Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Today's Rave: Random Stories
My boss has a gift for storytelling, and he hones his craft by telling stories about himself, the same ones over and over and over again. I am so lucky and happy to have this job that I don't mind one bit. "You know, years ago," he'll begin. His remarks are always a valuable lesson in business or human nature or how to be a mensch. Often he'll preface them with something like "You know, years ago, when I first started this practice . . ." or "It was November of 1963 . . . " and off we go.
You know those word ladder puzzles where you change one letter at a time to turn one word into another word? My boss plays a similar game with ideas, even though he doesn't realize it. He begins with one thought, and little by little, with no real conscious understanding of what he is doing, ends up somewhere else. And by "somewhere else," I mean "light years away from where he started."
We are in a staff meeting to discuss the progress of various audits. My boss looks at the agenda and notices that we will be discussing the Smith case. The file number is 1812. He inhales deeply and leans back in his chair. He matches up the fingertips of each hand and brings them to his lips. Looking at the ceiling and then off to the corner of the room, he is lost in thought. I check my watch.
"1812, 1812. Yes. Isn’t that interesting. That reminds me of history class my sophomore year in high school. The War of 1812. Do you like classical music? You ever hear that piece? I think it's Tchaikovsky. Or is it Stravinsky? No. <long pause> Stravinsky wrote 'The Firebird.' I think that's a ballet. I don't know anything about ballet. <long pause> I hate ballet. "
(I nod with understanding. It's not for everyone.)
"Where was I?
(I point to the client file. Staff meeting. Case status.)
"Right. The War of 1812 Overture? The one where the cannons go off. What was up with that? Anyway, I heard this piece once at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. Back in the day. You know, years ago, they used to have classical music concerts. God. This would have been--wait, how old are you?"
(I dutifully tell him. For the third time. Today.)
"Right. Well, this would have been the year you were born. 1963. I was in middle school. And my school, Herbert Hoover Middle School, you know it? This was back when it was still called 'Junior High.' Stop me if I've told you this before."
(I would never.)
"In any event. See what I did there?"
(So proud. I taught him that.)
"We were kids in junior high--excuse me--middle school. Whatever. And we would come downtown for these events the Symphony would do, Concerts for Kids."
(I try to contribute to the narrative.) "They still have those, my kids go all the time."
Undeterred, he continues.
"Years ago, God, I guess it would be . . . . <very long pause> . . . . I guess twenty years now. Has it really been twenty years? There was this promoter by the name of Bill Graham. Big deal in the music industry, brought lots of bands to San Francisco, worked almost exclusively with the Grateful Dead. You know that band?"
(Yes. Vaguely familiar.)
"Yeah, I remember when I saw them at the Cow Palace. What a great name for a concert venue, huh? The Cow Palace? Remind me to tell you the story behind that one some time."
"So this was in . . . <longest pause so far> . . . 1970. Forty years ago. More.”
He stops and smiles wistfully. Helplessly. "Long time ago, huh."
I smile too. Encouragingly. But I can't resist the impulse and I tap my watch with my pencil. Ever so slightly. Tick-tock.
He continues to smile. And looks down at the files in front of him.
"Okay. I guess we should get started."
I have hurt his feelings. I want to make it right. Before I turn to my spreadsheet, amid the rustling of papers, I ask him, “What should we do about lunch?” He smiles and waves his hand airily. “Let’s get some sandwiches and go over some stuff.” I nod. He’s appeased. More stories at noon.
Posted by Mina Klonopina at 9:54 PM