Sunday, December 18, 2011

Please Pass the Emmy

Quote of the blog:

One of my bosses: I don’t hire actresses if I can help it.


Somewhere in my parent’s house is a newspaper clipping with a picture of me and another girl in college. Underneath the picture are our names and a short article. I never dreamed that article would cause a mini-scandal.

One fall semester in college I took a “Theater in Elementary Course.” It was a great class – we made puppets and put on puppet shows, read books, and put on skits in various elementary schools around Utah County. We were a small class with only eight or nine students; one of whom was Becca. Now, if you ever meet Becca you’ll remember her. She’s well-spoken, well-traveled, and has a great sense of humor. She also has Downs Syndrome and is quite accomplished.

Sometime in October, Becca and I and a few others in class were assigned to do a short performance of Little Red Riding Hood at a nearby elementary school. I was to play Little Red and Becca was assigned the part of the wolf.

Now, none of our performances (so far) had been high stress. It’s not like these sweet students were throwing tomatoes, booing us off stage or heckling or even criticizing. I never overheard a six year old say, “You know, I found her reading of Strega Nona, quite lacking…” I never threw down “Joyful Noise” and yelled, “I can’t work in these conditions! If you need me, I’ll be in my trailer!” Which would have been tricky because I didn’t even have one. I suppose I could have sulked in my car... The kids usually paid pretty good attention to our (largely improvisational) performances and cheered enthusiastically when we finished. I think the poor little dears were so happy for a break from the regular routine that they would have been an supportive audience even if we were pretty bad - but let’s ignore that as a possibility.

On the big day of the little performance we gathered in class. We had run through the skit once but were confident in what some of us - bolstered by the encouragement of cheering children - may have deemed as our improvisational genius. We grabbed our props and were ready to head to the elementary school when Becca made an announcement: her mother was so proud of her doing all these performances in the schools that she had contacted the local paper and they were coming to write an article on the performance and take some photos. All of a sudden people were fixing hair and double-checking flies and makeup. I tried to find a happy place and channel my inner Little Red Riding Hood. We were nervous but the show must go on! And it did.

The guy from the newspaper showed up, took pictures, asked a few questions and left. A month later a picture of Becca and me showed up in the newspaper. Becca was a snarling wolf and I was a scared Little Red. The caption listed our names and something like “...perform for an elementary class at O- Elementary School.” The actual article was about Becca and how she was working on her theater degree and how much she had accomplished and exceeded expectations and doctor’s predictions, etc. It was quite inspiring. We clipped it out and put it in a box.

Now, for a good portion of my time in college I worked as a hostess/server at Outback Steakhouse in Orem, Utah. I really liked that job. And the winter of my elementary acting debuts (accurate in all it’s meanings) was a winter that I missed our annual Outback Holiday party. When I returned to work I noticed that someone had cut out the article and photo and posted it on the employee board in the back of the house (ie. In the kitchen at Outback). I was a little embarrassed but secretly a little pleased that someone had noticed.

My little embarrassed and secretly pleased turned into hugely embarrassed and publicly displeased soon after.

It was the beginning of the shift and things were slow so Matt, one of the servers at the restaurant I’d worked with for a few years, came up to the hostess stand to catch up. We chatted about our holidays and then he said, ‘Brook, I didn’t know that you did volunteer work with Down Syndrome kids. That’s really cool.” I was a bit surprised, but thought of the picture and said, “Oh, that’s just a picture of me and a girl from a class at school, I don’t do volunteer work with kids with down syndrome.” *smile. *shrug.

Matt narrowed his eyes and arched an eyebrow at me. “Wait. You don’t do volunteer work with Down Syndrome kids?”

Me, “Um. What? No, that’s just a picture from a class we have together.” And I told him how we performed Little Red Riding Hood for the first graders.

Matt started laughing and leaned over the hostess stand to share what was so amusing. Apparently, during the Holiday Party, the manager gave a toast to all the great people that worked at Outback. Then he held up the article and said, “Take Brook for example. She volunteers to work with Down Syndrome children and hasn’t even ever told any of us about it. This is the kind of person she is. I hope you all take time to read this article that I’m going to post on the employee board.”

I think I inadvertently let out a horrified “EEP!!” when Matt finished. He found the situation funny but seemed a bit exasperated with our manager who had used me and my (non-existent) altruistic service with Down Syndrome kids as an example– like the Father who tells his son, “can’t you be more like Jimmy?” When you find out Jimmy was a fake! My jaw dropped. Who would have known that one of my most inspiring roles was a part I never even played.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trick or Treat I Smelled My Feet

Quote of the blog:

Ty overheard this exchange between a young boy and his dad as they biked through the park.

Boy: It smells bad here!

Dad: What does it smell like?

Boy: Smells like a lot of feet!


My embarrassing interactions with men know no international boundaries.

