Postcard: Yellowstone National Park 11/17/2020
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June 23rd, 2020 at 8:46pm
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Corporate management bullshit
"Tell me the most interesting thing that's ever happened to you."
I needed the job, so I didn't roll my eyes - but I'm pretty sure the recruiter did. As the two of us had entered the office several minutes earlier, he announced this would be his final placement interview ever. He was retiring that afternoon. I represented his last hunted head and he was absolutely done giving a shit. This meeting served as the lone obligation on the calendar before his About Schmidt moment, where, sitting in his office, surrounded by banker's boxes, he would stare at the clock until 5pm.
What I told the interviewer had to be a certain kind of interesting. Pseudo-artisanal beef jerky from a Walgreen's interesting. Not actually interesting.
The interviewer - I got the job and later discovered he was neither a bad person nor a horrible boss, but he set state records, possibly even national ones, in the maintenance of psychological and emotional distance from his employees - leaned back in his chair with a look that said, Let's see what you do with that. I was either going to regale him with tales of allure and wonderment, or I would bore him and he'd have a reason not to hire me.
In the three or four seconds I had before one would officially consider the silence uncomfortable, I laughed to myself. Be careful what you ask, I thought. The answer may surprise you.
This meeting served as the lone obligation on the calendar before his About Schmidt moment.
Specifically, the question reminded me of my return from Europe after a year abroad. My uncle and I went golfing. After a few holes of chitchat and catching up, we were walking down a fairway when he asked, "What was the craziest thing you saw over there?"
Without skipping a beat, I said, "A guy fucking a chicken."
Walking past a sex shop in Amsterdam, I had seen the cover of a bestiality video in the window. Right there, in view of everyone on the street. My jaw dropped at the sight of a pale ugly dude holding a hen on his erection and - sadly - I never, ever forgot it. But it was cached in memory, ready to be served, and serve it I did. My uncle laughed so unexpectedly hard and fast that he had to wipe off his mustache.
Of course the difference was I could tell my uncle anything, but what I told the interviewer had to be a certain kind of interesting. Pseudo-artisanal beef jerky from a Walgreen's interesting. Quirky facial expressions on a romantic comedy poster interesting. Celebrities' attempts at oil painting interesting.
We suited up mostly against other universities, but - I have no idea how this came about - we also managed to play a French prison team.
Not actually interesting. Because my first reaction was not in any way appropriate for that interview - nor this blog. Which is a shame, because it was, without question, the most interesting thing that ever happened to me. Same for the next few things that came to mind.
I finally committed
And then a light came on. When I lived in France in 1995, I played soccer for a traveling team. We suited up mostly against other universities, but - I have no idea how this came about - we also managed to play a prison team. (As a point of reference, playing a Parisian prison team in soccer is like playing the L.A. County prison team in basketball.)
Do I even need to describe the shift in our outlook when we arrived at the concrete and asphalt institution? We went from meeting at a cafe in Paris - and if you haven't lived in Paris in the springtime, then just imagine what color, light, rebirth, and joy might feel like, with notes of alcohol and sundresses - to... a prison. May I skip inventive descriptions that amount to "depressing" and "gray"? May I omit the scenes of broken families shuffling through the exit into the weedy parking lot?
Since I was American, officials pulled me aside into a jail cell to interview me about my paperwork. I vous-ed and monsieur-ed the hell out of them and, once the interview ended, my French was complimented.
My friend Rémy had... decided to dye his hair pink. Because of this, I learned the word for drag queen.
Guards with automatic weapons cut a path through the general population milling about the main yard. I noticed furtive glances in our direction from the groups of threes and fours in hunched clumps.
We dressed in the prison weight room, which felt like the health spa of a cheap hotel from the early 80s.
Guards escorted us from there to the field, which was surrounded by tall cell blocks, four or five stories high. The groans, insults, and occasional catcalls rained down upon us. My friend Rémy had gone through a painful breakup the week before and had decided to dye his hair pink. Because of this, I learned the French word for drag queen.
It's "une dragqueen."
In the cell blocks, the prisoners watched us warm up for about ten minutes. Then the betting started. The call and response to place and confirm a bet had a distinct melody. We heard it a lot. If someone hit a nice shot or fluffed a pass during warmups, we would place a fake bet amongst ourselves using the same cadence.
It was the cleanest game I ever played.
The opening whistle blew. The prisoners let us score first, but we eventually lost 10-3 or 10-4. Whichever it was, that's not a soccer score.
It was the cleanest game I ever played. Corner kicks are an excellent gauge of a match's fair play. The attacking side is so close to scoring - accidental goals are not uncommon - that the defending side will do almost anything to prevent a goal. I loved corner kicks as a player, and they are exciting or nerve-wracking to me as a fan, but as anyone who has played during a roughly thirty-year window beginning in their mid teens will tell you, they can get ugly. I've had my feet stomped. I've been smacked in the balls, I've taken elbows to the face and head, and I've been tripped and then stepped on, kneed in the back, or run over. Once, right before the kick, I had a guy stick his finger up my ass - with my shorts as a prophylactic, thankfully. (It worked - I was hopelessly disoriented for a few minutes.) None of that went on in the prison game.
I lined up as a defender that day. I marked a guy who would later tell me:
- He played briefly in the French second division. (Think of this as the equivalent of AAA baseball.) I believe it. He torched me for two goals; one was humiliating and the spectators heaped well-deserved scorn upon me from the cells. It was like Messi against Getafe's back four.
- He was at the prison awaiting trial for forty-seven armed robberies. His lawyer was certain he could get him off for most, "but for three of them," he said, "I'm fucked."
It was cached in memory, ready to be served, and serve it I did.
The first thing the captain said at the reception afterward was, "Gentlemen, thank you for playing today. When are you coming back?" After we chatted, ate cookies and crackers, and drank soda, we helped them sneak every plastic bottle and piece of food we could into shoes, hoodies, and rolled up towels.
There were no hugs. There were no promises to write or hang out "on the outside." It was dude nods and handshakes and "good luck."
And that was it.
The interviewer looked at me and gave a slow, three-beat WASP chuckle. The recruiter consulted his watch.
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