Author Jill Conner Browne -- a.ka., the boss Sweet Potato Queen.
Debbie Elliott, NPR
Sweet Potato Queen fan Lee Einhous turned out for Conner Browne's recent reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Miss. " They said dress queenly, so I brought all my sparklies," Einhous says.
Debbie Elliott, NPR
Hear a Sweet Potato Queen anthem sung by Kacey Jones.
'Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay or Dead'
Writer Jill Conner Browne first rose to international fame with the 1999 best-seller The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love, a hilarious handbook for women on being particular and getting men to do their bidding.
The Sweet Potato Queens are a group of Mississippi women who don green sequined mini-dresses, pink majorette boots, flowing red wigs and tiaras every St. Patrick's Day and parade through the streets of Jackson. As their leader, Conner Browne has drawn a large and loyal following: There are more than 4,000 Sweet Potato Queen chapters in 17 countries, including Saudi Arabia.
In her latest book, The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay or Dead, Conner Browne shares her insights on the male of the species, classifying them into handy spud categories (Mr. Right is a Spud Stud.)
Though it's full of Southern-fried humor, this field guide also has a message to spread. "If you want to share your life with somebody, at some point, the first thing to do is have a great life yourself," Conner Browne says. "You're enough. There's not another half of you out there somewhere, you know. You're all together."
NPR's Debbie Elliott caught up with the Sweet Potato Queen and her court as she launched the book recently in her hometown of Jackson.
Warning: This excerpt contains explicit language.
From The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, or Dead
By Jill Conner Browne
Chapter 1: Typical American Specimens
We will pretty much be discussing American men, since they're the kind we know best, but certain similarities are bound to exist internationally. We present eight of the most common specimens of the American adult male. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we believe we have identified and classified those men who are the most highly evolved, as well as those who, in our opinion, are way down the evolutionary ladder. You will have no problem figuring out which is which. In fact, you may be familiar with men who fit two or more of the categories simultaneously.
Certain general types will be identified along with their physical characteristics; at the same time, common variations of the type will be identified as well. The scientific category for these specimens, as determined by the Sweet Potato Queens, is Spud. Measurements are included for some Spuds, and these are given in feet and inches, pounds and ounces. (We considered adding the metric equivalents in parentheses for anybody who cares but quickly decided that nobody does, so we're not.) Height refers to the measurement taken from the top of the skull (hair, if it exists, real or make-believe, will not be considered for this purpose) to the sole of the foot (with the heel resting firmly on the ground-no tippy-toes allowed).
Also included where pertinent will be information regarding Habitat. Where a Spud is spotted may offer important clues as to his identification, much as the tree squirrel will always be found in wooded areas and prairie dogs are pretty much gonna be out on the wide-open grasslands. Although location or Habitat of some types is specific to certain regions, this is usually not the case. In our experience, you can find a—holes pretty much everywhere.
Any particularly important attributes will be shown in italics. Habits will tell you the time, day or night, when the man is most active and what he's likely to be up to then. When known, information will be provided on nesting, food, longevity, breeding season, and other habitual practices that may be of interest. Information on the young may be included where relevant. The economic status refers to the man's ability to Pay for Things and, more important, his willingness to do so. Longevity is greatly influenced by the subject's habits, particularly in the nesting and breeding subcategories.
Some of these Spuds are considered to be poisonous and extremely dangerous, and we wish there were some consistent pattern of distinguishing physical characteristics (like pointy heads or red and yellow stripes or big fangs) we could share with you so that you could RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY! whenever one is spotted in your vicinity. Unfortunately, however, no thoroughly reliable profile exists. As we said before, a—holes are everywhere, and many of them have developed elaborate systems of camouflage that make them difficult to detect. We do hope to offer some assistance in your screening process.
