Always Wear Your Short White Coat!

Today I want to talk about the short white coat.

If you go to the hospital, you will be treated by a vast array of people in white coats.

Perhaps you are not paying attention to the length of the coat, but the length of the coat denotes a person’s position in the hierarchy or food chain of the hospital.

Full MDs traditionally wear long white coats. Medical students traditionally wear short white coats. Depending on the hospital, interns usually wear short white coats, but in some hospitals they wear long white coats.

Every now and then an intern who gets too big for their britches will show up in a long white coat, much to the dismay of some MDs. It has even happened that a medical student has done that.

And some full MDs have had a bird. As in: “I have paid my dues and earned my right to wear my long white coat, so who does this young upstart think he is, wearing a long white coat?” You’d be amazed, senior physicians get upset over something so mundane, but some do.

There have been a few teaching hospitals where they put everybody (including medical students) in long white coats. That move didn’t sit well with some of the senior physicians.

My favorite, however, is Massachusetts General Hospital, where it is the tradition for everybody, EVERYBODY, to wear a short white coat. This is to symbolize that doctors are learners for life. To wit: there is nothing you should wear that would convey the arrogant message that you have learned all there is to learn, and you cannot learn more.

In fact, a doctor from that hospital wore his short coat to Beth Israel Deaconess, and was complimented by a colleague because he was symbolizing a doctor was always a student.

This is a valuable lesson.

No matter what discipline we study and work, there is always more to learn. We are always students, and the minute we stop being students we have closed our minds.

Mastery should be a moving target: an ideal within our reach but ever out of our grasp. We should never get to a point where we, because of our level of achievement or knowledge, believe there is nothing more to learn, or more dangerously, that we cannot ever be wrong.

In whatever we do, and whatever we wear to do it, we should always be wearing the short white coat, real or symbolic.

More on this here; it is an old article on this from 2007…/doctor_nurse_or_student_consul…/


I Was a Weird Kid


When I first learned that everybody dies, I thought everybody would die at the same time, en masse, like some big suicidal cult.

Every evening, at some point my dad would announce “Teeth time!”, and my sister and I would brush our teeth in preparation for bed.

Well I figured at some point, my dad would announce “Die time!”

And we would all, you know, go to our beds (or our coffins) and… you know…… die.

I didn’t like it one bit.

As a kid, I made the world out to be a scarier place than it actually was.

A world where older kids would try to give you stickers laced with drugs to get you hooked.

Crawling with random strangers just itching to bribe you into their car with candy (or just drag you there) and then kill you or sell you into slavery.

Where Ronald Reagan could, if he was in the mood, make the unilateral decision to nuke the world (and even as a kid I figured he wasn’t all there).

Where, if you got lost at Jamesway, they would put a price tag on you and put you out there with the merchandise.

It was nice to gradually learn the world was nowhere near as dystopian as I thought it was when I was a little kid!

The English Victorian Prison Treadmill

Just got back from the gym. In the back of the gym I noticed some big, old-school stair climbers. They were, quite literally, backwards moving stairs on a belt, like inverted escalators. They took up a lot of space and looked kind of bulky and clunky in the face of the streamlined ellipticals and treadmills. And a funny thought occurred to me.

Those old school stair climbers reminded me of something you would see in an English Victorian prison. You know, all the guys lined up on the old school treamill facing the wall with a number stuck on their back.

It was considered punishment. Sometimes the treadmill was hooked up to a grist mill to make it more productive, but that was just a byproduct. More often, it was strictly punitive. It was tedious and monotonous.

Like the 1873 picture at the bottom.

Funny that people now pay money to do that. I can see the benefits of having your exercise monitored and quantified on a sleek, smooth piece of cardio equipment in front of a flat screen TV you may or may not watch. I understand that. I do it. Burning off unnecessary energy (fat) and giving your cardiovascular system a healthy workout it would not have otherwise gotten is somewhat of a necessity. And doing it in the air conditioned and controlled environment of a gym is a nice luxury.

