I thought today I would attempt a humour piece, because I need the practise.
… At work and leisure I try to do the Right Thing, like everybody in those books says to do.
Well, one time I was a young man, with no job, just a poor kid from the farm, off in the big city. How to get work? Well, of course, all the self-help books say the Right Thing is obvious: Just have Enthusiasm and really Believe In Myself. Oh, and have a marketing gimmick.
What could I do for work? Being from the farm I knew how to shovel manure, and how to have a strong back, but that was about all. So naturally, I went off to that clunky office building at the zoo. Once there, I suppose I should have gone to “Human Resources.” Actually, back on the farm, we called it “Personnel.” But hey, the books said to believe in myself, so bypassing Personnel I went down a little hallway to see the “Admin-istrative Ass-istant,” what we farmers call the “secretary,” because she had a desk right outside the door of the president himself: El Prezidente. The big cheese.
The Admin Ass was older than my mother, looking like an frowning dried up crab apple. All pumped up with enthusiasm, I shouted, “I’m here for a job!” She seemed unimpressed at the news, looked at me over her glasses, and asked,
“Have you a degree in marine biology?
“In land biology?”
“Then we can’t use you. No openings. Sorry.”
“Oh…” Then I summoned my enthusiasm: “Well, can-I-see-the-president?”
I could see his door, marked “President.” I was looking right at it, like a pointer hunting dog. The secretary noticed the direction of my gaze, and repeated, “No.” But I remembered the books said to be persistent, so I narrowed my eyes and leaned forward, just like the best pointer would. As I had hoped, the secretary noticed. Too bad she added, “I said ‘no.’” I was leaning still further, about to fall over, when the presidential door opened, and the Man himself walked out.
I thought to myself, ‘Quick, what would Horatio Alger do?’ Obvious the lad would show his pluck by following Mr. Big down the hall… so I did, right at the man’s heels. It was a short dead end hall with a small door at the end. No time to use my marketing gimmick. Quick—What would Alger say?
“Sir, if you give me a chance, you will never regret it!… I-would-be-proud to-be-a-member of-the-zoo!” The great man never stopped walking—he seemed in a hurry—but said over his shoulder, “Can you do marine biology?
“Uh… umm…” I thought for a second. “No.”
“Then young man,” he said now at the end of the hall, reaching for the door handle, “I can’t help you.” I would have followed him through the door, but the room inside was only about the size of an outhouse, complete with toilet seat. I jammed my foot in the door!
“Sir,” I shouted desperately, “I have a strong back!”
He grimaced. “You’re hired! Now get-your-foot-out-of-the-door.”
When I went back down the hall and told the secretary my good news, I saw her show expression for the first time.
*** *** ***
Many weeks of happy employment went by, with me using my strong back. Have you seen those nice big rocks lining the path to the Safari restaurant? Those are mine. Pretty good, eh?
One day I was putting rocks along the path to the gorilla cage —I mean, “enclosure—” and I was kneeling and tamping a stone into place —that’s a zoo word, “tamping—” when I looked up, and standing over me was the president. He was holding out a square cream-coloured envelope. “Young man, I have something for you.” His envelope was the wrong size for holding money, but still, I just knew it was something special. He grimaced and said, “We have to have diversity on our board, so I’m inviting you and your partner to our board’s supper-meeting. Dress is formal.”
Wow! So after work I ran straight home to tell my dear wife. Ran down the sidewalk, that is, right along the river, as we lived in walking distance of the zoo. “Gosh!” I said, “isn’t this swell?”
…Days later, on a fine summer evening, we walked down to the Safari room, she wearing her formal black dress, me wearing my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. First person we saw, outside the dinning hall, was a stranger in a nice business suit, rather like mine. I whispered to the wife, “Everybody’s dressed up, like us.” But I was wrong. Turned out the man was a waiter. We entered the big dinning room, with the big long table, and—Oh my Lord! The ladies all had black dresses, like my wife, but the men—they all had tuxedos. Drat! Foo-ey! Blast! I’m always the last to know.
We found our name plates and took our seats. I kind of sank down into mine, feeling small, and let my wife do all the talking. The lady next to her was a microbiologist, the fellow across from us said he was a marine biologist. The man next to me was busy talking to his neighbour, but I think I overheard he was a land biologist. I just sank still further into my seat. If anybody asked, maybe I could say I was a geologist, with a specialty in tamping.
During the supper I couldn’t remember to do any Right Things from all those self-help books on How To Socialize. I just sank down still further into my seat, and avoided eye contact. My wife was fine, I could hear her and the lady beside her: They were comparing their tattoos.
During the business part, the coffee was keeping me awake, …suddenly I didn’t need any coffee anymore. —Suddenly the president was looking right at me. “You’re from a local farm. Maybe the zoo should have an exhibit of the local ecology, eh? Stand up, and take a minute or two, to give us your thoughts on what we could include.” So I stood, said ‘gulp!’ and ‘erk!’ …and I tried to do the Right Thing. The rest of the evening was a blur. Things only came back into focus when at last my wife and I were walking home.
*** *** ***
…Now, of course, not just at work but in my leisure time too, I try to do things right. As leisure, my wife and I both attend a weekly toastmasters club to learn public speaking. In fact, this includes impromptu “one to two minute” speeches after being given a surprise topic. For this we always had an “evaluator:” a person supposed to give us, and the rest of the listening club, feedback on how we had just done with our “gestures,” our “vocal variety” and other things too. Was “supposed to.” And sometimes, a listener in the club would get as angry as a witch, (rhymes with b-itch) angry: “because the evaluator “merely” retold what the speaker just said!”
That evening, as we walked home, with my brain all blanked out, it was a no-brainer to ask my wife for her evaluation of my talk. I spoke up as soon as we were clear of the zoo. “Dear,” I said, “forget the vocal variety, forget the gestures. All I want to know is: What the heck did I say? Did I sound like an idiot?”
She said I did fine, really fine. I relaxed. And then she cheered me up by asking me to do my special marketing thing: So I did—We walked home along the river with me singing to her, in my very special opera voice…
At the zoo,
Which is indeed by the river,
Where I have a membership,
Which gives me free parking,
~No, I don’t sing opera. In fact, at work, if I’m around others, I would purposely sing like a kid. But then I was “outed.” Someone was hiding behind a tree to smoke. She heard me pushing someone’s wheelchair while singing like Bing Crosby, and then she told everyone I have “the voice of an angel.”
~Horatio Alger is like Pollyanna: If you read many self help books you soon learn those names. I haven’t read any novels about Alger yet, but I sure enjoyed Pollyanna. To me her story was just as good as Sarah Crew’s, and better than Ann’s. (of Green Gables)
~Speaking of formal suppers, sometimes a medieval feast would include peacock as a delicacy. Last week when the zoo guys were moving the peacocks to their winter digs, once of them adventurously flew right over the wall of the lion’s enclosure. That day some lion ate better than I did.
~Here on the prairies we see gophers everywhere, such as along the town railroad tracks and underneath multi-lane pedestrian overpasses. Maybe that’s why there’s none on exhibit at the zoo. But at the London Zoo, they have something children like: Gopher tunnels you can crawl through! Complete with a few rainproof little domes where you can pop up and look around, just like a real gopher.