Our students have been doing some cleaning at a local software design company.
The place has one of those free range office setups, where everyone scoots about on wheelie chairs and there is nowhere to hide. Most of the employees are young beardy guys in dark, fatigued jeans and ironically tight polo shirts. They speak of Netflix while fussing over the espresso machine.
Every day, while I sit in their kitchen and pretend to be teaching my students how to do things, all the software people gather in a giant circle and pass a plastic Viking helmet around.
When it is your turn to hold the helmet, you are supposed to say your name, what you are currently working on, and any other little tidbits you want to throw in.
One lady mentioned Subway was having a two-for-one deal.
Someone else asked that we take a moment to irradiate his distant, dying grandmother with well-intentioned thinking.
Some people grip the hat awkwardly, just by the tip of one horn, as if they want to be as far from it as possible.
Others turn it over and over again in their sweaty, nervous hands.
Nobody ever puts the Viking helmet on their head. I wonder if that is a right reserved for the company president alone. I hope to be here on that day, when he strides proudly into the center of the workforce he has assembled, and holds his be-horned head aloft while issuing grand proclamations.
They can all see me, hunched over their lunch table and scribbling away, glancing up frequently at them with a naked longing to come and join their merry band. But no one bids me dance.
What could I offer a modern, youthful software design company anyhows?
Our class recently saw the Robert De Niro film The Intern; it was the worst movie I've seen since Best of Me, the Nicholas Sparks floating nipple extravaganza we were dragged to last year.
The Intern features De Niro as a senior citizen who teaches the hip youngsters at a fashion design start-up how to have some old school class, and by doing so, he saves the entire galaxy.
Not sure about the ending, actually.
The dialogue became so atrocious after awhile that I used the congealed butter from my cold popcorn to stop up my ears.
I do remember Anne Hathaway sobbing and telling rickety old Bob that he was her bestest friend. Then they got all giggly with peppermint schnapps and slept together chastely while Spartacus played on their hotel television for the last forty-five minutes of the movie.
I shouldn't complain, of course.
Most people do not get paid to go to the movies, or the apple orchard, or Steak'n'Shake. But after a time, some of these wondrous freedoms begin to stink like death.
My wife calls me while I'm pushing back my cuticles on company time.
There is a long pause while the phone in my hand grows to the size of a 5-story tombstone and topples down upon my head.
"Am I the father?" I ask, from a lack of anything better to say.
She takes a moment to determine whether or not I might be joking.
I suffer from a particular conversational tic; I'll say whatever comes into my head and watch to see how it lands. If it meets with approval, then you're damn right I meant it; if it sparks anger or repulsion, then I was only joking ha ha let us all laugh together.
I'm constantly backpedaling from my own statements, as if everything I say could be followed with an or not? in parentheses.
"No, it's Thomas the electrician." She thinks she is making a sarcastic bit of piffle, but already I am scouring the internet for evidence of this cuckolding tradesman, desperate to see if his jawline still cleaves tightly to the bone or sags away in a wrinkly bag of aging wishes.
I can make jokes but I cannot take them.
"It's you, silly. You're the father."
What does a family with four children look like?
A collapsing star swirling inevitably towards the event horizon of a hungry black hole?
Tired people hating each other over a Bloomin' Onion at Outback?
"What do you think?" she asks me. "You don't have to act overjoyed or anything. Its kind of a shock to me too."
Grateful that she has opened the door to a truthful expression of feelings, I begin to cry and suck my thumb.
Babies are wonderful things; terrifying and wonderful.
They are wailing agents of change.
Anytime you hear of one coming and you figure you had something to do with it, you can't help but shake in your boots.
I get off the phone and stare at the circle of mumbling programmers.
"Pass me that warrior's helm," I bellow, "for I am a fourth time virile!"
Yet not a single one of those young bucks would hand Daddy the hat.