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Sunday in the Park

The first time it happened, I was getting ready to introduce the performers in the Pillow Theater children’s series we do. My goofy, talented, assistant technical director challenged me to weave the name of performer, Fiddy Cent, into my intro. I did and when I came off stage he blurted out, "Twenty-three points!"

I laughed and asked what those points represented and he looked at me, kinda the way granddaughter does now, and said simply, "Points." Later when his boss, my technical director congratulated me on my "points" I asked him what they stood for, and he said, "Nothing, they’re just points, you can’t knowingly do anything to earn them. They will buy you nothing, the numbers have no meaning. They are rarely given and should be highly valued when they are."

That was one of those moments when I knew I was falling down the generation gap. This system of awarding random points is apparently based on a television show I don’t watch, where the characters do something similar. I didn’t give it much thought and on occasion around the theater I would — not often, maybe once every couple of months — hear one or the other of these guys award someone points. I would suggest that, like credit-card usage, these points should rack up and bring you rewards. They looked at me like the dinosaur I was feeling. "The points," they slowly, but not impolitely, explained, "are the reward."

I let it go.

A few months ago, the techies and I were out at a school in the county doing an outreach workshop. After we finished the set-up, we had a few minutes before the students entered the little auditorium. The younger tech guy sat on the edge of the stage, swinging his feet like he was sitting on the edge of a dock, and banging his shoes against the front of the stage. Did I mention we all spend a lot of time together? Late nights, early mornings, often stressful conditions. We joke a lot, to break up both the tension and the monotony. So I turned to him and said, "I bet you’re wondering if that’s annoying." And before I could think of a next sentence, he looked over at me and blurted out, "Thirty-four points!"

I laughed with unexpected glee at my gift. In fact, I may have become a little braggy about it all before the day was over. I returned to the office, after the workshop, crowing about my points. I shared the information with my family when the weekend came around. I may have mentioned it to some friends at dinner.

And then I let it go.

Saturday night we had a very big show. Not just a full house but a performance that required great precision from The Tech Twins. After I did my intro and returned to the bowels of backstage, the guys were grinning. "What is it?" I asked, my much preferred inquiry to the more current version, Whatsup? The younger guy blurted out, "Seventy-eight points!" And the just barely older guy said, "And I’ll give you another forty!" I hadn’t said anything particularly challenging or extraordinary, but these guys took a comment and interpreted it in a kind of amusing disrespectful way and assumed I meant to "dis," as they say, something. I could have argued the interpretation, but why? I had just scored another one hundred and eleven points! And in my head, I couldn’t help it, I added them up, I had a soaring total of 174 points!

All night long I gloated. I shared my reward with other staffers who were either envious or completely disinterested — it was hard to tell. My friends, who have teenagers and actually seem to understand this random point system, nodded, in either understanding or boredom. I was elated. For days. Maybe even a little puffed up.

And the whole thing got me to thinking about what it means to reward someone. That gift card from my bank for a free latte at Starbucks isn’t unappreciated but anyone who is using their debit card with any regularity is given one, too. And the latte, though satisfying at the time, just blends into all the other lattes and I can’t say, with any certainty, which was the one I earned and why.

Locally and globally we compete all the time. We want to have the best numbers for sales, for test scores, for our cholesterol. And there are things we can do to try to improve on all those fronts. And we know when we have reached those attainable, attractive numbers, be they an SAT test or a blood test.

But this system of randomly awarding points for behaviors that can’t be programmed or predicted or crammed for has taken on a special meaning to me. Pretty much everyone I know has enough. Enough pairs of shoes, logo printed T-shirts, different coffee mugs. But the unexpected compliment, the unsought recognition, the "atta girl" pat on the back — those are the rewards in short supply. And while I could never figure out how The Tech Twins (with radically divergent political beliefs and lives I should point out) think, I know this much — they enjoy life. They look for silly ways to make their job, which can be physically and mentally exhausting, requiring them to be both diplomats and doctors of persons and equipment, as playful as possible. It costs them and our organization nothing.

It wouldn’t work for me to try to replicate their intricate system of rewards, not that I understand it anyway. But what I can do, what I will do, is look for more opportunities to reward, just with words, the unexpected moments and talents of those around me. It won’t be another coffee mug or T-shirt but maybe, just maybe, it will be something more valuable. And on those days when it seems like the world isn’t opening like my personal oyster, and I’m cut off in traffic and my calls aren’t returned, and I forget to put out the garbage on garbage day, I’m gonna remember that I have 174 points! Every day I have them, even this very Sunday in the Park


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