I sat and stared at the rather smug face of the nine-year-old boy sitting across the table from me. My boss had assured me that this was a plum assignment; to interview the young genius who seemed to know just about everything, or so the boy claimed. As we chatted over caffeinated beverages at a downtown coffee shop, it was clear to me that he did possess an uncanny amount of knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and he wasn’t hesitant to express his opinion on any subject. It was also clear to me that if I did not wrap up this interview soon, I would strangle the little snot. Perhaps I was a bit resentful and intimidated by the boy’s intelligence, but it was his supercilious nature that really pushed me to the limit. He was well aware of his superior intellect and he wanted to make sure everyone else knew it too.
“So,” I said, restlessly tapping my pen upon my open notebook. “What are your plans for the future? What do you want to be when you, uh, grow up?” I mentally kicked myself. Could I have sounded any more condescending? Not that I was concerned about insulting him. Throughout the entire interview, I had been treated to a verbal barrage of insults and remarks about everything, from the way I dressed, to my choice of coffee, and to my sub-par journalism skills (at least in his mind). My last query was a soft toss for him to hit, and he knew it.
The boy had rapidly risen through the educational system as might be expected. By the age of seven, he had earned a PhD in Philosophy. At nine, he was near to getting his second doctorate, this time in Chemistry. He was currently employed full-time as a Philosophy professor at the state university and was the author of a rather dense tome about metaphysics (I tried to read it and fell asleep halfway through the table of contents). He also proved to be a bit of a financial wizard. Through a number of shrewd investments in the stock market, and an uncanny knack (some would say a little too uncanny) for making big money, he had amassed a small fortune for himself. Already financially set, world-renowned, and having the opportunity to enrich minds much older than his own, he still had his whole life ahead of him. Of course, if he continued to give me smart aleck answers…
He sipped thoughtfully on his coffee before deigning to speak.
“What do I want to do when I grow up? Well, I don’t know, old timer,” the boy genius said with a slight smirk, “what would you recommend?”
“All right, all right, it was a poorly worded question,” I replied with gritted teeth. “And for your information…sonny, I’m 41.”
“That’s ‘Doctor Sonny’ to you, and—good heavens—41. Are you really that old?”
“Just answer the question…”
“Let me ask you a question, Mr. 41. What do you want to do when you grow up? I mean, after you’re done bothering people with your stupid interviews? When you eventually get a real job.”
I slammed down my pen and shut my notebook. Getting an interview with this brat simply wasn’t worth this kind of abuse. I had heard horror stories from other journalists about talking to him. They clearly weren’t exaggerating.
“And who uses a pen and paper anymore?” The boy continued, gesturing to my preferred tools of the trade. “I think somebody needs to enter the 21st century.”
I stood up, shoving my notebook into my satchel.
“All right. We’re done here.”
I started to go, but my indignation held me in place, at least long enough for a parting shot. “You know,” I said, “it’s a shame that with all your knowledge, you still haven’t learned to be a decent human being.”
The boy gave a mock gasp and clutched at his heart.
“Oh! You would say that to a poor, impressionable boy of nine? My self-esteem is in tatters now.”
“Your self-esteem is fine. I’m sure your massive ego keeps it nice and safe.”
“What a charmer you are,” he said with a sneer. “Is this how you conduct all of your interviews?”
I stalked out of the coffee shop.
As I marched down the sidewalk, I reflected gloomily on just how much trouble I was in. Not only did I blow the assignment, but I had lost my temper, insulted my interviewee and generally stooped to the petulant behavior of, well, a nine-year-old. My boss would not be happy.
At the end of the block, I joined a group of people at the street corner, no one talking or giving eye-contact; everyone just waiting for the light to change. Staring at the blinking “Don’t Walk” sign, I continued to fume. I couldn’t decide whether I was more upset with boy wonder in the coffee shop or at myself for being so easily baited. I’ve had tough interview assignments before, but this was the first time I had really lost my composure. It seemed as though the kid knew just the right buttons to push.
I pushed the button for the “Walk” sign, impatient to get moving. When the light finally did change, I moved briskly with the herd of humanity across the street. As the group dispersed to their various destinations, I passed through the entrance to the city park directly ahead of me. At this time of the morning, the park was sparsely populated. Off to the left of the crushed gravel path, two suited businessmen were chatting amiably on a bench. At another bench by the large fountain, a woman sat absorbed in a book while a child ran around, splashing his hand into the fountain pool and repeatedly calling for his mother’s attention. Further on, I found my favorite out-of-the-way spot, a bench that was tucked into the recess of a tall, neatly-trimmed hedge. I plopped down, ran my hands through my hair and tried to figure out what my next move was. I had to give my boss something, but I really hadn’t learned anything new or original. I pulled out my notebook and idly flipped through the pages, hoping that I had something to salvage from my meeting. Suddenly, a person sat down beside me.
“It took you long enough to get here.”