Sometimes it is in the fine print.
In May of 1962, I was twenty-seven years old and starting my first real job. As a captain in the United States Army Medical Corps, I was assigned as chief medical examiner at the armed forces examining station in Minneapolis. My work area was on the third floor of the Federal building located just west of the Mississippi River, between the Milwaukee railroad station and the Minnesotan hotel. The building presented a deceivingly impressive façade. Inside it had seen better days and was said to be due for renovation.
Inside this building, which was a bit of a relic, it was my responsibility to carry out physical examinations on 200 men per day. For about half of the men, this was a pre-enlistment physical, and for the rest, it was required by their local draft board. The area on the third floor was divided into several large rooms. There was workspace for the five men who would be assigned to duty in this section. As the captain, I had a private office, which was small and contained only a desk, a chair, a side chair, and a metal filing cabinet.
Because I would be conducting some examinations in the office, I thought the austere space would appear more professional if the bare concrete floor had a rug. I spied a rug sticking out of a trash container in the hall outside of our general area. It was just what I needed. It looked to be fairly clean and it fit the available space in my office. I brought a vacuum cleaner from home the next day, gave my acquisition a thorough going over, and by the end of my first week, I had an office with a rug that served for the year and a half I was on the job.
Before discharge and returning to residency training, I had to complete the time-honored activity of “clearing the post.” This meant I had to account for every item that I was given by the army to complete my work. This would be easy, I thought. The sergeant, acting as quartermaster, had gone over all our equipment with the corpsmen the day before and everything seemed to be in order which made what I was about to hear from the sergeant a shock. He said, “Doc, I’m sorry to say that you can’t clear the post because I don’t see the rug that you had in your office.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” I responded, and I told him about the dumpster.
“I get that,” he said, “but on my paperwork it says you had an 8 x 11 rug and it has to be accounted for.” The look on the sergeant’s face told me he was taking this seriously. Then, he said, “you’ve done some favors for me. I’ll see what I can do.”
The next day, the sergeant appeared with a big smile on his face and said, “Doc, I took care of it.” With that, he raised his hand and showed me a small rug sample. Then he said, “I took another look at your equipment log and saw that you had a rug that was 8 x 11 but it didn’t say 8 x 11 what! So, I went to a rug store and got this sample. It’s 8 by 11 inches and that will do the job. You’re clearing the post!”
By Savvy Senior
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