The Generalist by Jeffrey Jefferis

"Hello, there."

"Oh, hello in return."

"How's it going?"

"Not bad. Not bad at all. You?"

"Quite well, thank you. So, how did you end up here this afternoon?"

"That's a fair question. I'm Peter, by the way."


"Morris, good name. Nice to meet you, Morris. Anyway, let's see. About two years ago, I guess, I had just microwaved my frozen turkey and mashed potatoes dinner in the kitchen on my office floor. I was a computer programmer for a large company. And I received a few excruciatingly clever comments from co-workers in the coffee line about what time it was, 9:13 a.m. They seemed to have instantly forgotten that thirty seconds earlier the conversation had started with them pondering, 'mmm, what smells so good?'. Anyway, the last step on the box directions for microwave cooking of the dish was 'Make certain that meal is cooked thoroughly. Use thermometer to check internal temperature of food. Minimum 1 65 degrees.' I thought all day about how insanely the processed food company had misunderstood its customer base. I mean, I can't be bothered with an oven or a plate or silverware, but I have a food thermometer handy?"

"That's an amusing anecdote, Peter. And I don't mean to be too forward here, but what's the point?"

"Oh, right. Well, after that, I spent the weekend considering how ridiculous my job was and how pitiful my life must have become if I were a regular customer of the insane processed food company. I never returned to that office, or that job."

"Well, that's perfectly normal. Happens to most of us at some point in our lives. So, what do you do now?"

"I'm a generalist."

"I'm not familiar with that term."

"I dabble in health care."

"I don't think health care is a field appropriate for dabbling, Peter."

"You know how there are medical specialists? Well, I'm a generalist."

"A general practitioner, you mean?"

"Not exactly. A general practitioner is a doctor. Again, I just dabble. I'm a generalist."

"Peter, I don't follow."

"Well, what I do is, I see people who are considering going to the emergency room and advise them as to whether their concerns are valid, or whether they should save the expense and wait before seeing a real doctor. I only charge a flat fee of twenty dollars per person. Five dollars extra per ailment if there is more than one, of course."

"Of course. Peter, are you qualified to make such determinations?"

"Yes, of course. I'm not some lunatic, Morris. I care about people. I went to nursing school for two years, though I never graduated."

"And why is that?"

"Well, a few weeks before graduation, during a CPR training drill, I was partnered up with, umm, a big girl. Really big. Freaking huge, to be perfectly honest. Just disgusting. Anyway, one drill required that I roll her off her stomach and onto her back. As she lied there on the floor motionless, I tugged and tugged and pulled and yanked, but I just could not budge her. I tried to push my legs off the wall to gain some leverage, and that's when disaster struck. Instead of moving her, my hands slipped off her arm while my legs were pushing and I ended up catapulting my entire body onto her back. I reached out for something to grab hold of to stop my momentum. By the time the instructor looked over, I was lying directly on top of the large girl with my head on her buttocks and my groin on top of her head."

"Ha! Sorry, Peter. Please, continue."

"Well, to make matters worse, during my disciplinary hearing, the instructor also testified that my right hand was squeezing the side of the large girl's left breast. And I could neither confirm nor deny this. The girl had some many rolls and oozing fat pockets. I only knew that I had grabbed a chunk of fatty skin while trying to stop myself. So, ultimately, they expelled me."

"That's one heck of a story, Peter.

"Sorry about the not graduating."

"Yes, it was a setback. But I didn't want to let it hold me back. I am not prone to giving up. So, I became a generalist."

"With no medical qualifications, is what you do legal, Peter?"

"You know, I've never really thought about it before. But the hospital hasn't complained, so I hope that means it isn't. See, I rented a house right across the street from the hospital on the north shore. The house is all brick and plain looking, so it resembles an office. And I set up shop. I hung a sign above my front door, 'The Emergency Room.'"

"I must say, that does not sound very ethical."

"Sure it is, Morris. My business as a generalist revolves around one simple, direct question -- Do you need to go to the emergency room?"

