When I Was A Boy, A Doctor’s Insight Was Law

 

aadoctor

When I was a child and was literally dragged to Dr. What’s-His-Face for an annual check-up (less a check-up and more a ritualistic cadence of tsk, tsk, tsk’s) as he poked and kneaded and cold-handedly fiddled with my . . . which backs away from coldness . . . and shy’s away from evaluation like a cub scout whose self-built car elicits jeers from his Scout Master (who also happens to be his dad).  The snap of gloves and odor of soap which resembled anti-freeze gave the doctor time to compose his subtle and sensitive conclusion:  “He’s too fat and getting fatter and his fat is hiding his . . . which, for sanitary reasons may require the removal of . . . which was when I buckled my Indian Beaded Belt and disappeared until hours past dusk when a neighbor found me shivering beneath the front porch.

That incident was a painful secret which I’ve carried on my back for fifty years and continues to cause retreat when doctor’s or lover’s reach out.  Such a sad burden to carry because of one unsympathetic phrase from a stranger who had no right being a pediatrician.  I often wondered how he treated his dogs.

My mother’s ignorance and prostrating to figures of authority always meant that any run-in with any adult possessing even a pinch more aacopauthority than her resulted in stern and week-long pain.  Just what exactly did these arrogant and sadistic adults possess that was never crossed?  They had been appointed to their position because of educated insight which was never, ever, EVER questioned..

Which, of course, perpetuated a multi-century tradition which has continued even to this day.  Most doctor offices have a small-framed notice somewhere above their “All services must be paid TODAY!”  reminder which reads something like,  “My profession hasn’t been questioned or challenged in three hundred years, so don’t try to be the first today!”  And in you go to be examined, quizzed, and questioned only to receive a prescription scribed in ancient Egyptian and an “order” for physical therapy.

aaangryguyDo I sound somewhat angry?  Of course I am!  Doctors get paid enormous salaries yet complain about the escalating costs of malpractice insurance.  Malpractice insurance exists because professionals are trusted and believed and paid.  And for this degree of faith we get an educated guess of what might be ailing us.

But this is what I’m REALLY angry about: Two doctor’s at Froedert Hospital assured me my brother Rich did not suffer a stroke based on a CT scan.  It was 48 hours later when I insisted they perform an MRI.  Voila’!  A clot in a vein feeding the occipital lobe (responsible for eyesight).  Because of unconscionable arrogance my brother is legally blind while these two doctors suffer NO consequence.  Upon discharge from Froedert, I was told that Rich was totally blind due to A) The Stroke and B) A severe seizure two days later.  I made decisions based upon the information told to me by staff in the Stroke Unit.  And guess what?  He isn’t blind!  Albeit his eyesight has been significantly compromised, but his field of vision is approximately 17″ in diameter!  And the staff at Froedert?

And the worst example of guesstimating occurred this past weekend when Rich suffered a severe heart attack.  The errors in order of aapuzzleddocappearance: A) Someone at the acute rehab facility removed his DNR bracelet, yet never informed the paramedics that he had a DNR order in effect; B) The paramedics, unaware of the DNR order, couldn’t inform the ER staff;  C) When Rich went into arrest they performed heroic measures to yank him back to life including five minutes of chest compressions resulting in several broken ribs and the insertion of a temporary pacemaker to maintain his heart rate (why didn’t anyone call me while they repeatedly beat Rich?  They called me after!)  D) An ICU doctor called me and informed me that the ER stepped beyond Rich’s wishes and now, NOW I’ve got to decide if and when we reverse their . . . their, what . . . their adrenaline infused jump to action?  And when YOU do decide he will . . . be gone.

For nine hours I held firm to Rich’s wish: DNR. And I would honor his wish just like I’ve always honored him. And I aastoplightwouldn’t allow my own emotion, hope, or desire to shake my resolve. I spent nine hours picking up strength like a child picks dandelions. And upon my arrival at his room in the ICU he was semi-conscious, breathing on his own, and occasionally howling in pain as he coughed with broken ribs. The equivalent of The Cuban Missile Crisis was over and Rich, contrary to what the ICU doctor emphatically informed me, was alive, on his own, without my intervention. And even though he’d crossed that line, he’d come back, I think, just so we could laugh at the old, standard jokes as though it was the first time we’d heard them!

