6.19.2006

5, 6: Pick Up Schticks

I'm aware that i have a schtick. (i'm also aware that "schtick" is a yiddish word with the original meaning of "a piece, or a bit," hence it's easy transition into "a comedic routine," with "piece" and "bit" serving the same purpose. I learned this by googling the word this morning, so as to know how to spell it correctly. Isn't language fun? Like, check out sometime how many common, daily phrases come from sailing...loose cannon, the bitter end, yar hoist the fo'c'sle to leeward ye mangy seadogs, etc. Amazing....)

Anyway, I'm aware that i have a schtick. Several schticks, actually. For instance, I've known for years that it's my job to go with Alison to faculty/graduate student parties and talk about poop. I learned early on that the best way answer to a question about Elizabethan literature was to say something along the lines of "man, i took a poop this morning, and it was like a foot long!" In my own graduate experience, since most of us were a lot less theoretically-minded and the poop thing can wear thin pretty quick, my schtick was to be at a party and yell "man, NO TALKING SHOP!" (not much of a shtick, but sheese, we're at a party, you know?)

What i want to get at here, though, is that i now live in Charleston, right? Turns out that here, i really don't need a schtick. Just walking around as myself in this town is enough. For example, i've noticed a particular conversation starter which i stopped using when i was 13 or 14 years old. That conversation starter is the question "Where do you go to church?" I stopped using that one back in the day when i starting meeting people that would look confused for a second and then say "uhhh....i don't go to church?"

Not so in Charleston, however. Therefore, "Yeah, right" is not the proper answer for the church question. And even with my serious answer for that question i still have to watch out: I told someone the other day that i identified as "a Friend, you know, the Quakers" and got a rather leery stare as a response. I can't win. (Already my politics has gotten me in a bit of trouble with some area bluegrassers. I went to try out for a band the other night and found that i'd been googled ahead of time with the resulting concern that i "might pull a dixie chicks on stage.")

So, what i'm sayin' is that here in Charleston i'm pretty much doing schtick just by opening my mouth. I figured this out, definatively, yesterday. here's what happened:

I attended my first Charleston Friends meeting yesterday morning. I'm of course still a little too brash and showy for most faithful quakers, but, on the whole, they are a tolerant bunch. They are patient and kind and are willing to allow me a space to grow up. So, i felt safe. I felt like i was among peers.

After the meeting ended i stood around and introduced myself to folks, which is a painful process in itself...

"So, you've just moved here?"
"Yes. Well, my wife and i moved here last year, but i didn't get here until last week."
"Oh. So, you were still in Tennessee?"
"Uh...well, actually, Alison and i moved here from Tennessee, yes, but i was coming from Massachusetts."
[sometimes the word Massachusetts is enough to get a sidelong glance]

"Oh, okay. What were you doing up there?"
"I was finishing up grad school."
"Oh! How nice! What were you studying?"
"Art."
"Oh! How nice! Are you a sculptor or a painter?"
"Uhhh....Well, i was in a furniture design program."
"OH! How nice! So you make beautiful furniture then!"
"Well, I didn't actually make any furniture there..."

[i start losing them at this point, but i've found there's no use in lying to simplify the details--better to go ahead and get the confusion out of the way at the outset]

"So, you don't make furniture?"
"Well, i make furniture, but i consider that my Craft. My Art is a little different."
"So, what is your art then?"
"Uhh.....uh......uh......people?"

At this point, ofcourse, they're gone. Most of the time i've just let it drop at "so you make beatiful furniture, then?" Yesterday, though, i felt safe. I gave the "people" answer, and the woman i was talking to said "what do you mean?" I still felt safe, so i gave me next safe-ish answer: "like social justice projects." (I figured at a Friends meeting....)

"Hmmm....social justice?....Like what?"

I've developed several ways of addressing this question, and yesterday i choose to go with "The Yes Men" answer. (For brevity, take a look at www.theyesmen.org.) So, i'm explaining, with increasing glee, about how The Yes Men created a fake media scandal about Union Carbide and the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, and i notice this woman looking increasingly scandalized. She starts twitching and stuff. Usually, people are enthralled with this story, but this woman starts looking around the room, adjusting her purse. She needed an exit. Bad.

I had mercy. I cut it short. Before i even got to the part about the PR disaster it caused Union Carbide in Europe and how the American wire never picked up the story because of widespread corruption, i just ended it with "yeah, it was really funny."

She didn't even take the time to appear relieved. With wiiiide vow-wels she simple said, "We-ull, We-ull just haaave to tawlk mo-uh." And was outta there, leaving one of those little puffs of cartoon smoke in her wake.

8 comments:

Matthew said...

Lucky stiffs. I wish I'd had the chance to 'google' you ahead of time.

Conseula said...

They googled you? That would never have occurred to me. People ask Brian and I all the time what church we attend. But of course they mean, because we're black, what AME or Baptist church do we attend. And when we reply that we're Catholic, the most patronizing look of pity settles into their eyes and the campaign to save us begins.

Walter said...

matt and Conseula:

hell, i google people all the time.

conseula (and i guess you too if you feel left out, matt)

because you're Catholic, or because you're BLACK Catholic? or is that just like double hell?

Conseula said...

black Catholics apparently don't occur in nature outisde of south Louisiana

It's the double hell of black Catholicism--clearly I'm going to hell for being Catholic and I can't be real black person (or so I've been told) unless I belong to a charismatic protestant faith

B said...

Walter, in memory of you introducing me to your mom as "This is B. She's a poop engineer," I'd like to share with you a poem I wrote about a month ago while watching a robin out my office window at work:

Little Sentinel

Wobble, wobble. Hop, Hop.
Pick, pick, pick, pick.
A ha! Gotcha. Mmm....

-- poop --

Hey, what's over there?
Swoop, swoop, swoop.
Checking out the scene,
resting on the roof line.

-- poop --

Watching the cars go by,
noticing the trees sway.
Right, then.
Swoop, swoop, land.

-- poop --

Hop, Hop. Pick, pick.
(silly mulch! get outta my way!)
..and...gotcha!


----
Matt and Conseula - there are black Catholics (and Catholics of every other variety) in St. Louis...but it's a VERY CATHOLIC town. Whole neighborhoods with statues of the Virgin Mary in the front flower beds and everything. As a southerner, I was in awe when I moved to St. Louis - I had no idea that the midwest was such a mecca for Catholics!

The Mom said...

B - I could have told you that. Both towns I lived in while growing up in Iowa were 90% Catholic.

Cute poem!

Funky Bean Head said...

Walter, this doesn't have much to do with anything, but I wanted to ask if you've seen the table saw that doesn't cut fingers off. You know.

Walter said...

i posted the above comment before i thought about it. i don't know who "funky beanhead" is and don't know why they would have chosen to put a comment about that saw on that post--complete with a link and everything.

in other words, i'm wondering if i didn't just post some sneaky advertisement. don't click on that link until we find out who this fartknocker is.