Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Buzz Off, Short Stuff

Buzz Off, Short Stuff
by Rob Watson

Life hardly ever gifts most of us with a clever thing to say, and the courage to say it, at exactly the moment the saying would be appropriate. For myself, I can recall many instances where I stood open mouthed and silent for want of one or the other gift. But then I have also learned that silence in such moments, while far from satisfying, constitutes wisdom. Wisdom, as well as clever sayings and courage in socially awkward situations, is not a usual skill of mine. So, silence can work.

Last night, Wife and I decided on pizza for supper and went to a Pizza Hut. We were seated in a booth with high seat backs. In the booth behind Wife was a tall blond woman and her three or four year old companion. I say companion because the adult showed no parenting inclination or skills what so ever. The child was doing pretty much as he pleased in entertaining himself.

First the child played with the curtain that covered his window and part of ours. sliding it back and forth, leaving our window uncovered and the light streaming in. Then he crawled under his table and cavorted in the isle beside his booth and ours. On the other side, beside his booth, was a stair leading down into the basement dining room. The stair was blocked by two swinging half doors, which seemed to be latched together, The child swung on these doors for the few inches of freedom allowed by that latch. As uncharitable as it is, I found myself wishing the child and the adult would gain a hard lesson when the latch let go and sent the child tumbling into the basement. Alas, the latch, though tested, did not fail.

Last of all, the child climbed onto the seat of his booth and began leaning over just behind Wife. After waiting a minute or so for the adult to get the child out of my wife's ear, I caught the child's eye. Looking directly at him I said "Buzz off short stuff."

Wife, for reasons beyond me, found that enormously funny. However her barely controlled seizure of laughter destroyed my ill humor and I began to laugh as well. It was clear to me, the child knew he had been spoken to, and had no idea what it meant. After a short delay, the adult stood. She seemed to know something had happened involving her companion, but she was unable to grasp the meaning of the continuing mirth on our part. She looked at me for several seconds as I laughed. She looked at Wife for several seconds, who also continued her fit of laughter, collected the child and left, never once having made any attempt to control the child.

This brought up the story of one of my other social "successes".

A few years before Wife and I met, I worked for a large technology company, in their training department. I taught field service personnel and customers how to operate, troubleshoot and repair half a dozen different computers and a few of their peripherals. The department manager was obsessed with controlling the expendature of funds. She was good with smaller numbers. Big numbers, not so much.

Two years prior, I had been charged with entertaining a potential new hire at lunch. We went to a nice restaurant, had steaks and a bottle of wine and spent a total of $25 or so. On getting the expense statement, Manager was not happy. I was sternly lectured on the evils of overspending. We hired the man and he was a great guy and an excellent instructor.

After two years in the doghouse, I was again directed to entertain a potential new hire. As Manager gave me my directions, she was careful to again remind me of the evils of over spending. The supervisor of us hardware instructors heard of my task and took it upon himself, unknown to Manager, to entertain the interviewee and a handful of the other instructors. My cubical mate begged off. I knew he was going to the burger joint next door. I asked him to bring me back his receipt.

The secretarial staff, of a dozen or so, occupied a large open area. As Manager was guiding her boss (a really nice guy) through that area, I stopped her. "Manager" says I, "you will be really proud of me." I handed her the Burger receipt for $1.89. The receipt had the company name boldly printed across the top. Manager examined the receipt for a second before a horrid expression enveloped her face and a horrified "Nooo, Rob, you didn't!!" escaped her mouth. (I had winked at Big Boss to let him know something was afoot) "But, Manager" says I, in a voice feigning surprise and ignorance, "you told me to not over spend." Big Boss seemed to catch onto the joke and smiled. Manager didn't catch on until Supervisor turned in his expense statement for six steak dinners at the nice restaurant.

I was never again asked to entertain a new hire for lunch. If you are over fifty, you will recognize the prices of the late 1970's. One practical joke every forty years or so, can't be too much, can it?

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