Curse of the Goodest

August 31, 2009

Photo by Drurydrama

Photo by Drurydrama

Dear Stella,

Work is kicking my ass. My manager likes me, and so she gives me more hours, presumably so I can make more money, though so far the tips at Hotel Bar are nothing to write home about (yesterday I took home seven dollars in cash tips.)

This kind of reward reminds me of an incident in elementary school. My music teacher held a contest: the student who was the most “good” (not good at music, but well-behaved) would get a special prize having something to do with the up and coming student play.

An aspiring thesbian, I wanted that reward. I don’t remember anything about what we actually did in music class, but I do remember the effort I extended to sit up straight, to not fidget, to raise my hand before speaking, and to meet Mr. Music Teacher’s eyes with an eager-to-please look.

I won!

My reward was that I got to shake the tambourine in the “band” that accompanied the play.

The fact that my band-mates were all from the special-ed class was the not the issue for me. Cross-legged on the floor in the corner with my new friends, I rattled my tambourine with tears in my eyes as my classmates who had fidgeted and talked out of turn in class starred in their elementary school debuts.

I want to tell my manager, “Please, if you like my work, the best thing you can do is make me do less of it. And don’t make me rattle any tambourines.”

Do you think she’ll understand?


Photo by Gabriela Camerotti"

Photo by Gabriela Camerotti

Dear Stella,

When floundering in a totally new work world that is way over your head, perhaps these 4 Steps to Becoming an Expert from The Ivory Tower can help.

1. Draw a circle around your field of research

When you are overwhelmed by everything you can’t control, focus on what you can. It’s going to be awhile before you grasp the complex closing system or before you can seamlessly tend bar, cocktail tables, and serve at the restaurant—all at the same time. You might feel like there is an endless sea of information sporting a very distant horizon line. So draw a circle. Take a breath, and draw a circle around what is within your reach.

You know how dangerous the library was when you were doing research for your dissertation? One book led to another, which led to another, which led to a whole host of new books that you should read, each with their own daunting bibliographies of new books to read, before you could write anything? Better, instead, to draw a circle around the research and set limits, like, say, deciding to write a dissertation whose bibliography consists only of books on your bookshelf (an added bonus: no late fees!) or, if your bookshelves are filled with chick lit and erotica, perhaps using only articles and excerpts from a recent teaching anthology.

These helpful tips are useful now, at Hotel Bar. You don’t need to know everything about beer and wine, just the fourteen bottled beers, twelve draught beers, and fifteen wines on this bar’s shelf. That’s manageable, right? And since you’ll probably never taste most of them yourself, this is a good place to utilize your bullshitting and your research skills. Google the products, see how someone else describes them, adopt this language as your own, add emphasis on key words like “crisp” or “full-bodied,” and you’re good to go!

2. Set clear, manageable goals

You don’t have to know how to do everything all at once. It would help; it would make you cry less; but go easy on yourself. Tonight, for example, you don’t have to know where to fetch all the sauces in the kitchen (why don’t they put them in one place, by the way?), and you can even get away with not knowing how to serve a bottle of wine “fine dining style.” Just focus on one thing at a time. Tonight, focus on using your “bartender voice,” the one you practiced in the car for hours with Dawn the other day. Say over and over, until it feels natural and your voice doesn’t squeak, “What can I get for you?” and “Would you like to start a tab?” and “I’ll just need your name and room number to get that started for you.” You can do it; really, you can.

3. Learn to love the Panopticon

There may not be three managers hovering around you like flies on shit, like at The All American, but don’t think they’re not watching you. There they are, in the camera above the bar, or there, in the camera in the break room. They may not be watching right now, but they could be. You’ll never know. That’s the point, silly. The sooner you let them inside—you know what I mean, deep inside—the better off you’ll be. So as you’re about to flip that bottle to trick the automatic shut-off because you know that wasn’t a real four-count, think again. What would the manager deep within you say about that little override attempt?

4. Embrace humiliation

“I can endure any amount of humiliation if it means finishing this degree.” Remember those key words before the dissertation defense? The gods listened and delivered. Now, you can be thankful for that humiliating experience because you are an Expert at Enduring Humiliation, an excellent quality in a new bartender at Hotel Bar.

Because let’s face it, you look like a dork. Bartenders are supposed to be cool, and you have managed to find the one job (nope that’s two if you count the All American) whose uniform completely de-cools you. But it’s okay, you can do this. Remember—bartending is a performance. It may not be the edgy rock performance you were hoping to put on, but everyone loves a clown, right?


