True Stories from the 20th Century at Pacificorp
By J. Charles Cheek1
© April 2005
Louie Dyer, Don Martin and I Quit Smoking – Briefly
Every organization, from the Cub Scouts and Brownies through big corporations and big government, has at least one memorable character. In the engineering arm of Pacific Power & Light Company that character was Louie Dyer.
I used to tease Louie occasionally and ask him how it felt to have been born in the sub basement of the Public Service Building, the 15-story headquarters office building located at 920 SW 6th Avenue in Portland, Oregon. He was fresh out of high school and barely 18 years old when he was hired as a clerk trainee in the accounting department. He was proud of his longevity with the company and when we each took the early-out offer effective August 1, 1990 he had been working there nearly 40 years. I was six months short of 30 years so I got to select from the company’s retirement gift selection for 25 years. I had the choice of a set of Browning golf clubs or a Browning pump shotgun. Since I have an old shotgun that hadn’t been fired for 25 years I selected the golf clubs even though I didn’t know how to play golf. But I digress; this story is not about golf.
Sometimes it was fun to feed Dyer a straight line. “Hey, Dyer. How does it feel to have been born in the subbasement here?”
Dyer was a master at ad-libbing cutting remarks. “Great, Cheek, because you weren’t there to stink up the place.”
Dyer had a lot of one liners and sometimes they could be cruel humor. Carl Hoffman, Treasurer, was very proud of the new conference room he had finally got built on the accounting floor after many years of failed budget requests. Carl had been in the German Air Force during World War II then came to the United States after the war. He went to school while working at PP&L as an accounting clerk, got his accounting degree and subsequent CPA ticket. At the lunch table one day Carl told us his conference room had just been finished the day before and he’d be pleased to show it to us. A half dozen of us followed Carl to his new conference room.
While looking around the ceiling of the room Dyer said quizzically, “Carl, where are the shower heads?” Now that’s cruel humor! Hoffman didn’t speak to him for a couple of months. But again I digress, this is a story about quitting smoking. Dyer became the self appointed leader of a few of us that “took the cure” during a company sponsored quit smoking course led by a hypnotist.
Sometime during the mid-1980s the company established a program to help employees quit smoking. One of the methods they would pay for was led by a hypnotist. Dyer led the effort to recruit the required minimum number necessary to have the hypnotist teach his quit-smoking course at the Public Service Building. He signed up over a dozen of us, enrolled us in the class and obtained written instructions from the hypnotist as to how we were to behave in the few days prior to beginning the class. Basically, the instructions were to savor each cigarette and get prepared for the next one to possibly be the last we’d smoke.
Dyer, Don Martin, and myself were from engineering and the others were from other departments. Don was the savvy manager of the electrical systems planning section and an interesting character. One cold day in December while I was visiting Don in his office it began to snow. Large golf ball size fluffy snowflakes fell leisurely past his 8th floor office window. “Look at that,” said Don, “The big executives on the 15th floor must be molting. Look at all the turkey feathers falling.” But again I digress.
Written instructions from the hypnotist said we could have as many cigarettes as we wanted on the last day of smoking right up to the start of the class at 5:30pm. Dyer, Martin and I met at 5:00 and chain-smoked until time to go into the auditorium on the mezzanine and begin the class. Truth be known, we had each smoked twice as much as usual for the entire day. Maybe that is some sort of psychological attempt to store up nicotine for the future.
We took our seats in the front row of the auditorium and awaited the man with the hypnotic wand. My lips felt dry. I thought about getting up and leaving until I glanced at Dyer who nodded and smiled confidently. To my dismay a rather ordinary looking fellow in a business suit soon appeared and introduced himself as our instructor. I was disappointed. He reminded me of one of those consultants that top management hired every 10 years or so to spend several days asking employees how the work could be done more efficiently, then write a report and sell that information back to the top executives. I always thought that the top executives could have interviewed the employees themselves and saved all those big bucks spent on the consultants. Perhaps they could have used a golf day or two for the interviews. I understand some big important deals are struck on the golf course, perhaps with expensive consultants from out of town who perform efficiency studies in large corporations. But there I go again, digressing.
