Sometimes you use Sweet Potato Pie for evil.

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Thanksgiving has come and gone here in the States.  With it, a myriad of foods, beverages, and desserts have passed in front of my face in the past 48 hours.  I spied a sweet potato pie yesterday.  Now, I don’t know many people who indulge in the baked good made from sweet potatoes, so it is seldom that I come across one.  The last time I remember having an interaction with a sweet potato pie was in high school.  

The year: 1999.  The place: Waynesboro Area Senior High School, Mrs. Kaiser’s 9th grade English class.

Remember those old English class textbooks that had short stories, plays, and excerpts from other forms of literature in them?  
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Well, in ninth grade that year, we were assigned to read the short story, SWEET POTATO PIE by Eugenia W. Collier.  I don’t recall the plot of the story, so I’m of no help to you there.  I know it had something to do with a family in a big city.  Besides that, I’m useless.  I’m sure if I looked it up I could easily write a short synopsis here, but I’m not going to do that.  You are welcome to research it on your own.

Anyway, the day came where we were to discuss the reading assignment in class.  Cody, a young man on the outside of our friend group (who, in sixth grade, introduced me to Weird Al Yankovic, by the way), confided in me and a couple of other guys that he had not completed the assignment.  He had not read SWEET POTATO PIE.

Tsk-tsk-tsk.  For shame, Cody.

He asked us to summarize the events of the story quickly for him before class started, lest he be called upon to answer any questions.  He didn’t want to look like an idiot by not knowing what he was talking about.

Now, I had one of those high school experiences that everyone hates me for.  In essence, I was happy.  I had good friends, I got good grades without trying hard, I was popular with all my teachers, and I was in practically every arts extra-curricular group so nobody paid any mind if I was absent.  It was because of these traits that my friends and I were able to skip classes regularly and generally malign the good name of our school by being dirtbags while everyone thought we were awesome.  I’m not saying we were bad kids, mind you.  We did nothing unsavory.  We just took advantage of our niceness and respect that was given to us.  

We were also stupid boys who liked to play tricks on other people.

So when Cody asked us what the story was about, my friend Scott took the lead and spun a tale of Southern hospitality, wherein the main character of Sadie enters her dead mother’s recipe for sweet potato pie into the county fair so she can win a bunch of money to buy back her father’s farm.  She wins, and the farm is saved, and the story has a very happy ending.

(This, coincidentally, is nothing at all related to the actual sequence of events that take place in aforementioned story.)

Cody smiled and thanked us, and we resumed our business in preparation for the class.

When class started, Mrs. Kaiser began by asking who had read the story.  Of course every hand went up in the air.  She asked if someone could please summarize the events of the story for the class.

Now, I’m not sure if he wanted to make a good impression on the teacher, or if he wanted to forego further question-answering, or if he just wanted to show off in front of everyone else, but Cody waved his hand above his head like a flag.  He wanted to answer the question.

There was a moment when Scott and I looked at each other with disbelief.  This was amazing.  We never thought that it would actually happen, that he would actually make a fool of himself in front of everyone.  We thought the chances were fairly slim that she would call on him and he would give some insane answer relating to a baking contest.  But here we were, watching it unfold perfectly.

Cody, when called upon, relayed the story of young Sadie and the county fair, the tragedy of her father’s farm, and the love that went into the baking of the pie itself.  Mrs. Kaiser stood with a straight face, obviously unsure of what to do.  The kids around us were giggling up a storm.  

Proud of himself, Cody finished the synopsis and settled back down into his chair comfortably.

The class erupted in laughter and Mrs. Kaiser shook her head.  Cody’s freckled face grew beat-red and Scott and I almost died of giddiness.

I don’t remember if he was punished for not completing the assignment.  Probably not, since it provided such a wealth of entertainment.  Scott and I each received an embarrassed punch to the arm from the kid, though, which was more than worth it.  

Cody now works as a government contractor working with the US military in Afghanistan.  He’s big and burly and bearded.  Ain’t no way I would pull a stunt like that on him now.

But I always think of that ninth grade English class anytime I think of sweet potato pie.

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Sometimes it’s a Wednesday matinee

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As you may or may not know, Wednesday matinees in the theatre world are the preferential performance for those above seventy years old to attend.
The confluence of three hundred bodies on their way out of this world is something to behold.
This proves for memorable (and ridiculous) conversations for me, whose job it is to deal with them.

