January-February 2003

Behind The Counter

I’m OK ... But You’re An Idiot!!!

by Lyle R. Hill

His shirt was clean and crisp. His shoes perfectly polished. And in spite of the fact that his uniform was clearly marked as being that of the Chicago Police Department, he had the bearing of someone of even greater authority … of even more importance.

He was older than I … maybe by as much as 12 to 15 years. The name engraved upon his brightly polished chrome nameplate was Dubin … Sergeant J. Dubin. He looked me squarely in the eyes as he spoke. 

"I understand that you are now the person in charge—the general manager of the place. Is that correct?"

I hadn't wanted the job. I actually was quite content in my former position as manager of the glazing department at the city's oldest and perhaps best-known glass company. However, an unusual series of events had thrust me into the position of general manager at the ripe old age of 28. 

"Yes, I'm the acting general manager," I replied. "What can I do for you?"

"Well," Officer Dubin began, "I'm used to dealing with Mr. Barrish. What's become of him?"

I didn't want to tell him the truth … that Barrish and a few others had been fired for excessive violations of the eighth commandment … so I violated the ninth.

"He accepted a better position with another company. I think out west somewhere."
Dubin stared at me with a puzzled look on his face.

"OK," he finally said, "did Barrish tell you anything about me before he left … about my annual building inspections?"

"No, not really," I answered. "But I didn't think the police department handled building inspections. I thought the city had a team of building inspectors for that work."

He cocked his head ever so slightly to the right and stared up and down at me.

"Well, you see … listen, what did you say your name was?"

"Hill," I responded.

"Yeah, OK … well you see, Hill, before I got on the force I worked for the building department and that's when I first started checking out your facility here. And let me tell you right now, this place has a lot of serious problems. Some very big code violations … and safety hazards galore. Mr. Barrish knew all about them."

"I don't remember finding anything in his files about these violations and hazards," I meekly replied, not wanting to stir up Officer Dubin's ire. "Could you maybe get me copies of your reports so I could start working on correcting some of these problems?"

"Are you serious?" he asked, as his stare slowly but most assuredly-became a glare. 

"Yes, of course," I answered.

"Do you realize that the cost of correcting your sprinkler system alone could be $5,000 or more?" he demanded with his voice now much louder than it had been.

"But what choice do I have, Officer Dubin? If it needs correcting, then I've got to get it corrected … right?"

The stare that had turned to a glare now turned to something else. I could see a trickle of sweat working its way down his left temple and his right eyebrow was twitching uncontrollably.

"Are you playing with me, Hill?" he demanded, as his face grew redder.

"Officer Dubin … are you OK?"

"I'm OK … but you're an idiot!" he shouted as he spun on his heels and walked out of my office.
Three days later two very competent and eager gentlemen visited me from the building department. They spent the better part of the day wandering through our facility and about ten days after this visit, they stopped by in person to go over their official report. We had a very informative, yet unofficial, meeting, too—one of those rare conversations where someone actually tells you the way things really work and who has the final say. I found out a lot about Dubin, too … where his connections came from and just how much of what people from Chicago call clout he really had. The cost of correcting the problems they so meticulously pointed out ultimately came to more than $11,000. 

They were also kind enough to point out to me that for a couple hundred dollars or so in a plain envelope discreetly handed over to Officer Dubin, all of their hard work could have been avoided. I was more than a little upset by all of this, and I had wanted to do something about it. I wanted to protest to someone … to file a formal complaint … to right this wrong. But in the end, whether out of fear or lack of commitment, I just let it go. I did nothing. 

Over the years, I watched that officer who called me an idiot one late November afternoon so many years ago climb through the ranks of the force. He ultimately reached a very high politically connected position and could be seen in the newspapers regularly and on TV. 

He ultimately retired with all kinds of commendations and accolades. This troubled me greatly. If I knew what he was, others must have, too, and in his position of public trust, his deeds were all the more distasteful. It also bothered me that I had never spoken out … never called his superiors to complain … to make him come clean. I always rationalized my way out of it by telling myself that any complaint I might register would simply fall on deaf ears anyway, and that in the long run, the only one that would suffer would be me. But this was long ago and over time, he was erased from my memory.

I picked up the local newspaper the other day and there on the front page was my old pal Dubin … coming out of a Federal Court where he had just been sentenced to 20 years for more dastardly deeds than I could have imagined. It took a long time, but justice had finally caught up with him.
Yet at the same time, I felt more than a twinge of sadness because I had never made any attempt whatsoever to turn him in or correct the problem. Dubin wasn't the only person who ever attempted to shake me down or squeeze money out of me in some illegal or unethical scheme over the years. But somehow, maybe because he rose to such a high and trusted position, his situation always bothered me. Maybe … in the analysis, we were both deserving the idiot title. Him for what he did … and me for what I didn't. 




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