Sunday, June 29, 2008

If You Don't Watch Your Diet . . .

The preceding post has brought to mind a couple of mildly interesting and/or humorous incidents connected with the gall bladder removal.

It started when I undercooked a cut of beef and got food poisoning. I was out of work for three days and lost thirteen pounds. A week or so after I returned to work, people were telling me I still had not regained my color, and bludgeoned me into seeing a doctor.

If you knew me you would find this amusing. Since I left the Army some forty years ago I have been a night person and am by habit a mole. While I am not exactly albino, to distinguish between my color one day and my color another day seems to me to be no easy task.

However, I went to a clinic covered by my company's health care plan. I walked in and without so much as asking me "Are you an albino?" a couple of nurses wrestled me onto a gurney, and a doctor, a woman we'll call Dr. Straight Up, entered what was now my own private emergency room. They thought I was having a heart attack.

Sphygmomanometer on one arm and stethoscope on my chest, I heard Dr. Straight Up telling the nurses she wanted an ambulance waiting outside. After listening to my heartbeat, she began a conversation with me, during which I told her why I was there - that I had had food poisoning, lost thirteen pounds, and hadn't regained my color ho ho ho. She listened, then asked me if I was a drinker. I told her I definitely was not.

She instructed one of the nurses to take x-rays of my upper body, and she disappeared. The x-rays were taken and delivered to her. A couple of moments later she reappeared, saying "I have to know, straight up, no shit, are you a drinker?"

"Doctor, during the course of a month I might have wine with one dinner and perhaps one other drink."

"Then how come . . . oh! You told me you had food poisoning." Apparently the x-rays showed her that some things had flowed in the wrong direction recently.

She canceled the ambulance and made a sonogram appointment for me elsewhere, instructing me to return with the results when I had them. I did so and it was determined that my gall bladder had died and should be removed.

"I can recommend a surgeon if you wish. His bedside manner is mostly non-existent, but he's the best there is." I was in my mid-fifties and certainly didn't need babysitting. "He's the one for me."

And so I met Dr. Gangrenous. I had one meeting with him before we scheduled the surgery. He asked me a few questions, prescribed an antibiotic, and proposed a date for surgery, to which I agreed. I asked him "What would make my gall bladder die?"

"Well, the gall bladder is pretty small. Its job is to process fats into bile. If you don't watch your diet - and you don't - sometimes he just throws up his hands" (here he threw up his hands) "and says 'Fuck it! I'm too small for this.'" I now understood Dr. Straight Up's comment about his bedside manner and why little old ladies might not rejoice in having him for surgery. I, however, was simply amused.

I asked him how long the operation would take and how long the recovery period would be. He sad it would be a laparoscopic operation "unless we have to convert" and should take only a few minutes. The recovery should take about a week "if you don't overdo it, but you will."

I asked what did "convert" mean in that context and he explained that he was referring to the possibility of invasive surgery. What, I wondered, would cause that? "Oh, you know, if it's gangrenous or something." (More of the bedside manner.)

In the event, the operation took about forty-five minutes, much longer than he had expected, because my liver had decided to curl around my gall bladder. Even my internal organs are friendly.

He prescribed a non-narcotic pain killer, virtually useless to me. The pain was intense for a couple of days. I could not lie down for the first two days, and then could not lie down and stretch out for several more. I slept in an armchair. But he was right: I did overdo it and the recovery took about two weeks.

I had one final appointment with him - roughly ten minutes and then out the door. I asked him what dietary changes I should make to accommodate the fact that I was now missing an integral part of my body, and he told me that it was something I would have to learn, that everybody reacted differently. The upshot was simply that for a while cucumbers and I no longer got along, but even that symptom has passed. In conclusion I told him "The prescription was inadequate for the pain, but on the whole I'm glad you do what you do." He didn't even blink. I wonder to this day whether the non-narcotic prescription was due to the fact that I 'fessed up about smoking marijuana.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What to Say, When to Say It

  • Perhaps a decade ago, I watched a TV episode of Cops. One of the incidents shown involved a young man who had a small amount of marijuana in his car. I don't recall what had caused a police officer to pull the young man over. In fact, it's been a long time and I can't give you all the details, only the flavor of the incident.

