Scenes from St. George’s, Part V: Free Range Culture

St. George’s Free Range Culture:

Thus far in this series I have alluded a number of times to what my high school classmate Dyche Alsaker has referred to as the “free range” nature of St. George’s in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Free range is exactly the right phrase here, and a number of factors contributed to the free range, sometimes free-for-all, nature of the times. In no particular order, here are five incidents or examples which I feel exemplify something of this culture. I wonder if readers who didn’t attend SGS will find these strange or more or less normal given the time period.

The Smoking Shack:

When I was first in the lower school around 1981-83, there was a smoking shack for high school seniors just behind the high school building. Seniors, and perhaps juniors, essentially earned the right to smoke on campus by virtue of age, and the smoking shack was deemed official, ordained even, by the school itself. The smoking shack was not just an area, it was a physical structure as indicated by the name, potentially purpose-built for students to smoke in.

Even as a small child, I found this interesting, because by the 1980’s smoking was not as common among adults, at least on a regular basis, as it seems to have been 20 or 30 years earlier, a fact I somehow intuited. The smoking shack was torn down shortly after this time, probably in the mid ’80s, and smoking on campus was no longer allowed (although students would still smoke cigarettes, and other items, in some of the more discrete and far-flung areas of the campus environs). By the time my classmates and myself became high school seniors, we too had a senior lounge, a smallish two-room shack also behind the high school that I believe was once the headmaster’s office. We didn’t smoke there; instead we played mammoth games of Risk and Diplomacy, watched Seinfeld, and played street hockey against Mason Anderson who would do his best Ron Hextall impression. It amazes me to this day that smoking seniors were not only tolerated, but actively encouraged, during my time at SGS.

The Janitor Hangs J.T. and I Up by Our Necks

Way before sugar cubes, pithing needles, or any other of this sort of action, J.T. and I set out to bedevil the middle school janitor. As I mentioned above, both of our fathers coached sports, and therefore we were at school until 6 or 7 PM most days throughout the year. This left ample time for us to get into trouble, which first involved stealing the bucket and mop of the janitor (a tallish bearded dude as I recall) and hiding it, thereby preventing him from doing his job. Naturally we thought this was hysterical. He disagreed, and would curse us, with semi-good humor, as he located and re-secured his equipment. This was when we were in second or third grade I would guess.

One day, after weeks of bucket hide and seek, the janitor had seen enough. He decided to take drastic action. The boys bathroom of the middle school had a set of coat hangers about six feet off the ground, and these must have been pretty sturdy because this dude hung both of us up by the backs of our sweatshirts and left us hanging there as he completed his cleaning rounds. This, as I recall, was pretty unpleasant, and also worrisome–how long did he intend to keep us there? To my recollection this only happened once, and we hung for 15 minutes or so before he let us down. I went home and complained to my parents–the janitor hung us up on the coat hangers! Well, my parents said, did you do something to him? We just hid his bucket like always, I replied. That seems like fair treatment then, said my parents, maybe next time don’t hide his bucket.

Even at the time I actually felt this was a reasonable response on the part of my parents. I mean, we knew we were looking for trouble, we knew we were inconveniencing the dude–getting a reaction was the whole point. So, mission accomplished, although I think we did back off the janitor after this incident. He had made his point, and established himself as a worthy adversary. Respect my dude, respect. It is a little hard to imagine the hanging of children just flying under the radar like this today, but at free range St. George’s in 1983 it was simply par for the course.

The Phone Room:

When my classmates and I were in fifth grade we had a homeroom teacher called C.F. At the time, I thought he was a great teacher. Looking back, I reckon he was probably just super lazy, but also just a little creative in his laziness, a pretty good combination for 11 year olds. Whole lessons would be given over to thought experiments like “imagine you are stranded on a cliff with a sheer drop on either side with one friend. How do you get off the cliff?” Every suggestion was met with dismissal by C.F.–nothing would work. We would go on and on to no conclusion, and then class would end. Or, he would just play the Beatles for the whole class. Stuff like that.

C.F. was pretty even-tempered most of the time, but from time to time he would get mad at a student. This was usually not me, although on a few occasions it was. When he would get mad, he would put the offending student in the “phone room.” The phone room was just what it sounds like–a very small room with a phone that dialed off-campus. This was in the mid ’80s, and cell phones were not yet a thing. The phone room had a single chair, the titular phone, and various phone books. I have no idea if the phone room was ever used by a teacher–certainly I never saw this. Instead, it seemed to exist solely for the purposes of punishment.

C.F. would stick students in the phone room for the length of a class sometimes, but other times he would leave them there all morning or longer. A really bad student might spend 4-5 hours chilling in the phone room. Now today, I believe, this is considered really bad practice. Just locking a student up for hours on end for supposed recalcitrance is not a recommended method for student discipline and rehabilitation. But again, this was the ’80s and things, as I hope I have made clear to my younger readers, were just different back then.

However, the funny thing about the phone room punishment was that off-campus calls from the phone room’s phone were free, and there were phone books. So naturally students with nothing to do and hours at their disposal would make prank call after prank call, calling pizza delivery, other businesses, and, in a precursor to E.P.’s dirty calls to mothers, parents of classmates. I don’t know if C.F. or the other teachers knew about these calls, but all the students did, and some may even have looked forward to a stint in the phone room to operate the phone and raise a little hell.

C.F. ended up having an affair with another teacher and checking all the way out of his job a few years later, before leaving the school and moving to Idaho. Before this, however, we graduated from the lower school to the middle school, and one day I bumped into him and said hello. He said something to the effect of “I won’t talk to you anymore because you and your classmates are bluebirds who have flown away.” What he meant was, I guess, he had done his job and we were someone else’s job/ problem/ business now. Fair enough, perhaps, but still a little odd. All in all, C.F. was a good teacher because he was different and took chances, although his methods would not even begin to stand the scrutiny of a modern school, at least I wouldn’t think. And I never did figure out how to get off that f*** cliff.

Pithing Needles in the Biology Room:

In high school we had two main science teachers. The first was J.T.’s dad E.T. who taught Physics. E.T. was also the assistant baseball and girl’s basketball coach for my father, who was the head coach. E.T. passed away recently, so rest in peace to a mediocre science teacher, an excellent first base coach, and an awesome right hand man.

The second was our Biology teacher, an older woman who had taught, perhaps right there at SGS, as far back as the 1960’s. She would tell us stories of how in the 60’s she would tell the class “any of you who are on acid, just take the class off and go outside,” so she’d seen it all I guess. Nonetheless, we managed, sans hallucinogens, to vex her on a regular basis, and when mad she would cross her arms, stare at the ceiling, and repeat the phrase “bad words, bad words, bad words,” a reasonably inventive way to avoid telling her students what they could do with themselves.

