I’ll be looking for a job pretty soon. I realize that people who can give me a job will expect me to tell them what I’m qualified to do. I don’t mean that resume crap. That stuff’s almost fiction, even if it’s technically true. If my skill was begging in the gutter for burrito wrappers, I could make it sound like “acquiring recycled commercial materials in atypical urban areas.”

No, I’m talking about looking someone in the eye and telling them, in one breath, just what I can do. After which they’ll feel that if they don’t hire me they’ll live in regret and never be happy again for the rest of their lives. My challenge is that I’m a senior manager, so the things I’m capable of sound stupid. For example, I could look my prospective employer in the eye and say:

“I’m great at saying no. Really, I’m like a negativity machine.”

Based on that statement, even I wouldn’t hire me. Hell, I’d spray for me, like I was a chinch-bug.

It’s a problem.

By the way, any grammar fans may have noted that in the earlier paragraph I should have written “…the things of which I am capable sound stupid.” I didn’t do that because it doesn’t flow well. I know it’s wrong, but I offer a quote that’s been attributed to Winston Churchill:

“This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

On Saturday I interrupted my musings on unemployment long enough to visit my father. I go there to talk about building things, and stupid politicians, and grilled cheese sandwiches, among other things. I also go there to write checks to pay his bills. His hands shake too much for him to write because of a raucous and unwelcome party in his cerebellum, so I help out. I’m hoping that my wife will be kind enough to write my checks when I get older. To be truthful, she writes most of them now, so things wouldn’t be that different.

My father and I found ourselves talking about job qualifications, just after we’d been discussing how much useless crap is in his attic. Right away he told me that he didn’t learn anything in college that helped him get a job, or that helped him at all in his career, for that matter. I found that discouraging. When he was still working he supervised the construction of schools and hospitals and so forth. However, in college I think he mainly knocked people down and pulled semi-larcenous pranks on the Texas A&M football team. So maybe this wasn’t entirely surprising.

We backtracked and talked about whether his military service had given him qualifications he could present to future employers. He said that had been problematic. After the Korean War his discharge papers stated that he was well-suited for any civilian job requiring a “small arms technician.” He didn’t feel that was too helpful, since it meant “move about silently and kill people.”

We agreed that it can be hard to explain what you’re qualified to do.

I guess I’ll keep working on it. I may need something more generic, like, “I don’t usually screw things up,” or, “I haven’t been killed by my own employees so far.” Maybe I can adapt one of those common sayings about success, like, “Success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I could turn that into:

“I sweat a lot. You ought to see it.”

Or here’s another one I like. “Ninety percent of life is showing up. Nine percent is paying attention. One percent is getting laid.”

I should be able to do something with that.

My father, back when he was a "small thinking-about-punching-a-photographer's-assistant-im-the-throat technician."
My father, back when he was a “small thinking-about-punching-a-photographer’s-assistant-in-the-throat technician.”

 

When I was four years old I knew that stealing a cookie today is worth more than the promise of any number of future cookies. I knew it in my marrow, and my sneaky fingers knew it too. I forgot this knowledge once I got an allowance and could buy my own cookie. Today I can express the concept, but I don’t really know it anymore, not like I did when I was four.

It’s aggravating to forget things. It’s worse when you remember that you used to know something and that you don’t know it now.

As I’ve grown older my mind has emptied itself like a pitcher, and it hasn’t always been refilled with similarly precious knowledge. For example, when I was in high school I could talk calculus to you all day. Now I can barely figure tips and make change. I have bartered away my math skills to instead become the Michelangelo of Powerpoint slides.

Other knowledge has drained out of me throughout my life. When I was seven I could look at a picture of a dinosaur, tell you the beast’s name, and pinpoint when it lived, within a hundred million years or so. Now when I hear paleontologists talk they use entirely unfamiliar dinosaur names that I believe they’re just making up to screw with us. As another example, at twenty-four I could diagnose and repair about any gasoline engine. Now when I open a car’s hood it makes no more sense to me than looking into the abdomen of a dissected hippo.

