Searching

To the Representative for Universal Studios in Hollywood:

Me: Hello! I’m a talented young actor that has a lot of experience, and I’m looking for a job!

Them: Talk to me, baby-cakes!

Me: Um…(baby-cakes?)…well…I’m really talented, and I love acting, and I’m thinking a more serious, stoic role-

Them: What have you done before?

Me: Well, I was in a commercial.

Them: Gnarly. What was it? Axe commercial? Ripped abs and females flocking?

Me: Um. Sorta. Jeep Wrangler and kayaks capsizing.

Them: …Um, okay. We’ll work with it. What else?

Me: I was the mayor in “Christmas at the O.K. Chorale”!

Them: When was that produced?

Me: Hm, lessee…late nineties.

Them: Did we produce it?

Me: No, it was a production of Mason Elementary School. Three booked showings.

Them: ….

Me: Hello?

Them…

Me: …hey…um…baby-cakes?

Them: Try Disney.

 

 

At the start of one of my kayak tours:

Me: So where are you all from?

Them: Um…New York area.

Me: Excellent, and what do you do there?

Them: Oh, I own a software company, we do differ-

Me: Sweet! Wanna hire me?

Them: What?

 

 

To the bank teller:

Me: Here you go. Here’s my money. Still not too much…

Them: Thanks, here’s your deposit slip.

Me: Are you hiring?

Them: Am I what?

Me: Hiring. Can I work here? Please? I’m fun, creative, have a degree, and I really like puppies, and customers and things that make me hirable….

Them: Actually, we are looking for part time help in one of our stores up north…

Me: YES!

Them: We need someone that’s bilingual though…any chance you speak French?

 

 

On the phone with L.L. Bean:

Them: Well…yes…yes we did review your application. And, um, you’re a solid applicant. We think you might be a good fill for this job, but…

Me: ….but what?

Them: Well, you look great on paper and all…it’s just that…um…

Me: ….yes?

Them: Well, we misread your application. When we saw “Bryn” we immediately thought you were a girl, and we need a female for this position.

To the Police officer that pulled me over:

Me: Here’s my license and registration, sir. Say, ya’ll wouldn’t happen to be hiring down there at the station wouldja?

 

 

To the manager at a local ski resort:

Them: Well, you have a decent application and your references spoke highly of you, so let’s get on with the interview.

Me: Great!

Them: So do you have a lot of skiing experience?

Me: Yes! I’ve been skiing since I was 9.

Them: Great, great. Where have you skied?

Me: Oh, um…well…mostly, in the west.

Them: So Colorado…Montana…Utah?

Me: Uh..yea… sorta.

Them: Where exactly?

Me: Well, mostly Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Them: ….

Me: Hello?

Them: I thought you said out west?

Me: That is west! West of here….

Click!

Me: Hello?

 

 

At a local restaurant:

Them: So do you have a college degree?

Me: I need a college degree to work here?

Them: Not necessarily, but with today’s economy, jobs are wicked competitive.

Me: Then yes, I have a college degree.

Them: Where’d you go? Was it (enter list of east-coast-private-schools-with-fake-European-accents-on-the-vowels)??

Me: Um, no. Sorry. I went to school in the Midwest.

Them: Okay, where?

Me: Wheaton College.

Them: Oh. Well, I’ve never heard of it.

Me: ….

Them: Try McDonald’s.

 

 

To all of the above:

Me: Well, okay. I understand. But could you at least check out my blog? Please. It’s the least you could do….

 

 

 

And so, the job search continues….

Laugh

One of my father’s favorite sayings growing up was “When man plans, God laughs”. As I child, I found this to be rather rude of the so-called God fellow. I pictured an overweight, bearded man with the voice of Morgan Freeman going “Ah ha, Bryn! You thought you were going to be successful?! How’s flipping burgers sound? Bahaha”. This is part of the reason why, when I graduated in May, I planned on not having a plan. I moved to Maine with little other than my Subaru and a few boxes of books, simply living day to day. I was determined to be anything other than the brunt of a cosmic joke.

As a guide, I’ve had several people on my trips that haven’t kayaked once in their life. When I say things like “paddle stroke”, “rudder”, and “capsize” the frequent response is a wide-eyed expression as though I’d spouted a third arm and slapped them upside the face. So I have to start with the basics.

