(These characters, company, places, things and events are all fictitious. Any similarities are pure coincidental. As in the finest restaurants, good food takes time to prepare, good stories take time to develop.)
He started out just trying to be nice and in the end was faced with losing his career because of it. Being nice, acting so generous towards what he considered the opposition, the female of the species wasn't in his nature. So this noble act was unusual for George Hanigan and the results life-changing.
The company he worked for employed over three hundred at his location and while not at the top of the totem pole, he wasn't far from it. The department he managed had seventy-four people, more than half were technical, the rest support. They worked the same hours as accounting, seven to four to beat the rush hour traffic.
There were strict company rules about a manager dating someone in his department and while he had been oft tempted, George had kept his thinking brain in control. Besides, there were plenty of fish in the other departments to snag, as he liked to contemplate. George was a player. He was working his way though the roster, keeping score. He had a physical presence and good looks that added to his power package, making the vast majority of his conquests easy prey.
His cocky nature was not all bravado, just a few years earlier he had been ranked in the top three nationally in Ironman Triathlon. A push from a competitor, unseen by anyone else, sent George off the road on his bike. His protests not believed, his other injuries healed, but his knee would prevent him from returning to the top of his game. Eighteen months later, that competitor had his own knee problems, no one could find the person who did it, and George had long been forgotten. Following two years of Therapy, he had nothing else going on in his life ... he resigned himself to only chase girls instead of trophys. He did so with a competitive spirit, a zest for conquering, his game was seduction.
Prudence on the other hand was at the other end of that athletic and attractiveness scale. She had graduated High School ten years earlier and when the reunion invitation came in the mail, it was thrown in the trash before the scads of other junk mail. Life had not been socially pleasant for her since the third grade. She grew taller and bigger than the others too quickly and by the time she was ten, her 5'-10" frame carried well over two hundred plus pounds. Added to the crooked teeth, bad fashion sense, and thick glasses, even the geeks and nerds shunned her. And so went the rest of her school life which carried over into her ten years working for the company. It wasn't that anyone hated her. They just ignored her. Still, living with her parents made life tolerable, however unsatisfying.
But her office skills could not be questioned. She was reliable, she always followed instructions, and reports always filed on time without mistakes. Prudence had not always been so efficient; in fact her first seven years with the company had been unremarkable. But transferring into George's department had changed her attitude about her working life. Rather than being treated like the ugly duckling, George had treated her with respect and dignity. She felt motivated by that treatment and when George asked for something, she literally gave him 150% every time. She researched why the company was looking for the information and put that report in the perfect form for upper management to filter out what they were looking for. George never understood why she always responded with something he didn't ask for, but he had come to trust her. It always made him look good, he knew not why. So, after two years of this, George promoted her to Section Manager, reaping the benefits of these results from her entire section.
Along with the pay raise and profit sharing, Prudence was given additional health benefits and perks. A great dental plan was one; optical plan another, and membership in a gym was the third. But a year after getting these benefits, she was still not taking advantage of any of them.
It was a bright spring day in May when she was called into George's office ... there was some trouble. "Prudence, please sit down." George had a chair next to his desk that matched the other office furniture, but he had purposely cut the legs lower a couple of inches, forcing the sitter to be easily intimidated by what he termed his 'hot seat'. He was feeling a little cockier this day, another notch in his belt the night before, a circle filled in with a check mark. It was enough to keep him smiling for at least a week. But like the pure male of the species, he was able to compartmentalize his behavior; he put on his stern, professional office persona.
"Prudence, I had a meeting earlier from someone in your department that I think we can leave anonymous. This person is complaining about your insensitivity or political incorrectness. Not being one to take people at their word, I delved as deeply as I possibly could into this matter, coming to the conclusion that the complainer was guiltier than you in the sensitivity realm ... to make a long story short, it seems to be past us, no further action needs to be taken. Nothing will be entered in your file."
