FORUM: Friends and Enemies

A second-year graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I was working on completing most of my remaining mandatory coursework, and compiling the literature needed to write my proposal for a Master of Arts degree in academic health psychology. At that time literature reviews were conducted manually in the library—there was no internet.

I accepted a consulting opportunity at $20/hour to analyze questionnaire data obtained from stake-holders by a professional negotiator arbitrating a dispute between workers and management of a local corporation. Testing hypotheses posed by all stakeholders, I wrote a brief summary of the findings which was instrumental in the parties agreeing to a resolution. My bill for $1,500 was good pay for a graduate student in the early 1980’s.

I showed at the address and time where the voice on my home phone told me I would receive my paycheck. The location was an isolated quarter-block-long brick wall of a bakery near UIC, adjacent to a sidewalk on a one-way street without traffic.

A black corvette showed at the appointed time, and parked next to the curb ten feet from where I stood. A man dressed all in black slowly got out of the car—he seemed to be a seven-footer. I was surprised that someone so tall could fit inside of a corvette.

He approached me. Flashing a white business envelope he said: “Mr. Yarnold, I could give you this check for $1,500. Or I could pay a guy $100 to break your leg with a baseball bat. If you were I, what would you do?”

I told him to keep the money as my gift to him, purchasing me respite from any further contact, ever again. He got in his corvette and left.

Time passed and I graduated from UIC with a PhD in academic health psychology. I was teaching part-time, looking for a faculty position. A prestigious Psychology conference came to town so I submitted an abstract for consideration of presentation as a poster.

My proposal was accepted, and something unexpected and wonderful happened at my poster session.

Sneed’s column on page two of the Chicago Sun Times was everyone’s first morning read in the Department of Psychology. Sneed was on vacation. The reporter filling-in for him stopped at my poster and spoke with me at length about my research. He published a story about me and my research in Sneed’s column.

I showed at the Department of Psychology, certain that everyone read the column. To my surprise nobody—not even my punk-rock buddies, said a word to me about the article.

At home that evening my phone rang. It was the gangster, who said to me: “Dr. Yarnold, congratulations on the excellent article in Sneed’s column.” Then he hung up.

To this day I am grateful to that man, and I wish him all the best.

“Better an honest enemy than a false friend” (German Proverb)

Friends and Enemies

Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D.

March 24, 2021

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