    Having found the marijuana, the officer asked the driver why he had it, and the response was that it was for personal use.

    The officer said something about "cops get killed" over marijuana related crimes, and the driver said, "I'm not into that."

    The officer persisted, saying that the driver was part of the chain that caused cops to get killed.

    The driver said something humble, the officer sprinkled the grass onto the ground, and sent the driver on his way.

    It occurred to me at the time that the "correct" response for the driver might have been something along the line of "Then they're getting killed for enforcing a bad law. Cops got killed enforcing prohibition, another bad law."

    For some reason this stayed with me, and a couple of days later I realized that if I'd been the driver, then even if my approach had "won" the argument, the marijuana and I probably would have gone to jail.

    Casting about for a third alternative, something between victory and defeat, I arrived at "I'd love to discuss this with you when you're off duty, but I think that in these circumstances I can only lose."

    Nope. Jail time again, I think. Even if I'm smarter than the driver, he was wiser than I would have been.

  • A dozen or so years ago I had my gall bladder removed. I went through what I imagine to be the usual drill - seeing the Admissions Nurse the evening before, getting instructions from her, filling out a questionnaire, etc.

    The latter should have been for a security clearance, so comprehensive was the list of questions. Included in the "Are You a Druggie?" section was an inquiry as to whether I currently smoked marijuana. I hesitated only a moment and decided that the last person on earth I wanted to deceive was the surgeon who was going to be poking around inside me on the morrow, and affirmed that indeed I was a marijuana smoker. After all, medical records are confidential, right?

    I returned the questionnaire to the nurse, who scanned it in microseconds. She weighed me and made an entry, took my blood pressure (Isn't sphygmomanometer a great word? And it represents pretty much all that I retain from high school physiology.) and made an entry, and had me sit down again. She told me where and what time to report in the morning, advised me to get as much sleep as possible, absolutely forbade the consumption of any liquids after midnight, and concluded with "And no marijuana!"

    A couple of weeks later I played back the above scene for brother Billy, who thought for a minute and said, "Yes, medical records are supposed to be confidential, but I think you'd have been better off answering 'no' on the questionnaire and then telling the surgeon about it in the morning. "

    And I think he was correct. Today I am long past caring about who knows that I still smoke grass, but in principle his would have been the better approach.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

And By Request . . .

It is not my intention to bore you to tears with old eBay listings, but I've had a special request to post this one, which will probably be the last one shown here. It is mercifully brief.

    This is an ultra-rare, 12 1/2 inch, wood and metal, high performance, low maintenance, Hillbilly chain saw in MINT condition!

    The ingenuity of the design is just overwhelming.
    • Unique protective safety design - no sharp edges! It's childproof!
    • Practically no maintenance required! (And look how easy it is to change the spark plug!)
    • The latest wrist-driven precision angle adjustment capabilities!
    • Lightweight in the extreme - 9 1/2 ounces!
    • Can be spelled either way - chainsaw or chain saw!
    • Environmentally friendly - no pollution!
For this one I got . . . nothing. I wound up sending it to someone who enjoyed the listing and lives in the sticks. I am told it was a big hit with the local kids, one of whom borrowed it for "Show and Tell."

Just to demonstrate that one of these posts can start anywhere and wind up anywhere else, I'm going to hijack the subject.

In the chainsaw description, note the exclamation points, which I *very* rarely use. I hold with William F. Buckley Jr.'s expressed opinion, which was (roughly) that they should be used only when the writer has been recently disemboweled. But I did want to pretend to be a salesman trying for the "hard sell."

Exclamation points are also called exclamation marks and are called screamers or bangs in typesetting, and bangs by programmers.

