I haven't heard from Michelle Hamm in five years, Sonya thought. "Fine, Michelle. How have you been? A better question is where have you been?"
"I expected only to leave you a message."
Sonya sighed. Michelle was infamous for not answering her questions.
"I am so surprised that you answered, Sonya," Michelle said. "It's ten o'clock on a Friday night. Why aren't you out with your bad self?"
Because I don't have a "bad self" anymore, not that I ever had a bad self. "I lead a quiet life now. You know that."
Just me in my suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, home on my suburban couch in my suburban great room, watching my new flatscreen TV bought at a suburban electronics store. Wow. This is the first phone call in days that hasn't asked me for a donation. Hmm. Michelle's on the line. I may be donating my time somewhere soon.
"Let me guess," Sonya said. "There's some WNBA function I just have to attend."
"Nope," Michelle said. "WB is doing a new show called Hunk or Punk."
She's calling me to discuss what's going to be on TV. "And what does this have to do with me?"
She has to remind me. Ten hard years in the WNBA, playing for two Olympic teams, traveling around the world several times, taking mission trips to Haiti and New Orleans in the off-season. I had no time for a man. I barely had time for myself.
"What's your point, Michelle?" I have my own TV shows to watch.
"They're looking for a strong, attractive, literate, intelligent black woman just like you."
"No, they aren't. Not on shows like that."
"They are. Wouldn't you like to have twelve hunky men fighting over you?"
"The actual word is 'woo.' These men are going to 'woo' you on national TV."
Woo? Noo. "And you thought of me?"
"I could only think of you, Sonya."
"Gee, thanks. Um, you're still single, aren't you, Michelle?"
"Yes, but I am not—"
"And you're strong, attractive, literate, and intelligent, right?"
"Of course, but I don't look anything like you. I'm thick in some spots and much thicker in others. Some spots I haven't seen in years, not even with a mirror. You're cute. You probably still have some baby fat. Unless you've let yourself go."
"No, I'm still in shape." I just don't have anyone to admire my shape except me. "What makes you think I would go on TV to find a date?"
"Are you married, shacking up, or dating anyone now?"
"No." Loneliness is next to godliness. Most of the time.
"Are you even trying?"
"Then maybe you have to go on TV to get a date."
Sonya shook some cobwebs from her head. "That makes no sense."
"Sure it does. It ain't happenin' with what you're doing now, right? Why not roll the dice and see what happens and get paid to do it at the same time."
Because I don't need it to happen! "Look, I'm not hurting for money, and I don't need a man, okay? I'm happily single." And my couch needs me to keep it warm. My remote control whimpers when I'm not around. My TV sighs whenever I don't turn it on.
"C'mon, Sonya. No one is really single and happy. If it weren't for my cat and an occasional hookup, I'd be miserable. Why don't you live a little? Go on the show. Let your hair down. Have some fun for a change."
I've never had much hair to let down. "No."
"Well, look at it another way. Do we really want another diva with an attitude representing us on TV? This is our chance to show America a real black woman for a change."
Now that is tempting. I am sick of what's on TV for the most part. Reality shows are often faker than regular shows. It's why I watch Animal Planet and Man v. Food just about every day. Those are real shows. I mean, who doesn't want to know what parasites are living inside the human body? And who doesn't eat? And sometimes the shows seem to overlap. I'll be watching something about tapeworms on Animal Planet, and then I'll wonder if the host for Man v. Food has a tapeworm that helps him eat so much. How many shows can do that overlap?
"Earth to Sonya."
"I was just thinking about ..." I can't tell her I was thinking about tapeworms. "I was just wondering why you think I'm a real black woman."
"You're a success story without the extensions, the attitude, and the diamond-studded fingernails. You grew up in Jersey as an orphan in the 'hood, got raised by your saintly grandmama, you were the first in your family to graduate college, your college team won the national championship twice, you were an all-American in college three times, your team made the NCAA tournament all four years you were there—"
"I know my bio, Michelle," Sonya interrupted. "What's your point?"
"You're not only beautiful—you're actually interesting, unlike a lot of the beautiful people on TV. If I were the average American couch potato, I'd want to get to know you better."
"I am a couch potato." And loving every lazy minute of it. "Couch potatoes are not interested in the lives of other couch potatoes." If there were a market for it, it would already be on TV.
"Sonya, you are the ultimate role model for black women. TV needs you."
TV needs me about as much as I need TV. Wait a minute. I need TV, mainly to help me sleep. Does that mean TV needs me to help other people sleep?
"Michelle, please listen," Sonya said. "I am not a role model. I played ball. I earned my living playing with a ball. That doesn't make me—"
"You're a role model," Michelle interrupted. "Little girls looked up to you."
