CHAPTER TWELVE: Fat Ted
During the summer after my college graduation, I worked the door at an Irish bar in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. Every night I would stand at the entrance and check the IDs of the people lined up to get inside. Many of them were Irish kids who were working there for the season and must have been a little homesick for the native music.
One night a big car with darkened windows pulled into the parking lot of the bar. Two men in suits got out of the front seat and approached me at my post at the door, brushing by the long line of Irish kids waiting impatiently to get inside.
“Are you in charge here?” One of them asked me officiously.
“Well . . .” I hesitated, thinking that they might be agents from the state beverage control commission. A lot of those Irish kids were underage, so sometimes I would see the same passport four times from four different girls trying to get in, and I wasn’t always that rigorous about enforcing the rules, particularly if they were cute. I was twenty-one at the time and a lot of those girls seemed pretty cute to me.
“Yeah, well I am working the door here, so . . .,” I finally answered, trying to keep it as vague as possible.
“Great. We need your help. We’re going to bring the senator in now and we need to make sure that there won’t be any problems.”
Relieved that I wasn’t in trouble, I didn’t have to ask who they were talking about. There was only one “senator” who might be visiting an Irish bar on a hot summer night in Hyannis Port in 1985.
I told the Irish kids at the front of the line to push back a few feet while the suits opened the back door of the car to bring the great man around. When he walked past me to go through the door, I noticed something about him that didn’t quite come through on television—the senator was pretty fat. But that didn’t put me off. Or any of the Irish kids. In fact, we all cheered for him as he entered the bar. He was a hero to us.
Like most people in Massachusetts, I had voted for the senator in 1982, even though he had left a girl to die in six feet of water thirteen years earlier. It had been the first election in which I had been eligible to vote, and the senator talked like a man who had principles, the kind of principles that appealed to my eighteen-year-old mind. That was all it really took for me at the time because I was too immature to realize how cheap talk is when a man’s actions tell you all you need to know about his character.
Ten years later, a sergeant was assigned as the senior enlisted man to my unit in the Army. He was a fat guy, not fat like the senator, but fat for the military. One of my other sergeants, a fit guy, told me I should do whatever I had to do to stop the assignment.
“Why,” I asked him. “Is there bad blood between you two?”
“No sir,” he responded. “I barely know him.”
“Then why are you so opposed to him?”
“Because he’s fat. A fat guy will always place his personal comfort above the needs of the unit. If a guy doesn’t believe that his own fitness is important, he won’t believe in anything.” My fit sergeant said.
I didn’t act on my fit sergeant’s advice, for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t think there was much I could do about it, personnel assignments being outside of my control. Second, I wasn’t sure he was right about fat guys. And third (although it would be years before I realized this about myself), I had an unfounded and exaggerated belief in my own ability to influence men. I thought I could turn this fat sergeant into a fit sergeant. I saw it as a leadership challenge.
I should have listened to my fit sergeant. Whether or not I could have done anything about it I still should have tried, because he was right about the fat sergeant. Although he was good at hiding it, he did place his own personal comfort above all else and despite my best efforts I had no impact on him. He was who he was, a Fat Ted. Like the senator, he talked like a man with principles but when put to the test it was clear that he didn’t truly believe in what he said.
Some reading this may think I’m grinding an axe about obesity or politics, but that’s not my point at all. “Fat” in terms of a Fat Ted only means a pattern of personal misconduct that is both self-interested and un-fit. Obesity is an obvious example, but all men (including me) are subject to a particular self-interested pattern of misconduct and always have been because nothing changes under the sun. Left unchecked, self-interest will devolve into un-fitness and that will lead you to leave your loved ones unprotected. It always does.
Nor do I care about politics one way or another. There are just as many self-interested and un-fit men on the right side of the political aisle as there are on the left. If I was working at a bar in Oklahoma rather than Massachusetts when I was twenty-one, this chapter would probably have a different name.
My point is that all groups have Fat Teds in the same way that they have Orists and Andists. Where an Andist holds only a few essential beliefs that he cannot compromise, the Orist considers all his beliefs to be essentials that he will not compromise. But the Fat Ted is neither Andist nor Orist—he is man devoid of any essential beliefs. For him, anything can and will be compromised in the name of his personal comfort because he is a man who believes in nothing but himself.
At Chappaquiddick, a man with Three Dots would have died trying to rescue Mary Jo Kopechne from that shallow water before they quit. Only a Fat Ted, a man without any essential beliefs or values, could simply walk away to live the rest of his days without shame, knowing he had placed his own comfort above the life of a suffocating young woman.
Now, thirty years removed from ignoring my fit sergeant’s advice, I find myself as a trial lawyer. When I pick a jury, I keep it simple. I look for the Andists because they are the kind of people who can put aside their own biases long enough to reach a just verdict. It doesn’t matter to me if they agree with my side at the outset of the trial if they can keep an open mind long enough to hear all the evidence. I just need them to be open to persuasion.
I try to eliminate the Orists for the same reason. An Orist might be predisposed toward my client, but if he isn’t there is little that I will be able to do to convince him to change his mind. Unlike the Andist, the mind of the Orist is closed tightly around his own predetermined beliefs. His fellow jurors might outvote him, but I am unlikely to persuade him, at least not over the few days that the average trial lasts.
In my effort to stock the jury with Andists and weed out the Orists I don’t worry about the Fat Teds at all. I know that their primary motivation during deliberations will be to keep them short so that they can go home. As a result, they are likely to vote with the majority regardless of what they really think—if they think anything at all.
Because jury pools are randomly selected from the population, they give you a decent view as to the relative distribution of Andists, Orists and Fat Teds among us. Orists are in the minority. They exist at the skinny ends of every group. Fat Teds are the majority because most people are primarily concerned with their personal comfort. In The Middle are the Andists. If I can get four of them on a jury of twelve, I have a shot a just verdict. But if they are
outnumbered by the Orists, it’s a crapshoot. The Fat Teds don’t matter, they are grey men.
It’s the same crapshoot in which the Minivan Centurion finds himself within his community. He knows that the Orists are in the minority, even though they generally make the most noise. He also knows that he must do everything he can to stay in the fight and hold The Middle with the other Minivan Centurions. When the Splitter sends evil to Freedom’s Park, these will be the men who will lock shields to defend against it.
Finally, he also knows better than to rely upon or fear the Fat Teds in this fight, because they are beyond anybody’s ability to influence. Even though they sound like they are saying all the right (or wrong) things, they are only yard sign utopians who may post a list of their “firmly held beliefs” in their front yard but will never sacrifice a single thing in their furtherance.
A time will eventually come when they will be forced to choose—and they will choose nothing but themselves.