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I Can’t Stay Still

Ophira Eisenberg

“It’s $800 all expenses paid.”

I suffer from a condition called excessive eagerness disorder. Even my childhood ballet teacher would correct me in class with the note, “Stop trying so hard!” Who knew that was possible in an art form where professionals physically torture themselves? I compensate for my lack of god-given ability with barrels of strained effort making me the model recipient of the participation badge. By the same token it’s extremely easy to convince me to take part in some low-paying job, sketchy opportunity, or risky favor as long as it has that magical combination of sounding mildly entertaining and I really need the money. The muscles in my mouth needed to form the circular “O” in “NO” have atrophied due to lack of use, leaving only the easy and horizontal “yes” and “sure” shapes.

I’m having one of those days where I’m staring at my bank balance going, “What happened?” When my cell phone rings. It’s a corporate comedy booker.

“Can you do a gig for Price Waterhouse at the Ritz Carlton, Orlando Florida this weekend?” she asks. “It’s $800 all expenses paid.” And I say, “Yes!” And she says, “Great. I’ll call you back.” And the line goes dead.

I’m so happy I start having that optimistic hindsight talk with myself, “See? Things always work out. Why can’t you just trust that?” And I feel great.

When a day passes and I haven’t heard back from the booker, I start to fear that the call was bullshit or the gig fell through and things really don’t work out. So I start calling her and finally on Thursday—the day before I’m supposed to leave—she picks up her phone. The few times I’ve dealt with this woman have been challenging; she seems to live in a world of disorganization. Every time I speak to her she’s out of breath like she’s being chased by the police, or a wrecking ball is flying through her office. Plus I can barely hear her over this terrifying squawking from what sounds like it’s coming from killer parrots to whom she feeds only red meat.

She is oblivious to the fact that I have no information and I’m desperate. Putting my niceties aside I say, “I know nothing about this gig. You haven’t told me even how to get there and I don’t work like this. Is it even tomorrow?”

“Yes,” she tells me. “Your flight’s at 11a.m. Come by the office this afternoon and I’ll go through the details and give you the costume.”

The WHAT? Costume? Oh no no no! I do standup. I don’t perform in costume. She must be confused. I don’t dress up or do character stuff. But the line is dead again so I just make my way to her office.

The office is exactly how it sounds—utter chaos. Six different phones ringing, papers strewn everywhere and yes, two large evil parrots who mock the whirlwind of activity with loud obnoxious squawks. I get right to business.

“What were you talking about with the costume? Because…”

“Right,” she says and drags out a big green duffle bag.

Inside is a wig, toga and garlands of grapes. A drop of sweat trickles down the back of my knee. The idea is that I’ll be dressed as a gold marble Grecian statue—by donning the wig, toga, and garlands of grapes—while standing in the middle of a reception room, frozen like a statue as Price Waterhouse executives wander around with wine and cheese. Like the guys on the street who are completely spray-painted gold or dressed up like the Statue of Liberty. They come to life and wink or wave if you give them a quarter. Yeah. I hate those guys.

“Everyone once in while,” she instructed. “You break pose and do a little physical comedy. Give them the thumbs up or look at your watch. Then go back to the pose. They’ll go crazy for it!”

I’ve never done anything like it before.

“It’s easy,” she insists. “You’ll be fine. Here’s your plane ticket, the contact is Jeremy, and he will have the check for you after the gig.”

I nod, shell-shocked. And then she shuffles me out because she has a meeting.

I stand out on the street with the green dufflebag thinking, “Can I do this for $800?” I start thinking about my bank account. “Can I train myself in to do this in 15 hours?” The plane ticket had been purchased. “Would I have to pay that back?” I wonder. “I can do this. I have to do this. It’s too late to back out. I’m doing this.” The next morning I take a taxi to the airport and board a plane.

I’ve never been to a Ritz and it’s quite beautiful for the first five minutes until I realize what it really is. It’s just another façade. I can see the seams where the phony marble meets the pressed board columns. I go to my room and while trying to make a desperate call to my husband, my cell phone flies out of my hands and lands under the bed. I scurry to get it and find an entire emptied bag of barbecue potato chips living there. The artificiality of the Ritz Carlton’s glamour is compounded by my presence in it. I add another layer of bullshit.

The phone in my room rings. It’s the event organizer who wants to go through some details with me. What details?  I think stand still pretty much covers it. But I meet Jeremy anyway; he’s a very nice, very gay, event organizer from the Boston area. We get along immediately. We’re joking around when he asks how long I’ve been a moving statue. How do I say, “Listen there’s been a big mistake, because… I’ve actually never done this before!” But what comes out of my mouth is, “About seven years.” He nods and smiles like he can’t believe he got such a veteran for so cheap.