Right. I'm too short for them to look up to me. "And I'm forty. Those shows are for much younger women. I don't have a chance of being a Nubian princess." Who thinks up that noise anyway? Nubian princess? Why not Nubian queen? TV is always downgrading black women.
"Forty is the new twenty."
"Not to a twenty-year-old," Sonya said. Or to a forty-year-old with a reluctant knee, elbows that pop for no reason, and toes that rarely warm up.
"You could be glamorous, you know."
"My glamorous days are over." Not that I had any in the first place. When they put makeup on me for those WNBA calendars, I felt like a clown. "Don't they have an age limit for shows like that?"
"You just made the cutoff."
How nice. "Thank you for thinking of me, really, but no thanks."
"Um, I already sent in a few of your old headshots and your bio."
Sonya shot off the couch. "What?"
"And the producers are very interested in what they've seen. They want to meet with you soon. As in, as soon as you can get to LA. That kind of soon."
The witch! "You already signed me up?"
"It's what I do, right? And I didn't exactly sign you up. I just sent a few pictures and your bio. No harm in that."
"Michelle, you haven't really been my publicist for the last five years," Sonya said. She turned back to her TV and tuned it to The Food Channel, muting the sound. "And Michelle, those headshots have to be at least ten years old."
"They're actually fifteen years old."
Geez, I was still a kid! "But that's not how I look now. You're misrepresenting me."
She's still misrepresenting me. She tried to paint me as some "bad girl from Jersey" back in the day to increase my salary, as if being "fierce" would put more people in the seats. No one bought that mess. Nike wouldn't have signed me to represent their shoes if I were a "bad girl" from anywhere.
"I'll bet you haven't aged a day."
I have aged many days, and a few more during this conversation. "Michelle, I have several body parts heading south, I have wrinkles, my evil knee cracks—"
"And all of that can be fixed or hidden," Michelle interrupted. "They are really interested in you, Sonya. They are willing to pay you a lot of money to take the role."
The what? "The role? I'm playing myself, right? How is that a role?"
"You know what I mean. You'll be playing the role of the woman in waiting, the role of the damsel in the castle waiting for her knight in shining armor, the role of—"
"The desperate middle-aged woman afraid of dying alone," Sonya interrupted. Ouch. That hurt to say. It must be somewhat true if it hurts me like that.
"It's funny you should mention desperate, Sonya. The producers actually sounded desperate when I talked to them."
"So let them remain desperate. I'm not desperate."
"You're a beautiful woman alone on a Friday night."
"And I'll be a beautiful woman alone on a Saturday night, too." And on Sundays and Wednesdays, I'll be a beautiful woman getting my prayer and praise on in church. "I like my life, Michelle. I like quiet. I didn't know how necessary quiet was to me until I had some quiet. Silence is indeed golden. You know I didn't like all that noise and hype. I never liked doing post-game interviews or having any microphones jammed into my face or cameras following my every twitch. And now you want me to go on TV for what, months? That's not me at all. You know this."
"Well, um, I already told them that you were interested in doing this show."
Sonya snapped off the TV. She had already seen the host of Man v. Food eat the five-pound burrito. "You told them I was interested before you even tried to get me interested?"
"Well, if they weren't interested in you being interested, I wouldn't have called you to check on whether you were interested or not."
Her logic still escapes me. "So what if they're really interested. I'm not interested."
"But, Sonya, the money is ridiculous, more than your first year's salary for the Comets."
"I told you. I'm not hurting for money."
Because I'm not hurting for common sense and I actually learned something from my business administration classes at the University of Houston. I lived like a nun for ten years in the league before splurging on this house and the Maxima outside. The interest from the money I earned and invested wisely during my playing days keeps me living comfortably.
"I told them you'd consider twice that," Michelle said.
"And they said fine. They said fine, Sonya. See what I said about desperate?"
And this makes me feel ... less homely for some reason. They're willing to pay old me double. "They doubled the money?"
"One hundred thousand dollars."
Whoa. They are seriously desperate. Who can afford to throw that kind of money around these days?
"At least think about it," Michelle said.
"Oh, I'll think about it." For about a minute. This is not gonna happen.
"It could be fun, Sonya."
"It could be stupid, Michelle."
"Not with intelligent you as the star."
"I don't want to be a star." I was the point guard, the player who made everyone else look good. "I'm middle-aged now. I'm past my need for attention."
Okay, who am I kidding? I would love to have the attention of a good man, but not the smothering kind of attention. The remote belongs to me. This couch belongs to me. My space belongs to me. But to have twelve men pawing at me? At the same time? I'd have a football team and the coach after me.
