A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
Length: 1316 words (3.8 double-spaced pages)
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In the story, Miss Clairol, written by Helena Maria Viramontes, was about a woman who goes to the store with her daughter to buy items for a date that she was preparing for later that night. Arlene, who was the woman that was getting ready for her date is a chicana (Mexican Amerian) who throughout the story refers to things or events that brought a smile to her face as “sounding right.” As I read the story I could not help but smile throughout the story because it was so close to home. I too am a chicana and could relate to all the events that were happening. I was able to picture myself there. The language Viramontes used was that of what we use at home too. Viramontes takes a woman who is in my eyes, is recalling all that made her happy throughout her years. I think that Arlene did what many women do, remember all that made them happy and try to capture a glimpse of how it used to be. And, how it made them feel.
At the beginning of the story Arlene and her daughter, Champ, are at K-Mart. Arlene is looking for makeup and hair dye that will go with a dress that she is borrowing. This is where Viramontes first uses the phrase “it sounds right”. Now think, will this color go good with Pancha’s blue dress? – Pancha is Arlene’s comadre. Since Arlene has a special date tonight, she lent Arlene her royal blue dress that she deeps in a plastic bag at the end of her closet. The dress is made of chiffon, with satin-like material underlining, so that when Arlene first tried it on and strutted about, it crinkled sounds of elegance. The dress fits too tight. Her plump arms squeeze through, her hips breathe in and hold their breath, the seams do all they can to keep the body contained. But Arlene doesn’t care as long as it sounds right. (1-526 ) Here is a woman who tries on a dress that makes her feel young and beautiful. And, takes her back in my opinion to a time that outer beauty came naturally.
Nowadays, beauty is so commercialized that a woman feels she must look a certain way to fit in. A beautiful woman, by the U.S. Standard of Beauty, should be Caucasian (but able to tan); she should preferably be blonde, and her hair should be long enough to provide a secondary fetish (after her body).
She should be under 5'8" but definitely over 5'3", and somewhere between the ages of 16 and 25. She should have no visible hair on her legs or thighs, or under her arms, or on her face (except for eyebrows, but even those may be plucked or waxed away). She should smile a lot. She should not frown, unless in cute exasperation (a la Doris Day); if she cries, she should do it silently and without spoiling her makeup. She should not look noticeably physically strong, though her legs and stomach must be in good muscle tone; she should be slim and long-legged. She should have large eyes, long lashes, abundant and shiny hair (only on her head), red lips, poreless skin, small white teeth, a small Anglo-Saxon nose, small clean ears, and no body odor at all. She should not sweat or exude vaginal secretions of any kind. Her hands should show no evidence of hard manual work. (4) Chicana’s do not fit what beauty is defined today.
Arlene then gets ready for her date and puts some Art Labo on the radio. Now, any Chicano/Chicana knows Art Labo. Art Labo is a DJ who is stationed in Fresno, California. You can hear him through various radio stations throughout California. I think you can also hear him in Arizona. His radio station consists of oldies. Every Sunday from seven to ten you can hear him. He is one of a kind. He plays all them good old jams. His radio audience consists of Chicanos. A radio listener can call in and give a dedication on air. You can also hear him give dedications to them bad Chicano boys in prison. As Viramontes states that Arlene is listening to Art Labo. I know exactly how she is feeling. She feels good, turns up the radio to … your love. For your loveeeee, I will do anything, I will do anything, forrr your love. For your kiss … (2 – 527) There is nothing like jamming to some good oldies to take you back.
And Champ likes her mother that way. (3) Champ, knows that her mother is feeling good. Champ is ten years old and she is even old enough to see that her mother is feeling good. Just like any woman with children, especially a single woman, there is much hardship and obstacles that she needs to overcome to make sure her household and family are safe and provided for. And, a ten year old can clearly see when their mother is happy.
Viramontes then goes on how Arlene feels when she is thinking how she will unsnap her nylons from her girdle, and unroll them slowly, pointing her toes. Arlene recalls them heated nights that she experienced in the past. Arlene only will tell her daughter them happy times that she experienced. Such as, when she first made love to a boy. She goes on and tells her how special it was, and how perfect and innocent her first experience was. She will not tell her that her actual first sexual experience was with some guy named Puppet who ejaculated prematurely. Just like many women have made themselves believe that their first was special and if there was any other before, that experienced will not be voiced. I do not know what it is about men and women, each sex tends to elaborate about different experiences.
As Arlene continues to get ready for her date, Viramontes, goes on about how Arlene puts powder and perfume in them places that will get her date bulging in his pants. She goes on and says how Arlene will dance her heart out. …and stopping only when it is time to return to the sewing factory, time to wait out the next date, time to change hair color. Time to remember or to forget. (5) When Viramontes states at the end of that paragraph “time to remember or to forget” I see how a woman wants all to be special and if it is not, there is no need to remember or voice the experience. I think that women tend to live in some fantasy world, of course to some extent, where all is good and all should only be good, and happy, and memorable and well the big one, special. No one wants to live a life of dirty; humiliating; degrading experiences. Nor does one want to remember them if they do tend to come across such incidence.
Champ sees Arlene from the window. She can almost hear Arlen’s nylons rubbing against one another, hear the crinkling sound of satin when she gets in the blue and white shark-finned dodge. Champ yells goodbye. It all sounds so right to Arlene who is too busy cranking up the window to hear her daughter. (6) Arlene is all dress up feeling youthful and beautiful. The sound of her clothing, the sound of evening, the car, it all just sounds right. An experience that a Chicana, once upon a time has experienced. All just sounds right! I can feel the youth and beauty and happiness and comfort that Arlene is feeling that day. Down to them nylons rubbing against one another and the crinkling sound of satin in her dress. Happy times!
(4) World History Archives. History of African American women and gender.
By De Clarke, 1983. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/250.html