50 – February 19
“Remember the turtle progresses only when he sticks his neck out.”—Anonymous
Summer vacation! Wonderful. But summers at the beach were only a fond high school memory. For I was eighteen now, and had just finished my first year at college. Home for the summer this year meant getting a job. After answering some want ads in the paper, I finally had gotten an interview with the Auto Club. Alas. My typing skills were apparently abysmal, and I didn’t qualify for an office job with them.
Depressed, I turned my car towards home and thought about what kind of job I might find. The previous year, I had gotten my very first job—as a telephone solicitor. It was horrible. I was dreadful. That was out! After that, I got a job at Zody’s, a now-defunct low-end department store, working the return desk. The line of people returning things they had purchased was always long, and the people were always angry. I wasn’t going to go back there.
Now it looked like office jobs were out, at least until my typing improved. As I thought about what I might be qualified for, suddenly I started thinking about what I might like to do. Until that moment, I hadn’t really thought about liking a job. I rather had the idea that I was doomed to drudgery. But I perked up at the idea I might like something. It suddenly occurred to me that I might like working in at a flower shop. I loved flowers, gardening and hiking. Maybe that would be fun!
At that moment, I saw a sign that read “Whittier Florists.” Without giving myself too much time to think about it, I impulsively turned into the parking lot, got out of my car, and marched into the flower shop. The woman behind the desk asked if she could help me. I told her I was looking for a job. “Are you a designer?” she asked, sizing me up. “Yes!” I blurted out. (Where had that come from? Oh well, I’ve done it now.) She nodded and said, “All right, come back here and design something.” (Gulp!)
She walked me back to the workroom, handed me a vase and a bunch of flowers and went off to the front of the shop. Well, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? I don’t get the job? I don’t have the job now. The worst that can happen is that I break even and leave here the same as I started. But I will have tried. I quickly looked around at the vases of flowers to see how they were put together and dove in. Who knows? Maybe I’ll just get this job!
I did. The woman came back, looked at the floral arrangement I had made, and said, “Fine. Come back tomorrow to meet the owner. I’ll tell him about you.” I showed up bright and early the next morning, and they put me to work immediately. I worked there every holiday and vacation for the next three years.
Instead of thinking about what you can do, think about what you’d like to do. Then go for it!
“I can do anything I put my mind to!”
It still gives me a chuckle when I think back to that day in the flower shop. Where did that “yes” come from?
But I know by then I had already developed the idea that if you put your neck out and try, you’ve got a 50-50 shot of being successful. If you don’t try, you’ve got a zero shot at being successful. So what would you rather have? A 50% chance of success or a 0% chance?
Part of this comes from the actor’s credo that you always say “Yes!” on an audition when they ask you “Can you (fill in the blank)?” Some actors I knew said yes before the interviewer even finished the sentence. (If it turned out to be sky-diving, you could always back up and say no afterward. I’m not pretending I can do anything where the downside is death.)
Back in my acting days, I was cast in a musical at Walt Disney World called “Show Me America!” Larry Billman, the director of the musical, told me the story of casting actress Teri Garr in a major role in the show when it was originated at Disneyland two years before. She was to play the Statue of Liberty, who was the narrator of the show, and do it on roller skates. (Note: This is my memory of the story circa 1973, so this is an approximation of what was said, not an exact quote.)
At the audition, Larry asked her if she could roller skate. “Oh, yes,” Larry told me that Teri exclaimed. “I love roller skating. I roller skate all the time. I was practically a professional roller skater!”
She was cast in the show and was terrifically funny in the part. She did a great job all through rehearsals, but finally the day came for dress rehearsal, and she had to do it on roller skates.
She couldn’t skate at all. She lurched, waved her arms madly, then sailed across the stage until she ran into something that stopped her. Sometimes she just continued rolling right off into the wings, where someone would grab her, turn her around and push her back onstage.
She must have been afraid she was going to be fired. But Larry was laughing helplessly, with tears rolling down his face.
“You’ve never been on skates before, have you?” he accused.
“Only when I was a kid,” she admitted sheepishly.
“Well, lucky for you, you are screamingly funny not being able to skate, so we’re leaving you in,” Larry told her. She fell into the orchestra pit at least once a week, shouting “Lookout, John, here I come!” to the conductor.
I did a little google research, and found a 2008 interview with Larry Billman that included this story and Teri Garr wrote about it in her book “Speedbumps: Flooring it Through Hollywood.” I was ticked that they both verified the story above, so my memory’s pretty good!
If Teri had told Larry at the audition that she couldn’t skate, she probably wouldn’t have gotten the part. If I hadn’t said “Yes” I could design flower arrangements, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.
So have a little chutzpah already. Say yes and wing it!
Note: I did some research and found Larry on Facebook and sent him this post. He replied: “Chutzpah is the secret to get doors ‘Opened.’ But once inside you have to deliver the goods as you did. Thanks for sharing this story. There is a recent photo of Teri and me in my ‘Friends’ photo album as I still see her as often as possible. I have such admiration for that adorable, non-skating comedienne who became the inspiration she is now in her medical challenges. Now, THAT’S Chutzpah.”
Larry, you’re so right. I am sending my prayers and blessings to Ms. Teri Garr.