I recently had an experience that made me feel super old. Way too old to play video games or eat Popsicles. Too old to steer with just one hand. Too old even to enjoy Band-Aids that have Peanuts or Scooby Doo characters. For those who don't know, I was just in Atlanta for ten days working as a grunt/peon at a trade show. My basic job responsibilities were to spend 12 hours a day making name tags, laminating name tags, scanning RFID tags to put into name tags, not breaking any name tags, and finally distributing the name tags. The last part required that we dress up nice, so naturally, I put on a tie for the first time in my life. Anyway, I was getting some coffee in the break room, and as I looked down to put the sugar in, I noticed that I could see my tie, dress shirt, and name tag in the same field of view as my hands putting sugar into coffee. And it hit me: I'm at work doing crappy office work, making coffee, and wearing business clothes including a name tag. I am old.
To combat my oldness, which seems to have visited me a bit prematurely at 22, I promptly set to work finding things which are funny. One of the best, funniest things was a name we discovered hidden deep in the name list. That name was Chip Burns. While not inherently all that funny, it did have a sort of Indiana Jones-esque quality. It seemed to us that Chip Burns would wear a monocle, a top hat, have an excessively masculine jawline, piercing eyes, a cape, possibly a jet pack, and certainly the power to throw things with his mind. When Willy picked up the untorn, unfolded name tag paper and said, "Dude, check this one out: 'Chip Burns!'," we all knew that we'd stumbled upon something that was going to get us through the next week and a half. And he did.
The days leading up to Chip Burns' arrival to collect his name tag were tense. We all wondered what he would look like. I drew up a wanted poster of him looking like a burnt-out college kid with a pimp hat and a monocle, but we all knew in the backs of our minds that Chip would never let his hair get shaggy, for he needs to be aerodynamic while jet packing through the Amazon rain forest. Someone suggested we try to get high fives from Chip if he seemed even the slightest bit cool, but I kept quiet during this conversation. Truth be told, I was a little afraid that Chip Burns would pack a high five x-treme enough to permanently cripple any hand unprepared to receive him.
Even our supervisors were amped for Chip Burns. Other sweet names like Dominique Homo, Connie Concon, and John Pimpo, while awesome, were not as consuming to us as Chip Burns. We had just built him up too much and put way too much stock in his awesomeness to trust any other convention-goer to satisfy. We imagined him walking up to the counter playing a full orchestra's worth of instruments with Godlike talent, possibly juggling at the same time, and saying in a booming voice, "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: THIS... IS CHIP...... BUUUURNS. I BELIEVE YOU HAVE A NAME TAG FOR ME!" He would be able to sink the sun if he wanted. All the women would want him and all the men would want to be him.
Eventually, on the final day that name tags would be available for pickup, he came.
I was reading Nine Stories, which is perhaps Salinger's greatest work, when he showed up. It seemed almost fitting, since I was on the last story, "Teddy," which is about a boy with a startling mental capacity and a rich history of past lives (which we all assumed was also the case with Chip Burns). I remember flipping one of the final pages in the book as I heard a voice, gentle but somehow cunning, say to the girl seated beside me at her booth: "It's, ah, 'Burns.' Need a photo ID?"
My mouth fell open. We knew that Chip Burns would probably be coming to get his name tag today since it would be his last opportunity to do so, but it happened at exactly the right moment. It wasn't busy, so we had all the opportunity in the world to meet and greet. I stood up and looked at him. Although he didn't have a top hat or a monocle, Chip Burns was still somehow exactly like we thought he'd be. He had a massively cleft chin, sparkling blue eyes, a buzz cut, and was just the slightest bit muscular. He looked like someone who might strangle a boa constrictor just to prove he could do it.
Willy approached him. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "This might seem... really weird. But a few days ago, we chose a name to place on a pedestal and think was incredibly awesome. That was your name, sir."
Chip Burns turned to him and smiled. "You guys must be really bored back there!" he roared mannishly.
"We are, sir," Willy replied. "Would it be okay if we got a picture or two with you?"
Chip Burns seemed to ponder this for a moment. Finally, his eyes twinkling, he shouted, "Let's do it!"
I couldn't run around the booths to the lobby fast enough. I thought about cartwheeling over the window, but I knew Chip Burns' cartwheels would probably put mine to shame. Eventually, when we had all assembled behind Chip Burns and the camera was ready, we struck our Chip Burns poses and the flash went off. We took two or three more, and one girl got one of him hugging her, but everything after that first moment when he showed up is a bit of a blur for me. The adrenaline, you know.
We also stole his business card. You were supposed to get one from each convention-goer and staple it to the form they had to sign to pick up their name tag, but we kept Chip Burns'. We also photocopied and laminated it. Now it's stuck in Nine Stories as my bookmark.
Considering this epic office adventure, which might not sound as amazing in writing as it was in person, I think I'm finally ready to grow up. I might not ever be able to kick my Peanuts Band-Aids habit, but I think I can handle the white collar world. With a little help...
...from Chip Burns.