May 11, 2010
No Prepared Stories Allowed
When I was a young boy, my parents often held dinner parties for their friends and professional acquaintances. These occurred in New York City and San Diego during the 60’s and early 70’s, and between the occasional neck scarves, cocktails, pipes and cigarettes they sometimes resembled Playboy After Dark or Mad Men episodes.
One classic feature of these get-togethers was hearing my parents tell the same stories we kids had heard so many times before. I would wince as soon as the first word came, knowing the punch-line in advance. I swore as a child that when I grew up I would not recycle the same joke at every party I went to, knowing from experience the wooden effect this sometimes had.
The following is my version of a story I would have told at parties all these years if I had been my parents; I will share it here just this once, (and you have my word I will not bring it up unless asked at any future party we might attend).
When I was 20 I got a job as a busboy and waiter at a busy coffee shop/dinner house (CoCo’s/Reuben’s) in La Mesa, California. There were 30 waitresses and 7 Waiters, and most were in their early 20’s and attending college. The work was fast-paced and the shifts and schedules were constantly changing each week, so it took a young person's stamina to generate the kind of frantic energy required for this otherwise simple job. The staff appeared to be mostly wholesome Co-ed types, and we all wore the same uniform which had a socially equalizing effect that I used to appreciate. But despite the seemingly homogenous group there was a range of personalities, including devout Christians, closet druggies, conservatives, radicals etc.
My Mom was recently divorced from my Dad then and I was still living at home, so I was very happy to discover that the restaurant offered partial Dental benefits. This meant I could spare my Mother the expense of having my impacted wisdom teeth removed, which made me very proud. One of the other Waitresses had also recently had her wisdoms out, so she enthusiastically evangelized to me about the healing properties of pineapple and assured me that my recovery would go much better if I tanked up on fresh pineapple before and after the procedure.
The next month, as I lay on the operating table counting to ten backwards, it seemed like only one minute had passed before my sister Jenna and our friend David Jurist had arrived to pick me up from the Oral Surgeon’s office. During the ride home I was delirious from the medication and was told I said funny things, but as the weekend played out the promise seemed to come true: I experienced very little pain and healed several days sooner than the Surgeon had predicted.
During my two recovery days I watched Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth on TV, a very good quality made for TV miniseries that held my full attention. The Jesus actor had unlikely green eyes and seemed British in that vague rock star kind of way, so I was really pulled in to the story despite my vehemently agnostic attitudes.
When I returned to work there were two co-worker friends I couldn’t wait to talk to: the pineapple/natural foods disciple, and one devout Christian who I knew would love to hear my sincere enthusiasm about the Jesus movie.
As always, things were busy, so I quickly touched base with my pineapple friend and told her how right she was: I had gorged faithfully and the surgery had gone so well. She was thrilled to hear the news.
I waited until my first break so the Christian woman and I could relax and talk about Zeffirelli’s great movie. We got very involved discussing the whole story, and I enjoyed finding common ground with a believer and noted her implied respect for me as a card-carrying agnostic. We went through each chapter together, and she suddenly became very impassioned when we got to the scene depicting Christ’s suffering on the cross. “Oh, he suffered so much, he died for us; he felt so much pain…”
Just then, my other friend passed by in a hurry and caught the last part of our conversation.
With a surge of excitement, she asked “Has he tried pineapple??”