IN A WORD: EGO.
(A former “lounge act” learns lessons abut the folly of self-importance, and the power of heyoka Trickster medicine)
“Ego” is tricky to define; I’m using it here in the sense of taking ourselves too seriously, or having an inflated at sense of self-importance, which makes us susceptible to being tripped up or temporarily hurt. The following tales spin around my insecure youthful ego, taking things too personally, and creating performance anxieties.
AIRPORT HILTON: Self Importance Strikes Again
I was singing in the lounge of the Airport Hilton Hotel. It was a very slow night, and I was doing my best to stay awake and perform my official entertainment duties. All of the sudden, quite a number of customers came in, all at once, sitting in the back of the room –a group of some sort. I wondered who they were, but commenced to entertain them.
It seemed that they were mildly appreciative, and clapped politely after each number. I asked for requests, no one had any. I told a joke or two, again, polite clapping, no laughter.
As I was inclined to do, I assumed I was not doing a very good set, and hoped management was not listening in.
On my break, the food and beverage (F&B) director, my immediate employer, came in and asked how things were going. I feigned a nonchalant “Just fine, thanks.”
My boss then shared that the group of people were from a delayed Air Italia flight, and no one spoke English. –Once again, I had a lesson in taking things personally, a lesson on the risks of self-importance.
When my break was over, I returned, and spoke a few words in rusty Italian, to welcome them. A hearty applause followed. I then sang the only two songs I knew in Italian — one a simple folk song, the other, an Italian version of “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago.
The rest of the evening, until the Italians departed, was a sweet joy. With my ego quieted, all it took was letting them know I cared. The boundaries dissoved. Delicious.
DOING GOOD: Harold’s Club, Take Two
It was another late night in Reno, on the stage at Harold’s Club. There were few customers, thanks to the decision of the headlining act, Sonny King, not to inform his audience that there was another act following — namely me. Although it was expected of him to announce me –and me to, of course, announce him, to keep the drinks flowing in the bar, and make money for the establishment –Sonny was purposely neglecting to do that consideration. Possibly wanting me to be fired –according to a local reporter who had befriended me. I was nervous about any job security I might have.
A lone woman sat at the infamous “silver dollar” bar. With silver dollars visible beneath the veneer. I stood on the small, elevated stage, delivering my best songs and jokes. After each, this single gal, middle aged, would shake her head back and forth, grimacing. OMG. Was I bombing?
At the end of the set, I walked down the small staircase, offstage, leading back to the gambling floor. I went to the ladies’ room, to relieve myself of water, and ponder my fate. Inside the stall, I heard someone flushing, then leaving the toilet next to me. After finishing my own business, I exited my stall and went to wash my hands. There, washing hers, was the scowling woman from the bar. OMG. She looked at me, up and down, shook her head solemnly several times, and said these words I shall never forget:
“Young lady, you sure were good.”