Country Sparkles

If I had to do a standup comedy act, I think I would start it out with the fact it's an odd feeling to consistently disappoint people just by showing up. In almost all of my jobs, I have had to meet people well after we have established a phone relationship. As I am devoid of an accent and my name is Derek Fisher, you can just see the confusion on peoples' faces when I'm the person associated with the mental image they've had in their head the entire time. You can literally watch the thoughts go off in their head "I'm pretty sure this guy is Asian. I've seen Asian people before, and this dude checks off all the boxes. But, his name is Derek Fisher..." We live in such a PC world I can see the desire to ask so many questions, but the inability to do so as they don't want to be featured on tomorrow's Yahoo news feed for being a terrible person. If I like the person, I'll quickly make a joke about it and we'll laugh about it and move on. If I dislike the person, I just will let them stew internally and enjoy watching their confusion seep out of their faces. If I REALLY dislike the person, strap in, because we're going on an express train to Liarsville and I'll just start making up things that will confuse people even more. There are many of us who can relate to this experience. But now, I'm about to take the exit ramp off the highway of commonality and go on the service road of "yeah, that's definitely not me"

See, upon deeper reflection, even people who meet me for the first time who don't have a preconceived notion of me rarely look at the person next to them and go "that's a sterling chap right there." I seem to exude a "fuck off" vibe, or at least a strong desire to just shake my hand in greeting and then run off to chase an empty deviled egg tray as an excuse to avoid being around me. If there is a black belt for being unapproachable, you are talking to a grand master and Kumate champion. I have spent years refining and honing this skill to the point I do not even have to think about being unlikeable. I just have a very punchable aura. I remember first having an interest in acquiring this skill in high school. I desperately wanted to flip the tables of power and wrest the control from my fellow classmates to me. I needed people to not like me out of my choosing, not because they were rejecting the very essence of “who I am.” I started to admire the porcupine as my spirit animal. Deep down inside, I wanted to be a sea otter. Do not fucking say "Awww, that's really cute!" because it isn't. Sea otters are awesome for so many reasons beyond their cuteness (they really are adorable, aren't they? And in the end, secretly, I suppose I wanted to be adorable, but I swear I will exercise my 5th Amendment rights if I am asked to answer that in a court of law). Porcupines just seemed much more appropriate. If you say a panda is more accurate, I swear I really am on a diet, I don't know why this damn weight won't come off and you're predictably racist. Get some help. While porcupines have an amazing defense system, I can't really come up with many positive qualities about them. So, yes, it's good to be spiky and prickly, but if someone persists in getting through the defense system, it's not like the porcupine becomes a golden retriever puppy. It stays the nasty rodent that it is. There is no reward for curiosity and tenacity.

After many drug assisted nights contemplating this, I ended up writing a love poem about a pineapple. I believed I had found the perfect analogy of what I wanted to become. If you have never known what a pineapple was, would you be curious to try one? No, you really wouldn't. It has spiky green fronds on the top. I have spiky hair that sticks straight up without copious quantities of American Crew pomade. It is round and squat. I GET IT. I HAVE A FEW EXTRA POUNDS ON MY STOMACH. It has a bumpy hard exterior that is tough to penetrate. No, those are not genital warts. And, get your hands out of my pants. But, if someone persists on getting to the inside of the pineapple, they are rewarded with sweetness and delicious flesh. I wanted to be like a pineapple! No, I NEEDED to be a pineapple. I wanted to develop the most difficult exterior possible, but I wanted to reward the person who was curious enough to get to know the real me with qualities like fierce loyalty, entertaining aspects, a treasure trove of information, and a considerate disposition. Just so you know, it's much easier to develop the hard exterior than it is to have incredible qualities internally to justify the hard work. Currently, I feel I'm more like a pear. Completely inedible and by the time I'm ripe to enjoy you aren't paying attention, and then I'll be dead. I estimate I have thrown out about $26,000 worth of spoiled pears in my life so far because I missed the commercial break when the fucker finally turned ripe and didn't then instantly turn to brown mush. There is nothing better than a perfectly ripe pear. There is very little worse than the mealy mash of crap that is that same pear nine seconds later.

