Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mercy Me, Something Evil This Way Comes

As spring was beginning, Mr. Simons announced he was leaving, which was like a bright sun had risen. He took a new job,  he called a step up to a higher salary, at a hospital in Long Island, if I remember correctly, but I won’t swear to the location. Oh, what a shock that he should leave us in this way so soon. I knew his job history so there was nothing new here. He was a job hopper and as they might say in a Geico ad: “He hopped from job to job, because Simons was a job hopper, and that’s what you do, you hop jobs."

When I say he was a job hopper I mean it in the worse way. He wasn’t doing it to gain experience; it was his modus operandi for climbed the ladder of success. He would work a place a short time, perhaps a year, then jump ship for something better build upon his record at the employer he was deserting. How did he build this impressive record? He came in with guns blazing,  firing people willy-nilly and then short-cutting projects. On paper he might look like an effective cost cutter, but his so-called improvements were surface shallow, ill-conceived, short lived and left a lot of resentment behind. His scorched earth approach gave an immediate appearance of reducing cost and improving the bottom line, yet once he left for greener pastures as he inevitably did, the buried problems would flower like weeds, but he was gone and someone else would have to save the ruined garden he left behind.

Anyway that was his history; however in this case, he may well have smelled something in the wind that I didn’t.

His position was immediately filled overnight, but not by an outside hire or an inside promotion. There were no want ads in the papers or postings on the bulletin boards. He slithered out the doors and one of the Sisters slid out of cloisters and slipped into his position. 

It was not much after this sudden, and to me welcome change,  I came to work one morning and found one of those nuns sitting at my desk. She sternly said, “Hello” and gave me a message to visit the head of Personnel (this still was not called Human Resources). She was a very cold fish, indeed, not a smile, not a word of kindness leaked from her lips. She was not a paragon of sympathy or hope, just a usurper of my chair with a message of despair.

        Of course, Leonard Cohen was singing about prostitutes, not nuns. I am certain he probably did find more comfort with whores than could be found in these nuns of the same title.

I met with the Vice-President of Personnel. He wasn't located in the headquarters building where I was, but had an office over in Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital. He bid me sit down then began pacing nervously. Finally, he sat on the edge of his desk, cleared his throat before telling me how much my efforts were appreciated and what a terrific job I had done. He finished by informed me that Sister Whatshername (I forget her name) was taking over the position of Budget Manager.

“You mean I’m being fired?”

He stood a moment looking down at his desk. When he looked back up at me and said, “I wouldn’t call it fired.”

“Oh? What would you call it?”

He looked about the room as if the answer to that question would magically appear somewhere on the walls. He then cleared his throat and said again I wasn’t being what he’d call fired. He sighed and explained the medical center facts of life to me.

The Sisterhood went through cycles on how best to manage their medical center. Sometimes they would hire various lay people into key positions because they decided there was a need for professional managers. I had been hired on the tail end of such a cycle. After the lay managers ran the center for a while the Nuns would become nervous. They would grow distrustful and feel they were losing control and then they would begin replacing secular managers with Sisters. That was all that was happening here. I wasn’t really being fired. I just didn’t have my job anymore.

Sure felt to me like I was fired.

I guess it was closer to a coup.

It was a strange dismissal, I will say that. I was given a private office with a telephone I could use. This was a positive. If I applied at prospective employers for a position, I had a legitimate address and phone number to give them. If they called my number they would be answered by the hospital switchboard. It would sound like I was still gainfully employed.

In a strange way I was. You might say I was gainfully idle. I was expected to come in every day and every two weeks I received my regular paycheck. It was just I had no work to do. I had distributed the fiscal 1980-81 packets just before I was non-fired out of my job, but I was never to see the returned data. I had no expected duties. The budgeting was the responsibility of that sister who-zits now. I was assigned to limbo and I was told there was no deadline on me to leave.

I didn’t believe there was no deadline, of course. As unrealistic the situation was, that was way too ridiculous. Eventually they would get tired of paying me for nothing and ask me to go whether I had found a new job or not. Now granted, their labor cost didn’t change because they continued to pay me. The Sister who took my position was in an order that took a vow of poverty. She didn’t get paid. She lived in the convent, received her food and clothing from the dioceses and also a small stipend monthly for her personal use. Those things had existed prior to her being the budget manager so there was no added cost to the medical center payroll. The only thing was they could have been saving my salary and reduced their costs by handing me a typical two weeks’ notice.

The bombshell that a Nun was replacing me came in April 1980 and unfortunately wasn’t an April Fool joke. I got my first job interview almost immediately, but not the job. I was told I was too overqualified. I didn’t care about that, I only wanted a job, but I can understand their reasoning. Companies fear hiring anyone they perceive as overqualified because they think the person will jump ship quickly to a better job.

Since they didn’t ask me to leave, I showed up at my office every day, unless I had interviews elsewhere, and these were proving few and far between. I had nothing to do there. I sat at my desk and perused the want ads and prepared resumes for mailing or called prospects. This did not take up my whole day. Most afternoons I read novels and hoped the phone would ring.
I took long walks in the Holy Cross cemetery at lunch time. It was directly behind the headquarters building. This got to be somewhat morbid day after day, especially when I began seeking out the number of children graves in the place. I'm not sure why I was drawn to these; did I not have enough children's graves in my own past?

I would cross over MacDade Boulevard to a Hardees that was there in those days and buy a burger and fries and I would eat these as I strolled about the tombstones. Hmm, that seems a little morbid as well. I took my time strolling because nobody cared if I got back within the hour. I could come in late or leave early for that matter and no one took note either.