And those doctors? The heroic and uninformed professional, and the cardiac-specialized professional made two BIG mistakes and continue to work without consequence for their egregious and painful errors. Alas, that three hundred year old tradition continues.

 

Hu-mil-i-a-tion, Noun, 1. To Disgrace or Ridicule the Dignity of Another

Humiliation comes in many flavors: decline, disgrace, resignation, ridicule, shame, stigma, and upset.

HUMILIATION BY DISGRACE OR RIDICULE:

ahancockDuring nine years of my corporate career I was employed by a prestigious and globally recognized design firm where I held the esteemed position of Director of Executive Service.  One of my fundamental responsibilities was to manage the execution of, or, if requested, provide service personally to guarantee the success, without fail, of any kind of celebration that a partner requested or attended. For example, one client favored Scotch Whisky so I was asked to produce a Scotch Whisky tasting of adagobabar35-year old Scotches: Bowmore, Tamnavalin, Berriach, The Macallan, and Laphroaig and pairing them with: smoked salmon, black bread, Roquefort cheese, venison, smoked duck, and Dagoba organic dark chocolates.  Another wanted me to hire handsome male and beautiful female models clothed in Hugo Boss black suits and Adrianna Papell  cocktail dresses so that his guests were surrounded by classic beauty and modern design.  Yet another wanted a nine foot by nine foot parcel of the reception area to display five hundred forced Paper Whites in full bloom during one of the harshest winters on record, so he could capitalize on his design theme, Fresh Air, and subtly reinforce his theme and that we’re capable of just about anything, including any ideas they may entertain. Paper Whites naturally bloom in spring, so we had to force them to bloom (by apaperwhitereplicating a spring-like environment) early.  But there are no guarantees when forcing bulbs to bloom.  But lo’ and behold all five hundred bulbs bloomed creating an intoxicating fragrance throughout the hot house, or so I was told by the gardener downstate moments after he informed me that their truck carrying my Paper Whites was caught in a white out, spun off the road, and landed chassis deep in fresh snow where my lovely Paper Whites shivered as they slowly froze.  But as luck would have it, the potential client canceled their appointment.  Rumor has it that they’d all ready selected a firm, and we were just a curiosity.  But my all-time favorite: Four hundred and ten Shamrock Shakes delivered precisely at 12:00 noon on St. Patrick’s day.

The occasion at which I was disgraced and ridiculed by friends and colleagues was a simple party thrown by a partner who wished to celebrate the winning of a new commission in China with his design and marketing team.  The celebration started after work hours which required me to stay late as my supervision was requested by the partner.  As team members began to leave and the last partner to depart for the day was the host of this party.  On his way out he bellowed, “give them anything they want!  Anything!”   A senior designer approached me to ask if I might open acocktailpartythe partner’s private stash.  (When I was promoted the Managing Partner said to me, “Your job is quite simple: First, make all the partners happy; Second, never question or deny a partner’s request no matter how preposterous it may seem.)”  So began my study of each partner from alcohol to zany; I interrogated their assistants to drill down to expectations, tolerance for substitution, and the senior assistant’s castigation should he/she book an airline ticket in the unbearable and reprehensible middle seat in coach.  I stockpiled their favorite liquors, pop, snacks, and wine as a precaution.  Most employees and partners were aware of the liquor cabinet but didn’t know its location, yet knew that I possessed the only key.  I followed my instructions and wheeled out a trolley cart filled with the nonpareil of spirits and wines that ever passed their lips.

And then the fateful question: “Hey, I hear you’ve got top-shelf snacks!  Like those thumb-sized cashews for Adriel,” (at $28.00 per pound, you acashewbet they’re for the senior partner I thought to myself.)  We want some of those to go with the liquor.  By now it was close to eight o’clock and I was beginning to tire as I unlocked the file drawer directly beneath the partner’s private fax machine.  I removed a two pound sack of cashews, opened it, and delivered it to Lacy, the marketing rep for the project.  Lacy and I had always been friends, the tit-for-tat type of friend.  She, like several others, based their success and traded in information.  My success was based on character, trust, and top-level confidentiality.  She failed to pluck any morsel of intel from me.

