(Tribune November 2006)
Some people just know more than everyone else.
You probably know someone like this. If you suggest a new idea he either declares it worthless, or if it is good, he announces he had already thought of it weeks ago. If you comment about a well-known person, our guy is always a close friend of the celebrityísí uncle, or brother or cousin. Any conversation about any topic is always interrupted with a predictable one-upmanship response.
Sam was a textbook case. Not only did he display all of the typical annoying habits, but he also delivered his opinions with arrogance and condescension. Sam was not really a bad person but damn, at times it was really hard to like the man. No one had ever successfully trumped him.
Sam held a part time position in a small rural municipality. The part time employees usually held positions like that of By-law Enforcement Officer or Building/Drainage Inspector. I cannot remember which part time position he held.
My firm served as Auditor for this municipality. One day in the late fall I was on site, updating my interim audit files. The only private office in the administration area was for the Clerk-Treasurer so the rest of the staff shared a common area in the main office. I was using a desk in this area and Sam, who was in the office for the week, was using the desk next to me. Most of the time he was on the phone chewing out some unfortunate ratepayer for some minor infraction.
At noon, Sam left for lunch at his nearby home, leaving me alone with Bea, the bookkeeper. I had packed a sandwich because it was not practical to make the long drive to the nearest restaurant. Bea habitually brought her lunch to enable her to cover the phone and counter over the noon hour. Radios were unheard of in working offices in those days and since we both had work to do we ate at our desks and did not carry on much conversation. It was a normal sunny Fall day in the life of an accountant.
Shortly after noon, the phone rang. My normal sunny Fall day turned dark and stormy.
I could tell from Beaís end of the conversation that the call was from her mother and it was clear that the news was not good. After hanging up, Bea filled me in on the conversation and we both were very concerned about the possible implications. However, the total situation was as yet unclear, so with furrowed brows we went back to work. We would just have to wait for further word.
It was not long before a second call came in. The situation was worse but again, there was nothing we could do, so we both soldiered on. I was beginning to have trouble concentrating on my work so I tried hard to dismiss my growing personal concerns.
After lunch, Sam returned but said nothing. I expect that he had not turned on a radio at home. Neither Bea nor I wanted to start a conversation that would lead to us being subjected to his extensive theories and pronouncements. We both stayed silent and just kept working.
A third call. From what I could hear, it was obvious the worst had happened. My mind began to race through various scenarios. I had been married for about a year and my wife was expecting our first child. I suddenly feared that my child could now be born into a world full of dangers that had not anticipated. The implications of the event could be far-reaching and unpredictable.
"Heís dead", I heard myself say to no one in particular. Bea, still on the phone, nodded confirmation.
"Who is dead?" Sam was at a disadvantage and the arrogance in his tone indicated that if he did not know something, it must not be important.
My mind was fully occupied and I did not want to deal with this manís questions. I replied quietly as I continued to try to sort out my private thoughts and fears. "Kennedy".
I continued to attempt to analyze the situation and was about toÖ
I ignored the interruption as my thoughts raced on.
"And just who, might I ask, is this Kennedy"?
The predictable tone and body language gave me the opportunity that had eluded Samís acquaintances for years. This was my chance to trip him up on what became the biggest event of the decade. But I could not do it. The gravity and uncertainty of the situation overrode any desire to make Sam look bad.
I simply turned and in a quiet voice, answered his question. "President of the United States".
Sam sat silent.