I begin with a lesson on how to hold the paddle. It’s rather simple really:

“You’re going to hold your paddle with your hands about shoulder width apart. Make sure you have a nice loose grip and the keep the smooth side of the paddle, the side with the logo on it, facing you…”

This instruction prompts a flurry of activity, like windmills in a hurricane, as paddles are flipped, twisted and rotated to find the right position.  Sometimes this happens before I mention that we should all spread out, which results in more than a few “THWACK!”s and earnest “I-don’t-even-know-your-name-but-just-smacked-you-upside-the-head-with-my-paddle-and-I’m-very-sorry!”s.

Finally, things will settle down and then one of my clients will look at me (usually with the paddle upside down and their hands placed in a death grip as far apart as they can spread them) and ask:

“Is this right?”

And I can’t help but laugh.

Shortly after arriving in Maine, I received a potential job offer from the military; they asked me to work for the ROTC detachment back at my alma mater. The offer would be for four months over the winter, feature excellent pay, and, best of all, it would allow me a nice hiatus with some old friends and the funds to spend part of my winter bagging peaks in Colorado. I jumped at the opportunity. I was offered the position, but informed that funding wouldn’t be confirmed until mid-September, though my employers were confident the money would come through.

And so I waited. Staying true to my goal of planning nothing, of living day to day. Clients frequently asked me what I’d be doing come winter (“You don’t still kayak do you? Doesn’t the ocean freeze over?”), and I told them I wasn’t quite sure I’d see when I got there. The funny thing about plans are, like kayak paddles, you don’t know how hard you’re holding onto them until they’re removed from your grip. And, in my heart, I’d been planning on returning to Chicago.

This past week I received and email that informed me the funding didn’t come through; I wouldn’t be going back. Atop the understanding that I wouldn’t be seeing some of my best friends, wouldn’t be able to save money, and certainly wouldn’t get to spend a couple weeks scaling fourteeners in Colorado, I was also struck by the realization that I was a few weeks away from being unemployed and homeless. This seemed a long fall from being the capsizing star of Outside Magazine TV. And then I remembered what my father said: “When man plans, God laughs”. I figured God was getting a good guffaw, while I, for one, was certainly not laughing.

I had received the email just before running into work for my evening tour, and didn’t have time to do anything but read it, which came about as easy as a sucker punch. As I introduced myself to my group, and started getting everyone outfitted, I was confused, a little scared and even angry. Luckily, I’m a really talented actor (have I ever mentioned that I was on TV once?) so I was able to hide it.

I started off my tour the same way as every other before it: “You’re going to hold your paddle with your hands about shoulder width apart…” followed by the usual chaos, and, sure enough, a client named Brenda holding her paddle up to me and inquiring: “Is this right?”

And then it hit me, the paddle that is, from another client next to me.

THWACK!”

“Oh, my goodness! I just hit the guide! I thought I had spread out far enough. Oh, gosh, I am so sorry Brya-er…Brent…um…Brenden?”

“It’s Bryn,” I said, rubbing a bruise on my shoulder, “And don’t worry about it. Happens a lot.”

I turned back to Brenda, who was still holding her paddle up for my inspection. And that’s when it really hit me.

When I see my clients holding their paddles and confused looks, I’ve never laughed because I thought they were stupid (well, okay….never is a stretch, but most of the time). Nor did I laugh because I was annoyed, or because I delighted in their befuddlement.

Rather, I laughed because as I looked at them, as I saw what they thought was right, I realized they’d be in quite a pickle if I didn’t correct them. I laughed because I cared, and because I knew that with a quick flip, this situation that seemed so perplexing, so confusing to them, would be an after-thought soon enough. I laughed because as strange as it might seem at the time, once I adjusted the paddles and got them out on the water, it would all be worth it and it would all make sense.

And I realized this is what my father meant. Man plans and God laughs.  He isn’t laughing at me. He doesn’t delight in any pain or confusion. He’s laughing because He’s looking at me holding my paddle of plans, seeing how I think it should be done, and realizing He’d better straighten me out quick. He’s laughing because He knows what He’s doing; He knows that He cares about me, and with that in mind- why not have a good chuckle? He’s laughing because He is God, and I can’t even figure out how to hold my paddle.