Today I find myself needing to learn German. The idea fills me with perplexity and dread because I don’t know any German at all. This despite the fact that I once had a German class. I had several. One time I said some German sentences to real people who spoke German in a real country called Germany. They answered me, and I said some more sentences, and I think I ended up in a stuffy restaurant eating a gigantic, greasy pig shank with a warm beer.

I don’t understand a single word of German today. In college, I studied German in Germany and minored in German. I should be ashamed.

As an aside, I majored in sociology, specializing in statistics and research methods. That includes telephone surveys, like the calls you get on Sunday afternoons asking what radio stations you like. If you think about it, I literally have a university degree in how to annoy people.

I need help to learn German again, and for that help I turned to my servant and companion, Google. Like a faithful Irish Water Spaniel, Google brought me three German-learning options and laid them at my metaphorical feet. I shall refer to these as “Option X,” “Option Spends-A-Lot-On-Advertising,” and “Option Holy-Crap-It’s-Free.” Here’s what I found.

Option X has an informational video that includes a drawing of Yoda, so that was in its favor. It claimed I’d learn just like a small child learns, and lots of testimonials promised that this system is amazing. It made so much sense and was so popular that I immediately developed a virulent, suspicious hatred for it. And yet, it includes no writing or grammar, and I can take the lessons in the bathtub if I want. I was promised that I’d learn useful phrases quickly, and the basic course costs less than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-Ray, so I ended up pretty impressed.

Option Spends-A-Lot-On-Advertising must indeed spend a lot on advertising, since the full course costs as much as an iPad Mini. Even the basic course is pricey. Instead of buying it, my wife and I could each have our own Lord of the Rings Trilogy Blu-Rays, with another copy for our cats, and we could all learn to speak Elvish. But the cool thing is that I’d get a sophisticated computer learning experience with audio feedback to tell me that my German words sound like a ’58 Impala shifting gears. The less cool thing is that I can’t do that in the bathtub without electrocuting myself. It teaches grammar, writing, and a huge vocabulary, although it may take a while to get past phrases like, “the girl is above the train station.” I figure if I want to approximate two years of 8 a.m. German classes, this is the way to go.

Option Holy-Crap-It’s-Free has some German lessons you can take on the computer. But really, who gives a shit? It’s free.

I know which one I’m choosing.

In the spirit if getting off to a good start, I decided to begin reclaiming the German language and my profound childhood cookie philosophy at the same time. I thought I remembered that the German word for cookie might be “kuchen.” A short web search showed that a “kuchen” is actually a cake, and “küche” is the room in which you cook a cake. The German word for cookie is in fact “cookie.”

That seemed too easy. And it was. If cookie is “cookie,” then why is the Cookie Monster called “Krümelmonster” by German children? And I’d think that “Christmas cookie” would be “Weihnachts cookie,” but sadly it’s “Weihnachtsplätzchen” instead.

Crap.

I wonder how you say “Tyrannosaurus Rex” in German?

I hope to soon be able to speak to this German Shepherd in its native language—bratwurst.
I hope to soon be able to speak to this German Shepherd in its native language—bratwurst.

Photo by Marilyn Peddle

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

I remember when I was eleven years old doing my very best to cut out my grandfather’s heart and eat it. He was trying to do the same to me, so it was all fair. Plus, it was on Christmas Day, so we deserved some kind of forgiveness, or dispensation, or something like that.

Here’s how it went. On Christmas morning my sister and I assaulted our toy-encircled tree like a troop of baboons, after which my family opened gifts. Then, before we could play with our new toys that made every other toy we’d ever owned look like cow flop, my parents made us get dressed and drove us to my aunt’s house. The entire extended clan ate the noon meal together, with us kids at the short tables. In this way my people broke the holiday bread, reaffirmed our family bonds, and in the afternoon, as the Good Lord intended, we played poker.

I don’t know why we played poker within spitting distance of the Nativity Scene, but that’s what my people did. I didn’t learn much about religion, but I learned that if you’re not playing poker to cut out someone’s heart and eat it, you might as well be playing with a wad of dirty newspaper and a stick. I also learned that faith is a wonderful thing, but don’t draw to an inside straight.

We played for cash. Nobody cared that I was eleven years old. If I was dumb enough to raise into a pair of aces, I must be too stupid to spend my allowance on anything good anyway.