Now, she was probably a perfectly competent Biology teacher, but we were not, as 10th graders, a very receptive group. To be honest, Biology was boring. But one thing the biology room had that held potential were the pithing needles. Pithing needles, for those who don’t know, are thin, very sharp, needles about three inches in length which are attached to a wooden handle. They are, I believe, intended for use in dissections, however J.T., Kelly, and myself found other uses for them. We would sneak back into the Biology room after school and, holding the needles by the handle, fling them up at the ceiling, which was made from soft plaster board or some such material. With the right touch we could stick the needles in the ceiling, and although I only remember doing one dissection (the fabled frog dissection) in biology class, there were copious needles to throw. After a couple hundred attempts, we would manage to stick fifteen or twenty needles in the ceiling, which was quite high up, maybe 20 feet or so. The next day in Biology class the teacher would point out the needles, say her bad words, and threaten us with retribution if we were found to have been involved. What we were really waiting for was if a needle would get loose and fall down during Biology class, which would have been a bonus. (We were not bad kids; Biology was just super boring–what can I say?)

In any case, after weeks of needle flinging the pithing needle supply was pretty much exhausted and the teacher, possibly with some other adult backup, singled the three of us out (she would have known the responsible parties all along of course).

“Alright boys, you are going to climb up and get those down.”

“How are we expected to do that? They are way up there.” No protestations of innocence, just practical objections to the task at hand.

“I don’t care,” she said, “you put them there, you get them down.” One way or another, perhaps with a borrowed ladder, perhaps with a long broom or something, we managed to clear the ceiling of the deadly needles. All in all, sure we stole sugar cubes and ammonia packets, broke and entered into the headmaster’s house, and filled the biology lab’s ceiling with deadly projectiles, but at least we were sober. So, we had that going for us.

We Graduate with Blank Diplomas and Miss Prom:

Like many schools, SGS sent us seniors on a senior trip just weeks before graduation. Senior trips, through normal enough, are invariably a bad idea because students will, nearly without exception, attempt to drink on the trip. And so did we, however our experience was a little different as our drinking was directly facilitated by one of the three adult chaperones on the trip. And yes, we got punished, losing prom and graduating with blank diplomas, which might have been fair in some circumstances but hardly in these specific ones.

I won’t enumerate the exact circumstances of the alcoholic consumption on the trip because I don’t wish to engage in any under the bus throwing, even at this remove, however suffice it to say liquor was provided through a large legal purchase by said chaperone. Another chaperone discovered the drinking after some of my classmates were, let’s say, less effectively clandestine than myself and my own little group (we were trained in spy craft from way back), and the matter was reported to the then headmaster who was called George Swope. George Swope was no George Edwards, despite the shared first name, and was in fact pretty ineffectual in all areas. He called us all into a room with another administrator as backup and lectured us about drinking.

“What I think is fair is we take prom away for all of those who have admitted to drinking, and also you will graduate with blank diplomas. You will have to work off your debt to the school after graduating as well.”

Now really, this was some bullshit. The prom ban was fair enough, but the idea of working off some supposed “debt” after graduation was ridiculous, and I, with my big mouth, said as much in the Swopester’s little meeting.

“We accept (I began with the royal we, because why not) the prom situation, but you can’t take our diplomas away from us. And anyway, the booze was supplied by a teacher, as you well know.”

It didn’t matter. Some of us graduated with blanks, and I looked through the rolled up paper dramatically on receiving it, just to be a d***. Our valedictorian, Matt Carpenter, who always claimed never to study, which I think was also B.S. (although he was super smart so who knows), was under strict orders not to mention the incident in his graduation speech. As I recall, he did a perfect job of alluding to it without saying anything provably related. I was proud of him.

Why would a teacher supply booze to students? Well, because he wanted to be liked. It’s not that complex. Again, if this happened today I imagine the parents of the students in question would raise holy hell, and the teacher would be terminated. None of this happened; his involvement was swept under the rug, and life moved on. J.T. and I did expunge the “debt”, which, karmically, I guess was pretty fair given our earlier transgressions, by clearing a bunch of logs from the river while I played Dylan on a boombox with an extension cord (not the same boombox or extension cord my brother Mike played Richard Marx on). Some of the richer students (I’m just going to call it like it was, and almost everyone there was richer than J.T. and I) dodged log clearing duty to no consequence. That’s the class system–fuck that, by the way.


OK. That’s all I have. There are many, many more examples of free range culture at St. George’s, however my memory and creative vein are tapped out for the time being. If you attended SGS back in these days I hope these reminiscences bring back memories, on the whole happy ones. If you are reading and didn’t attend SGS, does all this sound pretty out of control, or pretty much normal? Leave a comment either way–I’d love to hear from you.

to be continued…

Scenes from St. George’s Part III: Mr. Dreyer, French Teacher Extraordinaire (with a cameo from Richard Marx)

When I was in middle school I took French from one Monsieur Dreyer. I had already been studying (the verb is used loosely) French for a couple of years, and had some of the basics. In Mr. Dreyer’s class I learned a little more, and could actually kind of hack it in French there for a bit. But any actual language learning that took place in Mr. Dreyer’s class was seriously secondary to the excellent action that took place around his class.

I wasn’t first introduced to Mr. Dreyer in middle school, however. In fact, I first met him when I was in elementary school around the time he began teaching at the school where my father taught, and I attended, in the early 1980s. I remember going to the apartment he shared with his wife, who is Japanese, when they had an exchange student called Atsushi from Japan staying with them. Atsushi was my age, and he showed us how to make onigiri (rice balls). Making rice balls is not all that tough, just rice, water, and salt. Still, I thought onigiri were pretty exotic and Atsushi pretty cool. Some time later Mr. Dreyer and his wife must have come up a bit short of ready cash, because they lived in a tent in my family’s front yard for a while. This seems a little strange looking back, but it wasn’t then. I have no idea what the bathroom or shower situation looked like, but something must have happened.

(My brother Mike also lived out in a tent in the front yard during the summer for a number of years. Maybe it was the same tent. Mike would run an extension cord out to the tent and play his boombox. This was a few years after the Dreyer clan was tenting it, and Mike was deep into the singer Richard Marx. I thought Richard Marx was alright, but he didn’t seem to have a lot of songs. This mattered not at all to Mike who played the same Richard Marx tunes over and over again.

Today Richard Marx is, strangely enough, bigger than ever. But not as a musician. He runs a popular Twitter account where he is a big liberal and also pretty funny. Marx is like Rex Chapman but less problematic. Rex Chapman is super-problematic. I’m not sure exactly how, I just know he is.)

Mr. Dreyer also played a little chess with my father, although my impression is that both of them were pretty bad. Certainly they were not pulling out a lot of “hard-to-find” moves. At that time, I knew Mr. Dreyer was a French teacher, but didn’t know if he was in fact French. Today I believe it to be the case that he is not French, is in fact from California, and just somehow became proficient in the language. Good for him.

