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01 August

Turkey Cock

Imagine being a 19-year old opera freak, a voice student between jobs and suddenly finding yourself shepherding a whole carload of famous, if impoverished opera singers overnight from Chicago to New York in the middle of a midwestern winter – in February 1947 yet.

Imagine that these splendid artists have been stranded by an opera season that folded before it opened, and, just to add to the fun, that they have barely a word of English among them, while your own knowledge of foreign language is almost as sketchy as theirs.

Then imagine that this whole bizarre, impromptu  interlude would turn out to be one of the most memorable of your lifetime, vivid even now, more than half a century later.

But first we’d better backtrack a bit …

The previous summer, dazzled by the prospect of mingling with some real live opera singers – past, present, and future – I’d given up an academic scholarship for the richly rococo voice studio of oldtime diva Anna Fitziu and her fascinating entourage of students of hangers-on. (One of her last and finest gifts to the world would be the megastar Shirley Verrett). That same summer I was engaged as the youngest 2nd tenor to grace (or disgrace, as some would have it) the Chicago Opera Company chorus for what would be the city’s last resident season until 1954 – no connection there, really, folks.

By mid-July we were rehearsing for the October opening of a 6-week season to feature such household Gods of ours as Milanov, Björling, Traubel, Warren, and Tibbett, along with overseas newcomers like Ferruccio Tagliavini and Italo Tajo. For me, all this amounted to The Big Time, or as near as you would come to it in Chicago of 1946 – but wait! What was gthat brilliant light shining on the horizon? A brand new opera company. Glory! Hallelujah! A veteran impressario from South America named Ottavio Scotto had suddenly appeared – a feisty little turkey-cock of a gent with flowing silk scarves, a wide-brimmed champagne-colored Borsalino hat, silver-headed cane, and – I swear it – spats and pince-nez glasses. And he was fizzing over with grandiose plans for an ambitious new undertaking with the imposing name of The United States Opera, to open its inaugeral season at the Civic Opera House on January 6th, with an all-star production of Puccini’s Turandot. But that wasn’t all – thanks to generous backing, a constellation of legendary European stars had already been signed, names familiar from recordings and opera magazines, along with an excellent musical staff from conductors (Sergio Failoni, George Sebastian) and coaches to a chorus master from the old opera days. And the company would live up to its name by using Chicago as a base for touring all over opera-hungry America.

Signor Scotto strutted through the studio several times to audition singers for smaller roles, always with a squad of Cosa Nostra types, and though Madame Fitziu was always her usual gracious self, it was obvious that she Didn’t Quite Trust that Little Man. She disclosed that he had at one time been the manager and possibly lover of the tragic, Duse-like prima donna Claudia Muzio. Also, his vibes were negative in the extreme. Once at a rehearsal in Soth America she saw him slap star tenor Miguel Fleta viciously across the face for cracking on high notes due to sexual excess. (Ah, the mysterious mystique of Art!)

Anyway, we choristers were at once plunged into daily rehearsals for the new season. In addition to Turandot, there would be several operas new to many of us: Tannhäuser, Don Pasquale, Cavalleria, and two Massenet works, Thais and Manon, as showcases fora star of the Paris Opéra, Georgi-Boué, and her baritone husband, Roger Bourdin. (She was reputed to be drop-dead gorgeous, perfect casting for Massenet’s romantic heroines.) We never did see this pair – did they know something we perhaps didn’t?

Among the Italians would be established singers like Mafalda Favero, Galliano Masini, Cloe Elmo – while the German wing would be led by Heldentenor Max Lorenz, the famed Konetzni sisters, Hilde and Anny, from Vienna, and the young Swiss bass Heinz Rehfuss. Most compelling of all: a superb Italo-Russian basso from La Scala, Nicolo Rossi-Lemeni, who arrived early enough to become a familiar figure at Fitziu’s studio, a stunning singing-actor, 27 years of age, too intellectual really to be an opera star, simpatico, and physically what nowadays would be called a Hunk. Moreover, he was probably the only singer ever to get a rave review from critic Claudia Cassidy for singing over the telephone, sending her to the highest heaven of invention, where she remained for at least 24 hours.

It was Nicola who first told us about our Turandot, a fabulous young Greek-American soprano still back in New York – only 23 years old: shy, nearsighed, plump, and awkward to play the fire-in-ice princess, but possessor of one of the most fantastic voices that he or anybody had ever heard. Her name was something like Maria Kalogerapoulous shortened, or so he believed, to Callas (though advance publicity, bumbling as usual, dubbed her “Marie Calas”.) She had been something of a phenomenon in Greece during the war – singing roles like Tosca, Santuzza and Fidelio, but for the past year or so, back in New York she hadn’t had a chance. Learning Turandot had been a godsend – coached by a singer-pianist, who was along on our epic trip – but with the collapse of the season, she’d be back to square one, poor girl. However – the future held such things for her that no fairytale could envision. (By the way, many of the the Callas biographies have her coming to Chicago and getting stranded there like all the others, but it simply isn’t true. She remained in New York. If she HAD been along – in that concert AND on that train, I’m sure somebody would have noticed. So much for good reporting. Take that, Arianna Stassinopoulous. Sic semper Tabloidiensis!

Another outrider from the Scotto troupe was an Italian comprimaro tenor named Virginio Assandri (or “Sandro”), amiable and high-spirited. From him I acquired the Italian cusswords and scatological terms that still stud my vocabulary. (He later went on to New York to sing in several of Toscanini’s legendary NBC opera productions, starting with Cassio in the benchmark Otello the following autumn.)

December came and went, and with it the usual Chanukah and Christmas festivities, with Turandot all but coming out of our ears – one foot in Ancient Peking, the other in Limbo, because at that point we didn’t know where we stood: still no “Marie Calas”, and, what was worse, no money. Illustrations artists kept on arriving, and, though the opening had already been put forward a couple of weeks, ticket orders were already being filled. Rumors were rife and speculation becoming general because nobody had as yet seen a penny of rehearsal pay. And we were constantly being put off by the vaguest of excuses – the money was there, all right, but (a) being held up by the government, or (b) caught up in the bureaucratic tangle of international finance, or (c) tied up in the escrow, whatever the hell that meant.

When the opening date was again moved forward, our AGMA chorus-delegate, a lady named Evelyn Siegel, who Took No Prisoners, issued a Put-Up-or-We-Shut-Up ultimatum that brought matters to a nasty head.

