Grim’s Tales: My world famous recipe for mud
I ask people stupid questions for a living. It’s part of my job. I’ll start with an example.
Me: “Nice to meet you. Can you spell that for me?”
No, I am not that dense. I am just doing my job. No matter how plain the name, I have to take steps so I don’t misspell it. This Bob could spell his name Bobb. Stranger spellings have happened. The embarrassing part is when I do forget to ask someone to spell his or her name and get it wrong.
That’s not even the worst of it. While I love an inspirational story, I almost always hate asking the questions that make those stories touching. My job sometimes requires me to ask questions that are frowned upon by polite society.
Interview subject: “And then my mother died in a terrible car accident.”
Me: “How did that make you feel?”
I am, at least in part, in the business of asking questions I already know the answers to. I once asked an owner of an aggregate sales and construction business what caused driveways to become muddy in the spring.
Yes, I know that melting snow turns into water, and water mixed with dirt becomes mud. Thankfully, this business owner seemed to understand why I needed to ask him. So, why do I ask?
One of my primary duties with the newspaper is to act like I personally don’t know anything, and I need someone with authority to explain even the simplest matters to me so I can share what they know with our audience. In truth, this is the way it should be. I am not an expert in aggregate, so I should defer to someone who knows a thing or two about driveways, even when it comes to the recipe for mud. If I defer to someone for my information on aggregate, then I’ll almost certainly defer to someone on school financing and other complex subjects as well.
The fact of the matter is, I am never supposed to take details of a subject for granted. If I take a photo of a middle-aged woman and a man of about the same age standing with a young girl who resembles them, it is always a good practice to ask each of them, “Is she your daughter?” even if they all share a last name.
Another popular/awkward question for pairs of affectionate, opposite sex individuals would include, “what is your relationship?”
You’d be amazed how many times what has appeared to be a married couple ends up to be siblings, an unmarried couple and even just really friendly co-workers. It is much better to feel like a fool and ask early, rather than to make the whole newspaper look stupid by referencing two friends as a married couple.
When you interview/photograph individuals, the potential confusion simply isn’t on their radar, hence I ask some of the stupidest questions known to man. Otherwise I can make really embarrassing mistakes. Lord knows, I’ve made a few.
If I ever interviewed/photographed you and got some detail of your life wrong, I am honestly very sorry. I never mean any offense. I just failed to ask enough stupid questions. I’ll try to do better next time.
Travis Grimler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at facebook.com/PEJTravis and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.