The summer after I graduated from high school, I got a job at a mortgage loan company – as an assistant to the underwriter. This was a huge joke in my family because math and I get along about as well as opposing political parties. We know we have to work together somehow, but it’s a really tenuous relationship. I was the kid who could always be heard crying, “I’m going to be an ACTOR. Why the hell do I need ALGEBRA?! I mean, nobody at an audition is going to ask me to balance an equation or solve for x!”
You can imagine the guffaws from my friends and family members when they heard I was to be paid for checking someone else’s math. They didn’t think I would last a week, let alone an entire summer.
The underwriter and I got along rather well, and it was a fairly easy job. A hell of a lot better than answering phones (that poor receptionist)! And I learned a lot about what it takes to get a loan approved, even with bad credit. (Debt income ratio offset by x situations like school loans, recent recovery from illness, good payment habits…person x just got a new job….)
Just about everyone in this office reminded me of a character from a book. There was Yertle the Turtle, Horton, Cindy Lou Who…. Okay, so they mostly reminded me of Dr Seuss characters, but they were super nice and gave me plenty to laugh about. Even that one loan processor who, today, would easily be charged with sexual harassment in the workplace based on all of the jokes he used to tell me. The most elaborate ones were drawn as cartoons. And I played along like a dutiful seasonal worker…because he was funny. I will never hear the words “Naval Warfare” the same way ever again!
My direct boss used to love telling me jokes, also. His favorites were blonde jokes – probably because they could be so easily interchanged with other off-color targets. I imagined that he would spend hours at home trying to come up with a new twist on an oldie or a new prank to catch me off guard. I had heard many of his jokes before, but laughed along even if they weren’t funny, because that’s what you do when you’re 17 and at your first “real” job. I had already decided that this office was peopled with a dream compilation of quirky characters – ideal for a young actor like me. So, I honed my acting skills as often as I could.
One morning, he called me into his office and told me he wanted to show me something. He reached under his desk and put a rectangular box in front of me. The outside of it read: POLISH ELECTRIC CALCULATOR.
I looked at the box and then back up at him. I was confused. Why would I want to polish a calculator? And why would polish need to be electronic? I had a momentary worry that I’d be moving away from my normal duties to something less glamorous. There were a lot of calculators: at least one for every loan processor, two for each underwriter, some for the secretaries…. even I had one. Did he expect me to polish them all? Did my math failures finally catch up to me?
He saw my puzzled look at started snickering. He had finally found the one joke that I would never EVER live down.
“Read it out loud,” he snorted.
“Pah-lish electric calculator.”
His guffaws brought my naval warfare loan processor into the office, which only increased both my confusion and my embarrassment.
“Open it,” he told me between
And then I got the joke, too….