Thursday, August 02, 2007


It’s undisputed fact that “Saturday Night Live” stopped being funny when I was in Osh Kosh. Even so, I’m amused by a sketch from a few years ago. The premise is “World’s Friendliest Credit Card Company” -- a line of credit suited for the “Bad credit? No credit?” bunch. One by one, the actors marvel at how little information was needed for credit approval. Horatio Sanz: “I just said my name, and I was APPROVED.” Jimmy Fallon: “I thought I was ordering pizza, but I was APPROVED.” Chris Kattan: “I don‘t know what I’s approved for, but I’s APPROVED.”

Admit it, you smiled. Just a little? No? Weren’t you ever in middle school? I’ve been chasing approval since around October 1993, when our junior high headmistress ordered the eighth grade girls to form a horizontal line in the auditorium. Once we’d shuffled into place, the eighth grade boys received their mission: choose one girl to be Homecoming Representative. As I recall, the headmistress delivered an obligatory schpiel about “good leadership” and “good values,” but my hormone-addled brain wasn’t fooled a bit. May the prettiest girl win. I remember her name, too -- and not because it’s my own.

I’m past the Clearasil stage (well, mostly), but once in a while I land in the Homecoming lineup. Early this year, I was introduced to a woman whose approval of me seemed imperative. She was, and is, the Very Important Person to one of my Very Important People. I’ll call her Mrs. B.

Weeks before our meeting, I bought a gift. Doesn’t everyone enjoy candy? Days before, I planned my outfit. Long-sleeved, V-necked lace top over a plain white cami, matched with black linen pants. Feminine but tasteful. No saggy bra straps.

I stood on her doorstep, with my Very Important Person, and fidgeted. My VIP told me not to worry, that Mrs. B. would love me. I nodded and mentally debated the thickness of my eyeliner. Too much?

And, of course, I wondered what I’d say. I’d heard stories about Mrs. B. from my VIP. About how she worked as a nurse and instructed patients to put blueberries on their cereal, for extra vitamins. About how she made my VIP take his vitamins when he was younger and, to his chagrin, eat fish. About how she liked Broadway musicals. “You like musicals,” my VIP said. Where were my seventy-six trombones when I needed them?

In the slo-mo seconds before Mr. and Mrs. B. answered the doorbell, I smoothed my pants (Why linen? Does linen ever travel well?) and said a prayer.

She hugged me before I got over the threshold.

“Come in, dear! So nice to finally meet you! Have a glass of wine!”

I accepted the hug, and the huge glass of white wine, with Sally Field gratitude. Mrs. B. barely knew a thing about me, but she liked me. She really liked me!

She served shrimp etouffee in a crock pot, with brown rice. Etouffee! “A crock pot makes everything easy,” she explained. “You should get one.”

She told stories, too. When my VIP attempted an abominable imitation of my Tennessee accent, Mrs. B. recounted a futile search for her husband’s “car keys.” Turns out, he wanted his favorite “khakis.” Guess Southerners aren’t the only folks who get lost in translation.

At the end of the night, we hugged again, and Mrs. B. exclaimed how nice I looked. I told her I’d appreciate the etouffee recipe. I wasn’t just grubbing for approval, either. I planned to price crock pots.

I dined with Mrs. B. and her family three times. The last time was in late May. Weeks earlier, she’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Remarkably, her demeanor hadn’t changed a bit. She smiled and gave me a big hug. She told funny stories. She made me feel APPROVED, just for showing up.

She passed away about two weeks ago. Though it sounds immature, I truly thought she’d live forever. No one gets “eternity” in this life, I know -- not my VIPs or their VIPs, or even me, for that matter. But if you build up enough credit, through laughter and warm hugs and dinner invitations, how can it possibly run out?

I was lucky enough to meet many of Mrs. B’s friends, and even more family, at her services. In a way, I think funerals turn people into middle schoolers. Nobody really knows what to say. Lots of tugging at hems, toying with hair, dabbing mascara. Somewhere in a lineup of cousins, though, I realized an important difference. In this group of suits and skirts, everyone was approved. Not only approved, but chosen. As far as I can tell, Mrs. B. made everyone feel special -- whether she’d known them for a few evenings, or for many years.

Sure as my monthly Visa bill, I know heaven welcomed her like she welcomed me. And everyone up there loves the accent.