Thursday, December 15, 2011

A matter of concern? When colleagues 'disappear'

When you've got money in your pocket and more in the bank, you're a popular person. Have no illusions: The smell of money is what makes you popular; when the scent (and the cents) dissipate, so too does your popularity. As the song lyric goes, "And when you've got money / You've got lots of friends / Crowding 'round your door / But when the money's gone / And all your spending ends / They won't be 'round any more."

The ease of finding people is inversely proportionate to the amount of money they owe you. If they owe you a lot of money, they'll be darn near impossible to find. Of course, if you owe a lot of money, you do your best to make yourself invisible, too. At least to those who would ask for payment.

And I've had a couple of colleagues vanish on me in recent months -- both owing me money I desperately need.

But, sometimes, it isn't just the money.

I caught one of the lawyers who owes me money in his office just the other day. While I was waiting for him to get off the phone (the way his office was set up he couldn't get by me; there was no back door), his secretary asked me if he'd told me about his recent operation. No, I said. She clammed up. "I'll let him tell you. If he wants to," she said.

He did. And he did. He has cancer. He had a growth removed from his neck and he was looking ahead to both radiation and chemotherapy in the coming weeks. He could talk to me about this, I think, because he knew I'd been through something similar.

Not very similar, mind you. My cancer barely qualified as such. I did have most of my colon removed and it took me a year to really feel like myself again -- but I never had to have radiation or chemo. "My oncologist asked me how I liked the surgery," my colleague told me. "I said it wasn't too bad. I wouldn't want to do it again any time soon, but I could handle it. 'Well, that's good,' my oncologist said 'because, compared to the surgery, the chemotherapy will be like get hitting upside the head with a baseball bat. The radiation will be worse.'"

Charming bedside manner, I thought to myself. I made some sympathetic noises.

My colleague continued. "'Get ready to lose 40 pounds,' the oncologist told me. 'You're not going to want to eat. Drinking water will feel like swallowing razor blades.'" (It's his neck that's to be irradiated.)

Messrs. Master Card and Visa won't see it this way, but even a dim guy like me begins to understand that getting Curmudgeon paid may not be at the top of his to-do list in the present circumstances.

And I mentioned that other colleague who has disappeared.

She doesn't even really owe me that much money. But we do a lot of work together -- and she's stopped pulling her end. I have to scream to get her attention.

Thirty years ago, when someone dropped out of circulation, we used to joke that he or she had "fallen in love" and would likely resurface only when the lust settles. Often enough, we were right.

These days, though, among my contemporaries, I begin to suspect health issues. I don't want to be right.

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