Signor Scotto, meanwhile, last of the Bigtime Impressarios, had vanished in a puff of smoke like Rumpelstilskin – scarves, pince-nez, and spats, leaving his luckless partner, an agent named Eddie Bagarozy, holding the tab for something like $ 100 000 in debts.

The backers – invisible Millionaires from Outer Space – had suddenly withdrawn their support, taking all of their gold with them like Alberich and his seven dwarfs in Das Rheingold. The bitter, unvarnished truth: there would be no opera season, there would be no United States Opera Company ever. The key word was bankrupt. Kaputt. Fini. Finiti. That’s all she wrote, as they say in This Man’s Army.

            And those magnifiscent singers from overseas, what would happen to them? How would they going to bankroll their journey back to Europe? What, by giving a benefit concert for themselves, that’s how …

And what a concert it turned out to be – one of those rare occasions which one can, in all confidence, call unforgettable. The Civic Opera House was packed, and the audience was as enthusiastic as the Super Bowl’s. True, the programme handed out consisted of only one page mimeographed in that blotchy purple ink that old office machines used to have – no Xerox yet in 1947. The vast stage was empty except for the piano, a seat for the accompanist (Sandro on his very best behavior). The singing and the artistry were, of course, something else again. As one by one these wonderful artists came and went, most of them in pre-war finery that had seen better days, they planted themselves by the piano and delivered with a grandeur of voice and style that had nothing to do with costumes or scenery – an inner pride, a rocklike self-confidence that could only come from generations of tradition and hard work, showing us just what were about to be deprived of. Now, more than five decades later, highlights are still fresh in memory, and these are only as one spectator remembers them. There are bound to be some errors. Nodody’s perfect, as the fellah said.

Especially memorable high points – a Rigoletto Quartet that was, in a word , simply to die for – Mafalda Favero’s lovely but delicate soprano, heartbreaking in scenes from La Boheme and La Traviata (the latter with an attractive lyric baritone named Daniele Cecchele) – a humorous basso buffo (Melchiore Luise?) and itinerant quack hawking his wares to a gullible country bumpkin (tenore-di-grazia Nino Scattolini) who looked like a waiter at the Italian Village café a few streets over, but who sang like a Donizetti angel – sparkling Rossini from a beauteous young senorita named Carmen Gracia – superb arias from Masini, still one of the greatest Italian tenors extant. Then there were the tremendous Wagnerians, and you’d have to journey all the way to Bayreuth or Vienna to hear them or their like – Max Lorenz and Hilde Konetzni flooding the house with the lyrical springtime of Die Walküre (So what if it was incest? This was opera!), and her sister Anny, her dramatic soprano matching the royal purple velvet of her gown, taking us through all 18 minutes of Brünhilde’s Immolation, the longest aria in the lexicon, and this to only the plinkety-plonk of a piano. Most impressive of all: two singers on the brink of world fame – the contralto Cloe Elmo, delivering a Il Trovatore aria which critic Irving Kolodin would call an “incitement to arms” when the same lady debuted with it at the Met a year or so later – and Rossi-Lemeni, as unique an actor as he was a singer, with a Boris-Godunov. That oldtimers were comparing to Chaliapin’s. (A few seasons later, when Nicola was performing Boris with the San Francisco Opera, one of my oldest friends, the actress Janice Rule, was suddenly stricken with a bursting appendix, but refused to be taken to hospital until Boris had expired. Luckily, she didn’t follow suit, but greater love hath no opera buff!

For me the concert had an unexpeced encore, a Second Act in this young American’s life that rounded things off perfectly. My own troubles seemed tiny indeed compared to the stranded titans, but still and all, in addition to disappointment of the shipwrecked opera (six or more weeks of unpaid rehearsing), I’d been bellowing Grand Old Opry for something like seven months and felt I deserved a break. And what better tonic that a weekend in New York? So I got myself a ticket ($ 34,50 round trip) on the New York Central’s economical, no perks, no-frills coach train, the Pathfinder, which left the LaSalle Street Station every afternoon and plunked you down at New York’s Grand City Central early the next morning, come rain or come shine, all in one piece, and, apart from feeling rather moldy, ready for anything. But please hang on – here’s an excerpt from a letter which my dad wrote to his father about it – were are a family of incurable letter-writers and letter-savers, as well, for which I have been grateful many times –


Nell and I went to see Herby off at 3 p.m. on the 6th. Waiting to take the same train were all of the stranded stars mentioned in the enclosed clipping. He had met several of them backstage or at Fitziu’s and had made good friends with Rossi-Lemeni especially. They sang and had a glorious time all the way to New York. The Turkish Consul was there with baskets of lunch. Herby threw his box of lunch into the pot. The sane people on the train wanted to get some sleep and the conductor threatened to put the whole crowd off at Buffalo …


And thereby, as they saying goes, hangs a tale …

There weren’t any seat reserveration (at those prices, you were lucky they had seats) so we got there nice and early so the Beamish Boy could get a decent place on this, his first real adventure. My mom Nell, as was her custom, had provided me with enough provender to sustain a goo-size travel group a full week on the Trans-Siberian Railway – none of it was going to be wasted.

There was something unusual about the crowd milling about, waiting to board the train. Besides the usual clutter of seedy Willy Lomans with their cardboard sample cases, and the families with kids who should have been in school, this was a mob not exactly typical for a Thursday afternoon in February – a laughing, babbling, polyglot crush of wayfarers and wellwishers, many of them flamboyant in flowing scarves and berets, some armed with bottles of wine and long loaves of fresh French bread, one even wielding a king size salami. The air was vibrant with chatter and snatches of song.

And suddenly there was Sandro, pushing his way towards me: “Ciao, ‘Erby! Tu stai qui? Molto bravo! Anche tu a New York? Benissimo!” – “Una gioia improvvisa, Dearie!” put in “the Fitziu”, at my elbow and suddenly gone all Traviata. She had arrived with what seemed like half of the town’s music world – Rosa Raisa her husband Giacomo Rimini, Edith Mason, Claire Dux, and the critic Rene Devries. Her trilling continued: “I had a distinct feeling that something marvelous was going to happen today. You’re just the one to lead all these poor darlings to the promised land!” And she was jostled away by a moustached gentleman in a black homburg and a fur-collared overcoat, who turned out to be the Turkish consul, and he and Fitziu began handing out beribboned lucnh bags to our displaced canaries.