My dearest Stephanie,

Last night, my manager called me a sissy!

That is such bullshit!

It all started when Blueberry Stoli came in for his, well, Blueberry Stoli. The last time he came in, he really freaked me out, sitting alone at the bar for four hours (this is not that kind of bar), eating entrees for his appetizer and ordering a 7-Up long after he’d tabbed out and seen me close the drawer.

That night, my manager had said, after Blueberry Stoli finally left, “I thought I was gonna have to walk you to your car. Actually, I think I will anyway.”

So when Blueberry Stoli came in last night, my manager shot me a big smile and said, “uh oh. Looks like I’m gonna be walking you to your car again. That guy likes you a lot!” Apparently, that’s something to smile about.

After I directed an annoyed expression at him, he said, “I’d be flattered if I had a stalker, Stella! If girls came to the bar just to hang out and watch me, I wouldn’t care if I liked them or not. I’d just enjoy the attention.”

See now, I don’t understand why a man would think it’s cute for a lady to be stalked, especially when that man weighs all of 80 pounds soaking wet. I mean, you’d think he’d understand!

“Well that’s where you and I differ,” I said. “I just think it’s creepy.”

And that’s when he hit me with the sissy tag.

“I am not a sissy,” I said indignantly.

“Well, the first impression you give off is of being too nice.”

How this is related to being a sissy, I couldn’t tell you, which is why I call bullshit.

It’s bullshit in two regards.

a)     First, I am nice but so not a sissy. If you mess with me, I will fuck you up; therefore, my manager called me this most inaccurate invective for the express purpose of insulting me (albeit in jest), and

b)    Second, isn’t “sissy” a term applied to men for the purposes of emasculating them? Can a girl even be a sissy? I mean, a girl can be prissy, but I didn’t think she could be a sissy. Therefore, my manager misapplied the term.

And this, my dear Stephanie, is your introduction to

Advanced Studies in Bullshit

Course Description:

Advanced Studies in bullshit explores the many and varied meanings behind the phrase “that’s bullshit!” This phrase represents a more complex and challenging use of the term “bullshit,” in part because it can be applied to such a broad range of contexts.

Topics under discussion will include:

  • Determining when the use of the phrase “that’s bullshit” is appropriate
  • The role of dishonesty in accurate applications of the term
  • The role of bad behavior in concluding whether or not bullshit has transpired
  • Consideration of the question, “who fucking cares anyway?”

Case Studies:

Case studies play a large role in determining the existence of bullshit, so we will be using them as a means of evaluating the bullshit-ness of particular situations with a larger goal of honing our bullshit detection capabilities. The usefulness of this should be self-evident.

The Case of Lying

To determine whether or not bullshit has occurred, you must first determine the underlying cause of the lying.

If a person lied to you because he or she doesn’t know what you’re about, well, that’s just stupid. But if that person lied to you because he or she was too lazy or selfish to deal with the consequences of being honest, then that is definitely bullshit.

As an example, consider the following scenario: If Friend 1 blows off Friend 2 so that Friend 1 can go on a date, is that bullshit? I (heretofore known as Friend 3) wouldn’t necessarily think so, but Friend 2 does. Compounding the problem is that Friend 1 lied about her reasons for blowing off Friend 2, which could fall under the category of bullshit. I mean, why not just own up to what you want to do? But if Friend 2 over-reacts to being blown-off in the first place, then Friend 2 feels justified in lying. So where has the actual bullshit occurred?

Basically, Friend 3 is in a quagmire befitting Middle School social politics, and the whole fucking thing is bullshit, as far as Friend 3 is concerned.

The Case of Bad Behavior

Humans behaving badly can project the illusion of uncomplicated instances of bullshit, but mitigating factors should, at times, be considered.

For instance, let’s say you have three customers at your bar—a couple and their single friend—who order a shitload of food. Your policy when dealing with a shitload of food is to write the order down and read it back to the customers. But let’s say the male half of the couple is a dick and doesn’t listen to you when you read back the order because he can’t be bothered. Then, when you bring the food, he not only is dissatisfied to find that it’s on a single plate and absolutely needs you to move the food items from one plate to another for him, like you might do for a very small child or for someone with a mobility disorder, but then also decides that he didn’t order one of the items, which you had you clearly read back, and he acts predictably dick-ish about it. That seems like a clear case of bullshit.

