There are 4 ways, it seems to me, to reliably acquire influence.
First – and most obviously, money. If you’ve got a Drumpfworth of bling then everybody will laugh at your jokes.
Second is celebrity – even if you don’t have enough cash in your wallet for the fancy bacon at the co-op, if the groupie behind the deli counter remembers your guest spot on Columbo, you might just get it for free.
The third is power, which could almost be considered “Money: Subheading- Power.” Except the garbage man doesn’t have any money, but an angry garbage man can make your driveway just as messy as a happy garbage man can keep it tidy. Thus, power.
The fourth is the most elusive, yet the most democratic of all: charm. If you don’t believe me, talk to the Shamwow Guy.
Now, it’s obvious to anyone who looks at my page visits that I am not possessed of celebrity. And it is likewise obvious to anyone who looks at my pants that I am not possessed of money.
Power I may possess in certain spheres (if you want your tray of fake pies to be ready for your entrance in Act 2, then hail to the king, baby)
But I have asked strangers for money. If you’ve ever tried to produce theater, you either develop the ability to talk people into things or you get threats of legal action from US Bank.
Or both, in my case.
It’s a skill, is what I’m saying, Charm. Any schmuck who cares to can learn to be charming. And I am indeed a schmuck of passing adequacy. In theater lobbies, at opening and closing night parties, at small-time schmoozefests of all shapes and sizes I learned to quip, to listen actively, to empathize, commiserate, reference Kardashians when appropriate, and generally give the impression that I am interesting.
And so, with this particular skill in my social toolbox did I wake up one day last year in the looming shadow of Public Education. My son was going into public school, my precious, sweet, kind, little weirdo was fated to enter the conformity factory that gave us “The Wall” and “The Basketball Diaries” and the endless angst buffet that made The Cure all their money.
And I know that letting the world beat him up is part of this whole “parenting” thing I’m supposed to be doing. But dear reader, homie don’t play.
So absent money, power, or celebrity, the only way open for my handsome self to try to take a few slings and arrows for the Little Man was to charm these Nurse Ratchit bastards. And so when the (digital) call went out for volunteers I signed up for a shift. Hell, I signed up for 2. Can I do more than two? How many you guys need?
I was going inside. I was going deep cover. By month two I was determined to have the inside scoop on this place. I was going to know them, and they were going to know me. But not only that, those bastards were going to love me. If there was something going on with the Little Dude, I was going to know about it before the teacher did.
Parenthood teaches you that it’s a rare thing for a plan to proceed as you envisioned it. Hell, life teaches you that. Try to make a killer marinara sauce and you’re bound to find yourself schooled. But me? I did it. I found that unicorn, folks, and I rode it to the burrito store. I am a fixture at our district elementary school. The principal is always happy to see me, the front office secretary is always happy to see me, the floating educational aides and I have inside jokes. Boom. Call me Donnie Brasco.
There were two things that didn’t go as planned, though. The first was the school itself. I was going in thinking something along the lines of “Lean On Me” set in Soviet Russia (okay, not really, but kinda really – I’ve been out of school for a long time), but the school is amazing. It totally blew us away – it’s open and creative and supportive and everything you want a school to be. It’s like if Mr. Rogers and Elrond got together and started a school, this would be it.
And I’ll share a trick about the skill of charming – it doesn’t work if you don’t mean it. I’ve had to focus my psychic schmooze-beams at people who gave me nothing back, and let me tell you, that can’t be kept up for long. What I found with the folks at school was that I genuinely connected with a lot of them. Not only are they educated, kind and interesting people, but they also totally get my Little Man.
My little guy’s weird and unique and they get him. His teacher appreciates him like we do, with all his mannerisms and eccentricities and he has thrived. And nothing will endear you to me faster, dear reader, than if you’re on my dude’s frequency.
The other surprise – I’m totally hooked on this volunteer thing. I lurv it. One of my roles is to help out at Kindergarten lunch, and I come with a level of schtick only a theater professional can provide. I talk into bananas like they’re phones, I try to open fruit cups with karate chops, spoons are forks, forks are napkins, I tell ya. All the Dad Jokes get turned up to 11 when I’m on duty. And it is the highlight of my week.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pretend this yogurt tube is a trombone.