My father didn’t play poker with us. I didn’t think about it then, since he pretty much minded his own business and nobody bugged him about it. But yesterday he explained to me why he didn’t play. When he was in Korea during the war, neither he nor any other marines got paid. The Corps held onto their money, since they sent men to places where there wasn’t a damn thing worth buying anyway. The Corps finally shipped them home on an actual ship, which stopped in Japan so the men could get their back pay in real, U.S. cash.

Poker games broke out in every unused cranny of that ship. Not every man played, but a lot of them did. After all, there weren’t many recreational activities on a ship crammed with marines. However, the main point is that by the time they reached San Diego about six guys owned all the money, and hundreds of fellows were broke.

My father did not play poker. When he got home, he bought a new car.

This is all fantastic evidence that poker is a game of skill, not a game of chance. Here’s a fun fact for you. If you look around the poker table and can’t tell who is the least skilled player at the table—you’re the one whose heart is about to be cut out and eaten. Now that I think about it, that’s true of a lot of things in life.

My grandfather died when I was 15. The family drifted, and after a few years the Christmas dinners stopped. We didn’t play poker anymore. But by that time I felt like I was a pretty good player. In my twenties I decided to see how good I was, and I started flying to Las Vegas to play poker. I won a little sometimes, and I never lost much, so I kept playing.

The crazy point came when I landed in Vegas, went straight from the airport to the casino, and played for 40 hours straight. At the end of that time I was $10 ahead. I thought, What the hell? I’d won a lot of hands, and I hadn’t lost too much money on any hands. Then for the first time I paid attention to something I’d seen thousands of times. Every time someone bet, the dealer pulled out ten percent and dropped it in a hole in the table, where it went to pay for electric lights, and Wayne Newton, and hookers for Japanese high-rollers.

It wasn’t enough to be good. You had to be supernatural. I never surrendered poker money to a casino again. I played other games like craps and blackjack, and I lost my ass because I hardly understood them at all.

To wrap this up, jump forward in time to my wedding. I’m not the wildest guy on my block, and my bachelor party was an event of less than thermonuclear festivity. Instead of strippers and tequila, my best and oldest friends came over to my place for the evening, and we bonded by drinking beer, smoking cigars, and playing poker.

I took all their money. I cut out their hearts and ate them. Hey, we were playing poker. Screw ‘em. If my grandfather was fair game, what did they expect?

My dad in Not-a-Damn-Thing-Around-Here Korea, 1951

“I don’t know much about football, but I know it has something to do with touchdowns and steroids,” my wife said yesterday as she scraped up a fork-full of cheese enchilada.

I put down my tortilla-wrapped fajita meat and said, “The championship game is on this Sunday. You should watch it with me.”

Actually, I didn’t say “championship game.” I didn’t call it by its official name either, because no one can call it that without an NFL lawyer climbing up his rectum. I didn’t say the “Big Game,” since that makes it sound like an old movie where Ronald Reagan and Mickey Rooney play football to save some tiny, segregated college. I called it the “Stupid Bowl.” I know that sounds demeaning, but since its fans will spend more money on Doritos than was spent on cancer research last year, I’m standing by that name.

My wife shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It looks confusing. How do you play?”

I wiped my hands and considered how to answer that question in one sentence. “You get the ball, and your team carries it or throws it down the field with a lot of rest breaks, until you carry, throw, or kick it across the goal unless the other team stops you first.”

“Sounds pretty easy if you get a lot of rest breaks.”

I saw that I needed to explain a little more. “No, it’s really a tough game. There’s a lot of strategy. For example, there are two different ways to score points. You can run or pass the ball across the goal line. That’s a touchdown worth seven points. Or, you can kick the ball through the goal. That’s a field goal worth three points.”

“Is there anybody guarding the goal?”

“No, it’s too high.”

“Well if nobody’s guarding it, just kick the ball through it all day. Hasn’t anybody figured that out?”

“It’s not that simple. You may have to kick it from far away sometimes, and that can be hard.”

“When you kick it from farther away, do you get more points?”

I shook my head. “No, it’s always three points.”

“Lame.”

“There’s a lot more strategy besides that. You have to know when to throw the ball and when to run with it.”

“You only have two choices?”