They seemed to be everywhere you looked – Favero and Masini and Elmo with her rich contralto laugh, and the lovely Spanish soprano, Carmen Gracia, lugging the guitar which would help us thru the long night ahead. I could also pick out some of the others – Melchiorre Luise, Cecchele, and the boyish Scattolini, Rossi-Lemeni, who greeted me with a hug, and a lady who proved to be the wife of Bagarozy, the agent who had lost such a bundle on the scuttling of the season. She was also a singer and had been coaching the Greek-American girl, Maria Whatzername, for the role of Turandot.

But where was the Wagnerian contingent …? Ach ja, they could be seen off to one side in a stolid little cluster, looking rather askance at the Roman carnival swirling all around them. As was their custom, they were keeping themselves to themselves, which was fine with me, considering the new-found responsibilities I had just fallen heir to as bellweather to the Italian herd.

Deafening loudspeaker crackling, and the train’s departure was announced – much hissing of steam and whistling as the train backed majestically in from the yards up ahead. The crowd started moving toward the gate, where some of the crew had gathered, looking most important: official caps, dark overcoats, clipboards … But first Sandro had to make his farewell speech to the troops, which ran somewhat as follows: This was ‘Erby, he began, aa fellow singer and a Chicago Paisan, who would take good care of them all until delivery at the hotel in New York. This news was greeted with smiles and clapping, and, I have to say, I stood mighty proud. Boy, what would they say at the Music School I’d opted out of?

A final chorus of “Ciao’s” and “Bye-Bye’s” and “Arrivederci’s” and we pressed forward. My parents, who had been enthralled by the spectacle being played out all around them, kissed me goodbye, handed over the grubstakes especially prepared for the trip, and took their leave. A final departure call and the conductor bawled out in a  ratchetty voice: “ALL A-BO-O-ARD!” – one more impatient whistle and I hustled the last of precious charges up the steps and into the day-coach. The epic journey, pure Fellini, and surely one of the most singular in the history of American rail transport, was about to begin …

Once inside, it took some time to get everyone sorted out and settled in our portion of the coach, lifting luggage – bags, umbrellas, cardboard boxes, real gypsy impediments – up onto the overhead rack, finger wiping off dusty windowsills and grimy windows – to a true worshiper like myself, every one of their actions and reactions, each small gesture had flair and style. One immediate project: an improvised buffet to be arranged on top of two suitcases piled one on top of the other on one of the seats, followed by sloshing of red wine into wax-paper cups (Chin-Chin! Cheers! Salute!) and slicing of bread and salami and cheese, all of it spiced with laughter. It was all so easygoing, so goodnatured that you couldn’t help wonder at these blithe musical spirits. They weren’t any of them despondent or depressed over the shipwreck of the opera. The thumping success of the concert the night before, both artistic and financial, plus the unqualified praise for each of them in the newspaper reviews of Claudia and Colleagues kept spirits soaring. Even if I’d had my pocket dictionary with me, I couldn’t have provided a very good translation, but they got the gist of it and were duly set up.

When you think about it, those weeks in America must have been  a kind of vacation for them all, perhaps the first most of thm had ever known. Remember that in the winter of 1946 – 47, the war had only been over for about a year-and-a-half, and privation, rationing, and black marketeering were still a big part of everyday European life. The threat of rampant communism was growing ominously, though the newly-coined phrase Iron Curtain wasn’t even a year old. The Nuremberg Trials were still fresh in memory and the Marshall Plan wasn’t even a plan yet. Large population centers like Berlin and Vienna were divided and being administered by the occupying victors, while most of the once-lovely historic towns still lay in ruins.

What a contrast with our own bustling, prosperous, wasteful and wisecracking cities. Even viewed through the grimy windows of a cheap day-coach, Small Town U.S.A. with all the lights and cars and overflowing shops must have had the storybook unreality of a Hollywood movie. Compared to what these happy and gifted people had endured – who, with their music and their merriment, were even now annoying the hell out of the Willy Lomans and the day-coach conductors – compared to all that, the collapse of a mere opera season was small beer indeed, and the fineglings of a tin-horn impressario were reduced to their proper puniness.

During the first leg of the trip I was like a Red Cross orderly heading out relief-packets to the survivors of a disaster, supplementing the Turkish contributions with my own hoard of fried chicken, meatloaf-and-peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, topped off with a variety of traditional American delicacies like Hostess Twinkies and cupcakes, Fig Newtons, and Tootsie-Rolls.

“Grazie, caro, molto gentile –“ I can still see the great lyric soprano Mafalda Favero, whose recordings of Boito and Massenet and the Cherry Duet from L’amico Fritz with Tito Schipa were among my most cherished 78’s, polishing off the last of my mom’s tollhouse cookies and rolling the crumbs between forefinger and thumb: “Delizioso, veramente, Signor ‘Erby!”

I’d be so pleased to discover that my Puccini-and-Pizzeria Italian wasn’t so hopeless after all. My only regret was that I had no German. How I’d have loved checking out the Wagnerians, wherever they were roosting for the night, to ask if they’d ever heard of this or that singer, and to pick their brains about prewar Bayreuth and Salzburg and Vienna. But, alas, at that point all that my Deutsch consisted of was “Bei mir bist du schön” (Early Andrews Sisters damage), a verse or two of Schubert, and bits from Lohengrin, one of the two German operas I’d ever been in, and there are limits to what you can do with phrases like “Heil dir, Elsa von Brabant!” and the praise for a knight’s shining armor: “Wie glänzt sein Waffenschmuck!”, while couplets like “Heil, deiner Fahrt, deinem Kommen!” wouldn’t do at all.

We must have been halfway across Indiana and well into the vino rosso when somebody toom out the guitar and struck up the Brindisi, the Drinking Song from La Traviata, and soon everybody joined in. For the first time the other, “normal” passengers actually sat up and took notice. (“Sane” was my Dad’s word for them, and who needs it?) The voices were so powerful and the singing so stirring and so true that at first the audience was simply incredulous – the newspaper reviews helped clarify matters – and before long they’d be genuinely interested. Of course, as the hours flew by on wings of song and as Sandman-time approached, the fascination began to wear a wee bit thin.

