Friday, June 18, 2010

Job 51

Griping about work seems to be a universal human trait, and even those who have followed the oft-given advice to “follow your dream, and the job will appear” I’m sure have days when they feel like their drowsy fantasy has become a living nightmare. I’m guilty of these kinds of thought as well. Consciously, I know that working in the ED is a good job. Fine pay, no call, mild respect, occasional stress, and an excellent sense of “work family” found nowhere else except maybe law enforcement and the military. Yet there are more days than I care to admit where I don’t want to go in and face the next patient who’s been sick forever (presumably since the Korean War…and if it was service-connected, they'd be at the VA) and give the patented two minute spiel entitled “I can’t fix you in the ED today.”

That being said, I’m often amused by small gift books such as “50 Job Worse Than Yours,” which includes such occupations as Chick Sexer and Maggot Wrangler. But I think I’ve run into Job 51. It is:

Arena Marshall at Q-Zar Laser Tag in Tampa, Florida

I learned this about a year ago at a birthday party attended by my enthusiastic “Look-Dad-I-won-enough-Skee-Ball-tickets-for-a-plastic-snake-I’ve-named- Constantine” son. (I think he plays Age of Empires II waaaaaay too often). One of the perks for parents in the new trend towards activity-focused birthday parties is that the old folks usually get to play, too. So at the insistence of The Child, I joined his party group (“D-man’s Team.” Apparently even small suburbanite children get rapper names) for a round of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation mayhem.

The concept of laser tag is relatively simple. You get a laser gun and a plastic vest. The vest has a flashing square on the front and the back. If another player’s laser hits you on the square, you are “hit” and your gun goes inactive for a few seconds. If you run out of lives (which I did four times in the space of a fifteen minute game, and that includes a good eleven minutes of cowering in a corner…see below), you have to run to a recharge station and get another life by waving your gun in front of a piece of plexiglass. No, I have no idea how it works.

You start by getting a briefing on the rules. The briefing room has five tiers, divided into a green side and a red side, each holding about twenty combatants. Once the players have filed in, the Marshall arrives. Her job is to deliver a briefing about the rules. She has to do so to twenty screaming ten year old boys per side, pre-fueled on ice cream, hot fudge, soda, cake, and the general hubris that comes with an absence of parental supervision, the acquisition of firearms by preadolescent males, and the winning of plastic snakes named for Roman Emperors. She has to explain to this seething mass of testosterone and sugar that there will be no yelling, no running, and no physical c0ntact. She does it saying she will throw the person out. She has to do it at least sixteen times each day.

The job doesn’t end with the briefing, however. During the game, she has even more duties. They include explaining to befuddled parents how the trigger works, why your vest is on backwards, and walking about holding a child’s sleeve with her right hand and that of an angry parent with her left, stopping every adult to ask, “Is this one yours?” (Fortunately, for once the answer was no.) And the look on the poor girl’s face would have blunted the sharpest edge; the desperate gaze of someone who knows this job is not a resume builder, not a step towards middle management, and not even a way to meet cute guys at the mall; the look that says she knows all a job at Q-Zar will do for her is give her a severe case of night blindness and a desire to, no matter how much she may love any future offspring, absent herself completely from any parenting activity from ages 8 to 37.

I was repeatedly tormented by a very large prepubescent girl who took great delight in firing about forty billion laser beams at me just after I recharged my gun. What’s more embarrassing is that, despite the clear evidence of her cardiac and diabetic risks, I still couldn’t manage to hit her “broad side,” or any side. I was also stalked by a thirty-something parent with extremely large teeth that glowed green in the black light of the arena who would pop out from behind obstacles and barriers and cry, “Hahahaha! Gotcha!” as if this was the singular thing that gave him pleasure in this world. (For the record, I use the “singular pleasure” theory a lot to justify the behavior of others. For example, I used to get a lot of parking tickets form campus police when I was teaching at the University of Florida. For no good reason other than sheer obstinacy I would not pay them…I mean, they already used my taxes to build the parking lot…and so once every six month or so a campus “kiddie cop” would come swaggering by and demand payment. Rather than get mad, I just figured that if calling a doctor out on his tickets was as good as they got in life, why deprive them of the moment? So I would hang my head, and apologize profusely, and even generate a sniffle of true remorse. They would give me thirty days to pay up, but which time a new cycle of ticketing would have started all over again.)

It turns out that the only way to avoid getting hit all the time is to curl up on the ground with your back against a wall, cross your arms over your chest, and hope nobody sees you. If course, you can’t shoot at anything, either, but I found some comfort in adopting a Ghandian non-violent approach to death by tag rather than raging, raging, raging against the tagging of the light.

In the end, it turned out that our team had won despite my efforts to the contrary. But that should not deprive you of the right to brag about all the wonderful heroics to which you were never a part. At Q-Zar, however, you can’t even maintain that illusion. Your score is electronically recorded, and at the end of the match they give a printout you’re your statistics on it. Everyone compares cards, and failure to do so invites suspicion. So in fairly short order The Child learned that the Great and Powerful Father was far and away the worst player on the Green Side, with a whopping hit percentage of 14.9%. I think this is slightly worse than Mr. Ed, and we know how hard it is to shoot with hooves. I comfort myself with the knowledge that the guy who graduates last in his med school class is still called doctor, and that people like Jim Sorgi still get a Super Bowl ring.

Thank you, Q-Zar. I’m more grateful for the job that I do…and for the one that I don’t.