But then his credit card is declined at the end of the night. Well, that is most definitely not bullshit. That’s karma! This raises the question, does the existence of karma negate the previous bullshit-ness of the situation? much in the way that “don’t not” equals “do”?

Further complicating matters is that he then throws a hissy fit at the bar, ordering his female half to “call the fucking bank” (because apparently, not only is he unable to listen to the sound of anyone’s voice but his own or move sushi from one plate to another, but he also lacks the capacity to make phone calls). In doing this, he reveals the full extent of his suckitude not only to you but also to his companions, who are clearly embarrassed by his boorish behavior.

Does this mitigate or exacerbate the bullshit factor? Well, either way, you’re left smiling, so you win. Therefore, who fucking cares?

As I contemplate my projected syllabus, it occurs to me that bullshit is bullshit and spending time having to process bullshit is bullshit. This whole intellectual exercise is bullshit, as is most of academia and, well, life itself, really, when you get right down to it. This is what we might call a “meta” moment. Somehow, I feel the universe completes itself in moments such as these, and everything is revealed to be one big circle (like when anarchists and right-wing extremists realize they have the same goals) though you think it’s a horizontal continuum..

I’ll tell you what the real bullshit is. It’s that my pens keep disappearing at work. I finally got pissed off because I got sick of having to hunt down pens every day, so I started taking them with me at the end of the night. But this just seemed kind of douche-y in a “type-A” kind of way. So on Monday night, I said to one of my managers, “I’m going to leave my pens here. They’ll be here tomorrow, right?”

Needless to say, they were—all four of them—gone on Tuesday.

Seriously?” I said to my manager.

He laughed and showed me where he’d hidden them (under the register), just to fuck with me.

Now that’s bullshit.



Michael Vick is the Devil

August 20, 2009

Dear Stella,

It is 7:30 am, an ungodly hour for a night owl, especially on no sleep before an all day Orientation at Hotel Bar.

But I’m up and driving and on time. I crank the tunage to pump me up. It cannot be a coincidence that the first song I hear has the name of my hotel in its chorus. Never mind that this is a dirty, dirty song; I take it to be a sign of good fortune. That someone in the song has just gotten her ______ sucked or that the other has __________ his __________ is merely an added bonus.

Dog hair flies around the black VW Bug’s interior, and the passenger-side window rolls itself up and down of its own will.

At Hotel Bar, I am immediately surprised by the Orientation Spread. Behold! A table overflows with coffee, herbal teas, honey (in a jar! no sticky packets here) and real lemon slices. There are muffins, too, and giant disc-like Danishes. I suppress the urge to fling them like Frisbees and take a cheese one, sliding it onto the tiny plate that disappears beneath the cheesy folds.

There is water, too, in shiny silver decanters along the fabric-lined table, horse-shoe shaped for team bonding. I settle down with my chamomile tea, heavy on the free honey and lemon wedges, and ready myself with the hotel-branded pen and pad before me.

Right away I get that this is Very Civilized Business. You can relax here, the oversized Danish says, We are a friendly folk. At the end of the table, the Orientation Leader unloads piles of papers from a large box. So many papers. What could they possibly be? What could we possibly talk about for eight long hours?

We begin with one of those introductory exercises that, as a teacher, I took a certain sadistic pleasure enforcing on my students. I turn to a partner, interview her, gather her name, her position, her hobby, and two adjectives she uses to describe herself, beginning with the letters of her initials. (I’ll leave you to guess what I came up with for “S.H.”) Then we introduce our partner to the group, giggling to let nervous air out of our collective tires.

Our first “activity” is to take place in the corner at the round table. It involves a giant Learning Map, in which we follow the SUV that represents our company wind its way up a steep mountain, fueled by “Our Values,” and flanked by our eager, yet unsuccessful competition, an inferior vehicle bringing up our rear.

I read instructions and questions from a laminated sheet, while our Orientation Leader pops up beside us just at the moment the sheet calls for a supplemental card. These cards list things like our Team Values (integrity, respect, teamwork, blahbiddy blah) and Our Purpose. We place Our Purpose in the appropriate spot on the Learning Map, at the top of the mountain next to the flag hoisted by four figures “working together” to “overcome adversity.”

