September 5, 2015
I saw a man get punched once—a hook to the cheek on a cold morning near the McCormick Center in Chicago. I was sitting in a cafe with my KenyaAA and a scone waiting to go into a trade show. The man didn’t call out; he just stood there stunned, briefcase in hand rubbing his face staring at the hitter that casually walked away as if it was just another Tuesday. It was an abrupt way to start the day for both of us and I remember a moment of thinking about the grander visions of my life and where they had gone. I was interrupted by a co-worker who dropped into the seat next to me rubbing his eyes while motioning to the waitress for coffee. They were used to hungover business people in downtown Chicago—often men, waving for services instead of actually speaking or waiting their turn.
“Rough night for me,” he mumbled. “How long did you hang out at the Beach Club?”
I thought about making something up that was more mundane—then I decided I didn’t care enough about what he thought. “About 2 hours, then we went to Excaliber. Had to really—after all that Jager, Jody, Cali and I danced on the bar counter, which encouraged some unwanted attention from one particularly drunk salesman from Acuson. So, we left.”
That was my life for many years. Tradeshows. Customer meetings at restaurants that served snails, alba truffles and paired wines. Meetings with journalists who asked all the wrong questions. And trying to keep the perpetually inebriated salesmen (not sexist—it was almost always men) at the booth and on the floor pitching product all day. At least it was an interesting product—they would call it a disruptive technology today—telemedicine.
The show was the RSNA, Radiology Society of North America. It was a big show and held every year in Chicago just after Thanksgiving—the beginning of the holiday shopping season for all those tag-along doctor’s wives. While the wives shopped the doctors partied at numerous events carefully planned to entice and excite both mentally and physically. Show models were not your usual breed of minimally-dressed pole-dancing hookers with a day job. Oh. Wait. That was mean. They were models, I’m sure.
Today the punching incident came back to me. I had been on the Zane Grey Highway near Pine, Arizona headed toward Highway 87 to Winslow. I pulled over to stretch my legs but mostly I sat on a rock under some Ponderosa pines to escape the heat and eat the leftover chicken from the trailer frig. Two squirrels were chasing each other around the base of the tall pine in front of me. Back on the ground they paused, stood up on two legs and stared at each other with tiny furry fists posed like they were in the ring at the WFF. I should have grabbed my camera but I didn’t expect the show. Seconds later they started punching each other! It was a tiny fist fight. It continued for about a minute—a long time in squirrel-world, I thought. Suddenly, one of them was on his back and the other on top and still punching. I thought he might whip out a tiny sword and run him through in Game of Thrones style. The winner then ran up the tree and the other ran to a different tree. Turf war. Squirrel style.
You know what you see when you are not sitting in a meeting at your job—phone on silent but sitting in front of you, or raking leaves off the lawn and paying your own kids to shove them into bags, or turning dirty socks right side out for the laundry? You see the keys to our own intellectual and spiritual understanding. We are not above it. We are part of it.
I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so fuckin’ heroic.”
― George Carlin