A couple hours later I walk into Meeting Room A, situate myself in front of a mirror and start mixing gold and black face paint together to cover my face, neck, arms, and ears in an effort to make my skin look like marble. It feels like I’m suffocating myself with a layer of creamy peanut butter and I know every pore will be festering a teenager’s red pimple when I remove it. I get into the body suit, which, as luck would have it, is slightly too small and therefore pulls really hard in the crotch area. I put on the wig and wrap the toga around me. With a full face of metallic makeup and costume, I don’t even recognize myself. I have disappeared.

It’s time. Jeremy helps me onto my little platform in the middle of the Ritz Carlton’s Conference Room B and my eyes connect with a jazz guitarist, hired to provide smooth ambient jazz for the corporate world. He has this sad yet mocking look on his face that says, “Sure I may have to play Kenny G covers, but at least I don’t have to wear a ridiculous costume.”  I strike my pose—and hold. This isn’t too bad. I can do this. Whatever. This is easy. In a weird way, it’s a relief to not have to talk.

The first few people filter in and I shift into tapping on my watch with a scolding expression and then swoop back into my pose. One woman jumps and another lets out a scream and then they giggle like rich people do when they realize they’ve been had. I had no idea people would freak out! What do they think? That I’m actually made of marble?  That’s how tacky this Ritz Carlton is—I actually look like I’m part of the decor.

But within minutes things change. My arms begin to actually shake and pain shoots from my shoulders to my fingers. I shift my pose to the other side, but with in seconds that side becomes excruciating. I think an hour must have passed, but when I glance towards the clock it’s only been twelve minutes. It’s like being stoned.

My body continues to disintegrate. I try to hold a pose while counting to thirty but my muscles are simply giving out so I just keep switching my position every ten seconds or so. “Hey, I’m a moving statue,” I think.

Nobody seems impressed or interested in me. I’m sure they can’t figure out why this person is wiggling and struggling in the middle of the room on a platform. One suited man stands in front of me, staring, as I try to do hold a pose for him but sweat falls down my brow and hits my lashes making me blink and black and gold paint ooze from my eyes like tears. I finally have to give up and switch to just standing straight, arms bent at my sides, hands on my hips, for a much needed rest. The man looks at me like I’m a shitty magic trick, which I am, shakes his head and walks off. Luckily there is an open bar to keep people entertained.

Okay, I coach myself, let’s try again. I swoop my hands back to my first position and try to focus but my toga falls off exposing my ill-fitting leotard that has shifted so it’s not perfectly covering my crouch anymore. I have tights on underneath, so it’s not like anything is actually popping out, but it doesn’t look… nice. The jazz guitarist, witnessing the spectacle, hits a wrong note and coughs to cover it. What do I do now? I feel a tap on my foot. It’s Jeremy. I can’t tell if he’s angry with me but he motions that I can step down. I am done. I glance at the clock to reveal that I was up there 35 minutes in all. A personal record.

As soon as I am out of sight, I sprint to the nearest elevator and run to my room. The rush of relief is like ending a horrible destructive relationship that went on for two years too long.

After one of the best hot showers of my life, I put on plain clothes and makeup and take the elevator back down to the event. I can freely transform into that-drunk-girl-at-the-bar as no one will recognize me. Three sips into my Sauvignon Blanc I am blotto. Jeremy spots me and invites me to hang out with the rest of the crew in the lounge. He doesn’t mention anything about my shoddy performance and I’ve stopped caring. You can’t change what’s over. It’s a mime drowned in water under the bridge.

The rest of the evening is a blur of drinking and dancing with abandon. No one should ever feel that free. I, for one, should always dance like someone’s watching.

Morning puts the evening in perfect balance. My body is beyond stiff, the wind hurts blowing on my face. Thanks to sunglasses and strong coffee, I’m able to make it to the airport van only to bump into Jeremy. He hands me my check, which I’d forgotten all about, and gives me a hug. “I’ve worked with a lot of moving statues but you’re my favorite!” he says. “You’re so fun to hang out with! Can I get your business card?”

I can not extend this experience any longer. My mouth strains.

“No.” I say and then shrug like a sad mime.

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Chris Ostrowski says on December 6th, 2012 at 1:16 am:

I love you!!! I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. 7 years. The whole story is a laugh riot. I would love to hear it live. I knew you were good, and fine live but i dod not know you were so good at written word.

So, about that mime thing, do you do kid’s birthday parties?