in passing

As everyone and their cat has mentioned, requiscat in pace the Notorious Bettie Page. From all accounts, she spent the end and majority of her life as a devout Christian, at best strongly ambivalent about her continued adulation by the likes of me and mine, but now being beyond all cares, she is unlikely to mind our well-wishes.

On the same day, one of the oddest people I have ever worked for, Doctor Bernard Ackerman, has apparently passed. He was a giant in his field and utterly unknown out of it, which seemed to suit him just fine.

I was his office secretary during the summer of 1992 in Philadelphia. I had just been fired (for, as far as I could tell, being too faggoty) from a terrible tech-support job in the same hospital, was limping along in the final dregs of a doomed relationship, and in general was at a personal-lowest ebb. Bernie and his office manager/assistant Florence hired me on the spot after a brief interview, and proceeded to make the next several months into a complete joy. Of the uncountable temp jobs I worked at in my late adolescence and early adulthood, it was without any question the best.

Dr. Ackerman was a natural-born American monster in the best possible sense: subsisting on 4 hours of sleep a day, mostly caught on his sofa in-between slide-viewing sessions with a never-ending procession of awed students, he seemed to effortlessly juggle the demands of teaching, running several journals, giving dozens of talks, publishing article after article, and operating what was essentially the court of final appeal for melanoma diagnoses for the entire eastern seaboard. He could be an insanely difficult person to work with, but largely for the simple reason that he expected other people to perform the nearly impossible task of keeping up with him, and it was always a moment of sublime personal validation when he seemed to approve of my work ethic. To this day I still think back to him on days when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my workload, and often re-consider my angst.

Several years later, a newly arrived immigrant to the strange country of Boston, MA, I answered an ad in the Boston Phoenix to acquire some used furniture from a BU med student who was leaving to start his residency elsewhere. We chatted briefly and I found out that he was doing a dermatology residence: I mentioned that I’d worked for some guy named Bernie Ackerman back in Philly.

“Some guy?!” he sputtered, completely losing his composure. “You worked for Bernie Ackerman?! The man’s a fucking legend.”

Bernie, I think, would have been quite pleased.

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