No Longer Workin’ for the Man

16 Mar

Do you know what I’ve discovered?   It only took me 24 hours to determine the answer to the most repeated question from everyone I see:  Do you think you’ll like being retired?  Well, the verdict is in:

Yes, Bitches, I love that I’m no longer “workin’ for the man”!

I am officially retired as of last week, had all the parties, and received the gold watch (not really—damn aftermath of the recession has affected everything), and I am doing a dance of unmitigated joy.   Don’t get me wrong, I really liked my job and I’m going to miss the Benjamins (it was a great gig as jobs go), but it was still a job working for someone else, following someone else’s commands, and multi-tasking to the beat of someone else’s drum.

AA studiohelper dot com

Image from

Besides, because I was born a poor black child, I’ve been working ever since I was five years old, and the concept of work for work’s sake lost its novelty around age six.  Contrary to nasty-ass Newt Gingrinch’s campaign idea of abolishing child labor laws and making poor kids work as janitors in their schools to give them a sense of purpose, other Ayn Randians tried that 60 years ago on me, and it didn’t make me any more purposeful—it just made me fucking exhausted.

Workers child newt

The other day a twenty-something college journalist, who is the daughter of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine, dropped by my “Ask Dalai Mama” Show (formerly “Ask Big Mama” Show) and interviewed me for her college newspaper.   She was fascinated with the concept that I was doing the “Newt Gingrich Dream Act for Poor Children” long before he thought of it—just when he was only eleven years old in Georgia and having newly escaped poverty, fatherly abandonment, and his god-awful christened name:  Newton Leroy McPherson.  The young reporter noted that the thing that seemingly kept Newt from my child labor fate, and thus ever thinking that his future sorry-ass concept would be a good campaign idea 60 years later, was the appearance of a stepfather who adopted him and the color white that saved him.  Had he walked a mile in my shoes, the pathetic child labor idea would have never crossed his mind as an adult.

REPORTER:      “Dalai Mama, I am so excited about interviewing someone who has reportedly been working since she was five years old.  What job could you have possibly gotten at that age?”

DALAI MAMA:   “Baby, I had two jobs.  A five-year old could get any job in the inner city of Cleveland that they could master by standing on a crate so that they could reach the bench, the table, or in my case the washing machine or the ironing board to do their jobs.  My mother, my baby sister, and I ended up homeless in the dead of winter in 1953, and a woman who owned a boarding house in East Cleveland had pity on us and took us in.  It just so happened that there were several cottage industries operating under the roof of that boarding house:  a kitchen beauty shop, a laundry, a neighborhood pick-up site for illegal numbers runners (the legal game we now call Lotto), and the selling of stolen goods.  My two jobs in that house of horrors were as a two-step laundry assistant.  In the first job where I was responsible for wringing dry the shirts from a barrel washing machine, I would stand on a wooden crate in the basement, pull out the wet white shirts and insert them into the wooden ringers on top of the washer.  Because I had to lean into the machine to reach the shirts at the bottom (forcing my feet off the crate and suspending my legs in mid-air on the edge of the washing machine), I would almost always get my chubby little fingers caught in the wringer with the shirts as I fell against the rollers.  It’s a wonder I still have use of my hands.  I believe I learned and utilized my first swear words at the age of five:

“Somebody help da po’ child!  Dis fuckin’ monsta is eatin’ my fingas like dey was chicken bones!”

Wringer myauctionfinds dot com

Image from

REPORTER:       “Oh my God, I can’t even imagine that torture.  I had a hissy fit when my mother tried to get me to clean my room on Saturdays and make my bed.  She never did win that battle.  Wasn’t the electric wringer invented by an African-American woman in the 1800s?”

DALAI MAMA:   “Yes girl—go on with your bad self!   Her name was Ellen F. Eglin and she was from Washington, DC, but she never patented her invention and sold it for $18 to a white man who made a considerable fortune.  Ain’t that a pip?   Ellen Eglin once said that she thought white women wouldn’t use the machine if they knew a black woman had invented it.  Personally, I hated that machine and wished it had never been invented. I’d like to have a little chat with her when I see her on the other side and tell her how her stupid wringers were known for catching hair, clothing, and fingers (a four-year old reportedly choked to death from one), and almost dismembered me several times as a child laborer.”

REPORTER:       “What was your other job as a five-year old?”

DALAI MAMA:   “One that was equally as dangerous:  I had to stand on a wooden crate and press stiffly starched shirts with flat irons that were heated on the stove.  They were so heavy that it took both my hands to lift the irons whose handles were wrapped in towels (one was heated on the stove while the other was simultaneously used to press the garment), and I always ended up burning the easily scorched shirts because I would get tired and couldn’t lift the iron fast enough.  But I didn’t keep that job very long.  Once I discovered that starch burned quickly, one day in a fit of anger, I staged the youngest labor strike in the history of man and performed scorch art all over the paying customers’ white shirts.  We lost the business, and I lost the skin off my ass for many months from endless beatings; but it was worth it, because I never, ever had to do that job again.  To this day I hate to iron clothes.  If the cleaners in town didn’t iron my husband’s shirts, he’d have to go to work looking like he slept in his clothes.”

