Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pretty Funny, Being an Artist

A friend of mine who is an opera singer is also a part-time chef at the airport. He chops vegetables and prepares the gourmet mixed nuts they give you on the plane so you will stop being a jerk and let the stewardess get on with her work. Anyway, my friend the singer is married and his wife has a real job as a legal assistant.  So one night when he gets off work at the airport he stops at a Halloween party with some of her lawyer friends. The room is full of them, thick as thieves, you might say. It's Halloween, and Steve figures he can get by as a chef. Checkered pants. Billowy white hat. 

First thing you know, "Oh, you're Gina's husband. What do you do for a living?"

"I work for United Airlines." Steve can see this effort to dodge the question is not working, so he adds, "When are you flying next? I'll see that your meal is poisoned and the landing gear on the airplane is sabotaged."

Of course, Mr. Young Hot Shot with Meyers, Stone, Jenkins, and Pierriewater, misses Steve's effort at humor. He goes right back for the kill. "Ha ha. What do you really do?"

"I'm a musician."

"But what do you do for a living?"

"Like I said, I work for United Airlines."

Real suspicious now. "But what do you do?"

"I'm a chef."

"Oh ho ho. Do you wear that baker-boy outfit when you sing?"

"Only when I do the Flower Song from Carmen."

Mr. Career Track attorney misses the pun, and he wanders off to find somebody worth talking to, somebody worthy of the attention of a man dressed for this party as an Oscar Meyer wiener in a bun. When Steve bumps into him again, he asks, "By the way, what do you do?"

"I'm with Meyers, Stone, Jenkins, and Pierrie."

"What do they do? Are you just along for the ride?"

"Mr. Pillsbury Dough boy thinks he's a comedian. Why don't you go back to the kitchen, wise guy!"

What a wiener!  Steve was just curious. He found out from his wife the guy was touchy because he's only the book keeper and Meyers, Stone, Jenkins, and Pierre--a law firm with a new client in a food distributor with a hot-dog fast food franchise.

I give young professionals such a hard time you probably think I'm envious or just plain bitter.  It isn't that simple. Close though.

I had a friend who is now a neurosurgeon. He tried to keep in touch with me, but I couldn't stand going places where the rest of the crowd were all medical people. Talk about a hierarchy! I'd come into a tavern with my friend, Larry, so anybody in the group who knew him thought I must be a doctor as well. Some of those guys were kind of a pain, excuse the expression. Imagine a young resident physician wearing his stethoscope into a tavern. They say that fellow had worked his way up from very meager beginnings to become a doctor, and he had a right to be proud. Well, all right. But the women had no excuse for kissing his hands and washing his feet with their tears.

Of course, the first question anybody asked me was, "Are you a doctor." I'm such a schmuck, I always said no before the women started in on me. The other doctors would go find somebody worth talking to--other people who were wearing stethoscopes.
My old friend and I had gone to high school together, and at the University, we stayed in touch. We started climbing the big volcanoes in the Northwest. Back then, Mt. St Helens was two thousand feet higher. He studied a lot, but he liked to get out into the mountains. By the time he was a resident at the medical school, we had done Mt. Hood, St. Helens, Mt. Washington, and a couple of ascents of Mt. Shasta in northern California, including a midwinter freeze-out on the Bolam Glacier.
Once in a while he couldn't get his work out of his mind long enough to enjoy our trips. This isn't funny. I remember him grinding his teeth about a child who had just died after surgery. One or two years old, this child had the kind of problem that would have turned him into a freak before the advent of the surgical procedure that had been done. Larry had told the parents the operation was likely to be only a temporary solution, and they would have to keep bringing the kid back. The one thing he hadn't warned them of was that he might die. He did. Larry spent the weekend preoccupied with what they must be going through. What it was putting him through was bad enough.
Larry's father was a prominent surgeon in our area. The people whose lives he had kick-started again could have populated a small town in Eastern Washington. He sewed a friend of mine back together after a car accident. Another friend of mine died after that accident. In a career like this a few mistakes are inevitably made. This doctor left a small surgical sponge inside a patient. A second incision had to be made to remove it. Big deal. Larry's father was invited to all the society parties. One night he walked into a group of people, and some drunk said, "Hey, Doc, lose any sponges lately?" I don't know how many people there were at that party who owed their lives to the doctor. A lot of people laughed. He got his hat and coat and went home.
Now, this man knew there was more to medicine than prestige. I think a life like his is worth living. His son, my friend, is practicing medicine, doubtless in a similar worthy fashion.  You have to respect the real professional.
I had need of an attorney some years ago, when I fought another messy ordeal over the sale of a business. The woman who handled my case had a very high regard for the truth. Any judge in town would tell you, if there is a problem with her client's case, she works with the problem instead of trying to cover it up. An operation like I was running was easy to find fault with. After I sold it to the employees, they decided they had paid too much. They were making more money than I had, but it still bothered them to have to pay me. My attorney refered me to an accountant in the process of grinding this collection problem down. He demonstrated the same ethical approach in his business as she did. I learned a few things from those two.
A few people have shown me enough class to last a lifetime. Their rigor and professionalism was inspiring. Coming from a cynic like me, that should have some credibility, but Socrates will back me up. Human goodness is not an illusion.
So, why don't I just stop carping? Once you know what the ideal is, it should be possible to live up to it. It's one thing to recognize virtue when you see it. Finding it for yourself is harder. I have a general idea of excellence. Put it next to most of what I see--in myself as much as in others--and you have the material for satire or suicide. Given that choice, we can get on with the show.

1 comment:

  1. In St. Louis, people play a game called "What high school did you go to?" Not being from St. Louis, people would quickly lose interest when I said I grew up in New Orleans.

    But the high school question is actually a pretty loaded one here. People translate the answer into socioeconomic status. Where you went to high school is a fairly good indicator of who your parents were and where they fit in the general social hierarchy.