The Ultimate Man identified by the Sweet Potato Queens is the Spud Stud, and there is no similar breed. He is IT, and our studies indicate that the Spud Stud is the only variety of Spuds currently on the endangered species list. There are many other varieties out there, though. And best we wade through them first since they will be the most plentiful and readily available. The reader should not infer any degree of fairness intended by these descriptions; they are used purely for the sake of conversation and, we hope, for laughs. It is not in my job description to be fair to men or to even seem fair to them. It's a little late in the history of the entire world to introduce an element of fairness, and beyond even my considerable powers to bring it to bear, anyway. So, fine. Occasionally, the universe has a brain fart and something fair randomly happens. For instance, our good friend Irv got prostate cancer. No, that's not the good part; even we aren't that mean, for goodness' sake. We love Irv and his prostate. But anyway, Irv's a physician, and so, of course, he went for two years before going in to seek actual treatment for this condition-typical guy, typical guy M.D.-and of course, the condition had worsened considerably during the interim.
Once he finally went for treatment, among the things his doctors did was to put him on a massive regimen of hormones-our kind-to suppress all of his kind, which they hoped would slow the growth of the cancer. So what I'm telling you here is this: They dropkicked ole Irv's ass smack into the middle of menopause! And they've told him he'll be on this regimen for two years. Yes, ma'am, I am here to tell you, a bunch of us were at our favorite restaurant-Bravo!-here in Jackson, Mississippi, sipping ever-so-daintily on our ReVirginators and nibbling delicately on a big platter of their special Sweet Potato (Queen) Fries, when Irv all of a sudden breaks into a major sweat and starts fanning away at his hot little self. We were yelling at him that he was cooling off the fries, man, and he launched into his tale of 'Pause Woes. Hunny, you woulda thought you were at a baby shower listening to Ida Faye and Bertile expounding on the Change. Irv said he was plagued night and day with these hot flashes of the severest order. (Of course, if it's happening to a man, it's the worst thing that ever happened to anybody in the history of the world, and nobody could possibly understand or even imagine how terrible it is.) He spoke of finding himself standing in front of the open freezer, trying to cool off, and then, as long as he was there, eating gobs of ice cream straight out of the carton, and he hadn't even been hungry a minute before.
Irv also described enormous swings of mood, being giddy as a carload of sixth-grade girls at the mall one minute and madder'n a frog with a firecracker up its butt the next and then sad-ohhhh, just so, so sad-and all for no apparent reason that he could tell. He described bursting into tears in the checkout line at the grocery store when he realized he didn't have his SuperSaver card with him and he was not going to be eligible for the big discount on his 'tater chips and Co-Colas. Now, he was telling us all this with a completely straight face-except for when his lip quivered and his eyes kinda filled up. I reckon he was expecting that we would, like, sympathize with him or something.
We dutifully listened without interrupting until he got to the part about crying in the grocery store, and then we all kinda looked at each other and just lost it simultaneously and completely. We were howling and high-fiving and banging on the table and generally having a high old time at the total expense of the hapless Irv. Lucky for us, this was not one of his weepy times-or pissed-off times-and he took it pretty well. When we finally calmed down, he said that the hormone experience had really given him a better understanding of women-as a physician. Said he had treated women patients his entire medical career and he had never believed a word of the symptoms they described until now, when they were happening to him, his very ownself. Now he gets it. Of course, now he's retired, so he can't put it to use in his practice, where it might benefit us, but we're just happy that there is currently on the planet at least one man who has a deep, personal understanding of What It's Like.
We'd like to see a law passed that requires all straight men to take at least a year's worth of hormones-and try to just "get over it" and "deal." Oh, yeah, baby-show us what you got then! And men who plan to become ob-gyns-they must take the hormones throughout their entire course in med school. Now we're talking "fair." (On the flip side, though, we do have that multiple-orgasm thing going.)
So in the interest of "fairness" and to show that we don't take ourselves too seriously, in the pages to come we'll also examine a few female types-we call them Yams-who might be expected to pair off with certain Spuds.
The Bud Spud
Also known as the "boy friend," the Bud Spud can and will serve in many capacities and meet many of our needs-all but one, truth be told. Bud Spuds can be talked to, they can be danced with, they can often fix things, and they are more than welcome to pay for things. But we do not have sex with them except on very rare occasions that most often involve dim lighting and too much alcohol. A very wise person once said, "Never f—- your friends," and I'm sure they meant that literally and figuratively. Words to live by.