We learn about the man who began our Hotel, how it all started when he took his family on “the road trip that changed America.” How the hotels he and his family encountered were so bad he decided to start his own. “Every hotel will have an ice machine!” he vowed, and “Children will stay in rooms with their parents for free!” There are dates, lots of dates, but they pass in one ear and out the other. I am too mesmerized by the image of shareholders and employees working together to fix a pot hole in the treacherous mountain road.

From a purely anthropological view, these seem a kind and supportive people. There are rules, yes, but they are explained gently, and punishments are strangely entertaining, even desirable. They include singing in front of the group for falling asleep during boring videos and lectures. Even “quizzes” turn out to be not so bad—we do them together by passing a tennis ball, helping each other when stumped.

All this teamwork can almost distract from the fact that we are undergoing an intense brand-washing: We learn what brands our Daddy Company owns, their logos, their missions; we repeat until they feel like our own.

I spend some time wondering if our Orientation Leader really believes what she is saying, if she really believes, for example, that we are at the edge of “exciting new developments.” I don’t dwell on it, however, because I have been rewarded for volunteering to read by being allowed to dip my hand in the candy bag.

“Just one?” The Orientation Leader says when I pull out a lollipop. “Go ahead, take a handful.” Your needs will be fulfilled here, she seems to be saying, Go ahead, let yourself receive.

By afternoon, we are dragging. I bargain with myself—if I fall asleep, perhaps I could sing that song I sang at Catherine and Brian’s wedding? That wouldn’t be so bad. Might be worth a quick cat nap.

But I hold out. The strange customs of these people have an interesting effect on me. I want to do well; I want to stay awake; I want to fill the easel with as many answers as my teammates and I can come up with for what constitutes a “Picture Perfect Appearance.”

“No undies showing!” I exclaim, scribbling quickly in red marker. “No unsightly nails!”

I don’t do this for the candy, which I am starting to become afraid of because I can’t say no to it and—besides the fact that it’s slightly stale—it’s making me shakey and weak, jacked up and fidgety at the same time.

No. I do it because, well, these are reasonable people after all, aren’t they? They have been nice to me and would it be so hard to return the favor? The candy is merely a playful symbol for that curious inner hard worker who wants to do well, whatever freaky things she is doing.

During a brief tour of the hotel, eight of us stand around a queen size bed in a “priority room.” (What am I supposed to be looking for? I think. Um, the bed looks good to me.). Hotel rooms are an intimate space I have previously shared only with lovers, friends, and family.

Now, huddled with this odd team, I think about what we found today: that each one of us is a race-car driver, a shopper, a weight-lifter, a writer, a mother, a bowler, a rugby-player, an exerciseaholic.


Bullshit 102

August 18, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

What an excellent job you’ve done putting your high IQ and PhD to work for you practicing the fine art of bullshitting! I will be sure to remember these useful tips if and when I next find myself interviewing for bartending jobs!

As a way to return the favor, I’d like to take up a secondary definition of bullshit, namely that of the so we were sitting around bullshitting variety.

As you commence your new job, you may find that some days are busier than others. Non-busy days pose quite a challenge, financial and otherwise, and here’s where bullshitting comes in handy. What you don’t want is to find yourself standing around with nothing to do because, as the bartender who trained me said (though he does not himself practice this), “If you can lean, you can clean.”

As satisfying as it can be to wipe down every last surface in the bar—I hate grabbing a bottle and discovering that it actually sticks to my hand—you in particular will find the perpetual Windex-ing sickening.


So some things you can do instead include:

I. Ask the servers to bring you crunchy noodles and duck sauce from the take-out station in the kitchen (or, if your establishment does not have crunchy noodles and duck sauce or a take-out station, ask for pretzels, chips, nuts—really any snack will do). Remember to ask nicely. I recommend cocking your head to one side, batting your eyelashes, and smiling sweetly. Throw in a “pretty please” for good measure.

Next, invite the servers to partake of the snacks with you. Hunch over the little bowl and shovel them down your gullets. No need to talk, just gorge together. It builds community.

Now there’s a pretty sight for customers to witness, if you had any.

II. Slip out from behind the bar, and head for the bowl of fortune cookies at the front entrance. Grab a few fistfuls, and distribute to the servers. Finally, compare fortunes together. Some recent goodies:

A short saying oft contains much wisdom.

(Is it possible for a fortune cookie to be self-reflective and self-aggrandizing? I’m experiencing a “meta-cognitive” moment here.)

