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  LIFE AS A LOSER #144: "MR. LEITCH, IF YOU WERE A FLOWER, WHAT KIND OF FLOWER WOULD YOU BE?  
   
   
 

My father has worked for the Central Illinois Public Service Company (CIPS, before it was bought by St. Louis-based Ameren) since right after I was born. He works, essentially, as a troubleshooter for the electric company.

You know those big unwieldy metallic configurations with the power company's logo slapped on a chain-link and barbed-wire fence? They're usually siphoned off away from everything else, because they're highly dangerous. When your power goes out, because of a storm or something, it's because one of those has broken down.

 
 

Well, my dad's the guy who fixes those, and makes sure nothing goes wrong with them. He's been doing it for an awfully long time, and he's very good at it. My father has developed a reputation among his co-workers and bosses as a guy who never does a job half-ass, never complains and never leaves work for others to do. Troubleshooting can be hazardous; while on the job, an accident once chopped off his middle finger at the knuckle, and he has watched a man be electrocuted to death, only a few feet away.

About 10 years ago, my father's union was threatening a strike. Management had been considering the possibility of locking the workers out as a preemptive strike, but they weren't quite sure if the union was bluffing. A large part of my father's job is overtime; he's on call 24 hours a day, because you never know when your power's going to go out. In 15 years, my father had never once, for any reason, turned down overtime; when they called, no matter what time of day, no matter what he might have going on (he once left halfway through opening Christmas presents), he always dropped what he was doing and did the job. The union, as a matter of protest, distributed word throughout its rank that, as a show of solidarity, when the dispatcher called, they would feign sickness to let management know they meant business.

At 8 p.m. one night about two weeks before my high school graduation, our phone rang, and I answered. The dispatcher said, "Will, is your dad there?" I handed him the phone and watched as my dad looked down, saddened, going against his very nature, and said, "Sorry, Bob, I'm, um … I'm real sick. I can't make it."

If Bryan Leitch was turning down overtime, management knew the union wasn't kidding around. They locked out the workers the next day.

My father is the hardest-working man I know. He has never sucked up to his boss, or played politics, or chummied up with management. He simply goes out and does his job, no complaints, no problems. He had a family to support, and two kids to send to college. The notion of doing anything else has never occurred to him.

I bring all this up because this Wednesday, my father is doing something he has never done in his life: He is going on a job interview.

Can you imagine your father on a job interview? I don't think I've ever seen my father nervous, or apprehensive, or unsure of himself, even when I'm sure he has been. My father has the right idea about parenting; even if it's possible that he's wrong, he puts up a united front of certainty. Parents should not be namby-pamby. There were times that I just knew my dad was wrong, that he just didn't understand, but I never saw any doubt with him. It's more important to have a parent who is consistent than one who rises and falls with what his children think of him. Parents need to be tough and stable, not necessarily fair and nice. Crying? I don't think I've ever seen my father flinch.

But it's pretty tough not to flinch in a job interview. My father, the mythic alpha male, the man on our family's pedestal, sitting in a folding chair wearing a bad tie, handing over his resume to three management schmucks? I mean, how in the world would my father answer the "What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?" question.

It's hard to imagine my father having to put on a happy corporate face to anyone, let alone try to convince a panel of people who probably aren't worthy to be in the same room with him, people who probably wouldn't know how to change a light bulb, let alone wire a house, that he's the right guy for the job. The job is still with Ameren, in a supervisor position; he would essentially be overseeing all the people he works with, correcting them when they're doing something wrong. Or, to put it another way, as one of his co-workers says, "he'd be doing the same thing he's been doing, he'll just be getting paid more."

But man … my father on a job interview? My mind spins just trying to imagine it. I once had a job interview where a guy asked me if I could be one kind of animal, what kind would it be? I have a higher tolerance for bullshit, so I can muddle my way through such ridiculousness. But my dad? I think his head would catch on fire. (Or maybe he'd just say, "I've always wanted to be a pretty kitten." Parents can surprise you that way.)

I've never heard my father say a single self-righteous thing in my life. I can't imagine him coming up with a long string of them. It is not surprising that my mother reports he's been having trouble sleeping all week, he's so conflicted about the interview. Telling my father he has to sell himself to someone is like asking a cow to play the piano.

Yet I'm torn. Half of me wants the interviewers to just look at the body of his 25 years of work and realize there's no need to even talk to anyone else. The other half of me wants to feed them questions. That could be quite fun.

"Mr. Leitch, in 1985, as a joke, you told your son to climb up the television antenna tower to clean out a gutter. Halfway up, you pulled down his pants and threw them in the garage, forcing him to run around naked, horrified, while your whole family laughed at him. Now that your son is afraid to talk to girls and reportedly plays with dolls, do you regret that?"

"Bryan, you once claimed that St. Louis Cardinals infielder Gregg Jeffries would make the Hall of Fame. In light of his place as one of the most disappointing baseball prospects of all time, do you have anything to say for yourself?

"Mr. Leitch, you often lie around your living room in your underwear, spraying easy cheese on club crackers and passing gas. We don't even have a question here."

"Mr. Leitch, a large part of this job will be training and supervising employees who aren't that skilled, intelligent or capable of much of anything, actually. In lieu of your son turning out like he has, what makes you think you're qualified to teach anything?"

"Bryan, is this interview the longest you've gone without asking someone to pull your finger?"

Hmm. Well, good luck, Dad. You deserve it. They should ask you that thing about the TV antenna though. That was kinda mean.

*BT*

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