“That’s Not My Catchphrase”

At the office last week, my coworker Ricky stepped into the cubicle we like to call the Greenhouse (because one wall is a giant window to the outside and the temperature fluctuates wildly) and announced he had an interview with a game show.

“One of my friends won eight thousand dollars,” he said, “and he recommended me.”

I had never heard of Let’s Ask America, a gameshow whose contestants Skype in from the comfort of their living rooms. The website had some catchy graphics and a tab labeled “BE A CONTESTANT.” How hard could it be, I asked myself in a completely rhetorical manner. So I filled out the form.

Beyond the usual First Name/Last Name/Most Embarrassing Story, it asked a few questions obviously geared towards puzzling out an applicant’s personality. At one point, the form stated, “We’re looking for contestants who are very opinionated. If this is you, give an example of one such opinion.” Though I follow politics, I’m incapable of articulation and am trying to keep my write-in candidate a surprise until November. So instead, I wrote:

“I think that all children should be given imaginary swords.”

I went on to back up that assertion with cold hard facts.

Later that day I got a call from the casting agency who handled application intake. After a five minute conversation where the screener accused me of having no crazy and made me dance a cappella on Skype, I progressed to the next round.

Before my second and most important interview, I was talking to a friend about how to best display energy on camera. I tried very hard to come up with a catch phrase that would define me to the interviewer, but each one I spoke sounded either trite (“CLICK CLICK BOO YEAH”) or baffling (“GHOST CAT STRKE!”). I decided to abandon the idea.

My interview began with three Let’s Ask America style questions. The second and third I did quite well on. However, during the first I was still searching for my on-camera footing and a comfortable personality. After I answered correctly, I hesitated in celebration because I didn’t know which reaction route to go. Crazy or witty? High energy or cool guy.”

“Okay,” the interviewer cut in. “After the next question I want you to try -”

Suddenly I was gripped with inspiration and shouted with uncertainty, “BRING ON THE…MONEY!”

I quickly followed that up with, “That’s not my catchphrase. Please don’t write that down.”

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A Controversial Gamesmith

Five weeks into my new job, I’m beginning to deduce my strengths and weaknesses. For instance, weakness: I don’t know what I’m supposed to be working on most days. Strength: I have funny asides during staff meetings.

Weakness: Many days I forget to bring my lunch. Strength: I create new games.

We have Ozone club twice a week; middle and high school campers from War Eagle gather for an hour and a half to play games and review the gospel of Luke. There is a document that floats around our office labeled Game Gallery, which lists forty or so possible group games to fill the time at club.

Not I, I say.

My co-director has been gracious enough to let me make up one game a week; these are extravagantly hit or miss. I can’t abide normalcy. I makes me feel like everyone else.

Reverse Charades and Animal Kingdom were both hits, though I’ve been told they bear resemblance to pre-existing games. So sue me, Samsung says. Not so with Stickman Kickball. That was completely original and inspired great ambivalence. Kickball without the use of joints like knees and elbows, it was fun for the few who played infield and really fun for the handful who cheated.

A few games halfway worked; most often these were the ones geared towards creation. Silent Art Gallery and Six Word Art Gallery were well received during the drawing/writing aspect but fumbled with presentation. In these, our middle schoolers had to silently work together to draw a pre-determined scene; a few days later, the high schoolers had to pick one of those works and write a six word story about it. Though share time was awkward, it did result in some abstract gems from students I would’ve never suspected.

“Slowly, leave something that is lost,” and “Gazing serpent gazes at what was” were both written about a dinosaur fighting an army tank.

There are complete duds, like Chinpenny Underwear Dodgeball, which of course requires no explanation. I changed the rules so many times during play that we finished playing a game called the Chinpenny Olympics. Chinpenny has now become a buzzword in staff meetings for ideas that won’t fly.

When I was at camp this summer, I was given a family group, or small group of counselors to look after. Most family groups revolve around food, watching sports or making pottery. Horrified at being like everyone else, I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons with my group. However, the complicated system discourages new and casual players. So as I supervised the waterfront, I wrote an entirely new system of rules that did away with any statistics or mechanics I thought extraneous. The end product was different enough that I renamed it Skygarden.

We played six sessions over the summer; during a change-over session when old counselors went home and new counselors arrived, I was approached by players asking for a good death. Eventually their characters died while fighting off a troll horde over an endless chasm.

Skygarden remains my most successful invention as the participants recently approached me about recording the rules so they could play with their roommates and fraternity brothers. I wrote it all down one morning while Holly was sleeping.

You can download the Skygarden Manual free because I’m a swell guy.

Making New Friends

As a part of my new job with Ozone, I’ve been asked to take on a mentor. Instead of partnering with a camper I knew, I took a file off the requests pile. That’s how I found my roommate Thomas Tyler Bennet during my freshman year of college. The only time we fought was when I unjustly accused him of stealing my fingernail clippers in a hand written letter.

My new mentee is in fourth grade and likes recess kickball but not me, exactly. We went to breakfast on Friday at Krispy Kreme Donuts. I discussed my plan for our Saturday night then asked his opinion. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think I’d rather hang out with my friends.”

Roasted.

Later, driving him to his elementary school, I asked, “How many questions do you think I’ve asked this morning?”

“Three hundred,” he said. “…thousand.”

I spent the rest of that day at an interesting seminar with a coworker. Over lunch, I recounted my morning, looking for advice.

“Did you ever ask what he wanted to do?” she replied.

That had never occurred to me. Working at a summer camp inflates an ego. I had assumed that my very presence would thrill and surprise. However, as my coworker explained, I would have to try harder.