Am I the only person who is like a pineapple? Certainly not. I think many people have unapproachable exteriors. For someone of my age, there are few more unapproachable people than millennials. I find them to possess very few redeemable qualities. I do not know of a generation in human history who has so much access to so much knowledge, but has a complete disregard for it. I do not know of many generations who are so individually confident of their abilities, but have never done anything of significance to merit that belief. I've had to hire and then fire, or more commonly conclude they quit because they just stopped coming into work… enough millennials to fill a Jonas brothers concert. I started to become so jaded I called all of them "sparkles". Like, "Hey, Sparkles, we start at 8:00AM for a reason, not just to inconvenience you. 9:15 doesn't cut it." or "Look, Sparkles, you can't have my job after two months of being here because you spent those two months writing shitty false reviews about my fucking company and that isn't someone I want to promote to greater responsibility" When I would come and vent to my wife, I had to use differentiators so she would know who I'm talking about. They became Tall Sparkles, Gay Sparkles, Seattle Sparkles, Smelly Sparkles. You know how I know this is a messed-up world? They would get excited when I would call them Sparkles. They flipped the tables on me and being called Sparkles became a badge of honor. It meant they had successfully irritated me to the point they would then get a colorful cascade of profanity, which apparently is entertaining to listen to for all parties involved. I had a particularly observant individual who noticed when I was truly angry a vein on my forehead would pop out and he decided his mission in life would be to get that vein to protrude. He became an assistant manager.

I now work for a company that has a training program. We will hire freshly graduated millennials and put them into a 2-year program consisting of 4 six-month rotations. They are to experience various disciplines, figure out where a good fit lies, and become a valuable member of our organization. CTP (CB&I Training Program) participants were just called CTPs. For the most part, by the time they finally learn what they need to know to become helpful, it's time for the next rotation. It's a great concept in theory, in actuality, it's an exercise in frustration. Kind of like flowbies. It sounds cool to have a tool to cut your own hair, but let's see how thrilled you are at the end result. But, like flowbies, the CTP program still exists. The last CTP who came sauntering into my office is the one who will remain in my memory. This poster child of Stereotypical Millennial came in on his 4th rotation and the swagger were incredible. He was almost done. He had graduated from Texas A&M and he wanted to make sure everyone knew it. He might have set a land speed record for how fast the word Sparkles came out of my mouth. Because as unimpressed as I was with him, he was equally, or greater than unimpressed with me. At the very top of his disdain was my lack of a college degree. He immediately thought he was better than me because he had something I didn't have. I think both of us were thinking, "Fuck, the next six months are going to suck."

Here is the interesting thing about ugly food and ugly people: If you are starving, you have no choice but to get through the unappealing exteriors. And, when you work together every day you have no choice but to start peeling back the layers of assholery. Gradually, we started to realize there was a payoff by just putting away our exteriors. He liked to sing country songs. I surprised him with my love of country music. He liked stand up comedians and I think I shocked the hell out of him with my encyclopedic knowledge of comedians. He liked to drink beer. You get the drift. This post is running long, so I need to stop being so thoroughly descriptive. But, he also surprised the hell out of me. He was curious and asked questions. I told him I wouldn't spoon feed him the answer, he had to guess an answer to his own question first. He hated it at first, but then he understood why I was making him do it. He loved creating order out of the chaos that was my desk. He proudly walked in one day with a filing system that would prevent our boss from yelling at me ever again. Cute try, but he underestimated my ability to aggravate my superiors with my complete disregard for organizational protocols. He quickly realized he didn't know shit about what we do, but became motivated to remedy it. ASAP. "Sparkles" became a nickname of endearment. Other people wanted to start calling him that as well, but he aggressively shut them down. Only I was allowed to call him that. And this is when the delicious nectar really started to flow. We'd spend a half an hour every day just going over things in his life and how to approach those issues. He was getting married soon. I tried to tell him he wasn't ready, but you know how stubborn we were at that age. I wouldn't have listened to me either when I got married at 20. I started to really enjoy working with Sparkles.

If you were to ask him, I guarantee you he wouldn't have imagined a short Asian 40 something guy would become someone who he looked to for advice and guidance. And, I would tell you there was zero chance I would look at a tall, soul patch wearing, country singing, Christian ginger millennial would become someone I would view as a person who if I had a son I would want him to be like. Yet, here we are. He sadly got transferred to another rotation because we didn't have the budget to keep him in our department. I fought for him to stay, even offering a reduction in my salary to keep him. He means that much to me. We don't get to talk as often as I want to, and I haven't seen him in over a year. But, he'll forever be in my heart as Country Sparkles, the guy who taught me that all millennials aren't beyond salvage. The world might be in better shape than I had thought as long as there are more Sparkles out there to learn and eventually lead the way. You're dearly missed, Jason.