She has popped up in an assortment of incongruous situations. She came to symbolize perseverance and unpredictability. “It ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings” is a line attributed to sports writer, Dan Cook writing for the San Antonio News-Express. And while it feels like this idiom has been with us forever, as idioms go, it is relatively new: it was first penned on March 10, 1976.
Actually, the line was, “The opera ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings” referring to the stereotypical buxom opera singer one would find in the likes of Warner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
The Fat Lady, always invisible yet always there, is an icon. She is why you would shine your shoes while performing on radio where no one would see them. You do it for ‘the Fat Lady’.
In this context she surfaced in 1955. “…don’t you know who the Fat Lady really is? Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.” Or so said Zooey. (Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger.)
I had my own epiphany with the Fat Lady.
Anyone who has worked in advertising is familiar with the conventional (but flawed) wisdom, “Nobody reads body copy.” This thinking was/is the bane of an advertising writer’s life. In defiance, I used to assertively counter, “They read mine!”, having no idea if there was any truth to that at all. Today, we can easily measure what a person reads on an online article. It’s quantifiable.
Not that long ago, it was not.
My Fat Lady experience…no disrespect intended to my Jersey friends…happened on the New Jersey Transit coming out of New York. At the time, I took the NJ Transit every day to Trenton and then got in my car and drove over the river to what I called home in Pennsylvania.
There was nothing unusual about getting on the train. I did it every day and every day, as one does in New York, I ignored everyone around me, just as they ignored me. When fellow humans are in too close a physical proximity for comfort, we have a way of creating and living in cerebral bubbles.
Or at least I do.
So there was nothing out of the ordinary about getting on the train that day. However, on this occasion, I happened to find a seat behind the Fat Lady. She wore a chrome-like, silver, synthetic winter coat and was reading. I could tell she was reading because she was holding a newspaper and her head was moving back and forth. Perhaps her lips were moving, too. I don’t know. Nor do I know what possessed me to look over her shoulder to see exactly what it was that had captured her attention and enticed her to read.
To this day, it boggles my mind that I did. Why would I care about what the Fat Lady from Jersey reads? What did it matter and what difference would it make?
However, I glanced over her shoulder to see, spread out in front of her in all its glory, an ad I had written. It was as stupid as that. She was reading my body copy. Bless her heart. While most people may not read body copy it seems the Fat Lady does.
The obvious question is “Why does this iconic lady need to be fat?” Perhaps, “It ain’t over till the Svelte Lady chants” doesn’t have the same ring and anyone in search of Christ would probably not be turning to the Svelte Lady; no doubt a fashion diva and God knows, maybe even a vegetarian.
The thing about the Fat Lady is that she is hard to miss, yet easy to ignore. She is incongruous. She embodies all that matters little to us (or so it seems) yet truly does matter. She is not just larger than life, in some ways, she is life. She gives purpose to mundanity and in her largeness can bestow some humility.
The Fat Lady wants to be loved, is my bet. Don’t we all? It’s the ‘Fat Lady’ in all of us. I suspect the Fat Lady sits on the Jersey Transit, mostly unloved, probably ignored and is probably oblivious to how important she really is. The Fat Lady is beauty in simplicity. She grounds us. She is my kind of woman: she defies logic.
As for the Fat Man? Interesting. Because that dog don’t hunt.
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