Now exclamation points are not the only characters which have acquired their own pseudonyms in different industries. The asterisk, for example, is often called "splat." (Picture a cartoon character who has fallen a few thousand feet onto a roadway.)

For those of you who are programmers, and even for those of you who are not (although the former will enjoy this more, I think), here's an amusing poem:

< > ! * ' ' #
^ " ` $ $ -
! * = @ $ _
% * < > ~ # 4
& [ ] . . /

And here's the translation:

Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
Bang splat equal at dollar underscore,
Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
Vertical bar curly bracket comma comma CRASH!

Very clever, no? It was written by Fred Bremmer and Steve Kroese, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Which brings to mind a clever limerick, author unknown:

If inside a circle a line
Hits the center and goes spine to spine
And the line’s length is d
The circumference will be
d times 3.14159

Thank you for indulging me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Selling on eBay

After I retired I began selling on eBay. It's been a lot of work and a lot of fun. I've met roughly 40 eBayers from the US and a couple of other countries, first by hanging around an eBay forum, then by attending book fairs and get-togethers, then by visiting individuals and having them visit me.

I find items to sell by attending garage sales, estate sales, and auctions. I'm a generalist - this means I know a little about a lot of things but I don't know much about anything. I'll buy nearly anything I think I can sell for a few dollars more than I pay for it. Nearly anything. I stay away from clothing, jewelry, and a few other things because I know even less than "not much" about them.

You learn as you go. Initially you find yourself being surprised that the treasures you bought are common as dirt on eBay. While that never quite stops, over time it happens much less frequently.

Once in a while I have fun writing a listing. Perhaps there just isn't much to say about it or perhaps I just get silly. Here's an example from a couple of years ago - listing title, picture, and the body of the listing:

Stoopid 12 Inch White Clay Pipe


    I was at an estate sale and saw a foot long, white clay pipe. Secretly waiting for someone to get away from some things I wanted to examine, I had looked around for something that would justify my lingering presence in that particular area.

    The price tag attached to the pipe was blank. "Aha! I can pretend to be interested in this pipe." I turned the tag over and the other side was blank too.

    Oh frabjous day!. The perfect cover! I carried the pipe several feet to one of the estate sale people and asked what the price was. "This didn't get priced? I'll just mark it two dollars."

    And then, and then . . . in a complete disconnect from my original purpose, in a moment of insanity unjustified by anything that has ever happened to me, I said, "I'll take it."

    So now I own it, and now you know what I paid for it. The trouble is that I'm not sure it's worth that much because of the following issues:

    • Is it unfinished? Is that why it's white?

    • The hole at the drawing end is very small. Intrigued, I tried inhaling through it. Hernia time. Then I tried blowing through it. Less painful, but equally ineffective.

    • Tests show that you can inhale through the bowl end successfully. However, it occurs to me that if there were burning tobacco coals in the bowl then the process might inflict agonies unimaginable, the lips being very sensitive.

    • Even if you could smoke it, what would you do with it when not actually inhaling? It's too long to set into an ashtray. You know perfectly well that someone would walk by and knock it out of the ashtray. And it won't stand up. See that little knob under the bowl? That's to make sure it won't stand up. You could make it stand up if you turn the bowl upside down, but you see the problem there, right?

    • It has been suggested that white might be good for a leprechaun's pipe, going well with green and all (thanks, Babe). But what are the risks associated with giving a leprechaun a hernia? I've heard that leprechauns can be vengeful. And do leprechauns even surf eBay? Is there a www.ebay.le?

    Well, here it is, and what you do about it is up to you. There are no cracks or chips, no repairs and none needed. The stem contains no teeth marks, not even mine. The white of the stem is less than perfect due to abrasions or to imperfections in the creating process or something. I don't wanna hear about this if you buy the pipe.
Okay, that's the end of it. I got $5.06 for it and was grateful. And along the way I learned that such pipes were (are?) made for taverns, which provided them for pipe smoking patrons. The patron broke off a piece of the stem, filled the bowl, and smoked.