But that bulky thing seems as though it would take the little bit of satisfaction from exercising right out of the equation. It looks clunky, tedious and punitive. And if you stop stepping, for one second it will throw you on the floor. It appears most people agree with me, in that every time I have entered the cardio room of the gym the thing is empty.

But demand drives supply, so apparently some people use it, otherwise the gym would have long since gotten rid of them. But if there is a demand for that, it could be exploited further. You could charge people money for something that used to used as punishment.

You could brand oakum picking (another mainstay of the English Victorian prison) as therapy. Charge a ton of money to sit there and pick old ropes apart with your bare hands. Call it something else, like “Nature Zen Picking”, or “Fiber therapy”.

You could rebrand gruel as a super food. Put some quinoa or kale in there. Market it to hipsters. They’ll pay a ton of money for gruel.

Or maybe some forward thinker could buy an old, decommissioned HM prison from the 19th century. Call it a “Reinvigoration Retreat” Call the cells “mini suites of austerity”. Keep the old furnishings intact. Lock guests in the cells and call it “encouraged seclusive meditation”.

Feed them gruel. Organic gruel. Call it “Oat Puree”. Enforce….er….encourage silence during meals (gruel). Say it is for meditation’s sake.

I hour on the treadmill. 2 hours picking oakum (fiber therapy). Cold showers. Beatings for an extra charge. Call it “stick therapy”.

And every night, story time. From the collected works of Charles Dickens.

I bet someone has already beaten me to the punch, though.

If you let your mind wander on the cardio equipment, you can think of the most random things!

Why Would You Ask That???


1) PLANNER: I need these doors propped open.

ROB: I don’t think we can do that. See, it says on the door “By order of the Fire Commissioner of the City of New York, these doors may not be propped open”

PLANNER: Do you think you could call the fire commissioner and ask him?

ROB: Um, I don’t think I have his number and even if I did, I don’t think he’d take my call. Come to think of it, if I had that kind of leverage I probably wouldn’t be working here!

2) ATTENDEE: (gesturing out the window the Empire State Building; the spire was lit up) What is that building with the lights?

ROB: That’s the Empire State Building

ATTENDEE: Well, could you call them and ask them put out the lights? They’re distracting me.

3) ATTENDEE: Can I borrow your tie? I forgot mine.

4) (on the Intrepid, which is essentially a big metal floating airplane hangar)
ATTENDEE: Could you turn up the heat in here? I’m cold.

ROB: We are working on that now.
(Inner monologue:
come back next week and it might be 1º warmer)

4) ATTENDEE: Could you turn the band down? They’re too loud.

5) (at an event close to a hospital)
ATTENDEE: Those ambulance sirens are too loud. Could you call the hospital and ask them to stop?

6) ATTENDEE: That nice young man there; could I have his phone number?

ROB: Um…. I don’t have that information.

ATTENDEE: Could you ask him?

ROB: I’m afraid not.


“NICE YOUNG MAN”: That old guy’s been trying to get my number all night.

ROB: Yeah, he asked me for it.

NICE YOUNG MAN: What did you tell him?

ROB: I told him I didn’t have that info.

NICE YOUNG MAN: Good. He’d wait until his wife was out of the way…….

ROB: Wife???


7) ATTENDEE: Do you have a sharpie or some kind of marker?

ROB: Not on me, but I might be able to find one for you.

ATTENDEE: Good. I am at table 13, but I am not comfortable with that, so I need the Sharpie to make it into table 18.

ROB: Um….

8) (during a film presentation)
ATTENDEE: Could you turn on the lights?

ROB: Well……

ATTENDEE: I’m afraid of the dark.

You Have Not Really Lived In New York Until…

It occurred to me that I have been living here in Manhattan since 2003. I’ve seen friends come and go, and then come back. Made me start thinking what you need to complete your residency in New York City. In other words, you haven’t really lived here until you have to your credit:

1: A Shitty Apartment Story:
Preferably a place you, personally, lived, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be a friend’s apartment, too, as long as you spent a significant amount of time there.
It has to be perfectly wretched, considered a barely habitable slum anywhere else in the US.
Some good elements might include:
A: A rodent problem. Even better they are large and you can hear them in the walls. Better yet if they are smart and aggressive.
B: An insect problem. Bonus points if extermination is a Sisyphean task.
C: Plumbing problems, especially ones that require you to be creative in your day to day ablutions.
E: Electrical Problems, even better if it results in a shock or electric fire.
F: Illegal activity in the common areas or neighboring apartment.
G: Roommates from hell.
H: Your creative solution to a physical problem. Stories of MacGyvery.
I: A psychotic landlord/manager
J: A shifty or useless super
K: A colorful description of how utterly filthy, gritty, grimy, dark, grim, redolent and horrid it was.
L: Nostalgia about how much you loved the place.