Actually, I needed to smoke a cigarette to calm my disappointment. I was expecting to see someone dressed like Amazing Claude, the world class hypnotist that did amazing group hypnotism. Claude’s first show at the Broadway Theater in New York City is legend in the world of hypnotic tales. Claude swept onto the stage of the 1752-seat theater dressed in a flowing black robe trimmed in red. From a gold necklace around his neck hung a gold pocket watch. He looked like an oriental mystic. Not a seat was empty. It was Claude’s first show in New York and his reputation had preceded him. Everyone in the full house was awaiting his amazing performance. He raised both arms toward the full house, symbolically embraced each person and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight you are going to be astonished for I am going to hypnotize all of you.” The audience fidgeted nervously as Claude removed his necklace and began to swing the pocket watch slowly back and forth.
“Watch the watch, watch the watch. This beautiful antique watch has been handed down to me through five generations of my family.” He continued to swing the watch slowly while saying, “Watch the watch.” Soon, everyone in the audience was swaying slowly back and forth. Suddenly, the watch slipped from Claude’s grip, fell to the stage floor and broke into several pieces. “Crap,” yelled out Claude disgustingly. The hypnotized audience reacted immediately. It took a crew of ten workers three days to clean up the theater. Back to the tale at hand.
Well now, where was I with the quit smoking story? Oh, yes the hypnotist in the business suit. He proceeded to remind us that we’d just had our last cigarette. Dyer, Martin and I exchanged panicked glances. I was disappointed that he didn’t swing a watch or wand or something. He just started saying, “Close your eyes. You are each getting sleepy and soon you’ll be hypnotized. Just relax. Sleep, sleep, sleep. Think of the sounds of the ocean. Waves are rolling in. Hear the surf. Sleep. Sleep. I glanced around and Dyer and Martin were already under. I smiled and suppressed a laugh. The hypnotist scowled at me so I closed my eyes again. I thought, This is a bunch of bull pucky but I’ll go along with it. I never succumbed to the hypnotism even though I did want to quit smoking.
After the session, Dyer bought a cassette tape from the hypnotist. The only thing on the tape was the sound of the surf at the ocean. Listening to it periodically while making a humming sound was supposed to be calming and suppress the urge to smoke a cigarette.
The next day I told Dyer at the morning coffee break that my urge to smoke was occurring less often. “Yeah,” he responded and robbed me of the punch line, “now you’re only thinking about having a cigarette every fifteen seconds instead of ten. Right?” However, both Dyer and Martin claimed that they didn’t have the urge to smoke anymore. I was impressed for it was driving me nuts. I though about having a smoke every fifteen seconds or so. At the lunch table in the cafeteria on the mezzanine Dyer and Martin were still acting calm and cured, then again at the afternoon coffee break. I was really impressed for I was having terrible withdrawal symptoms – stomach feeling upset, dry lips, and overall nervousness.
As the time neared five I was even more nervous and almost panicky. I impulsively decided to go to Dyer’s office and listen to the tape. Maybe that would calm me down so I could live through the night without a smoke. I hurried up the stairs from the 7th floor to the 8th floor and headed for Dyer’s office. His door was closed so I asked executive secretary, Winnie Greene, if Dyer was in. “Yes, he’s in his office with Don Martin,” she replied. I stepped briskly to his door and quietly opened it. There sat Dyer and Martin with their eyes closed and humming while the surf tape played in the background.
“The gigs up,” I said. “You guys are suffering as much as I am.”
“Okay,” responded Dyer, “Sit down and join us in the humming.” I sat down and joined them in the humming foolishness. After a few minutes, Dyer shut off the tape, reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, took one and put it in his mouth. Then he offered one to Martin and myself.
And that my friends is how Louie Dyer, Don Martin and I almost quit smoking.
1 Mr. Cheek has written dozens short stories under the general headings of True Stores from the 20th Century at Pacificorp and Digressions of J. Charles. He is also the author of the novel Stay Safe, Buddy – A Story of Humor and Horror during the Korean War,300 pages, Publish America ISBN # 159286631X