So, that's what I put on the sign. I put a question mark after the word 'room,' distinguishing it from the hospital's emergency room."

"Well, I guess that is a little better."

"But the question mark fell down a few months ago."

"You're pulling my leg."

"No, I wouldn't do that to you, Morris, especially considering the circumstances."

"I appreciate that, Peter."

"You know, I had this one guy come in to my office slash living room. It was the damndest thing. He had paralytic eyeballs"

"You're misusing words."

"Don't you mean malusing?"

"No, I do not. Peter, body parts are paralyzed. A paralytic is an agent employed to induce paralysis."

"Riiiiight. So, umm, anyway, this guy had para . . . lytish eyeballs. That better?"


"He could still see. He just could not move his eyeballs. You know, I don't think people realize how their eyes are in near constant motion. You rarely stare at anything for more than a second or two so, instead of being content with having to stare at an object, this guy would move his head to correspond to a normal person's eye movement. I tell you what, his head moved around and twitched so much it looked like he was tracking the path of one of those little gnats when they get caught up in a zig-zagging group."

"That sounds horrible."

'"Well, yeah, I know it must sound horrible. But I'd like to see you sit in the same room with him and not laugh."

You do tell a good story, Peter. But, again, how did you end up here this afternoon?"

"Wait, do you hear that? Did you just turn on some music?"

"No, I didn't. That's just a sousaphone."

"I can hear that, Morris. But what's the sousaphone playing? What instrument is that?"

"Peter, the sousaphone is an instrument. It's like a tuba. That's my neighbor's kid practicing. We have thin walls in this building."

"Riiiiight. You know, it sure is windy out today. You feel that? It hasn't been this windy in a long time. A real long time. Well, there was that one day about a month ago, but it was storming that day. There is not a cloud in the sky right now. I mean, look at that sun. Such a big, old thing. It feels like you can just reach up there and touch it today. But that storm last month sure was something too. Mother Nature is a glorious gal. It was during that storm that I called the exterminator, or so I thought. To this day I am sure of it though. I even remember thinking, 'Damn, the exterminator is here and I have to use the bathroom. And in an I-need-some- privacy sort of way. And look at that, now he's using my bathroom. Salt in the wound.'"

"I'm not following, Peter."

"Oh, well, you see, it turned out that I had accidentally called the cable guy instead. He asked me where the problem was and I pointed toward my spare bedroom slash waiting room. And when the cable guy walked in the spare bedroom slash waiting room, he was quite unexpectedly attacked by the ferret I had trapped in there."

"Oh my God."

"Yeah, that about sums it up. Turns out the ferret had rabies. It went absolutely crazy on that poor exterm, I mean, cable guy. Strangely enough, that wasn't the first time that had happened to me. Well, not exactly the same but, a month or two before that, I called the cable guy, or so I had thought. Instead, though, I had accidentally called the exterminator. Let me tell you, when he walked out to his truck past my neighbor Mss Johnson's porch holding her dead cat by the tail, she was pretty upset. She even thought that she might be having a heart attack. I ran over to her porch and o fered my services as a generalist, but she, well, she declined. And trust me, she was pretty strong for an old lady, especially one having a heart attack."

"You had your neighbor's cat killed? Why would any exterminator kill a cat?"

"Again, it was an accident. I thought he was the cable guy. And it wasn't his fault either. He walked into my kitchen slash office kitchen and asked me what was the last thing I saw? I remember thinking that it was sort of an odd question, but I answered that I had last seen a bobcat. I simply failed to mention that I was watching a documentary on wild felines when the cable went out. So, when he stepped into my backyard, he saw Ms. Johnson's cat running toward him. Je f is a very social cat. Well, he was a very social cat. And the exterminator's instincts took over. One swift and skillful swing of his club and lights out, Jeff."

"I don't know whether I believe you, Peter, but you are entertaining." "I know, Jeff is the oddest name for a cat ever, right?"

"Once again, however, how did you end up here this afternoon?"

