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.

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