Where's the Corned Beef?

05/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Wednesday, my last day at the local YMCA before going to Detroit, was fairly normal for me. I arrived a little before 8:30 in the morning and greeted my buddy Payo. He gave me his blood sugar numbers for the day. I mumbled something about mine and tried to slip away to the coffee machine.

"What's up with you?" he wanted to know.

"Stress," I shouted back over my shoulder. "I'll get it together."

The door to the kitchen was locked. I had to face Payo again. Back at the front desk, he tossed me his keys and I returned to the kitchen. The coffee machine was down again, but I ignored the sign and put my money in anyway. I pressed C-6 and got a cold cappuccino, nuked it for 45 seconds and then wiped the spillage off the plate with two, heavy-duty napkins. I drank what remained in the cup and headed upstairs to the weight room across from the gym.

It was practically empty. It was just as well; I wasn't in the mood to talk about AIG. Besides, what more was there to say? My sentiments are adequately expressed by the congressman who suggested that those responsible for this mess should follow the ancient Samurai tradition of hara-kiri. Rewarding incompetence, however, seems to be the American way. Where else can a CEO run a company into the ground, and then, as severance, receive enough money to buy his own island? And in the case of AIG, the country is to be held hostage if we renege on a contractual agreement to pay them bonuses? Since when are bonuses based upon failure? Are we really supposed to reward the idiots who have brought the country to its knees?

But hold on a second! I promised not to go there.

I seated myself at one of the Hip Abductor machines, the one that works the outer thighs. Wally, one of the guys I often see there on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, was adjusting the weight on the Calf Extension machine. Sitting to my right was a guy I didn't know.

"You want in here?" I asked, looking for an excuse to end my pain.

"No, I'm about finished," he said, getting up and wiping his machine down for the next person.

He walked over and stood next to Wally who was flexing his toes, working his calves. Without missing a beat Wally said, "The place seems pretty empty today, I guess some members had too much St. Patrick Day celebration."

"Or maybe not enough corned beef," said the guy standing tall on his freshly buffed leg muscles. "Did you notice that the stores locally didn't have any?"

I was suddenly feeling left out, not because Wally had slowed up and I wasn't going to be able to work another muscle group, but because I had didn't know about the corned beef tradition and St. Patrick's Day.

Wally continued, "I went to Ralph's and had picked up my carrots, cabbage, onions and potatoes, then went over to the meat department and was told that there was no corned beef. Why?"

No delivery, he was told by the man behind the meat counter, who then added that it was true of other grocery stores in the area.

"I simply let go of my hand basket and left it on the floor by the meat counter and walked out," said Wally." I called the Ralph's office, and I was told someone would get back to me. I'm still waiting."

Now I was pissed! I tried to hide my anger by taking a survey of the room and noticed that the six treadmills were still completely empty. On the two televisions above them, Regis and Kelly were having a hoot with Julia Roberts, and on CNN, President Obama was giving a press conference on the White House lawn talking about, you guessed it, AIG. I remained fixated on corned beef.

"So you guys are lovers of corned beef? I offered, timidly.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

They both glared at me, with forgiveness in their eyes, as if to say: Tradition.

I skipped my calves and went directly to the deltoid machine in another part of the room. I finished up and eased out of the weight room and went to the gym to catch up on Michelle's stretch routine as a finish to my workout. When done, I signed the attendance sheet and looked up and saw Wally walking toward me with a smile on his face. He was joined by a pretty, blond-haired lady in a light blue sweat suit.

"This is my wife JoAnne. That's with a royal 'E.' I was just telling Lester about the corned beef shortage at the local stores. I told him that we finally found two stores [Albertson's and Gelson's] that were selling it for $5.99 per pound."

"It's a little ritual with us," she said with a smile.

On my walk home I tried to reconcile the price of corned beef and its availability with what's going on in the country. I decided that Wally's action held the key: If a company treats you in a manner that does you a disservice, just drop them in the middle of their mess, and let them fend for themselves.

But, more importantly, I remembered that I forgot to say goodbye to Payo.