"Well, Morris, after the second mishap, my landlord had had enough. He evicted me. Not that it mattered much. With the pending lawsuit against me by the fake exterminator slash cable guy for pain and su fering, I wouldn't have been able to a ford rent for my apartment slash generalist's o fice anyway."
"So where have you been staying? Have you been homeless?"

"Oh, no. Not at all, Morris. But I appreciate your concern. I had been staying at my girlfriend's place. Actually, she was a client ofmine too. I had made it … a rule not to … date clients, but that was until she walked in. She was my first attractive one. It's pretty funny actually. She came to see me because she was concerned that her body had stopped making skin. She was terrified because she believed that her skin was getting tighter and tighter, that it wasn't renewing itself. I, of course, as a stellar generalist, advised her not to go to the emergency room. What a ridiculous notion, not making new skin and during the course of her follow up visits, I, as a stellar generalist, determined that her skin was only getting tighter and tighter because the stress caused by believing that her body was not creating new skin had caused her to lose her appetite. She was not eating. Thus, she was simply losing weight. She was both relieved and thrilled about this. Fear of imminent death, she claimed, was the perfect diet."

"She certainly sounds eccentric, Peter. I can see why you like her. You're a lucky man. You do realize that, right, Peter? That you're a lucky man?"

"Not so fast, Morris. She dumped me yesterday. Kicked me out. You see, I took her youngest sister to the mall two days ago, as a favor, and well, that was the end of it."

"Peter, you didn't . . . ?"

"What? Oh, no. God no. I would never do something that terrible to her little sister.

All I did was watch her get beat up."


"Her youngest sister, she bumped into someone she knew in the mall food court. I went to get a soft pretzel. I paid the cashier. I turned around, and there she was, getting beat up right in the middle of the mall."

"And you did nothing?"

"No. Of course not. She's a big girl. Well, not physically. But it's her life. Besides, I'm a pacifist.

And nobody else in the food court did anything to stop it. Why should I have?"
"Because you knew her. Because you were watching her. Because she was your responsibility."

"Well, what was I going to do anyway? I don't know how to fight. I'm not a physically impressive man. And she looked to me like she was holding her own. She was pretty feisty for a twelve-year-old girl."


"Yeah, but you would never know it if you saw her fight. Thinking about it now, I would like to see her and old Ms. Johnson go a few rounds. That would be a quite a battle."

"Well, Peter, I must say, I can understand why your girlfriend was upset."

"Yeah, she was pretty angry. Though I thought I had calmed her down well enough. I didn't think our relationship would end. But then her little sister butted in and ruined everything. She told my girlfriend that the guy I watched beat her up was my younger brother. He's fifteen."

"And was that true?"

"Oh, yeah. You don't think I recognized my own brother? Stewie is a pretty ornery little guy. I talked to him after the fight. He told me that his friends had dared him to walk up to my girlfriend's little sister and say to her, 'I want to lick your eardrum.'
Apparently, in response, the little sister called my brother a 'stupid jerk.' And that just set him o f something fierce. He does not tolerate name calling."

"Wow. Well, umm, Peter, maybe I'm an optimist, but I feel like we are getting closer to an answer.

So, with fingers crossed, again, how did you end up here this afternoon?" "What?"

"How did you end up here this afternoon?"

"Oh, right. Well, I was walking by this building. I noticed how tall it was and realized that I had never been in this building before. So, I figured I had nothing better to do, what with no job and all, and nowhere else to go, what with no place to live and all, and no plans, what with no girlfriend or money and all, so I walked in the building and took the elevator all the way up here. I was walking down the hallway and noticed that your door was open and, well, here I am."

"I see. Well, Peter, as I look at the time, I do have another appointment soon."

"Are you saying my time is up?"

"No! I mean, no. I'm not saying that at all, Peter."

"Then what do you suggest?"

"Well, what say you grab my hand here through the window, and we get you off that ledge?"


Previously Publised in Bartleby Snopes

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