In part one I wrote about Shaky and promised I would write about Jim in part two. In part two, I reneged on that promise. Now it’s been hyped so much that I couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations, much like the Matrix sequels. But keep in mind that this blog is free.
I’ll start with the basic description: middle-aged, wore glasses, strong but overweight. In addition to working for the traffic department, he also grew corn. That meant he’d often pick corn in the morning, then come to work without showering or changing clothes. He’d be all sweaty and sometimes still have little bits of husk in his arm hairs. Do I need to say that he smelled? No I don’t, do I? I mean it goes without saying. But I feel I need to say it anyway. He smelled. Wait, that means I just said it twice which is definitely overkill for something that I said should go without saying. Sorry for insulting your intelligence.
I explained before that much of this summer involved me sitting around not doing anything. So that meant sitting next to Jim in the garage and listening to him talk. Sometimes Shaky would be around too, but other times he’d go off somewhere in the truck - probably so he didn’t have to be around Jim.
While Jim talked, he smoked. He wouldn’t exactly blow the smoke in my face but he wouldn’t make any effort to blow it in an opposite direction either. I would try to time my breaths to coincide with when there was less smoke around me. When it got too much for me, I’d turn my head to try to get a little fresher air. In hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t just say that the smoke bothered me and ask to sit across the room or something. But I was eighteen and this was my first job and I wasn’t very assertive.
Jim would tell the same stories over & over & over again. And he would tell the stories in the exact same way. I mean EXACT. Pauses, laughs, everything. For example, he’d be telling some story about a conversation he had with someone once years ago and say “So he said to me… What was it?.. Oh yes!…” He would pretend to forget what the guy said and then remember and then laugh about it as if he was just remembering even though he must have told me that story six times, and told it the SAME WAY each time!
The first time he started to repeat a story that he had told me before, I said “oh yeah, you told me about that”. But then he went ahead and told me anyway! Then to my confusion he just continued to repeat stories as if he hadn’t told me them. I didn’t know what to do. It seemed inconceivable to me that he could not remember telling me these stories so I didn’t want to pretend like I hadn’t heard it before. I pictured him suddenly saying “hey wait a minute, I told you this before” and then I’d look like the idiot. But I didn’t want to just keep saying “yeah you told me this” because he was going to tell me anyway and I didn’t want to make it sound like I wanted him to shut up. So I ended up expressing as little feedback as possible other than nods and such. Some of you may be laughing at this point because, as I realize, it’s not exactly my personality to give a lot of emotional expression anyway. I’ve been told I can be hard to read. But trust me, I brought it to a new level that summer.
The trickiest part was when he’d ask me a question, like if he said “and do you know what FDR did after that?”. I would know what he did since I’d heard the story a bunch of times. I could answer the question and pretend that I was really smart - and yeah I did that a couple of times - but usually I’d play dumb and pretend that he hadn’t told me that story already. Either that or I’d just do my emotionless stare and wait a little and he’d continue anyway.
He’d bore me so much with his stories that I’d have to yawn, but I didn’t want to be rude yawning all the time so I also developed the technique that summer of yawning with my mouth closed. I think I got pretty good at it. To yawn with your mouth closed is a very delicate operation. The yawn’s going to happen, the question is how to direct the energy. I would have to grit my teeth hard, not allow my jaw to separate, and breathe in through my nose. This required concentration to make sure my jaw didn’t waver and my cheeks didn’t look too strained with the effort of biting down. I don’t think I could pull this off today. I tried sitting here just now and I’m sure it wouldn’t fool anyone, but I was much better at it that summer. At least he never seemed to notice. Or maybe he did and just didn’t care.
You need a lot of oxygen to offset the yawn. A quick intake of breath along with the nostril flaring that would result is a dead giveaway. So you also have to try to control those - get the oxygen you need but not in too quick of a breath and try not to flare the nostrils too much. I think those cues, along with the little bit of jaw wavering that sometimes was just impossible to avoid, was what an observant person would have noticed but I’m still proud of my accomplishment.
Sometimes the yawn is just too big and you have to separate your jaw a little and have your mouth open a slight bit, enough to breathe in but keep your lips and jaw still. When all else fails, you can of course try to cover your mouth so I would utilize that. But that’s for amateurs. There’s only so many times you can have an itch on your upper lip that needs to be scratched.
Are you getting the picture now of what much of my summer consisted of? I would sit there trying to look expressionless while masking my yawns and timing my breaths to avoid cigarette smoke. Which is really hard when you have to take in a deep breath for a yawn.
I told you in part one that this was going to be a really long post which is why I kept avoiding it. I spent a little more time on the yawn than I planned to and therefore this has already become a long post and I still have more to talk about. I’ll continue in yet another post.