2: A Gross Grocery Store Story:
This story CANNOT include a national chain, not that NYC has many of those. To wit: No Shop Rite, No Stop & Shop, No Food Emporium, No Trader Joes (how could you find fault with TJs anyway?), and absolutely, positively NO WHOLE FOODS!
The one exception to this rule is C-Town, because they’re they’re inherently crappy in or out of NYC.
Associated, Dagostino, or Gristedes reluctantly tolerated.
Of course you can use the bodega on the corner!
Some good elements might include:
A: Grossly marked up prices on substandard products.
B: Grimy, grubby, pestillential and filthy conditions.
C: Long expired food. Bonus points if it is meat or dairy.
D: Rusty, rickety, poorly aligned, mismatched shopping carts “borrowed” from other grocery stores. Bonus points if it has a big, orange Home Depot Cart (especially if the nearest Home Depot is seven miles away and across a bridge)
E: A paranoid owner/manager.
F: A mangy mascot (dog, cat, or goat) wandering around the store.
G: An intoxicated bum who wanders around the store and constantly shakes customers down for handouts.
H: A robbery.
I: How you complained bitterly about the store, yet continued to shop there.

3: A Bum/Pervert Story:
This story cannot be about someone who is simply homeless/down on their luck. It cannot be simply about panhandling. It has to evoke disgust, not pity.
This has to be about someone who is doing something so socially unacceptable or disgusting it warrants a story.
Some good elements might include:
A: Perverted behavior: Flashing, groping, indecent exposure. Can run the gamut from amusingly gross to downright creepy.
B: Creating unsanitary conditions with no regard to modesty or decorum.
C: Inappropriate conversations either with you, someone else, or an imaginary being.
D: Either drunk or sober.

4: A Job From Hell Story:
This can’t simply be a story about a job you would rather not be doing in favor of a job you wish you had. The world is full of those. This job has to be about a job so bizarrely awful that “Dear Lord, what have I gotten Myself Into?” is your mantra every day at work.
Good elements may include:
A: An insane, abusive or sociopathic boss.
B: Obnoxious, insufferable, creepy, obtuse or just plain weird co-workers. Bonus points for crackpot conspiracy theorists, brown-nosers, or lunch thieves. Extra bonus points for stories of embezzlement, or revenge.
C: Your bafflingly horrible tasks and duties or your disgusting work environment.
D: A colorful description of your last day. Bonus points if you got fired, or told them to take the job and shove it.

5: A NYC Disaster Story:
NYC is pretty well prepared for a lot of things, but every now and then the city gets blindsided. Recently we’ve had Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and a few pretty intense blizzards. We had the transit strike of 2006. We had the Blackout of 2003. Good rule of thumb is if it has a name or title: e.g. “Hurricane Sandy” or the “2003 Blackout”, it is good fodder for a story.
Good elements may include:
A: What you were doing when it went down.
B: How it affected you. Did you lose power? Were you stranded? How long? Where were you inte city?
D: How you coped. Did you have to light candles? Sternos? Get creative with food? Hunt rats?
E: How you spent your affected days? Did you get drunk? Hole up and play games? Have sex? Socialize?
G: Were you able to help someone else? How you helped them?
H: Did you make a friend? Start a relationship? Conceive a child?

6: Some bonus things may be:
A: A date from hell story
B: Wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but a getting mugged story.
C: A stranded story: How you were stuck at point A, needed to get to point B and couldn’t.
D: A story about how you met your love.
E: A story about how you got your drunk friend home, or how a friend got drunken you home.
F: A story so bizarre and off-the-wall everybody thinks you made it up.