Interesting, no?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Pigs at the Trough

In 1983 I incorporated myself as a one-man consulting firm. (I did this three times during my working life, each time promising myself to hire no one, each time keeping that promise). I would consult on personal computers, mainframe programming, federal procurements, and management in general.

John, the owner of a consulting company that my boss and I had used in the past, put me in touch with Joe, the president of a direct marketing (junk mail) company. John and Joe were two of the founders of this company, which had grown to twenty-five or thirty people, and which provided the data processing and some printing for clients - companies like Office Max and Bed, Bath & Beyond, (not actual clients of this company) which periodically mailed catalogues to customers and potential customers.

I did a lot of assembler programming for them, first as a consultant, and after several years as an employee. The employment offer was for six figures and Joe and Sean (the Executive Vice-President) readily agreed to my one condition - that I would never report to anyone other than the President or Executive Vice-President.

There were two of us who were six figure programmers with a great deal of freedom. We seldom reported to anyone at all and often got involved in efforts outside of programming. The average age of the company's employees was probably twenty-four or twenty-five, and we had much experience that they did not have. I was forty-five when I was hired, and the other, Jay, was a few years older than I. Jay referred to the two of us as "gold collar workers" - not quite in keeping with the general definition, but it seemed to fit anyway.

This was a great company to work for, particularly in the early days.
Everyone was friendly and helpful, the younger people (18 to 25, say) were exceptionally responsible, most of the employees socialized together, and it was not uncommon to see someone stay after work voluntarily to help someone else who had to stay to get something done.

The President, Joe, was Mr. Personality. Great smile, much enthusiasm, and concern for those who worked for the company. The goal was to build the company to the point where it would go public or get itself acquired, and eventually it did get acquired. But before that . . .

The company began to grow, which was good news and bad news. The good news is obvious, but the bad news was that Joe suddenly realized that he was worth seven figures, on paper, at least, and it changed his personality. He had been the kind of guy who not only would do anything for you but couldn't wait to do it for you, the kind of guy who might say, "Why did you have to think of that? Why didn't I think of that?" He became the kind of guy who couldn't wait to say, "I bought a new camera last night. Nine hundred dollars."

The company grew, eventually to around four hundred people, built its own building and moved into it, and became more bureaucratic. Some of that last is unavoidable with growth. When you have thirty or forty employees it's no big deal if they want to walk into the computer room and run their own jobs, for example, but you can't handle the confusion if you allow that with four hundred employees.

But the main problem was that Joe (and one or two others) got greedier and greedier. Several members of the Board of Directors had founded a printing company on the side with the intention of adding to the size of the work for which the junk mail company was responsible. It would farm out the printing to the printing company. Alas, this second company was not a success and wound up owing the original company a substantial amount of money.

The pigs were at the trough now, and the Directors would vote themselves huge annual bonuses and then send the managers and supervisors out to tell their people, "Well, it wasn't such a great year. We don't have much money for raises . . . ."

I became very uncomfortable with this. My friends on the board were screwing my friends at their desks, and I was unable to do anything about it. The final straw was that one year they voted to forgive the printing company a five hundred thousand dollar debt owed to the original company. This was a clear conflict of interest, and that debt should have been paid out of their pockets, but they effectively screwed the original company, and once again there "wasn't much money for raises."

I quit. I just couldn't stand to watch it any longer. I knew at the time that it was going to cost me a bunch of money whenever the company was sold, and it certainly cost me more than a half million dollars. I was unemployed for nine months and subsequently started all over at $50,000 a year. But in this world you do what is right or you collaborate in what is wrong, and I wasn't going to collaborate in shafting my friends, some of whom are still my friends today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


My departure from the Army was SNAFUed beginning about a month before the actual occurrence. It's not easy to know where to begin, so I'll begin well before that.

