Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Held at bay by barking dogs

My last couple of posts have been about my elusive memory. Some memories, even important ones, have faded, other minor memories stand out. Why? The vicissitudes of brain functions, I suppose.

For instance, I woke up the other day with a sharp memory of being held at bay by two large, barking dogs.

It was in 1976. I had just gotten the job I would hold until my retirement in 2009. As a condition of employment I was expected to get a physical. I was working for the local school district, and the physical was necessary to make sure I wasn't a walking disease factory when entering schools. In 1976 I did not have a regular family doc, and because I had a deadline of 30 days I checked around for the name of a doctor I could see quick. A family friend told me a college friend of his, Dr Steve, had a practice in downtown Salt Lake City. I made an appointment.

The day of the appointment I was allowed to take time off work. I drove into Salt Lake, but there was a problem finding parking. The medical building was close to a residential section of town, so I drove to a street lined with houses, and parked. I had a couple of blocks to walk, but that was no big deal.  Or at least when setting out I didn’t think so. A block into my walk two large dogs, a German Shepherd and a mixed breed, ran out of a back yard and confronted me. They were barking and snarling, and worse, they were blocking the sidewalk. In those days, just like today, there were restrictions on dogs running free, but those hounds were off-leash. I stood on the sidewalk, held at bay. I tried crossing the street. No good, they ran ahead of me and blocked me there. In frustration I yelled out, “Hey! Whoever owns these dogs! Call them off!” Maybe everyone was at work, or at least did not want to get involved. I saw no one in a window, no one in their yard, just those dogs. After several minutes I was frustrated, running late. I finally just walked back to my car, checking over my shoulder to make sure the dogs weren’t following. They stood like sentinels, watching me leave.

Powerful jaws and big fangs, intimidating!

I drove back to the medical building, where this time I got lucky and found a spot.

When I was led by the nurse to the examining room she walked me past Dr Steve’s office. He was sitting at his desk, reading a medical file, and smoking a cigarette. Even in 1976 it seemed odd to see a doctor smoking. It was a relief to me, since in those days I was a smoker and figured it lessened my chances of him lecturing me about quitting. As it was I quit six months later.

Why worry about smoking? Your doctor smokes!

I got through the appointment all right. The exam was quick. I answered some questions and he did his doctor thing, pronounced me in good health, wished me good luck on my new job, and I was on my way.

I didn’t think any more of it. A month later I got a note from our personnel office saying I had not completed my requirement for a physical, and I was in danger of being fired. I called Dr Steve’s office and was assured they had sent the form to the personnel director, but when I went in person to explain that to the Personnel Department, I ran into the human equivalent of the barking, snarling dogs. My memory goes blank when I try to think of her name, but she was fairly well known for being hard to get along with. She seemed constantly irritated. She was snappish, ill-humored and at times belligerent.

When I joined the school district a lot of the people working there had been there since World War II, even before. The longtime employees were part of my parents’ generation. This being Utah they were also almost universally Latter-day Saints. I knew I did not make a good impression because of my beard and shoulder-length hair (and the aforementioned smoking, which offended Mormons even more than my appearance), but I thought my natural charm (har-har) would win her over. No chance. I had a better chance with those dogs than I had with her. I asked to speak with the personnel director, but she kept me at bay. Like the dogs. All I could do was tell her what the doctor’s office had told me, and I left her office with a warning that my job was on the line.

The secretary I mention has nothing to do with Christina Hendricks’ role as office manager on Mad Men. I just like pictures of Christina Hendricks.

A week or so later it filtered down to me that the secretary had found the doctor’s note. Whew.

There is a bit more to the story. What happened was that I was not a threat to the health of schoolkids. In fact the opposite was true. Kids were always sick, and walking into a school was an invitation to pick up any germs or medical condition going around. My first five years with the organization were filled with me being ill, having a cold or sore throat every few months. I still did not have a family doctor, so I called Dr Steve’s office, only to find out he no longer practiced locally. I asked the family friend who had recommended him. He told me that Dr Steve had confessed to his wife he was gay, she divorced him and he moved with his boyfriend to Arizona.

A couple of years after that I heard from the same friend Dr Steve had died of a “strange disease” that attacked the immune system of gay men. He was the first case of AIDS I ever heard of, before there was even a name for it.

After awhile I built up my own immune system, and didn’t catch every stray bug loose in the schools. One day a kid as tall as me was walking by me in the hallway, turned his face toward me and coughed. I yelled, "Cover your mouth when you cough!" Three days later I had a cold complete with bad cough. When remembering that I also remember the barking sound he made when he coughed.

And when I tell you this story I ain’t just a'woofin'.


DEMiller said...

Great story. Maybe Steven King had a similar experience and wrote "CUJO". The long hair part of the story would be the same in most parts of the country. My friends who had long hair back then had similar stories. I was refused a job as a dish washer once and I suspected it was because I had long hair and had not shaven for 3 days. People judge
you that way. I wonder how people are judged now with tattoos all over their body?

Postino said...

Dave, I was a slow learner. I had already experienced prejudice, but didn't compromise until I realized I was beating my head against a wall of public opinion.

I imagine many people with visible tattoos go through the same thing. The difference is that I could change my look with a shave and haircut, but tattoos can't be eliminated so easily.

(P.S. My brother-in-law, who works for a big tire firm, told me a guy came into one of their stores in Las Vegas for a job interview; he had FUCK YOU tattooed on his forehead. I asked, "Did he get the job?" Uh, no, said my bro-in-law.)

DEMiller said...

That guy is going far in life. Yeah, that was always the joke. The radical hippie could always cut his hair and get a job at IBM, but the Afro-americans he was marching for couldn't wash off the blackness of their skin. It gave the Hippie movement less credence.