• Martha Iserman

Restroom Rumpelstiltskin and Shark School

I have a story for you. It is a true story. You may begin to doubt the veracity of this account or think that elements are embellished, but I assure you, this all happened as described 12 years ago....

Remember, time is a flat circle

After completing college in the mid-2000s, I did what many young adults with fine arts degrees end up doing- I entered the foodservice industry. After some time working as a waitress, to my surprise (dismay?), I began getting promoted to assistant manager positions. That's how I found myself in my mid-twenties in a management training program at a popular Minnesota pizza and hoagie chain in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis.

So one day during the afternoon lull, while I was in doing officey stuff in the office (like you do), one of the teenagers working the registers timidly knocked on the door and told me there was a man at the front who was asking to speak to the manager. "Is he upset with his order?" I asked. She struggled for a second before replying..."Um, I think you should just talk to him..."

I followed her to the front, fully expecting a disgruntled customer ready to point to a severed finger in their tuna melt and demanding a refund. Instead, she led me to a perfectly coiffed middle-aged man in a suit holding a briefcase. He gave me a big smile, extended his hand and introduced himself (I do not remember his name, which is a real tragedy).

"What can I help you with?" I asked

"Well," He gestured towards our men's room, "I was just using your facilities when I noticed a problem." I glanced towards the teenaged employees hovering nearby to try to catch a guilty look (they had been tasked with cleaning the restrooms only an hour before) but they just continued to watch the interaction silently.

"I'm sorry if there is an issue. We'll attend to it right away." I motioned to one of the kids to go check it out, but he didn't move.

"No no, there's no need." The man laughed. "It was perfectly tidy, but I couldn't help but notice your urinal cakes."

Say what now!?

"Ok, what is the issue then?" I asked.

"Well let me tell you..." He placed his unopened briefcase on the counter between us.

"What if I told you I can provide you with a far superior quality product, at a fraction of the cost, right now!"

Oh, ok. This guy was just a product salesperson trying to get us to switch suppliers. It's a little weird that he started with the urinal cakes, but hey, it got my attention.

"I'm sorry, we already have a supplier for our cleaning and paper products and all of those decisions go through corporate. I'd suggest reaching out via our website to talk to someone who can discuss it with you further, but it's not my call to make." I explained.

"No no no, you misunderstand me," He started to unlock his briefcase. " I have two dozen, brand new, excellent quality urinal cakes right here ready for immediate use..." he swung the briefcase around for me to see.

It did, indeed, contain 2 dozen urinal cakes

I started to cut him off to explain, again, that we weren't in the market for street-grade urinal cleaning products at this time when he stopped me.

"I'm not asking for any money. All I need from you is 13 plastic cups." He gestured towards the sleeves of soda cups in the dispenser behind me.

"...Plastic cups...."I repeated.

"Yes, and I can assure you that the cost of those cups is a fraction of these excellent cakes. All I need is 13, and I'll be on my way."

I took a minute to pause, look around the restaurant, check the other employees for any expressions that might give them away. This had to be some sort of prank. There was a hidden camera somewhere, and this was a joke at my expense. Maybe hazing for management trainees, or a test to see how we'd handle weird requests. The teens stared back with expressions that must have mirrored my own.

"I'm sorry but we don't trade for our cleaning products here. If you'd like to purchase some food I'd be happy to help you, and I'll even throw in a free drink for your trouble."

"I don't think you understand what I'm offering here." He was starting to act agitated. "This is a really great deal and I really need those cups. If you don't take this offer someone else will."

So this is where I explain that at this point in my 'career' I was beginning to realize that I wasn't perfectly cut out for restaurant management. I have a lot of organizational and team leadership skills, but my 'patience for bullshit' muscles never fully developed, at least with regards to the types of hell that customers routinely put servers through. This is why I later voluntarily left the management track to work as a bartender, where you're allowed a bit more personality in your interactions. I was also in my early twenties, and not the perfectly mature and inspiring paragon of professionalism you see today.

Seen here adulting

Anyways, back to the Rumplestiltskin of Restroom Supplies. I informed him that I would not be accepting his products under any circumstances, and that he was welcome to purchase some of our delicious, affordable, Italian-American foods, but if he was in desperate need of 13 plastic cups, there was a Party City a few blocks away and I'm sure they'd be happy to sell him some at a reasonable price. He protested, I cut him off and asked him again if he would like to order, and after another few minutes of listening to him ramble with increased agitation, I asked him to leave. I waited until I saw him drive off in his surprisingly nice sports car before returning to the office to try to explain the event in detail in the day's logs. He never came back, and I never found out if I was filmed for some weird prank clip floating somewhere in the back alley of the internet.

Where the real dark sh*t lives

So why did I bring up that story? Well, it's year 5 of the Quar and there are no rules. But also I was thinking about salesmanship and career confidence. I guess the lesson is:

Sometimes I wish I had the confidence of a middle-aged white man demanding that a pizza chain accept his urinal cakes.

(This is going up on my Vision Board).

I've been ruminating on ways to interact, share and participate artistically with the world while stuck on a mountain in Australia during the Apocalypse. I have the time, and the motivation to get things done, so I'm channeling the Cake Man and I'm going to pitch you on a few new ideas...

-Over the past few years, I've been creating worksheets to help me manage my freelance and work projects. Design briefs, Project Schedules, Time Management charts etc. They've helped me keep my projects organized and on schedule and I think they could help other creatives as well. I'm working on getting them formated and edited so I can offer them as downloads on my site.

- I've compiled a list of project prompts that have a theme of wildlife art/science illustration that can be used as a course curriculum, or as a group art challenge. Either I would start an online course (a School of Sharks perhaps) with weekly assignments, or create an online forum where artists of all levels can share their work and get feedback etc. Zoom video demonstrations would also be an option.

-I'm also working on getting my technology set up so I can create more video content for my website and Instagram account. Vlogging is one goal, but I'm curious about adding art tutoring, or video art critiques to my School of Sharks. I'd offer short sessions where I can help with any illustration or art-related questions or issues.

If you have any suggestions or thoughts along these lines please let me know! Is this something you'd be interested in? Would you like to work on some nature-inspired artwork with like-minded artists and creatives in a fun and encouraging atmosphere? Comment or contact me! (bigredsharks@gmail.com)

I'm really excited to get these projects started so stay posted for more information and remember...

Be The Cup-less Urinal Cake Selling Angry White Man You Want To See In The World.


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