Monday, April 26, 2010

Bringing it Back Home

Last week I said I was going to explain how I had incorporated the ability to “think like a busboy,” into later occupations which do not involve moving glassware. I'm headed there, but I'll be making a slight detour, partly because my theory about this is pretty far fetched and may not deserve top billing, but also because I want to acknowledge some other things I learned in the bar and restaurant business, particularly as a waiter, that have been highly useful in later life.
In addition to the organizational skills discussed last week, these would include tolerance for all sorts of aberrant behavior, the insouciant philosophy necessary to sanely cope with the fact that you may be paid very well or not at all for the work you're doing and that this vicissitude may bear little or no relation to the quality of work performed, but most of all an ability to remain calm in stressful situations.
One occasionally sees studies ranking the most stressful jobs, and the most stressful job is never air traffic controller or brain surgeon, it's always “waitress.”
I don't know how stress is measured in these studies, but the reasoning behind the at first blush surprising conclusion is that while much rides on the work of directing air traffic or cancerous tumor removal, the work pays very well and its performers are highly respected and have job security -- unlike the waiter whom drunken plebeians can and do treat like an ignorant servant -- and, more importantly, they get to run the show, whereas the waitress suffers the wrath of the customer based on the poor performance of the cook, the bartender or even the dishwasher. When the kitchen breaks down, it's the server who takes the heat.
People sometimes say to me, “I don't see how you can do what you do,” meaning criminal defense. “I couldn't stand the stress.” While my response is usually, “I'm not going to jail,” I sometimes think, “Compared to waiting tables in Underground Atlanta during the Shriner's convention of 1973, this is a piece of cake.” I've never seen a lawyer break down and cry in the courtroom – though I've certainly heard some voices crack – but I've seen waitresses sit down on the floor in the kitchen and cry in their cocktail trays because they just couldn't go back out there.
Now, back to incorporating the busboy's adage, “Never make an empty trip,” into my later occupations. I've always used anecdotes about things that have happened to me, or simply things I've been thinking about that amuse me, in my jury arguments because in my business I believe you must first and foremost entertain if you want people to pay attention. Any of you who've actually seen real jury trials know they're often insufferably boring.
In the past few years I've begun engaging in occupations other than being a lawyer. As you know I write a weekly essay for this paper, but most of you don't know that I write fiction and will soon be attempting to market a novel. It is in these writing exploits that the busboy skill really comes to fruition.
My secretary recently remarked that one of my clients aroused fear in her, not because he's in any way aggressive, but because he is a very large, muscular man with a stern demeanor and steely countenance. I deposited that in one of the many empty compartments of my brain, and a few weeks later infused my take on her attitude into the character of a female cop questioning a gangland drug dealer.
Nothing goes to waste. The music I like, my backwoods Baptist upbringing, the games I play all make it into my writing if not my legal arguments.
One more example. In the infamous “Column The News Was Afraid to Print,” I observed that all joke punch lines, while unexpected, have to be logically consistent with the setup to be funny – else they're just nonsense – but the logic is somehow skewed.
I was driving through South Georgia on my way to a funeral recently when I passed a rural driveway with a sign reading, “Brewer and Son Stripping.” Now I know what these guys do is take paint off of furniture, but the scenario engendered in my stress addled brain was as follows.
“Take it off boy! Take it all off!”
“Hoochie Koo, Diddy! Shake that thang.”
Now I could have left that bit of depravity back on the roadside in Colquitt County, but I just found a use for it.

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