Archive for work-life

A Year Ago Today

Stencil beneath Burrard Street bridge.

Larry King

Back in 1988 I appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live! to debate the topic of Near Death Experiences (NDE’s). I was given the role of the skeptic. To me that meant I was there to offer explanations for this very real-feeling sensation that were neither paranormal nor religious. My goal was to “save” the experience rather than “debunk” it, offering a more scientifically sound way of describing the NDE.

The woman sharing the split-screen with me here is Barbara Harris-Whitfield. Considering how pointed my remarks were on that show, she was very forbearing and generous with me. Indeed, after our appearance on Larry King she asked producers of other shows to ask me on to be her debating foil. (We even travelled to Cincinnati to be on an early version of The Jerry Springer Show, which was not the gong-show it would become but which nonetheless sure did encourage ill manners.) Barbara showed me how to be somewhat kinder to others when I argued with them, and she taught me that lesson without embarrassing me. I think of her often, with gratitude.

A word about Larry King. Back in the eighties, the discussion on Larry King’s show could be a good deal more elevated than what people saw in his later years at CNN; there were fewer commercial interruptions as well. To me, though, King’s finest years as an interviewer came when he was on the radio at night in the seventies. He knew everything and everyone and the conversations could really spread out. His curiosity was unquenchable, and he alleviated the isolations of insomnia among his listeners. It seemed he never failed at that. RIP, Mr. King.

Reminders

16 Mar. 06: This Tuesday I taught my three Kwantlen classes, starting at eight in the morning and ending after nine at night, accomplished with maybe half a brain [due to a concussion] and, truly key, the forbearance and consideration of my students. Throwing oneself at their mercy is the name of the game (if you want everybody to win).

20 Mar. 06: As I was walking down Georgia Street to a meeting with the new director of communications and education at the BC Securities Commission today, it occurred to me that her first impression would be of a guy with a big fresh Frankenstein scar on his forehead who was at an occasional loss for words. Within seconds of this thought, I saw a woman with an almost featureless face walk by: a little hole for a mouth, two nostrils but no nose, and two slitty eyes, that was all. Not that I need reminders as to how fortunate I am, but reminders are always there.

Home

This is from late 1999, on my way to the clinic to get my staple-stitches out. I had injured myself trying to hop a curb with my bike: I tipped over, shattering my humerus, separating my shoulder, and breaking a bone in my neck. I was in the hospital for about a week.

It was an exceptionally sweet time for me, though. My care at St. Paul’s hospital was marvellous and friendly, and there was no bill. Lots of friends and colleagues and clients from work came by. My brother and his wife brought their kids. I enjoyed morphine for the first and last time.

I was still pretty new to Canada – born here but raised in the States, not returning until 1996. It was during this hospital stay that I saw manna falling from the sky – here, in Vancouver, BC. I was given such grace.

The photograph is by my dear and esteemed friend Lincoln Clarkes, who had brought two pies to my hospital room.

Happy to help

Leonard Bernstein died thirty years ago today. I always think of Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg on this anniversary. I wrote this ten years ago:

Twice in the last week I have helped to prevent a calamity from befalling a colleague. One colleague was irritated and the other was infuriated to receive my editorial help, though they each requested it. Both will come out “smelling like a rose” (to use an expression my Dad has always loved and that I now love, too).

In my last couple of years in book publishing back in the early 1990s, I spent more than half of my time, it seemed, addressing legal matters: Making sure that my authors weren’t going to get the company I worked for, Prometheus Books Inc., sued for defamation, libel, invasion of privacy, copyright infringement, and the like. Although I did not become an editor so that I could act as an ersatz lawyer, I did enjoy the role, especially because I got to talk to a REAL lawyer, and a great one, Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, a lot.

Stefan provided his services for free, because he liked the books we published. He was a wonderful and brilliant and eclectic man, who reached the highest levels of accomplishment as a musical conductor and mathematician and teacher before starting his career in Law. I didn’t know he’d been a conductor until I called him one afternoon regarding a lawsuit. Leonard Bernstein had died the day before, and for some reason I brought that up with Stefan. “I was his assistant conductor for a year,” he said. “This sounds more impressive than it was. My main job was to have a cigarette lit and ready for Lenny when he came offstage.”

Back to my point: Because of Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, many of my authors *didn’t* besmirch their reputations and *didn’t* get their butts sued. To a person, they were unhappy receiving the help they received, because they believed they didn’t need it. They all asked: What could go wrong?

A calamity is smaller than a comma when it’s born.

Remembering Stefan – and remembering my mentor Paul Kurtz, the difficult boss who introduced me to him – fills me with gratitude. Some very gifted people have shared their time with me.