When I worked on Wall Street, the CEO of our company would sometimes ask me for huge, labor-intensive projects, which were tons of extra work and would prevent me from doing the job I was supposed to be doing.
When I would turn these projects in, he’d say things like, “What’s this? Oh, did I ask for this? Gee, I don’t think I need this. Just hang on to it.” And he’d never mention it again.
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It happened frequently enough, that I decided if he asks me twice, then I’ll do it. So, occasionally, he’d ask a second time, “How’s that report coming?” Then I’d rush to get it done; only to be told later, “Oh, I forgot to mention that I don’t need it anymore.”
That’s when I developed the Rule Of Three. Here’s how it works:
- Ask me once, I’d say, “You bet!” Then I’d make notes and do nothing more.
- Ask me twice, I’d say, “I’m on it!” I’d then gather the data, and set it with my notes.
- Ask me a third time and I’d say, “You’ll have it by the end of the day.” At this point, I’d compile my notes and data, then type up the report and hand it in.
I know, this strategy sounds like the fast track to unemployment, but it actually worked beautifully. I stopped putting in hours of unpaid overtime, stayed on top of the job I was actually hired to do, and the CEO was always satisfied with the special projects that he actually wanted.
I haven’t worked on Wall Street in decades, but sometimes I still use the Rule Of Three. For example, when my mother turned 79, she told me what she wanted to do for her 80th birthday. Taking me aside, she whispered, “Here’s what it is…and you can’t tell anybody in the family: I want you to take me to have a ladybug tattooed on my ass.”
Now, if that doesn’t sound like a Rule Of Three request, I don’t know what does. I told her, “You bet!”
That was in February of 2010. When we saw each other that Easter, she didn’t mention it. Then Memorial Day came and went. No further conversation about it. At our July 4th barbeque, she didn’t bring it up. So I figured either she forgot about it, didn’t really mean it, or changed her mind.
In August, I got a phone call.
It was my mother. “Did you find a pattern?” she asked.
“For my ladybug tattoo!” she said.
She was asking me for the second time. “I’m on it!” I said.
I searched the Internet for ladybug tattoo patterns.
There were hundreds of them. Who knew? So I picked out a few of the tiniest ones I could find and emailed them to her.
She called me back.
“These are too small,” she said. “Can you find something a little bigger?”
At this point, I should probably tell you my opinion of tattoos. Growing up, I had a Great Uncle Frank. He had a glass eye and tattoo of a hula girl on his forearm. Rolling up his sleeve, he’d say, “Kids, look!” Then he’d make her dance by flexing his muscles. He got the hula girl when he was in the Navy. Great Uncle Frank was only person I ever knew to have a tattoo – until I was touring with a theater company many years later.
One of our appearances was at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, and the cheapskates who arranged the tour booked us rooms at a place called the Dome Hotel (which I just Googled to make sure it doesn’t still exists – and it doesn’t, thank God). It was the scariest place I’d ever seen, and I was expected to sleep there! But it wasn’t just the ‘Old Chelsea Hotel of yesteryear meets heroin den’ ambiance…it was the elevator operator. A dead ringer for the crypt keeper, he had tattoos on his knuckles that looked like he’d done them himself with a sewing needle and a Bic pen. I was terrified of him, so I made small talk to perhaps win him over. I thought if we had a human connection, maybe he wouldn’t murder me in my sleep.
“Interesting tattoos you got there,” I said, feigning interest.
“I got ‘em on the ‘inside,’” he said.
Initially, I thought that meant there was such a thing as internal tattoos and he had a few somewhere inside his body. I later learned that “on the inside” was a euphemism for prison, which I’m very glad I didn’t know back then.
So these are my associations with tattoos. Only people who served in the Navy, or served time, have them.
It was this connotation that caused me to have underwhelming enthusiasm about helping my own mother to get one.
However, she hadn’t yet asked for the third time – until that November. She called me two weeks before Thanksgiving and asked me if I’d make an appointment to have it done on Black Friday. Now I had to believe she was serious.
“I’ll get it done by the end of the day,” I told her.
So, I called Big Joe & Sons Tattooing in Yonkers. I learned that tattoo parlors aren’t like beauty parlors. You don’t need an appointment.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day. I had 33 hungry people packing my house, waiting for grub. My mother kept pulling me aside to say how excited she was. Every time my mother caught my eye she’d wink, or giggle. As promised, I had told no one in the family. I did talk to two of my closest girlfriends who immediately elevated my mother to Rock Star status.
Finally, Black Friday was upon us – or, as I will forever refer to it, Red and Black Friday. While everyone else was heading to the mall, my mother and I headed off to Big Joe & Sons.
As we entered, I saw an older woman, I’d guess about 75-years-old, paying at the counter. When she left, I asked the employee, “Is it National Nana Gets A Tattoo Day?”
The girl answered in earnest, “We do nipple piercing, too.”
When it was my mother’s turn, she showed the pattern to the tattoo artist who, I must confess, really seemed to be talented. He showed us how he was going to add some shading and highlighting to give the ladybug more dimension.
While that made me feel a little better, I could not get past the idea that I was party to something that would come back to bite me. What if something bad happens? What if my mother gets an infection? What if my father has a fit and divorces her after nearly 60 years of marriage? But we were already in too deep; she was leaning over a chair and her pants were shimmied down, exposing the back of her hip.
The tattoo artist made lively banter with my mother, (they were sort of flirting, actually) and told her about watercolor tattoos and glow-in-the-dark tattoos, and about the most painful part of a man’s body on which to get a tattoo (take your mind out of the gutter! It’s his ribs, potty brain!).
The whole time, I sat in a chair, watching this surreal scene and wondering if I should revise the Rule Of Three to make it the Rule Of Ask Someone Else Why Don’t Ya. But when all was said and done, the tattoo actually looked quite nice. And I did get a little thrill that my mother had trusted me with her secret – which I had to keep until the following February, on her 80th birthday, when she unveiled her ink to the family.
So yes…we’ve all had some wonderful moments and memories with our mom’s. Some of us remember sitting with our moms, sipping cocoa at an outdoor café. Some of us have felt the touch of their comforting love and generosity in times when we needed bolstering and some of us have taken our moms to Big Joe & Sons for her first, and hopefully, her last tattoo.