Thursday, April 26, 2007

That's Debatable

Today was the first round of debates among the Democratic candidates for the Presidential office. I missed it. And I feel rather badly about it. I feel like I should be more involved, more engaged, more interested. But I find it hard to generate interest in an election that is over a year away. I know that this herd will be culled down vastly by that time. Plus, I usually find that the debate format annoys me since everyone seems to be arguing without listening.

I need to find a way to get myself engaged in the process, because, as Molly Ivins, rest her soul, used to say, "We are the government." If I don't care, why should the government care about me? I think part of the problem is that I don't fit neatly into any of the camps; not conservative enough for the Republicans, not liberal enough for the Democrats, not green enough for the Green Party. I always steal Dennis Miller's line and say I'm a realist. I believe that prisons should be punitive but not torturous. I think that we should spend more money on schools than prisons and that while prisoners should have access to education, that they should have to work for it. I think we need a graduated welfare system that supports people as they get back on their feet and doesn't punish them for trying to get back on track, but that there should be limits to how long help can be received. I think we need viable alternatives to fossil fuels. I think kids should pull their damned pants up and enunciate. I think people who talk on their cell phones while driving should receive a shock every time they break a traffic law (though I'm not really sure how to implement this one.) I rarely see a candidate for any office and think, "Now, that's someone I want to represent me." I find this both sad and alarming.

What are you looking for in a candidate?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Getting to know you

I am sitting in a job interview and things seem to be going pretty well. I am grossly overqualified for a food service job, but I am already working at the mall for $4.25 an hour (which was minimum wage at the time) so I have nothing to loose. We discuss my education, my previous waitressing experience, and how I adjusting to life in the South. Then he asks me, "What's the funniest thing that has ever happened to you?"

How can you not draw a blank when someone asks you a question like that? I freeze. I'm sure there are many funny things that have happened to me up to that point, but damned if I can think of one. And "the funniest thing ever?" No pressure there. Now I'm straining to think of something suitably funny. And appropriate for a job interview. I give him the deer-in-the-headlights and tell him, "That's not a question I was expecting and I can't think of anything." He takes pity on me and lets me answer the "proudest accomplishment" question instead. I think I said something about my college degrees, but clearly not anything remotely funny.

A few weeks later, I was in his office again for paperwork or some such. I told him I had thought of a funny story, if he was still interested. I wasn't sure it was the funniest thing ever, but funny.

I had worked at a catering hall, mostly for weddings. Big, elaborate, East Coast weddings. Someone at the hall had the brilliant idea that the presentation of our Viennese Trays for dessert could be vastly improved with sparklers. We would make a space among the anise cookies and cannolis for a footed metal bowl filled with sterno and sparklers. Rather like festive napalm. They'd light us off, turn down the lights, and we'd parade around the dance floor, all the while trying to avoid being set ablaze by stray sparks shooting from the trays next to our heads. After a minute or four, they'd turn on the lights and we'd deliver the trays to our tables.

As one might imagine, metal bowls become very hot when filled with flaming sterno. Everyone carried a bread and butter dish with them to place on top of the bowl, theoretically extinguishing the contents. The problem was that the bowls were all fairly dented from their many trips through the industrial dishwasher.

On this particular occasion, we completed our rounds, doused our flames and headed for the kitchen to retrieve the trays for our secondary tables. If you've ever been to a wedding, you know that the guests tend to mill about and congregate in clumps. A large clot had formed near the exit of the room. As I approached the crowd, a large man backed up in front of me, causing me to stop short. My compatriot behind me also stopped short, but in doing so tilted his hand ever so slightly. His thumb touched the still-hot bowl and he reflexively flung the bowl. Unfortunately, the bowl was still so hot because the contents were still on fire.

The flaming bits of sterno flew through the air and landed on the carpet, on his pants, and on the jacket of a guest. The only positive is that the guest was not wearing the jacket at the time. It was hanging on the back of his chair. Sterno is very sticky and stays very stubbornly aflame. While I was trying to stamp out the carpet, the waiter was trying to put out his pants and our manager was systematically beating our guest's jacket on the floor.

Naturally, we offered to pay for the dry cleaning.

Flash ahead several years and I am working with non-English speaking students. With a translator, the students are giving me a kind of interview. One student asks, "What is your charming quality?"

Charming quality?

So I babble something about my ability to listen well. I can make people comfortable and sometimes really help them with their problems. The translator relays my answer and the kids look confused. Then he asks the student what she thinks is my charming quality.

My eyes.

So I put it to you; what's the funniest thing that ever happened to you and what is your charming quality (or your best feature, player's choice)?