Do you know what I’ve discovered? The Devil is not at all like everybody thinks he is. First of all, his name is Murphy and he hates me. I can’t categorically prove this, but I think he’s trying to set me up. I have a suspicion that he has some under-the-table eternal deal with You Tube to promote some law that he established ages ago. He has an epigram that was apparently known to everyone but me for years that states: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
God has not helped this situation much with the way he built my physical body. I am only five feet tall, with boobs that easily weigh 30 pounds each even when I am a size eight. And all that upper body mass has to be carried around on freakishly tiny ankles (my ankles are the circumference of a kindergartener’s). I don’t help my case either because I’ve always had a penchant for big hair and spiked heels. Somewhere in the 60’s I got the mistaken impression that I could fool everyone into thinking I was 5’9″ tall if I wore the biggest wigs on the planet and purchased the highest heels money could buy. At my very worst, I looked like a top-heavy lollipop, and at my very best I looked like the chocolate stand-in for Dolly Parton or the Diana Ross doll with a boob job that had gotten out of control.
None of this means anything regarding what I am about to tell you unless I confess that I fall down all the time. I never get hurt. I am just that character in life who walks into a telephone pole and gets knocked unconscious in the middle of Tel Aviv, or takes a tumble down a flight of granite steps at a formal event. Or makes an entrance on stage as an actress and falls halfway through the steps — waist on down dangling beneath the elevated stage with upper torso facing an audience of 1600 people — while summarily announcing my line: “I’ve arrived; shall we go and greet the King and Queen now?”
One would think that I am a ditz, but au contraire — I am the most rod-up-your-ass-super-in-control human being you’ll ever meet. The primary reason this is so is that when I was growing up, older black folks constantly drilled into my head one overarching maxim: “White people are always watching you.” In other words: “Don’t fuck up in the slightest manner, child, because if you do, white folks’ll think we’re all like you; and then how the hell we supposed to survive The Man after that?” Consequently, I’m completely OCD about life. I take notes within notes on how to order my life on any given day. I hate surprises. I think wearing pants with a crease announces to the world a person is a fine upstanding citizen and wearing jeans is a character flaw. For years I ironed my underwear, and I stand by my religious conviction that going out of the house without impeccable makeup, or not being dressed to the nines, or not sporting my best, clean panties without holes (even to the grocery store) is a recipe for disaster.
Nothing is left to chance in my life. I am so good at organization and being in control, that I have made a very lucrative living by fixating on my obsession. I am what used to be called a “Girl Friday,” but in our current PC culture is called a Senior Executive Assistant — if you need it done today, I will have it for you yesterday and deliver it all wrapped up neatly in a bow. It is in this arena where the devil, Murphy, is trying to turn me into a cosmic joke!
Many years ago, I took a job working for a wealthy executive as his scheduler and event planner. Everything about my persona in this job was in harmony and always “just so,” including my ensemble and makeup. Cosmetics were applied three times a day to always maintain a professional look. Black was worn on most days, because it was a given that I had to look as “put together” at the end of the day as I did when I started. Securely anchored wigs were the hair of choice so that my hair was always in place (I could travel through a hurricane or a tornado and my hair would come out looking the same way it went in).
One day I was asked to arrange and accompany The Boss on a same-day out-and-back business trip. It was the type of trip that was a perfect educational project for children, so The Boss included his two children who were seven and nine at the time. I methodically facilitated every detail through the agency that was sponsoring the event: the private jet, the VIP cars, the special protein meal for The Boss, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for his children, the age-appropriate in-flight movies for the kids’ entertainment, and the conference calls The Boss needed to participate in as we traveled.
I went over and over the game plan the night before the trip to make sure there were no loopholes or opportunities where Murphy’s Law (ML) could cause chaos in The Boss’ life or mine for that matter. I chose my outfit with care — all black pants suit (doesn’t show dirt or stains), deep-purple blouse (dark color camouflages makeup stains), pashmina scarf instead of a coat (enough for warmth but not cumbersome to carry), black kid gloves, Coach briefcase, Blackberry, wig #16 (professional/business woman’s weave), and the pièce de résistance — four-inch-spiked-heeled-“to-die-for-boots.”
When the morning came, ML struck hard and fast with the worst, unexpected snowstorm in years which dumped several feet of snow all over the region.
The severity of the storm had not been anticipated by the local weatherman the night before. But I had nothing to be concerned about because I had anticipated the possibility of this happening and had ordered a 4-wheel drive vehicle put on standby to drive us to the airport just in case normal vehicles couldn’t make the trip. (Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen — I am really that good!) As we passed dozens of town cars spun out of control on the road to the airport, I smugly congratulated myself that I had defeated the first attack from “ML” without even breaking a sweat. When we arrived at the terminal, all commercial flights had been cancelled, but not the private carriers. Once again, I was so pleased at how much I was in control of my world as the private plane took off for the illustrious event.
The venue was a professional skating rink, and the business event was the taping of former Olympic skaters who were performing on a national holiday show for a major TV network. When our group arrived, the rehearsal was already underway which meant the lights were all turned off backstage in the arena. As the stage manager quietly paraded The Boss, the assistant producer, The Boss’ children, and me (bringing up the rear), towards our seats just beyond the black-out curtains, everyone failed to mention to me that an extended, iced running strip was connected to the backstage carpet and started six yards off-stage to give the skaters a running head-start (ever wonder how the skaters come bursting onto the ice rink from off-stage with such great speed?).