Even before I took his class, I was aware that Mr. Dreyer was, let’s say, a different sort of fellow. He liked to tell a story about his brother who lived on a massive contour map of the San Francisco Bay area. The map was located in an enclosed structure that hung under a bridge in Oakland or something. And his brother just chilled there full time, so the story went. So Mr. Dreyer, apparently, was the normal one in his family.

(I remember Mr. Dreyer talking to me about John Lennon one day as well. This was maybe when I was taking his class, but I think it might have been before that. “John Lennon’s assassination was really sad,” he said, “he was just starting to put his life back together.” I had heard of John Lennon but at that time knew nothing of the circumstances of his death. And I certainly didn’t know about his ups and downs in the 1970s. Mr. Dreyer must have been a Lennon fan though, and wanted to tell me about it.)

In any case, when I got to middle school I was assigned Mr. Dreyer, as mentioned. Mr. Dreyer wore a mustache that looked pretty Frenchy to me—maybe that’s why I kind of thought he was a French native. There were also a number of the Tintin books in French on a shelf in the back of the room. I had read most of the Tintin books in English by then, so it was fun to browse the French versions and take in some of the action from a new lens.

In Mr. Dreyer’s class everyone got a “French name,” and I was called “Philippe.” I don’t really care for all these fake names in language class, although I recognize that some people do adopt them as a kind of alter ego. I mean, if a Japanese gal called “Sari” wants to go by “Sally” in English class that’s great. Makes sense. But my actual name sounds nothing like Philippe, so it just seemed kind of random. In any case, little Phillippe was not a bad French student, but he was a restless one. Mr. Dreyer’s classroom opened from the back door onto a kind of grassy area, and for reasons passing understating Philippe would leave class in the middle of the lesson and then try to crawl back in through the back door and up through the room, hoping to escape Mr. Dreyer’s attention. Mr. Dreyer did notice, of course, but he was pretty cool about it.

“What you doing there Philippe? Sneaking back into the room again? Welcome to French class si vous plait.” Something like that. I wasn’t trying to aggravate Mr. Dreyer or anything because I really liked him as a teacher, I was just doing what 12 year old boys do. However, Mr. Dreyer did not view every student as leniently as myself. One of my classmates was a guy we’ll call “E.P.” E.P. was a trouble-maker, and was known to pull the fire alarm in the middle school there on a regular basis. His parents were called, repeatedly, but he didn’t care. He loved pulling that fire alarm. E.P. would also prank call mothers of other students for whom he somehow had phone numbers from the school phone and talk dirty to them in a fake voice. So, yeah.

One week, E.P. and some other students had started throwing wadded up pieces of paper toward a metal garbage can located at the front right corner of Mr. Dreyer’s classroom. Mr. Dreyer let this roll for a few days, however one day before lunch he decided to crack down. “Mr. E.P.,” he said, “I’ll make you a deal.” “You can have one more throw of a paper at that trash can. If you make it, you can go to lunch. If you miss, you have lunch detention.”

Now this struck me as a pretty fair deal, because E.P. didn’t have to accept the challenge. He could have just passed and gone about his day. That, of course, is not what happened. Instead, E.P. wadded up yet another piece of paper and lobbed it at the trash can. He missed. This was the last straw for Mr. Dreyer who, instead of keeping him in detention as promised, took matters a step further. He grabbed the trash can (which was about three and a half feet high) and carried it over to where E.P. was sitting.

“You like garbage!” he shouted. “I’ll show you garbage.” And sure enough Mr. Dreyer, onigiri expert, former tent dweller, and French teacher extraordinaire, emptied the whole thing right on top of E.P.’s dome. Now you might think this was some bad action, and from today’s perspective sure, it probably was. But for us middle schoolers it was hysterical.

“Did you hear what Mr. Dreyer did?” we whispered for the rest of the week. “He dumped a full garbage can on E.P.’s head.” This was the biggest thing to happen all month, and we milked it, obviously. Again, if this happened today, Mr. Dreyer might have faced some kind of sanction, but the 1980’s were not like that. E.P. had been dumped on, and life moved on.

Mr. Dreyer eventually left that school and moved to Kyoto where he taught for a while at Kyoto International School before ultimately moving back to California where his brother lived on a map. Years later I reconnected with Mr. Dreyer on Facebook, where he regularly posts groaningly bad, yet still somehow funny, visual puns. “Cyrano wins by a nose” with a drawing of Cyrano crossing the finish line in a foot race, that sort of thing. Anyway, I wanted to get his perspective on the whole the garbage can situation so I sent him a message. What did he recall of the incident?

He didn’t remember it at first, but then he said “oh yes, that was with a student called “J.”

“No,” I replied, “it was with E.P.”

“No, no, no,” he replied, it was “J. JFK.”

Now I knew that Mr. Dreyer is prone to making some strange jokes, and at first I thought he was making some kind of oblique assassination reference. Was he suggesting that there must have been a second shooter?

“This was not JFK related,” I said. “It was some E.P. action. I‘m sure of it.”

Mr. Dreyer was not sold though, and it occurred to me that there may have been more than one dumping. This may, in fact, have been Dreyer’s go-to-move. After all, his treatment of E.P. was, in truth, pretty unfair—the deal was advertised as sink the shot or detention. Dumping was never mentioned. Was Dreyer moving about the globe and dumping full garbage cans on students left and right? It was a possibility. Maybe I was smart to stay low to the ground after all.

These days, Mr. Dreyer is living in California where he enjoys the warm climate. And he reads this blog. Hey there Mr. Dreyer baby, you’re a cool guy but that garbage can move could maybe use a little reflection. E.P. was a troublemaker, sure, but dumping just wasn’t part of the deal.

to be continued…

Scenes from St. George’s, Part I: Erosions, First Love, Headmasters

Author’s Note: This is a series of “scenes” from St. George’s (SGS), the school in Spokane, Washington I attended back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Although this was all a while ago and I forget all kinds of stuff, I remember a few things. SGS was a good school in many ways, but it was also a pretty loose environment. I’m sure it’s changed now, but back in the day a lot of pretty wild stuff happened. These piece will collect a few incidents as I recall them; the scenes at best loosely connected; most are funny—a few are maybe a little serious. I plan do a few installments in this series, so if you like this one stay tuned. A last note: I make no claim to my memories being authoritative in any sense. As with all memories, these have been colored, and eroded, by time. However, I will try to write only about things I witnessed first hand, or things that I have on what I believe to be pretty good authority.

My Brother Mike Looks for Erosions

When I was in the lower school (elementary school) at SGS I had a teacher we will call L.K. In the lower school each grade had a main teacher, what you might call a homeroom teacher, and students also had classes with other specialist-type teacher such as Science or Music. L.K. was an OK homeroom teacher for me, not very memorable, but not terrible either. However a few years later when she was serving as the homeroom teacher for my brother Mike, things changed.

