Tag Archives: power

If you could pick one superpower …

Whenever they hire a new employee at the restaurant, the managers always ask whoever it is on his or her first day to do a little introduction. It’s always in the morning, when all of the staff gets together right before opening, “OK, tell us where you’re from, what’s your sign, your favorite color, and if you could choose one superpower, what would it be?”


And I get it, you’re not really expecting that superhero question, it’s supposed to be a fun little icebreaker, like, yeah, you have to come here to work every day, so that kind of sucks, but look on the bright side, we’re giving you this neat game to play on the spot in front of all of these people that you just met, and already you’ve forgotten everybody’s names, but don’t think about that right now, don’t be nervous, just come up with a superpower.

Almost everybody says they’d love to fly. “I guess … I’d pick flying powers?” they kind of throw it back to the manger, like is this OK? Flying powers? Is that what you were looking for? And I’m always standing on the sidelines here, I mean, this isn’t my moment in the spotlight, but I always have to fight the urge to get involved.

Because one, you might as well just say pass, because you’re not even trying. And I can kind of get the thought process here. Like I said before, the question is so out of left field, you quickly think about superheroes, maybe you’re not into superheroes, whatever, that’s fine, Superman probably comes to mind first, and he can fly, so flying powers, bingo.

It’s the wording of the question that gets people trapped up. By invoking the term superhero, I think what you’re doing is saying comic books, and it’s like Star Trek, even if you watch Star Trek, even if you’re a huge comic book fan, most people don’t start off an introduction, let alone a mass hello to a group of potential coworkers with an admission that, yes, I like comic books, I know way too much about superpowers.

But maybe if you could make the question not so loaded, like forget about costumes and capes, pretend you don’t know anything about comic books. If you could get your body to do one special thing that nobody else’s bodies could, what would it be? Would it really be the power to fly? Because I don’t think it would be.

And not to get too technical here, but flying by itself wouldn’t be much of a power. You’d need super strength to go along with it here, to be able to sustain that flight for any extended period of time. But even if it’s everything that you thought it would be, I’m still calling bullshit on the flying powers. It’s lazy.

What about ice powers? At least it’s something interesting. And isn’t that the whole point of the superpower icebreaker? Nobody knows who you are, and like or not, this question is the quickest way that we’re all going to be able to make a snap judgment of who you are as a person. Give me something like rocket hands. Don’t even explain what that means, just say, “Rocket hands!” and wait for someone to say, “What’s that mean? Rocket hands?”

And then make something up, because now you’ve got everybody’s attention, which is what everybody wants, it’s the reason we’re doing this icebreaker in the first place, we’re all looking at you, please, give us something, anything to break up the monotony of the workday, come on, don’t say flying powers, please.

And then you say flying powers and everybody’s kind of just like, oh well, looks like this person isn’t going to be too much in the way of making anybody’s lives a little bit more interesting. Of course that’s harsh. I’m just being a jerk now. I think I said flying powers when I first got the job too. And it was only because I seriously had no time to think on my feet like that. I wish they’d given me even five minutes advance notice, to come up with something clever.

It’s been a constant “jerk-store” experience ever since that day two years ago. I’ve thought of what I could have said, or should have said, like rocket hands, I just made that up now, but that would have been great.

Or another one that I thought of a while ago, I’d say, “I’d wish for the power to bring my dead relatives back from the grave,” and then get all sad and quiet. That would be really dark, but still kind of funny, just in the fact that nobody would have seen that coming, like talk about shaking up the nine-to-five, in retrospect something like that would have been hilarious.

Don’t dismiss the power of the fortune cookie

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received has come from the wisdom found inside fortune cookies. Yes, those delicious sugar wafers have come to my rescue on innumerable occasions. It’s often something that I take for granted, finishing up a delicious Chinese takeout dinner, discovering those three or four individually wrapped cookies thrown in between the double-layered paper and plastic bag combination used to deliver my food.


