What Next? Steps You Have To Walk Up?

, , , | Right | January 13, 2020

A political party regularly books some of our rooms for an evening meeting. Some of them stay until the end, but there’s always some small groups who leave earlier. I’m working the reception desk alone and so, when I go away from the desk to get a coffee, I turn the automatic doors off — they can still be easily opened from the inside.

I come back to the desk with my coffee to find that the foyer lights are off and a small group is gathered at the door panicking about being locked in. They’d tried the light switches to see if they opened the door but none of them had thought of just pushing the doors.

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Literally Pointing Out The Elephant In The Room

, , , , | Working | November 14, 2019

I’m the idiot in this story. First off, I must apologise for the long setup for this, but to really appreciate how I managed to make such a massive faux pas, you do need to understand what happens in one of the magic tricks I perform.

I’m a magician, specialising in performing shows for children aged four to eight years old, and have been performing professionally for several years. This particular effect has been in my repertoire for a good few years and does not require any helpers. The effect is based on the classic nursery rhyme Two Little Dickie Birds. In this effect, I have a plastic board on a small base which shows a wall with two birds on it. I use my wand to point to the birds in turn, getting the kids to join in. 

I start off by saying, “Two little dickie birds, sitting on the wall. One named…”

I point to the first bird with my wand, and the kids shout out, “Peter!”

I then say, “…and one named…”

I point to the second one, and the kids shout out, “Paul!”

At this point, I take out a large hankie and cover the picture. I lift up the hankie and picture together and say, “Fly away, Peter.” I then lower it, and raise it again and say, “Fly away, Paul.” I put it back on the table, but as I do so, I quickly turn the picture around. I lift off the hankie to reveal the other side of the picture. This shows the same wall as before, but no birds. In full magician mode, I announce, “And they’ve gone!” and look a little grumpy when the kids start announcing loudly that I cheated. I throw in a quick aside, “Shhh!”

I continue. I cover up the picture again, lift it up whilst covered, and mime it coming in to land like the two birds whilst saying, “Come back, Peter! Come back, Paul!” When I place it back down on the table, I quickly turn it all round again and lift up the hankie to reveal the original picture. “TADAAAA!” I say, as I strike the traditional pose of magician having performed an amazing trick, whilst the kids perform the traditional act of sensible people who have caught you out and will happily and excitedly let you know. The parents sitting around the group of children will happily perform the traditional act of enjoying their children being clever.

As all good comedy works on the Rule of Three, I perform this a second time, but this time I start off by saying, “Now, some of you, for some reason, think that I was cheating, but I wasn’t. To prove it, I’ll do it one more time. Watch carefully and pay attention.”

The second time through is almost identical to the first, except this time I am throwing in more feedback — “No, I didn’t turn it round” — and generally playing up getting cross with the audience. I should point out here that I only feign getting cross, and the amount of “hammy crossness” is directly proportional to what I know the kids can take for their age; I won’t ever go full ham for the really young.

The last time I perform it, I am acting really cross, and the kids are now extremely vocal in their enjoyment of yelling that I am cheating. “RIGHT!” I say, as I thwack my table with my wand. “Two little dickie birds–*thwack* “–sitting on the wall.*thwack* “One named…”

I point to Paul, but the kids say, “Peter.”

“Uh-uh-uh! It’s Paul! You’ve got to pay attention!” I say, in an almost sing-song voice. I continue.

“And one named…” and I point to Peter. The kids shout out the correct name this time.

I go through the whole “Fly Away” bit almost as before, but as I am about to say, “Fly away, Paul,” I stop mid-sentence and point to the back wall of the room, saying something to get the kids to turn around. They look over their shoulders, and I do the final turn around and reveal the empty wall as before. The kids, by now, are apoplectic in their insistence that I am cheating, so I tell them that the birds really have gone. 

“And do you know why the birds have flown away?” I turn around to reveal that there is now a cat on the wall. “It’s because the cat has chased them away!” At this point, I usually have to remind the kids to applaud the cat, because the look of awe and bafflement also has the effect of silencing them. The parents, on the other hand, are usually in fits of giggles at the reactions of their kids. Their eyes and mouths will generally form perfect circles; it’s like being watched by a room full of young bowling balls.

Okay, lengthy setup over. Hopefully. you’ll find it was worth it when you hear how I went so very badly wrong one time.

I was performing this in a smallish community hall. There were about twenty kids sat on the floor in front of me and a number of parents sat around the outside. Normally, I would be looking around at everybody, adults included, to make sure everyone was happy, and adjusting my performance accordingly. But this time I wasn’t doing any of that. The kids were all having fun, and all was going well. 

I started performing the Dickie Birds routine, and everything was as it always was, with the kids getting more and more vocal at me for cheating and me getting more and more comically frustrated at them for accusing me of cheating. Then, it came to the point when I needed to do the distraction to get the kids to look to the back of the room. But, because I hadn’t been looking around at the adults, I hadn’t noticed where I was going to be pointing.

“Fly away, Peter. Fly away… Look over there! An elephant!” I looked at where I was pointing…  

…straight into the eyes of the largest woman I had ever seen.

Now, I’m a big bloke. Far too big — medically, I’m morbidly obese. But this woman was twice my size. I didn’t know what to do. I knew if I was sat where she was, I would be really upset. My brain went into overdrive. The kids didn’t make any comment about who I was pointing at, so I daren’t say anything; otherwise, I would effectively be making them aware of the incredibly rude thing I had just said. 

