One of my toughest wrestling matches every day is trying to weigh if what I write will either help or hurt my target. For instance, I’ve been after the Tennessee Walking Horse industry real hard for about six weeks after I have become thoroughly convinced that sadistic soring and continuing animal abuse is still abundant after 40 years of unconscionable lip service. There is a lot more pounding, or “stewarding” as the rogues call it, that needs to be done there.
On the other hand, I have really eased up on Chattanooga’s floundering Erlanger Hospital because while they can still skillfully treat diseases and broken bones, you can’t cure stupid. Erlanger is absolutely vital to all of us but my genuine fear is that if I write what I know, the collateral damage might be too devastating and – let’s face it -- do far more harm than good in the end.
My Erlanger plan is to pray every morning that a new management team will get here quick, that incompetent trustees will soon be tossed, and that the best physicians in the South will come back. The other day I got a copy of an idiotic directive that some moron had posted, presumably in the surgical areas of the hospital, threatening the nurses and techs who are distributed scrubs that they wouldn’t get paid if they failed to clock in or out or whatever. But when I read how the memo ended it reminded me of the day I actually quit my job because of a stupid memo. The Erlanger memo actually read, “These signs will be posted in every area possible. There will be no excuse for staff not to see and read these signs. Reading – well now, that could be a problem with some!!!”
Doesn’t that sound like a place you’d love to work? The only thing missing was Hitler’s signature and, with morale and staff appreciation at its lowest point, I found myself wishing that the persons who wrote such tripe could spend about five minutes with my grandfather.
Roy McDonald was actually the chairman of Erlanger’s Board for about 38 years. He also founded Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Tennessee and was its chairman for over 40 years, never accepting a dime from either due to his love and compassion for his fellow man. I started working for him at the age of 12 and we had more fun together than any two people who ever lived.
One day – I guess I was about 30 at the time – we’d finished composing that day’s sports pages and, as I made my way back downstairs, I noticed someone had posted a list of our employees who had not turned in their pledge cards to United Way. It was at the doorways to the stairs, the fronts of the elevators and even on restroom doors.
So I peeled one off, walked straight into my grandfather’s office and shut the door. (You never did that unless it was real serious.) I silently put the list of names down in front of him, and then put the keys to my company car and my company credit card down on top of it. “Pappaw, you know how much I love you, and how I’ll never forget all you’ve done in my life, but I refuse to work anywhere that embarrasses or humiliates its employees. I’m sorry for the short notice but I’m outa’ here effective right now.”
Oh, I didn’t really have that much bluster. My face card was that he knew that I had a really fat job offer to go to New York and write for a big magazine. He also knew that he’d asked me just the day before not to take the offer, that the family needed me too badly in our fight with the other newspaper, and that I had enough hellion left in me to really walk out. (I also knew if he fired me he’d still have to feed me.)
I guess I had heard my grandfather say four or five really bad cuss words in my whole life. He used a pretty ripe one before he grabbed his telephone, tapping the keys for our building intercom. “Will the idiots who posted the United Way lists on my doors and in my building come to Roy McDonald’s office immediately!”
Oh my goodness. My two uncles were both big uppity-ups in the United Way at the time so within the next four minutes there must have been eight people standing in what was respectfully called “the second room on the second floor,” as his turf was widely known. My grandfather stood, tossed his glasses on his desk and yelled at those assembled, “Why are you trying to destroy me!”
Now this wasn’t just a chewing out; it was a deep-bone gnawing. “Look here … look at this name … this man’s child has got pneumonia! See this girl?” he pointed to another name on the list with a shaking finger. “Her husband just left her! You’re worried about some ridiculous plaque and want to sabotage all that these very people,” he slapped the piece of paper with the back of his hand,” and all the rest of us work so hard to accomplish? Who can possibly be this this stupid?! You are killing me!”
Well, he really got on a roll and I can conservatively say that within the next five minutes there wasn’t a list of those who had not pledged to the United Way in our building or within six city blocks of it. I am telling you, it was worse than Moses flinging down the Ten Commandments but the culprits had very quickly and unforgettably seen the light.
Our company always took part in United Way – it’s a good thing -- but, after that day, the “hard sale” that too many companies callously foist on their workers was gone from our midst forever. When he’d run the last misguided soul from his office, he handed back my car keys and my credit card, settled in his chair and chuckled a second before asking very matter-of-factly, “How much (column) space is sports going to need tomorrow?”
So it’s like I say: You can cast broken bones, suture cut chins and fight valiantly against disease but you can’t cure stupid. Come to think of it, dumb doesn’t stand much of a chance on most days either.