The Generalist

Posted , by RAYMOND LESSERin Categories: Ray Lesser Editorialstagged: general, generalist, genericLeave a Comment
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Editor-in-chief Raymond Lesser

Generally speaking, I’m a generalist. In college, I majored in General Studies: I wanted to be a General, but unfortunately, when I graduated, there were no job openings for any of the positions I applied for in the U.S., Canadian, or Klingon armies. So I moved on to other general job openings.

First, I got a job at General Electric. They put me in a generic cubicle where I was given an inbox and an outbox and told to make things flow from the negative to the positive until everything evened out. But by the end of every day, my charge was gone, I was spent, tapped out and generally exhausted.

I quit and started a general contracting company. In this business, you don’t actually do any of the work; you arrange for all the subcontractors to do the work for you. Your job is to hire and schedule everyone needed to complete a complex project like remodeling a kitchen or destroying a marriage. Mostly what you do is reschedule the contractors when they fail to show up on time. You spend a lot of days on the phone listening to the owners, who are paying for the remodeling, yell at you, and then in turn calling the subcontractors and begging them to do their jobs so that you might eventually all get paid, or at least avoid being sued. Generally, the contractors finally agree to show up once they’re completely out of beer to drink and gas for their trucks. Then they call to borrow money for gas, because, “C’mon how are we ever going to get to the job if the truck won’t start?” As soon as you give them money for gas, they go to the bar and use it to buy more beer. This process continues until you finally get fed up and hire different contractors, at which point the whole thing repeats itself.

As the result of my experience as a general contractor, I learned to do general carpentry, general plumbing, general masonry, general drywall and general painting myself, because otherwise I would generally never have gotten paid. When I got good enough at some of these skills to work for other general contractors, I quit the field altogether, because I don’t like to drink that much beer.

Back on the labor market, I went through a series of jobs at General Motors, General Tire, General Mills, and General Dynamics, before finally landing a part as a patient on General Hospital. Before every episode of this soap opera, I was given a new disease, and it was my job to quickly inhabit my role as a man sick with Hailey-Hailey, beriberi, rickets, or whatever the disease du jour happened to be. It didn’t matter what I did since I was mostly covered up with a sheet and all the close-ups were of the doctor’s face as he examined me and told me my prognosis wasn’t good. How could it be? I was being treated by a bunch of soap opera actors on a TV set with practically no chance of ever landing a speaking part. The most they ever let me do was groan or sneeze. Eventually, I was given a terminal disease, and after getting a final cameo in an open casket, I had to look for a new career.

For a while, I freelanced as an interpreter in the U.N. General Assembly. Although I know how to ask where the toilet paper is in 18 different languages, the only one I speak well enough to interpret is English, so I was limited to translating American English into British, Australianish, New Zealandish, and primarily Canadian.

But I was able to use my connections at the U.N., along with my experience at General Hospital, to get some general office work with the Surgeon General.

I realize I’m just an average guy. I’m median weight, median height – I straddle the line. My parents must have guessed how I’d turn out when they named me Norm. If you want to know what the public is thinking, ask me: I am John Q. Public, except that Q. is a little outside my comfort zone. I’m much more of a John C. Public. I got Cs in school – good enough to get by, but not so good that I got picked on. I stay out of the limelight, neither hot nor cold, neither good nor bad. I am the Goldilocks of porridge eaters, but not Goldi – please, that’s a little rich for my taste. I’m more of the Tinlocks.

I try to stick with other generalists like myself. Stereotypically, we associate with stereotypes, eat at chain restaurants and shop at chain stores. Some people think general means boring, but I am part of the vast collective. My ideas are widespread, even universal. I may be the common man, but because what I do is customary, it becomes the custom and then everyone else who follows in my footsteps has to follow that custom, or else they’ll get cast as an outsider and be forced to knock on the door if they want to come inside, and who do you suppose is going to answer that door and decide if they’ll let the outsider in, hmm? It’ll be General Norm, because I’m whatever, wherever, whenever the guy who you’d better make friends with if you want to become worldwide, prevalent, in the majority, across the board, and go viral.

My father was part of the greatest generation of generalists, and I am happy to follow in his footsteps, making the kind of safe, secure, non-controversial decisions that the biggest governments and institutions that control the world are known best for.

No, there’s no sense in rocking the boat. Let’s all stay on an even keel and say a mass prayer for all the people just like us out there. Say amen to the middle course. Amen to moderation. Amen to the middle class in middle America. We may not be great, but we are fair to middling. We are presentable in our appearance, passable in our knowledge, tolerable as workers or companions. We may be run-of-the-mill, but we’re better than nothing. OK, we’re nothing to write home about, but who writes home anymore? Just forward me a mass e-mail and let me know what you think.

I’ve already accepted that my ultimate epitaph will be what my wife told her father when she first introduced me. “Dad, I think you’ll like Norm. He’s really not such a bad guy.”

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