My hair worked. That is what I will choose to remember about today.
The most persuasive advocates know not to let their emotions interrupt when they speak their mind, nor say what’s on their mind when people need to hear what is in their heart.
Several years ago (I’ll go with many years ago) I was interpreting at a university. A little after midterms I got a call from the interpreter coordinator.
It was a weird call.
The coordinator never called me at home unless there was some kind of change in the schedule. This time the coordinator just talked and talked and talked. Talked about respect. Talked about new opportunities. Talked about change.
I finally asked, “are you firing me?”
She replied in careful tones, “not exactly. But you need to know that you won’t be working for the university after this semester. We won’t be hiring you again.”
I couldn’t let that stand, “that is ‘kinda’ firing me. I don’t do ‘kinda fired.’ If I’m fired- I’m fired today. Right now.”
She backpedaled, “oh no I’m not saying that! We will let you finish out the semester…”
I quickly corrected her misconception, “you don’t get to fire me but still get the benefit of my skills; I’m in or I’m out right now.”
Then she uttered the words that set every interpreter’s teeth on edge, “So. You would just walk away from students?”
“No,” I explained, “you are taking me away from the students. I did not quit, you fired me. I am ready, willing and able to provide my services, but you are saying you do not wish me to.”
And then it hit me. The question my shock and anger had hidden from my brain until this moment.
“By the way, why are you firing me?”
There was a long pause. “Um… there have been complaints.”
This was just getting weirder and weirder. “What complaints? By whom?”
Again a pause, “I am not at liberty to say who complained but some examples are: showing up late, leaving in the middle of classes for long periods of time…” the list went on.
Funny thing was, I wasn’t doing any of those things.
My team was.
I liked my team. I did, I liked her and I didn’t want to make trouble for her. So, like the CPC says I had tried to talk to her privately about leaving me hanging, and when that didn’t work, I just picked up the slack whenever she walked out for a smoke in the middle of class.
I realized out loud. “No student made those complaints, [my team] did, and they are what she is doing.”
No pause this time, “I can’t confirm that! I couldn’t if I wanted to. But it doesn’t matter because this did not come from me, the Director of Accessibility Services told me to make this call, tonight!”
Now it was becoming clear. I had in fact caused a little grief earlier in the semester, that one was on me. What happened was the Assistant Director told me I would only be paid for the time I was actually interpreting and would not be paid for the 15 to 30 minutes breaks in-between classes. That was effectively cutting my paid by an hour each day.
I told him I would accept that deal only if he agreed to only accept pay for those times he was actually advising a student in his office (he told me “that’s not how this works,” and I replied, “you are exactly right! That is not how this works”) and in the end I kept my paid hour (Just rereading that… yeah… I’m a jerk sometimes).
Anyway. That did not win me friends in the front office.
“I need to meet with [the Director] tomorrow morning,” I said.
“I don’t think she will meet with you.” She replied.
“She can meet in the morning in her office or we can meet in the afternoon at the labor commission, I said, “I’ll leave that up to her.”
We met the next morning.
When I went into the Directors office she was braced for an argument, but I simply asked, “what is your opinion of me?”
She looked at me warily and said, “I’m not sure.”
“Oh no,” I corrected, “you have a definite opinion of me. You are sure enough in your opinion to fire me.”
She started to argue that I was not actually fired, but I told her we could save the discussion on semantics for another day.
“You are sure enough in your opinion of me to fire me on the word of [my team] without investigating if any of the allegations are true.”
She sat up and said that she could not tell me who had made the complaints and I should not assume.
I told her that I was in no way assuming. I was much more aware of my team’s reputation of questionable work ethics than she was and this was not the first time I had heard of her throwing a team under the bus. But it was definitely the worst.
Be that as it may, I knew she had not investigated because not only were the allegations not true, they were easily proven to not be true.
“How?” she asked.
“Simple,” I said. “At the end of the semester you ask all of the Deaf students to fill out an evaluation of their interpreters. Mostly it’s a formality, but do that evaluation today and I will accept whatever it says. Let’s see if my team is willing to do the same.”
The Director agreed and had me sit in her office. A few hours later she return with a stack of papers in her hand and a pained expression.
“I owe you an apology,” she said, “I should have looked before I leapt.”
I told her not to worry about it, so long as I was no longer ‘fired.’
She assured me that I was not and would be welcome back next semester.
I told her that unfortunately I would not be returning the next semester because I had another offer from a different agency.”
Her jaw went slack, “if you’re not coming back anyway, then what was this all about?”
“My reputation,” I stated. “You see about two weeks ago in-between classes I told my team that I was not coming back next semester because I had another offer. It’s my guess that she thought she would make herself look better by making me look worse.” I thought for a second, “I think she figured that you would not talk to me about it until the end of the semester and by that time I would have told you that I was going anyway.”
The Director shook her head a little while she mulled this over and then said, “well, I appreciate you taking this so well and I have learned a lesson today. You understand it would be hard to lose [my team] in the middle of a semester but we will do some switching around so you don’t have to work with her anymore.”
This was obviously starting to give the Director a headache. “What do you mean why?”
“I mean, why,” I said. “I never complained to you about her. When she is actually doing the job she is a skilled interpreter. She knows the classes and the context and it would be totally disruptive to the students to switch her out now.” I continued, “I mean, do what you want because you’re the boss. But I never said I had a problem with her. If I did I would have come to you with it.”
Now you may be thinking ‘cool story. Thanks?’
I will admit it was a pretty long journey to get to a short point.
Always be the interpreter with the work ethic that allows you, if questioned, to comfortably respond, ask the Client to evaluate me and I will go with whatever they say.
Be that interpreter and you will sleep well at night for the rest of your days.
This is my son Max, and that is his favorite scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson. Most people don’t have a favorite scientist, but Max does.
On the day this was taken Max spent the afternoon running from one sold out Hall at the local university to another in a desperate bid to see NDT speak live, even if it was a closed circuit projection from a building all the way across campus.
He literally got the last seat available to anyone.
We came to pick him up when it was over and Max asked if we could wait in line (where NDT was signing books) so he could see him in person.
Now, I had promised Max I would drive him there and got stuck in traffic so I was late (part of the reason for the ticket scramble) and I felt a little guilty.
So we got in line.
For over two hours we stood on the steps of a winding staircase heading to the top most floor of the performance center where NDT had lectured. It was well after midnight when we approached the table.
NDT’s people kept a pretty tight schedule for him and it was, as I said, after midnight so they were hurrying everyone through the “sign the book-thank you-bye” assembly line. But when Max approached the table NDT stopped the well oiled machine.
Max had brought him a lab coat to sign.
He also had a book (not a book written by NDT, a children’s book about space).
And a lab coat.
NDT looked at the coat and then at Max and asked, “you’re not an evil genius are you? Because I gotta ask, what kid your age comes equipped with his own lab coat?”
Then he chatted with Max. Not long, but long enough for Max to know his favorite scientist took a real interest in him.
When Max proffered the book NDT pointed out that he did not write it.
Max replied, “I know. But it’s my first book about space. It’s the book that made me want to be a scientist and it’s what started me on my way to meet you.”
NDT took the book and signed it.
Then he did the Nerd Fighter “handshake” with Max, complete with hand motions and DFTBA!
Then the moment was over. But in that moment Max knew that for just a brief few seconds (a dot on and infinite dot in the universal scale) he, Max, was the most important thing in the world to his hero.
I found this picture the other day and when I looked at it again and remembered that moment I realized…
I have a favorite scientist.
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