"Do this for us, Sonya. Do this for all us thirty- and forty-something sisters who don't have hot men or any men in their lives for that matter. Be our shining example in these dark times. Be our Nubian princess."
"Michelle, you're tripping."
"It's part of my job description."
Sonya laughed. "I am not saying I'll do this, but if I did, how long would this show last exactly?"
"You're thinking about doing it?"
"I said if I did."
"The show will last for approximately six months to a year."
Geez. Movies don't take that long to film. "I don't know. Those guys will be so young."
"You don't look your age at all, Sonya. And that could be the big secret they reveal at the end. That's how these shows work, you know. Our Nubian princess has been hiding something from you hunky punks. She's actually old enough to be your mama!"
"Remember that Penthouse playmate on Momma's Boys a few years ago?"
"No." They don't have Penthouse playmates on Animal Planet.
"The ratings for that show went through the roof when she revealed that secret. Oh, yeah, she got dumped and vilified on all the entertainment shows right after that, but the ratings were fantastic."
But I'm her opposite. "I doubt I'd be good for ratings."
"I'm good, Michelle. I'm a Christian, remember?"
"You never let me forget, Sonya."
"And I'm boring. I am a home-girl homebody. And if I revealed my true age to the man I eventually chose, he would dump me in a heartbeat, and I'd look foolish."
"Oh, one can only hope! Then you could do another show! Dumped by a punk, she's back to win her hunk. It will make TV history."
Michelle is a seriously damaged woman. "You're kidding, right?" "No, and that would almost be better. You'd be on TV for up to two years and we could easily clear half a million—or more with endorsements and appearances."
We. She said "we." Michelle must be hurting for money. I stopped paying her a long time ago. "Two years of that foolishness? That's insane. If I did do it, I know I wouldn't last more than six months." Why does it sound as if I'm talking myself into this? Why am I still talking to Michelle at all? Is part of me actually intrigued by this? "And when the younger guy dumps me in the end, that's it. No sequels."
"Oh, you never know. The man you choose might like cougars. And you played for the Lady Cougars in college, too."
"Once upon a time when both of my knees worked, Michelle." Sonya returned to the couch, digging her feet under the cushions. "I can't believe you told them I was interested."
"You could have been a movie or a TV star and you know it. You still could be. Look at all the older women out there raking it in. Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams, Regina Hall, Nia Long, Kimberly Elise, Tyra Banks, Angela Bassett, Sanaa Lathan, Vivica Fox. Every one of them is forty or older. Older women have staying power. You think the Kardashians will look that good in their forties?"
I don't think they look that good now. "Who cares about the Kardashians?"
"See, you're already sounding like a diva."
Me? Never! "That's not the life I wanted after basketball, and it's not the quiet life I crave."
I want only what God wants. I have always wanted that, and I hope I've done Him proud. I wouldn't have had all that injury-free success in the WNBA without His almighty help. "How does she keep doing it year after year?" those so-called basketball experts asked. Hard work, dedication, and the God in me. So what if I haven't been fruitful and multiplying. Not every woman has to be married with children to be fulfilled.
"Michelle, I don't think this show is right for me."
"It's perfect for you."
"Nothing is perfect except the love of God, Michelle."
"Okay, okay, I'll level with you. I, um, I already sort of ... okayed the contract. All you have to do is sign it."
Sonya nearly threw her remote control across the room. I can't believe I thought about throwing my remote control across the room. How would I function? "You just ... sort of ... okayed the contract." "Um, yeah."
"You can't do that!"
"I already did it."
"Not without my permission!"
"True, but it was actually kind of easy. Just a few strokes of a pen. I hope I spelled your name right."
"I don't even pay you anymore." She forged my signature! This is not happening! "And they haven't even met me yet!"
But why aren't I just saying no and hanging up on her? Why am I still even talking to Michelle? What is it about being a Nubian princess that is keeping my interest? Okay, I've never been one. Not many people have. I'm sure there's something psychological about all this, but I'd have to be crazy to go on this show!
"They need you, Sonya. Their first choice took a spot on Survivor instead."
"And that's a show I might actually like to do. It's athletic, outdoors, a challenge. This show, I mean, where's the challenge? All I have to do is kick guys off until I'm left with one man, right? Where's the challenge in that? I could probably do it on the first episode. I am good at saying no, and I'm sure I could say it eleven times in less than thirty seconds!" Only I'm not saying no now. Nubian princess Sonya. It has a nice ring to it.
"Sonya, they are so desperate that they're willing to fly you out to LA, pamper you to death, and do whatever it takes to make you happy."
Excerpted from A Good Man by J. J. Murray Copyright © 2013 by J. J. Murray. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.