Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am: How I Ditched the South, Forgot My Manners, and Managed to Survive My Twenties with (Most of) My Dignity Still Intact
By: Anna Mitchael
Publisher: Seal Press
Publication Date: April 2010
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor
Review Date: July 11, 2010
Anna Mitchael may look like a grown-up woman on the outside, but inside she’s the eternal party animal. Unfortunately, the damn bagger at the grocery store has the wildly myopic view of her from the outside, and so he does the unthinkable. He calls her “Ma’am.” Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am is Mitchael’s renegade hillbilly holler to the universe that she is nobody’s ma’am, and she has no interest in clip clopping off into the sunset following some stereotypical, societal-paved path of a woman’s life. “Grocery-store baggers of The United States of America, consider yourselves warned,” Mitchael writes in the introduction to her memoir. “You can call me a bitch, a diva, a hussy, or a ho. Just don’t call me ma’am.”
Anna, you had me at “ho.”
Mitchael begins the story by flipping over and revealing her soft, pale (though still fabulous) underbelly, her most vulnerable self. We meet her in the moments before she is about to be ditched by her long-term, live-in boyfriend. But worse, she didn’t even see it coming, so distracted was she by Pottery Barn furniture, Saturday pancakes and trips to exotic locales. The author makes the interesting choice to write this first chapter distinctly in the second person. “You wake up and assume it will be a Saturday like any other Saturday,” she begins, seemingly implying to readers, Yes, this is your story too, but hang on to your hat, baby, because I’m holding the reins. And off she goes, careening wildly down the homestretch toward the big 3-0.
Anna Mitchael is Everywoman, but with a cool grandma and from Texas. With salty-sweet, laugh-or-you’ll-cry humor, the author covers topics that occupy a woman’s inner life, such as the search for independence, aging, friendship, romance and the secret fear of dying an old cat lady. And she batter-coats these topics with wry insight into Southern life. On food: “Growing up in the suburbs of the South, you think Olive Garden is pretty good shit. Mostly because you innately understand that it’s a step up from the only other Italian food you’ve ever eaten: Chef Boyardee.” On career: “[I]t’s really nice to pay the rent without selling organs which, though seemingly useless now, you may very well end up needing someday.” On finding her voice: “It wasn’t going to be full-on Jerry Springer smackdown; there’d be some gentle, Dr. Phil-esque two-way communication mixed in. It’s just that I had finally made a decision. Instead of being the woman who followed along in conversation, I decided it was better to be a crazy bitch in the lead.”
Readers who appreciate her humor will fly through this memoir, finding that Mitchael’s literary flair comes as much in the telling of the story as in the small in-between sentences and metaphors that will elicit a laugh, a knowing nod, or an “Amen, sister.” Readers may feel a slight dip of disappointment when it becomes apparent that the author will spend a portion of the book rehashing the failed romance to “the Yankee.” But like an understanding BFF, we are rewarded by hanging in there a while, because, hey, we’ve been there and perhaps we’ll be there again, so it just plain makes good karmic sense to smile sympathetically while she licks her wounds. And as Mitchael never sacrifices the comedy for the telling of the tragedy, readers’ entertainment value cascades throughout the memoir. Pick up this book, and enjoy the wild and wooly ride.
Quill says: With a finely tuned blend of humor of pathos, this memoir will resonate with many women (and hopefully some really great guys too.)