Real Connecticut Yankee by Octo G.Enario
I was a chemical engineer, I was a pharmacist, I was a tax consultant…the occupations went on and on, one gym-rat trying to top the other. All the retirees had celebrated careers, and according to each speaker, all performed their jobs brilliantly, or so they said. Fighting the urge to boast about my remarkable career, and maybe to exaggerate here and there, I instead confessed the truth.
It was a cool, sunny fall day in the quintessential Yankee village of Darien, Connecticut. I was full of myself. I was feeling powerful. The trees were dressed in full autumnal color. As a successful and experienced corporate banker travelling my territory calling on Fortune 500 companies, I exuded confidence from every pore. Adding to my strength was the liberal expense account, which afforded a travelling banker up-scale accommodations and access to the best restaurants. What a long way I had come from the Italian American boy growing up in Brooklyn!
I did have one minor problem in that I could not quite locate the new headquarters of the company I was to call on in Darien. What to do? After many unsuccessful attempts to find the company on my own, I finally cried “Uncle.” After parking my rental car on Main Street of quaint downtown Darien, I walked about looking for someone of whom I could ask directions. Along came a man of the cloth dressed in his black suit and white collar. I knew by the collar that this was a Protestant minister, a cousin once removed from the Catholic priests I had experienced in the extensive Catholic school education of my youth. The sighting of this “authority figure” to my inner child caused a slight, almost imperceptible shudder in my soul. I recovered from this fleeting tremor after remembering, “Hey, I am a mature, successful executive on a high-powered mission for my bank.”
When I first encountered the minister, he seemed to be deep in thought as he walked purposefully along the sidewalk. Upon hearing my request for directions, he interrupted his train of thought, turned and looked in my direction with a slight flash of annoyance. It took him a second or two to power down and then to redirect his attention to my needs. His body language said, “What is it now, my child?” I felt like an unworthy visitor to the Pope, who was forever grateful for the opportunity.
The minister positioned his body to fully address my question. He stood tall and straight like a knight in armor bracing for an onslaught, feet firmly set apart, shoulders back, chest out and facial muscles forming a condescending and officious sneer. I started to realize that this incident was not going to be about exchanging information but about competition: which knight would come out on top. My squire, the little boy inside, was yelling, “Let’s get out of here quickly. He has God on his side.” My knight was telling me to recover and hold firmly.
I showed him the address and politely asked this braced mountain for directions. Following my usual approach to listening and absorbing verbal directions, I listened intently for the first one, two or three specific directions, scribbling a few sketchy notes, and got the gist of the rest. I knew that I could then ask again if I got lost halfway to my destination. I admit it is an odd approach to following directions, but it usually kept me from cluttering my mind with too many details. After all, I was an important businessman with many other more important items on my mind. No need to pile on many trivial details! At this point, the little boy inside was calming down because he could hear that the minister was coming to the end of his very long and detailed list of very specific instructions. He knew we would soon be thanking the clergyman and skedaddling back to the safety of our rental car. The knight inside figured we could at least call this encounter a draw.
As I listened to the minister’s extensive and meticulous directions, I thought, “Who in God’s name could keep up with this litany but a professional stenographer?” All I wanted was some general directional guidelines to be able to navigate around this fairly small village. Even the knight inside wanted to leave. I held firmly and politely in place as the man went on. After all, I did ask, and I did see that this gentleman was used to doing everything thoroughly and precisely. Actually I was getting unexpectedly great service. I started to feel a little guilty that he was giving so much, and I was not valuing it highly.
The long, precise and accurate list of directions finally came to an end. As this mountain before me relaxed a bit, having performed his complicated and difficult task, I began to stick out my hand to thank him, knowing that my next step was to go. At this point I had barely remembered the first three directions. Before I could act or speak, the mountain had one last eruption. He looked directly into my eyes and told me to read back the directions he had just given me. All time froze. My knight disappeared. The little boy inside came screaming to the fore. There I was, the deer caught in the headlights.
I was a boy back in Brooklyn at St. Rose of Lima school. I was being caught by the priest in some major infraction of the rules. Where was my strong knight, the mature, successful executive? What a moment—the mountain’s unrelenting stare of expectation and my inability to respond coherently.
The incident did cool down as I stumbled through my flimsy notes, and the clergyman politely walked away unsatisfied. I hopped in the car and drove away thinking how I would never again fall into the seductive arms of hubris.
By the way, my unorthodox method of absorbing directions worked, and I quickly found the new company headquarters. Of course, I never returned to downtown Darien after that embarrassing episode.