“Hey Tony, what’s with the suit? Got a dentist appointment?”
The words drifted across the cubicle wall and caught me by surprise. They took me back nearly a quarter century and I started laughing.
“Rodney, it’s not THAT funny.”
“Any idea where that reference comes from, Sam?”
“You mean calling a potential job interview a dentist appointment? Not really.”
As most readers know, I started my career with WordPerfect Corporation in 1988. “That’s Where It All Began.” I was 23, newly married with a baby on the way. At the time, WordPerfect was one of the biggest software companies in the world. Sure, I was a support engineer, but this was a real job. I got paid holidays! And health insurance; dental even. And I might even get business cards if I got picked to attend a trade show.
I first started working when I was 15 years old, as a stable boy. I’ve been a delivery boy (where I got “The Biggest Raise I Ever Received.”) I’ve been a telephone technician, gopher in a custom cabinet making shop and done my time in fast food. But, WordPerfect was a career. It was a REAL job.
I started going by Rodney rather than Rod, as my friends and family still call me. And even though WordPerfect’s dress code was casual, I wore a tie, even with blue jeans for the first six months I worked there. I desperately wanted to be seen as a businessman, rather than a kid.
During my college years at BYU I’d signed up for the college health plan. But, the Health Center didn’t do dental work. It’s a given that if you don’t have health insurance you don’t go to the doctor and if you don’t have dental insurance you don’t go to the dentist. Your teeth can take a lot of abuse before they get to the point that you HAVE to take care of them. A friend told me that most people in the Middle Ages eventually died of teeth related issues. Not sure if it’s true, but I do know that my teeth were in bad shape.
One of the first things I did after signing my WordPerfect employment contract was to search out a dentist. Remember, that I really craved to be seen as a professional. I scheduled my dentist appointment for Wednesday afternoon, after my shift on phones was done. I decided to wear a suit. Not for my coworkers, but with the hope that it would improve the dentist’s impression of me.
“So, Rodney, what’s with the suit?”
“I have a dentist appointment.”
“No, really, you can tell me. Are you applying for a job in testing?”
“No, really, I have a dentist appointment.”
“Uh huh. Okay. You don’t want to tell me, I understand.”
In some ways WordPerfect corporate culture was weird and one of the ways it was weird was that you never, NEVER told anyone you were interested in a job. I knew several people who lost jobs because their manager or a coworker found out they were applying. So, the idea that I would hide my job interview with a dentist appointment was not surprising. Except, of course, I really DID have a dentist appointment.
The news from the dentist wasn’t good: Multiple cavities on both sides of my mouth and two root canals.
“We’re going to be seeing a lot of each other, Mr. Bliss.”
Did you see that? He called me MISTER Bliss!
“We’ll see you back here next Wednesday to get started on the cavities. Figure on the next two to three weeks and then we’ll schedule the root canals. Because they are on opposite sides of your mouth, we’ll have to do them on separate days.”
The following Wednesday, I showed up to work in a suit.
“Hey Rodney, another ‘dentist appointment’ this afternoon?”
Many hiring managers schedule follow-up interviews a week apart.
And so it went. For the next two months I showed up to work in a suit at least once every couple of weeks. By now, people on other teams were trying to figure out what was going on as well. People were watching as I left to see if I headed for my car or whether I headed up the hill to the development and testing buildings.
No one, not even my own brother, believed that I was actually spending that much time at the dentist. NO ONE has teeth that bad. They were all waiting to catch me slipping up.
Except that since I really was going to the dentist all those days, I never changed my story. And since I remained in my support job, they assumed I must have failed the interview. I have to admit, by the end I was enjoying the truthful deception.
Fast forward to 2013. I spent much of my career outside of Utah. However, I’ve moved back and this current company has a lot of people from WordPerfect and from Novell which bought WordPerfect shortly after I left in 1993. In many ways, Utah is still a small-town type of state.
I laughed to think that my poor teeth 25 years ago had spawned an entry in the Utah urban dictionary.
I still wear a suit every time I have a dentist appointment.