Here is one such conversation. Everything below is 100% true. Nothing has been falsified for effect. I’ll set the stage, as it were:
The show is going. We’re about a half-hour in.
I hear a cellphone ring. The ringtone is MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.”
I begin my survey of the audience. Where is it coming from? Is anyone reaching to turn it off?
I follow the sound to the center of the back row. Easy. It’s one of two white-haired people. They look to be a couple, so I kneel behind them and speak to them both.
Me: Please turn off your cell phone.
Man (loudly): What?!
Me: Please turn off your cell phone.
Woman: He doesn’t have a cell phone.
Me: Then please turn off your cell phone.
Woman: My cell phone’s not on.
Me: I hear a cell phone ring coming from your purse. (on her lap)
Woman: That’s not my cell phone.
Me: Ma’am, it’s coming from your purse. I see the light and can see it vibrating. (it was even jingling the clasp on the purse)
Woman: You’re wrong. That’s not my ring.
Man: I’m trying to watch the show! Be quiet!
Woman: Don’t yell at me – your phone is on!
Man: I don’t have a cell phone!
Woman: Oh right. Well, it’s not mine.
(the cell phone ring ends and starts up again – still MC Hammer)
Me: Ma’am, turn off your cell phone.
Woman: That’s not my phone! I don’t have a young person song as my ring!
Me: Ma’am, please could you check to make sure?
Woman: This is ludicrous! You’re bothering my husband with all this.
Me: Please just check.
Woman: Alright, if you want to look a fool. (Takes the phone from her purse. It is vibrating lighting up, and playing MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”)
Me: Please turn it off, Ma’am.
Woman: Someone changed my ring! I don’t even know this song! I turned my phone off when I sat down!
Me: Please turn it off, Ma’am.

This is my job.

Sometimes customers suck. All the time. Even in Army.

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I’m gonna say the point of this graphic is to show “building a bridge to the customer” or “figuring out how to reach the customer” or some other stupid thing like that.

Like any self-respecting artist who needs to buy things like food and shelter, I work in customer service.  I interface with the public.  I solve problems.  I apologize.  A lot.  I let people feel that they are appreciated and necessary.  It’s the pits, but I’m good at it.

It all started when I put on a bright red polo shirt and took drive-through orders at a Hardee’s Restaurant in my hometown.  Since then, it’s been a dizzying spiral into customer service-land that has seen me at zoos, aquariums, skating rinks, museums, theaters, and even the Army.

What?  Customer service in the Army?  You silly kitten – what the heck are you yappin’ about?

I’m talking about being a medic.

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The medic in all his glory.

Really, a medic is not all about running around on the battlefield with a tourniquet.  Sure, that’s the origin of the job.  And that’s what really gets most guys’ blood pumping.  Sometimes I’ll be monitoring a firing range and I’ll get to hear the cry of “Medic!” and I’ll have to hop to it.  But most of what I do as a medic is sitting around in a clinic doing this:

 

ImageAfter I wait for a bit like this, someone comes in with a cold.  This person tells me they are dying.  They have an upper respiratory infection.  They cannot go back to the cold, rainy field, they say.  They must stay in the barracks all day and sleep.

It is with this person that I must use the same skills I have perfected with Mid-Western families, with cranky New York City tourists, and with overly-entitled elderly theatre subscribers.  I must be an ambassador of customer service.  Somehow I must explain to this person that they’re an idiot, they’re not dying, and they’re going to have to go back outside and it’s going to suck a lot.

This is what I go through one weekend a month and two weeks a year.  These past two weeks I’ve been up at Fort Drum, NY, doing this every single day.  Here are some choice conversations from that time period:

(While out getting lunch, the medic cell phone rings.  This usually signals an emergency.)
MEDIC: Hello?
PATIENT: Hey, I think my hand is broken.
MEDIC: Your hand is broken?  What happened?
PATIENT: I fell on it and now it’s broken.
MEDIC: Is it bruised or swollen?
PATIENT: Yeah.
MEDIC: Is it bleeding?
PATIENT: What?
MEDIC: Is it bleeding?
PATIENT:  I don’t know.
MEDIC: What do you mean, you don’t know?
PATIENT: I can’t see.
MEDIC: You can’t see if your hand is bleeding?
PATIENT: No, how would I be able to see that?
MEDIC: Do you see any blood?
PATIENT: What?
MEDIC: Do you see blood?
PATIENT: Blood?
MEDIC: You know that red stuff that’s inside your body?
PATIENT: Yeah.
MEDIC: Is any of it on the outside of your body?
PATIENT: Oh!  No.
MEDIC: Ok, you’re fine for the moment.  We’ll be there after lunch.

