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Playing with Yourself:
Stroking the Ego

BY RICH HERSCHLAG
05.29.2006 | SOCIETY

In January, during a visit to Albany, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed Edward Greenwood from his $27,000-a-year government clerical job. Greenwood's offense? Leaving a game of solitaire displayed on his computer monitor. Looks like Greenwood wasn't the only one playing with himself.

From various accounts, it appears the matter was handled fairly and judiciously. There was a charge, a hearing, a trial, and a verdict, all before Edward Greenwood got back from the errand Bloomberg had sent him on. That's what they call running government like a business. In this case, that business would be the mob.

Opinions in the matter vary. But in an era where poker has replaced baseball as the national pastime, how shocked can we be to see playing cards on a screen? We could perhaps understand if it was porn, but reports out of Albany indicate that neither the jack, nor queen, nor king was wearing a thong. In 2006, we would expect Gunslinger Girls or Grand Theft Auto. Basically, Edward Greenwood is employee of the month.

The real story here, however, may be the alleged sanity of Michael R. Bloomberg. When he ran Bloomberg Media, even the most polite, formal resignations were not accepted graciously. Departing for parenthood was unconscionable. Jumping ship for another firm was treason. Even death as a basis for a leave of absence was viewed as suspect, though it was occasionally granted. Today, as lame duck mayor, Mike's Napoleon complex is in full bloom. He needs to get back on the medication and save the bully routine for landlords, the Legislature, and Larry Silverstein.

These days, unfortunately, practically every aging billionaire you run into thinks he's Donald Trump. Suddenly, megalomaniacs everywhere need to hear themselves say "You're fired" just to remember they're alive. Particularly dangerous are thin-skinned moguls insulated from the day-to-day grind and looking for a quick fix of hands-on management. They often acquire a Nero-like capriciousness, whereby a random act of empowered cruelty behaves like Viagra for the ego. Should you happen to spot someone from upper, upper, upper level management trying to get in the game for a few minutes, duck. Next thing you know, they'll be landing on a flight deck in a jumpsuit and proclaiming "Mission accomplished."

Which should raise not simply a personality or lifestyle issue but a global issue. With far right American lunatics still boycotting French fries, few on this side of the Atlantic will admit that when it comes to the workplace, the Europeans have us soundly beat. Not only do we not enjoy the siesta-In the land of the free and the home of the brave, we're not even allowed a siesta of the mind. That 15-minute cerebral pit stop may render us twice as alert and productive for the following three hours. But the suits would rather have your brain engaged like a flywheel than treat it like the living organism it is.

What if, per chance, a half-hour "Leave it to Beaver" rerun and a bowl of Cheerios for Bruce Banner mid-morning yields The Hulk the rest of the day? Some version of that seemed to work for me. That's how I wound up an independent consultant. No one except the NSA needs to know the gory details of my down time.

When long ago I worked for the City of New York, they weren't too crazy about Nick at Nite, especially during the day. But few if any clients today are aware that the engineering designs I provide are gestated amid Entourage DVDs and Subways footlongs. If the inspiration for supporting a four-foot cantilever with a laminated wooden truss happens to come while cranking Led Zeppelin bootlegs in the bathtub, whose business is it anyway? If the structure fails, they'll let me know.

But now, thankfully, there is hope for the Edward Greenwoods of the world. In April, Administrative Law Judge John Spooner handed down a ruling that surfing the net on the job is like glancing at a newspaper. The ruling was the result of a challenge by Toquir Choudhri, a 14-year veteran of the New York City Department of Education who was canned for browsing a few news and travel sites.

So c'mon, Mike, shuffle the deck. Before you are embarrassed again, show us you can impersonate a human being. Bring back Ed. This is an office we're talking about, not Buckingham Palace, and it's not like the guy was smoking or anything. You can't blame the dude for needing a little break. At $27,000 a year, he probably had to moonlight as an exotic dancer. So no hard feelings, Mr. Mayor. Your blind trust makes $27,000 in the time it takes Edward Greenwood to free a downcard.

With Greenwood in Albany once again serving you coffee, there will be nothing to fear that your food taster can't handle. And you'll always be secure in the knowledge that no matter what liberties he may have taken, Edward Greenwood will never be like Mike. If he were, he would have bought his job back.

About the Author
Rich Herschlag is the author of a new book, Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times Into Home Runs (HCI, 2007). His other books include Lay Low and Don't Make the Big Mistake (Simon & Schuster, 1997) and Women Are From Manhattan, Men Are From Brooklyn (Black Maverick, 2002).

Also an engineer, he runs a consulting business, Turnkey Structural, that specializes in the rehabilitation of residential and commercial buildings. Also a radio commentator, he can be visited at RichsRant.com.

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