The Most Humiliating Event in my Semi-Public Life. It is Not This Blog.


The Pathwise Logo, circa 1997

There is always a moment or two of panic. With every new blog, there is the worry that no one will read or respond to it. That fear leads to moments of hesitation before I hit the “Publish” button, and another when I send word of the new post to my mailing list (you can join the mailing list down below.) Then there is the concern that a blog doesn’t belong on a Facebook page, that the post will be mocked, or even worse, ignored. Fortunately, nothing like that has ever happened. Nothing I have written has ever gone viral, but on the other hand with almost every blog someone tells me it’s their favorite piece. So I have never been truly embarrassed on the digital pages of ChicagoNow.

My other public ventures have been pretty much red-faced free too. While I may have asked some naive questions early in my tenure on the local school board, and probably later in my tenure too, I don’t think I ever really embarrassed myself. And the commencement addresses I gave as President of the Board were generally well received, even the year I opened with the history of our dog, Max. Eventually, even that speech had a point, and people seemed to get it. I was also careful to never trip any of the graduates coming on stage to get their diploma and shake my hand.

My TV appearances have been less than fully satisfying (second place finishes never are) but not a total humiliation. Lots of people don’t know how to spell Navratilova or might confuse the University of Iowa with Iowa State University. At least I knew that T.S. Eliot won a posthumous Tony Award for Cats. And my onstage appearance at DisneyWorld playing a newscaster during the Gorbachev-Reagan years? I carried it off with aplomb, successfully broadcasting my “He wanted to see the Russian Dressing” line.

So where have I stumbled and landed flat on my face? Let’s go back to the mid 1990’s. The Internet was just beginning to rock. I created a small business, almost a hobby,  called Pathwise, “translating” diagnostic biopsy reports into plain English for people who wanted to understand their results. I had a website, a toll-free number, and even a publicist. He did a good job getting feature articles for Pathwise in a few ladies magazines and Sunday supplements. (Only one of the magazines replaced our phone number in their story with the toll-free number for Gamblers Anonymous.) But he was also the seed of my humiliation.

My publicist decided to list me in a circular of speakers used by radio stations to hunt down speakers for their talk shows. This was at the height of some Clinton health care iniative, and unbeknownst to me I was listed not as a pathologist with a business, but as a healthcare legislation”expert”. And I got bookings! I was the featured guest on two different radio call-in shows, each somewhere in the plains of middle America. On both shows the hosts gave their spiel, I gave mine, and it was clear we were on very different pages as to how we wanted the scheduled half hour to go.

I don’t know how many listeners there were. I don’t know if either of these guys had Arbitron Ratings that could be seen without a microscope. But I do know that the combined number of callers for both shows was Zero. Zilch. Nada. Dead Air. If anyone had been listening I am sure they turned off or tuned out. And if I were the manager of those stations I would have immediately fired whoever booked me as a guest.  Absolute humiliation. That’s why you will never get me as a guest on a radio show or even a podcast again…there is only so much embarrassment a guy can take!
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