“Yeah, but a lot of different players on your side can run with the ball or catch it.”

“How many?” she said before sipping her sweet tea.

“Um… six. And eleven players are trying to stop you.”

“Okay. Have all your guys except one grab all the guys on the other side and hang on.”

I shook my head. “No, that’s against the rules.”

“That’s dumb. Well, how do you get going?”

“You have a lot of rehearsed attack plans called ‘plays.’ They start with the quarterback receiving the ball.” I began rolling another fajita.

“Why’s he called the quarterback? Is he the one who flips the quarter at the start of the game?”

“No, the area behind most of your players is called the ‘backfield,’ and historically the quarterback stood a fourth of the way back in the backfield.”

“How big is this backfield?”

“It’s not a set size.”

“That sounds pretty sloppy. How far back does the quarterback stand, then?”

“Usually he stands right behind the center, or the player in the center of the line of players. The center has the ball and snaps it back between his legs to start the play. The quarterback holds his hands between the center’s legs so he’s ready to get the ball.”

My wife stared for a moment. “The quarterback stands there with his hands on that other guy’s junk?”

“There’s nothing weird about it.”

“Whatever you say. So the quarterback has the ball. Does he run with it or throw it? Those are the choices, right?”

“Right. Mostly he doesn’t run with it. He either throws it, or he hands it off to someone else to run with it,” I said, assessing how much cheese was still on my plate.

“Wait! You said there were two choices, run or throw. What’s this handing off business?”

“It’s just another way of running. The quarterback hands the ball to somebody else and lets him run.”

“Now you’re just making shit up.”

“No, it’s true, I swear. Now, the quarterback has to be careful not to get tackled, or knocked to the ground in the backfield, because he only has four chances to go ten yards. And if he gets tackled behind his own goal line then the other team scores two points.”

“You said there were only two ways to score! What’s this two points all about?” she said, setting down her glass a little harder than strictly necessary.

“Oh, I forgot, that’s called a safety. And a touchdown is really only worth six points. After you score a touchdown you get a chance to score one extra point by kicking the ball through the goal.”

“That’s not worth three points? You’re kicking it through the goal.”

I smiled and wondered how the hell I’d gotten into this. “Not when it’s an extra point.”

“Are there any other ways to score? Like, do you get four points if something falls out of the blimp and hits a player on the other side?”

“They don’t usually have a blimp.”

“Too bad. I like blimps.” She looked at the last bite of enchilada and pushed it away. “What happens next?”

“Whoever has the ball runs down the field towards the other team’s goal until he gets hit and knocked to the ground.”

“Okay, what happens then?”

“Nothing,” I said, eyeing her enchilada and deciding against it. “The play’s over. Everybody gets up and goes back to the huddle for the next play.”

“You just let him get up? You can’t kick him in the knee or something? He’s just going to run with the ball again if you don’t.”

“No!” The waiter looked over at us, and I lowered my voice. “It’s against the rules.”

“What rules?”

“The unsportsmanlike conduct rule.”

“How do they define unsportsmanlike?”

“It’s—” I stopped. I realized I’d never read a definition of it. “It’s whatever the referee says it is.”

My wife nodded. “Bribe the referee.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Blackmail him then.”

“You can’t do that either!”

My wife leaned back in the booth and crossed her arms. “You said football’s a tough game. I think my definition of a tough game and your definition of a tough game are different.”

I played with the straw in my Diet Coke for a moment and thought about all the years she’s lived with me without once stabbing me in the eye with an immersion blender, even though I’m sure I deserved it every day. She’s played a tough game.

“I may not watch the Stupid Bowl after all,” I said. “The games are usually lousy anyway. What do you want to do instead?”

“Let’s watch Downton Abbey.”

“Um, how about The Godfather?”

Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” she said, taking the last tortilla chip.

Predator?”

Predator—it’s a plan,” she said, smiling at the waiter as he set down the check.

Yeah, that’s probably closer to her definition of a tough game.

Hey, hands off the junk, dude.
Hey, hands off the junk, dude.

Photo by Damon J. Moritz

Photo from the 2005 Navy – Stanford college game and is in the Public Domain

Source: http://www.navy.mil/view_single.asp?id=28028