By the time Mike was in her class, L.K. was apparently in a little entanglement with the headmaster at the time called George Edwards, whom I believe was separated, or separating, from his wife. The headmaster of SGS always lived on campus in a fancy house called The Davenport House, and I guess the action between himself and L.K.’s was pretty widely known. It must have been if even I, as like a fifth grader, was aware of it. I think this relationship, whatever it consisted of, must have been on the rocks though by this time, and there may have been some bad action. In any case, L.K. was totally checked out from her job. Now teachers sometimes totally check out, and this can go unnoticed for weeks or even months. Teaching is an important job, but it’s not like flying a plane or something; a checked out teacher generally doesn’t put students’ lives on the line.

Anyway, L.K. was way checked out. SGS was, and presumably still is, situated on a very large piece of property down there by the Little Spokane river and was surrounded by wilds that were not SGS property, but that students could explore. The lower school in particular was set up against a hill that went for a mile or so up above the school building. So there was a lot of space. However, there was also a basically bounded playground and lower school students would also play on the large lawn of the Davenport House, so there was no need for them to be foraging way up on the hill. Except in L.K.’s class though, because she developed a kind of genius strategy to do no teaching at all for my brother’s class. What she would do was, at the start her assigned homeroom teacher block, let’s say it was three periods in the morning, just tell her students to “go look for erosions.” The students must have learned about erosions in Science class or something, because Mike knew the word as like a second grader. The students would go up on the hill on their own and scout around for erosions, of which there were many, all morning and come back for lunch.

Now, a day of looking for erosions would have been one thing— a little erosion location could easily be justified as a Science class extension, ideally supervised—however L.K. didn’t just pull out this move once. In fact she pulled it out day after day for, I believe, a matter of weeks. Everyday Mike would come home and my mother would ask “what did you do today?” Mike would reply “went looking for erosions.” Like most parents, mine probably didn’t pay super careful attention to the ins and out of what was going on with our schooling, however after some weeks of this my mother started to find all this erosion action a bit strange.

“You went looking for erosions again?”

“Yup,” said my brother. “More erosions.” I think Mike was totally fine looking for erosions all day, as I would have been, however my mother had heard enough.

“That’s too much looking for erosions. It’s been weeks and you’re still looking for erosions. I’m going to talk to somebody.”

I believe my mother did talk to somebody, because L.K. changed up her all erosion all the time strategy. I think she was still checked out, but maybe made an effort to disguise it a little better. She left the school at the end of that year as I recall and I don’t know what happened to her after that.

That’s the funny thing about teachers—they are often remembered by students for the strangest thing they did. I don’t remember a single thing from L.K.’s class or anything else about her really, but I do remember that she loved her some erosions.

Drawing a Sun for N.C.

As I mentioned, SGS had the Davenport House, which was right across from the lower school, and one of the rooms of the Davenport House was used as a classroom when I was there. We had Science class in this room for a while. One day, the teacher asked us to draw the solar system or something like that, and I started by drawing the sun. Now I had always seen the sun depicted with like pointy rays of light coming out of it—you know, the sun looks kind of angular most of the time. So that’s how I drew it.

There was a girl in my class we’ll call N.C. I don’t know if anyone else from SGS back then remembers her because she wasn’t there for too long, but I do and I had a huge crush on her. In fact, I thought about her all the time. We would play tag games on the lawn on the Davenport House, “freeze tag,” and “television tag,” (I don’t remember the rules) and I would always try to tag N.C. just to be close to her. Anyway, N.C. was in Science class with me, and I showed her my sun, which I thought was pretty solid. Then, another classmate, a boy whose name I forget but who was a bad seed, interrupted my little chat with N.C.

“That’s not what the sun looks like. The sun doesn’t really have rays like that. It’s actually just round. Look at my paper, I have it the right way.”

Sure enough, this little brat had drawn the sun like a big red circle. Now I suspected at the time that on some level this guy was probably right, and that the sun as an actual mass or whatever didn’t have physical rays. But his sun looked super ugly, and also he was putting my drawing down in front of N.C. and just basically being terrible. So I turned to N.C.

“What do you think N.C. Which sun do you like better?”

And N.C. just smiled at me and said “I like your sun better.”

That was all I needed to hear. N.C. was on my team, and the little brat could stick his sun where…well you know. I was elated by N.C.’s appreciation; my sun had carried the day. I was totally in love with her, more than ever, after this sun incident.

A while back I tried looking N.C. up online, and although her name is not super common, I found four or five people who could have been her. I was hoping to send her the sun story and say thanks, but I didn’t want to just fire this anecdote over to a bunch of random N.C.’s, so I held back. If you do know who I’m talking about and you know where she’s at, let me know. Maybe she remembers my pretty solid sun.

More George Edwards Action (with a cameo from the Manimal, Kenneth Faried)

I mentioned above that when he was headmaster of SGS George Edwards was entangled up with L.K. And this is true. He was headmaster for a while though, so he also did some other stuff.

All in all I would say George Edwards was a mediocre headmaster. He looked more or less the part, wore a mustache that was less Frenchy than my middle school French teacher Mr. Dreyer’s, and generally didn’t intervene too much in school matters, which was a positive. He was a decent public speaker, and put on a good showing at the annual auction and things of that nature. On the other hand, he was not especially inspiring, and as we’ve seen, had some stuff going on in his personal life which distracted him. He was from Texas originally and when he first came to the school his wife came with him, but I think this was just for show because she was out of there pretty soon after. Like I said, he was at the school for a while and I actually took a class from him in high school. More on that in a second.

I was at the school a lot because my father taught there and also coached basketball and stuff into the evenings, and myself and my friend J.T., whose father also taught at the school, kind of had the run of the place. J.T. somehow got copies of the master keys to the middle school and upper school made and gave me a set, and we would just open up the buildings whenever we wanted and go wherever. J.T. and I would sneak into the faculty lounge in the high school and pinch sugar cubes from the teacher’s coffee area, and later on we snuck into the science room to appropriate some ammonia packs from the first aid kits. I think someone eventually noticed that the first aid kits were always running out of ammonia. Yeah, that was us. George Edwards was gone a lot, and we would also go on into the Davenport House, which somehow was just open, and poke around. We probably even did this a few times when George Edwards was staying there, which is admittedly a little bizarre. The Davenport House had a kind of servants’ area as I recall, and a back set of stairs which was really cool.

Anyway, because I was always around, George Edwards asked me one time to babysit his daughter when he was off doing something. I was probably in middle school at this time, and his daughter was about 8 or 9. His daughter is probably a lovely person today, but at the time she was known to be a bit of a handful. In addition to the L.K. factor, George Edwards was, in my recollection perpetually, going through a divorce and things may have been a little tense on the Edwards family front. I didn’t know his daughter too well, but I said sure, I’ll babysit. Good he said, you can do whatever you want but just don’t let her dance on the roof.