First learn to “give” and then the universe will reward you.

(Super. I’m still fucking waiting…)

A love relationship takes on an added dimension.

(Like, what kind of dimension? Something freaky would be cool.)

As a side-note, if your establishment does not have fortune cookies on the premises, you may choose to bring them with you. You may be able to find them in the “Asian” section of your local supermarket.

Also, bringing some sort of chocolate treat—m&ms work well—for your servers will, with minimal expense, endear them to you. Pour said snacks into a rocks glass, and set them somewhere your servers can reach them easily. Then keep a private stash for yourself because you can be sure the servers will make those snacks disappear in the amount of time it takes you to whip up a single Cosmo. I’m just sayin’.

III. When a runner delivers three small bottles of grapefruit juice in a brown paper bag (these can also be obtained from the take-out station in the kitchen or, again, at your local supermarket), turn the paper bag into a puppet. As an additional community-building exercise, invite the servers to decorate the puppet with you. You can even use the blade from your wine key to cut out “button holes,” then draw squiggly lines around them, for added decorative detail.

“Feed” the puppet crunchy noodles (or whatever snack you have handy, perhaps from the garnish tray), and offer it a sip of your diet coke or, in your case, water.

The puppet may also enjoy singing along to the “music” or even dancing a little.

Using the puppet to provide verbal support to the servers is also encouraged. Anyone worth bullshitting with loves a sense of humor. “Don’t you worry, Bri Bri. By 7:30, the dining room is gonna be packed. The puppet knows!”

IV. Speaking of the garnish tray, when you have exhausted all other snack options, it can make for an excellent buffet. Just try to avoid blatant health code violations, like picking through the maraschino cherries to find “a good one.” I recommend a trick I learned from Bri Bri: use the wooden drink sticks as mini-chopsticks. It’s fun and health-code friendly. But if you have trouble with this, you can just use the drink sticks to spear the garnish of your choice. You will need to keep the big jar of olives close  by, as you will be doing a lot of refilling.

V. Take frequent smoke breaks. Well, maybe not you.

VI. Hunch over the menu that you’re supposed to be memorizing. Furrow your brow, and purse your lips so that you look focused and studious. Looking mildly troubled also helps as this is the precise state-of-mind management hopes to invoke in you. Owners trouble management, and management troubles bartenders and servers.

It’s the Circle of Life.

I mean, no one wants to pay someone just to stand around bullshitting.

By the way, this strategy should seem familiar to you, as we practiced it while instructors at Fancy U, for example, when we were hunched over what appeared to be notes on Serious Intellectual Work when in fact what we were actually hunched over were crude drawings of poo with smell lines emanating from them.

Now, as then, avoid giggling maniacally as this will draw attention to the fact that you are no closer to having discerned how to inspire 18-year olds to write essays of profound beauty and import. Nor are you any closer to having memorized the exact ingredients in a Komodo roll, Singapore rice noodles, or the Dim Sum Platter (it would help if management itself knew the precise ingredients, but, as they have told you, they don’t serve these dishes to customers, so…).

Oh yeah, and try to avoid ruminating on life’s many petty injustices as this will get you no closer to memorizing anything.

VII. Spend your time hunched over the menu deciding what to have for dinner. Think it over carefully. Do you really want the Sesame Chicken? It’s delicious but contains mucho sugar. And yes, the Vegetarian Fried Wontons never disappoint, but you know what fried food does to you. I recommend the sushi. Not only is it light and cost-effective, but it provides an additional source of entertainment as you can watch the Sushi Chef prepare it, or, as the case may be, not prepare it because for some reason, he thinks it’s more important to eat the shit dinner provided by the kitchen than to make your sushi.

In such a case, you are permitted to amuse yourself by directing an inner monologue at him:

Make my dragon roll, motherfucker. Make it. Make it now! Oh sure, you’ll get off your ass to make a rainbow roll for Table 14, but what about my motherfucking dragon roll? What?! Are you fucking kidding me? You’re gonna go back to eating those fucking chicken feet—CHICKEN FUCKING FEET, I KID YOU NOT!—instead of making my dragon roll? What the fuck? I’m HUNGRY, motherfucker. I want it now! Maaaake iiiiiit!

Inner monologues are cathartic and will free you up to smile gratefully when he finally presents you with your yummy delicious sushi. Eat up!

If your establishment doesn’t serve sushi, well, I’m sorry. I can’t help you.