I spent the month of July working on a summer program for 13-16 year-olds in Oxford. One student, Nima from CA, came a day before the program started. He had purchased a UK phone and called my mobile so I’d have his number. After hanging out in the office for a while he went to his room. That evening all the staff was hanging out together in the office when a dean came in and said that he’d knocked on Nima’s door and he didn’t answer. I said we might have to commence “Operation Finding Nima!

I hadn’t saved his number but simply scrolled down to the last unknown number in my phone and dialed. The conversation went like this:

Me: “Hi, is this Nima?”

Through some background noise I heard: “Yes.”

Me: Ok, great, this is Brook. I just wanted to let you know that we’re in the office and we’re going to play some games tonight if you wanna come by. Oh, we also get a hot breakfast in the morning at 8:30am if you want to join us.

Nima, enthusiastically: That sound great! Can you text me the address?

Me, confused since he was at the address: Sorry, did you ask if I can text you the address?

Nima: Yes, can you text me the address.

Me, slightly panicked realization: I’m sorry, I think I have the wrong number?

And hung up. Everyone started laughing and wanted to know whom I had called. Me, “I don’t know! I thought I called Nima!”

At this moment my phone rang. It was “Nima” calling back. I answered:

Me: Hello?

Nima (who I realized definitely sounded my age and, well, British): Hi, you just called me and invited me to games and breakfast. I didn’t get the address.

Me: Um, is this NIMA?

Nima: What? No, this is Terry!

Me: Terry, I’m so sorry, I called the wrong number.

Terry (sounding quite disappointed): Oh. Oh, I see.

I hung up again and everyone laughed. Understandably! I was blushing with embarrassment. I scrolled through my phone and there was, indeed, another missed call from earlier in the day when Nima had phoned me - who, it turned out, was a heavy sleeper and had slept through the dean's door-knocking.

When I woke up the next morning I already had a text: “Morning Brook! Are we still on for breakfast? Xxx Terry.” It was from one of the Program Assistants that hadn’t even been there the night before!

Luckily no unexpected guests showed up at breakfast. Although Jeremy, a dean, told me had he thought of it before eating he would have found someone on the street and paid him £5 to come into the dining hall, sit across from me and introduce himself as Terry.

If that had been the only embarrassing man-moment this summer it wouldn’t have been so bad. But, there was one other quite memorable mortifying moment.

My office in Oxford is also my bedroom. It’s a large long room with windows at either end. The back window is barred and opens up into the small car park for Jesus and Corpus Christi Colleges. The front window opens onto the main quad at Corpus Christi. Often, when my front window was open, people wouldn’t even come into the office we’d just chat through the window. Since it's ground level and people can see in, the bottom panes of the window were frosted although some previous occupant had scraped the bottom two inches or so of film off. So, if someone were to peer into those two inches they could see into my room – which people sometimes did: to see if I was as they knocked on the window so I would come open it or open the door to the staircase where my office is.

One of our admin team this summer was named Dave. Students had quite a few nicknames for him but for this story I’ll stick with Handsome Dave. The students would talk about how tall and handsome he is, how he plays ice hockey and is funny and is on the Oxford Exploration Society and has golden eyes and on and on and on. Admittedly, he is handsome but some of these girls would actually swoon and giggle when he walked by. Hilarious. One student even asked Rodina, a Program Assistant, “How do you get any work done with him in the office? He’s sooooooooo hot.” Rodina threw her hands up and answered, “He’s just a man!”

One Sunday I had just gotten back from church and was still in my dress. For religious reasons I don’t work Sundays; which means on these days I usually don’t hang out in the office or with the staff/admin because I end up working and this Sunday was no exception. I had about twenty minutes before Wendy Dailey from iSanctuary was scheduled to speak on Human Trafficking and I really wanted to attend (it was phenomenal!). I decided to read until I needed to leave. I sat at the back window - there aren’t many things better than a good window seat. I stretched my legs out on the seat, put a pillow behind my back and started reading.

Now, I don't know if you ever have these moments, but I was reading when I got a whiff of something. I stopped and gave a little sniff sniff and thought, "Do I smell something?" Maybe? I wasn’t sure. And then it went away. So I kept reading. Then I got another whiff. Sniff sniff. I looked around and outside. What is that smell? And then I looked at my feet and thought, slightly alarmed, “Do my feet stink??” I grabbed one of my feet and pulled it to my nose and gave it a big sniff. At that exact moment I heard “tap tap tap” and, foot-to-nose, I zoomed a (panicked) look across the room to see a surprised looking Handsome Dave staring through the scraped off two-inch space at the bottom of my window.

WHAT. Let’s think about this for two seconds.

