I recently saw an old bookmark in a book I wanted to donate to the Jackson Memorial Library in Tenants Harbor. The top of it peeped above the book’s pages, and when I opened the book, the bookmark fell out on my lap. It read:

“I used to be clueless, but I turned that around 360 degrees!”

The cartoonish writing made me laugh, but then it brought back some, um, interesting memories.

Decades ago, as a vice president in a large medical center, I was assigned responsibility for an additional department. I called for a meeting with all 40 staff to introduce myself and talk about the strategic plans of the hospital. After ten minutes, I stopped and gazed over the room. To my chagrin, most employees lacked any enthusiasm, eyes glazed over as if a narcotic spritzer hung from the ceiling above hissing out a colorless mist. Psssst.

Then a young woman, a scowl on her face and dressed for battle, stood up in the front row, turned, and faced her colleagues. As I painfully learned over many years in management, there is often one person on staff who is an informal boss, the staff member who knows all there is to know about what makes a happy workplace and management’s perennial failure to achieve it.

“Our new vice president is clearly clueless,” she said, and sat down with her arms folded over her chest, eyes ablaze. The narcotic spritzer clearly hadn’t wafted her way.

The audience stirred now, as if a whiff of ammonia had passed under their noses.

I didn’t know what I had said that exposed me as clueless. Of that, I was certainly clueless. Did I call out the name of a different department? Have spinach between my teeth? Zipper down? I never found out.

I wondered what I could say that would be powerful, to show that I was unfazed? Ah!

“You are clearly rude,” I replied. There, take that.

The room became more energized, as if they sensed a potential jousting match between a female David and a male Goliath. I disappointed them, though, by continuing my narcotic speech.

My wife went to the local transfer station a week later. The attendant who checks over what is being recycled noted the medical center employee sticker on our bumper.

“Hey, you work at the medical center, huh?” he asked. “My wife does, too.”

When she explained I was the one who worked there and described my position, the attendant laughed.

“Oh, he’s the one someone called clueless!”

My wife couldn’t wait to slip that in when I got home from work.

“Dinner is almost ready, Clueless,” she said in the kitchen, her back to me, shoulders quivering slightly.

A few days later, a manager friend called to tell me he heard about the staff meeting and had a special gift for me: it was the clueless bookmark. Since I did poorly in high school math, he explained to me what was so funny about 360 degrees and being clueless.

“If you turn around 180 degrees, you will face the opposite direction,” he said. “If you turn around 360 degrees, you are right back where you started.”

One of my sons – all three of whom have remarkably long and clear memories of my clueless episodes – reminded me that I should include a more recent one in the column.

“I can’t think of one, though,” I replied.

“Oh, I can,” he said.

Two years ago, I brought my boat up to the fueling dock at a local marina. The young dock attendant asked, “Gas or diesel?”

There is a disagreement about what I yelled back, but when I got the hose and nozzle, I stuck it in the port fuel deck fill, and then the starboard one, and filled my tanks.

Smoke that billowed from the exhaust after I started the engine gave me a clue that a problem might exist. A mechanic investigated the issue, then called me with the bad news: I had put at least 100 gallons of gasoline in the tanks rather than diesel.

After I said that was impossible, the mechanic asked the following questions:

“Didn’t you notice the size of the nozzle?”

“No.”

“Didn’t you smell the fuel?”

“No.”

All it took to resolve the issue was a tow by BoatUS, hauling the boat out, draining the tanks, flushing the lines, and replacing some thingamajigs. A clearly clueless and expensive experience.

Looking back on the two episodes above, my bookmark should have said:

“I used to be clueless, but I turned that around 720 degrees.” Notice that I am better at math today, but still clueless.

Clearly.

I still owe our library in Tenants Harbor that book.

Mike Skinner is a writer who lives in Tenants Harbor. Skinner was a medic in the U.S. Army, a hospital executive, and a college educator. He is the author of “My Life as a Non-Valedictorian,” available through Maine Authors Publishing, local bookstores, and Amazon and Kindle.