Each time the conductor came through, he resembled more and more the old Scots comic James Finlayson. Remember Fin? Laurel and Hardy’s furious nemesis with the Scots-burr and the baleful double-takes? Well, he had a Doppelgänger working for the New York Central in the 1940’s and that particular week his luck ran out. I don’t suppose he’d ever had to deal with a coachload of opera stars before. How do you ever prepare for such a challenge? Just then, our storied songsters enjoyed a high approval-rating, so all the poor sod could do was shake his head and to plead with me to “get ‘m to put a lid on it.” But imagine anyone putting a lid on a singer like Cloe Elmo? Follia! The sturdy little contralto was only just warming up, and soon, with only a guitar and not even a piano, let alone a full 110 piece orchestra, she’d be trading glavanic Sicillian taunts with the intensely dramatic Masini in the big showdown duet from Cavalleria Rusticana. (They’d been scheduled to do it in Chicago along about that time.) This might confrontation ends with Santuzza laying a death-curse on her former lover, and with him brushing her off with loud sardonic laughter, and if that didn’t break every window in the car it wasn’t for want of decibels. That should give some of the Hoosier Hot-Shots something to talk about at their next Kiwanis meeting.

The dearly handsome Masini had been a special idol of mine ever since ten years before when my parents took me to a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, starring Lily Pons, we we all adored. She tweeted and chirped divinely, but the one I remember to this day was her tenor-lover Edgardo, played by Galliano Masini right up to the hilt and perhaps a quarter-of-an-inch beyond, the same Masini who was even sitting across the isle from me, nibbling chicken from Nell Moulton’s suburban kitchen and bantering between bites.

Back then in autumn 1937, he was winding up one of the most sensational engagements our opera had ever witnessed, “one long crescendo of excitement,” as the trib critic described it. To this day I can see him in his last aria, espiring from a self-inflicted dagger wound, propped up on one elbow and singing his great Livorno heart out. Then, at the final curtain calls, waving his hands up over his head to screams and cheers, like the true champion that he was. Later, during my high-school goofing-off period, I used to haunt the main Public Library reading room to pore over the old Tribune reviews of his performances, many of them hysterical in tone: WILD OVATION STOPS OPERA AS MASINI SINGS, headlined the Trib about one of his Tosca appearances when he had to encore his last act aria, something almost unheard of before or since. The same critic nominated him for “the mantle of  Caruso.”

The next year he’d had to share the limelight with none other than Beniamino Gigli, who was singing opera for the first and only time in Chicago, and not even a grand “Can Belto” like Masini could top that. But he went on to a successful Met debut in the same season that was Favero’s only time in New York. After her second Mimi there, both she and Masini, so the story goes, were ordered back home to Italy, and in those days nobody defied Il Duce. Then came the war and that was the last the were heard from for years, except for an occasional recording like the complete Forza del Destino, which Masini made in Rome and which is still state-of-the-art. If Masini had his faults, they came with the territory and Caruso and Gigli shared them, too – emotional overdrive heartrending sobs even in the middle of a word, and the endemic terminal grunt at the end of a high note. Sure they were (and are) in questionable taste, but audiences lap them up regardless.

So when both Favero and Masini were announced for the U.S. Opera in Chicago, it all but blew my mind. And as Masini walked on out onto that stage that had witnessed such triumphs a decade before, to be greeted by polite, but hardly wild applause, I wondered if I was the only one there who recalled that “one long crescendo of excitement.”

It was a nice enough success that he scored with a couple of arias, a consummate Boheme Act I scene with Favero, and the Rigoletto Quartet with himself as the Duke and Elmo as a once-in-a-lifetime Maddelena, joined by Carmen and Cacchele. It was as grand a finale as possible, given the circumstances: still and all, it was deeply anti-climactic , and must have perplexed him, like Othello, in the extreme. If only my Italian had been up to the task of telling just how much his voice and his art had meant to me all of these years. But no – there he was, just across from me, relaxed and receptive as he would be for the next few hours – and what did I do? Italiano or no Italiano, I blew it, let the moment slip away from me forever. I have regretted it ever since.

My bittersweet musings were broken off by more urgent matters. The ladies of the ensemble, temporarily exhausted by so much high-powered yodelling, and sated with juice, cola, and red wine, sent up such a heartrending lament for “acqua fresca” that I set off at once in my appointed role of Ganymedes, cup-bearer – no, make that PAPER-cup-bearer to the Gods – on a search for fresh water. My quest too me through each and every stuffy, smelly coach on that train, past the scowling Finlayson and his goons, past knitting womenand senior couples doing crossword puzzles and trying to ignore the minor sex-plays of necking teenagers, past people still nasching and others already snoozing. It also took me through squealing knots of small nosepickers, one of whom, a fat little girl with glasses, plunked herself right down in my path and greeted me with an enormous pink Double-Yum Bubble-Gum balloon, which emerged slowly but surely from her mouth and was almost as splendiferous as I could have blown myself if I’d not had better things to do.

Moving on, I knew at once which car was serving as Valhalla-on-wheels for the German-speakers, for they were conversing in low yet resonant Deutsch. Funny how the less you know a language the more you try to cover your embarrassment with idiotic grins, and I must have been grinning like a zonked-out samurai. My efforts were met with regal nods and a courtly bow from the Heldentenor, Max Lorenz, highly esteemed on both sides of the Atlantic, just then between pre- and post-war Met engagements. He and his companions seemed so grateful for any contact with another humanoid that I was instantly swept up in a handshaking mara

23 July

American Fashion

Look around you, and you’ll likely notice a sea of different outfits. You might see similar articles of clothing — even the same ones — worn by different people, but rarely do you find two pairings of tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories that are exactly alike.

That wasn’t always the case, said Deirdre Clemente, a historian of 20th century American culture at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose research focuses on fashion and clothing. Americans were far more formal, and formulaic dressers, not all that long ago. Men wore suits, almost without fail — not just to work, but also at school. And women, for the most part, wore long dresses. Clemente has written extensively about the evolution of American dress in the 1900s, a period that, she said, was marked, maybe more than anything else, by a single but powerful trend: As everyday fashion broke from tradition, it shed much of its socioeconomic implications — people no longer dress to feign wealth like they once did — and took on a new meaning. The shift has, above all, led toward casualness in the way we dress. It can be seen on college campuses, in classrooms, where students attend in sweatpants, and in the workplace, where Silicon Valley busy bodies are outfitted with hoodies and T-shirts. That change, the change in how we dress here in America, has been brewing since the 1920s, and owes itself to the rise of specific articles of clothing. What’s more, it underscores important shifts in the way we use and understand the shirts and pants we wear.

I spoke with Clemente to learn more about the origins of casual dress, and the staying power of the trend. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start by talking a bit about what you study. You’re a historian, and you focus on American culture as it pertains to fashion. Is that right?