(In the barracks, showered and changed and ready for bed, the medic cell phone rings.  Another emergency?)
MEDIC: Hello?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: Hey, do you guys have any of those asthma inhalers?
MEDIC: We do…  But what’s going on?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I have a soldier who needs one.
MEDIC: What’s happening with them?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: She can’t breathe.  She needs an inhaler.
MEDIC: Ok, but why can’t she breathe?  What does she look like?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I don’t know.  She’s coughing a lot and she says she needs an inhaler.
MEDIC: Does she have asthma?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I don’t know.
MEDIC: Has she ever been prescribed an inhaler?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT:  Jesus, I don’t know.  Here, I’m going to put her on the phone.  You can talk to her.
MEDIC:  Wait, she’s ok to talk on the phone?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: Yeah, hold on.
MEDIC: So she can breathe?
PATIENT: Hello?
MEDIC: Hey, what’s going on?
PATIENT (in perfectly normal voice): I need an inhaler.
MEDIC: Ok, are you having trouble breathing?
PATIENT: Yeah, I’m coughing a lot.
MEDIC: Do you have a cold?
PATIENT: I don’t know.  Maybe.  I’ve had bronchitis for three years and I need an inhaler.  I used to have one but I don’t have it here.  It’s been awhile.
MEDIC: Ok, well it’s pretty impossible for you to have bronchitis for three years.  Do you have asthma?
PATIENT: No.
MEDIC: Have you ever been prescribed an inhaler?
PATIENT: No.
MEDIC: Ok, well for us to give you an albuterol inhaler, you need to have been prescribed one.
PATIENT: Oh, that’s a prescription thing?
MEDIC: Yeah.
PATIENT: Well, no I don’t have a prescription but I’ve used one before.  And I’m coughing a lot because these barracks are stuffy and it’s cold in there at night.
MEDIC: Ok, so there are a few things happening here.  One, you don’t have a prescription for an inhaler.  Two, you can’t have had bronchitis for three years.  Three, you’re speaking perfectly fine and haven’t coughed at all since you’ve been on the phone with me.  So go to bed and come in to sick call in the morning if you still feel like you’re having trouble
PATIENT: When’s sick call?
MEDIC: 5:30 to 7:30.
PATIENT: Oh.  Nah, that’s too early and I don’t want to go through all the trouble.  I’m fine.  I’ll just have my mom buy me an inhaler on line and have her send it to me.
MEDIC:  …ok.
PATIENT: Bye.
MEDIC: Bye.

(During sick call)
PATIENT: I have a lump on my ovary.
MEDIC: And what makes you say that?
PATIENT: That’s what it said online.
(This patient had an ingrown hair on her crotch.)

(Also during sick call)
PATIENT: I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Ok, when was your last menstrual period?
PATIENT: Years ago.  I’m on the birth control where I don’t get periods.
MEDIC: When did you stop taking it?
PATIENT: Taking what?
MEDIC: The birth control.
PATIENT: I haven’t.
MEDIC: Then why do you think you’re pregnant?
PATIENT: Because I had sex about two weeks ago and now I have really bad cramps and nausea.  I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Ok, but you never stopped taking birth control?
PATIENT: No.
MEDIC.  Ok…  Let’s take a pregnancy test.
PATIENT: I don’t need to.  I know I’m pregnant.
MEDIC:  Let’s just do one for shits and giggles.
PATIENT: Ok, whatever.
(The pregnancy test comes back negative.)
MEDIC:  So, it doesn’t look like you’re pregnant.  What else is going on?  Has your diet changed at all?
PATIENT: That test is wrong.
MEDIC: Nope it’s not.  Do you have any flu-like symptoms?
PATIENT: No, I told you – I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Let’s just pretend you’re not for a second.  What else is going on?
PATIENT: Well, I haven’t pooped in a few days.
(This patient was constipated.)

(Out to lunch.  The medic cell phone rings.  Must be an emergency.)
MEDIC: Hello?
MOTOR POOL GUY: You have to get back to the motor pool right now!  Someone just broke their leg!
MEDIC: Ok, what happened?
MOTOR POOL GUY: She was walking around the motor pool, and then she fell into a big hole, and then her leg was broken.  She says she can’t feel her leg!
MEDIC: Ok, is it bleeding?
MOTOR POOL GUY: No, but she’s on the ground screaming in pain!  I’ve never seen anyone like this!!  Oh my god!!!
MEDIC: Ok, we’re on our way.
(After we leave our lunch, the phone rings halfway back to the motor pool)
MEDIC: Hello?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Hey, don’t worry about coming.  Her leg just fell asleep.
MEDIC: Her leg fell asleep?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Yeah, her leg fell asleep.  She’s up and walking again now.
MEDIC: You’re sure?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Yeah, she’s fine.  It’s never happened to her, apparently.
MEDIC: Awesome.  And how old is she?
MOTOR POOL GUY: I don’t know.  40’s?
MEDIC: So of course her leg has never fallen asleep before…

And there were so many more.

But don’t worry, folks.  No matter how stupid the customer, no matter how inane the complaint, I shall always be there, using my customer service skills, standing tall, and looking studly like this guy:
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HAPPY VETERAN’S DAY, EVERYONE!!!!!!