By the time Lacy stuck her petite paw into the bag of cashews, a small crowd gathered round.  At almost the same moment they all realized that the cashews were very warm (from sitting in a file drawer directly beneath the partner’s private fax machine.  And then Lacy said it first followed by taunting laughter; then another said it; then a small group in unison; and the wave of ridicule and disgrace rose higher and higher then tumbled, crushing me with its demeaning vitriol.  I grabbed my briefcase and left the office quickly hearing slowed apologies backed by more laughter.  The firm boasts about a zero-tolerance policy for harassment so when I filed my formal complaint against Lacy I was told by the HR manager that she’d already heard about the incident and that Lacy will face her comeuppance.  Oh yes, and that I should forget she said:

Hey everyone!  Hey look!  Warm nuts!  He serves them warm nuts.  He warms the Partner’s nuts!  You get that?  He warms the Partner’s nuts!

 

Maybe Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Logan, Bruce Wayne & Clark Kent Were Bipolar

I’ve identified the significant trigger, which, if pulled, catapults my otherwise sensible, responsible, and respectful self into a derivative of me, but one which possesses out-of-this-world dynamism akin to superhero’s or mutants.  The physical me doesn’t change, just the degree of acumen and acuity I’d refined in furtherance of a twenty-year career playing The Fool to a cadre of Somebody’s.  These heavyweight’s attained their ascendency via marriage; owning an avaricious, pugnacious and predatory law firm; partnership with an iconic architectural firm; ruthless attorney for corporate raiders.  Not one cared about procedure; they simply expected what they’d requested.  Failure was my burden to bear and under which I would suffer.

Only once did I return empty-handed: “I flew to Florida; drove to the grove; oranges are out of season; no juice.”  She pushed her Eames chair away from her desk and stood in front of me, “Do I look like an idiot to you?  I mean, when you think “idiot,” is it this face you see?  Because that’s precisely what you so deftly hand-delivered.  But I didn’t ask for an example of an idiot, did I?  I mean, if I did, which I didn’t, but if I did then you could get a mirror from one of the secretaries.  You wouldn’t simply fire-up the Ol’ Gulf stream and coast to Florida (at $2,350.00 per flight hour plus pilot time, hotel, fuel,, and food).  No, no explanations: I asked for orange juice from “Lily’s Grove,” of which I own by the way: Oh!  Didn’t you know that?  What?  No investigation before you saddle-up and zoom to Miami?  When I’d heard from Jorge that a “chiquito desmandares” demanded that he sell him orange juice for his “gillpollas cacia” the only conclusion I could draw was, “Mulligan must think I’m an idiot!”  Since you’re absolutely certain there’s no orange juice from Lily’s Grove, just for fun, let’s see if I might know someone who could help. . .Buenos dias, Jorge. . .”

That lesson (failure) provided an essential insight: if a heavyweight asks for something that has the appearance of impossibility, they already know where and how to get it.  They simply aren’t interested in doing it for themselves.  Self-effacing, tenacious, and propriety could be helpful behaviors in discovering a source for this item.

Only when forethought (plan B, escape route) is absent and I discover that I’m in a wholly defensive position with no options does this derivative of self appear.  This derivative is my super-hero or, as I now recognize, my manic-self (who I will name “Heartless”).  “Heartless” has a single purpose: self-preservation amidst unyielding stress, confusion, and fatigue, the by-products of an extremely complicated problem or series of problems which causes inescapable mental burden and my organic belief that failure cannot be considered because of its dire consequences and the real-life ramifications to everyone involved.

“Heartless‘s” appearance goes unnoticed and the logjam that promoted his incantation begins to loosen and the stalled efforts discover renewed vigor, and less and less sleep is needed, and more and more and more organization and meticulous paperwork are demanded.  “Heartless” remains present for varying lengths of time: Sometimes 3 months, sometimes a year.  But his denunciation follows the same pattern: “Heartless” turns his attention away from the situation of which he was borne, and on to me, which he sees as the real victim of the entire circumstance.  And then he uses every weapon in his arsenal to create as much collateral damage as possible: spending huge amounts of money on items which I’ve wanted, yet dare not buy (dog, tattoo, Rolex GMT II, 55″ TV, fully outfitted wood shop, custom-made Japanese fountain pen); ingesting too little or too much of my medication; abhorrent social behavior; and the worst and most pointed, vehement, and hateful: accusations and ceaseless arguments with my spouse.

