Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Secret Ambition

The teenager and I were driving around doing errands today and out of the blue he said to me, “You know what I think is the worst job in the world? Tour Guide.”

I was absolutely dumbstruck. “Tour Guide? Is the worst? Not Garbage Man?”

“Garbage Man?” he said. “You get to ride around hanging off a truck!”

I don’t care if my kid thinks sanitation work is cool, but I took it as a personal affront that he thinks so little of Tour Guides. “What’s so bad about them?” I asked.

“They just talk and talk and no one cares about what they have to say. They just try to come off sounding like a big smarty-pants.”

Aside from being a professional doubles player, Tour Guide is my dream job. It’s the one thing I volunteer for regularly for the PTA – taking prospective parents on a tour of the elementary school. We have a complex magnet school system in our district, so giving a tour requires a lot of explaining. It’s taken me years, but I’ve nearly perfected the art of walking and talking at the same time; sometimes I can even walk and talk and field questions. The whole operation is not as easy as it looks and I take a kind of sick pride in it. I’ll be blunt: It’s one of my favorite things in the world to do.

Just the other day, I toured a woman and her son and when we got to the Science Lab she stopped in front of a display of small posters that seemed to have been created by the CDC. “Those are up there because the Science teacher offers a class on Infectious Diseases,” I explained. (I was standing still at the time, but she was still impressed.)

“I’m an epidemiologist,” she confided.

“Oh my God!” I blurted. “I’m a germaphobe!”

I don’t think she really understood at that moment that even more than giving tours, would I love to add her to my arsenal of personal resources – people that I can call upon to talk me off the ledge during a Swine Flu media melee or when a note comes home from camp that a child has just contracted viral meningitis.

As my son and I drove, I quickly I replayed my entire hour-long interaction with her, trying to see it through my son’s eyes – trying to assess whether I was just being an ambulating know-it-all. I know I certainly turned on the charm full blast when she told me her profession; did that make me come off better, or worse?

I took a stand with my son and defended myself. “I give school tours and I think people are really interested in what I have to say.”

He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head. Not so much in agreement. More like the way you’d react to a three-year-old talking about her invisible friend. He all but patted me on the head; a pat that would have said, “Poor delusional you.”

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