I’m a cultural historian. I’m a 20th century expert, so don’t ask me anything about the Civil War. And my focus is clothing in fashion. So I’m a little bit of a business historian, a little bit of a historian of marketing, and a little bit of a historian of gender. When you kind of mix all of those things together, all those subsections of history, you get what I study.

So that scene from “The Devil Wears Prada,” when Meryl Streep criticizes Anne Hathaway for believing she isn’t affected by fashion, it must resonate with you.

Well you know, it’s just so true. People say, “Oh well, you know, I don’t care about fashion.” They go to the Gap, they go to Old Navy, and they all dress alike, they wear these uniforms. The thing that I really harp on is that, that in and of itself is a choice, it’s a personal choice, because there are many people who don’t do that. In buying those uniforms, you’re saying something about yourself, and about how you feel about clothing and culture. There is no such thing as an unaffected fashion choice. Anti-fashion is fashion, because it’s a reaction to the current visual culture, a negation of it.

How would you characterize the way Americans dress today? What’s the contemporary visual culture like now?

Well, I would certainly say that there are, above all, so many more choices than there have ever been before. There’s also a tendency like never before to alternate styles. People will one day dress very conservatively and then the next day wear something much more dramatic, much less formal.

There’s a clear trend toward individualization, as opposed to homogenization. There are so many different kinds of social and cultural personas that we can put on, and our clothes have become extremely emblematic of that. And the thing is, even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can now dress freely, individually. You have written about how American dress, perhaps more than anything else, is characterized by how casual it is. What do you mean by that?

There’s this fashion theorist who wrote in the 1930s about how in capitalist societies, clothing serves as this way to jump in and out of socioeconomic class. Now, he was writing at a time when people were still really trying to jump up, and could feign wealth. You could buy a nice-looking suit and make it seem like you were a lot more wealthy than you actually were then. But in the second half of the 20th century, what we’ve seen is people doing just the opposite.

Americans have come to dress casually in a way that is very interesting as a historian. When you look back at old pictures of students, it’s jarring. We used to dress so formally, just to go to class.

Are there points, chronologically, that stand out? Times that were particularly important for the migration toward less formal wear?

I think there are two key points in the 1920s. The 1920s were really important for this shift.

In the 1920s, when women really broke away from dresses and matchy matchy suits, and instead began to use sweater vests and other outfits, versatility entered the minds of buyers. At that point, people began to mix and match, wear more sweaters, more gored (which is a kind of skirt).

By the late 1920s, very few college men wore suits to class. The rise of the sports coat is an incredibly underlauded change in American culture. Because once boys started wearing sports coats instead of suits, men’s outfits became more versatile, they moved away from ties, they wore all sorts of different things, like sweaters, with their jackets.

If so much of this was predicated on shifts that happened in the 1920s, was there nothing impactful that happened thereafter?

Pants on women. You cannot talk about the rise of casual dress without talking about the rise of pants of women. You first saw it in elite women’s schools, such as Wellesley and Vassar. Once women were wearing pants and even jeans on campus and to class, which happened starting in the 1930s, things really began to change. Even though it wasn’t yet happening on co-ed campuses, because of the mix of genders, and formality that persisted around that, it was still a big deal.

World World II was also revolutionary for dress. The war brought about a whole culture of dress that didn’t exist before. Women wore what they wanted, because it didn’t matter — they were on their way to the victory garden — or because they were working at factories, where practicality was more important.

So in the aftermath of World War II, more casual outfits became commonplace?

Yes, although there was a slight backslide in the late 1940s, where we saw a bit of reluctance around it. In 1948, Christian Dior put out a new look in the United States, which featured long skirts that were tight-waisted. That was a Parisian couture influence, though, and it didn’t stick. Women either weren’t really buying it, or wearing it. It had about a two-year lifespan, and then the college girls migrated toward the freedom of articles like pants and less cumbersome dresses. They had experienced these, and they weren’t going to go back to more uncomfortable clothing.

Then in the 1950s, you really start to see stay-at-home moms wearing casual wear in the house — shirts, pants, jeans, even T-shirts. And it really took off from there.

The only thing I will say is that there’s still a bit of a gender hangover, where women are singled out for wearing clothing normally associated with men.Like the boyfriend jean?

(Audible sigh). Yes.

There’s something in women buying “men’s clothing” that still irks a lot of people. I have been shocked at the e-mails I have gotten. People like to say that casual dress isn’t about freedom, that it’s about laziness. But that’s hilarious, especially to me as a historian, because it simply isn’t true.

There’s something called collective selection. And what it is, is the idea that no longer is it the rich people telling the poor people how to dress, no longer is it that the poor people want to wear what the rich wear. Nowadays it’s a group decision. Because class is so wishy washy today, since everyone thinks that they’re middle class, the collective selection is what is acceptable in different scenarios — the office, the church, the classroom, etc. It’s decided by the group.

What about the development of American fashion in comparison to that elsewhere? Have we gone further down the road of casual dress than other cultures?

Oh, I mean, absolutely. I think that American culture is now associated with casual dress on a global scale. On sort of the world stage, where American culture is so prominent, many countries emulate the way people in the United States dress, and that’s almost inevitably more casually than the way people dress in those places. The version of casual elsewhere, in Europe especially, it just never gets as down and dirty as the American version. Their version of casual is still a scarf and a stylish leather jacket, whereas ours is a starter jacket and jeans.

The American love of sportswear and comfortable clothes has redefined the limits, and it’s affecting the limits elsewhere too, since others emulate us.

Can I ask what might be an obvious question, at least to you. What makes something casual, and something else formal?

That’s an obvious question, and an awesome question. The answer inevitably is tied to history. I can look at something and say “Oh, the history of that article of clothing is such and such, and that history is tied to wealth.” Or, if you look at, say, the turtleneck, and understand that it comes from ski-wear, or flip flops, and realize that they were originally shower-wear, often used by servants, it changes the context in which you understand the clothing.

More broadly, and kind of simply, fit and fabric also tend to be good indicators. The fit of casual clothes tends to be looser, and the fabric tends to be lighter, because there’s less of it. There’s also less covering of the skin in casual wear. When you think of formal attire, it mostly covers the vast majority of the body.

Also, the connotations of it, which, again, are rooted in history. That’s the cool thing about clothing, which people don’t realize. When someone is like ‘those shoes are cool but I don’t know if they’re appropriate for this wedding,’ their opinion is the product of years, even decades of understanding.