This seemed like a very specific instruction, and I wondered what he meant. Was he just giving me a general example of a bad idea, or was she an inveterate roof dancer and I’d somehow have to try to control this tendency? It turned out to be the latter. The babysitting was going fine for a while, until she said:

“I’m going to go dance on the roof.”

“Uh, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Your dad told me not to let you do that.”

“Yeah, I’m going to go dance on the roof. Are you coming?”

Now I was bigger than her, and a guy, but still it’s not exactly easy to corral an 8 year old girl hellbent on roof dancing, and I clearly wasn’t going to be able to talk her out of it. So, I thought, the best thing to do was to go with her and keep an eye on things. The “roof” was actually not the roof of the house exactly, more like an open patio area that a window on the second floor opened on to. It didn’t really have any railings or anything around it, and all in all it was not the safest spot for dancing. However, it was medium big and looked kind of OK. Also she was clearly a veteran roof dancer, so I figured she had it under control.

She danced for a while and I watched, and then we went back inside. I had a pretty nice day with her as she was actually pretty cool, and then George Edwards came home.

“How’d it go,” he asked. “She didn’t dance on the roof did she?”

“No sir, nothing like that at all. We just stayed inside mostly and read books and talked.”

“Good job. She does like to dance on that roof. I’m glad you handled her today.”

I told George Edwards a fib, it’s true, but I felt like I earned my money you know. Roof dancing had occurred, but it has also been contained. You’re welcome there George Edwards.

One day during the George Edwards era when I was poking around the Davenport House for reasons passing understanding I came across a soft-core videotape in the TV room on the second floor. There was a picture on the box of some frolicking beach babes and it had some kind of suggestive title. Interesting, I thought, George Edwards likes himself some beach babes. More interesting than that though was the fact that he just left this lying around. Maybe George Edwards needed a couple of lessons in headmaster trade craft. Or perhaps he didn’t expect that J.T. and I would just be cruising around his house uninvited. In any case, I would get a different kind of glimpse into the person behind the role via a story my classmates related to me which happened one day when I was staying home with my trick knee.

What is a trick knee? Well, the trick knee was the patented move of a Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman called Joe Nash back in the day. Basically Nash, and sometimes his teammates, would fake an injury (thus the “trick knee”) to stop the clock late in the game. In American Football it is super important to stop the clock in late game situations; this is why you always see players trying to get out of bounds in these spots. Joe Nash and the Seahawks found a loophole in the rules, which at the time didn’t prohibit the fake injury move. I believe the rules have now been adjusted.

I found an article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel by one Sharon Robb from 1989 that talks about this. (The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has some super organized archives by the way.) Robb is talking about the 1988 AFC title game between the Seahawks and the Cincinnati Bengals. “Clarke” here is Ken Clarke, Nash’s fellow defensive lineman.

Seven times Nash (five) and Clarke (two) took turns faking injuries on third-down situations to enable the Seahawks’ nickel defense to get onto the field. After the third time Nash went down, the crowd of 58,560 caught on and started booing. Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche and his players were livid, complaining to whatever official was within earshot. The fourth time, Nash went down and feigned injury without ever getting hit, and walked off the field under his own power.

I remember watching this game and marveling at Nash’s trick knee move. To me this was an example of exactly the kind of player I liked. Nash was probably not the best lineman in the league, but he did what he had to to try and help the Seahawks win. I played basketball for a while at SGS and later on as well. As a basketball player I had strengths and weaknesses, but was never going to be the go to scorer. So I developed other skills, especially offensive rebounding. This was my specialty, and my favorite NBA player of all time is the Manimal Kenneth Faried. Like me, Faried wasn’t a great scorer, but he made up for it with his dominating offensive rebounding. He stuck around the league for a while because of just this one skill.

When I was in graduate school in Arizona in my 20s I played a lot of pick-up at the gym there. Pick-up is interesting because players mostly don’t know each other and just have to kind of fit together on the fly. This process is pretty hit or miss; however I was a good pick-up teammate because I could score if need be, but was just as happy to try and dominate the glass on both ends, especially the offensive glass. Most pick-up players don’t rebound all that hard, so by just going all out in that aspect of the game I could pretty much control it a lot of the time. One day I was matched up against a slightly older guy and I was kicking his ass on the glass. I was pulling out all my moves, and he basically had no chance. He started getting mad and began pushing me in the small of the back when I was going for a rebound. In basketball a little pushing and elbowing is acceptable but pushing your opponent in the small of the back is bad form. I let him know his play was out of line and told him:

“Hey dude, you can push me all you want and I’m still going to eat your lunch on the boards.” This was the last straw and my guy said something I’ll never forget:

“You aren’t a real basketball player. You’re just a fucking garbage man.”

What he meant was I was just picking up all the rebounds and loose balls like a garbage man picks up trash. He intended it as an insult, but I took it as a huge compliment. I am absolutely a garbage man, me and the Manimal both.

Anyway, I loved Joe Nash so I copied his trick knee move. Not on the football field though, my trick knee would flare up on days when I didn’t feel like going to school. “My knee hurts,” I’d tell my mother, and she’d let me stay home. I didn’t pull this move out much because I basically liked going to school, but once and a while my chronic knee condition got the best of me. One day in what must have been 1990 (just a bit after Joe Nash’s epic playoff performance) I was trick-kneeing it and missed George Edward’s class, which I recall was some kind of government class or something. The fabulist and video game loser John Innes will remember.

The reason that I know this happened in 1990 is because this was when the First Gulf War was kicking off. It turned out that George Edwards had once upon a time been in the military, or more precisely I think he was at the time in the military reserves. The gulf action must have made him feel nostalgic or something, because the next day after my knee had healed I went back to school and my classmates told me something extraordinary had happened in government class. What was that? I asked. George Edwards had us go outside and march, they told me. March? What kind of marching? Military marching, they told me. He had us do military marches and gave this big talk about the military and he was actually crying.

Now this all sounded pretty odd, and I felt like my trick knee had worsened on just the right day because I sure wasn’t up for any marching.

“What was going on with him?” I asked.

“We don’t know. He was just getting super emotional and he made us march on the road all class.”

Although I was glad to have missed it, I found this story interesting. To be fair, this was not an L.K.-like move where George Edwards just didn’t feel like teaching that day. He was out leading the marching, apparently. He wasn’t a great government teacher—as I said above he was not that inspiring a fellow in general—however after I heard about the marching I liked him better. This incident, I felt, provided a little window into the real guy, the Texas native who liked beach babes, didn’t want his daughter falling off the roof, and felt a deep connection to the military reserves.

