Asking questions always relaxes me. In fact, I sometimes think that my secret profession is that I’m a private investigator, a detective. I always enjoy finding out about people. Even if they are in absolute agony, I always find it very interesting.
Wally Shawn, My Dinner with Andre
One of my favorite questions to ask, after I know someone’s profession, is about their strangest or funniest experiences in their line of work. Some people (priests, for instance) are off-limits, but most are very willing to share. This is how I got to find out about the grant applicant who wanted a new grant for a new car after he wrecked the one the first grant purchased. And the substitute teacher who came home for lunch and fell asleep in front of the woodstove, waking only when the principal called to ask if she was coming back for her afternoon classes. And the trail guide who had to patiently explain to a rider that the bears in the woods weren’t out of their cages; they actually lived in the forest full-time. And the customer who wanted a pizza delivered uncut because of her daughter’s religion, which forbade anything that had been “premeditated by another person.” (And actually, the friend who told me that last story is now a priest!)
My classroom and studio are a mine of great stories, as you well know, but here are two other sources of good material. First, a blog I occasionally read, because too-frequent exposure would probably cause an abdominal rupture from hysterical laughter, is Dr. Grumpy. He’s an anonymous neurologist who deals with his work stress by posting story after story of ridiculous patient interactions:
Dr. Grumpy: “At your last visit you tried Feelbetter. Has it helped?”
Mrs. Shootme: “No. The first pill made me horribly sick. I had every side effect I read about, so I threw it away.”
Dr. Grumpy: “But, according to our records, you had me call a refill into the pharmacy?”
Mrs. Shootme: “I was afraid you’d get angry if you thought I’d stopped it.”
Guest: Why don’t you have wild salmon?
Owner: It comes from Alaska.
Guest: But it fits your profile.
Owner: Large carbon footprint.
Guest: Salmon have feet?
Hey, if we can all laugh about it, it can’t be that bad.