Even at the office, we’ve shed some of the more formal, traditional understandings of what’s okay to wear. You mentioned Steve Jobs, but Silicon Valley as a whole is kind of redefining office wear, is it not?

Oh, I love that. It’s this evolution of casual, and even of business casual. In the 1990s, it was derivative of business, and now it’s derivative of casual. It’s amazing for me to see.

But this isn’t your typical business casual. Every time I see that phrase I look it up, and it’s like khakis and a button down still. This is more like business CASUAL, or casual business, where casual is the emphasis.

They are absolutely the spearhead of business casual. They were the first people to do away with dress codes at the office.

Why does it bend toward casual?

I think we dress more casually because we can, because in American culture perennial appearance has become an expression of individuality and not social class to the degree that dressing up is dressing up the socioeconomic ladder. I think that we dress more casually because it’s a middle ground for Americans. I mean look at the presidential candidates. Donald Trump has his own, albeit mediocre quality, shirt and tie line. It’s all about standing out and yet fitting in.

The modern market allows us to personalize that style. Casual is the sweet spot between looking like every middle class American and being an individual in the massive wash of options. This idea of the freedom to dress in a way that is meaningful to us as people, and to express various types of identity.

I know that you’re a historian, and traditionally look into the past, but I’m going to ask you to look into the future. Where is this trend toward casual dress taking us?

How about I make a prediction about a specific technology that’s been long overdue? I don’t know if it will happen, let alone sometime soon, but self-cleaning fabrics, I think that will be a thing. At the very least it should be.

I have to say, self-cleaning fabrics are about as casual as it gets.

Let’s just say I probably wouldn’t put my money in dry cleaning if I had some extra money to spare and wanted to invest in something. Those sorts of things are going to die out.

There was this very cool Italian futurist who in the 1930s made a prediction about what fashion would be like 100 years from then. His prediction was that everyone would dress in uniforms. But that’s the complete opposite of what has happened.  And I don’t think people will be dressing in uniforms anytime soon. Clothing will instead continue to be a way to project individuality and our own personal alliances to the broader culture.

22 July

Jumping In With 2 Feet

I’ve been jumping in for years. I make a decision and stick with it, never veering doffed course. One minute I’m telling my husband I ‘m going to cheat on him and fifteen later I’m posting a Craigslist ad looking for dick. To hell with the consequences. My exHusband told me over and over when we were dating and then married, that I could not change my mind. That changing my mind was worse than breaking one of G-d’s commandments. The Meister, as my ex was called because of his penchant for guzzling beer like an aficionado. He was an expert in bad alcoholic behaviour and magical thinking.

21 July

Dystopian World Post Trump

It started in Minneapolis and since our state is different than others, with a Muslim population that keeps to themselves, we weren’t sure ion it hit other parts of the country as well. They’re part of our social fabric, they are in our jails, and running for political office. Keith Ellison has proudly stayed by his faith so much so that back in the early part of the century, Mehrunisa Qayyum ran for office in suburban Chicago. Sure, not near north, not the Jewish parts of town, but still, after the election of Trump back those 30 years, Obama told people to run for local office. He told people to bed part off there change they wanted to see. And like Jews 150-200 years ago the Muslims embraced political agendas both vast and small. Sharia law wasn’t discussed, but crimes of disrespect were discussed.

At the end of the day the laws of our great Christian nation were not usurped by the followers of Mohammad. But they slowly taught their neighbors in this great societal experiment that Islam is a religion of peace. In the early years off the Trump administration we didn’t think there was much we could do, and wearing or, quelle dommage, knitting a pussy hat was what the women from church decided to do. They partnered with a Lutheran-based church and together they made over 250 pussy hats. It took all my acting powers to plaster a semi-smile that didn’t say “You women aren’t respected, and pussy hats is not the way top gain respect.” But they insisted. They said this is what we can do. You need two join us, we will teach you to knit.

But I’m a wordsmith not a yarnsmith. I believe words will change the world. As I was writing about technology and science the world changed around me. I put my head down and worked like a dog for someone else, playing the game I was supposed to play, and the world around me grew into an angry place where I watched my blonde Scando husband, whom, in the days of the Nazi’s would have been revered for his small nose but not his pot bellied physique, was beaten and hospitalized over his Sanders vote in 2020. Trump won again, of course, because the poor in the southern states and in the Bible Belt were no match for Trump’s old money connections. Yet in books and magazines during the 90s, Trump’s playboy days, talk about the millionaire WASP was as if he was never a presidential threat. But 8 years that ushered in the worst economic crash since the 1930s left the entire United States open to corruption from the Muslim travel banned countries.

Around 2025 our political environment shifted because record heat waves dried out much of the south, making the land worthless from heat, un able to run water as Floridians moved away from all the coastal towns, darker skinned people that were more comfortable with the sun beating down over 18 hours a day with no rain, or other inclement weather to distract the pounding heat from the what man’s skin. Skin cancers were at all time high in the USA during the 2020s, but no southern subsistence farmers could afford the treatments. Even after an entire decade of federal government petitioning cannabis was still a Schedule I drug well past the 100 year lifespan of the war on marihuana.  Almost 150 years to the day the Supreme Court took off all restrictions on the plant and all throughout the midwestern states and New England you could smell cannabis. It was taken out of our environment for four generations and we should have realized that it was called a weed for a reason.

Denver had legalized recreational cannabis 15 years after California implemented their Prop 25 for marijuana. During our colonization America produced hemp, encouraged by our government in the 17th century in order to make rope, sails, and clothing. The leftovers of the plants, the trim as it were, the shredded leaves of bud, were smoked. The smoked portion was called marihuana. As early back as 1619, Virginians required every farmer to grow hemp. Interestingly enough, at that time hemp was so precious you could bArter with it. Hemp was considered legal tender in 3 states; Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. We grew our hemp happily until the 1880s when imported materials and other domestic ones replaced hemp. Americans enjoyed plenty of choice when it came to cannabis-based drugs to eradicate headaches, or anxiety.

The in 1909 Pure Food and Drug Act was introduced, and required labeling of any medication that included cannabis.

1900 – 20s

Mexican immigrants introduce recreational use of marijuana leaf

After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded into the U.S., introducing to American culture the recreational use of marijuana. The drug became associated with the immigrants, and the fear and prejudice about the Spanish-speaking newcomers became associated with marijuana. Anti-drug campaigners warned against the encroaching “Marijuana Menace,” and terrible crimes were attributed to marijuana and the Mexicans who used it.


