Better to be Stupid than Look Stupid

Chapter 1

I first started my career in technology assessment at the American Medical Association and was occasionally called on to speak at various conferences.  While I was confident of my very narrow topic, as a representative of the AMA the audience apparently felt free to ask me about anything, from AMA lobbying efforts, to physician payment or Medicare fraud.  Trying to be the most accommodating of speakers, I would attempt to answer every question, but winging it is not one of my skills.  After one such performance, my boss took me aside and told me, “Elizabeth, it is better to be stupid than look stupid, and I think that you are smart enough ahead of time to know when you will be stupid.  That’s when you should shut up.”  I have always been grateful for that good advice.

Chapter 2

While I was at the AMA I wrote a regular column on new medical technologies for their newspaper.  Each month, I would scan the medical literature, and would pluck out something that looked whiz-bang interesting, do a little research and contact some of the physicians who had published on this topic.  In the course of this work I had met the executive director of the PET association, basically a trade organization that promoted the use of PET scans, which at the time were a novel alternative to CT and MRI scans.  He told me that if I ever was writing about a PET related topic to give him a call and he would put me in touch with some muck de-muck physicians.  One month later I followed up on this offer, expecting instant access.  I gave him a call, another call and yet a third call with no answer.  My frustration was mounting as my deadline neared.  Here I was dangling an opportunity in front of him to get some PET play in the AMA news and he was stiffing me.  Totally exasperated, I gave him one last call; a woman answered the phone.  I launched into a terse detailing of broken promises and lapsed responsibilities to the PET community.  The women broke in, and with a catch in her voice said, “I am so sorry that my husband was unable to call you back as promised.  He was in a car accident last week and died.”  I resolved never to get totally irritated with anyone until I had confirmed that they were still alive.

Chapter 3

Several years later I was at a street fair and become totally captivated by stone tables with a map of the Great Lakes engraved in the middle.  I bought one for ourselves, and then asked the young man if he would accept commissioned work.  I explained to John that I would like a similar table but with a map of our summer vacation spot instead.  I was delighted when he agreed and rushed home to get the map.  This was in July, and he told me that the table would be done by October.  Since I had planned this as a Christmas gift to my parents, I thought that there was plenty of time, even given the vagaries of an artist’s time table.  I did not hear from John throughout October, and decided to follow up once November rolled around.  He deflected my attempts to pin him down on a completion date, but assured me that it would be done on time.  Finally, on December 24th, John called to say that the table was done and that I could come down to his studio in Chinatown to pick it up.

Now December 24th tends to be a pretty hectic day, typically involving making multiple casseroles for different households and staging the multi-act Broadway show that we call Christmas.  Throwing in a trip to Chinatown in the midst of clogged traffic was a serious blow.  But an hour and a half later I was standing in his cramped apartment looking at my beautiful table.  I did not want to commit the folly of repeating history, so I made no comment on the missed deadlines.  As we chatted he said, “I am so sorry that I was delayed in finishing the table, but my mother died.  You see my mother was very allergic to peanuts and my little grandniece gave her a peanut butter cookie by a mistake, and she ate it and died right in front of her.”

This was too gruesome to believe, and with some guilt I recalled another piece of advice my mother had given me, “The best defense is a good offense.”  Could this death in the family be an embellishment, or worse, a ruse to defuse any possible displeasure on my part?   The artist quickly dispelled this unattractive thought.  He said, “Before I started work on your table, I had to design and create my mother’s headstone.”  He then showed me a picture of a stunning headstone that he had labored over for many months.

Chapter 4

Several years later I was contacted by a lawyer who thought I might make a credible expert witness, testifying about something I no longer recall.  He sent me some preliminary materials to review and afterward we met in his office to discuss the case.  He told me that my credentials were not quite what he was looking for, but that I might be useful, since as a woman I might appeal to the jury.  I was not disappointed when the project went no further.  The total time spent was about 3 or 4 hours, and so he owed me the tidy sum of four hundred dollars.  In the big scheme of things, this was a negligible amount, but his sexism and his steadfast refusal to respond to my invoices and phone calls raised the stakes.

A lawyer friend of mine told me that he could be reported to some sort of watch dog organization.  However, I felt that I had acquired the aura of a black crow throwing a fatal curse on those who dared cross me, so before I took this step I wanted to make sure he was still alive and in good health.  I called his secretary and carefully asked whether or not the man still worked there or whether he was either sick or on vacation.   Once I got the go-ahead from the secretary, I sent all the required materials to the watch dog organization.  I also sent a letter to the head of his office.  Then I forgot about the incident.  I was thus surprised some 6 weeks later to receive reams of information from the lawyer, consisting of what looked like detailed billing reports.   Also included was a cover letter stating that that the watch dogs had investigated the issue and found that there was no further action that they would take, but I quickly realized that I had prompted an absolute moutain of work for this delinquent lawyer.  Shortly thereafter I received a mid-morning call from the lawyer, who was absolutely livid and fuming.  Since I had done my due diligence, I felt that I was entirely in the clear and was not accepting any of his increasingly vitriolic insults.  He ranted on and I was actually delighted when he concluded by saying, “You are a pimple on the ass of the world!”  Before he slammed down the phone, I calmly said, “I might have started out as a pimple, but it was your negligence that turned me into a festering abscess.”

The missing words inthe following poem are anagrams (i.e. like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicate the number of letters.  One of the words will rhyme with either the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve the puzzle.  Scroll down for answers.


In order to meet the timetable that I had planned

I thought that I had made a very simple ——.

But the PET guy’s lack of response began to —— me,

And my repeated calls had a tone of urgency.

But since since the poor man had died my efforts were defeated,

So learn from my history or you will be —— to repeat it.






Answers: demand, madden, damned

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