"Mr. Hanigan, I have no idea what I might have done or said. I didn't know I was having problems with anyone."
"Yes, Prudence ... I understand. Let me continue. What we have is a growth opportunity. If I might be so indelicate, let me say that rather than performance, there are people too quick to judge others based upon their social skills and appearance. And with this inappropriate attitude on their part comes disrespect, which we can not tolerate. You are my best Section Manager and ... if you will bear with me ... I am trying to be sensitive ... but I was wondering why you haven't taken advantage of our dental program."
Prudence's face turned bright red and her hand flew up to cover her mouth like she always did when she was about to speak or laugh. She was very self-conscious about her ugly teeth. "I'm sorry," was all she could say.
"Prudence, I believe you would become an even a greater asset to this company if your self image were enhanced. Here is the card of a friend of mine. He is an excellent orthodontist. Pardon my impetuousness, but I have made an appointment for you ... it's there on the card. I think we could spare you for a few hours that day ... you have never taken a sick day in the last three years, you can afford this."
"Yes sir," was all she could respond with, unable to look him in the eyes.
"Please tell me if I have stepped over the line ... I am only looking out for your best interests."
"No sir, I appreciate your effort in talking to one of my people."
"Good, and I want to keep my best Manager happy ... you certainly keep my bosses happy with your reliable and faultless performance."
"Thank you Mr. Hanigan. Is there anything else?"
So George waved off his embarrassed section manager, amazed he had been so successful. Inside he just wanted to scream out, 'get your teeth fixed you ugly cow', but then if he had acted on his brash feelings before, he wouldn't be the department manager. And he felt obligated a little ... she always made him look good to his boss ... he could not afford to lose that.
George sat back at his desk, having completed that messy task successfully; he went back to logging his score. He rewound the events of last night, playing them back over in his mind. From the first casual chance meetings, to the light hearted jokes and innuendos he threw, Jessie had been his most difficult conquest to date. It took weeks just to get her to agree to dinner and she had played hard to get up until that goodnight kiss. But George knew he had been masterful in his seduction ... he chuckled to himself ... she didn't have a chance. He knew the secret to this one had been security ... it was flashing the money, the nice car and apartment. Once he understood how to crack her vault, the often not related comments painted the perfect picture he knew she wanted to hear.
He felt a little remorse at having told all those lies ... little lies, half truths, just to get another score, but he hadn't been selfish. George always made sure the woman scored the first points of the game, and made sure she always finished on top, wanting more, feeling triumphant, not used ... his reputation intact. There had been the cold ones that didn't enjoy sex ... those he didn't feel bad about catch and release.
George would see Jessie once or twice more, but he was already plotting his exit strategy, and then the next target of his affectations, just another female to be cut from the herd. George had a good understanding of who he was ... he was the perfect hunting machine ... not some puppy on the end of a leash.
Two weeks later George was pleased to see Prudence sporting a few holes and lots of wire in her mouth, not knowing how painful it was and will continue to be. When she smiled at him, she hadn't put her hand up to her mouth as was her habit. He was satisfied with what might have appeared to be a noble gesture on his part, but what partially solved a messy little problem with his manager's ability to command respect.
It was two weeks after that when he called her into his office again. It wasn't just the teeth that caused her problems; she needed more help to get to the top of her game, her people were still not treating her as they should. He was more enthusiastic about this, it was something he was very good at ... and maybe it was a way to say thank you for all the kudos he had received from his boss because of the way she did her job.
"Prudence, I am pleased to see you have followed through with my indelicate advice. What I have asked to talk to you about is the company health plan. As a department manager I get an incentive for the number of people in my department regularly attending a health club."
"But Mr. Hanigan ...." she tried to interrupt unsuccessfully.
He lifted his finger only slightly ... she held her tongue.