Around September of 1967 I bought a 1968 Plymouth Belvedere (In all the time that has passed from then until now, I have only seen one other on the road). In October, the driver of an Army two and a half ton truck ran a stop sign on post (Fort Huachuca, Arizona) and my brave little Belvedere t-boned the truck at about 25 miles per hour.

I was on my way to the mess hall for lunch when this happened - it will amaze most of you, I'm sure, to know that this little tidbit was important.

I had the car towed to an off-post repair shop, which I visited for a
conversation with the owner. I told him about the accident and that the Army would be reimbursing me for the damages, and I would not be able to pay him for the repairs until that time. He very kindly agreed to this.

I rented a car (for which the Army would also reimburse me) for a month or so, and then got my car back. I filed a claim for reimbursement for the repairs and the rental car.

Fast forward to the middle of April, 1968. Procedure at that time was that the Personnel Office was supposed to make up clearance papers for me, indicating all the various offices I was to visit and make sure everything related to me was wrapped up before my discharge. This was to be done thirty days before my discharge date, May 16, 1968.

It took several calls to personnel to convince them that I was not going to reenlist. I was a Staff Sergeant (E-6 for you non-Army military) with nearly ten years of service and they just didn't want to believe it. I finally got my clearance papers with about three weeks to go.

OK, got through that, and arrived at the big day. I went to the Personnel office to pick up my discharge papers and certificate, only to find that they had screwed this up too. Absolutely nothing had been done. I wound up sitting in front of the desk of some private who had never made up discharge papers for anyone.

I watched him like a hawk. At some point I caught him typing a letter notifying the Commanding General of the Army's reserve forces in Massachusetts, that "The following obligated reservist . . . ." I informed him that my 9 years, 8 months, 5 days of active duty more than fulfilled my obligation, and this sort of letter should not be sent. He went off to verify this with a Second Lieutenant who was the Personnel Officer or Assistant Personnel Officer or something. The letter was aborted and the private began fumbling through the rest of the process.

At some point I became impatient and I asked him, "Would you like me to do that?" Without a word he got up and I replaced him. Two minutes later I walked over to the Lieutenant to get signatures on the certificate and the papers.

"What are you doing with that? You're not supposed to have that until I sign it?"

"Lieutenant, your clerk didn't know how to complete these forms so I offered to help him."

For some reason this displeased him and he said, "You know, I can keep you here until midnight."

"Yes sir, but come midnight I'll be gone and you'll still be here."

He signed, I left, and I was nearly done with the Army. There was still the matter of the money I was owed. This was nearly forty years ago and my memory is not to be trusted, but I believe the total was about $1,200.00, of which $300 would be mine - for the rental car bill (which I had paid).

After a couple of weeks in Phoenix, about which more in another post, I headed for my home town, Beverly, Massachusetts, a couple thousand miles away, with $20.00 in my pocket, figuring that I might actually make it, and if I ran out of gas money then I could find some sort of one day job.

I drove straight through, stopping once at a rest area to catch some sleep, eating nothing, drinking only water. The best thing that happened was finding that gas was only eighteen cents a gallon in Kansas and filling up just before leaving that state.

I had to get off the Massachusetts Turnpike. I had nearly a full tank of gas when I reached it, but no money at all for tolls. So it was secondary highways and local roads for the last several hours. I reached Peabody, Massachusetts, a few miles from home, with an empty gas tank and nineteen cents in my pocket. I pumped the gas into the tank, the station attendant came out, I handed him the nineteen cents, and he looked at me and said, "Good luck." I got into the car and noted that the nineteen cent purchase hadn't caused the fuel gauge needle to move one iota.

I made it home - a two day drive - looking, as my mother put it, like "the last survivor from World War II."

Several months later I got a telephone call from the owner of the auto repair shop in Sierra Vista, Arizona. He said he had called the appropriate office (I no longer remember what that was) in Washington, D.C., and had been told by some lieutenant that yes, I had been reimbursed. I assured him that I had not, got the lieutenant's phone number from him, and told him that I would call him back in a few minutes.