And when He’s done laughing, He takes my hands, loosens my grip, rotates my paddle, and fixes it.

See? He says, this is how you hold it.

“Ohhhh,” I nod, looking at it now and wondering how I thought it could’ve been otherwise before. “Okay. Yea. I get it.”

He smiles, and steps back to where He was, and continues His instruction.

As I took my tour out that night, I felt a sense of peace and delight that less than an hour before wasn’t possible. I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen next, didn’t know where I would work, where I would live, what my parents might say when I called them and told them “surprise! I’m moving into the garage!”… but I didn’t care anymore. I trusted my guide, and I figured I’d do what I’d been trying to do all along. I loosened my grip, and let Him adjust the paddle in my hands.

And God? Well, it’s simple really. God laughed.

Mussels

I am not a good cook. Okay, that’s being too generous. On the scale of fine dining, I’m somewhere between Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts. I consider a nice meal to be whole-wheat pasta with vegetable sauce and a salad. When I’m really in a hurry, and don’t feel like slaving over a hot stove for five minutes, I usually go with a Cliff Bar or Banana. Or Lean Cuisine meals. Can I just say: those inventions are simply splendid? They take five minutes to microwave and are surprisingly delicious (“all the taste and none of the fat!”).

I do not consider my cuisine depravity to be completely my fault. I don’t, however, think it is genetic. My father is renowned for not knowing how to cook, but I think his inability was a little exaggerated by his British-in-law’s. That’s the thing about having British-in-laws, they seem to exaggerate things. Just look at history, a couple of more-than-likely drunken “rebels” tossed their tea into the ocean and next thing you know the Redcoats are marching in (the Yanks, I’m sure were baffled: ”Come on, now… it was all in good fun. And yes, I’m sorry we also took a whiz on the statue of King George, but we were drunk! Let’s not over react, gentleman…here, have a beer”). My father seemed to have a similar experience: one meal of Hamburger Helper and he wasn’t allowed to go near the stove for years. But this taught him a sense of resourcefulness I grew to admire. As kids, we loved nights with Dad because it meant one thing was certain: we were getting pizza.

My mother, on the other hand, is one of those people with a rare ability to take the odds and ends within the kitchen cabinets, and, with the addition of about twenty minutes and a good dose of wine (to this day, I’m not quite sure if it was for cooking of consumption), concoct a meal fit for kings. Of all my mothers’ remarkable qualities, this one takes the cake (pun well intended). It was like a magic show, little bit of this, little bit of that, gulp of wine and POOF! dinner! So I hardly think this is genetic.

Rather, I think my condition is the combination of being broke, easy to please and irrefutably single. Well, that and my utter disconnect with French culture, but I’m pretty sure that’s a dead horse.

The point to all this is that I want to learn how to cook. I’m still broke, very easy to please and, oh yes, certainly single. But I want to learn to cook. So I’ve been keeping and eye out for opportunities.

Fun fact: along the coast of Maine, there are certain areas in which it is legal to collect mussels for free. Bar Harbor is one such area. Many people have never heard of mussels, but I grew up with a mother who loved these black shellfish. Anytime there was a good deal at the supermarket, she’d buy a pound or so and cook them in- you guessed it- white wine. So this week, I decided I would try my hand at making a mussel dinner.

Step One: Buy the ingredients.

Since I was completely clueless as to what I would need to make my meal, I consulted my mother. I thought about texting her, but that never goes well:

Bryn: Hey Mom, I just had a quick question about cooking mussels, what do I cook them in?

(15 minutes later) Mom: hEy- B4ry$#, ifF u want 2 cok#e the museo fkhg54239#%@kafk (The last slew of characters I usually interpret as my otherwise pious mother’s string of frustrated profanity.)

Bryn: Calling now…

Within five minutes, I had a list of ingredients and instructions. I set off for the supermarket and picked up an onion, heavy cream, salt, and- let us not forget- a bottle of white wine. Leaving the grocery store, I checked my watch. Low tide was in about ten minutes. I made my way to the harbor.

Step Two: Collect the Mussels.