On Monday I went to his football game. In fourth grade the most a coach can hope for is for a running back to make the sidelines and turn up field. There were two passes, both of them extra points because that’s considered going for two.

My mentee had contain as a cornerback and made one great tackle in the shortened game. I congratulated him afterwards while I helped his mom hand out Yoo-Hoo’s. I didn’t ask any questions and although he only said, “Thanks,” he seemed happy I was there.

Haven’t lost my touch!

A Six Word Story…At the End

In my new job description with War Eagle, I am somewhat involved in arts programing for the year round ministry. Fulfilling this role, I attended the day-long seminar, “Integrating Arts in the Classroom.”

The seminar was aimed at area artists who occasionally pinch hit in classes, teaching dance to propagate greater understanding of geology. It works, in some ways. I sat at a table with a few employees of Theater Squared, the stage company that is putting on the comedy Noises Off.

“I loved Noises Off,” I said. “Are the actors coming today?”

“I was one of the actors,” said the woman across from me.

“And you were so funny!”

To kick off the seminar, we were asked to each pick a postcard that best represented us as a Teaching Artist, the official title for all attendees. A conference table was covered in postcards featuring great and classic paintings. I picked M.C. Escher’s Castle in the Sky because it wasn’t abstract and I like the idea of a flying castle.

We were then directed to find someone with a similar postcard. I found a woman with another Escher sketching, one depicting small humans building a tower.

The seminar head said, “Now explain how the picture represents you as a teaching artist.” I said that I liked castles and didn’t like abstraction. She said, “These people represent the many facades of my teaching face.”

I was in over my head.

The day passes slowly and morphed into a long segment on classroom management, for which Camp is a surprisingly good foundation. Lunch was way too long.

After seven hours, I began to pack my bag before the seminarian announced one final activity. “Remember your postcards?” she asked. “Each of you must write a six word story that encompasses both your postcard and what you have learned today.”

Oh no, I thought. How do I turn a floating castle into arts integration? However, the seminarian said to write what you feel, so I scribbled:

“CAUTION TORTOISE: I SUMMON A CASTLE!”

To my horror, we were ordered to stand in a circle holding our postcards outward. “I’m going to play some music,” the seminarian began. “I want you to take turns reading your six word story together, building a great poem of learning.” I began to hyperventilate. “When I believe a segment of great finality has been spoken,” she continued. “Then I will stop the music.”

The woman next to me volunteered. The karaoke Enya began. “Circles twirl in the learning light.”

The movement popcorned.

“Hope truth warmth through true understanding.”

“First in darkness – now acceptance/freedom.”

“Paths straight; possibilities are a mystery.”

I tried to bleed into the background, but eventually we reached an unending silence. The seminarian had yet to find a true ending. Summoning the greatest courage, I uttered a six word story I had been slamming together in my mind.

” ‘UNIVERSES COLLIDE!’ HE SAID RIDING SIDESADDLE.”

I meant this as a reference to the figure on the tortoise. However, bewildered silence followed. Until the music stopped.

“I think we’re finished here,” the seminarian said and nodded the ending.

Highs and Lows of Cutting Edge Romance

To celebrate a few successful first weeks of work, I took Holly on a date last night. Before we married, I was very good at surprises – Holly could never anticipate my romantic strategy. It was like I was producing Lost. However, now that we’re married, Holly is harder and harder to ambush.

Actually, now that we’re married, Holly has admitted that many of the things that I thought were surprises, she really predicted. Like my proposal.

What’s worse is that Holly has begun to Nancy Drew my gifts. One of my failings as a double knot spy is that I cannot lie. So when Holly says, “Where are we going? Hammondtree’s? Noodle’s? Taste of Thai? It’s Taste of Thai, isn’t it? I can tell because you can’t stop smiling.”

We’ve been watching Big Brother at night. Holly grew up with one of the contestants so she has a vested interest. What I do for my wife, I thought as Holly first turned it on. And while I first understood it to be a sleazy reality show, Big Brother has become a pseudo-social Hunger Games. There are quality players and there are Ken dolls, but observing such self-centered mind games inspired me.

To protect my date plans from Holly, I Inceptioned her. Reading on the couch one night, I began to ask questions about superheroes – why she likes some but not others. Eventually she investigated. “Why are you asking me this?” she asked. “Are we going to see Spiderman? We are, aren’t we?”

I only smiled.

After dinner on Friday we walked though downtown Fayetteville, sifting through end-of-the-summer sales and looking for a questionable Levi retailer named E-Denim. After we finally gave up on finding good jeans, Holly said, “It’s about time to go to the theater.”

And I said, “Where we’re going we don’t need theaters,” which was a bad response because I had to explain my reference and we were going to a live play, which took place in a theater. After I finished Holly said, “Oh. That was kind of funny.”

Proudly I lead her to the Walton Arts Center and the opening night of Noises Off, a slapstick comedy that our local and professional theater put on. As we walked in, Holly looked around at all the hoopla surrounding the opening night festivities.

“You did all that to surprise me?” she asked in wonder.

I happily said yes.

“I thought we were going to a movie,” she continued. “Now I’m at a black tie event in a tee shirt.”

I looked around. The women were in glimmering dresses of green and black. Men wore suits with power ties and haughty ascots. The ushers wore all black and their shoes shined like birthday balloons.

Holly and I both wore jeans and short sleeves that read, “FAYETTECHILL.”

“Oh,” I said, searching desperately for the good. “But no one will see us because our seats are in the very back.”