I called the lieutenant, who had no explanation for having told anyone that I had been reimbursed when in fact I had not. This claim was nearly a year old, and the holdup was - scout's honor - that they wanted to know why I was driving my car at the time of the accident. Was I going to another office, was I going off duty, or what? They needed this information in order to allocate the expenditure correctly. I had taken the precaution of leaving this information with the JAG (Judge Advocate General) office at Fort Huachuca, which precaution obviously did me no good.

I'm afraid I rather lit into him at that point. I told him I'd been going to the mess hall for lunch, and that I wanted that money very soon, and that if I didn't get it he'd be explaining why to Ted Kennedy, one of "my" (Massachusetts) Senators.

I called the owner of the repair shop, and told him that the lieutenant had confessed that I had not been reimbursed. I said I expected to get the check in a week or so and that I would send it to him immediately, and I thanked him for his patience.

A week or so later I received the check, made out (definitely not in accordance with Army regulations) to both the repair shop and me. This must have been the lieutenant's petty revenge, but it didn't really bother me. I signed the check, sent it to the repair shop owner, he cashed it, and sent me the $300.00 or so that wasn't his.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Quebec City for Four

Dee Dee, my father, his girlfriend (Carla) and I decided to spend a Labor Day weekend in Quebec City. We drove up in my car, stopping overnight in Watertown, Maine.

This was the third time I had done this, having gone once with Marylou and once with Dee Dee. All three times I stayed at the same hotel in Watertown and the same motel in Quebec. I'd recommend them to you, but I no longer have any clue about their names.

Speaking of recommendations, if it's still there you should have lunch or dinner at Chalet Suisse, a small fondue restaurant in downtown Quebec City. Or at least you should have thirty years ago.

On Saturday Dad and I took the girls for carriage rides. My best advice to you is that if you're going to do this in Quebec City in September, bundle up. Our teeth were chattering when we finished.

Somewhere along the way Dee Dee jumped out of the carriage for a minute and bought some candy from a vendor. She had a sweet tooth that wouldn't quit. After the rides we all did a little sightseeing and a little shopping, then returned to our rooms. The minute we got into our room Dee Dee began unwrapping some candy. I sighed and watched.

"What's the matter?"

"Dee, you know you don't eat much as it is. We're going to a nice restaurant and if you eat candy now you won't eat at all later."

"Oh, I'll eat it all, I promise."

She kept unwrapping, finally stopped, and said, "You're gonna be mad if I eat some, aren't you?"

"No, just irritated. I'll be furious later when you don't eat."

Silence, followed by the munching of candy. She offered me some.

"No thanks. I'm having dinner soon."

This made her irate, which I found very funny, and soon she was the one who was annoyed and I was the one who was having a good time.

There came a knock on our door, and I let Dad and Carla in. One look at the storm clouds on Dee's face and they knew something was wrong.

Dad: "What's the matter, Dee?"

Dee: "Oh, he's mad because I ate some candy. But I'm gonna eat all my dinner."

This, by the way, almost certainly would have been a first. Dee was a light eater, and I doubt that she had eaten "all her dinner" since the day she was born. But as I said, I had now shrugged it off and was in a good mood.

Donnie: "Dee, will you carry an extra pack of my cigarettes in your purse?"

Dee: "NO!"

Donnie: "If you'll carry my cigarettes I'll carry your candy." Then I collapsed on the bed, laughing. Dad laughed, and Carla, knowing that Dee needed an ally, had to bite her tongue and turn her back to hide her smile.

Naturally, at dinner, Dee ate about three bites. Astonishingly, she was actually surprised that she couldn't eat "all" of it. She looked up at me with a truly apologetic expression. "It's OK, Dee. Don't worry about it."

A couple more "Dee in Quebec" anecdotes:
  • On Sunday the four of us had lunch at a modern family restaurant just outside the city. Carla and I spotted a luscious looking dessert on the menu, "Hot Fudge Lucerne," an obsecenely concocted, stroke inducing, ice cream kludge, with a hot fudge sundae as its base. We both ate lightly and then ordered that dessert. Dee, perhaps as penance, did not. But . . .