VIII. Stare at the front door, and imagine your soul mate walking through it. Don’t be picky. For the looks department, my recommendations include

a) Michael Vick (I know, I know, the dog fighting thing is horrifying beyond words, but he did his time, confessed his wrongdoings—and isn’t a man most appealing when he can admit he’s wrong?—and he so very, very beautiful)

b) Bradley Cooper, preferably in the all-black ensemble he wears in Hangover because then you can invite him to join you behind the bar as a guest bartender

c) That Japanese film student from four years ago, the one who, when asked to discuss an editorial, commented that it reminded him of a poem, while you gazed adoringly at him, in an appropriate teacherly-way of course…oh wait, or was that me?

I realize your recommendations may be completely different. Feel free to substitute as necessary.

IX. Concoct new recipes for inclusion on the Specialty Drinks menu. This is most highly recommended when you have friends coming to visit you as you can provide them with free drinks while seeming to be serving the needs of The House. If management is hovering over you, don’t forget to say, “Would you like to sample some potential new cocktails?”

As an added bonus, you too can get a little tipsy. And, as always, don’t forget to include your servers!



Bullshit 101

August 18, 2009

Dear Stella,

If it weren’t for my liberal arts education, I wouldn’t be half the bullshitter I am today.

I’ve compiled three Bullshitting Strategies I recently employed at my interview at Hotel Bar (three managers vs. little ole me).

1. The Answer and Divert (not to be mistaken for the Duck and Cover or the Bob and Weave):

It’s important to give a brief answer to the actual question. But dwelling on the answer could reveal the giant gap in your knowledge, so best to answer with the one thing you do know, then quickly divert attention away from the question. Jokes are good. Anything to shift attention away from the facts—what you do or do not know—to your personality: Look how funny you are! Look how confident!

For example, when an Interviewer says, “Pretend I’m a customer at your bar and I ask what you recommend. You ask me what I like and I tell you I like everything. What do you recommend to me? What drinks do you make really, really well that you want to suggest to me?”

You might begin with, “I make a fabulous martini.”

But you can’t stop there or they might ask you for more drinks—this could lead to a drink recipe quiz, which you might pass, but you might not because you never know which drinks they’ll pick, so best to avoid altogether. Time to tell a story—always go for the story!—about something you know.

“As you know, [that’s right, appeal to their sense of themselves as experts] martinis are the simplest drinks to make recipe-wise, but martini drinkers are the hardest ones to please. You’ve got to get that martini ice, ice cold [slow down, emphasize the word “ice” so they can see it, feel it; you want their mouths to water] with just a few shards of ice, but not too many—you don’t want to water the liquor down of course—and the perfect amount of vermouth.” Enunciate the word “perfect” so it enters their unconscious and they associate it with you.

Then, shake your head and chuckle, “And isn’t it funny, by the way, that martini drinkers even have their own language? Instead of saying ‘no vermouth,’ or calling it ‘vodka, straight up,’ they call it ‘extra extra dry.'” Smile broadly and look around, as if to include them in this gossip about those hard-to-please-martini drinkers. They’re buying it; that one over there is smiling, but the serious one—he’s hard to crack. So go ahead, push on.

“I also make a delicious cosmopolitan, but…” Dramatic pause. Look at the serious one, then squint, just a bit, to show that you are reading him, assessing his character, playfully, of course… “I don’t know…I just don’t peg you as the cosmo type.” Now smile and say, “Nothing to be ashamed of if you are, of course.”

At this, the other manager bursts out laughing. “Yeah, Bill, do you like cosmos? Nothing to be ashamed of.”

Finally, Bill cracks a weak smile. “I like beer.”

2. Verb Trickidickery

This is when you almost answer their question, but you do a verb switcharoo to make their question fit your answer, while showing off your very important skills, not to mention your precise word choicery…

For example, an Interviewer might say the following: “Tell us about a time another coworker was doing something that wasn’t right or that you didn’t agree with, like with cleanliness or something, and you had to confront that person. Tell us about that conversation. What did you say to correct them and how did it go?”

Um, specific much?

This question is tricky because you don’t want to come off as a trouble maker, nor as someone who will let things slide when management isn’t looking. Somehow, you’ve got to seem like both management’s eyes and ears and totally capable of getting along with other coworkers. The Verb Trickidickery comes in especially handy in situations that require such contradictory character traits, or which I like to call, “a pickle.”