Fear of marijuana

During the Great Depression, massive unemployment increased public resentment and fear of Mexican immigrants, escalating public and governmental concern about the problem of marijuana. This instigated a flurry of research which linked the use of marijuana with violence, crime and other socially deviant behaviors, primarily committed by “racially inferior” or underclass communities. By 1931, 29 states had outlawed marijuana.


Creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN)

Harry J. Anslinger was the first Commissioner of the FBN and remained in that post until 1962.


Uniform State Narcotic Act

Concern about the rising use of marijuana and research linking its use with crime and other social problems created pressure on the federal government to take action. Rather than promoting federal legislation, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics strongly encouraged state governments to accept responsibility for control of the problem by adopting the Uniform State Narcotic Act.


“Reefer Madness”

Propaganda film “Reefer Madness” was produced by the French director, Louis Gasnier.

The Motion Pictures Association of America, composed of the major Hollywood studios, banned the showing of any narcotics in films.


Marijuana Tax Act

After a lurid national propaganda campaign against the “evil weed,” Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. The statute effectively criminalized marijuana, restricting possession of the drug to individuals who paid an excise tax for certain authorized medical and industrial uses.


La Guardia Report finds marijuana less dangerous

New York Academy of Medicine issued an extensively researched report declaring that, contrary to earlier research and popular belief, use of marijuana did not induce violence, insanity or sex crimes, or lead to addiction or other drug use.


“Hemp for Victory”

During World War II, imports of hemp and other materials crucial for producing marine cordage, parachutes, and other military necessities became scarce. In response the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its “Hemp for Victory” program, encouraging farmers to plant hemp by giving out seeds and granting draft deferments to those who would stay home and grow hemp. By 1943 American farmers registered in the program harvested 375,000 acres of hemp.


Stricter Sentencing Laws

Enactment of federal laws (Boggs Act, 1952; Narcotics Control Act, 1956) which set mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses, including marijuana.

A first-offense marijuana possession carried a minimum sentence of 2-10 years with a fine of up to $20,000.


Marijuana use popular in counterculture

A changing political and cultural climate was reflected in more lenient attitudes towards marijuana. Use of the drug became widespread in the white upper middle class. Reports commissioned by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson found that marijuana use did not induce violence nor lead to use of heavier drugs. Policy towards marijuana began to involve considerations of treatment as well as criminal penalties.


Creation of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs

This was a merger of FBN and the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs of the Food and Drug Administration.


Repeal of most mandatory minimum sentences

Congress repealed most of the mandatory penalties for drug-related offenses. It was widely acknowledged that the mandatory minimum sentences of the 1950s had done nothing to eliminate the drug culture that embraced marijuana use throughout the 60s, and that the minimum sentences imposed were often unduly harsh.

Marijuana differentiated from other drugs

The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act categorized marijuana separately from other narcotics and eliminated mandatory federal sentences for possession of small amounts.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) founded


Shafer Commission

The bipartisan Shafer Commission, appointed by President Nixon at the direction of Congress, considered laws regarding marijuana and determined that personal use of marijuana should be decriminalized. Nixon rejected the recommendation, but over the course of the 1970s, eleven states decriminalized marijuana and most others reduced their penalties.


Creation of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)

Merger of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNND) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE).


High Times founded


Beginning of parents’ movement against marijuana

A nationwide movement emerged of conservative parents’ groups lobbying for stricter regulation of marijuana and the prevention of drug use by teenagers. Some of these groups became quite powerful and, with the support of the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), were instrumental in affecting public attitudes which led to the 1980s War on Drugs.


Anti-Drug Abuse Act – Mandatory Sentences

President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, instituting mandatory sentences for drug-related crimes. In conjunction with the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the new law raised federal penalties for marijuana possession and dealing, basing the penalties on the amount of the drug involved. Possession of 100 marijuana plants received the same penalty as possession of 100 grams of heroin. A later amendment to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act established a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, requiring life sentences for repeat drug offenders, and providing for the death penalty for “drug kingpins.”


Bush’s War on Drugs

President George Bush declares a new War on Drugs in a nationally televised speech.

People in the warmer climes of the US were dying just as the Romans had, with information locked in their heads about farming, and maintaining a civilization. The Dark Ages were called thus because humans didn’t have access to knowledge, wisdom and learning were in the dark. The Crusades were a time of Church rule where individual intelligence was killed off through pogroms, burning women of intelligence through accusations of witchery, it was a dark time, our Trump years. As the Old South eroded and the New South was a vast network of dark skinned peoples; Mexicans and Middle Easterners alike.

18 July

Word of the Day: Omertà

I was reading aloud a Trump article got Juan Carlo and they said omertà and Juan said, must mean being silent and I thought, no, I’d have heard this word if that was all there was to it, it’s not directly from a Latin word that I can pull up. Now granted I’m in brain injury land, however, words disappear in the order in which you learned them and pejoratives are always handy, like shit fun k cunt; thanks Sharon Osborne. Omertà is a code of silence, practiced by the mafia, about any criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to authorities.

18 January

IT Recruiters

I cannot stress enough how recruiters are the lowest forms of slug in the IT world. My husband is an IT worker and he is always grumbling about how badly he’s treated, yet he puts up with this bad behaviour from people. He responded by saying, “In other words, if I allow people like Randy in my life, I am continuing to tell people like Randy that they should disrespect me.” “Oh absolutely,” I responded.

Twenty (20) years ago in IT recruiters were either in Bangalore or here, there really was no in between, not in Minneapolis. Recruiters from other states have never been as successful as indigenous Minnesotans because they don’t understand the small-town provincial attitude in the 612. Everyone knows everyone. They don’t need background checks from shitty little curry munchers. Why don’t we need background checks? Because we check the local newspaper, jail roster, and ping our friends for name recognition. People don’t even wait when someone applies for a minimum wage counter job to see if their background check comes back dirty, they pull up the BCA and enter the applicant’s name. Boom. Done. But I’m off-topic now. If you went to the discount IT sites like Bid4Work or whatever other gross name that implies desperation. Or freelancer.com; while nicer still cloyingly stinks of, yes, you guessed it, desperation! The stink of these sites and the output of Russians eroded the hourly bill rate of disciplined, dedicated not desperate programmers. Programmers that like computers more than people.

Recruiters were created because IT workers are shy.

Jon hates IT. He’s disillusioned and he’s priced himself out of the market by being better than everyone else. (Damn him, but that’s why I love him. Arsehole is better than everyone else. Ha!)