1. Q. When was the last time I smelled my feet (let alone in a dress!).
A. DON”T REMEMBER, that’s how long it’s been!

2. Q. How long does it take to smell your foot? A. THREE SECONDS. That's it.

In the three seconds of me smelling my foot Handsome Dave looked through and tapped on my office window. I found myself mortified and immensely irritated at the laugh the universe was having. I think I even said out loud, “Are you kidding me right now?” Oh the timing. I would have jumped out the back window for embarrassment if it wasn't for the stupid bars. I walked across the room and opened the door for Handsome D. who looked so awkward and apologized for interrupting me and “I’m, uh, so, um, uhhh. I wanted to, uhhh, ask if I could, Um.” He just kept glancing at me every so often but was mostly looking to the side. He was quite nonplussed. And me? I was irritated at the uncanny timing of the situation but also genuinely embarrassed. Finally he asked his question, we had some awkward chitchat and then he left. My, oh my.

I was embarrassed enough that I didn’t tell anyone for three days! Three days! And that’s saying something. I almost always find embarrassing moments more funny/worth-sharing than embarrassing. I finally told Dean Courtenay who related the tale to a giggling Rodina 20 minutes later and I decided I might as well tell the story to everyone in the office.

I gathered them around and told Handsome Dave that the story involved him. He looked excited and sat down next to me, ironically(?) in the window seat in the program office. I told the tale and Dave had a great laugh. I asked, “Could you tell that’s what I was doing when peered through the window?” I almost added, "creeper" to the end of the sentence but refrained. Dave replied, “I couldn’t tell what you were doing I just knew I was interrupting an awkward position!” Well, I’m glad we got that cleared up! Had I been thinking on my feet (har har) I would have told him it was yoga and I was doing a Foot Salutation.

I would tell you if it was my feet that were smelly but I think I’ve shared enough embarrassing stories for one entry.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is That How the Brits Spell Toilet?

QUOTE of the blog:

Yesterday I sent out a text to a few members of our British staff asking if they could take a pounds check (meaning a UK check for reimbursements); however, I didn’t see that I sent the phrase “sounds check” instead of pounds check. Kate thought I wanted her to check the sound in the DJ booth in the auditorium and Rodina couldn’t figure out quite what I meant. I told Rodina I should have written cheque. She wanted to know what a sound cheque was and I told her it meant we were going to reimburse her with verbal payment. Oddly, she declined. Had I used cheque instead of check the spelling mistake of Sounds would have been self-evident.


I am back in Oxford, England for just about six weeks. I realized few weeks ago that this is my seventh summer of the last ten I’ve spent in England! That is just crazy. The first three, 2003-2005, were six weeks spent with 45 college students in London (including a week in Paris). The latest times around, 2008-2011, has been for five weeks with 140 junior high students (grades 8-9). Coming back to England always brings back memories of summers prior and some of my favorite stories.

Today, walking down St. Aldate’s I saw this sign (indicating the space is for rent) and had to take a picture. It reminded me of a summer with the college students. We had one girl who was, well, not the quickest. We’d been in London for at least three weeks and she and a group of guys were walking down the street. She looked at one of the “To Let” signs (which are all over London) and said, “I’ve been wondering, ‘Why don’t the British spell toilet with an I?” The boys burst out laughing and managed to convince her for at a couple minutes that it was actually the French spelling and pronunciation of the word Toilette. I wish London had that many public toilets!

It’s funny what a differences phrases and spelling make. My first year I asked some staff of the dining hall where I might find some silverware and received puzzled looks. It wasn’t until I used the terms knife and fork that they realized what I really meant was “cutlery.” It wasn’t until later that I realized they probably thought I was referring to the extensive collection of Renaissance silver owned by Corpus Christi.

Just a few summers ago our staff and admin team were having drinks in the back garden (before the students arrived). One of our deans held out her wine glass to our drama teacher and mixed up the British phrase (top up: to fill up or top off) and said, “Simon, will you give me a touch up?” Simon stopped for a moment and said, “I don’t think I will.” Realizing what she said she turned bright red and we all had a good laugh.

Every summer abroad yields fantastic stories. I can't wait for this year. Our kids just arrived last Friday and so far everything is going smoothly (with the exception of one broken window pane). Nothing quite as exciting (yet) as my first summer here when our program was in Oriel and Corpus Christi and, on their first night, students sat down to eat in the Oriel dining hall - imagine a small version of the Harry Potter dining hall and you've got it. They were chatting and getting to know each other when, all of a sudden, a DEAD BIRD plummeted from the 50 foot ceilings and landed in the middle of the table with its little feet up in the air. It took about 3 seconds of shock before the students started screaming. The staff whisked the poor thing away a moment later. I had hoped that they would have been serving Cornish hen or some other small bird for dinner but alas, the comedy ended there. Well, actually not quite, as the Studio Art teacher asked if she could have it to draw and finished out her dinner with the small thing wrapped in napkins near her feet.

For a few other favorite study abroad stories see the March 2010 blog entry titled Loch Ness and Pumas (famous mythical creatures).