If you remember one thing from this column ..., by John McGauley

Years ago, a co-worker in the newsroom went into the boss to ask for a raise. Afterward, I asked him how it turned out.

“Well, I marched right in there and mumbled my demands,” he responded.

I forgot if he got the raise, probably not, but I’ll never forget that line, and I’ve used it hundreds of times since then.

Why? Because it’s so damn funny … and it’s true. Have you never mumbled your demands? Of course, you have. That’s what life is about, in a way; a series of mumbled — and denied — demands. Might as well get a laugh out of it. Someday you’ll be at the Pearly Gates with your head down, looking at your shoes, mumbling your demands while at the same time desperately trying to remember a few good things you did.

Often in life, someone says something to you that sticks in your mind forever.

When I was about 25 years old my father looked me in the eye and told me that there would come a day when I’d actually be interested in furniture. “Thanks, Dad,” I said, and gave him a puzzled look and went on my way, wondering what the hell that could mean. Was the old man addled? Ten years later, married and with two little kids, I found myself in an Ethan Allen store in Indianapolis, tenderly caressing a chest of drawers with both my hands and my cheek and earnestly asking the sales person if it was real walnut. Then I recalled what my father said and started laughing. Dads know things.

A boss once called me into his office and without any preamble — not even asking me to sit down — told me if I didn’t clean up my act in two weeks, grow up and stop disrupting the newsroom, he’d fire me. “This meeting’s over, get out,” he said. There was no malice in his voice, simply declarative sentences. In that 10-second encounter I was presented with the equivalent of a semester’s worth of management lessons at the Harvard Business School. This was in the days before 360-degree job performance evaluations by four supervisors and the clueless dolt from human resources.

Too bad I didn’t listen to him better because later, in another newsroom, another boss didn’t even give me the two-week warning. All I recall of that meeting was his opening statement “You know, this is the hardest part of my job.” The hardest part of his job? What about me? I was out on the street within the hour, wandering aimlessly in downtown Chicago, thinking my career was in the toilet and I’d eventually be drinking Woolite in the gutter.

When I was in high school, after a week of rehearsals and staring at the phone, I asked the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood if she’d like to go to the prom.

“No,” she bluntly said, and didn’t say one more word.

How do you work with “No?”

I realize now that was the start of my interest in sales. If I had only understood and known about elevator pitches then.

A guy in a locker room at the gym told me once: “You know, I may not be much, but I’m all I think about.” Ponder that and I dare you to disagree.

I was on the observation deck of the John Hancock Center in Chicago, looking out from 94 floors up at the beautiful nighttime city arrayed before me. One of my ambitionless friends with whom I was with turned to me and said: “Bow down before me and all of this will be yours.” I’m surprised I even recall that because I’d already had two big martinis and headed to a third. I think I bowed but didn’t get anything from it but a hangover.

I’ve heard the following and remembered them well:

“You don’t have to say everything that’s on your mind.” My son said that.

“You’ll only forget to put the plug in your boat once.” A fisherman at the boat landing on the Connecticut River in West Chesterfield.

My dentist said: “The reason you get your teeth cleaned every six months is you don’t want a toothache, because it will happen on Thanksgiving night.”

“What was I thinking when I married her? She wasn’t even very pretty.” A friend who got divorced shortly thereafter, said that. For what it’s worth, he was correct: She wasn’t very pretty.

“When you’re thinking about hiring a lawyer, make sure to take a good look at his shoes. If they’re old and scruffy, don’t go near him.” This was told to me by a lawyer friend.

Two things were told to me recently by a Keene resident whom I wrote about in The Sentinel, Joyce Lehman.

“The doors of fate swing on the hinges of the inconsequential,” she said, quoting someone she had once heard speak. I thought that was extremely thought-provoking.

She also said this, another quote from someone she heard: “It’s only when people realize they’re dying that they start to live.”

God gave you ears for a reason, keep them open for important stuff.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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