Selling your Grandmother’s Wig off her Head

MARY: I don’t know if I could work in sales again; in some cases you have to be willing to sell your grandmother’s wig off her head.

ROB: Is that an expression, or did you just make it up?

MARY: What?

ROB: Selling your grandmother’s wig. That’s hilarious. I’m using it.

MARY: I just made it up. Off the top of my head.

ROB: Ha ha. I’m stealing it.

MARY: Maybe your sleeping grandmother’s wig….

ROB: Nah, why would she be wearing her wig while sleeping?

MARY: True.

ROB: Maybe your old, 98 year old, osteoporotic, walker-bound grandmother’s wig. While she’s on her way to church.

MARY: And sell it back to her. At twice the price!

ROB: What a wretched picture that conjures up!

Pee the Change You Want to See in the World!

Peeing makes things happen for you. It’s what makes change in the world.
For example, if you are in a restaurant, and you are waiting for your food, go pee. When you get back from the bathroom, the food will be on the table.
If you are making spaghetti, and need the water to boil before you put the spaghetti in, go pee. When you come back, you’ll have a nice rolling boil, all ready for the pasta.

If you are in the airport, and you are waiting for your plane to start boarding, go pee. Have your boarding pass out and ready when you get out of the bathroom, because it will be time to get on the plane!

If your wifi goes out and you reset your router, go pee. It will be internet ready before the toilet is flushed.

In fact, the next time someone asks you a question that begins with, “When will…….?”

Your answer should be, “After you pee!”

If you want the next step to happen, whatever it is, pee. That is the magic button. Everybody thinks Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

They misheard him.

He actually said:
“Pee the change you want to see in the world!”

See, he knew!

PS: You can also use this to your advantage. If there is something you need to do, and somebody asks you the “When will…..” question and you give the requisite answer, use the time they are in the bathroom to buy yourself time to do the task. Or use it to escape. Or lock them in the bathroom.

The Incredible Polydactyl Woman

On the subway today:
The woman across from me was wearing flip-flops and has six toes on each foot.
I did a double take to see if I miscounted, but, nope: six toes!
Each toe was a fully formed toe, complete with a manicured toe nail.
Moreover, her big toenails had blue nail polish, the other ten toenails were painted green.
Her ten “little toes” looked a little crowded on the flip-flops, but other than that it looked surprisingly normal.
I know it’s not polite to stare at people, even their feet (and I’m sure she has gotten flak for her twelve toes), but I had to discreetly do a few double-takes and recounts to ensure my eyes weren’t messing with me. They weren’t. Twelve toes.
You have to give her credit for rocking the look, though!

The Other Tosca


Dreamed I was in a small theatre, watching a production of Tosca. Something seemed odd about this performance. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but it just seemed “off”.

So we get to the scene with Scarpia and Tosca, and as I’m watching Scarpia, I realize he’s following a whole different score. Different text, different music, different staging. It was almost comical, and very, very random. I am trying to follow what’s going on, but I can’t reconcile it.

So there is an old lady next to me and I whisper to her;

ROB: What is this?

OLD LADY: This is the “other Tosca”.

ROB: What other Tosca? There is no other Tosca.

OLD LADY: There is now.

ROB: Why?

OLD LADY: Because YOU didn’t bother to learn your role!

Well, I try to continue to watch the “Other Tosca”. But Scarpia was so ridiculously goofy, almost bordering on slapstick, I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking,”Who IS this clown???”
It was really unsettling. Finally, I decided to leave, but who walks out mid performance? And the act was bloody endless.

Then I woke up.

The Nasty Clowns of Pagliacci

ROB: A friend of mine is directing Pagliacci!

COLLEAGUE A: What’s Pagliacci?

ROB: An opera.

COLLEAGUE: What’s it about?

OTHER COLLEAGUE: Nasty clowns.

ROB: Well, sort of…blah blah blah………..Leoncavallo………..verisimo………Comedia del’ Arte…..plot…… etc
blah blah blah blah

COLLEAGUE: Oh. Sounds like a bunch of nasty clowns.