Sunday, January 23, 2011

Over Exposed (Richmond, VA)

Thursday promised to be a long and crazy day, full of challenges. A schedule that hinged on all going smoothly, no traffic snarls, no snow storms, no shmooze time factored in. Everything depended on my ability to launch myself from one activity to the next without a hitch. Should I tarry or lag, the delicate balance I'd engineered would be destroyed, as quickly, as easily, as unstoppably as the fall of a house of cards, a row of dominoes.

The alarm sounds at 5:45 a.m., allowing me plenty of time for a warm shower, an unhurried breakfast, and an unharried drive to the high school where I am to co-host a 7:30 workshop for parents. I drag myself out of bed at 6:45, allowing me barely enough time to wash what I need to, grab a cheese stick, and burn my tongue on a couple of gulps of coffee.

Luckily, I had prepared my clothing the night before: a little black dress, short sleeved, light and comfortable, with a beautiful silver zipper stretching from neck to hem -- perfect for moving from a day of work to a night of dance. I had splurged on it several months ago because, when I'd tried on, it seemed to have been made expressly with me in mind. It was that oh-so-perfect little, all-season, any-reason black dress.

I slip on the dress, button up a little green and black jacket that adds exactly the professional tone I'm aiming for, grab my little black purse and my big black bag, sail out of the house, jump into the car, race to my destination and arrive at precisely the time I'm expected: 7:15 on the nose. Except that it seems that nobody was expecting me. The school thought the program was starting at 9:00, although they truly seemed to be completely unaware of it, and the only people who showed up were my co-presenters.

As the workshop- that-wasn't is scheduled to last until 9:30, and I leave at 9 on the dot, I have enough time to dash to my nearby office and make phone calls, respond to and send new e-mails, start a translation, design a flyer, and, in short, try to cram seven hours of work into 45 minutes.

I shut down computer, printer, and phone conversation, wrench myself out from behind the desk, and propel myself out the door in more than enough time to drive to the university, park in the lot behind the pharmacy, as instructed, and race walk the seven blocks to the building, climb the two sets of stairs, two stairs at a time, and find the classroom where I am expected. Except that I wasn't expected in the pharmacy lot.

As I'm checking to make sure that I have the right room number, my notes, handouts, and sign-up sheets for the spiel I'll be giving to twenty-something twenty-somethings, a man raps on the driver's side window. He looks like a deflated Santa Claus, with the white beard one expects, but lacking the proper clothing and attitude. He's scowling.

"___________________ gave me permission to park here," I tell him confidently. "Her father owns the lot."

"Well, I'm her brother," he responds. "Who died and made her king?"

He walks away, leaving me to believe that my car won't be towed and that I can rush on.

Apparently, 11 in the morning is the college student's equivalent of my 5:45 a.m. One girl and one boy ask a question or two; the rest of thei4 classmates either sleep or quietly pass away while I'm talking. I would call my presentation a "very modest" success.

The course professor, my co-presenter, and I go out for lunch afterward. Among other points of discussion, they admire my dress. Although the comment "You look like a twist-and-turn Barbie!" might also be interpreted as an insult.

We disband just in time for me to arrive, on time, for my next meeting and presentation. No one falls asleep, mentions dolls, or prevents us from leaving a little bit early.

This unexpected gift -- an extra 15 minutes -- grants me the opportunity to stop en route to the day's final meeting. I need to pick up a birthday present for my "daughter."

I find a parking spot out front (what serendipity!), exit the car, enter the shop, and start combing the clothing racks and shelves for something she might like. I find an attractive handbag that appears to have her name on it, and pick it up. With a few minutes left to kill, I continue combing.

Suddenly, I hear a pop. I'm wearing my long, lush winter coat, so I'm sure that I've somehow popped one of its buttons. My eyes search the floor around me. They stop when they happen to notice that my dress is unzipped from hem to crotch. Luckily, I'm facing a clothes rack, and no one is facing me. I hug my coat closed and run into a try-on room, where I struggle to zip up or, in this case, zip down. Alas, the zipper won't budge an inch or any portion thereof. I button up and down my coat, pay for the purse, and steer towards my dinner meeting.

The first to arrive, I wriggle out of my coat sleeves and cover my lap with the coat bottom. When my female co-meeters sit down, I ask them to remind me that, if for any reason I have to leave the table, I must first put on my coat. Our male colleague joins us, and we're meeting while eating. I remember to don my outerwear before excusing myself to go to the restroom.

Entering, I remove my coat, turn to face the mirror, and catch sight of myself, little green jacket gaping wide open, and my zipper open to the neck.

I double over with laughter. Had I not been in a restroom, I would have fallen to the floor. I struggle to draw the zipper down, but the zipper wins the battle. I am screeching with laughter, unable to leave the little room for 15 minutes, sure that every woman in the restaurant is cursing as she waits in line for the maniac to leave the bathroom. When I finally emerge, shrouded in my winter coat, my colleagues don't seem to realize that the wardrobe malfunction has gone critical. I am having a hard time attempting not to giggle. I take my leave and my purse, and scoot to my vehicle.

Needless to say, I cannot head directly to my dancing venue. I veer off course, stopping by home. My husband opens the door, surprised to see me at 8:00 p.m.

"I'm glad you're home so early," he says, already turning towards the kitchen.

I shed my coat and jacket and follow him. "I had a bit of a mishap, today," I say.

He turns, and his eyes go wide. "Whoa!" he shouts. "You could have been arrested, driving around like that!"

"It's 12 degrees outside; I had my coat on. I'm going upstairs to change."

"Why?" he says.

I change into something safe (translation: without a zipper) and set out for the dance place. As I'm driving, I'm imagining what it would have been like to have had my zipper go offline on the dance floor. YouTube videos? Captions saying: "Don't try this at home!" or "Warning! Not suitable for children under 18...or anyone else!" Would I have had the sense to immediately grab my (poor) dance partner, clasp him to my bosom, and maneuver him -- scurrying crablike but in sync to the salsa rhythms -- to grab my coat, then back to the lady's room? Or would I have just stood there, howling with laughter and embarrassment until someone else had the good sense and uncommon decency to either knock me to the floor or cover me up with whatever random garment he or she could grab?

I'm so glad I didn't have to find out.

A few days later, I go to a tailor's shop and ask if there is any way to repair my all-season, imperfect little black dress. "Zippers are undependable," the guy tells me. So I guess, if I get it fixed, I'll have to wear it only in winter and under wraps. I sure don't want it to be "open" season on me.

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