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Dec 23, 2020
Back in the late '80s / early '90s I worked at Apple Computer in marketing. At one point, my manager assigned me to put together a highly confidential product briefing for Mitsubishi. At that time, John Sculley was CEO and he was extremely interested in creating a strategic alliance with Mitsubishi. Needless to say, this was a very visible assignment with lots of pressure.
Being such a perfectionist, I was in a tizzy. I had two months to pull this together and have it go flawlessly. Knowing I couldn't do this alone, I called together a team of smart, capable, and reliable peers who helped me divide the work and make it happen. I won't bore you with all the thousands of details or the nights I panicked when something went awry. Suffice to say, everyone pulled together and it was an amazing experience.
At one point, I decided I needed a new suit that would be more compatible with Japanese cultural preferences. I couldn't go quite that boring (I'd never wear the suit again if I did). I found a light pink skirt suit (me -- light pink? yes, light pink) in a size 2 (yes, back then I was a size 2 which was so hard to find!). The skirt came down about four inches below my knee, far lower than I normally wore. But it was perfect for running this meeting. "OK," I thought, "that's settled, I can relax and not think about it any more." [I know — you guys think what a waste of energy that was, but you ladies know what I mean!]
Meanwhile, the room was reserved, the layout designed. Invitations sent and accepted. The interpreters hired, catering arranged, limousines and hotel reservations confirmed, airport greeters assigned, speakers and slide decks approved. Sound system tested and working. Place cards made and set up on the desks (pecking order was very important). Dress rehearsal went without a hitch.
I collapse into bed the night before, setting my alarm for 5 a.m. All too soon the alarm goes off. I stumble into the shower, make-up and hair done, get into my suit and suddenly, I realize I don't know which pair of shoes to wear. (Guys, stop laughing.) My suit is pink. To complicate matters, it's not yet Memorial Day. But this is California and it's already 78 degrees outside. I start pulling out all my light-colored high heels. I finally find two pair I think can work. I put a beige one on my left foot, and a white one on my right foot. I'm standing in front of the full length mirror trying to decide which one looks better when my phone rings. (A landline, no cell phones yet.)
I run to the phone and it's the caterers. They're stuck in a traffic jam (accident in the Bay Area, what else is new?), and will be 20 minutes late. I hang up, and get another call from work, this time from one of my colleagues who's freaking out because the laptop isn't working (for projecting the PowerPoint slides). We get hold of IT and as I hang up, I see that I have to leave immediately or I'm going to be late.
I grab my purse and briefcase and fly out the door. I manage to get there just in time to greet John Sculley, and the other executives. Mitsubishi arrives and the formal exchange of business cards ensues. I'm in the front of the room and I drop my pen. As I bend down to pick it up I realize to my horror, yep, you guessed it — I'm wearing two different shoes! OMG. My boss sees me panicking and whispers, "what are you going to do?" "I have no idea," I said as I turned on my microphone to get everyone's attention to sit down.
As everyone gets seated, I welcome them, take a deep breath and say, "I'm so glad you're all here so early. You can help me decide which pair of shoes goes best with my new suit." There is dead silence. I mean — dead! Then the interpreters get busy but the Japanese have no expression on their faces. My Apple colleagues literally don't know where to look, let alone what to say.
I continue on, "I'll show you both pairs." [I turn and show off each foot, one at a time.] "Those of you who like this shoe," [I turn and extend my right foot out a little] "please raise your hand and hold it up until I can count." To my astonishment (and everlasting gratitude), hands went up. "Thanks, you can put your hands down. Those of you who prefer this shoe [sticking out my left foot], please raise your hand and hold it up until I finish counting." Hands again went up. I finish counting and announce, "Thank you, the white shoe style won. [Applause and laughter, especially among the Japanese, bursts out.] Now I know what to wear with this suit from now on. Next, I'd like to thank...." and I proceed with the rest of the meeting and introduce the first speaker. I rapidly escape to the back of the room where I collapse into my chair, sweat pouring down my back. I slug back my orange juice and breathe a sigh of relief. My manager comes rushing over to me; he's cracking up. "I don't know how you pulled that off, but you did."
What does this have to do with art? Nothing at all.
Unless you count learning how being vulnerable is sometimes the best answer. That, and keeping true to your sense of the absurd can get you out of a lot of monumentally embarrassing scrapes.
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