Monday, December 9, 2013

Public Appearances

     Success has its price.  Back in the 1980s when I was a brand new “E” staff accountant at a Big Eight CPA firm in Seattle, rumor had it that one of the firm's former partners had been fired for disreputable behavior:  mowing his front lawn while topless.  I doubted the veracity of the story and deemed it a ploy to get us new E's in line with the firm's prestigious, straight-arrow image. 
     Then, at a lunch break during a training seminar, the office's managing partner graciously asked if he could join a coworker and I, already seated at a small table eating our hand held cold cuts sandwiches enfolded in elegant paper napkins.  We of course said yes, please do, so he sat and to my surprise, began to use a fork and knife to arrange the sliced meats on open bread slices and to eat as if an open-faced hot sandwich lay on his plate.
     I glanced at my fellow E, who continued to hold his sandwich in hand before him.  The rest of the accountants in the room that I could see from the corners of my eyes did likewise, so I relaxed, continued to eat as before, and refocused on our conversation.
      But the managing partner, perhaps sensing my momentary hesitancy, appeared self-conscious and ill at ease with his informal steak eating technique (upside down fork lifted prongs-down to mouth with left hand) and managed to eat only a half sandwich (and this was thin, light fare) before dismissing himself early.  I marveled that we lowly E's enjoyed a full and satisfactory meal, whereas our office's top official (a fine man, by the way) had to suffer and go hungry because his lofty position precluded him from hand-eating sandwiches like everyone else.
     Comparably, at an office party many years ago, a coworker and I were standing near the buffet line waiting for later arrivals when the then chief executive strode up to us in full suit and tie regalia and after obligatory hand-shakes and greetings said in true local fashion with a smile and much gusto, “Ay, I no can eat this food,” gesturing toward the modest (we paid for it ourselves) but ample catered and donated offerings.  In true local fashion I shot back with a smile and much gusto, “Why?  What's wrong with the food?” gesturing back toward the serving trays and tables, expecting a response recounting doctor's orders, diet restrictions, or some other food-related limitations.  Instead, a wall went up, as if he'd caught himself, and, back stiffened and hands gathered together in front, he said with measured temperament and cadence, low and even, eyes fixed henceforth on only my coworker, “I had a bowl of oxtail soup this morning.  It was a big bowl.”  Coincident with the word “big”, his head went forward for emphasis.   Then, wishing us well, he departed.
     What price success? I later wondered.  Can't successful people even be themselves at a business gatherings or in public?  Do they always have to watch what they say or do lest someone say this or that about them?  Can't they just do what they like without fear of others' opinions—as if they even cared?
     A wise man once said, “When you're twenty years old, you care about what others think of you.  When you're thirty, you don't care.  And when you're fifty, you realize they weren't thinking of you at all.”
     I have been blessed to date by kids who are not overly obsessed with fitting in or looking or acting like their peers, though they do have their own fashion preferences.  My oldest son has at times preferred long, disheveled hair and scuffed-up shoes.  My daughter wears girly active wear and nary a dress (she who once loved summer dresses).  And my youngest son enjoys T-shirts, polo shirts, and shorts, comfort being his prime objective.
     And I?  I wear standard business aloha attire and bring home lunch (a big no-no at most CPA firms) to work.  In public, I just try to relax, be myself, and enjoy, knowing no one's really looking at, or thinking or talking about me anyway--just another middle-aged man in the crowd who sure looks skinny.


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  2. Thanks for your comment. I'd love to read your blog, but unfortunately, I don't understand the language it's written in. As for commencing new essays, I love to write when I'm bored. The words just sort of percolate up from somewhere deep inside without much conscious planning.
    Someone once said that all good writing is a bit of a mystery. Whether my essays are any good, I'll leave for others to decide, but I concur that my best writing occurs when I think about it the least.
    Best wishes in all your endeavors!