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The Miracle Worker and the Vulcan

I knew how Captain Kirk must have felt.

Kirk, as most people who haven’t lived in a cave for the past 40 years know, was the dynamic leading man in TV’s ground-breaking mid-sixties science-fiction series, Star Trek (and also, for those who stayed in the cave last summer, the hero of the big-budget 2009 film, Star Trek). He was the captain of the starship Enterprise, but much of his time was spent acting as nursemaid, sorting out disagreements between his two buddies, the coolly logical Vulcan-born Mr. Spock and the impulsively emotional Dr. McCoy. (There were also occasional outbursts from the brilliant but cantankerous Mr. Scott, the chief engineer, who was dubbed a “miracle worker” by most because of the nearly impossible feats of mechanical wizardry that he’d perform on the ship, usually saving it from destruction.)

Kirk and company came to mind the other day when, as president of our co-op, I had to deal with our brilliant-but-cantankerous-impulsively-emotional superintendent and our coolly logical secretary/treasurer. The treasurer called me one night with a complaint: “The super agreed to make the following repairs as soon as possible,” he said, ticking off 11 tasks in a coolly angry way. “After almost two months, the only repair completed to date is the sealing of the sidewalk cracks, basically applying a caulking compound between cement slabs. It just won’t do.”

I sympathized with him, and in my most understanding Kirk-like manner, told him I’d communicate those concerns to the super and get him to agree to getting the work done as quickly as possible – or else letting us farm it out.

When I approached the super and, diplomatically, told him that I wanted to check on the progress of the work, he responded in his impulsively emotional way. “I’ve had it,” he said, saying that the secretary/treasurer was really the one I was speaking for, and if the secretary/treasurer wanted to get someone else in, that would be fine with him. He didn’t mean it, of course (that’s just how those brilliant-but-cantankerous-impulsively-emotional types talk when they get going) because he then went on to explain how it had been raining almost every other day for the past two months, and that interfered with most of the exterior work being done properly (much as Mr. Scott would complain about having to change the laws of physics to accomplish an impossible task Capt. Kirk had requested). I knew all this, of course, since the super had given us regular reports, but – as the secretary/treasurer had pointed out – there had been occasional breaks in the weather when some of the tasks might have been achieved. Yet that was too coolly logical an argument for this situation.

So, here I was, caught between two strong-willed men, each certain his position was right. What should I do? Order them to act like grown-ups and work out their problems? Or side with one against the other? Or simply require that they perform a Vulcan mind-meld so the two would become one and understand each other’s position? (Now, if only that were really an option, wouldn’t life be grand?)

No. I flattered.

Not untruthfully, mind you. A board president must be a politician and that means, like the CIA, he never lies. He may exaggerate (as Mr. Spock did in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), but he doesn’t fib. Therefore, I reminded the super of a recent job he had completed within a three-week time frame, a job that many had claimed was impossible to finish in such a short period, but which he had managed to pull off despite the odds. I reminded him of his reputation as a “miracle-worker,” and then told him, playing my psychological trump card, “But if you think it’s too much for you, just tell me, and we’ll get an outside contractor in to finish whatever you can’t do.”

That was the final straw, as though Capt. Kirk had told Mr. Scott that he’d bring in an outside engineer to help him repair the warp drive engines on the Enterprise. “I can do it,” the super responded, rattling off a list of items that he said would be done in the next few days. “And I’ll have it all done within a week.”

Within a week, the work had been done. The super was happy. The secretary/treasurer was happy. I was happy. And our building continued its adventure, boldly going where countless other co-ops had gone before. The moral of the story? Emotion beats out logic every time – but you need a Mr. Spock on your side to keep things moving.

And it’s also cool to think of yourself as Capt. Kirk.

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