her hair done at a West Hempstead, NY, beauty parlor, a woman told
a cautionary tale about racial prejudice. The story deserves a wider
recent weekend in Atlantic City, the woman related, she won a bucketful
of quarters at a slot machine. She took a break from the slots for
dinner with her husband in the hotel dining room. But first she
would stash the quarters in her room. I'll be right back and we'll
go to eat," she told her husband and she carried the coin-laden
bucket to the elevator. As she was about to walk into the elevator
she noticed two men already aboard. Both were black. One of them
was big... Very big... An intimidating figure.
woman froze. Her first thought was: These two are going to rob me.
next thought was: Don't be a bigot, they look like perfectly nice
gentlemen, even if one of them is awfully black. But racial stereotypes
are powerful, and fear immobilized her.
stood and stared at the two men. She felt anxious, flustered, ashamed.
She hoped they didn't read her mind but knew they surely did; her
hesitation about joining them on the elevator was all too obvious.
Her face burned. She couldn't just stand there, so with a mighty
effort of will she picked up one foot and stepped forward and followed
with the other foot and was on the elevator. Avoiding eye contact,
she turned around stiffly and faced the elevator doors as they closed.
A second passed, and then another second, and then another. The
elevator didn't move. Panic consumed her. My God, she thought, I'm
trapped and about to be robbed!
heart plummeted. Perspiration poured from every pore. Then one of
the men said, "Hit the floor."
told her: Do what they tell you. The bucket of quarters flew upwards
as she threw out her arms and collapsed on the elevator carpet.
of coins rained down on her. Take my money and spare me, she prayed.
More seconds passed. She heard one of the men say politely, "Ma'am,
if you'll just tell us what floor you're going to, we'll push the
button." The one who said it had a little trouble getting the
words out. He was trying mightily to hold in a belly laugh. She
lifted her head and looked up at the two men.
reached down to help her up. Confused, she struggled to her feet.
I told my man here to hit the floor," one of the men, the average
sized one, told her, "I meant that he should hit the elevator
button for our floor. I didn't mean for you to hit the floor, ma'am.
He spoke genially.
his lip. It was obvious he was having a hard time not laughing.
thought: My God, what a spectacle I've made of myself. She was too
humiliated to speak. She wanted to blurt out an apology, but words
failed her. How do you apologize to two perfectly respectable gentlemen
for behaving as though they were robbing you? She didn't know. The
3 of them gathered up the strewn quarters and refilled her bucket.
When the elevator arrived at her floor they insisted on walking
her to her room.
seemed a little unsteady on her feet, and they were afraid she might
not make it down the corridor. At her door they bid her good evening.
As she slipped into her room she could hear them laughing while
they walked back to the elevator.
woman brushed herself off. She pulled herself together and went
downstairs for dinner with her husband.
next morning flowers were delivered to her room ~ a dozen roses.
Attached to each rose was a crisp one hundred dollar bill. A card
said: "Thanks for the best laugh we've had in years."
It was signed,
Murphy and Bodyguard.