I was the only person who had been born a poor-black-child in the group (no excuses, just a notation as to why I have limited knowledge about professional ice rinks). All the white people (including the wee ones) had grown up doing ice skating for fun and sport. Important note to keep in mind: Sane black people don’t “do ice.” (We have always failed to see the joy in frolicking on ice, in the freezing cold, on razor-sharp blades of thin steel that could slice our faces open on one hand or lay us out flat at a moment’s notice – that’s called real life to us.) So in spite of my glamorous high-profile job, this ethnic lack of experience left me with a blind spot that no amount of Google-search could have prepared me for.
As I screamed “HOLY MARY, MOTHER OF GOD,” my four-inch-spiked boots careened against the running strip like greased lightning. Before I knew what was happening, my chubby little body collapsed into a human “curling” stone and started spinning out onto the ice rink as if it had been pushed by a champion Canadian
Thrower. My whirling-dervish-ball-of-a-body knocked over little children and august muckety-mucks to the North, East, South, and West until I came to a final stop, curled up into a fetal position on the rink in front of Murphy’s goal post: the rehearsal audience. Slightly disoriented as everyone in the arena came to help me to my feet, I quickly gathered my things and pulled myself together without giving any hint to The Boss how rattled I felt. I could barely hobble to my seat because of the pain in my ass, but I sucked it up like a true professional and vowed to be more vigilant, sensing that the devil, Murphy, was playing hardball.
By the end of the rehearsal, I was secretly rejoicing that nothing else had gone wrong, and as the pain in my butt mercifully began to subside, my group was offered a tour of the backstage area. But once we got backstage, The Boss (lost in animated production chatter with the high muckety-mucks), inadvertently left his children and his limping Girl Friday in the dust. Having lost sight of their father, the frightened children decided to chase after him around an expansively curved hallway and immediately disappeared from my sight line.
The curve of the hallway obscured my view of the children which forced me to chase after them. They quickly outpaced my stubby, high-heeled legs, and fearing that something dreadful would happen to them on my watch, the adrenaline caused my speed to increase to that of an Olympic runner — just in time to hit one gigantic, hanging black-out curtain that extended from domed ceiling to floor that was on a 360-degree traverse rod.
The velocity of my speed and the rigidity of the heavy curtain melded together into a math word problem from Hell:
If a fat-bottom woman is running from
point X to point Y at a frantic speed of 55 miles per hour in high-heeled
boots, and the distance between the two points is .25 miles, but point Y is
stationary, how long would it take the fat-bottom woman to reach point Y, and
at what speed would it take said woman to become thoroughly entangled in point
Y — swirling her around as if she were a crazed, over-stuffed piñata?
I am sure what happened to me has never happened to anyone before that day and will never happen again — it is mathematically and scientifically impossible. The voluminous, lead-like curtains wrapped around my entire body – totally encasing me from head to foot and pinning my arms against my sides. At the same time, a stage hand in Murphy’s domain inadvertently yanked the pulley that held the traverse rod to a higher level, and I was left literally dangling in the breeze about four feet off the ground. The more I struggled, the tighter the curtains wrapped themselves around me until I became the human picture of a worm in a cocoon.
I could not see a thing through the heavy curtains; my muffled cries for help went unanswered, I felt as if I were suffocating, and I began to have my first panic attack. (It is in this type of situation that one can really use a god, because it would be apparent to even the most obtuse person that human control has no cache here.) So I prayed and God spoke – at least I think it was God. The voice did not sound like James Earl Jones as I’d always imagined God would sound, but the voice was more like a high-pitched black Tinkerbell:
“Swivel your sorry ass counter-clockwise.”
As I obeyed the “heavenly command,” my curtained tomb began to slowly unravel, depositing my feet back on the ground with a thump. I emerged from my cocoon with wig awry, make-up smeared all over my sweaty face,
glasses askew, and dignity in the toilet, and as I did I silently prayed that The Boss had not witnessed what had just happened. But when I put back on my glasses and looked just a few feet in front of me, there stood The Boss, The Boss’ children, the other high muckety-mucks, the famous Olympic skaters, the cleaning staff, the stage hands, and a couple of visitors from foreign countries — all staring at me in complete and total disbelief with mouths agape as a cartoon bubble-thought formed above their heads:
“This woman is a fuckin’ klutz!”
The children’s bubble thought just said:
“WOW! THAT WAS AWESOME!”
I put myself back together as best I could, given the unanticipated circumstances caused by my enemy, Murphy, who had thoroughly kicked my ass. I turned on my mega-watt smile, strolled into the crowd to continue on, and I joined in laughter at all the jokes at my expense which lasted for years through The Boss’ gleeful retelling of the story to any and everyone who would listen.
I don’t know why The Boss didn’t fire me that day. In fact, I ended up working for him for years and we became friends. Perhaps The Boss had discovered something I hadn’t: that maybe the devil isn’t Murphy. Maybe Murphy is God’s grace to us uptight, overwrought, arrogant humans, and he uses the Murphy alter-ego to pull the rug out from under our “best laid plans” every once and awhile as he shouts to a deaf world through a megaphone from on high:
“Lighten up, people — learn to
laugh at yourselves!
Nobody’s got it all
together and nobody knows all there is to know about life, love, and me
(especially about me!)
And while I’m on the subject:
Do a better job at loving one another because you’re really beginning to get on my nerves.”
I was almost convinced of my newfound “weltanschauung” until I fell into a lake the other day while trying to board a boat at a fun park. As I came up to the surface of the water gasping for air and pulling algae
slime out of my weave and from in between my Dolly Parton boobs, all I could think was “Oh, yeah — I was
right. The Devil’s name is definitely Murphy, and he’s out to make me the fucking laughing stock of the world!” As I squished, dripped, and fumed all the way back home, the thought did occur to me:
“I wonder if there were any white people watching?”
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” Maya Angelou
All text and pictures by Eleanor and John Tomczyk © 2011 except “Lady in Red”
“Lady in Red” by William Clarke © 1981
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