“Why’d they give us five cookies when we only ordered two dinners?” I gave up on even asking, because some things I’m probably just not meant to understand. Like just how do they get those little slips of paper inside the cookies? Are they baked with the fortunes already pressed inside the layers of cookie dough? Or do the bakers have to try and slip the message inside once they’re out of the oven?

And why am I so skeptical? Why, after having had so much secret knowledge revealed to me through the power of the fortune cookie, do I still look upon these treats as mere trinkets? It’s like I can’t get past my reservations, I’m always telling myself, it’s just a little trick, an ancient Chinese gimmick used to boost Chinese food sales.

But it’s not a gimmick. Like one time I opened up a fortune cookie, and it read: “If you are afraid to shake the dice, you will never roll a six.” Ha, I thought as I munched on those lightly sweetened wafers, that’s cute.

Only, later that night, I was playing Settlers of Catan with my brother and a couple of his friends. For the majority of the game, I sat mostly on the sidelines. I don’t know if it was poor settlement placement or just bad luck, but I wound up limping through the session barely even accumulating enough resources to buy a development card.

But late in the game I experienced something of a comeback. “Six,” the player to my left announced after rolling the dice. That was big for me. That was like two sheep. “Six,” again, the next roll was the same, two more sheep. Pretty soon I was knee deep in sheep cards. I had enough to trade for wheat, for ore, I was building cities. Before long, I was back in the game, I had a realistic chance of overcoming my opponents and capturing ten victory points to secure the win.

The dice were in my hands. All I needed was another six and that would be it, game over. But I was so nervous, my hands were sweating, I was worried about rolling the dice. And that’s when the fortune from the fortune cookie popped into my head. It was like I could read it, the visualization was so real: “If you are afraid to shake the dice, you will never roll a six.”

I closed my eyes and told myself, you are not afraid to roll these dice. I said it out loud. Everybody was like, “Rob, what are you talking about?” but I put them out of my head also. With a loose fist on the dice, I tossed them once, twice, and there was the release. Boom, boom, the dice hit the table.

Six. It worked. And then another six. It actually worked too well. Because when you’re playing Settlers, you’re rolling two dice, or die, I always forget which one is plural and singular. But it doesn’t matter. Twelve. No good.

I wound up losing. But not before learning a very valuable lesson: never underestimate the power of the fortune cookie. Maybe I should have examined my fortune a little closer, because what I really needed with those dice wasn’t a six, but a three and a three. Or a two and a four. You know, six total, not six and six.

I thought, you know what? That would be a great fortune cookie fortune: “Never underestimate the power of the fortune cookie.” I went to the Chinese food place and asked them where they bought their fortune cookies from. My search led me to a wholesale distributor in Paramus, NJ. They in turn gave me an address to somewhere in, you guessed it, China.

Let’s just say that negotiations are still ongoing. The people in charge of the factory are reluctant to put me on as a specialist. Even though I feel like I could really breathe some new life into the fortune cookie business. Like, why don’t you ever see fortune cookies outside of Chinese restaurants? Maybe you just need the right marketing and fortune cookies could be something you’d find in the snack aisle, a treat to be enjoyed independently of chow mein or beef and broccoli.

Anyway, heed my advice. The next time you get a fortune cookie, pay attention. There’s a lot to be learned. Plus, these winning numbers have to work eventually. Also, I learned how to say pants in Chinese: ku zeh. Pretty cool, right?

We’ll take the cheapest bottle of white wine, please

I’m not really into writing about my day job, or my night job really, about waiting tables. I do it sometimes, but it’s just something that I want to keep separate from the rest of my life. Because when I do venture into stories about something that happened in the restaurant, it tends to be negative, something that bothered me so badly that I couldn’t help but come home and write it out. And then I start out with a big disclaimer, an “I don’t like writing about the restaurant,” opening paragraph, like this is somehow a justification for some complaint I’m going to air about a customer that asked for too many ketchups or a couple that sat in my section for too long.

wine tasting

But here it is: the other night I had a table of three women. And yeah, I’m a few days removed from the situation, and so it’s not bothering me as much as it did that night. I came home fuming, trying to keep a lid on the rage inside. Why did I let myself get so angry? I fantasized about how I’d tell this whole horror story, a “Can you believe it?” play-by-play.