So, I decided to just draw the kids’ eyes back to the front and then not look at any adults for the rest of the show. 

Well, that trick ended all right, and the rest of the show was okay. I was bracing myself, trying to decide what to say to the poor lady at the end. What if she hadn’t taken it as an insult, and my apologising made things worse? What if she was distraught and in tears? But I never found out as, by the time the show had ended, she had left. I got paid by the parents of the birthday child all right, and they never said anything. I didn’t get any comebacks, but to this day — some ten years later — I still worry that I caused severe embarrassment to this poor lady.

I still perform that effect today, but the distraction line has changed. Now, instead of getting people to look for an elephant, I point out Superman. After all, no one could be embarrassed about being described as Superman, surely? 

Unless, I suppose, they’ve seen Justice League

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You Shouldn’t Need To Lecture About This

, , | Friendly | November 8, 2019

(As I — female — and two guys lock up the room after the event we all attended is over, we chat a little, and the subject turns to university lecturers.)

Me: “I only had three female philosophy lecturers and I have been studying for seven terms.”

Guy: “Yeah, I couldn’t tell you if there’s a single female physics lecturer.”

Me: “Gee. I really hope one day it’ll be close to fifty-fifty.”

Guy: “Why?”

Me: *taken aback* “Uh… basic feminism?”

Guy: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Men and women are equal?”

Guy: “No, they’re not.”

Me: “Right. I’ll be off, then.”

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This Story Is Not Rated Adult

, , , | Working | June 10, 2019

(I work at a community center. All employees just got an email saying my boss’s boss is doing away with our age policy, which previously stated anyone under 12 needed an adult present. The boss’s boss felt this was age-based discrimination, so she has changed the policy so any child can be in our center at any time without an adult. I am shocked by the implications of this, so I email my boss with my questions; she is seldom around to see things for herself.)

My Email: “I just saw the new policy, and I am a bit confused. It sounds like this means any child can just be left at [Center] without any supervision at all. However, [Boss’s Boss] has always told us we are not parents and cannot act in a parental manner. So, what do we do? What if an eight-year-old is left here all day alone? What about a five-year-old? A toddler? A baby? I cannot possibly see us accepting a baby left alone unattended all day when we’re not to be babysitters. However, the way [Boss’s Boss] worded the policy makes it seem like it’s acceptable. Can you please clarify the new policy?”

My Boss’s Reply: “[My Name], in your job description it says you’re to ‘exert decision-making concerning the public and policy.’ Tell me what you would do in each of the situations you outlined, and I’ll tell you if you responded appropriately or not.”

(I have just been diagnosed with anxiety, and her email nearly sends me into a panic attack on the spot. I feel as if she is setting me up for failure and is waiting, expecting me to make mistakes she can document and hold against me. As a result, I don’t reply to her email. I figure I’ll just hope and pray that no young children get dumped at [Community Center] for me to deal with. About two weeks later, my boss is actually working with me at the center.)

Boss: “I noticed you never replied to my email.”

Me: “Yeah… I didn’t know what to say.”

Boss: “So, how would you respond in those situations?

Me: *as I feel my anxiety rise* “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”

Boss: “You’re the one who asked the question. You must have some kind of answer.”

Me: “I don’t know. The policy says one thing, but common sense says something totally different. That’s why I was asking you for clarification!”

Boss: *frowns* “You’re going to be expected to make decisions. It’s part of your job description. Come on, you can give me an answer. What would you do if someone left a toddler here?”

Me: “I don’t know! [Boss’s Boss] has written up people for not following policy before. So, if policy says kids of any age can be left here without an adult, then that’s policy and [Boss’s Boss] expects us to follow it. But it contradicts us being parents, and it contradicts common sense, so I don’t know what to do. That’s why I asked you.” *trying not to hyperventilate*

Boss: “Woah, woah. Calm down, [My Name.] If there’s a baby walking around in a diaper and can’t even help themselves to the toilet, then that’s an abandoned child and we can call the police.”

(I am thinking: “Finally! She gives me an answer!”)

Me: “Okay.”

Boss: “But if it’s an older kid who is behaving themselves? They’re allowed to be here.”

Me: “Even if they’re only five years old?”

Boss: *shrug, gives me a look that says she’s very uncertain* “If they’re behaving themselves.”

(Once word got out that we allowed children to be at [Center] without parents, we became a dumping ground for parents who didn’t want to pay for babysitters. This included families with three to six young children who would spend hours terrorizing each other. One family regularly dropped off all five of their boys who brought their school bullying to our center. It was a nightmare. I later looked up my boss’s job description. One part of it was to explain policy to staff and to the public.)

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The Key Is To Check The Key

, , , | Working | January 16, 2019

Many years ago I was working at a city-owned community recreation center. As I was often the first one to enter the building each morning, I had a key to the front entrance and the access code to call to have the alarm disabled. One day I unlocked the door, called the alarm company, and then started to put my keys away, only to realize I’d just let myself in with my own house key!

My next call was to the city maintenance department to report what had happened. The locksmith they sent told us that the tumblers in the lock were so worn that any key of the same make would have unlocked that door, and it was a good thing an authorized employee had been the one who discovered it rather than someone with no reason to be entering the building!

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