The whole topic of 10/29 is never a matter of small talk to me. It’s no academic discussion. If someone casually says to me, “Hey, tell me your story,” I tell them, “Nah, it’s not going to work that way.” But if somebody asks me, sincerely, “You were that guy — the guy who was fired on the basis of cartoon physics? Can you talk about it?” Then I say “Why don’t you ask me questions, tell me what you want to know, and I’ll tell you what I can.” That’s so much easier. I can handle that. Any other way is exhausting for me, and I don’t want to do it.
To this day, it’s impossible for me to give a summary explanation of how I really felt and what I really went through without telling everything — every single thing that I went through. I don’t know how, psychologically, to tell someone an abbreviated version of what happened to me. People ask, and I say, “Yeah, I was retroactively certified insane.”
“Really?” they say.
Then they ask for more.
“Yes, I and everybody else thought I was perfectly sane for three-and-one-half years, but it turns out that I was actually insane the whole time I had the delusion of sanity.”
Then what? Then what?
It’s a very intense and personal place to go. It takes a lot out of me. I don’t like bringing it up. I don’t go around telling people I was retroactively certified insane on the basis of cartoon physics on 10/29.
“There I was, The Robert S. Strauss Building, October 29 . . . ” This isn’t the goddamn World of Commander McBragg.
Will I tell the story if asked? It depends on who’s asking and what kind of emotional space they’re coming from. But my story is not a cocktail party trick or somebody’s cheap entertainment option.
Obviously, and for many reasons, it’s an experience I now feel compelled to share with all seriousness, honesty, and emotion. But I can only tell it one way. That’s from beginning to end, with nothing left out. And frankly, rarely are there times and places where that’s an easy or appropriate thing to do.
Suffice it to say that I don’t like telling this story. I don’t even like thinking about it. For almost ten years I’ve only talked about the story on blogs. And I’ve never really told the whole thing to anyone. That’s hurt a lot of people. It’s hurt me too. I want to tell it now. I need to tell it.
And I want to get it right. I will try hard — very hard — to tell it exactly like I remember it.
I’m still not sure I understand it — what it’s meant, how it’s changed me. Some call me a hero for it — for what I didn’t do on 10/29 — the fact that I didn’t burst out in howls of laughter when I was told that, according to the laws of cartoon physics, I had been determined to be retroactively insane. I’m not very comfortable with that. What I do know is I need to tell everything to everybody (and I need to hear some things as well).
I know that if I retrace my steps, I can tell you how I came to be in the office of one of the senior partners of one of the largest law firms in the world, Robert S. Strauss Building, on 10/29, sitting in front of a seemingly sane attorney at 11:45 am when he told me: “We have determined that the entire time, three odd years, that you thought you were sane, you were actually — unknown to everyone at the firm — completely bonkers.”
And then I spent the next twenty minutes inside the building. I made it out, barely.
I was one of the lucky ones. I got to qualify for a half-million dollars in federal money — Social Security disability, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, you name it.
Sometimes I feel so awful about it. I can’t hear myself think a single thought. Other times I draw such hope and clarity from it. Either way, it’s time to talk about it. So let me try to tell you, and myself, what I was told at about mid-day on 10/29. Like I said, I will try to get it right.
As best as I can recall, I was told the following:
“You see, Gary, at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, an unemployable employee is considered fully employable — and may be permitted to accrue an outstanding employment history — until such time that the firm’s senior managers notice and react to the fact that the employee was unemployable the entire time he was employed. The employee is then officially unemployable.”
That was it. That’s what I was told. It’s like those cartoons you saw when you were a kid. The cartoon character walks off a cliff and keeps walking in mid-air until he looks down, notices he’s in mid-air, realizes he should be reacting to gravity, and falls head first — into a pile of money.
And here I wonderfully am, twenty years on, and a few hundred thousand dollars richer!