Before I did that, I had to ensure I wouldn’t die. See, there’s a pesky little bacteria known as Red Tide that seeps in along the coastline here and infects all the shellfish. I know this sounds like something out of a crappy 80’s horror movie, but it’s not a lie (nor is it fiction). The water literally turns red with clouds of these bacteria and, for a while, it’s not safe to eat any of the shellfish. If one were to consume any product infected with Red Tide, the result would be something like food poisoning. Very, very bad food poisoning. Death often results. That’s reason enough to check, if you ask me.

So I called the Red Tide hotline to ensure that if I died of anything, it’d be my cooking, not Red Tide.

Good news, the bacteria were still down south, possibly held up in a Boston traffic jam(or lost in Gloucester). I was safe.

I drove down to the sand bar, now at fully exposed at low tide. I took a grocery bag, and began making my way through the muddy tidal waters, picking up mussels as I went. This must’ve been quite a sight for the tourists:

“Daddy! Daddy! What’s that man doing out there in the mud?”

“The one with his jeans rolled up, who keeps tripping over himself and muttering words it’s a good thing you can’t hear?”

“Yea! That man.”

“He’s collecting mussels.”

“What are they, Daddy?”

“They’re a type of animal that live in the muddy water.”

“What’s he doing with them?”

“I think he’s going to eat them.”

“Ewwww, that’s gross. Why would he do that, Dad?”

“Because, they’re free, and I would guess he’s pretty poor. Remember what I told you, son…make sure you go to (insert east coast private school with a European sounding accent on the vowels), or that could be you someday.”

Step Three: Cook the mussels.

By the time I got back to my house, I was already fairly hungry. So I opened the French bread I’d bought to go with the mussels and took a bite. Then I eyed the bottle of wine. I uncorked it and took a swig. It wasn’t all that bad for a seven-dollar purchase. I took another swig. Like mother like son; cooking became a lot more fun.

I retrieved a large pot from my landlord’s kitchen cabinet, and placed it on the stove with the burners turned on high. I took a swig of wine. I read the notes my mother had dictated over the phone. Took a swig of wine. I added butter to the bottom of the pan. I chopped up the onion and I started to cry. But it was okay, because I took a swig of wine.

Placing the onion in the bottom of the pan, I heard it sizzle with the butter and instantly the house was filled with a familiar smell. I knew I was doing something right, because it reminded me of my mother’s cooking. To celebrate such a joyous occasion, I took a swig of wine.

While the onion was cooking, I cleaned off the mussels. I quickly learned why mussels collected off the beach were free, but those in supermarkets cost an arm and a leg per pound: cleaning them was a task. It was okay though; I talked to myself and every now and then convinced Bryn that it’d be a good time to take another swig of wine. I scrubbed ferociously, and by the time the onions were cooked, the mussels were all ready to go.

I put the mussels in the pot and poured the wine over top. I poured half the bottle in, and then went to take another swig, only to find it was nearly empty. For a moment I was puzzled. I executed my best Jack Sparrow impression to date: “why is the (wine) gone??” But wine in the pot began to burn off, and the smell was even more familiar; all was well.

I assembled a salad and toasted the bread, eyeing the remaining wine. I stirred the mussels from time to time, and was delighted as I saw the shells begin to open (a sign that they were cooked). I poured cream over the mussels, and added salt, both of which blended in with the wine to create the sauce. And just like that, I had the first sophisticated self-cooked meal of my life. I sat down to toasted French bread, a lovely tossed salad, a plate overflowing with mussels and, quite naturally, the remnants of my wine.

And, I do declare, it was good. It not only tasted delightful, but there was a certain sense of satisfaction that came from putting more effort into making a meal than simply pushing the “Start” button. I finished my meal, and sat at the table for a moment, letting it all seep in. Eventually, I cleaned all the dishes, throwing away the shells, and then rinsing the pots.

Finally, I retired to my room where I flopped onto my bed. I had promised my mother I would let her know how it went, so I texted her:

Bryn: Meal a success! Wish you could have been here to enjoy it with me.

(5 minutes later) Mom: gLad u $li2ked iT. Lo3e you! Xo

With that, I attempted to read but soon drifted off into a content slumber, another sign of an excellent meal.

Then again, maybe that was the just wine.