Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ma'am This

Someone at work is trying to kill me.

Or, I may kill him. I’m not sure.

How’s this happening? Death by ma‘am.

"Morning, ma'am."
“Afternoon, ma‘am.”
"Have a nice lunch, ma'am."

He works there in the lobby, sees me several times a day, ma‘ams me constantly. I’m ready to blow, it’s getting to that point. Here’s what I’m going to tell that little man:

“Stop the ma’am-ness. Now. I’ve got a good ten years, 20 pounds and two inches on you. I think I can take you. Keep it up, and you’re goin’ down.”

Because with every ma’am he lobs my way, I grow older, I grow angrier. First ma’am of the day? Blood pressure rises, right eye begins to twitch. Next one? Wrinkles spread, collagen breaks down. Lunchtime ma’am? Osteoporosis. After that, the effects are cumulative, spiraling out of control.

By 5 p.m., I’m a goner.

He can’t seem to stop himself. I’ve tried to hide, tried all the best evasion tactics - the duck and run, the no eye-contact, the fake cell phone conversation, Ipod earbuds.

But it never fails. He hits me with those ma’ams anyway. Bullets to my youth.

I’ve told him, in a reasonable fashion, of my deep disdain for the word.

“Please don’t call me that. It makes me feel old. My name‘s Dawn,” I said.

“It’s a sign of respect,” he said.

Respect? How about truth - you want the truth? Ma’am is a verdict. The ma’am-user has made an age-judgment based on appearance. And this conclusion is generally not welcomed by the ma’am at hand.

It’s a downright four-letter word.

Four out of five of my girlfriends surveyed also hate being called ma'am. We miss ‘Miss.’ Sunny, happy days those were, not so long ago, when waitresses, store clerks, little lobby dudes looked at our then wrinkle-free skin and saw a ‘Miss’ and not a ‘Ma’am.’

But somehow, someway, despite our best exercise and SPF 45 efforts, we went over Ma'am Mountain anyway. That is, according to little lobby dudes, the guys at the BP station and most other minimum wage employees. Geniuses all.

Since I fear for the safety of these folks, I’m calling for a national m-word re-education policy. According to all the guys behind the counters, I am quite the expert. I’ll be glad to help. Here are some occasions when it's OK to call a woman 'ma'am':

-When checking her into the nursing home
-When helping her shop for a walker
-When giving her directions to her great-granddaughter’s baptism
-When she's unconscious
-When assisting her in finding just the right dress for her 65th wedding anniversary
-While changing the tire on her Buick, which flattened on the way to her weekly hair appointment

And the very best time to call a woman ma’am?

The day she’s forgotten her hearing aids.


  1. You got it sooooooooooo right. Damn the ma'am calling. Here in the south we use Miss ------ whatever her first name is. Well actually it's more of a mizzz - as in Mizz Wanda or Mizz Dawn. I find that perfectly acceptable as it is used by everyone from 2 to 102.

    I just love your writing, especially when you are so right.

  2. Down with ma'am! IT's a dirty word as far as I'm concerned. Being called ma'am by a beefcake dude in the weight room at the gym last night was borderline humiliating!

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