But now that I’m sitting down in front of my computer, now that I’m trying to piece back the sequence of events, everything feels so petty, the women, me. Mostly me. Mostly the fact that I got so upset, that I gave these three strangers so much power over me, to let them direct my emotions, my thoughts. And over what?

They ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. They ordered the cheapest bottle. Whatever, I mean, that’s what it’s there for, right? I did the whole waiter-opens-up-a-bottle-of-wine routine, the presenting of the bottle, the pouring of the little taste. Where most people are like, “fine,” especially with the cheap stuff, this woman made a face, a scrunched up mouth face.

And she held it for a minute, all the while twirling the glass in her fingers. Finally she was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I just … I just … I don’t … I just,” before making her friends try. In my head, I’m thinking, come on ladies, it’s the cheapest bottle of white wine on the menu. What are you really expecting?

But the other friends got stuck in the same feedback loop, “Well,” they said while sniffing the inside of their empty glasses, “I can’t … it’s just … we don’t,” and I cut them off, I was going crazy, I reached for the bottle and very graciously offered them something else. “We’re really sorry,” they said, to which I replied, “Don’t be sorry, I’m happy to bring you something you’ll enjoy.”

And I did. They ordered the second cheapest bottle of wine. “Much better,” the first woman told me after tasting it. The relief on her face, in her voice, it was like she had just received the antidote to a poison that had been causing her visible distress. “We’re so sorry,” she continued, “it’s just … we’re just … this is much better.”

Fine. Terrific. They ordered three veggie burgers, they ordered three sides of avocado, and they sat in my section for the rest of the night, picking at their food, and then engaging in what I can only assume was a spirited game of “let’s see who can drink our wine the slowest.” But this was the end of the night, I had been working there since eleven in the morning, I had absolutely no fight in me, I couldn’t have gotten annoyed simply because I was too tired. So what if I was losing out on another turn of that table? That would have been even more energy that I would have had to expend, gas that I didn’t have left in the tank.

I dropped the check and left them to figure out the bill. A few minutes later, all three of them had their hands in the air, trying to get my attention. “Yes?” I was trying to figure out what could have been the problem. Did I forget to take the first bottle of wine off the bill? Had I handed them someone else’s check?

“Can you go ahead and take these avocado charges off? We never pay for avocado.” And I didn’t know what to say. Everyone pays for avocado. There’s an avocado button on the computer. In fact, there’s no way for anybody to get avocado in this restaurant without paying, so I told them all of this, that there wasn’t really anything that I could do. They started to turn on me, fast, “Listen,” they told me, “Two dollars isn’t going to make a dent in our wallets. But we never pay for avocado.”

They made a loaded statement like that, basically saying, listen asshole, we have tons of money. You think we give a shit about two dollars? No, we don’t. But we don’t want to pay for this. And framed in that light, I took another look at my guests, I noticed their expensive bags, the Merrill Lynch corporate credit cards they had on the tray to pay for their meals.

This wasn’t about two dollars at all. Neither was the wine service. The whole night for them was an exercise in power, in going out and flexing a little muscle. Take this bottle away. Make this two-dollar charge disappear. You, come over here and do as we say.

And when I refused, I knew they’d probably tip less. They started laughing a little. I walked away and when I came back, they handed me the bill. They totally tipped less, thirteen percent each. And that’s when that rage started. I would have never let them see it, that would have been giving them exactly what they wanted. But I took that anger home with me. I brought it into my house when I started “venting” to my wife about how I can’t stand this and that.

Only a few days later, after I’ve had a minute to cool off, can I see how ridiculous the whole situation was. Stuff like that is going to happen and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I did what I had to do and that’s that. Why am I getting so pissed off? It’s all about what I said earlier, that by allowing myself to be angry at these three strangers, I’m giving them the power that they’re seeking, over me, over my emotions, over my mental well-being.