You might respond thusly: “One time [in band camp, no, no don’t go there, keep it together, no references to movies that involve teenage boys masturbating in apple pies, no, no that’s no good] at The All American, another trainee kept making a drink wrong—I believe it was a LI Ice Tea—her pours were off [way to show off your knowledge of the free pour technique!]. I ‘corrected’ her by offering to help when she had a big order—you wouldn’t believe the number of Long Island Ice Teas we had to make in a hurry—[way to slip in your knowledge of a drink while alerting them to your experience working in fast-paced environment!], and I mentioned, as I made them alongside her, that the manager told me to use 2 counts of each liquor, and brandy instead of tequila. So it wasn’t so much a matter of [drum roll please] confronting her, but of helping her and showing by doing.

Voila! You’ve just replaced a negative verb, “confronting,” with three (count em!) positive verbs that demonstrate your people skills and your maturity. And you’ve sneakily shifted the conversation so your story reflects what you want to say about yourself.

3. Assets Disguised as Weaknesses

While you want to come across as confident in an interview, sometimes a nice dose of self-reflection can make you more of a real person to the Interviewers. An ability to look at yourself and name areas of “weakness” can show that you are teachable, a highly desirable quality in a job candidate. They want you to be confident, of course, but mutable, able to conform to their standards and desires.

When an Interviewer asks you to, “Tell us about your extensive knowledge of wine,” for example, you might respond in this covert way: “Wine is probably one of my biggest weaknesses, though I definitely want to learn. I have a lot of experience making cocktails like martinis and margaritas, and of course I’ve served a lot of draft beers, like Guinness and German wheat beers, so I don’t know that much about wine, just the basics, like how white wine pairs well with fish and red wine pairs well with red meat, and of course you put your finger in the punt to pour the wine…”

Fabulous! You’ve just inserted seven (eight if you count the desire to learn) self-advertisements in your “admission” of weakness (Go ahead, count em up!)

Unfortunately for me, it seems Hotel Bar has a few tricks up its own sleeve—tests made to sniff out a bullshitter like me.

Bullshitting skills won’t do squat against the background, credit, employment, education, character and drug checks that corporations like Hotel Bar run once they offer you the job.

Welcome to the team, if you pass our extensive, invasive interrogation into your entire life and everything you’ve ever done or thought or wanted to do or think.

I didn’t think I was such hot shit anymore when I sat in the hospital waiting to pee in a cup (while a woman rushed in with a piece of her finger missing).

Eerily, I had just read about Barbara Ehrenreich’s drug tests in Nickel and Dimed in America, and my own experience played out much as she described.

First, I leave my bag with the lady in the blue coat. I hang my suit jacket on the door far away from the bathroom. Then, as the nice lady watches, I wash my hands with the stinky soap and paper towels provided. She hands me the Specimen Cup and points to a thin black line, “Try to fill it up to here for me. You can finish in the toilet, but don’t flush.” Still dwelling on “for me,” as if I’m giving her a little gift, I almost miss the “don’t flush” part.

“Wait, did you say ‘don’t flush?’”

“Yup,” she says, “That pleasure’s all mine.”

Ehrenreich writes about the way drug tests contribute to an interviewee’s sense of powerlessness in a job application, as if he or she can’t be trusted and is the only one who needs to be interrogated, while the Corporation isn’t obligated to reveal any of its information to potential employees.

I should feel outraged at the invasion of privacy; instead, I feel vulnerable, especially in this hospital setting. I’m back to that place of feeling grateful if Hotel Bar still wants me, as I did at The All American. And because the woman in the blue smock is nice to me, I even feel apologetic toward her, as in I’m so sorry you have to handle my warm pee. I take pride in my specimen cup as one might take pride in their house when guests are coming, tidying up dribbles as I might tend to piles of out-of-place papers in the den.

After initialing two warm vials to be sent to the labs (here a scene from the X-files flashes before me—the lab a giant white stadium-sized building in the middle of a cornfield), I head home, where I now wait to hear if I am worthy.

I wonder what my life will look like in the file the Third Party Background Corporation will compile for my new potential employers.

Meanwhile I am left with old-fashioned evidence—the look and feel of Hotel Bar, how the interviewers treated me, the information they gave about what the bar is like—to determine if this place is worthy of me.

And if that ain’t some bullshit, then I don’t know what is.

Dearest Stephanie,

Last Sunday at work, this kid who works the Take-Out desk comes to the bar for a coke.

