Saturday, February 18, 2006

Career Day II

For all my good intentions, work intervenes, and I arrive only five minutes before the scheduled 2pm kick-off. I hurry in disconsolately, sure of being the last and visibly the least prepared, to be tucked away in a corner, an embarrassment to all. However, when I enter the cafeteria a total absence of parents lies everywhere like a fall of snow – I am the only one there, alone with the ghosts of a thousand corn-dog lunches past.

I commandeer a table reassuringly close to the emergency exit, and wait.

Others trail in slowly. By quarter past two there are six of us. My nemesis, Christopher’s fireman dad, is not among them. He is undoubtedly carrying singed yet still photogenic toddlers out of raging infernos even as we speak, and I salute him for it.

Among those who have made it are a nurse, a dentist, a psychiatrist, an insurance salesman who obviously has an impressively tin ear for kindergartner attention spans, a depressed-looking Japanese woman with some flowerpots, and a hotel manager. This last is very keen indeed. She has a hundred bulging give-away goodie bags that her minimum-wage staff probably spent an entire shift packing last night, and a laptop with a slide show. “I love my job” she tells me with a glassy smile. And it’s not like I had walked over to talk to her, either – I was still arranging my stuff several yards away. The psychiatrist next to her gives her a sharp glance and surreptitiously moves elsewhere.

Puffing through the doors at this point comes another hobbyist - an amateur astronomer, judging by his telescope and intricate orrery. He sets up on the table that the shrink has just vacated, between me and Norman Bates’ sister. He has a wart. On his chin. Just off-centre, on the jawline.

He finishes his preparations and wanders over to me. It’s a big wart. We chat about kids and hobbies briefly. There are hairs on the wart. As we talk I keep my eyes rooted to his by sheer force of will. Wart wart warty wart wartly wart wart. The primary school teacher that I once was is jumping up and down in my hindbrain waving all sorts of red flags. I move my stall slightly closer to his so I can overhear.

He is pacing a little, practicing his delivery. He has his opening line all ready. “How would you like to go to outer space without ever leaving your room?” he intones, all broad grin and sweeping arms.

At half past the teachers start bringing the kids in. As there are only seven parents, the groups are bigger than planned – 12 to 24 kids to entertain for ten minutes at a time. I launch into my spiel about hand-colouring, types of paper and watermarks, leather bindings, how the maps show the different shapes of the USA over time, and so on. This is met with general incomprehension, tho’ everyone seemed to like holding the books that were published “when George Washington was President”.

Most of the questions concern my foreign accent and tombstone teeth.

I rate my performance as a solid B-. The dentist is a big hit, with his plastic skull. So is the hotelophile, tho’ only because she has made the schoolboy error of handing out the goodies first, and everyone is too busy rooting through their bags to pay her tedious drivel any attention. Every bag includes a little rubber ball, and already some of them are reaching alarming speeds and altitudes as the kids make their own entertainment.

Over on Planet Astronomy, meanwhile, all is not well. A consistent pattern is emerging. “How would you like to go to outer space without ever leaving your room?” says the astronomer. A forest of hands goes up. He picks a child, who promptly asks “What’s that thing on your chin?” “It’s called a melanoma” he says patiently. “What’s a melonny?” “Why’s it on your chin?” “What does it do?” “Does it do tricks?”. One studious child even asks him to spell “melanoma”. The grin is fading and sweat begins to bead his forehead. The third group, sadly, includes a girl called Melanie, who promptly bursts into tears, so he gives up and calls it a wart. This opens a whole new line of thought among his audience. “Are you a witch?”

At this point my son’s class arrives before me, so I have to give them my full attention. I pull out all the stops, have my son hold up some of the maps to share the glory, and climax with la pièce de la résistance, a five hundred year old hand-coloured map of Venice. So it is some time before I can turn back to my unhappy neighbour. He is sitting wild-eyed by his orrery, shirt visibly drenched in perspiration, as the kids chase their balls under the table or try to poke the wart with their pencils.

He cuts short his fruitless attempt at discourse and goes straight to the demonstration - everyone gets a turn with the telescope. The kids huddle around it, heads together, and after some whispering they abruptly turn and train it on his chin. He visibly toys with the idea of intervention, but instead slumps back into his chair and lets them get on with it. At which point one of the hotel freak’s balls enters stage left, ricochets off his forehead and knocks over his orrery, sending planets and moons skittering across the floor.