    Monday morning we agreed to stop for breakfast before beginning the long drive home. For Dee, nothing would do but that we stop at that same restaurant for breakfast, and while the rest of us had eggs, pancakes, or whatever, she had the Hot Fudge Lucerne.

  • On our previous trip to Quebec, Dee and I decided to use the motel swimming pool. When we got out there, there wasn't another human in sight. Just before we entered the water, Dee spotted a frog in the pool.

    Dee: "I'm not going in the water with that frog in there."

    Donnie: "He won't hurt you. He'd probably feel the same way if you'd gone in first."

    Not one step toward the water.

    Donnie: "Just use the other end of the pool."

    That worked. In she went, floundering around and enjoying it.

    Dee, testily: "What's he doing in here anyway? Frogs aren't supposed to be in swimming pools."

    Donnie: "I'd guess he can't get out. The water's too far below the edge of the pool."

    Instantly - instantly - her expression changed from one of annoyance to one of sympathy and concern. She dogpaddled over to the frog, came up under him with her hand, and set him on the ground. He hopped off without so much as a "Kiss me, I'm a prince."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Job and Other Things

For four years I was a vice-president at a large (perhaps 4,000 employees) insurance company. If you haven't worked in insurance you might not know that these companies are largely - overwhelmingly - staffed by women: secretaries, claims adjudicators, data entry people, etc.

I was hired into this position when I was 38 and single. About such hirings word gets around, even before the arrival of the new executive. When I arrived at my new company, the Human Resources department contacted me about the process of acquiring a secretary. I was told that HR had posted the position and received more applications than for any other position in the history of the company.

Henry Kissinger was right when he said that power, not money, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. I was not a particularly handsome man, not impressive physically, and for that matter not especially ambitious. The vice-presidency had arrived via a long string of coincidences, not ambition, not a career plan - in fact, it was offered to me out of the blue. I hadn't even known the position existed.

Back to power and women: It would be an exaggeration to say that women were flinging themselves at me constantly, but I'll tell you the truth - it wouldn't be much of an exaggeration.

It began the week I arrived and continued for the four years I was there. I determined immediately that I did not want to be a shark among the fish; I did not see myself as a guy who jumped into bed with every woman who was willing, even inviting, and I did not want to become that guy. In particular, I did not want to use my position as sexual leverage.

I'm not going to tell you that I never succumbed, never got involved, because I wasn't Superman. I had a couple of relationships that lasted some number of months; one that lasted a couple of years, continuing after my departure from the company; and several flings, generally arising from a group of us going out to dinner on a Friday night, then elsewhere for drinks.

One that fell into the first category was with a thirtyish woman we'll call Betty.

We had seen each other several times. We'd gone to a movie, had dinners, gone to a zoo, held hands, kissed a couple of times. For no obvious reason, one dinner and subsequent walk to her place seemed to have a special romantic aura, and a few minutes later we found ourselves by the bed and getting undressed.

"Is it too soon, Donald? I think it's too soon."

Now I like to tease, and I generally take my shots where I find them. But not this time. What flashed through my mind was "No, that's swimming. After eating, you're supposed to wait a couple of hours before swimming."

But I played through the scenario most likely to follow that response, and . . .

1. I knew what was not going to happen if I said that, and

2. She lived twenty-something stories up, and I could envision the chalk outline of my body on the sidewalk.

These considerations outweighed the thought that this might be the funniest thing I would over say, and I quietly assured her that the timing was perfect, and it was.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Extra - Bo Diddley, R.I.P.

Bo Diddley, born Elias Otha Bates, later known as Elias McDaniel (after his mother's cousin, who raised him), died today at age 79.

