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Chuck Hinman: First Impressions

First Impressions Chuck says first impressions are not always reliable as he knows from his experience.
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - Hopelessly Trapped!

By Chuck Hinman

First Impressions

Not long after I began a business career with Phillips Petroleum Company, I discovered that my line of work required the expertise of Phillips' large and impressive legal department. There was a staff of about eight to ten attorneys that specialized in giving legal advice on land and geological matters only. Since my work had to do with land titles, Mr. Robert Burgess (Bob, to his close friends) was our designated 'go-to' attorney in such matters.

I, as a new hire, found Mr. Burgess to be a most intimidating person to deal with.

Bronzed legal advisor bombards with questions

Mr. Burgess was reputedly a 'legal brain,' a tenured authority among his peers; his appearance was like unto the King of Siam for lack of a better description. He was the most bronzed person I have ever seen. He was totally bald, and his shiny head and scalp were as bronze as an Oscar Award. He reportedly spent a lot of time on the golf course. His eyes were large and intense -- someone you wouldn't fool around with either physically or mentally. Brrrr! And if that wasn't enough, he treated me like I was on trial -- and sitting in the defendant's chair. He scared the bjeezers out of me. I, like many of my peers wanted to get any meeting with him out of the way in the morning, knowing the rest of the day would be a breeze in comparison.

When I went to him for legal advice on a land title matter, I learned to be prepared for cross-examination on minute details, many seemingly unrelated to the question that brought me to him for advice. I would have preferred to handle the whole matter by correspondence but no way; he required that you stand before his desk and recite the problem and the question for him to consider. As soon as he got a glimpse of what the question was, then he would bombard you with questions, many of which seemed to an untrained farm-boy to have no relevance to the issue. One time I challenged him on the relevance of his question and he ate me alive. I was no match and I knew it.

Saying "I don't know" released one from cross-examination

I soon learned with the aid of others, the sooner you said three words -- "I don't know" -- the sooner he would release you from cross-examination. His massive ego was seemingly satisfied and he would smile cordially and say "Thank you -- I will call you when I have the information you requested." As I walked by his secretary's office, drenched in sweat, she would try to muster a faint smile of encouragement as I limped back to my office.

The WORST is yet to come! You'll see!

Jockey shorts elastic failure

One morning as I was heading down the stairs to his office, I noticed the elastic in my jockey shorts was worn out and as I walked down the stairs, they were, with each step, slowly creeping downward so that by the time I got to his office, they were flying at half-mast somewhere just slightly above my knees and way below my buns. Oh Lord, help me! I nervously tried to re-arrange them but that was futile. This is cruel and inhuman.

I had never before considered what proper-fitting (snug) jockey shorts have to do in establishing self-confidence. It has everything to do with it!

Chuck asks for mercy: to go home and re-dress

Before he had finished the second or third question, I realized I was a goner and that he had me by the 'ying yangs' whatever or wherever they are. I was totally undone -- a blabbering idiot. After a rapid-fire question I had barely heard, I cleared my voice repeatedly and asked for the mercy of the court.

In a hushed and trembling voice, I said, "Mr. Burgess, I need to be excused to go home." He looked curious as I added, "As I was walking down the stairs to your office a few minutes ago, I didn't realize that I had put on a pair of jockey shorts this morning that are worn out. The elastic is worn out! By the time I walked in your office just now, they have completely failed me and are in fact hanging down here" as I demonstrated by holding them through my trousers. As he erupted in uncontrolled laughter, I added "My confidence is gone without my underwear to support me and I need to be excused to go home and dress properly. Do you mind?" That did it!

And how are your shorts hanging now?

He hysterically waived me to go home, choking on his own laughter. At last I had gotten to him! He was the one who was undone for a change.

When I returned in about an hour with adequate shorts on, he in a totally relaxed and pleasant countenance said "And how are your shorts hanging now?" -- the same way he greeted me each and every time I visited him on subsequent business matters. The cross examination stopped totally. I was invited to sit down when I entered his office and we visited about everything except business. He confided that mine was the funniest thing that had ever happened in his storied legal career!

Formidable expert becomes personal friend

Years later, upon my Mom's passing, I got the most touching personal note of sympathy, not from Mr. Robert Burgess of Phillips Petroleum Company fame, but from 'Bob' -- my friend and co-worker at Phillips.

First impressions are not always reliable, I know from experience.

Written by Chuck Hinman. Emailed Friday, 5 February 2010.

This story was posted on 2014-10-05 04:05:18
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