Saturday, February 26, 2011

Salesmen, Lawyers and Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol consumption, I’m kind of a lightweight. Some men approach it as a competition, racing toward a finish line they can never reach. Others are like children with a big bag of candy on Halloween, greedily consuming too much of a good thing. I prefer to think of it as medication, taken in measured doses to relax the bonds of social convention.

Over my career I’ve met lots of salespeople, who I believe are a separate species. This is because the successful ones all share certain characteristics that are not shared by successful people in other professions. These include vanity, deceit, avarice, thoughtlessness, desperation and a monumental appetite for alcohol.

Occasionally, I’ve been invited to join members of this species for meals paid for by their company expense account. These are always ridiculously expensive events, almost as though the restaurant was specifically selected for the outrageous prices. I have no training as a psychologist, but I suspect that this is one mechanism that salespeople use to value themselves.

At one memorable event in Washington, DC, I was invited to dinner by two salesmen. Between the three of us, the meal cost over 500 dollars. And this was over 15 years ago. The men ordered five bottles of wine in the course of the evening, and sucked it down like lemonade. They often topped off my glass, urging me to drink more. I enjoyed the wine, but I cautiously drank just enough not to be ridiculed. When we stood up to leave, the salesmen wove their way unsteadily through the tables occupied by human diners. We got as far as the restaurant lobby when one of the salesmen suddenly covered his mouth and raced to the bathroom. After spending all that money on fine food and wine, he didn’t even get it out of the restaurant.

I sometimes wonder if other professions attract members of other species as well. For example, many people believe that lawyers are a species of blood-sucking parasite.

Last week I flew to St. Louis to visit my elderly father and other family members. One evening, my sister, my niece and her fiancée (who I will call Perry), went out to a local bar for Trivia Night. Perry is a law student in his last semester. Here is my niece and Perry:


Trivia Night is held once a week, and the bar quickly fills with eager patrons, who form teams. You can have as many people on your team as you wish, but the prize structure discourages teams larger than five people. A master of ceremonies asks general-knowledge trivia questions, and the teams write down their answers. There are five rounds, fifteen questions per round. If your team wins a round, you win a bucket of five beers. If your team records the highest score for all five rounds, you win $50. My niece and her fiancée do this all the time, and frequently win the grand prize.

Perry is a quiet, cerebral guy who takes Trivia Night very seriously. Our team tied for high score in the second round. When this happens, another competition is held to determine the winner. The tied teams each elect a single competitor. Each of them is handed a pint of beer, which they must chug. The first to finish wins. Perry took it upon himself to compete.


Unfortunately, Perry had just finished a large meal, and was competing against a guy twice his size. He got about half the beer down, gave up and raced for the bathroom. I predict a long and successful career for him as a sober blood-sucking parasite.

We tied again for the final round, and I offered to compete. This is very unlike me, but I was already one beer over my normal maximum. I met my opponent, who was a third my age. To everyone's amazement, I beat him.


Unfortunately, the reward for my success was more beer. We were only able to finish three of them, and gave the remaining two to the big guy who defeated Perry in the chugging contest.

We came in second in total points for the night, which gnawed at Perry. Instead of enjoying himself, he kept reviewing the missed questions in his head. I treated the whole evening as a raging success. A new personal best in per-hour beer consumption, a chugging victory, and I retained my dinner. Life is good if you avoid salesmen and lawyers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Life as a Woman

Over 10 years ago I developed a thickened callous on the heel of my left foot, which then dried out and cracked open. It was ugly and painful to walk on. So I went to a podiatrist who sliced at it with a scalpel, explaining to me that this can happen at any time in a person’s life, for no known reason.

After he pared the callous down to normal thickness, he recommended that I treat it with a particular moisturizing cream made from pure lanolin. I went to the drugstore and was mortified to discover that the cream is only available in the section of the store reserved for infants and mothers. The cream is used primarily by women who breastfeed, when their nipples become sore. This fact is prominently declared all over the package: “Breast Feeding Cream,” it says, “For breastfeeding mothers.”


I had to limp to the front of the store and buy it from some teenage kid, who stared curiously at my nipples while he rung it up.

Not long ago, after my knee surgery, my doctor suggested that I take a daily multivitamin to restore my energy. “Get one with vitamin B-12 and iron,” he told me.

So I went to the drugstore and entered the unregulated war zone called the “Vitamin Supplement Aisle.” There are dozens and dozens of supplements available, and the multivitamins are subdivided into marketing segments: Children, Men, Women, Older Men, Older Women, Pregnant Women, Athletes, and probably Pregnant Athletes.

Naturally, I read the labels of every “Male” multivitamin package – a 30-minute task. Some contained vitamin B-12, some did not. However, not a single multivitamin supplement marketed to men contains Iron. Not one. But almost every “Female” multivitamin contains iron, because women lose blood during the menstruation cycle.

So every day, I have to take a vitamin prominently labeled “For Women.”


I hope I never develop varicose veins, because it's gong to be tough to find pantyhose in my size.