Tiffany Vakilian is entry #32

Heresy! (pronounced: HAIR Racy)

Pearls of wisdom

 

Literati,  Happy Day-after-Easter!

Here is a unique response to our contest prompt: an entry in the form of a play. Tif has been a friend for the last five years, and a contributor and some-time manager of this site when I have gone on so bad tickles from time to time.  She took time out from her new full-time job–being mother to Grace Vakilian to send us this. I have many colorful friends, but only a few friends of color–Tiffany is both!

 

 

 

 

Pearls

by Tiffany Vakilian
For two Black Women

Cast of Characters

LAYLA:                               Black woman in early/mid-thirties with professional attire and a big natural curly fro.

CERISE:                               Black woman in her 40’s with bold fashions and a no-nonsense demeanor.

Set requirements: single set, interior

ACT I – Scene 1

Setting: The HR office of an austere corporate building. Weekday, in the morning. A single table faces stage front. There are two or three chairs.

At rise: LAYLA, stares at a performance improvement (write-up) form. She’s sitting, playing with a string of pearls she’s wearing.

(Enter CERISE, left.)

LAYLA:
Hey girl! Look at you rockin’ them boots! It’s too hot for that!

CERISE:
I’m too hot for these boots. Get it straight! Look at you with them pearls. Like Jackie O and Dorothy Dandridge up in here.

(They both laugh)

CERISE:
So, what is going on? Greg and Mr. W. actin’ like your name is on a wanted poster. I’m not even supposed to be in here right now, but Mark sent me to get the monthly so I took the long way and snuck by.

LAYLA:
Girl, I can’t with Greg, and he’s mad about it. One of the managers complained because I wore my hair in a wrap on one day, and a fro the next. That is all that happened!

(CERISE looks at her doubtfully.)

LAYLA:
That and I wouldn’t sign that daggone IPP they gave me. They just left to discuss “my options” and let me think about my choices.

CERISE:
That explains it.

LAYLA:
What?

CERISE:
I just saw Greg. He looked pissed and scared at the same time.

LAYLA:
I just can’t care anymore ‘Reesey, I can’t. Maybe I should’ve kept my thoughts to myself. Just sit here and laugh at it all inside my own head.

BOTH:
Nah.

CERISE:
They already think you crazy. Oop! I gotta go. Can’t get caught in here. We’ll talk off the clock, okay?

LAYLA:
Okay. Go on.

CERISE:
Keep your head up girl.

(EXIT CERISE, left)

LAYLA:
(Starts playing with her pearls again, then takes a look at the form)

This piece of paper is … rude. I’m sorry, I just have to say it that way. You are a rude instrument of foolishness.

(Mocking the form text)

Stone has a “professional look” and my “look” is not fitting. This POS paper says I need to make a change to my “understanding and execution of SB&L’s professional dress code.”

(Takes another long look at the form, starts talking to it)

I’d like to explain some things to you before we go any further. I’m sure you won’t mind.

I come from a strong background and I’ve made SB&L look good with my work. And I’ve been proud of the diversity I’ve seen in the office.

No, that sounds contrived. I mean, I’ve been glad to see more attempts at open-mindedness, especially in such a touchy, sizzling political climate. But I have to admit. I have had my bones to pick with you. Don’t worry, it’s nothing so blatant as name calling and hate-hazing. We’re not in High School here.

But…well…little things. Like why do both the SVP and CEO feel they have to ask me about what they watch on BET as if I am supposed to know about every show. As if I’m supposed to give them points for watching that channel… Why do they feel like I’m supposed to supply them with commentary on those subjects, and not the M.A.R. report? And on the flip side of that, why is it, when I mention historically accurate things about Black people, do I get such a weird face? You know, the “I don’t know about that” face.

I call them doubtful lips.

I digress, but to be clear, despite my many successes, my various accolades and accomplishments, you brought me into HR to discuss my hair?

I must ask. Are you kidding me?

And another thing, why do you any of you think it’s okay to touch my hair at will? And why do you think that it’s so strange that I don’t like it? What have I done that disallows my personage to have any kind of nuance? Or expression? Or sense of boundary?

(Sighs)

I am just exhausted placating the role you made for me. I guess the concept of being both “nappy headed” and “smart” hasn’t quite conquered the corporate arena quite yet. Certainly not at SB&L.

I think you should ask yourself, why is my hair such a problem to you? Does it bring that much attention to harder conversations and concepts? To the boys getting shot, hung, beaten? Am I too much of a reminder of how far you still have to go?