"Not that I believe I have the right to meddle in my employee's lives, but our previous success emboldens me to make another suggestion. Again, if you think I am being insensitive ... I will shut up and leave well enough alone. It's just that I am a health nut myself. I read medical advice on a daily basis, men's health issues usually and ... well what I am trying to say is that some of what we are, we cannot control at all because of genetics. But there are two areas where I think I can help you. The first is eating habits and the second is exercise. Would you be willing to take some advice from me in those areas ... or should I just mind my own business. This is beyond the little incentive the company has offered me; I don't care about that. This for you would be a lifestyle change."
"Mr. Hanigan I live at home. I eat what my mother cooks for breakfast and dinner. For lunch I always go to McDonalds. And as far as exercise ... I guess I have never bothered ... I don't have any friends that I could go with and I am too self-conscious to go to a gym where there are men. I have always been big."
"Not a problem ... the question is would you be willing to listen to advice? I think I can lift your level of consciousness about these issues, you in turn might pass this knowledge onto your friends and family ... would you be interested?"
Prudence didn't know what she was getting into; she had been comfortable never confronting it, ignoring her problem. She was worried that she was going to be ridiculed and made fun of ... but then she knew Mr. Hanigan wouldn't do that ... he was always so professional, never stepping over the line ... she was thinking. Then she said, "Yes I would be willing."
"Prudence this isn't me trying to shove something down your throat. You have to be willing to own this new lifestyle, it has to consume you. You will start having more energy, feeling better about yourself and in the long run have much fewer health issues as you get older. That's the reason the company offers the gym incentive; better performance at work and fewer sick days." George couldn't see them, but he could feel the power of those first place Ironman trophies behind him on his credenza. They were stacked to the ceiling, all the way across.
"Yes sir, I am willing to try."
George sat there a minute not knowing where to start.
He went to his computer screen, googling. "I would like you to stop at this address after work Prudence. It's on your way home ... (he printed the name and address from his computer screen) ... and they do not allow men in their facility. Give them your company card and they will sign you up. If you would, bring back a list of their programs ... we can review those tomorrow. I will think about the eating situation ... we can talk about that tomorrow as well."
Prudence had her piece of paper and rose from her chair when he did, signaling the end of their meeting. "Thank you Mr. Hanigan," she said and gave her best tin teeth smile ... but not happy.
George wanted to throw up seeing that smile, especially the double chin flabbing as she moved her mouth ... and then when she turned to walk away he wanted to hide his eyes. It was all that ugly bouncing, dimpled flesh that turned his stomach. He was wondering why he had bothered to help her. He had never done anything like this before ... he wasn't used to acting noble and being charitable.
He had to wait until she left; turning his thoughts off those images. She had been a help to his success, she needed this, it would give her self confidence, and she would command respect. But then he was thinking she would give up after a week's effort anyway. He would give it a shot and then keep his nose where it belonged after that.
And he had no idea how to get her to eat right. He was eating six or seven small meals a day and working out at least two hours after work, more on weekends. There was no way he was going to visit her house and tell her mom to stop cooking all that garbage food. He decided to make it simple. He would just make double portions of the three meals he brought to work the next day to get her started. If she ate junk at home, then too bad, he couldn't invest too much, she was going to fail anyway.
So George started Prudence down this wellness program.
The first week was a disaster. In the lunch room he focused on the eating, knowing the exercise was less important in the beginning. Using the new food pyramid and bringing articles from home, he started teaching what he knew, what worked so well for him. He even took her grocery shopping at lunch time, showing how to avoid all the processed food, the harmful chemicals, the hidden sugars.
This was harder for George than he thought. He had never talked so much to one person before in his life. He never wanted to be a teacher, this constant diatribe was unnerving.
Prudence listened to all he had to say, she heard all the words, but it was like learning a new language, she didn't understand why, didn't really believe most of it. No one died from eating McDonalds. Half the times he was talking she wished he would just shut up and let her go back to work.