One thing I wonder about is if any other teacher at the school was aware that all this marching was going on. I think they must have been because it apparently took place right on the road in front of the school. I wrote in my Mr. Dreyer piece about how back in the day teachers would just do questionable stuff and nothing happened. George Edwards was the principal, so he probably had carte blanche on the marching front in any case, but did no one ask him, “hey there George Edwards, everything OK out there today? Maybe we should chill a bit on all the marching” or anything? It can be really tough to tell principals what to do, although I’ve gotten pretty good it in my own career. Anyway, I wonder.

George Edwards moved to Seattle later on and got another head of school job. My brother Mike ran into him over there and says he’s a really good guy. As for his daughter, I hope she’s still out there, dancing her little heart out.

Dedication: For N.C., wherever you are.

to be continued…

Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s “The Social Construction of Reality” and Related Issues

Author’s Note: This piece is a re-write of a piece from my first blog, Classical Sympathies. At that time I was interested in the relationship between the individual and his or her place of work/ organization. Classical Sympathies was fortunate to have a number of regular readers, some of whom took the time to comment, sometimes at length. The blog got a surprising amount of traffic for some reason, although it is now lost to time. Some pieces from back then are, looking back, a little too flowery, however the style was the style. Andrew Inch, a guy that a uncatagorizable cross-section of people here in Japan knew back in the day, was one of the most prolific and interesting commenters, and I have left his remarks in this re-write.

Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality:

This piece will look in some detail at Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality, and comment on some of the ideas that it raises. Anyone who works in an organization will be aware that the intersection of the individual, in all of her preferences and particularities, and the institution can involve some friction. In The Social Construction of Reality, Berger and Luckmann spend 45 pages on the topic of “institutionalization,” so they had obviously gave the matter some thought.

They make the point that while man (The Social Construction of Reality, published in 1966, uses the gender-specific term), makes his world, he is given to losing sight of this and projecting (or “reifying”) aspects of the social world so that they are perceived as entirely external and beyond his control. They write:

“Man’s self-production is always, and of necessity, a social enterprise. Men together produce a human environment, with the totality of its socio-cultural and psychological formations” (51).

Human culture, then, is invented. However, being prone to reification, people tend to:

“{apprehend} the products of human activity as if there were something else than human products–such as facts of nature, results of cosmic law, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world {and experiencing it} as a strange facticity, {…} over which he has no control” (89).

When mis-apprehending social reality as something other than the product of his own action and consciousness, man forgets that:

“the social world was made by men–and, therefore, can be remade by them,” but, ironically that,“reification is a modality of consciousness {…} Even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it” (89).

We can extrapolate the statement “even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it” to suggest that the perception of sedimented, externally controlled or created, facticity continually creates the very facticity in question. Put slightly differently, the denial of agency diminishes, even uncreates, free-will, while the exercise of free-will depends in large part, perhaps entirely, on the strength of one’s belief in it.

Now, this is not to argue that reification is simply false-consciousness, or that groupings within society do not go to considerable trouble to perpetuate and legitimate reification of their activities. Berger and Luckmann make this quite clear in their analysis of what they call “socially segregated subuniverses of meaning” such as “Hindu castes, the Chinese literary bureaucracy, or the priestly coteries of ancient Egypt” (85), (and we would add to this list lawyers, doctors, television pundits, university English departments, etc.). They write that subuniverses:

“become esoteric enclaves {…} to all but those who have been properly initiated into their mysteries {…} The outsiders have to be kept out {but} if the subuniverse requires various special privileges and recognitions from the larger society, there is the problem of keeping out the outsiders and at the same time having them acknowledge the legitimacy of this procedure. This is done through various techniques of intimidation {…} mystification and, generally, the manipulation of prestige symbols” (87).

“And generally the manipulation of prestige symbolsindeed. Those who engage, consciously or unconsciously, in the manipulation of prestige symbols are, in Berger and Luckmann’s language, involved in creating a “typification.” The acceptance of typifications, in turn, sediments social facticity and brings into being a taken-for-grantedness in the performance of social actors.

The authors indicate that while the typified actor may “act-into” a socially authorized way of acting in public, the same actor, in the privacy of their home, the confessional, or the bar may seek to establish a certain “role distance” through behaviors which blur, or indeed outright contradict, their public “face;” this distance is apt to shrink again when the times comes once again for the actor to take up their public role. In so doing, the actor re-activates that segment of the self which is objectified in terms of the currently available socially available typification(s).

When I started my first blog in 2009 I wrote at some length about why I wore a necktie at work, even though I didn’t really have to and some co-workers thought it was a little strange. My buddy Andrew Inch wrote an extensive, and highly perceptive comment on the topic which is instructive here. Mr. Inch, it will be apparent, is one smart dude. It’s kind of long, but it is worth it.

“Reflection on MT’s devotion to this apparently innocuous task, knotting a piece of cloth around his neck each morning, leads us towards what has become a key element of many recent theories of ideology. Derived from Pascal’s advice to non-believers, ‘kneel and pray, and then you will believe’, the French philosopher Louis Althusser sought to assert the materiality of ideas, and how ideology works through our actions as well as our words to define us as certain sorts of subjects. For Michel Foucault, one of Althusser’s students who sought to break with Marxism and the concept of ideology, the knotting of that neck-tie might have been considered a ‘practice of the self’, a way of disciplining oneself in line with a particular matrix of power and knowledge. The question that I think both of these thinkers struggle to address, however, is the extent to which we are able to shape our own selves, rather than simply being shaped by power. What scope do we have to resist the power embedded in these apparently mundane everyday motions? {…} By kneeling to pray, or standing in front of the mirror adjusting the knot, we perform belief and so take on socially available identities. And as for the rest of us in that office – what was the effect of not knotting the tie each morning? At times there were no doubt some who reveled in the non-conformity of that not knotting. In truth, however, did our alternative practices of the self not simply reproduce a slightly different, perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting? Was not wearing a necktie not just another kind of necktie after all?”

“In truth, however, did our alternative practices of the self not simply reproduce a slightly different, perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting?” This sentence is phenomenal, and predicated on a particularly alert and acute piece of self-knowledge. Mr. Inch is saying that those in the office who refused to put on a tie, or who flaunted the organizational dress code altogether, while thinking that they were “rebelling” and “sticking it to the man,” were in fact playing into a pre-determined archetype every bit as much as I was with my neckties and apparent “conformity.”

Mr. Inch is essentially making the same point that Berger and Luckmann do when they point out that roles and typifications are “endemic to social interaction {…} All institutionalized conduct involves roles.” And then, the authors bring matters home:

“The institution, with its assemblage of ‘programmed’ actions, is like the unwritten libretto of a drama. The realization of the drama depends upon the reiterated performance of its prescribed roles by living actors. The actors embody the roles and actualize the drama by representing it on the given stage. Neither drama nor institution exist empirically apart from this recurrent realization” (75).

