Baby What a Big Surprise by
(248 Stories)

Prompted By Surprise!

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I saw the notice on facebook, of all places, where it had been posted by the mayor of Sacramento, whom I follow. The city had just created an Ethics Commission, and all interested Sacramento residents were invited to apply. So I thought, why not? I found the application online, filled it out, and submitted it electronically. Isn’t it amazing all the things you can do these days without ever leaving your house?

Weeks or months later I received an email addressed “Dear Applicant,” informing me of interview details. There was only one date and time that they would be holding interviews, so I guess if you couldn’t make it then, you were out of luck. Thankfully, I was in town and free that day. These were the instructions in the email:

When your name is called, walk up to the podium, introduce yourself and proceed to answer the two interview questions, which will also be on the overhead (you are allowed 2 minutes to address both questions):

  • Why are you interested in serving on this commission
  • Briefly describe the knowledge and experience that qualifies you for this commission

Wow, I need to tell them everything I want them to know about me, and then convince them to choose me, all within two minutes. Okay, I can do that . . . I hope.

There were 42 applicants who showed up at City Hall, all given the same time to appear. The Council members said the names would be called in alphabetical order. I groaned.

My last name is near the end of the alphabet, and I have always complained about the tyranny of alphabetical order. In many high school classes we were seated alphabetically, so I was inevitably at the back of the room, which is tough when you are nearsighted and too vain to wear your glasses. We often picked projects or paper topics in alpha order, so I was stuck with whatever nobody else wanted. I dreamed of marrying a man with a name in the first half of the alphabet so I could move up to the favored region, but by the time I got married I was no longer willing to change my name, so his name didn’t matter, it wasn’t going to help me.

Back in the Council chambers, it turned out there was a deviation from the normal procedure. They were going in alphabetical order by first names instead of last names. A slight improvement for me. I would be ahead of any Theresa or William, but still pretty close to the end. Why couldn’t my parents have named me Amy or Beth? As I sat through the 38 people who were called ahead of me, I realized that most of them had qualifications similar to mine. Everybody’s two-minute spiel was starting to sound the same. I needed to do something distinctive. So I added a little joke about the tyranny of the alphabet, and a comment about the current UNethical administration in Washington, and how important it was for us to be ethical in contrast. (These were all Democrats, so I knew that was safe.) But two minutes goes by really quickly, and I sat down feeling like I hadn’t done an adequate job of selling myself. Then I went home and just let it go.

Six weeks later, I got a letter in the mail. In the mail! It’s lucky I even opened it, we generally just get bills and ads, and sometimes they sit on the mail table for weeks before one of us opens them. The return address was Office of the City Clerk, and I figured it was just a courtesy notification of who had been appointed. I opened it and the first thing I saw was Congratulations! I have never been so surprised! Could this really mean what I thought it meant? Yes! The next sentence was:

“On December 5, 2017 your nomination for appointment to serve on the Sacramento Ethics Commission under seat E (A member representing the general public) was confirmed by the Sacramento City Council.”

I had to read it several times to be sure. Then I had to find someone to tell. I was jumping up and down with excitement, and I was home alone. I went outside and started walking up the street, looking for a neighbor I could talk to, but it was the middle of the day and everyone was at work. Then I saw my husband driving home in our Leaf. I flagged him down and got in the car, saying “Guess what? You’ll never believe it!” I was still jumping up and down, as much as you can when you’re sitting in a car.

The definition of a surprise is something unexpected or astonishing. This was both. I knew I was well qualified, but so were most of the other applicants, and there were only five seats. To be chosen for this commission was a surprise I will always cherish.


Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    What a perfect surprise, Suzy. Also an honor. I’m sure the Ethics Commission is glad they surprised you with this position.

  2. Marian says:

    Congrats, Suzy, and this was a fun read. Crazy about the process they used, though. You’re right about the mail notification–when I tried to hold my mail for this upcoming trip, the USPS indicated on their website that they would mail me a code in seven days!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Congrats, Suzy! What a perfect commission for you to serve on and what a very wonderful surprise! Sometimes having an official letter makes things even more important than just clicking on an email anyway. You could even frame this.

    Sometimes I think NOT going first can be helpful, so you could fine-tune your pitch. That way, you had the chance to make a real impression and let your interviewers know more about you, even in two minutes. Clearly, it worked.

  4. Brava Suzy, from what I know from our short acquaintance, you’d be a wonderful asset on any commission!

  5. Congratulations, Suzy! I admire your pluck in adding a little something extra to your spiel that showed your personality . . . who knows, that just might have played a role in your being selected. And now, imagine all the Amys and Beths out there who groan about always having to go first! (And the Abbotts and Bakers.)

  6. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific story, terrifically told. As to the latter, i really resonated to the tyranny of alphabetical order you so nicely (and humorously) explained, though you also revealed its silver lining: you get to watch what other people do first and plan accordingly. And you also so well described the angst that so many of us feel, even those who enjoy public speaking, when given a very short period of time to either nail it or go home.

    And, as to the former, I was initially curious as to how your story would end up fitting with the prompt. From other stories of yours (and, of course, the photo), we know you’re on the Ethics Commission and we also know how eminently qualified you are for such a post. So why the surprise? And yet, your description of your reaction to learning that you had been chosen was the very embodiment of a happy surprise and it all made sense. And I particularly loved the mental image of someone jumping up and down inside a small battery-powered car.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for your very insightful comment, John. Nice to know that you “get” the tyranny of the alphabet and were subjected to it too. And your phrase “jumping up and down inside a small battery-powered car” made me laugh. Sounds like one of those toy cars they used to sell at FAO Schwarz. The Leaf isn’t as small, as you think; it can hold five passengers very comfortably, even when one of them is my 6’3″ tall son.

  7. John Zussman says:

    A great surprise that makes a great story. I’m sure you were eminently qualified, but clearly your little joke didn’t hurt.

    That said, don’t talk to ME about alphabetic discrimination!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, John. I figured you might know a thing or two about the tyranny of the alphabet! I almost sent you an email to say this might interest you. Glad you found it on your own.

      • John Zussman says:

        One summer during college I called the EEOC to complain about alphabetic discrimination by the US Post Office because they were hiring summer job applicants (who had the same Civil Service score) in alphabetical order. They just laughed … but they made a call and I got the job. I’ll never know if I would have gotten it anyway.

        In retrospect I realize it was probably bad form to pull their attention away from more serious discrimination. But it felt pretty good at the time.

        • Suzy says:

          I think it’s good that you complained! After all, they might have run out of jobs before they got to you, and it wouldn’t be fair for all those Abbotts and Bakers to get the jobs instead of you.

  8. Great surprise story, Suzy! I liked the way you took us in and out of your inner voice during the interview. And yes, the mail table with the stack of junk. A familiar image. I get a big kick out of the lineup of women in the Ethics Commission. Now all we need to do is get you, Fiona Hill, Marie Yovanovich, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris to head up the federal government, and we’d be golden.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your vote of confidence. I do think that having more women in government, and fewer men, would help to solve a lot of the problems we are facing today. And yes, it has been a pleasure to work on this Commission made up of five women!

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