Predator or prey? Depends on the jungle

NB – I am doing some stuff from my past at my wife’s behest.  Some commentators like it. But the numbers are down so I don’t know whether to keep it up.  I think it too dated.  Please let me know what you think.  A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice.

He was a small, gentle man.  German or Dutch descent.  Pleasant. I am reminded of him whenever I see David Suchet play Hercule Poirot.  He was a doctor recently arrived at the clinic just before I was hired. He should not have been there.

If I had to hire a janitor or a van driver, I could advertise and take almost any one of the first ten applicants.  Maybe one would be really bad, one would be good enough to search through the pile for but, generally speaking, eight or nine of the applicants could do the job and get along with everyone.  Of course, they brought the usual litany of quirks and weaknesses that accompany all employees but the key word is ‘usual’.  You pretty much knew what you were getting.

Not so, the professionals.

The higher you went up the professional ladder the less likely was the chance that the applicant was one hundred percent and it was almost a guarantee that their quirks and weaknesses were not, in the least, of the usual and normal variant.  Many of the applicants revolving through the doctor’s offices were completely nuts.  Some were addicts.  Many were romantics who saw themselves as heroes — but not for very long.  I always had to hire the least crazy doctor rather than being able to choose the best from a capable bunch.  Doctors Wang, Watterman and a couple of others being very rare exceptions.

Dr. A had been on staff only a month or so when he went off on sick leave.  Fair enough. But pretty quickly that seemed to become a pattern.  Dr. A was only at work maybe two-thirds of the time and it started to become a problem.

“Doc, you okay?  You seem to be missing a lot of time.  Do you want me to help out in some way?”

“No. I’ll be fine.  It’s just nerves.  I am getting more and more anxious.”

“About working here?”

“No.  Yes.  Well, no.  Everything, really.”

I made some more inquiries but he said he was seeing a shrink, on meds and presented well when talking to me.  I felt sorry for him but concluded that he needed a place to come to, his work was generally acknowledged by the other two doctors as good.  They did not complain.  I decided to live with it and take a wait and see approach.

Until one day when the receptionist came in and said, “Dave, Dr. A. came in this morning but has not seen a single patient.  I tried knocking on his door but he won’t answer.  I’m getting worried.  I think you’d better go see him.”

So I went.  I knocked.  Nothing.  I knocked again.  And I repeated that a few times, finally adding my voice and raising it enough to be sure he heard me.

The door opened and there he stood.  Shaking almost uncontrollably. He looked like he had been crying.  As I came in, he recoiled and retreated to his chair.

“Doc, you’re not looking so good.  What’s wrong?”

“I can’t do this.  I have to go.  They are all here because of me.  It’s all my fault.  I have to go.  I have been giving them whatever they want. They threaten me.  They have knives. They are going to hurt me.  I can’t do this anymore.”

The receptionist and I got him calmed down and the story eventually came out.  It seems that he was more than meek, he was a victim walking.  He had ‘kick me’ virtually written all over his face.  I hadn’t seen that.  Neither had the receptionist.  We just saw a small, gentle presence who kind of disappeared.  To be honest, he was there for a few months and, except for that one day of reckoning, I had never really noticed him.

But the local bad guys had seen it like hungry lions see a gazelle. He was just meat to them. They booked appointments specifically with him just because he was so easily intimidated that they could make him write a prescription for whatever they wanted. He was not part of the solution, he was a key part of the problem and he knew it from the start.  In effect, they had turned him into a drug dealer and it was eating him up.

He left, of course.  He went to the hospital to work.  I was hopeful that such a place was secure and supportive enough for him.  I saw him a few years later and he seemed fine but, then again, he had seemed almost fine shortly before his departure from the clinic.

The amazing thing for me, at the time, was firstly how apparent his victimhood was to those whose lives themselves were so immersed in victimhood.  Of course, that may have been the reason I didn’t see it and they did.  It was their culture, not mine.  I began to see the lowest rung of the victim-bully hierarchy in the area.  I could eventually see it just walking down the street.  It was bizarre.  Each person in Skidrow seemed to have a place on the strength/weakness continuum and their status or position was determined by that. And, when you knew how to look, you could see it.  It really was a jungle out there and there were local predators but all were prey to the larger, healthier society that was just a notch up.

If I walked on the Downtown Eastside on a Friday night all alone and even dressed poorly, I would not have been harmed in the least.  I might have been approached but my position would have been immediately deferred to.  Like Pariahs would to Brahmins in the Indian caste system.  I was healthy.  I was young.  And I was clearly not a victim.  I probably could have walked naked and bleeding and still not been seen as a target so long as I had not been weakened too severely.

But some people give off vibes that are somehow attractive to the vultures.  It is all being played out at a primal level and most of us who are not at the bottom do not see it.  And that doctor, despite his credentials, his so-called status, his car, and nice clothes, somehow conveyed a signal that only the lowest of the carrion-eaters could see.  He was roadkill to them.  They hit him hard and apparently they hit him practically from day one. The guy had been intimidated like a sensitive child in a tough neighborhood’s school.

It was a credit to his inner lion, however weak that was, that he would try as long as he did.  But Skidrow is a bona fide dystopia and he wouldn’t have survived it.  In fact, it was killing him.  It was uglier, meaner and stronger than he was. Right across the hall from me, they had almost finished him off in less than a few months and none of us even saw the attack.

11 thoughts on “Predator or prey? Depends on the jungle

  1. Not a simple ‘Yes’ but an unconditional resounding yes. The situations you are writing about are off the radar of many people. In my view this give greater impetus to telling these stories! RG

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  2. Yep. I’ve seen it more times than not in different work environments where bullying and intimidation do hold sway.
    I once told a huge, arrogant, demanding meathead, ” Dont mistake my politeness for weakness or you and I will be going toe to toe and you’ll lose.”
    He wilted.
    I work with in various shipyards now and you can spot the “weak” people a mile away. Usually alone, zero eye contact, silent, unsmiling, scared……
    What a way to go to work every day….as if work isnt bad enough.
    Its easy to spot the bullies. They curse and yell….a lot. I usually stop them with a withering stare, and the painfully obvious comment, ” Why are you yelling….i’m not f**king deaf….”
    But then there are the truely crazy ones that are in another world entirely.
    I cant save everyone and some people just shouldnt be working in situations like that because you cant baby sit someone for their entire shift.
    Life IS a jungle and I’m afraid that our politically correct, non confrontational fuzzy wuzzy way of raising kids today is going to keep psychoanalists and pharmacists busy for decades to come…….Helicopter parents cant save them all the time.

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    • Primal still holds a lot of sway. And yet, most don’t think it does. Which just makes it easier for predators to victimize. Crazy. We think we have evolved and, I suppose, in many ways we have. But a crazy, mean psychopath makes everyone afraid. Because it SHOULD. We know instinctively that police and law and rules and social conventions are less than skin deep but it seems we have to scrape away something for that instinct to show up. Even if that guy found a supportive environment, his life (as you say) must be hell. He’s the one that gets trampled in a crowd, bullied by a tough, belittled by women and taunted by kids. And, I can’t honestly say it is his fault. He just seemed built for it.

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  3. I haven’t given up on you, but the housekeeping thing didn’t work out. The moose steaks are all gone and I find I have an affinity for dusting. I miss her though.

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    • Hell, after the anticipation. I miss her as well. This gal knows how to ‘leave em wanting more’.
      If she waits much longer you’ll have the place spic and span. Brilliant!

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