Friday, February 7, 2014

Competence Game

It bothers me that I lack competence.

I wish I was one of those guys that could be trusted to draw up blueprints, or could stab a map confidently with one finger and say "There." Then I would double tap the spot to show just how sure I was. 

But instead, I find myself living under a carefully built layer of apparent intelligence.

I know about knowledge, but I don't have knowledge.

I've always managed to fake it somehow, though.

In fact, in many of the classrooms I have worked, I was the go-to guy for all questions requiring a high level of know-how, especially technical know-how.

Sorry guys, I am having some technical issues. I have to use a different, unfamiliar drawing program to finish this post.

Of course, I was a fraud. I had a secret competent friend I would call when no one was looking.

 Like when my poor father always tried to help me with my geometry homework.
He'd walk in the door, barely lay his keys down, and get a greeting of:

I guess I have trouble paying attention to a lot of things in general.

Just the other day, I forgot to pay attention to how much ice was on the sidewalk, and I lost Amy Ting for a second.

She managed to heave herself back to standing by using first my knee, and then one of my belt loops, as anchor points.

It was plain stupid of me to let her walk without support. Amy is unsteady on her feet in good times. When she approaches a curb less then half an inch high, she hesitates forever.

"Do you need some help?" I ask.

"I'm coming, I 'm coming." She waves me away.

But she doesn't move. Minutes pass, and she might even tentatively dip one toe onto the street beneath her, but she quickly pulls it back. "All right," she tells herself, breathing hard. "I can do dis, I can do it." 

The day after she slipped on the ice, Amy came in limping. She saw me down the hall and yelled out, "Hello there, savior! Hello, strong one!"

I was confused.

It turned out that she had dubbed me "Savior" not because I had saved her from falling, because I so obviously hadn't, but because I had written up an accident/incident form for her to take home.

"Thank you so much for the yellow paper, strong one. It was so nice of you."

Now, at the end of every day, I wait just by the door, my arm cocked out expectantly. After a long, long while, she arrives, slips her arm around my own, and says, "ready, savior."

I escort her across the snowy ground to her waiting cab; our steps hesitant, clumsy, like confused and nervous lovers just learning to walk.

Now I do currently know a competent man. Or I guess I should say, I am often summoned by a competent man.

Skip is the dishwasher at the college cafeteria. He is always telling me to c'mere and see things.
Sometimes, it's to c'mere and see the president of the school as she gets into her little Volvo and drives away.

"Guess how old she is?" he always asks me. I don't know. She looks oldish and has heels on. I think there's hair in the equation.

But I never throw out a guess.

"Seventy-five!! You believe that?? Still looking pretty good, huh?" At this point, he usually claps me on the back or just smiles.

He likes to have me c'mere and see the compost bucket, as it gets fuller and smellier. Or a cage down the back hall with a sign on it that says "DON'T BLOCK".

"Shitheads are always blocking it," he tells me with disgust.

When I prepare the student's lunches, I am parked directly outside the door that leads into the kitchen. This gives Skip and I a lot of time together.

One day, Skip called me over to see the garbage disposal nestled at the bottom of a deep steel sink.
"I call it the Terminator," he said proudly. "This thing actually ate the old garbage disposal. Seriously. We had the parts from the old one on the ledge there, and BOOM! They fell right in. The Terminator ground'em up to nothing."

I could tell Skip loved the Terminator and wanted me to say something, but I couldn't think of anything.

If it was a baby, or a new truck, well, then there was a script to work from-'Awww cute' or 'Maaan, horsepower'-but with a garbage disposal, there wasn't a script. It was just two guys staring at a loud hole, one of them smiling.

After awhile, I nervously giggled out, "Man, we don't even have a garbage disposal at our house."

He squinted at me for a long time, taking in the fullness of my measure, eyeballing the cut of my jib.

Several days later, Skip challenged me to produce a better pulled pork then the one being served by the cafeteria that afternoon.

I was smacking the bottom of the ranch dressing to get at least a few gobbets onto a student's salad.

"It's pretty good stuff, is it?" I asked Skip absently.

That was his cue.

"C'mere,just c'mere."

I followed him back through towers of dirty dishes.

Skip pulled a black serving bin off of a cart, reached into the bottom of it, and lifted an orangey red piece of meat up to me.

"Don't believe me? Try it." His hand holding the pulled pork was slick with soap bubbles and dishwater; the many black hairs flattened into wet swirls.

Maybe it was the best pulled pork in the world.

I felt that weakness in me, that instinctive surrender to a competent voice.
Engine flush? Um, sure.
Take these pills? Well, OK.
Eat this pork?
Eat it?

God help me, I did.



  1. well, it tasted like canned chicken and the fingers of men.

  2. Once again, Fred and I read this aloud to one another and laughed and laughed. You give us so much joy.

    1. Thank you Mandy! That is high praise and I am very grateful for it

  3. I have been having fun helping my son with his computer science at college. Lately its been assembly language and a few mainframe issues. I wonder how much I wiLL get to help him when he is out in the real world as a computer scientist.

    1. Hi esb! did he pay attention while you were helping him or did he daydream about girls?

    2. He was eXtremely tired during one session and then he had weekend duty which interferred, but he did get a 100 on the item that the TA said he would get an F but I had also figured out the more streamlined tiny code to handle a number conversion of any size and how to multiply by 10 in binary, so it was cool. I am hoping to learn more things about mainframe computing during this semester and virtual operating systems. But things are getting busier with the printing business and the mopping is always there.

    3. I forgot to ask why you had been away from writing, missed you. I have been overwhelmed with too many things lately and nothing seems to be interesting enough to blog, not so much of a writers block but more like nothing reaLLy fits.

    4. Oh, I got reaLLy addicted to Killer Sudoku, Greater Than Sudoku, and GT Killer Sudoku, which are absolutely fabulous time consumers.

  4. I love your dad. :-)

  5. I have that problem too. When my husband starts to explain how stuff works (he starts with the big bang) my mind goes on holiday.
    I actually watch it leave with some other part of my brain screaming at it to come back and pay attention but it's mostly no use - when it's made up it's mind to fuck off there's no stopping it.

    1. Oh, hahaha and...
      that Skip - what a card! and...
      best picture - last one :)

  6. I have a friend who can walk up to a map and "BANG" point out a place with absolute accuracy. She also always knows where true North is regardless of being in or out-of-doors, the time of day, etc. I think she must have an organic compass neuro-wired in her brain. She will always ask for a window seat when she flies and takes a map with her so she can follow the route overland. What must that be like, I wonder? I've spent my entire life lost to some degree or other, geographically and metaphysically! NEOCLEO