I’ve been trying to prop up his self-confidence for years. His parents, I just can’t even say anything nice, so I’ll be quiet. Well, let’s just say he’s been to individual therapy and has discovered that his “family of origin” screwed him right proper.

I’ve been trying to distill years of book learning, plus my own stressful IT career and now lay investing and doing pretty well, into some bullet points that could help the DH, and I believe this is what I’ve been trying to impart for 22 years.

Have your own work and work for yourself.
A job is different with trade. You should have your own trade and Job.
You should do stuff what You like to do (as successful people).
The rich buy assets. The poor only have expenses. The middle class buys liabilities they think are assets. The poor and the middle class work for money. The rich have money work for them.

15 January

The Brain Tumour Trip

We’ve been dithering about Cornwall, Brighton, Northumberland, now to Edinburgh this summer. I’ve said I’d email him about the trip, but this is easiest so the friends abroad can access what our plans are as they firm up. We are scared I’ll die before we get there, but we are taking a Semper Fi attitude. I am driven forward by seeing the successes of my friends, the people I hold dear.

Sunny’s jewelry has taken off and she seems happy happy happy and she used to be a huge malcontent! Oi. Willie is selling stories and books and his GoodReads profile is filled with books and anthologies. Impressive what he’s done since I met him virtually in 2008. I’ve my own nose done busting with the photos and the ideas and everything but I honestly need an assistant and I have no idea where to search for one. Sigh. That’s for another post.

Wikipedia says, “Manchester is a major city in the northwest of England with a rich industrial heritage. The Castlefield conservation area’s 18th-century canal system recalls the city’s days as a textile powerhouse, and visitors can trace this history at the interactive Museum of Science & Industry. The revitalised Salford Quays dockyards now house the Daniel Libeskind-designed Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry cultural centre.”

I haven’t been in 30 years, everything has changed, yet stayed the same, as we talk about all the time my dear. The things we can do in Manchester include the National Football Museum UK, which since soccer I would love to do, just to feel the vibes of the place. That’s two (2) hours. Then you’ve this piece of architectural bliss, John Rylands Library at University of Manchester, which we’d love, it’s beautiful. Take a look! Absolutely The People’s History Museum UK. Gushing how fantastic that would be. Golly!

Albert Square. Zack will love it. So stunning. Like nothing you’ve seen in person before. Imperial War Museum North is a must for all of us. We all need to learn a few things on this trip of a LIFETIME! Huzzah! Manchester’s oldest Catholic Church, 1794, Manchester St. Mary’s is a must see too. So, Juan Carlo, what do you think is enough time-a-roni in Manchester?

This Museum of Science & industry UK would be on my list if we were in Manchester for several days, as well as Manchester Museum, and we could do that with John Rylands Library because they’re both on the University of Manchester campus. It’s a beautiful campus, so we should commit an entire afternoon to it.

We could go to Cambridge first. There is the Cambridge Botanic Gardens, which are brilliant. I loved them. I think it was built in the 1850s, but admittedly I have a horrific headache love, and you’ll have to make dinner, and there’s probably hella typos. Sorry! The Round Church is a must-see. Continuing on the church theme, there’s the Our Lady and our English Martyr’s, and King’s College Chapel, perfectly gorgeous, Dropping into the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology seems a good time. Of course The Bridge of Sighs, Jesus Green, which seriously, you will see and know that BBC has used it often, and we need to make sure out list includes School of Pythagoras. So, how long in Cambridge UK?

If we add The Fitzwilliam Museum, I’d say with going and looking at the buildings at Trinity and that should be five days in Cambridge? It’s an hour from King’s Cross to Cambridge.

17 December

Choosing Dykedom

If someone was always telling me what I said a decade ago, or two, or hell, when I was barely cognizant of the absolute crockery that came out of my over-educated, white privileged mouth, in the media, well, it would make me mad. As in cows and dogs get mad, people only get angry. I’d get all dog-frothy at the mouth mad about Trump and his stupid mouth. This is one thing I understand about this fucktard Scottish Germanic scum, his mouth. You know why? Because I’m a bastard of Welshian Prussianess and hell if I know what else. I understand his drive to be better than his father, or his mother, and that has driven him to the White House.

Donald Trump is leader of the free world.
Pigs fly.
If A + B = no never mind, I’m getting all philosophical now. I’m missing my son Simon. I’m missing having these bizarre talks with him. No one else can be him., He is uniquely him. That’s what started this article. Realizing that when my mother says, “You can’t be krautgrrl. You’re more Polish than I am, and you’re not gay!” She really means I am angry that YOU get to redefine yourself and I do not.

She forgets that she had her chance to redefine herself, out of the single mother paradigm and I realize she chose dykedom. My mother is angry with me because I have ‘more or less’ had the breeder working mother life that she did not, yet desired.

I wouldn’t change anything about my life. Now.

Back in the day I would have killed for Jesus to reach down and SAVE ME. That didn’t happen and so here I am.

12 December
09 May

Muslim Girl By Umm Zakiyyah

I’ve read several of Umm Zakiyyah’s novels, and I respect her writing. I’ve written reviews for each of her books, that were on pay sites. She dumbs down her subject matter for a young audience. That’s an amazing capability to have, and a good one to wield as a young adult novelist. Yet I have to be honest and say that every time I read a book of hers I feel like there’s, HONEST TO G-D, subliminal messaging, like that old SNL skit. I read Umm Zakiyyah’s books and I feel filthy. Just dirty. Islam and the patriarchal system that runs it makes me ill. MuslimGirlBook

As a woman not raised in Islam, I can no longer read Zakiyyah’s books because the control over women by men oozes off the pages. This says a lot about the author. If she can make my skin crawl because I see the level of control men have over women, and women over girls, in Islam, she not only describes Inaya’s conservative Islam in her attitude, and behaviour, but she demonstrates the fury that exists between men and women in Islam.

But moving from Saudi Arabia to America with an uninterested stepfather, Inaya experiences bigotry in a DC tri-state area school. A school administrator assumed that because Inaya is religious she must be Christian. That hatred is the same hatred that pits Muslim against Jew. It’s the kind of hatred that is supposed to be eradicated in public schools.

It’s a good book, and Zakiyyah is a good writer. I can only hope that at some point she notices how patriarchal her religion is and can foment social change because her writing could reach millions, and before more of her sisters die from FGM, which is endorsed by the Qu’ran.