I don’t think SB&L has come as far as they’d like to think.

(Puts form down)

So here we are. If I sign you, my soul will cry out in rage—another rage I’ll have to squelch down. If I don’t sign, you’ll throw every stereotype you can at my curriculum vitae. What’s the point of suing you? You won’t learn from it. I must admit, I am conflicted.

(Begins to play with pearls)

LIGHTS OUT
***

Thanks, Tif…see you at the Fifth Annual Writers’ Reunion in Oceanside this June.  Hope you can sing for us again! (Maybe Amazing Grace?)

Now…maybe not so PC.

The baudy, revolutionary Bessie Smith! Master of the not-to-subtle double entendre!

When I lived in the salt-and-pepper (not hard to decipher the meaning here) district in New York’s Upper East Side, a favorite haunt was -appropriately-called “Pearl’s.”  Pearl was a great fan and imitator of Bessie Smith, and would lead open mic nights with songs such as this.  I must have been a regular, because now, playing this version that I have uploaded, I remember not only every word, but also the missing verse: “My hair is kinda kinky.  My man, he don’t care.  Any man’s a fool to want a momma for her hair.” Recalling that line as I read Tiffany’s piece prompted me to seek out Bessie.  Cultural observation?  In the picture of Bessie Smith, her hair is slicked down.  Hmnnn…

10 comments

  1. Avatar
    Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    I felt this read more like a catalogue than a drama. I think it would have been much more powerful and effective to have Layla in actual confrontation and discussion with a member of HR, or, alternatively, delivering this as monologue.

    • Avatar
      Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      PS: I can testify that managers, in general, have problems with how all sorts of women refuse to conform to an arbitrary standard of “business” or “professional” attire.

      • Avatar
        Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        …and sometimes jerks are just jerks, and plenty of people have trouble with boundaries and the concept of personal space, and clumsy ideas of how to show friendliness and interest, or how to make conversation.

        Now that we have specialized terminology for what used to be considered just the fruit of a generalized lack of brains, it’s far too easy to think “racism” instead of “stupidity.”

    • Avatar
      Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      I mean monologue addressing the fourth wall, rather than the form. In the final paragraph, “you” refers at first to the form, and then to the managers and the firm. It’s a plausible artistic choice to have Layla arguing with the form, since none of us can be reduced to the contents of a piece of paper, but that message needs to be stronger and separate from the obtuseness of Layla’s managers.

  2. Avatar
    Laura G says:

    Love your idea to share a short-short play. Livens up the contest! Good job on snappy dialogue (I can’t even write dialogue)…Especially love this hard hitting point:
    “I think you should ask yourself, why is my hair such a problem to you? Does it bring that much attention to harder conversations and concepts? To the boys getting shot, hung, beaten? Am I too much of a reminder of how far you still have to go?”

  3. Avatar

    Thorn, thanks for posting this. I appreciate the fact that you have time to post at all, you international man of the letter you! Bessie Smith’s hair…yep. You caught that, huh? That’s a conversation for the Anti-Social Writers get-togethers… man I miss those.

    And Sarah, thank you for your comments, bless your heart. I like my piece as it is submitted (though it *is* part of a larger piece, and has already been performed and recorded). The “you” is intentionally mobile in its representation of the form and the people who filled it out. I respect your perspective, however, it is not, nor has it ever been mine.

    • Avatar
      Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      I think a word might be missing here: “Girl, I can’t with Greg, and he’s mad about it.”
      and I wonder if auto-correct has changed the intended word here: I am just exhausted *placating* the role…”

      And, just wondering–how did Cerise’s personal style escape the ire of management?

      • Avatar
        Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        …and I was a little puzzled by Cerise’s “They already think you crazy[,]” though if Layla tends, in general, to bring the shadow of the full grim weight of American history to performance reviews, it may not be surprising that everyone is habitually in a state of tension.

        • Avatar
          Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          There’s always of course the simplicity of the “Erin Brockovich” option:

          Erin Brockovich: Well Ed, I think I look nice.

  4. Avatar
    Jon Tobias says:

    [W]hy do you any of you think it’s okay to touch my hair at will? I loved that line. It stood out for me and added a bit of a laugh if only because it’s something I’ve heard said multiple times before in one way or another. This left me wanting to see the next part, where Layla is in the office, especially being familiar with HR situations involving corrective actions and all the silly things that are thrown around by rewording policy. Thank you for sharing.

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