In short, both Mr. Inch and Berger and Luckmann do not confine the acting out of prescribed roles, the submission to typification (e.g. “conformism”) to those in positions of authority within an institution. To the contrary, I read them both as saying that both the master and the servant, the “teacher’s pet” and the “bad boy,” the necktie wearer and the necktie shunner, the consummate insider and the professional rebel are all engaged in the recurrent realization of pre-typified activity.

Explication With Reference to Obama and Talleyrand:

Now, it is true that the above reading of Berger and Luckmann may leave the door open a purely cynical outlook by suggesting that all forms of behavior by institutionalized actors are equal. This is not quite what I wish to argue. Barack Obama has defined his political philosophy as “ruthless pragmatism.” While I understand this formulation, it does seem a little cold (as Obama is famously said to be) What if we added the word “principled” here? Could “principled ruthless pragmatism” sustain meaning without slipping irrevocably into the realm of the oxymoronic?

Let’s take a closer look in relation to organizational life as opposed to the political sphere. “Principled” because one’s initial agreement to engage with institutionalization (through the acceptance of a job offer for example) assumes a principled acceptance of the role one will be asked to play and the attendant tasks and behaviors that will be expected.

“Pragmatic” in that in order to accomplish anything in the social world, wherein competing interests, visions, and ideologies are, and ever will be, an unavoidable reality, one must be prepared to lose the battle in the service of, hopefully, winning the war. It has been my experience that the inability to lose a battle is a problem for many people in the modern workplace. Related to the ability to lose a battle is one’s attitude toward “compromise.” Is “compromise” a dirty word? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, the actor who blithely declares “there can be no compromise where my principles are concerned” may sooner or later find their principles encased under glass in their own private shrine to imagined rectitude. In other words, total denial of the possibility of compromise is tantamount to surrendering all hope of getting anything done. In the immortal words of William Jefferson Clinton, “sooner or later, you have to cut a deal.” On the other hand, there are a certain class of situations where certain compromises just do not feel acceptable, situations where one has what we could call an existential objection to the terms of the proposed compromise.

The question does not, I think, concern whether deals should be struck in general, they should, so much as whether any individual deals is in the long term interest of the project in question and the people involved with this project. This is where “ruthless” perhaps applies. At the very least, the pragmatist needs to accept in herself a degree of strategic focus where goals rooted in principle are concerned. We cannot deny, of course, that this is an easily misused sentiment—if we continually apply “pragmatic ruthlessness” to a project which we are deeply attached to there is the real danger of a concomitantly continual shifting of the moral goal-posts. In short, these are muddy waters.

Talleyrand, Napoleon’s foreign minister is, perhaps, most famous for his remark that “treason is a matter of dates.” Gives you the chills, does it not? Benjamin Schwarz writes of Talleyrand:

“Arguably a turncoat, possibly a degenerate {…} certainly a shameless flatterer and world-class bribe taker, Talleyrand was also the most skillful and farsighted diplomat of his age and a man of arresting grace, wit, and style {…} He was as seductive as he was obviously dangerous {…} Talleyrand subscribed to the idea that statecraft’s modest but arduous task is to enable one’s country to survive and prosper in the world as it exists–not to transform international relations and not to further the alleged cause of mankind” (The Atlantic, December 2007, 93-4).

A hero or a villain? Schwarz is not sure, but he is charmed. For my part, I see in Talleyrand perhaps an 18th century form of “principled ruthless pragmatism” where France’s survival and prosperity was the principle from which his ruthless pragmatism stemmed. While your own cause may or may not be the triumph of the French nation, the application of a ruthless pragmatism in the service of a deeper principle does hold a certain appeal. However, I just don’t personally feel that “ruthless” is really the most appealing qualifier for pragmatism in regards to acting within the public sphere.


Instead, I am more interested in understanding how and when to “follow the rules” and surrender to form, as opposed to how and when to do a little end-run. To function effectively within an organization it is essential to realize the power inherent in form. At times, often times really, a “surrender to form” is required. However, instead of simply surrendering to form and that being that, we may be able to add a qualifier of our own. Certain situations may call for a “strategic surrender to form” for the moment, while at the same time “bracketing” or “pocketing” the possibility of the end-run. Here, perhaps, we may have a window into a pragmatic post-post-modern stance which takes post-modernism’s relentless questioning of form and turns it inside out, recognizing that the tyranny of form is something we bring upon ourselves by allowing form to tyrannize.

Put another way, we can expand slightly on Berger and Luckmann’s claim that “an apprehension of reification as a modality of consciousness is dependent upon at least relative derefication of consciousness, which is a comparatively late development in history and in any individual biography” (90). I would suggest that an apprehension of reification as a modality of consciousness is dependent upon at least relative dereification of consciousness which may then lead into the ability to either and/or alternately i) embrace reification and role typification as a strategy (that is to inhabit a form which brings with it certain prerogatives and forms of access), and ii) radically overthrow reification and typification through the recognition that the establishment of social facticity is but a spectacular bluff resting on the manipulation of prestige symbols and the shaman’s art whereby an illusory thinness is reflected as an eternal massivity. In so doing, we may be of service to truly worthwhile cause, protecting a space for action and free-will in the face of the ever-expanding institutionalization of both the public and the private sphere. That might be worth working on.

Dedication: For Mr. Inch. Thank you for commenting. You rock baby.

The Thin Man in Singapore Part IV: Marcus

Dateline The Alligator Pear: November 2nd, 16:25

The thin man met the accountants for an early drink at the Alligator Pear as promised. They drank Mojitos, a ridiculous drink that is invariably watered down. The thin man had a vodka and soda, a safe choice ahead of what could be a long night.

The mood of the men swung between giddy and glum. One of them was on some kind of app, choosing an escort for later on. The men advised him on his choice with the surgical precision of serious professionals. The thin man hoped that he could be as precise in his own operation tonight.

“Did you folks get wristbands yet?” a waiter in his early 20s asked. They hadn’t, so they did. Yes, the event security is poor, but to be fair they all looked the part of party goers. And so they were. All going to the party.

The party must have been paid for weeks ago because all the stops were turned out. A full bar, lobster tails, sushi, fondue, steak tartare, champagne. Sometimes the best way to look prosperous is to look prosperous. The guests were high in no time. The future was unwritten, terrifying. All they had was tonight.

Nursing his second vodka and soda, the thin man scoped out the scene. Anderson was not present, nor was Rink. The highest ranking Green Grouper seemed to be a regional vice-president called Lewis. It was he that gave the toast, “to a glorious future, the Green Group!” Salut. Lewis was in his early 40s, too young and too on the spot. The thin man needed someone older, someone with less to lose.

Outside on the pool deck a group of three men had lit up cigars. This was surely against regulations, however a payment must have passed under the table, either that or tonight was one of those nights were regulations just weren’t in effect. Regulations are like that, even in Singapore. They are human created and human maintained. Or, in this case, not.