“I really need a pick me up,” he says, leaning his elbows on the bar.

“Oh, really?” I reply.

“Yeah,” he sighs. “I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ve even had to take sleeping pills.”

“Awww. Are you stressed out or something?” I ask.

“Why?” he says, looking me in the eye. “Are you gonna make it better?”

He’s 16 years old!!!

Let’s consider this Exhibit B.

This exhibit would have come in handy when I tried to explain to our fellow instructors at Fancy U why I “censored” the material I presented to students.

Censorship?! That sounds serious!

Perhaps you’re wondering about Exhibit A. Well, we’ll have to revisit the past for that. So let’s commence revisiting:

One of my favorite essays to teach at Fancy U was the Art Object essay. As you probably recall—I do believe you, too, enjoyed this essay—we asked students to select an art piece to write about, and we got to do all sorts of fun writing exercises that involved looking at pretty pictures.

The first lead-in assignment for this essay, kindly provided by our superiors, involved a series of writing exercises based on this lovely painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres called “La Grande Odalisque”:

The initial question we asked students was something along the lines of, “What do you imagine she’s thinking about?”

Um, really? There’s not a whole lot of leeway here. When presented with this prompt, a polite young man in my class looked at me and asked, helplessly, “I mean, what do you want me to say?”

I attempted to salvage the situation as best I could, to deflect attention away from the fact that we were dealing with a naked lady looking seductively at the viewer. Let’s just say I’m grateful for my highly developed bullshitting skills and large vocabulary.

To develop writing prompts for my students, I, like a lot of other instructors (including, I believe, the charming and talented you), got me an “Art Box,” which contains postcards on which famous paintings and sculptures are reproduced. I distributed these postcards to my students and ask them to write about what they were seeing. Now some of the images are…well, frankly speaking, they’re rather lewd and lend themselves to all kinds of naughtiness.

Take a lookey-look at this gem:

I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that I’ve ever felt the need to strip down naked at a picnic with men in suits. And while we’re on the subject, I just love how the guys are wearing those suits, as if hanging out on a blanket in the park with a naked lady is just how they roll. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Now keeping Exhibits A and B in mind, tell me, really, what can an adolescent male have to say about this painting that I would want to hear?

So I did what any proper lady would do: I removed that image from the Art Box, as well as all similarly offensive images, before disseminating the postcards to my students.

“You’re censoring the material?!” a fellow instructor asked me, with the same appalled intensity she might have if I’d, say, just told her I was going to use a butter knife to disembowel my students, one by one, then cook up those bowels and feed them to my cat. What I’m trying to say is that I found her response to be a little disproportionate.

“Censor” is such an inflammatory word. I prefer to say I “edited” the content for appropriateness and maximum educational value.

Actually, what I said in response to her question was, “Hell yeah.” I mean, duh! Hearing the sexual fantasies of teenage boys does not seem like a fun educational exercise. But maybe that’s just me. I’ve always had fairly modest sensibilities. Even as a little girl, I refused to wear two piece bathing suits and fretted if my dresses were too short. And I always preferred wearing tights to wearing socks. I liked the extra coverage. Then there’s the case of the baby blue men’s boxers. I do not own shorts, and in the unlikely event of me wearing a dress, I don’t like to have my knees showing. Given the opportunity, it’s quite possible that I would have embraced wearing a burka.

On the other hand, one could argue that I’m uncomfortable with sexuality, that as much as I mock academia for intellectualizing it and at times seeming to fear it, I find that way of being comforting and safe, like being overweight and wearing baggy clothes.

As is becoming increasingly clear to me, a bar is not traditionally the place for a woman who is uncomfortable with attention, especially when that attention is of a sexual nature. Unless, of course, that woman is super confident in her boundaries and is consequently working super hard to be strong enough to overcome her fears. One goal you and I could be said to have implicitly set for me is to work towards being able to speak my mind rather than be silenced by my own fears and uncertainties.

So to conclude the story:

“What did you just say to me?” I asked Take-Out boy incredulously.

“Haha,” he said.

“Because I don’t think I liked the innuendo.”

“There’s no innuendo,” he protested uncertainly.

“Oh there was innuendo. The only thing I’m going to ‘make better’ is your coke, by adding some grenadine. It’s called a Roy Rogers. Drink up. And by the way, watch your mouth when you’re speaking to a lady.”