Tuesday, June 10, 2014

People Can’t Read … or Listen

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who spends the entire time formulating a reaction to what you are saying but doesn’t actually hear what you are saying?

Do you tell someone something, and then you hear that person tell someone else the same thing, only to hear it told completely wrong?

Are you a writer who gets letters to the editor about columns you’ve written, and they supposedly quote you or put words in your mouth you never said?

If you answered yes, you are I.

The other day, one of my four bosses – the joys of contract work is the blurring of the chain of command – asked to see me, and he said, “Well, do I have hell to pay?”


“You said, if I you weren’t offered this position, there would be hell to pay.”

Let me be clear. I have NEVER said “hell to pay” in my entire five-plus decades on this planet. I have said some pretty nasty things and made some pretty idle threats using language that would make a crack whore blush, but I have NEVER said “hell to pay.”

He even said he had a witness. Well, the witness proved him wrong.

By the way, the position was eliminated when the alcoholic abandoned it, so there wouldn’t be a way to offer it. Therefore, there was no hell to pay, imagined or not.

This is my life.

When one is loud and opinionated – Who? Me? – one spends a lifetime being misquoted.

A few years ago, I was in a meeting with a hotel representative planning a conference with someone from my organization who is known to be pretty shady. I said, “For every 50 nights we reserve, there should be a comp room; therefore, we should have three comp rooms since we have reserved 160 nights.”

Before the hotel rep could say anything, Mr. Shady yelled, “We aren’t giving rooms to the entire board!”

I thought, where in my sentence did I say “board”? There he was getting ready to react to something that wasn’t said, but reacted anyway. Well, one shouldn’t do that with me because my next comment was, “When did I say board? Did anyone in this room hear me say board? Now, you need to shut up because you have been given a free room, meals and drinks for five years without informing anyone in the organization, which is essentially stealing from us as that was our room, food and drinks. It says so right here in this contract in black and white that they have provided you these things.”

Some people forget I actually can read. They also forget I actually listen … when I want to.

Growing up, family members would ask me to recall conversations. What always amazed me was what they didn’t remember. My mother was famous for selective memory. My father on the other hand had no listening skills. He would hear a sentence on the news and go off without any context.

Reporter: “A man riding a bicycle was hit by a truck during last night’s thunderstorm.”

Dad: “There go the Russians, screwing with our weather again.”

OK, he was one aluminum hat short of a trip to St. Elizabeth’s.

Recently, I wrote a column about the mid-1970s, mid-size, rebadged Plymouth Fury for Hemmings Classic Car. In the article, I mentioned how I remembered watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno and Clint Eastwood were guests on the show. Jay Leno mentioned that Clint Eastwood drove used Plymouth Fury police cars.

A few days after publication, I received a letter forwarded by my editor. The author said in an angry and condescending tone intended to get me in trouble that I “specifically mentioned Dirty Harry driving Plymouth Fury police cars,” and I was wrong. He then went on to set me straight (good luck with that) and listed all the cars Dirty Harry drove, none of which were Plymouth Furys.

Well, I kind of freaked out at first because I am a huge Clint Eastwood fan, and I have seen all his movies, and I know Dirty Harry never drove Plymouth Furys, but had I accidentally said that and it was overlooked by the fact checkers? I did an electronic search of the publication and the words “dirty” and “harry” never appeared.

You now have proof I don’t write for a porn magazine. Think about it.

I was furious. My editor said this was normal, so I laughed about how I was sitting at home getting angry in a room with Rose Marie while eating egg whites and Brussels sprouts (I am always on some weird diet).

However, I decided to write this illiterate car nut and let him know I never mentioned Dirty Harry in a letter that thanked him for supporting our publication and reading my column. He responded that he equates Clint Eastwood with Dirty Harry and that was the excuse for the mix-up. Never once did he apologize or admit he was a moron.

My favorites are doctors. I have been to too many doctors who don’t hear a word you say. They just think you are crazy or they are waiting for a break to look up what they think you said on the internet. Recently, I had to change primary care physicians after going to one who would look up symptoms on Google images; he didn’t even use WebMD, which always leads every symptom to cancer.

I especially appreciate the doctors who act as if they don’t have time to listen and just want to see the next patient, so their day will end soon. I had one who seriously heard nothing I said, and when I asked for a prescription for estrogen just to see if he was listening, he gave me one. I was an emotional wreck with tender nipples for months, but the hot flashes did subside.

When I went to my current doctor for the first time, he listened to every word I said, which almost gave me cardiac arrest. And, he heard me when I told him that, too.

My faith in actually finding people with listening skills was restored.

The saddest part is when you put information in front of people, and they choose not to read it. I edit and write a car club newsletter. Recently, I included an article about an upcoming event – The 25th Annual Orphan Car Tour. I included it in two issues of the newsletter, meaning it appeared for two months.

Ask me how many emails I got from people in the club, who have access to the newsletter and get emails announcing events that essentially said, “Hey, did you hear about this Orphan Car Tour? You should write something about it for the newsletter.”

I especially enjoyed the post on Facebook, where a member wrote, “The car club should promote this Orphan Car Tour.” He then included a link to last year’s tour!

A board member wrote, “I wish I still had my Corvair, or I would go.” I about spit up.

Instead, I responded, “That is last year’s tour. This year’s tour has been written up in the newsletter for two months now. A Corvair is not an orphan. Why in the hell do I bother?”

When I posted pictures of the tour on Facebook, which by the way, no one from the car club attended, one comment was, “Oh. Was that today?”

Maybe someday, I will find somebody who can read.

If you can read or listen, visit www.miltonstern.com and buy a book.