Cigar smokers, mused the thin man. Cigar smokers tend toward the genial and the venial. Toward the cynical and the amoral. Toward the reckless and the egotistical. In that moment, he loved cigar smokers. Cigar smokers were excellent. The only issue was he might have to have one too.

He approaches the group a little gingerly. The move here is a little different than cozying up to the accountants. There he wanted to be taken in as a peer and fit in. Here, his role is of the acolyte, the younger man. Now which one is our mark? Individual one appears in his mid-sixties, and sports a brown jacket that is at least three years past its prime. His feet are shuffling an alcoholics’ shuffle. No thank you. Individual two is in his 50s dressed in a tux. Hair slicked back with pomade, a little glassy eyed. A greaser who got lucky. No.

The third man, however, is of a different type. Also in his 60s, he wears a pale red sweater over a tieless pink shirt. He is handsome for his age, white hair adding a touch of distinction. He is slightly overweight but in a way that suggests ease not sloth. The thin man cages a cigar from the brown jacket, lights it, and stares into the middle distance. A few puffs later he casually turns to the man in the red sweater.

“Jack,” he says, “quite a view eh?”

“Marcus,” says the man, “view of the end of the world if you ask me.”

“The company? The rumors?”

“Rumors? Boy, ain’t no rumors about it. We’ve got a ringside seat on the Titanic.” His laugh is actually merry. The thin man is elated, an emotion he subsumes into wide-eyed curiosity. He wills himself to look 10 years younger, like we said, an acolyte.

“I heard Rink is making his move by Monday,” says the thin man. He has heard no such thing, it just makes sense in context.

“Made his move already. Anderson is bleeding like a stuck pig. Rink will announce the coup on Monday at the latest. The wires may have it before then.”

The thin man is getting warm. He turns gently to face Marcus, cutting off communication lines with the other men. Drink in his right, he stretchres his left arm out part way as if he is about to put his arm around the older man. But not quite. It’s all in the mechanics. Marcus takes a few steps away from the edge of the pool and toward a padded bench for two.

“Can I get you another drink, sir?” asks the thin man.

“You sit with me boy,” says Marcus. “Drinks are his job.” He gestures to the young waiter. “Two Gibsons, and make ’em strong.” At they sit the Thin Man channels “boy.”

“So Rink will really pull it off eh? That should get us right back on track.” Fishing.

“Balls boy. Back on track! Anderson siphoned so much money out of the company that Rink will have to go hat in hand to Company X. Won’t have a choice.”

“Oh, the merger? I forgot about that. Well, we should get a good price right? I mean, our fundamentals are still strong.”

“Fundamentals? Boy what have you been smoking? Anyway, Rink doesn’t want to lead Green Group any more than I do. He’ll sell and take a pretty title, head off to the desert on his dune buggy.”

“At a good price, of course.”

“Phah, he’d like 60% on the dollar and would die for 51%.”

“I see. And what would he take?”

“45%. Lot of whores out there on the dunes boy. Rink’s no dummy.”

“Naturally. And what will you do sir, once the ship has sailed?

“Fuck off to Venice and blow the lot. Or, stick around and see how things develop.” Marcus leans in close to the thin man. “Do pass that on to your paymasters, will you? Marcus is ready to play ball. Marcus knows where the bodies are buried and where the light shines.” He puts his arm around the thin man, paternally which just the slightest touch of menace. “Take care of old Marcus, eh kid?”

The man knew, or guessed. The thin man draws a breathe to recalibrate. “I’ll see what I can do.” And he meant it.

Dateline The Street Outside the Swissotel: November 2nd, 16:25

It was still early-ish and the thin man had what he needed. He decided to phone Alejandro, and made sure to exit the hotel and walk around the corner before he placed the call. Alejandro picked up on the second ring. The thin man filled him in on the basics. Alejandro told him to come to the office, gave an address. It was a 10 minute taxi ride. The taxi driver was an ex-policeman. “I drive for my enjoyment and because it gets me out of the house,” he explained. I could drive a taxi, thought the thin man, there are plenty of worse ways to earn a living.

Alejandro met him at the door and escorted him through building security. The security guard asked for the thin man for ID and Alejandro shook his head vigorously. His whole being shook with indignation.

“We are going to the 14th floor,” he hissed with equal parts insistence and menace. “The 14th floor.” The guard recognized a losing hand when he saw one and waved them through.

“That reminds me, said the thin man,”I need a passport. The company can take care of that yes?”

“Sure,” said Alejandro. “As long as you’re willing to take a job overseas we can provide identification. Are you still Jack Bishop?


“OK Mr. Bishop. Let’s go make the report and see where else you might be of use in this little world of ours.”

On the 14th floor the team was waiting, 11 people strong. The man in the middle crossed the room and shook the thin man’s hand. “I’m Mr. Miller, Head of Operations for the region,” he said. “I hear you have some news for us?”

“Yes. Anderson’s a dead duck. Rink will have control by early next week. He’ll take a haircut on the shares and a sinecure. You’re good to go.”

“How much of a haircut?” asked Miller?

“Offer him 41%,” replied the thin man. It’s a brutal lowball, and the thin man felt great saying it.

A man in a yellow jacket piped up from the left corner. “41% is nothing. We’ll risk poisoning the negotiations entirely with such a number. Where is your information from?”

“The information is sound.”

“Who did you have to deep throat then,” asked the man in yellow.

“I’m sorry, who are you?”

“I’m director of security. It’s my job to assess risk.”

Standing in a fucking room on the 14th floor. The ocean is a great place to watch movies, and the thin man had seen his share. He turned to Miller. “I came here because Alejandro asked me to. He asked me for a favor.” He pointed to the security man. “I said, the real favor, follow my advice and fire his fuckin’ ass because a loser is a loser.”

You could hear a pin drop. “41% percent,” repeated the thin man. “Thank you for this opportunity. And, there is a man called Marcus, as in Aurelius. He’s an asset.” He was bone tired as he turned to walk out the door.

Alejandro tagged behind. “Well done, well done. Miller is pleased.” Alejandro possessed the eternal skill of reading the boss’ moods from micro-inflections, a true corporate survival skill.

“Thanks,” said the thin man. “When is the earliest I could get that passport?”

“Day or two. Let me get into it.” The black market economy is a marvel of efficiency, thought the Thin Man. To live outside the law you must be honest. “And you’ll be available for international work?”

“I’m available.”

“Then we are all good.”

“See you on the dunes partner,” said the thin man. Alejandro’s look was quizzical.

“Sorry, inside joke.”

“Yeah, inside to you and you alone.”

“See you around,” said the thin man. What he meant was, “it’s funny to me,” but he didn’t want to push it. He staggered back home in a second taxi, making no eye contact until he was safely ensconced in his room. He managed to take his shoes off, and didn’t even text Desiree before he passed out.

to be continued…