REPORTER:      “Didn’t you tell me in our pre-interview that you once worked for the Mafia when you were a child?”

DALAI MAMA:   “Yes.  Talk about working for the man!  Yep, after I lost my ironing job, the landlady’s aunt (ostensibly my babysitter) decided I would make a great “bag-girl” to carry the numbers bets from the boarding house to a drop-off point which was a store that sold peanuts and cheese.  Numbers runners were constantly being killed by heroin addicts or other numbers runners or they were being shaken down by the “po-po” (police) when they transferred the money to their contact further upstream.  What better decoy could they use than a six-year old with numbers slips and cash pinned inside her overalls or winnings hidden under peanuts in a bag on the return trip home.  Other residents in the house said that the numbers game in my neighborhood was ruled over by “Don (The Kid) King,” who, for the last four decades or so, has gone “legit” as the fighting promoter of people like Mohammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield to name just a few.  I never met him because he was too high up the food chain, and I doubt if he ever knew who transferred the money from my boarding house to the peanut/cheese man, but the year I almost lost my life and most definitely almost lost my mind was the year I worked for his operation as a bag girl.  It was also the year “Don (The Kid) King” killed a man in his house for stealing his numbers stash and got away with it because it was considered self-defense in the then strongly Mafia-run Cleveland.  But you can find out all that well-documented information from The Life and Crimes of Don King by Jack Newfield or watch the movie, “Only in America”—a phrase I think the infamous gambling lord coined about himself when he went legit and became world-renowned.

Don King cnn dot com getty image

Don King with Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie by his side, King speaks at a 2004 victory celebration for newly re-elected President George W. Bush|| Getty Image

REPORTER:      “Wait a minute.  You brushed over something intriguing when you said you ‘almost lost your mind’ while working for the man—Don King.  I’d like to explore that some more.”

DALAI MAMA:   “No can do, darlin’.   I’ve got to save something for my memoir.”

REPORTER:      “Well, surely you didn’t work through all of your childhood.  Didn’t you catch a break at some point?”

DALAI MAMA:   “Nope.  Because I was considered a “Ward of the Court”—no parents sane enough or alive enough to take care of me—I drifted in and out of a group of foster homes that always saw me as cash flow in their pockets and a maid and nanny in their homes.  I’d go for a preliminary visit with my very naive social worker all throughout my teenage years—usually a young lady about your age who had good intentions but had never seen the underbelly of Cleveland’s inner city.  The foster-mother and father would be all, ‘Welcome to our humble abode.  We’re such good Christians and Christ has led us to open our homes as a respite to these abandoned chilren—our home is your home, you po’ sweet motherless child.’  But as soon as the social worker would leave, the smiles would fade from the foster parents’ faces faster than a roach fleeing an airborne fly swatter, and they’d let the true boss-man or boss-lady emerge:  ‘Get your fat ass off my good plastic-covered furniture (I better not ever catch you in here again or your ass is grass).  You ain’t here for no vacation—you here to work and learn some responsibility.  Go on and get that mop and bucket and start cleaning the bathroom and moppin’ the kitchen flo’—and don’t take all day if you want to eat!  Fried chicken and biscuits is being made for my real chilren but you gets bologna sandwiches and milk if you scrubs these floors so spotless that I’ll be able to eat off ‘em.  If you don’t make this place spotless, you’ll be going to bed hungry—I promise yo’ sorry-ass that much.’  Newt Gingrich would have been very proud that his idea of child labor had been instituted in the ghetto before his time with such demoralizing success that it helped turn me into a productive citizen.”

Retirement Gift cafepress dot com

I am discovering that everything I’ve done throughout the last 60 years were “jobs” to pay the bills or help me and mine survive the suffering of the outrageous slings and arrows of life’s misfortunes.  I’ve been a secretary too many times to count, a music school teacher, an actress, a singer, a voice-over talent, a maid (not a very good one), and a nanny (also not very good).   I am not ungrateful for those opportunities, it’s just that there is so much more to me, and had I been born a Kennedy instead of a poor black child, I probably would have fulfilled that potential.  Most people go through life only working at jobs—a small percentage pursue careers—but only a blessed handful of people become artists.  Ever since I could first dream, I always wanted to become an artist—to be consumed by art without any interference from having to leave my art and go “work for the man.”  Well, now is my chance.  I want to exit stage left (to die) as an artist.  I want the epitaph on my tombstone to read:  Here lies Eleanor Tomczyk.  She started working for the man when she was five years old and had to tarry in that field until she was sixty-five years old.  But when she died, she died an artist.

Lady writer mymurgi dot com

      “A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist”—Louis Nizer

Artist skinnyartist dot com

Artist blog dotpurpleleaes dot de

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Posted by on March 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


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24 responses to “No Longer Workin’ for the Man

  1. becomingcliche

    March 16, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Live the dream, friend. Your time has come.