Introducing "The Bo Diddley Beat" (probably adapted from "hambone"), one of the earliest recognizable beats in rock & roll:

If you're familiar with hambone, you can probably hear it. Think along with the music:

ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR

(Text idea stolen borrowed from Wikipedia.)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hired Again

I went to work for Jack (who was fired several years later), and I eventually became a Division Director. During these years Rob and I continued to spend the occasional evening together and have lunch together at least once a month. It was at one of these lunches that he confided that he had accepted a senior vice-presidency in Chicago, and bowled me over by asking if I would accept a vice-presidency under him. He told me that he had talked to my Vice-President and to my Executive VP and mentor, and received their blessings and permission to make me the offer.

The salary offered was a 66% increase for me, but I had reservations. First, Rob and I had serious philosophical differences about data processing, and second, I didn't care for Chicago. I did realize that I'd only been there for a couple of brief business trips, but the city had done nothing to excite me.

Rob was leaving for Chicago in several days, a very well kept secret at work, although it was about to be made public. We agreed that I would consider it and we would discuss it in Chicago - as chance would have it I had to be there the following Thursday on business.

The following week I extended my stay in Chicago by a day, poked around downtown for a while, and met Rob for dinner at the Executive House. A third party joined us, a mid-thirtyish Maryellen, whom Rob had known for a few years, as she worked in an organization related to his old job and to his new job.

After a great dinner, as regards both the food and drink and the company, Rob and I discussed the offer. He was to have three areas under him and we finessed the data processing issue by agreeing that he would never ask me to work in data processing. I had seen enough during the day to decide that I would learn to like Chicago, and I accepted the position, contingent on his sending me a written offer.

Prior to the dinner, I had gone to the Michigan Avenue Club (now defunct) to watch Rob and Maryellen play racquetball. After our brief business discussion at dinner, Rob asked me if I had ever played racquetball. I had played for a couple of years, but that had been ten years earlier.

Rob: "Do you think you could beat me?"

Donnie "Probably, with some practice."

Maryellen: "Do you think you could beat me?"

Donnie "Yes."

Hot button!

Maryellen: "You could not! You couldn't beat me! You could never beat me!

Donnie: "Rob, would you tell her that if I say I can beat her, I can beat her?"

Rob, dutifully: "If Donnie says he can beat you, he can beat you."

Maryellen: "You can't beat me! I'll bet you anything you can't beat me!"

Donnie: "How about your lily white body?"

Rob: "I'll hold the stakes."

Maryellen: "You're on - for a trip to Vegas!" And after a moment's
consideration, "Rob, what do you know about him? Is he kinky?" And to me, "Thirty minutes. No, fifteen minutes."

Donnie: "Oh sure, fifteen minutes. Now I gotta do it twice."

After some laughter we left and found that it was snowing furiously. They both assured me that it meant nothing, it was just "lake effect," and I would catch my plane to Boston the next day.

That night and the next day, Chicago got twenty inches of snow. My rental car was towed (to Old Town, it turned out) and O'Hare would not be open for a couple of days. It was Saturday and I tried to find Rob, but had no luck. Amazingly, I remembered Maryellen's last name (I'm not good at remembering these things right off the bat) and found her.

She had no idea how to locate Rob, but said, "I'm having a "We're snowed in party" tonight. Why don't you come over?" I accepted gratefully and she gave me directions. By nightfall the snow had stopped coming down and I walked (no taxis, as you can imagine) from (roughly) Michigan and Wacker to Sandburg Village, stopping occasionally to help people push cars out of snowbanks. When I arrived at Maryellen's I found that I was the only guest at the party. As things worked out, the necessity of winning a racquetball match was dispensed with, although over the years we played a number of times and she never did win.

I couldn't get a plane to Boston until Tuesday, so on Monday I called Boston and arranged to stay in Chicago for the rest of the week, as I had to be there again the following Thursday in any event. I spent the next week in Chicago and fell in love with it. I found the car about three blocks from Maryellen's place and spent the week with her, with Rob, and with her and Rob.