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February 27, 2003: A veritable rainbow of fun

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This seems to be the week for diversity among the mollusks we've been training. During the first few days of the week, when we were in San Mateo, the diversity was primarily between different cultures and languages. While normally the biggest non-English speaking populations we encounter during training are the Spanish speaking mollusks, in San Mateo county, we ran the gamut of Tagalog, Chinese, and Russian. In fact, until Wednesday the Spanish speaking mollusks were far and few between, leaving most of us to eye our neglected list of Spanish phrases regretfully and do our best to muddle through our even more pitiful list of phrases in everything else.

As we were packing up the very last training site in San Mateo county, one of the mollusk handlers asked us where we were going next. The instant my coworker replied "San Francisco" her face got that look the type of look where you know that she wanted desperately to say something she knew she probably shouldn't. She chose the tactful route, blinking once before saying in very careful tones "Well. They are certainly unique there."

I think it's safe to say that 'unique' might be one of the largest understatements I've heard all year.

First of all, while there may be those among you who have encountered mollusks before, I think it's also safe to say that you have never encountered mollusks quite like the ones here in San Francisco. And to make it even more fun, a large number of these mollusks we're training in San Francisco appear to be believers in alternating their consciousnesses through means that are not usually considered legal.

There were 'normal' people amid the mollusks, of course, and those probably made up the majority. But in no other county have I seen such an interesting assortment of people. There are the spitters - the ones who come up to the counter with wild hair and eyes to ask questions that involve far too many 'p's' and 's's' so that we feel as if we should don protective rain gear. There are the one-track mollusks who never seemed to be able to grasp the simple concept that we do not work for the county; that we have no power over their mollusky benefits; and that no, we really cannot go fetch their mollusk handler. I'm not sure they would have grasped this concept even if we had installed it in huge blinking neon letters - they would simply have read it, blinked and then promptly ignored it. And this does not even begin to touch the smaller variety with all the interesting hats, like the one with the hat that was a tribute to the rain; the hat that made rainbows come out. Um. Alrighty then.

What all of this exciting diversity means, of course, is that for once we actually have some new ways to entertain ourselves when things slow down at the training site. For San Francisco, if for no other county, we can always amuse ourselves with the following: we play guessing games quietly of course, so as not to offend.

The first game we play is guessing the gender. I realize that there are people who are born one gender and feel that they should have been the other, and hey, if that's what makes them happy, more power to them. But it makes it a bit interesting for the rest of us when faced with one, because it's not usually considered polite to ask someone "excuse me are you male or female?" Those in the process of gender modification might take that as a compliment. Others, however, are more apt to get offended. So we must resort to guessing, which inevitably ends up in casting and counting votes.

There are always the usual neutral types the ones where there is no clear feature that indicates masculinity or femininity, and where the votes for "she" tend to equal the votes for "he". Then there are the ones who are (we assume) in process of the actual gender conversion the ones who have progressed so well that one can only determine that 'she' is actually a 'he' because one catches the faintest glimpse of darkness around the mouth and chin that suggests that this person spends time in front of a mirror with a razor, and it's not just for their legs.

The second game we've amused ourselves with is to try to determine which type of recreational drug the mollusk might be on. Alcohol is the obvious one that one doesn't even become part of the game because it reeks from their breath and pores as they lean over the counter to choose codes for their new shell polishing kits. Pot can be a bit harder to guess, but still fairly easy since recent 'conscious alternating' can usually be smelled. The rest the ones who were so high that they couldn't stand still, or so doped that they would start to doze off in the middle of selecting their code, or the ones who giggled madly through the whole process were a bit more difficult to determine. And short of asking the mollusks (which wouldn't have been very polite, as well as really none of our business) we'll probably never know which ones we guessed right or wrong.

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