My approach to job hunting was to clip all want ads that contained any requirement within their list where I felt I had experience. I would then apply even if there was only one item I had ever done. If I didn’t have all the qualifications they requested, I believed I could learn the rest once hired. I sent out many, many resumes, made a ton of phone calls and had several interviews all over the place. I traveled out beyond Valley Forge, all over Chester and Delaware County, in and out of Philadelphia, but with no luck.

On the home front life went on as usual. We had our big birthday-anniversary dinner at the Rose Tree Inn in Media, with the jockey statues lining the roof, on June 15. On my birthday, June 27, we again went to Dutch Wonderland with my mom and grandmother.

On July 26 I went over to Jersey to play golf with Victor Ernest at the Golf Farm. After playing the course, I accidentally dropped my keys while putting the clubs back in the car and shut the trunk. Oops, my keys were now locked in the vehicle. I had to call home to Lois, who in turn had to call my folks to bring my spare keys over to me. Everyone came along and we all went to dinner at a diner located just down from the Golf Farm.

It was that week I got a call from Wilmington, Delaware in answer to one of my many resumes. I was asked to come in to interview for a financial analyst position at a bank. I drove down for my interview on the appointed day, but I had never driven in Wilmington before. I had passed through it on Route 13 going south to other places, like Williamsburg in Virginia, but never pulled into the city proper.  Now I was downtown seeking a place to park near this bank so I could get to my interview. I passed the address on 10th Street and now sought how to get to some lot. I had seen one off to the left coming in, but could not find it now that I needed it. All the streets were one way, but all took me away from my destination. I kept circling about trying this avenue or that, and the clock was ticking and I didn’t want to be late for my interview. I had concluded you couldn’t get there from here when I stumbled upon a lot entrance some blocks from my destination.

Soon I was walking through the revolving doors of the Montchanin Building into the lobby of  Wilmington Trust Headquarter and getting an elevator upstairs. It was strange to me that in Wilmington the First Floor of buildings usually was not the first floor. The real first floor was called the Street Floor. In this building the First Floor was really the third floor because between the Street Floor and it was the second floor, which was called the mezzanine for some unfathomable reason. The executive suites were all on the 12th Floor that in reality was the 14th floor. It was often referred to as the top floor, which it wasn’t. There was another floor above it, but this was not listed as the 13th floor nor as the 15th, but as the Penthouse. There was a button on the elevator market G below the Street Floor. This stood for Ground, but was actually below ground. I wasn’t going to any of those floors. I made a stop at Personnel (still not called Human Resources) and then to the 6th Floor to meet with a Joseph Kammerer, who was the manager of Finance.

Mr. Kammerer sat across from me holding my resume in his hand. “I don’t think financial analyst is the right position for you.”

Ut oh, was this trip a waste of time.

He held my resume up. “But,” he said, “I think there is an opening that you are perfectly fitted for. It is a brand new position in Deposit Services for a project manager. Personnel made a study and felt it might be worthwhile to try project management in the clerical departments. Interested?”

I nodded.

“I’ll take you down to the manager you would be working for and see what he thinks.”

I was taken down to the mezzanine and the front corner office overlooking both 10th and Orange Streets. This was my first meeting with Walter H. Whittaker, the Vice-President of Deposit Services (Left). He stood and shook my hand. He towered over me at six foot five.

I would eventually learn he once played basketball for the University of Kentucky under Coach Adolph Rupp. (Right is Walt Whittaker on the Kentucky Wildcats, 1949-50.)

He also had been in the movie “The Asphalt Jungle” where he stood in for the star, Sterling Hayden. The scouts had spotted him somewhere and felt he had the right body shape to pass for Hayden. He agreed to do the scene. It is a scene near the end of the film. Hayden’s character has been shot and falls in a farm pasture. Several horse walk over and mill about the prone body, sniffing at it. The film makers did not wish to take the chance that Sterling Hayden might get trammeled, so Walt Whittaker became the body. Who cared if some college kid got stepped on?

Anyway, Mr. Whittaker and I began talking. We must have talked for at least an hour. I felt very comfortable with him and he seemed to like me well enough. After our chat he asked a secretary to get his managers together and introduced me to them. It was important they give me their approval. We walked into a small conference room and with these additional people gathered we all talked some more. He dismissed them, shook my hand and said he would call me.

A couple days later he did call and said his boss wanted to meet me, could I join them for lunch on such and such a date. We met in the Hotel DuPont and had lunch in the Brandywine Room, a restaurant rich in dark brown wood. It was a favorite of downtown business men and lawyers. (I do not think this room exists in the hotel anymore.)  Walt’s boss was Mr. George Craig, who was Senior Vice President of Operations (later renamed Information Technology). The lunch was very good especially since they paid for it. Mr. Craig asked me a lot of questions. When we parted I was again told Walt would call me.

After that I waited and waited for the call. July ended and we were well into August and still no word on whether I had the position or not. I was growing very nervous. Then I got the word from Mercy Catholic Medical Center on August 16 that I didn’t have to come in anymore nor would I receive any checks beyond one more. I was officially laid off and unemployed, and still no call from this bank.

I called Walt. He told me my hiring had to be approved by some kind of committee and he was waiting for it to review my resume and meet. I went back to waiting. On the 19th I had a job interview with a company in New Jersey and then on August 26 I got the call that I was hired by Wilmington Trust Company and would start on Wednesday, September 3.

1 comment:

Jon said...

Just to let you know that I'm still reading and thoroughly enjoying your posts - even though I seldom comment. By the way - I've never known a nun who was merciful.....

Hopefully this merciless winter will be over soon and we can finally thaw out. Take care.