Tag Archives: 47 percent

No Longer Workin’ for the Man

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.

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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

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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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Dalai Mama: Speaking Truth to Stupidity

Times Square|image by Eleanor Tomczyk 2012

Do you know what I’ve discovered?  The first third of my life I was just trying to survive, the middle of my life I was simply trying to “get along” and almost lost my soul, and now that I’m entering the final phase of my life, I plan to kick some ass on behalf of truth and on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.

I went to New York City recently and returned with a new moniker:  Dalai Mama.  I was baptized with that name by a young man who is on his way to becoming my future son-in-law and I like it!  (TRANSLATION:  Dalai Mama—she tells you the searing truth whether you want to hear it or not.)  It is from that perspective and newly-crowned status that I rolled into New York City as the conductor announced, “Welcome to Gotham City!” (I did not need that—NYC is scary enough without that added patina.)  Although I used to live in the city over forty years ago, much has changed.  If the Frank Sinatra song is true, I’m probably not going to make it anywhere, because I sure couldn’t make it there. In truth, NYC kicked my ass, and I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I go back to soak up the latest gifts to the theater gods as I fantasize what might have been and, more recently, I go because it is the home of my grandson.

As I maneuvered my way through the teeming crowds in Times Square around the Naked Cowboy who is apparently suing the Naked Indian for trademark infringement (“I’ve been here 365 days, every day, for 13 years and change; he’s only been here 16 days and missed two already!”), I resisted the urge to pinch his buns (they really are tempting and I’m not that old!) as I learned that he has his own website and would gladly remarry WW and me in a ceremony starting at the low, low price of $499 because he is apparently an ordained minister.  (I swear to God—only in New York City!)

Naked Cowboy/Times Square|image from

Naked Indian/Times Square|image from

That night as I watched the Broadway musical, Newsies, I couldn’t help but reflect on the true story (the Newsboys Strike of 1899) that Disney is making a freakin’ fortune tap-dancing its way all the way to the bank while they “cutesefied” the human misery of the poor of yesteryear.   The titans of industry (Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst) were defeated in a two-week strike by thousands of homeless children as they campaigned to earn a penny or two more for delivering the papers owned and produced by the rich.  As I watched the show, I wondered about the fact that the poor and disenfranchised are ever with us, while the rich and powerful either try to ignore them or exploit them.  In reality, the poor are just not singing and dancing about it.

Real Newsies of the 1900’s/probably Albany, NY|image from

“In 1875 a popular writer of the period wrote, ‘There are 10,000 children living on the streets of New York….The newsboys constitute an important division of this army of homeless children. You see them everywhere…. They rend the air and deafen you with their shrill cries. They surround you on the sidewalk and almost force you to buy their papers. They are ragged and dirty. Some have no coats, no shoes, and no hat.’ However, the common ill-treatment of the newsboys was not a major concern of society.”—Wikipedia


Strolling to my hotel after the Broadway show while trying not to vomit from the proverbial sewer smell in Times Square (you can clean up Times Square a thousand times a day, but the age-old sewers will always smell the same—they smelled forty-two years ago and they smell even worse today—somehow that must be a metaphor about life), I wondered how my grandson would fare growing up in this city.  Would he make it?  Would he lose his soul to it?   Or was he destined to become one of the leaders of it?  In a city where the top 20% earn forty times what the bottom 20% earn, if my grandson were to be a future leader in Gotham City, contrary to current Repub belief (“cough—Romney’s take on the 47%”), he wouldn’t need to grow up to be a Wall Street wheeler dealer or a CEO powerbroker, he’d need to have a strong moral compass that gave him a heart for the poor and
disenfranchised, because they will always be with us along with the Gotham “makers” who will bow down to the god of mammon and sacrifice the “victims” to the altars  of industry.  (Come to think of it, we could use a Republican candidate for president with that moral compass.  Maybe I’ll send Mittens a note on my new stationery, “Speaking Truth to Stupidity” and sign it “Dalai Mama.”  Think he’ll read it?)

I am discovering that some people don’t have a clue what it is like to live as the lower part of the 47%:

Ann Romney Meme|Image from


Ann Romney:  “We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. Those were very special days.”—Anne Romney (daughter of a wealthy industrialist married to Mitt Romney, son of an automobile company CEO and governor of Michigan illustrating how she used to be “poor.”)

Mitt Romney: “. . . there are 47 percent . . . who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That’s an entitlement.”—Mitt Romney who wants to be our next president but only of the 53%.

Eleanor Tomczyk: “How about a perspective buster, Ann?  At eight years old, my five-year-old sister and I ate every other day, if we managed to pull enough dandelion weeds and raid enough garbage cans of chicken bones and partially eaten food for our mother to heat up on a hot plate located on the board covering the bathtub which substituted as a kitchen counter.  By the time The Cleve’s Family and Social Services rescued my sister and me, our stomachs were the size of basketballs from the distention of malnutrition and worms.   Queen ANNtoinette, I’ll trump ‘your poor’ with ‘my poor’ any time of the day.” (NOTE HISTORICAL REFERENCE POINT:  This was 1954—Ten years before the Food Stamp Act of 1964 was passed to ensure the poor would not starve to death in the richest country in the world.)

Dalai Mama:  (Speaking truth to stupidity):  “My Lady and my Lord, Jesus said (remember him—the Jesus in the ‘Latter Day Saints’ marque?), ‘. . . I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me . . . whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Stephen Colbert—American political satirist, writer, comedian, television host, and actor

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 September 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


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