A small storm cloud has hung on my personal horizon for a week now, and it is at last about to break.
Today is “Career Day” for the kindergarten class at our local elementary school, where parents come in to talk about their work to groups of their kid’s classmates. This sort of thing is expected of parents over here, and by all accounts features a cast of thousands of ultra-competitive breeders. I would normally run considerable distance barefoot over broken glass to avoid that kind of exposure, but I am now committed - pinned like a butterfly to the board of my son’s expectations.
I dare say I’ll end up sat between the astronaut and the juggler.
I should have known better than to agree, but my wife trapped me with the ruthlessness innate to her gender by asking me in front of my adoring 5-year-old. It was a moment of weakness which I bitterly regret.
It turns out that they are going to fill the cavernous cafeteria with parents, and have groups of eight to ten kids visit each in turn, with a few minutes of exposition on the wonders of their work, followed by the sort of surreal questions that kindergartners specialise in. I am frantic at the thought of talking about my job even for five minutes straight, as possibly the only thing more boring than my work is hearing me talk it - a point first drawn to my attention by my wife, who has seen fit to revisit the topic at regular intervals throughout our married life. Inflicting this experience on these mere babes would be borderline abuse in my book.
At first I turn to scripture for inspiration – in this case the Book of Wodehouse – but alas my wife refuses point blank to drive me, forcing me to abandon my plan to turn up sozzled and wing it a la Gussie Fink-Nottle.
Thankfully, there is a get-out-of-gaol-free clause whereby instead of work one can talk about one’s hobbies. My boy’s teacher calls it the Lapdancer Clause, in honour of the type of job that might lead a parent to invoke it. I do not ask her what sort of “hobbies” she imagines the average lapdancer to have, as she is young and naïve, and I might unwittingly upset or arouse her. As she weighs in at about 200lbs, neither prospect appeals. In any case, although I am not a Lapdancer, I grasp the proffered straw gratefully.
While my legal hobbies are only slightly less boring than my work, I have one that at least gives the kids something to hold and feel, and about which I can talk with a fair facsimile of knowledge – antique books and maps. So I blow the dust off of a few of the less expensive 18th C maps, atlases and geographies.
As I pack my exhibits, my boy relates how he told his friend Christopher that I would be the best. “Is Christopher’s dad coming?” I ask. A shrug. “What does he do?” “He’s a fireman.”
The freak show starts at 2pm today…
Gussie Fink-Nottle, yesterday – patron saint of all school speechmakers.