The moment someone, anyone really, recognizes that I’m in the midst of a manic crisis, “Heartless” disappears.  And all that’s left behind is a meandering trail of damage, some salvageable, some not.  Destruction is definitely his foot print.  But I’ve considered too, that perhaps “Heartless”buys and says and behaves in ways some tightly-tucked-away part of me wants to behave or say or buy.  But I, like so many of us, have toed the civil line and buried our uncensored selves in a nook no one will find.  Wouldn’t it be tragic if we’ve been taught that decorum dictates that superhero’s remain in comic books and not shopping at Prada.

 

Personal Assistant Career Application: Word Problems

So you’ve always wanted to be a personal assistant to the wealthy, the famous, the powerful!  Oh, the perks you tell yourself; the glamourthe benefits; the cocktail conversations!

To be a successful personal assistant you’ve got to produce, produce, produce anything asked of you, since you are an extension of them (but one they keep hidden like a blemish or disfigurement – which you’ll quickly discover).

But here’s an excerpt from a “PA Application” specifically asking how you would handle odd situations in order to avoid adding further stress to your boss’s life.  A PA is, after all, the gasket between their boss’s expectations and the reality which most of us endure.

In this section you will be presented with a series of actual situations which faced top-level Personal Assistants.  Please select TWO and in a brief essay,
describe how you would handle the situation.  Your answers will help us assess your creativity, dedication to service, and results orientation.  When you are finished, put down your pencil, remind yourself that every working day as a PA will resemble this test, oh, and you’re top salary will be $10/hour.

1.  Your charge, an adept 14-year old boy has recently been expunged from AOL and his mother (your boss) insists that the charge did nothing wrong, and insists that his privileges be reinstated immediately (including a formal letter of apology and one-month free service).  When you discuss the situation with the charge he insists he did nothing wrong.  You contact AOL as the family representative and discover 2 issues: A) The charge was kicked-off because he was downloading reels of porn videos; B) Only the Mrs. could reinstate the account (given it was her account).

2.  Your boss owns 3 dogs, all of which move to Fisher’s Island for the winter via the family jet (as was explained to you during your interview).

Dog 1:    Silky Terrier (size: Toy: 7″ tall x 9″ long (excluding tongue), 5 pounds),
and is a constant traveling companion via a shoulder-bag carry-on.


Dog 2 & Dog 3:     Bullmastiff (size: Gargantuan: 27″ tall, 135 pounds),
guards country property in neighboring state; aloof; maintain a distance.

You are summoned into your boss’s office and told that the next weekend is when the “pets” should travel to Fisher Island.  Wonderful, you’re thinking, strolling across the tarmac, the toy terrier in a Louis Vuitton doggie bag, and the 2 Mastiff’s flanking you on both sides.  You climb the small stairs into the Bombardier Global Express and make yourself comfortable while attended to by handsome staff.  “The Gary hanger?” you ask.


“Gary?  Oh no. . .impossible; we’re taking that to Valencia for the Ryder’s Cup. . .”  Well, you think, should I ask about the Citation or the Astra (normally on a 24-hour hold for Nanna); “Waukegan then, the Astra or. . .”  She stops you with a flip of the hand; “I thought you’d figure it out, but I guess have to spell it out. . .O-H-A-R-E.”  “Commercial?” I gasp.  “American.  And the Mastiff’s are in the country so you’ll have to get them there, then drive them to the vet for papers or something. . . American has cargo limits of which I’m certain you’re apprised. . .”   Now what?

3.  As powerful as she is in corporate America, she’s able to master only one recipe: spaghetti.  And she uses only one brand and only one size of the very specific brand: Decca No. 12 (not No. 11 or No. 13).  She plans on making New Year’s Day dinner for 25 Fisher Island friends and expects Decca No. 12 to be amply stocked when she opens the pantry door.