Fuck that shit. I don’t need their two dollars each either. Is that going to make a dent in my overall financial security? Hardly. I just have to remind myself of all of this, the next time I’m dealing with unpleasant customers, the next table that I’m serving that I can’t seem to satisfy. I’m just doing my job, doing the best I can, and if someone else isn’t happy, then that’s on them. I’ve got to be better about not letting random people dictate the terms of how I feel.

Going up?

I’m so sick of getting into elevators and having to do everything myself. What happened to elevator people? These buildings expect me to press my own buttons? It’s not cool. It’s not fair. That’s a pretty expensive piece of machinery, and I’m expected to control it all by myself?

No, we really should bring back the elevator operator. It would create so many jobs, and it would eliminate so much elevator corruption, from the ground floor up. How many times do you find yourself running for an elevator, and the doors are open, and there are people going up, and you don’t want to say something out loud, you don’t want to be like, “Wait! Hold the elevator!” you just want the people on the elevator, the people with whom you’re currently making eye contact, to help you out, to stick their hand in front of the closing doors and allow you to board.

But people are often willfully inconsiderate, of you, of your going-ups and your coming-downs. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been in such a situation myself. I’m a really quick guy, and so if I ever find myself in the unlikely scenario where I’m chasing down an elevator with the doors closing, I just kind of kick it into high gear, bust ass and make sure I get my hand in there. It always works.

I don’t know why I’m not scared of the closing doors. It’s like I automatically take for granted that each elevator I find is always going to come equipped with that sensor, something to detect my hand and stop the doors from closing all the way. But what if it was broken? What if it ignored my hand and just closed shut, tight, like a vise, and then it started going up, my hand getting pulled toward the ceiling?

No, that’s too much to think about. I’m cringing already. But it’s like the same with the subway doors. If I’m catching a train and the doors are closing, I’ll do the same hand trick. It’s a little different, because those doors actually will close on your hand. It doesn’t hurt though, there’s some sort of a rubber layer that prevents it from really clamping down too hard. And then there must be some sort of a separate mechanism that detects your hand in the crack, and the doors briefly open up again, allowing you to slip inside.

And then the conductor gets on the loudspeaker and she’s like, “Will you please not hold the doors open? You’re making everybody late!” and then just as the doors are about to close again, somebody else runs up to catch the train and does the same hand trick, and now the conductor is even madder, she’s like, “One more time! Just try and hold those doors open one more time!”

But back on the elevator, I’m running, the people don’t think I’m going to make it, I do, I’m on the elevator, and so now they’re acting all contrite, or it’s really uncomfortable and so they’re not really acting like anything, they just have their heads down. As a punishment I press every single button on the elevator. You try to make me wait? I’m going to make sure you have to wait. Obviously this only works if everybody else is going to a higher floor than me. If I’m going to nine, and everybody else is getting off at three, yeah, I’ll still press two, just to kind of piss everybody off a little, but it lacks that bite, that having to stop at two, three, four, five, all the way to fifteen. And so if this is the case, I just hold down the emergency bell button. It doesn’t do anything, like no emergency crews ever respond. But it’s loud. And go ahead and try to tell me to stop. You really want to start something after trying to keep me out this elevator?

No, all of this is childish, completely unnecessary, including me, including my behavior. Which is why we need an elevator guy. He’d see me coming, we’d make eye contact, he’d kind of nod and he’d hold the door open. “Thanks Jerry,” I’d say upon entering, obviously I’d be on a first name basis with him, he on a Mr. then last name basis with me. And even if it weren’t my regular elevator guy, I’d say something informal, a “Thanks boss,” something.

Let’s do it. I’ll get the ball rolling. I’ll be the elevator guy. Think of all the power. I’d see how badly people would want me to not hold the door for stragglers, they’d kind of look at me, silently urging me to just close the doors, to make a second trip, and so I’d see that, and I’d turn the tables. I’d ask that person to leave, make that person wait for a second trip. They’d be like, “Who the hell do you think you are?” and I’d respond, “I’m the elevator guy. You want to go up? Huh? Well I hope you brought a comfortable pair of sneakers,” and then I’d point to the stairs.