteness.

My grandparents always had bologna, but I never ate any of it until I was older.  My grandfather always had the bologna with the red casing still attached.  It looked odd to me.  My mother bought one of the Oscar Mayer fat free varieties, which was casing free, and extra slimy.  Any cuteness I may have had going on, the fat free bologna probably helped to preserve that a little longer, until I got my first taste of Gwaltney thick sliced, still in the casing, bologna—thanks, Papaw.  My grandmother was probably just as much to blame, but he did buy the bologna, she just supplied it to me when I asked for some.  Kind of like dipping your toe in the water to test the temperature, I had to lick the bologna first to see if I could handle it.  The Gwaltney bologna was a taste I had never experienced before.  The texture was less slimy than the Oscar Mayer bologna, and the meat itself was not as smooth.  The taste was far superior to whatever my mother had been feeding me, and I took my first bite of that slice—not realizing I couldn’t eat the casing.  The plastic was off-putting, and my grandmother, who rarely said a word, let alone laughed, laughed at me for a good five minutes before she took the bologna from me to peel off the casing.  To this day, I think she didn’t tell me about the casing on purpose.  She probably needed a laugh, and this one just happened to be at my expense.

Years after having my first “real” bologna experience, I can’t think of anything more satisfying for breakfast than fried spam and eggs, other than possibly a fried spam and egg sandwich.  The same goes for bologna.  I really am an equal opportunity mystery meat eater.  I am from the south, I think we will pretty much fry anything, but it makes sense to fry bologna.  After all, it is meat—or at least some kind of meat product.  For lunch, a fried spam or fried bologna sandwich.  And for dinner—you guessed it—fried spam or fried bologna served with a side of macaroni and cheese.  Who really needs a vegetable when you have fried meat slime and cheese going on?

Bologna and other potted meats really are staple foods.  They’re inexpensive, can be served for three different meals a day, and what kid doesn’t enjoy eating a face out of the middle of a slice of bologna straight from the refrigerator?  Apparently, Lewis Grizzard.

Grizzard established that he didn’t have anything going for him in the looks department from birth, and that his dietary and lifestyle habits didn’t do anything to help his image, but maybe those habits didn’t totally hurt him.  Me on the other hand, I started out as a relatively cute kid, and instead of growing into the Nancy Drew image I idolized, I grew into this goofy looking individual.  Was it all because of my bologna and potted meat consumption like Grizzard said?  I had never thought about it until now.  I always blamed my parents.  I mean, their genetics made me, but maybe the nitrates and nitrites in the meat slime mutated my genetic make-up to accentuate my less than stellar features.  I’m not totally sure that bologna possesses the correct chemical structure to alter genes, or if the scientific community has even studied that possibility.  All I’m saying is that perhaps, more so than my genetics, Lewis Grizzard was on to something and I’m living proof that the consumption of bologna doesn’t help anybody in the looks department.  I think I’ll stop blaming my parents for my big ears and big feet, and with everything else I find a fault.  I think I’ll just follow Grizzard’s lead and blame the bologna.