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2004.05.04 Stupidity is NOT a Protected Disability - Part 1

posted Dec 22, 2009, 5:37 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Mar 26, 2010, 6:08 AM ]

I once had the pleasure of working for a boss who was constantly coming up with brilliant ideas on how I could do my job better. By "pleasure" I mean "undying agony" and by "brilliant" I mean "unbelievably stupid" as this is some of that famous Cheek sarcasm you may have heard about. I eventually learned to stop using sarcasm around this particular boss. It just never worked.

"Troy, you've got to do something about him," a co-worker once pleaded. "You do a great job of keeping the other managers in line. Why not him?"

"He's completely immune to sarcasm," I replied. "It goes right over his head. My powers are useless against him!"

Yes, my co-workers did see those in management as more in need of management than able to provide it. And, yes, I did occasionally speak like a comic book supervillian. "To the Idiotmobile!"

I would occasionally forget about my boss and his total lack of uptake when it comes to sarcasm, like one particular day when the boss called me into his office.

"Troy, please step into my office," he called.

"Sure thing, boss," I replied, closing the office door behind me. If I don't, he'll ask me to, waiting until just after I've sat down and gotten comfortable before he does so. I sat down and got comfortable.

"Please close the door," he requested.

"Sure thing, boss." I didn't move. He looked at me, blinked a few times, looked at the already closed door, blinked, looked back at me. Lather, rinse, repeat. Comprehension slowly dawned. Unfortunately, a sudden stupidity front rolling in from the east quickly clouded it over.

"I've got a complaint from an employee about the handicap parking out back," he eventually said, laying a sheet of paper on his desk. "It's confidential, so I can't tell you who it's from, but basically it says that when she asked you to do something about shortage of handicap parking, you refused to do anything."

The boss never seemed to catch on that I had better eyesight than he thought I did. He also never seemed to realize that I could read upside down. I barely had to squint to make out the name. I remembered dealing with her.

"I remember her," I said, reading her name off the paper. "I refused to do anything because there was nothing to do. There were several handicap spaces available at the time."

"But she says you ran her out of a handicap space to make room for others to park."

"No, I asked her to move because she was parked in the hashed off area between two handicap parking spaces."

The boss gave me a look of utter lack of understanding.

Sigh. "Boss, you know that some people who use wheelchairs or walkers or just have trouble getting in and out of vehicles have special ramps or powered lifts in their cars, vans, trucks, whatever? Some extend to the rear of the vehicle, of course, but you do realize that many open to one side or the other, right?"

He allowed that he did indeed realize that.

"Well, the extra room is marked off around some handicap parking spaces so that those ramps and lifts can extend. This particular employee was parking in that extra room."

I went on to explain about some of the other problems I had encountered. We had employees who felt that handicap markings did not have to be honored if, in their opinions, there was "enough" parking. Also a problem were employees who considered their work hours to be outside the norm. They didn't think that any handicapped people would need those spaces at those times. Anyone who was "running inside for just a minute" felt they didn't need to worry about parking rules, even if "just a minute" included anything up to and including working a full shift minus ten minutes. Some simply felt that working at a hospital allowed them to park wherever they felt like it.

(An aside: Until I worked healthcare security, I never encountered any group of employees who were so full of themselves that they thought they deserved better parking arrangements than their customers. Even if their customers were patients.)

It was not that there was not enough handicap parking, I concluded. We had more than the federally-mandated minimum and probably more than we actually needed. The problem was simply that some employees were stupid and stupidity is not covered by handicap parking laws.

"Ah," he said, nodding his head. "Well, I have an idea which will solve the problem."

"We're going to educate the employees about proper parking procedures?"

"No, we're going to agressively enforce some of the new handicap parking laws to free up more spaces." He went on to explain, for twenty minutes, the new handicap parking laws and their enforcement. "Isn't that a good idea?"

In my most obviously sarcastic tone, I replied "Yeah, boss. That's a great idea."

He smiled so brightly I thought I needed sunglasses. "Great. Since you're so sure it will work, I'm placing you in charge of the project. We start next week."

Me and my big sarcastic mouth.

The project, as it turned out, was for me to closely monitor handicap parking in the rear of our hospital. If I saw someone park without the proper permit, I was to point this out to them and ask them to move. Unless, of course, they were a patient, or a doctor, or a staff member responding to an emergency, or someone obviously sick or infirm or elderly. As usual with this particular boss, the list of exceptions was longer than the rest of the policy and pretty much negated the whole purpose of the project as stated.

One thing I was allowed to be tough on was making sure that any handicap permits displayed actually belonged to the person who was in the car. That was the new part of the law the boss was so keen on. A kid driving his grandmother's car to come visit his girlfriend wouldn't be allowed to park in handicap parking, even if he had his grandmother's permit displayed.

I went home dreading the next week. I spent the weekend wondering what would go wrong.