She eventually confessed that she ate a giant bowl of ice cream every night before going to bed, five scoops ... and while she tried to be good, she gave in to the other temptations. Breakfast was always greasy, fat fried sausage and bacon or carb overloads like pancakes with tons of butter and syrup ... or both. She reluctantly stopped going to McDonald's ... but she didn't stop drinking her five diet sodas or eating her three candy bars a day.
As he predicted, by the end of the second week, George was ready to give up. She had only been to the gym twice in as many weeks, enough to qualify for his incentive, but otherwise worthless. He called her into his office to tell her he had decided to discontinue his effort. He was weary of all the talking and her not understanding.
"Prudence, this has been a good lesson for me. I never realized how seductive the fast food, snack and beverage companies really are. I don't think I can compete with Bryer's TV commercials. I can't compete with chemical sweeteners. Those chemicals, the sugar, the carbs, and saturated fats are all poison to your system and yet the average American is addicted to them. I can see this will be a failure and rather than waste your time and mine, I think we should give up our little experiment."
"But Mr. Hanigan ... I am sorry. I have been eating like this all my life. And the gym ... sweating is so uncomfortable. I get rashes ... well it has not been a good experience."
"Prudence, when we started this, I said you have to want this. I don't want you to be deceiving me and feel bad because you aren't pleasing me. It isn't about me or what I want. This is for you. I exercise and eat right because it makes me feel great. You don't know what that feels like, so I guess I was trying to pull you up a mountain too high when you never wanted to climb anything, you have no idea what it feels like to flush all those poisons from your system."
Prudence sat in that hot seat and she had her hand up to her mouth again. "I'm sorry," was all she could say. She was actually glad she didn't have to listen to his preaching anymore. She just wanted to get back to work.
"If you ever want to get serious about it, I will be happy to help." Then he stood ... it was time for her to leave. He turned his head so he didn't have to look at those fat dimples and that double chin, the stretched fabric of her blouse.
Prudence left and felt bad, relieved, but still bad. She continued feeling bad the next two weeks. Watching the TV at night and seeing the ads for ice cream and greasy fast food made her feel worse ... bacon double cheese fat burger and greasy french fries. But she didn't do anything about it. And unexpectedly, she found herself missing the interaction with Mr. Hanigan on that daily basis, those lectures four or five times a day for those two weeks. He was so enthusiastic about what he knew and he never treated her like the social outcast that she knew she was. She missed that.
It was two months after their little surrender talk that she decided to eat salads for lunch. She thought that was a little something, a token to remind her how kind Mr. Hanigan had been. But it made her cravings worse. She started to remember what he had said about eating smaller meals, more nutritious and without sugars and saturated fats ... but she didn't know how to do that. She stopped drinking the diet soda, that she knew how to do ... she switched to water. And that was the hardest change she had ever made in her life. She was brought up drinking soda. And so she used that water bottle like a crutch, like a baby's pacifier clutching to it all day long. And the temptations, the cravings were getting worse. She couldn't stop eating the candy bars to stay awake the last two hours of the workday. She decided one night to stop eating ice cream. She tried celery sticks, carrots, lettuce ... anything and it didn't help.
It had been three months after their surrender talk and she went back to Mr. Hanigan's office. "Mr. Hanigan, I have been trying and it isn't working. I tried to stop eating the ice cream before I go to bed ... last night I ate rabbit food for an hour, pounds of it ... and in the end, I had to have the ice cream in order to fall asleep."
"Prudence, it has to be all or nothing. I think I have come to realize that since our initial experiment failed. It doesn't work to go half way. It actually makes it worse. I was at a beach in Aruba last year, the Divy-divy Beach. The first fifty feet into the water was nice ... not more than ankle deep, but calm water. The next fifty feet was where four to five foot high waves crashed. It was dangerous; people had to be rescued if they tried just walking there. But fifty feet further out the water was calm again. Prudence, last time we made the attempt you were stuck in the middle ... in that dangerous turbid water. So what are you saying? Do you want to try again?"