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Memphis Flyer Her Majesty's Secret Service

Or: Learning how to love The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love.

By Chris Davis

APRIL 3, 2000:  My grandmother makes this conscrumptious concoction that she calls sweet potato Yum-Yum. Mmmmm, the Yum-Yum, whipped so smooth and creamy with sugar, butter, and more better butter. Never has there been a dish so perfectly named as the Yum-Yum. I see variations of this drool-inducing delicacy at just about every Mom & Pop I drift into, but none can compete with my dear Nanny's (and please don't even try to get into some kind of "My Nanny's sweet potatoes are better than your Nanny's sweet potatoes" contest with me, pal, because they simply aren't, and furthermore the spry 90-year-old might just whip off one of her still-so-sexy shoes and bean you upside the fool head with it). Whereas most people top their sweet potatoes with marshmallows, she tops hers with a thick, chewy crust of caramelized brown sugar and coconut. It's like the world's sweetest pudding topped off with a praline.

I've always looked forward to the appearance of a sweet potato Yum-Yum because it isn't a dessert. You do not have to clean your plate to get you some. It's laid out on the dinner table with all of the other healthy bacon-infused vegetables. It's supposed to be good for you. Jill Conner Browne's decadent little book, The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love is a lot like my Nanny's Yum-Yum. It is a tooth-rotting, fanny-widening, diabetes-inducing slice of irresistible trash that's supposed to be good for you. It might be called one woman's voyage of self discovery -- if the person calling it that was a blithering idiot.

To tell the truth, I dreaded opening The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love. The cover, depicting half-a-dozen extra-ample Big-Hairs in green spangly mini-dresses, reeked of Ya-Ya sisterhoodism. The caption, "A fallen Southern Belle's look at love, life, men, marriage, and being prepared," caused a nervous twitch that Fanny Flagg's exclamatory pronouncement "Long live the Sweet Potato Queens" did little to assuage. But being about as open-minded as any set-in-his-ways malcontent can be, I opened the book I had already judged by its cover. What I found inside wasn't good. It wasn't good like, say for instance, Flannery O'Connor is good, or Raymond Carver is good. It wasn't a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. No, it was something we all need more than that. It is what I like to think of as a friend you can take to the bathroom with you -- and that is a good friend indeed. Not since Florence King clobbered us with Southern Ladies and Gentlemen has there been such a "funny because it's true" helping of deep-fried Dixie dregs.

One day Jill Conner Browne decided that she must be a queen -- of something. She's from Jackson, Mississippi, where tiaras are as common as the cold, for goodness sake -- why shouldn't she be the queen of something? She also decided that several of her closest friends should be queens as well. So they bought some big wigs, crazy getups, built a float, and jumped upon it. With their ludicrously enhanced anatomical features and synchronized pelvic thrusts, they became the unqualified hit of Jackson's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. Of course, there is more to being a queen than just riding on a float, and The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love is a crash course in queenly behavior. Tucked in between pretty-little-panty platitudes and recipes for Fat Mama's Knock You Naked Margaritas is more than enough dead-on commentary on Southern culture to keep the giggles coming.

Of all the lessons Queen Browne and company have to impart to the poor wretched non-queens of the world, none is more important (or dear to my heart) as, "How not to do jackshit." The boss queen is very clear in her explanation that "not doing jackshit is not the simple act of sloth that it may appear to the uninitiated." No, indeed, it is a very complex act of sloth; an honorable and worthy avocation. Of course when one is engaged in the act of not doing jackshit, one must find others to do jackshit for them, and the queens have discovered the one sentence that can make any man (dumb critters that we are) do their absolute bidding at any time.

The scene goes something like this: When jackshit needs doing, the queens approach a man who can get jackshit done. One of the queens (generally the most recently corona-ed) explains in great detail the parameters of the jackshit that needs doing. Once the man is clear on the concept, the queen announces something to the effect of "if you do this for us, all six of us will give you a blowjob." This technique is known as, "the promise." It is never kept, and always effective. "Properly timed and executed, blowjobs given to the right personnel on a regular basis would no doubt bring world peace." Browne writes, noting that by the same token a BJ given is not necessarily more effective than a BJ withheld. Brilliant.

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