The Government of Canada had undertaken a major review of its economic policy and was trying to decide whether it should return to the Gold Standard, adopt the controversial Porcelain Standard advocated by China and British economists, or endeavour to have the law of diminishing returns repealed.
Economics is a social science and, as such, is sometimes viewed with scorn by partisans of fundamental science (i.e. biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics). While there is a Nobel Prize in Economics, it was not one of the prizes established in the will of Alfred Nobel. Paul Samuelson was the first American to be awarded this prize in 1970.
Whenever serious people meet to discuss serious matters over a long period of time, there’s bound to be a serious report to be published that will require serious proofreading.
I received a call from someone who knew someone I knew. They needed a crack team of proofreaders to work around the clock ensuring that the 21-volume report was ready for publication in only 30 short days.
That’s when I met Joan.
Joan had been the chief editor at a major legal publishing house in Toronto and was called in to work on the project because she knew how to make things move. I liked her the moment I saw her.
She was 29, just like me, and she was smart, thorough, professional and focused. She exuded confidence and had a knack of finding a quick solution to any problem that was presented to her. She dressed with a quintessential elegance and could have given lessons to Dior, Cartier and Chanel. I sincerely believe all women are beautiful but Joan seemed to be the embodiment of this beauty.
I made an impression on her the first day when I noticed in a sentence that straight quotation marks had been used instead of curved ones. Back then, my eyesight was much keener than it is today.
We started taking smoke breaks together and became acquainted. With all the class Joan showed, I was surprised that she had a common upbringing. She came from a little town a few hours’ drive away. Her parents were uneducated and, being a good Catholic family, had seven children, five girls and two boys. Her father owned a small cartage company and Joan learned to drive a ten-wheeler truck before she could drive a car. Double-clutching held no secrets for her.
Ten-wheeler trucks are often called "tractors" in the United Stated because one of their common use is to pull a trailer, turning it into an eighteen-wheeler. Ten-wheelers can also be equipped with a bin to carry rocks, sand and topsoil. They are more practical than trains because they can deliver their load right at the site where it is needed.
We worked long days on this proofreading project, 12 to 16 hours were the norm because we had a firm deadline to meet. One night after work, I walked Joan home since she lived just a few blocks away and, young men and young women being what they are, I ended up staying overnight.
Despite the hectic pace at which we were working in the office, people noticed that something was going on between Joan and me. Catherine, the general manager of the project, had hired Joan on the recommendation of the chairman of the economic review board but disliked her from the start: she was just too perfect.
When Catherine realized that Joan, a manager, and I, a staff member, were romantically involved, Joan became in her mind nothing more than the office skank and Catherine started to be overtly contemptuous towards her.
One weekend, as we were working on a difficult section of the report, we realized that there was a problem. Parts or whole sentences were missing, so much so that it was difficult to make sense of the text. Joan relentlessly searched previous drafts to find the missing content and we ended up spending much more time than planned to proof the section. The general manager was called in, quickly assessed the situation, blamed Joan for the foul-up and fired her.
When I heard the news, I impulsively resigned. To this day, I am still debating whether it was out of love, lust or loyalty. Maybe it was just that I knew that the proofreading project could not end well without Joan at the helm. I hate to be involved in projects that are doomed to fail.
That night, Joan called home for some comfort and her mother suggested that Joan come for a visit and spend a few days relaxing and reflecting on her options. Since I was now unemployed, Joan asked me if I would join her and two days later we left for her parents’ place.
They lived in the country in a large farmhouse on a gigantic lot. There were two hangars surrounded by farm equipment and several enormous trucks.
After the usual welcoming embraces and introductions, I realized we had arrived in the middle of a commotion.
Joan’s two younger brothers, Alan, 15, and Gerald, 12, had found and brought home a dog, a scraggly mid-sized mutt about one year old. Their parents had agreed to keep it but now the boys were arguing over who would be the master of the dog, Alan or Gerald?
Joan’s father intervened, saying:
– Since I will be paying to feed that mongrel, I should be its rightful owner!
There was an outcry from the boys who claimed that it would not be fair since they found the dog and brought it home.
The father then said:
– All right. Who is going to feed the dog?
The two boys looked at each other, and then Gerald, the youngest one, said:
– This is not fair! You know that I find dog food gross and it makes me puke!
Alan loudly cheered as he considered he had won the competition. But then Gerald added:
– Wait a minute! Not so fast! What goes in must come out. I will clean up after the dog if he ever has an accident. Cleaning up after a dog is as important as feeding him!
The father looked at his sons, sat on the porch and called the dog. He then picked up a piece of chalk and traced a line on the dog’s coat, around the waist, dividing it in two parts.
– All right, that’s how it will be: Alan, you will be the master of the front end and Gerald will be the master of the back end or otherwise the dog goes back to where it came from. Is that a deal?
The two boys looked at each other again, displeased at the proposal but understanding that this compromise was the only way they could keep the dog. So they agreed.
I was stunned at the wisdom of Joan’s father, an uneducated man who had managed to solve a jealousy and rivalry issue in such a simple way.
Maybe a good supply of chalk in offices and boardrooms would help those in power to make better decisions in this world.
Dividing a dog in half with a chalk line is not as drastic as King Solomon's method of splitting a newborn in two with a sword, but just as efficient.
Joan’s mother took us inside the house and served some food and drinks and I met the rest of the family. While we were sitting at the table talking, we suddenly heard a loud disturbance on the porch followed by the sound of objects crashing and the yelp of the dog.
The boys ran outside as we followed them to find the dog lying on the ground whimpering and rubbing its front paws against its snout.
It happened that the mutt had found a can of worms that the boys used for fishing and in which they had left some hooks and lures. They got caught in the dog’s jowls and now the animal was writhing in pain trying to remove them.
Gerald smartly exclaimed:
– Alan, it’s your end crying, you deal with it!