It’s December 29 at 3:30 pm when you discover that no grocery store of any size or affiliation in the state of Florida carries Decca No. 12.  You call the family’s local grocer here who will immediately send a case to Fisher Island.  On December 31 at 1:30 pm Immelda calls from Fisher Island inquiring about the spaghetti; she assures you that it hasn’t arrived and the Mrs. will not want to start the New Year (furthermore, hasn’t ever started a New Year without Decca No. 12 since 1968) without the ingredient which assures culinary success!  What do you tell Immelda?  What do you do next?

Good luck and we’ll score your test and post the results!

Time To Grow Up (Part 1 of “Career, What Career?”)

Even though I hold an advanced degree from a prestigious university known for its performing arts alumni, when I arrived in Chicago in 1987 my one skill which could be directly applied to working was typing.  Aside from the awards, the accolades, and the New York literary agent, I was essentially unskilled labor with a penchant for writing.

So what happens when serendipity is redefined, from inevitability to dumb luck; what happens when destiny becomes balls that bounce, cookies that crumble, and no matter how long or how hard I stare, there’s nothing in those damned cards!  On top of which the two of us (that beat the odds (especially “gay odds”) and weathered the turbulent tests of fidelity and loneliness to survive a three-year, trans-atlantic, long-distance relationship) will finally step to the front of the line and impart on one small corner of our American Dream.  We’ll rent our first apartment, gladly accept hand-me-down furniture from in-laws, establish bank accounts so that the perfunctory bi-weekly paychecks will magically appear, one after another ad infinitum  all building to an orchestral crescendo heralding every couple’s ultimate goal: a future of happily-ever-afters!

After a dozen interviews I heard the same inane reasoning:  “I can’t hire someone as educated as you for a job like that!”  So I rewrote (and removed) my post-graduate degree and within two weeks I was hired by a local messenger company answering telephones for $5.29 per hour (1987).  It took four months to develop into a caged maniac; promoted to A/R to photocopy microfiche eight hours a day – it took two months before the facial tics started; traded to Customer Service (at a messenger company, Customer Service is akin to W.C. Field’s dog: we got kicked a lot) where I survived thirteen days shy of one year until a brutal and prematurely cold and sleet-slickened Friday afternoon in early November hammered bike messengers and my phone lines were blinking “Mayday!  Mayday!” when, from the other side of dispatch, some moron kept calling my name like an impatient car horn stuck in gridlock. I actually can recall hearing that last straw snap as I bellowed to the moron a string of expletives which crackled loudly like firecrackers.  Problem was, the moron happened to be Mrs. Moron Owners-Young Second Wife.  Precariously riding the subway while holding a wet box filled with desk items, a pink slip and final check was crappy enough: I was an easy target for the pick-pocket whose style was anything but subtle.

There’s got to be a better way than this, I thought as I walked home from the subway station.  There’s got to be something or somewhere I can apply my skills as a playwright.  Within four months Serendipity and her cousin Veracity knocked on our apartment door with an idea. . .

Teasing Isn’t Equal Parts Humor/Love: It’s the Bully’s Opening Act

During my previous career there were objects which I craved to such a degree that one might say I was obsessive about them.  In hindsight I understand that it wasn’t the item or its purpose as the correct tool for the task, it was the representation I craved.  By selecting this particular briefcase (never mind the cost) conjecture begins: The object goes first and followed by me. Those that scoffed were ignorant of classic style; those that recognized both the object and its “place on the style scale” applauded my devotion despite the price and subsequently elevated my degree of style from “studied” to “au courant.”

The most important opinion I sought was one I should never hear.  If heard, or worse, tipped-off to that opinion by another that my coveted object became a subject, it and its notoriety, no matter my admiration or its usefulness, or despite the degree of impudence of cheeky sales people aghast by my shameless reconsideration of the transaction and eagerness to “hand it over” (“it’s Bally, not a puppy for Christ’s sake!”), the object I taught myself to covet and which, to me, represented a piece of the Big League uniform, would be returned immediately via courier in order to derail further heckling.

