In Which the Big Kahuna Smites His Faithful Minion


I tell this preparatory story to humanize this “Mel,” who was my boss in “the corporation” where I was a director of computer programming.  He and his wife Mickey went to a party, and became, by his own testimony, inebriated.  Back at home in the bathroom Mel slipped and fell, bumped his head, and found that he was blind.  “Mickey!” he called.  “Come help me.  I’ve gone blind!”  Mickey came in, put the light back on, and gave him “the look.”

This story has an important similarity to another, told to me long ago by a friend in the Navy, about a Catholic chaplain.  He had prepared a brief prayer he meant to say if he ever felt he was about to die.  When he slipped and fell between the ship and the shore launch one day, he did indeed think he was momentarily going to be squished between the two vessels, and he said — “Oh shit!”

What the two stories share is that I would have never heard either of them if the protagonists themselves hadn’t told them.  They had a rare understanding of human nature that enabled them to realize that their audiences would admire them all the more for having the humility to tell on themselves.

 *****

My boss, who told of his falling in the bathroom, was by miles the best boss I ever had.  We understood one another as completely as it’s possible for two men to do.  I was his consigliere, sort of.

One day in a staff meeting I referred to one of our secretaries as “Box-a-Rocks.”  There was no denying she was a dim maiden, but sweet.  Mel called me on it, and gave me a brief lecture saying, basically, that I was mean.  I immediately knew he was right, and felt mildly repentant; but I foresaw a joke in the on-deck circle that I knew I couldn’t resist, while knowing just as clearly that I’d better.  I didn’t.

“You’re right, Mel.”  Right off he started warily squinting at me, as if to say “What’s this?!”  It was already clear to him that we were leaving our safe mooring and heading for open water, and that I had seized the wheel.  “I feel a conviction.”  Baptist talk.  After some more insincere mea culpas, I said I would never call Judy that any more.  “From now on,” I said, “I’m gonna call her ‘Clump-a-Stumps.”  Bam!  He slapped me.

We both knew I had deliberately monkeyed with the delicate balance of our sacred relationship in the hierarchy.  Small price to pay, I thought, for the subsequent tittering of the titmice around the table.  No harm, no foul.  All over.  We returned to our valiant quest to achieve the corporate goals.  Or to at least try to figure them out.

A diversion, to fill the page:  Did you like the boat metaphor?  It’s good.  I didn’t want you to miss it.  Most poets pride themselves on being subtle to the vanishing point.  (This is why “they” say that poets write mainly for one another.)  I, however, like my good ones to be noticed, so resort often to use of a cudgel.  Surround them by splats (*) and yell “Lookit!”  What if I had never noticed the profundity of Huck Finn’s “all right, then, I’ll go to hell,” for instance?  Reminds me of my blood glucose.  My cells need a shout from the guard:  “Hey, pay attention.  Open up.  More glucose at the gate.”  (Idiot’s guide to biology.)

Still room.  So I have a question:  Why do we write “sh*t”?  To protect the young?  This is just infinitely silly.  And we’ve been doing it for centuries.  I read once where Jefferson paid a guy named Callender to publish scurrilous sh*t about Washington, because he was afraid to do it himself.  But George found out.  Passing in his carriage, he sees Jefferson walking, sticks his silvered, august head out the window and yells “Hey, Thomas!  F*ck you!”  (Pulls his head back in and, in a feeble attempt to restore his dignity for posterity, says “Harrumph.”)  History made interesting.  George and Tom as more than animated statuary.

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