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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

My standup special

Coronavirus has cost me a lot. It cost me not only my senior spring and commencement, but also my standup comedy debut.

If I could pick any job in the world, it would be that of a standup comedian. I have no idea whether or not I would be good at it. But my daydreams led me to impulse sign up for a slot at West Quad Open Mic Night on March 18, 2020.


If we had gathered at Legends that Wednesday night, the following represents the contours of the routine you would have witnessed.

Tom Naatz: Tour Guide.

Comedians need a thick skin. Fortunately, I have three years as an Admissions Office Tour Guide under my belt.

My tours were never the most popular. High school juniors and their parents really have a thing for dashing and handsome sophomore Mendoza bros on the Deutsche travel team and senior girls who spend their time captaining all of their dorm’s sports teams while simultaneously tutoring South Bend third graders in the secrets of polymer chemistry. My “Political Science major who writes for the school newspaper” biography elicited shrugs. My core constituency was people stuck in the bathroom lines while the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the future Dr. Fauci herded their multitudes of humanity into LaFun.

Between all of the handshakes and winks of the fathers who thought I had some sort of clout in the admissions process, I also got some eyebrow raising questions on my tours. One mother asked me how many friends I had, while another father asked me point blank what the admissions committee had seen in me — all on the same tour.

Hecklers? Bring ‘em on.

My Brief Translator Career (Or “¿Cómo se dice ‘high deductible insurance plan’ en Español?”)

Below is a publicly released memo regarding a high-stakes study abroad summit between my Spanish host dad, Óscar, and my parents (circa March 2019).

Toledo Summit: Spanish host family meets biological American parents.

Parties: Spain: Óscar (little English); United States: Mom and Dad (No Spanish)

Translator: Tom (English: Native fluency; Spanish: Proficiency)

Topic of conversation: Basic cultural differences between Spain and America.

Both parties did me a favor and kept the conversation as simple as possible so I could keep up. Eventually, Óscar told us about his free, public health insurance. The response I was expecting from my parents was something along the lines of: “In the U.S. health insurance is through your job.” Instead, my mom — a longtime employment lawyer — exclaimed “Tom! Explain to Óscar that some people in the United States have a high-deductible insurance plan…”

Do you know what that means, or how to say it in Spanish? I, the 21-year-old college junior, certainly did not. The summit broke down momentarily as my mom and I engaged in a heated back and forth over her translation expectations, followed by a frantic Word Reference search for “high deductible insurance plan” (plot twist: no such translation exists). Meanwhile, my dad and Óscar bonded in the universal language: laughter. I have never translated again.

The Notre Dame Crime Beat

I used to be The Observer’s go-to crime guy. I wasn’t a suave, slick talking dude accompanying police officers on a ride along. Rather, I was a bleary-eyed college kid in a hoodie contemplating a spreadsheet over his morning eggs in South Dining Hall.

NDPD puts out a crime report every morning. You can find it here. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: determine which crimes merit an email to our friends in University Communications and coverage in The Observer.

Sometimes, the calls are easy. If it’s something serious, it needs to go in the paper. If it’s something dumb — like a bunch of alcohol violations in O’Neill Family Hall (as if those are ever punished) — you can let it sit.

The line is finer than it looks. For example, it’s a big news day: do people really need to know about the indecent exposure on the fifth floor of the library two football Saturdays ago? What about that reported public indecency in what should have been a vacant Dillon Hall? Tough calls, indeed.

Here are some pro tips from a veteran crime reporter. For the population writ large, never leave your laptop unattended, as larceny is the most common offense. For the future Notre Dame crime reporter out there, don’t panic if in your monitoring you notice a hit-and-run. In Notre Dame-speak that refers only to one car hitting another in the parking lot.

My Grandma took a DNA test. That eventually led to me receiving — and declining — a total stranger’s offer of a “very nice, very beautiful wife”

Probably the craziest story of my life. Every word is true. I have witnesses who can verify.

My Italian-American, Catholic grandmother’s knowledge of her family history left her with a lifelong hunch that somewhere in her pre-emigration family tree she had a Jewish ancestor. In the spring of 2018, she put her hypothesis to the test. She spit into an cup, and sure enough her saliva sample returned a genetic profile that was about 20% “European Jewish.”

As a pure coincidence, I studied abroad at Notre Dame’s Jerusalem campus for three weeks that summer. A couple of friends and I used a free day to explore the Old City of Jerusalem, eventually stumbling across a Jewish holy site called King David’s Tomb. Two rabbinical students engaged us in friendly conversation as we entered, eventually posing the following question.

“Are any of you Jewish?” We all shook our heads silently. “Do any of you have any Jewish heritage?” they followed up.

This time I cautiously replied. “Maybe a little, I guess,” I said. Not wanting to present myself as something I wasn’t, I explained in very exact terms that — if was to be believed — my grandmother had just learned that at some distant, unknown point in her lineage she had a European Jewish relative.

The students locked eyes. “Mother’s mother?” they asked. I nodded.

“Judaism, as I’m sure you know, is inherited matrilineally,” they said, beaming. “Therefore, welcome home!”

The next 15 minutes were a blur as the rabbinical students conferred a litany of different Jewish blessings on me. This act included a number of Hebrew prayers, at least two different dancing circles, and a giant, ceremonial Shekel. I’m not exactly sure what the blessings were — all I know is that at one point they asked if I was a first-born son, and, when I responded that I was, in fact, an only son, they tied a phylactery around my arm.

Once it was all over, the older of the two students offered me his hand. “We are so glad you have visited us here today,” he said. “One last thing, before you go! If you ever decide to move here permanently, you know where to find us,” he said.

To this point, all of the happenings had been noteworthy but completely harmless. Things got more questionable with the next statement.

“…And please come visit us if you do!” he continued. “Because we can find you a very nice, very beautiful wife.”

Rest assured, I immediately declined the offer of an arranged marriage. Supremely uncomfortable, I exited the situation as fast as I possibly could, stepping back into the bright Jerusalem sun a lot more dazed and confused than I’d been 20 minutes earlier.

“Well,” my one friend remarked, “this has got to be the first time a grandmother’s DNA test led to an offer of arranged marriage…”

Tom is a former a Notre Dame News Editor who decided to turn his passion for Observer Inside Columns into something productive. During quarantine, you can find him writing his thesis about Spanish politics, playing Mario Kart or trying his hand at Twitter. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.