Sacrificing the object was a lesser price to pay than to have it become the subject of insignificant but derisive chit-chat employed by uncomfortable executives to desperately pad the awkward silence that descends among supposedly well-mannered and well-groomed executives who have an adversarial relationship with their colleagues.  Better to criticize underlings than to have their own activities or choices be reduced to fodder  for teasing. This is the opportunity an executive bully (or cadre of bullies) can’t resist.

A significant part of my previous career demanded that I be available at all times to any partner or partner’s client.  And these partners were notorious for the outrageous stresses they placed upon their minions.  When asked why they managed their staff with such contempt, they’d answer, without pause, almost by rote, “it’s how I cut my teeth. . .” and the story would trail off point like a sleepy motorist struggling to remain alert, but who predictably drifts to the unpaved shoulder rattling the chassis, quickly over-correcting. . .and the partner, finally cognizant of his detour, arrived at the same conclusion as every partner when asked, “. . .and I’m a softy; when I was coming up the atmosphere around this place was brutal, toxic, practically inhumane; but I made it and so will others, those willing to do what it takes.”

And there lies the evolution of a corporate culture whose purpose is to bully staff, in order to strengthen devotion and eliminate chaff, until those few that accepted, expected, and survived the harshest, unyielding, and indulgent bullying by the partners, understood that success wasn’t measured solely on talent, or survival, but mostly on eliminating threats from within by systematically teasing, then embarrassing, and eventually bullying them out of the firm.

Since I spent the majority of my time in close proximity to the partners, I witnessed weekly smack-downs.  At first I was repulsed by the duplicity; then I wondered why I was witness; and as time went on I saw a pattern emerge: the harshest bullying happened to employees that caught the partners attention.  In order to avoid bullying, it was imperative that I disappear until summoned and I must never do, say, or have anything which might draw attention or raise a question.

At the time I thought my method of survival was very creative: appear only when summoned; deliver beyond their expectations; avoid pretentiousness or the appearance of any form of treatment reserved for them; and above all, never, never, ever give them the slightest reason or smallest idea that I think I’m one of them.  If my behavior ever stepped across these lines, alienation would be immediate swiftly followed by a quiet escort off the partner floor, a silent elevator ride to the lobby when at last my escort, a chief of something or other would inform me of my dismissal and remind me of my agreement of confidentiality.

My elimination would’ve been well-mannered, respectful, and final.  I would experience their finest bullying, reserved for those that commit any degree of suspected corporate treason.  I would be ignored, failure to exist or ever had existed, never mentioned or contacted; to them I was never there and therefore never saw or heard or read or witnessed anything.

A bully bullies people perceived as different; bullies are selective, unrelenting and unforgiving; bullies rarely forget and never forgive; but there is one caveat: almost all bullies are deathly afraid of exposure, the identification of their own perceived shortcomings (usually any degree off of normal).

Even these partners, leaders in world-class architecture, are hiding their fears (or weaknesses).  To be privy to them is an immensely heavy burden, not too mention loaded gun, both of which I never wanted and both of which I continue to carry.  My saving grace?  I never wanted to be one of them.  My job was to be there unconditionally, which I held as an honor and today is one of those things I have tried so hard to hide: the ugliness of working for professional bullies.

Mastering Mirroring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d spent the better part of twenty-five years manufacturing a character whose aspiration was to stand with notable leaders in architecture, medicine, law, insurance, and private equity.  Standing with in the parlance of my vocation meant eighteen inches on the diagonal of the left shoulder; within ear shot; close at hand; keenly aware and anticipating; a shadow whose purpose was to occupy an easement of personal space notable world leaders create, and which could not be trespassed.  If one stumbled into this area their redirection was immediate; hands attached to dark sleeves brusquely appeared and the interloper was discreetly absorbed by a well-tailored thicket of broad-shouldered Loro Piana suits; I, being the breakwater, homogenized the incident, and if the charge took notice, my steadfast demeanor quickly quelled any concern.  We are everywhere and paradoxically invisible: Certainly the glare of notoriety disquieted onlookers, but we’re there, eighteen inches on the diagonal, hidden by the mastery of the discipline of mirroring which is the greatest degree of self-compromise.