A very strange man, by @jackaurquhart

©2013 by Jack A. Urquhart       988 words

300px-LederhoseOnce long ago in another lifetime, I was Vice-President of a multi-million-dollar financial institution.  Until, on a spring afternoon, suddenly I wasn’t.

It was mid May, I believe, when the firm’s majority stockholder—a quirks-a-plenty entrepreneur and amateur mountaineer, whom I’ll refer to here as Mac-C—summoned me to his office for what I thought would be a routine briefing.

Instead, after I’d delivered my weekly report, Mac-C—amidst a shock of facial twitchings and skittish scratchings—informed me (to borrow from the immortal words of Ray Charles) that it was time “to hit the road, Jack.”

I was blindsided.  Shocked to the core.

I remember gathering up my things after what had turned out to be my exit interview thinking that the day couldn’t possibly get worse.

I was wrong.

Later that afternoon, in what seemed an exclamation point to the day’s events, my daughter ‘D’—then age three and fond of experimentation—shoved a peanut up her nose while I wasn’t paying attention.

The several hours spent in the emergency room following this nutty diversion afforded time for silent fulmination. I remember sitting in the waiting room with ‘D’ on my lap fretting over how egregiously I’d been wronged.

Hadn’t the company thrived on my watch?  Hadn’t I devoted years toward mastering industry standards, endured countless sleepless nights familiarizing myself with mind-numbing I.R.S. code?

Had I done all that to be cast aside—by an oaf? A man who hadn’t any better sense than to wear lederhosen to work?  Who sometimes forgot to bathe for several days after one of his back range treks?  Who routinely displayed enough indecorous tics to provide a cadre of neurologists with case study material for a year?

And yet, somehow I couldn’t dismiss the Pandora’s box of shortcomings that Mac-C had thrown open at my feet that afternoon.  The host of hobgoblins he’d summoned for my mortification had been that formidable.  They included the following:

▪   That my professional decisions were too often ego and fear driven;

▪   That, for example, I didn’t delegate properly lest my value and importance to the institution be lessened;

▪   That I was too soft on ‘subordinates’ (his word) and remiss in redressing employee short-comings;

▪   That I was short-sighted, too focused on the day-to-day bottom line;

▪   And finally, that I had no vision for the company because I had none for myself—nothing beyond living up to the conventional standards of middle class life.

Words to that effect.

According to Mac-C, I was going through the motions; dressing myself up in technical expertise, ingratiating myself with co-workers as a kind of diversion from the fact that “you don’t really like this work,” he said, scratching at his crotch.

Dumbfounded, breathless, I listened as Mac-C opined that my career choice, as well as the lifestyle it supported, was—and I believe these were his exact words—“fundamentally unsuited to you.”

Given to loquaciousness, it took the man another half hour to get ‘round to his pièce de résistance:

“My advice in the face of failure,” he said (pausing to employ a particularly disgusting maneuver in clearing his nose), “is that it’s best to get on with something you enjoy—best to live naturally, to be true to yourself.”


After eight years of service, that was the best he could offer?

I was seething by the time the interview concluded, too choked up to speak, furious that a man so evidently obtuse, so totally oblivious would ever dare to shame and criticize.

Live naturallyBe true to yourself!

What rubbish!

What nerve!

That Mac-C should presume to offer anyone counsel was mind-boggling, I told myself—this doofus, this oddball who for all his wealth and influence routinely made a spectacle of himself.  Who, no matter the context or company, was forever scratching absently at his arse, picking at his nose, burping unabashedly!  As if his actions were beyond notice and reproach.  As if none of us could see.

To say that I felt loathing for Mac-C as I waited in the emergency room with ‘D’ that afternoon would be an understatement.  Yet, holding my daughter’s hand as a gaggle of doctors and nurses worked to extract the recalcitrant peanut, I couldn’t get him out of my head.  Couldn’t even expel a certain picture-perfect portrait of the man.  Again and again as my daughter railed against her doctors’ poking and prodding, the unhappy image flashed through my mind; it was Mac-C, and the way he’d cleared his nose earlier that day—with his index finger blocking one nostril as he huffed and puffed out the other; the entire appalling scenario performed as if it were the most natural thing in the world!

Which was exactly the tactic those harried physicians eventually persuaded daughter ‘D’ to employ in expelling that soggy, swollen peanut.

I have been thinking about Mac-C lately, having recently learned of his death.

His surprisingly lengthy obituary listed a full page of mountain trails conquered, businesses established, organizations and individuals supported and assisted.

I think now that I was one of them.  One of those individuals.

I think now that Mac-C did me a favor:

▪   By exposing my limitations;

▪   By forcing me to own how wrong-headed some of my choices had been, and, more damningly, how craven my motivations in choosing them;

▪   By showing me how ill suited I was for the work—and even the ‘lifestyle’—I’d forced myself to essay.

▪   And by booting me out into the world where I would have to explore other options.

A very strange man, he was.  And uncouth.  But I think now that Mac-C was never so obtuse as I imagined, and certainly never as oblivious.

Live naturally.  Be true to yourself, he counseled me.  So facile.  So profoundly difficult.

And yet, so wise.

I was sorry to learn of his passing.

Sorrier still that I haven’t heeded his advice more consistently.

About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in Washington State.
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5 Responses to A very strange man, by @jackaurquhart

  1. Jack, I love this piece, it is so beautifully written! Very catchy from the outset.

  2. marydpierce says:

    I chose the wrong time to read this with it’s various Mac C descriptions. I was eating dinner. Who’s in the lederhosen pic?

  3. I was never fired from a job although I quit several. The one time I really thought I might be fired, I quit before it could happen. With me it was always a matter of being incompatible with my superiors. Thank goodness I don’t have to work for a living any longer and I can be true to myself and live the life that comes naturally to me!

  4. Mara Huey says:

    I like this piece. It definitely brings up scenarios I hadn’t visited for a while, except since the announcement of Mac-C’s departure from this life. You make it so vivid. Kudos.

  5. This is an entertaining story. I enjoyed reading it. I think that everyone can relate to facing being fired. Goodness knows there is enough of that going around lately. Too often in life we do not reach for all that we can be.

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