And so proceedings draw to their disorderly close.

The kids are led out, except for our own, who have the reward of going home with us. I help the star-gazer gather his scattered satellites. He gives me a wan smile. His little girl is also there, handing over Mars and Pluto. She gives him a big hug and kiss. “You were the best, daddy!” They leave hand in hand.

My son watches them go, then loyally whispers “You were the best, really.” At home, obviously incredulous, my wife asks him what was so good about my presentation. “I got to go home with daddy afterwards.”

A mellony yesterday. No finer form of entertainment exists for the enquiring minds of today’s youngsters.


R. Sherman said...

Absolutely brilliant post. You survived; the maps and books survived; all is well.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I feel sorry for the Wart's child. The man should have made his wart the exhibit and got a Chinese doctor to remove in front of the kids using acupuncture to dull the pain. He would have stolen the show.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Come to think of it, the dentist could've just bitten it off with his plastic skull. It's all good...

PI said...

Oh you might have spared us the photo. It was already implanted in my minds eye. I'm puzzled - a 'wane smile'?
Lovely post, apart from the big zit.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Wane is normally an intransitive verb, but is used alongside "smile" in the sense of "weak". It's one of my favourite words...

For more, see here.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, that was some funny stuff. I was remembered of that scene, in Austin Powers III:

Austin: "Yes, nice to mole you. Meet you! Nice to meet your mole. Don't say mole. I said mole."
Number Three (Fred Savage): "Bye."
Austin: "Mole."
Austin: "Mole!"
Austin: "Mole mole mole mole mole."

But that's a pretty expensive hobby you indulge in, Ivan. Did you graduate from school teacher to division vice-president for some Evil Corporation? And where do you get your Elseviers and Firmin Didots in North Carolina, anyway? Next you're gonna tell me you also have an editio princeps of Newton's 'Principia' or what?


Anonymous said...

I can't speak with any authority, given my lack of credentials in English, but I used to think smiles are wan rather than wane. Etymologically, it makes more sense for them to be wane. But note that 'wane' is a verbal form, not and adjective. And the common man's Library of Alexandria, the Google search engine, only gives about 931 results for "wane smile", but over 62,000 hits for "wan smile." I know that bigger numbers only make a difference in marketing, not grammar, but if linguistic usage is really just a set of conventions, there is normative power in the numbers. As a sign that the Great Unwashed can have it their way in virtue of sheer mass, see 'miniscule' as a (recently) accepted alternative form for 'minuscule', which is the etymologically correct usage.

So, what do the native speakers of Anglo-Saxon idioms have to say on this matter?


Ivan the Terrible said...

Quite right, Des (and Pi) - it's wan, not wane. Tho' the etymolgists do think there might be a common root. Well, it just goes to show - you go back to school and you end up learning something...

HA HA HA said...

war warty warrt wart! funy!

btwe is it prunonced 'woodhouse' or 'woadhouse'? is 'wodehouse' prununced i mean.

HA HA HA said...

p.s. teh onliane etamolegy dictonry is cool. i liek totly bookmrarkd its ass.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Thanks, 3H. I like Etymonline a lot too. Tho' I'm obviously not using it enough :)

Ivan the Terrible said...

Oh, and it's "wood" not "woad" in Wodehouse, as far as I know.

Buffy said...

Every time I think corn dog I think tater tots and Napoleon Dynamite.

Aunty Marianne said...

Yes dear.

"The psychiatrist next to her gives her a sharp glance and surreptitiously moves elsewhere" hahahhahahahahahhaaa!

PI said...

Of course it is our 'wan'.
I wonder, and I'm sure you know, how it came about that Americans spell English words differently eg honor for honour? Not that I am disputing their perfect right to spell any way they fancy.
Oh just seen Des's bit. I agree with him if he's saying what I think He's saying re wan.
My smile was a trifle wan when I read about the wart.

Anonymous said...

shit, that was excellent.

Thank you.

Aunty Marianne said...

Pi - it was the Washington Post, or NY Times I think, tried to reform English in the early 1900s, much of it stuck.

Although I can't be doing with 'thru'. Or 'fetus'. Or 'ass'. It's your backside, not a donkey with Mary on it riding to Bethlehem. It's ARSE, dammit.