  2. Elyse

    March 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Good for you — you have certainly earned your retirement and the time to fulfill your dreams. Let us know when you’re appearing! And reserve the front row.

    • etomczyk

      March 18, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      Elyse. I certainly will. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. composerinthegarden

    March 16, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    My dear friend, I am here to testify, you are already an artist. The rest of the world just needs to catch up to you.

    • etomczyk

      March 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Lynn: Thanks so much for your gracious support. Coming from you, that means a lot. Take care.

  4. georgefloreswrite

    March 17, 2013 at 5:34 am

    I agree with composerinthegarden up there, Eleanor. You already are an artist! Good things are coming because a) you’re great,and b) your voice is needed.

    • etomczyk

      March 21, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      Thanks George. It’s been encouraging to get all the support on and off line. I’m keeping an eye on your work as well. Keep me posted.

  5. queenshaven

    March 17, 2013 at 8:52 am

    This was great! I have not worked for the man half of your life an I’m not trying to go back. I want to be an entrepreneur that’s the only light at the tunnel I see. Great piece I can’t wait to read your memoir!!!!!

    • etomczyk

      March 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm

      Queenshaven: Thanks for stopping by and for the lovely comment. An entrepreneur, huh? Wow! Wishing you all the best.

  6. imagesbytdashfield

    March 17, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    First of all I love that last poster, must find that. Now onto your story. It brought back memories my father told me of helping his father who was a numbers runner when he was a child and that wringer washer. I got my fingers caught in my sisters washer trying to press out some doll clothes (was trying to be like my big sister and got my silly butt into a world of pain). You are now free to truly do what you want (like you haven’t been doing a lot of that already) and discover the next leg of your journey.

    • etomczyk

      March 21, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      TD: I love the things we have in common. I got my fingers caught so many times in that wringer washer that I swear on some days when the weather is bad I can still feel the pain. And yes I have been doing what I want, but I’d also like to make a living from it. Ah, now there is the rub. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  7. DesiValentine

    March 17, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Congratulations, sweet lady. I was also born a small black child, though in a gentler place and in a gentler time. I’ve been working since I was 8, and working hard since I was 11 and, honey, do I have memories of working the wringer-washer in my mum’s basement! All the best on your next adventures. These ladies here are right – you are already an artist. Thank you for sharing your light with us!

    • etomczyk

      March 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Desi. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I know how busy you are and I’m truly appreciative when you get a chance to read my stories. I’m really jazzed about this new season. Let the games begin!

  8. Valentine Logar

    March 17, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    I bow down to your artistry. I will stand up and beat down your wild stalkers when they arrive. You have earned your rest and your respite.

    • etomczyk

      March 21, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      Val. I’m ready! It’s been a week since the departure date and I am feeling very optimistic about the future. Thank you for the encouragement, my friend!

  9. Kimberly Tomczyk

    March 17, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I am so resoundingly happy for you! Write, create, and relish every moment of walking in relentless purpose! Free at last!

    • etomczyk

      March 21, 2013 at 11:01 pm

      Thanks for your wonderful support, sweetie. MUAH!

  10. Kathy

    March 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Somehow, I knew this would be one of your first articles as a “retiree”. I am so very happy for you that you can now continue to pursue your true calling as an artist, but I agree with DesiValentine…you already are an artist! Create away!!!

    • etomczyk

      March 21, 2013 at 11:02 pm

      Thanks Kathy. I’m thrilled and can’t wait to see what the future holds. All the best.

  11. Admin

    April 13, 2013 at 5:14 am

    Oh Eleanor,
    You may not be being paid what you are worth for it, but you surely are an artist, and one of the highest calibre!

    • etomczyk

      April 13, 2013 at 5:57 am

      Karyn. Welcome back! I was just thinking about you a couple weeks ago and checked on your blog to see if there was any activity. Please tell me that you’re going to be blogging again. You were one of my favorites! Wishing you all the best.

      • Admin

        April 13, 2013 at 6:11 am

        I have spent the day catching up on all my favourite blogs and I have enjoyed it so much! I love all my blogosphere ‘friends’ and wish I had more time to spend here… and yes, I did do a post today as well (whoop whoop!) take a read when you get a moment… I love your blog (as always) and still catch up sometimes on my cell phone when Im waiting somewhere, even if I dont always have the opportunity to comment!
        Congrats on your retirement! Well deserved and aren’t we lucky that it will mean more time for you to spend entertaining us with your wit and wisdom!! Hope you are well my friend xxx

      • Admin

        April 16, 2013 at 6:53 am

        It was so fun to catch up on some of your writing as well, I know I dont get all the time Id like to be around my blogging friends, but when I do, I really enjoy the time… cant wait to see your next instalment after your break!

        Yes I have a blog up (and wait for it – I even have another one scheduled!) I’ve finally dropped some work off and have a little more time…we’ll see if it lasts.

        Meantime Im enjoying the catch up with everyone – congrats on your retirement!!!!


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