My father has been selling life insurance for thirty-one years, and he’s one of those people who has the irritating habit of trying to breed false familiarity by shortening people’s names. For example, if he’s calling someone on the phone named James, he’ll say, “Hi! Is Jim there?” My father is a very successful salesman, so I’m surprised that he doesn’t know that he should never do that. Countless studies have shown that it’s a bad idea, but the studies aren’t necessary; it’s common sense. In fact, in high school, I remember one of my teachers saying, “I’ve always been a Cynthia. I always hated the name Cindy, even as a kid, so I hate it when salesmen call me on the phone and are like, ‘Hey Cindy! How ya doin’?’ They don’t even know me, and they’re acting like they’re my best friend!” Which brings us to Aunt Jemima.
Let’s get one thing clear right now. Jemima is not my aunt. I don’t know who’s aunt she is–apparently, she’s someone’s aunt–but she’s not mine. I want to say to Jemima, “Look, I’ll buy your damn syrup! But there’s no reason for you to pretend that you’re a relative of mine!” Furthermore, I hate the emblem on her syrup. I’m sitting at my kitchen table, trying to eat my pancakes, and there she is, staring at me. That pisses me off! I live alone for a reason, so that I don’t have people staring at me while I’m trying to eat! But every time I’ve used Jemima’s syrup, I feel like I have a roommate! Not just a roommate, but a roommate who’s not paying her share of the rent! The worst part about it is the fact that I’ve tried to make conversation with her, but she doesn’t even respond. She just sits there with that big, bullshit salesman smile, not responding to anything I say. She’s like Terri Schiavo in black face.
Speaking of which, I don’t know if anyone else remembers this, but up until about fifteen years ago, the emblem on the bottle had Jemima wearing a do rag, which made her look like a slave. But around 1990, someone in the “Aunt” Jemima company thought that it might be politically incorrect to show a black slave on the bottle of maple syrup, even if that slave is smiling. I disagreed with that. I happened to like knowing that whoever made my syrup had to work really God damn hard at making it. Think about it. Suppose that you went to a restaurant where they allowed you to watch your meal be prepared. An employee is preparing your dish, when suddenly, the head chef starts screaming at him for not putting enough garlic in your pasta. He then pulls out a bull whip, and beats the living shit out of the guy. Wouldn’t that make you feel good, knowing how much special attention was being paid to your meal? Anyway, around 1990, they changed Jemima’s look. They got rid of her do rag, gave her some makeup and a pair of earrings, put her in a dress, and “did” her hair. She now looks successful. She looks as if she’s saying, “I made it!” Now, instead of saying, “Yes, Master! Please don’t whip me! I promise to pick more cotton/make more syrup,” it appears as if she’s saying, “Gather around, kids! Grandma made pancakes!” Well, she’s not my grandma. And she’s not my aunt. And Uncle Ben isn’t really my uncle either. Fuck these people with their false familiarity!
That’s why I like Mrs. Butterworth. She doesn’t pretend to be my aunt, and she doesn’t have a staring problem. A bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup is vaguely shaped like the outline of an anonymous woman with no particular facial features. I like this because not only do I not feel as if my privacy is being invaded, but Mrs. Butterworth’s anonymity reminds me of all of those masked women in the mansion scene in Eyes Wide Shut, which means that if I were to ever fuck Mrs. Butterworth, I would basically be fucking any woman in the world.
November 12, 2005