The measurements of the Bud Spud are completely irrelevant except in some cases for dancing. Some women don't like to dance with the Short (just as some men don't like to dance with the Tall), but me, I don't care since I never slow-dance anyway, so it doesn't matter to me a-tall. If your Bud Spud is on the hefty side, you can be assured not only of eating well but, perhaps of equal importance, of eating happily. I positively loathe eating with people of any kind who do not love food, don't you? I think I speak for all the Sweet Potato Queens worldwide when I say, "We are not afraid to eat." I do not necessarily loathe the food-apathetic people themselves (although I wouldn't rule it out), but I simply will not eat with them if I can avoid it, even if it means going hungry for a spell my ownself.
When we were in Los Angeles, shooting the pilot for a Sweet Potato Queens sitcom at the Warner Bros. Studios, we found we were something of a freak show at our many and frequent restaurant meals. This would be primarily because of our breathtaking beauty, you are no doubt assuming, and you're right, of course, but it was also because we actually eat food. No one who lives in Los Angeles ever actually eats-at least not in public, where they might be seen or even photographed for the scandal sheets. And believe me, eating in L.A. is scandalizing to the locals. They hardly ever order anything but salad-the lettuce brokers in L.A. must live like kings is all I'm saying. And everybody orders everything "on the side"-the dressing, naturally, if they even allow it in their presence. If there happen to be any other items included in the salad that could possibly possess a shred of a calorie, those items are either deleted or requested "on the side," where they can be picked at with a fork and looked at with a mixture of suspicion and disdain, if not outright disgust. We saw diners recoil in horror from proffered baskets brimming with beautiful breads. You would have thought the waiter was attempting to put a bucket of turds or snakes or snake turds on their table (one of my favorite ex-husbands used to describe an extreme case of intoxication as being "snake turds drunk," and though I never fully grasped the concept, I did gather that it was pretty damn drunk). It did give us pause to wonder exactly how these folks would react to something truly shocking or appalling.
One of our very favorite eateries is Kate Mantellini's on Wilshire Boulevard. The menu is so large as to be initially daunting, but we soon discovered that any fears we might have were groundless because everything on the menu is just about the best thing you ever ate in your en-tire life, and we know this because we ordered everything on the menu just about every time we ate there, which was nearly every day for a week. You don't really have to worry about making "the right choice"-you can safely just close your eyes and point to something, and you'll be happy with it, I promise. I love that about a restaurant. Nothing quite pisses me off as much as bad food; even if I didn't have to cook it myself, I'm still hungry.
There was a big giant group of us, to be sure-me and the Cutest Boy in the World and Tammy Carol and Tammy Donna and Tammy Cynthia, our precious darlin' George, our captive computer guy, Jay, and our most beloved buddies, Katie Dezember and Dennis Black-so we would always get the big giant booth by the window and we would also get all the attention. The waiters flocked to our table, chattering excitedly with us. (Waiters in L.A. are not generally found to be "chatty." It's as if the prospect of eating is so mortifying for both the servers and the diners alike that everyone concerned just tries to pretend it's not happening. This is much like the attitude adopted by medical professionals and us during pelvic exams. Every-body just talks about the weather and pretends they are not actually down there under a sheet, up to their eyeballs and elbows in you.) But once the waiters got over their initial shock that not only were we going to order a whole shitload of actual food-with nothing "on the side" unless it was additional sauce, dressing, or gravy-but we were actually going to eat it-all of it-plus massive quantities of wine and hard liquor and dessert-well, now, I can't rightly say that they ever did truly get over it, but at least when they came to, they were just positively giddy with excitement. I don't know who was more excited: us at the prospect of consuming the sumptuous repast, or the entire staff of the restaurant at the prospect of getting to watch us do it. Some folks do just purely love to watch, don't you know.
So anyway, we love to eat and we love our friends who love to eat, be they Queens or Bud Spuds. Exercise some caution when eating for entertainment, however, lest you become a Ham Yam.
Excerpted from The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men, by Jill Conner Browne, copyright © 2004 by Jill Conner Browne. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.