At least Home Depot didn't accuse Bob Dougherty of shoplifting.
Michael Panorelli, a carpenter in Massachusetts, was buying lumber at a local Home Depot. His client handed him a pencil to do some calculations, which Panorelli subsequently pocketed. He didn't realized his mistake until a Home Depot worker caught up with him in the parking lot. That pencil belonged to the store, the worker said, and he gave Panorelli a letter advising him that he was banned from all Home Depots and would be hearing from the Atlanta-based company's lawyers.
But first, the Eagle-Tribune in Lawrence, Massachusetts, heard from Panorelli, and after his story broke, Home Depot issued a written apology. "We will not be pursing any claims against Mr. Panorelli for this incident," the statement read. "We welcome Mr. Panorelli back as a customer in our stores at any time."
The truth had set him free.
No such luck for Bob Dougherty. He clearly didn't want the item he took with him when he exited the Louisville Home Depot back on October 30, 2003. He didn't want any part of the toilet seat that was stuck to his ass, but the paramedics who'd unbolted it from the toilet in the store's restroom needed more delicate tools for the rest of the operation.
Now, more than two years later, an unexpected champion has attached himself to Dougherty.
"I'm a people person," explains Larry Borovay -- and Dougherty is one of his people. "I managed Buddy Ebsen for six years, helped with his artworks. Buddy was such a super guy, and he taught me so many lessons in life." Among other things, Buddy -- aka Jed Clampett, aka Barnaby Jones -- taught him that you have to smile through the tough times. That you can't take humiliation sitting down. Not even on a Home Depot toilet.
Borovay lives in Simi, California, where he runs a collection agency, collects stories about dogs (read all about it on www.doggiedogdaze.com), collects people. "I'm helping a lady who's losing her house because she made terrorist threats to NBC News," he explains. "She just got upset and said, 'You guys need to apologize to the public.'" Incidentally, the lady once lived with Elvis Presley. And Borovay knows Ed, that lawyer who worked with Erin Brockovich.
Borovay's stories are sprinkled with such scintillating show-biz references, which makes Dougherty, a 57-year-old vet who's one of the odder residents of the very odd town of Nederland, an unusual fit for his people collection. As Borovay tells it, about a year ago he was sitting at the dinner table with his father, who knew someone who knew Dougherty, and he started telling this story about a guy in Colorado who'd gone into the bathroom at Home Depot, sat down before he noticed that someone had put glue on the toilet seat, and wound up getting stuck to the toilet. "My daughter was laughing hysterically," Borovay remembers. "She kept saying, 'I'm sorry, Grandpa, but it's funny.'"
But when a friend of a friend contacted Borovay and asked if he could find a lawyer who'd sue Home Depot before the statute of limitations expired, Borovay took the charge seriously. And although Dougherty went with a local attorney, Mark Cohen, who filed his case in Boulder in October (it's since been moved to federal court, at Home Depot's request), Borovay decided to stick with the cause. "Buddy always said the lesson in life is to laugh," he says. "So I said, 'Bob, you need to put some laughter in your life.'"
That's why Borovay set up a website -- www.gotglued.com -- complete with an illustration of a guy bending over with a toilet seat stuck to his butt. "We believe that laughter is the music of the soul and a wonderful stress reliever," he writes in describing gotglued's mission. "Bob Dougherty's experience got me thinking that everyone at some time in his or her life has experienced some very embarrassing times. I hope your embarrassment was not as horrific as that of Bob Dougherty. I encouraged Bob to stand up for himself and put his embarrassment aside. Our mission is to try to take a negative or embarrassing experience and share it to relieve stress. I hope to write a book to entertain everyone sharing the most embarrassing times of people from different walks of life and their opinions they have in regards to Bob's experience. I hope we can laugh at ourselves and everyone will feel better."
So much better, in fact, that they just might want to send a check c/o gotglued, which Borovay promises will go to Dougherty for his legal expenses -- those doctors' reports are expensive, and extensive, Cohen says, since Dougherty suffered from post-traumatic stress connected to the incident, worsening an already bad heart condition. At one point, paramedics were unable to find a pulse. "After he was taken to the hospital that night, he never heard from Home Depot again," Cohen says. "He never got any kind of apology at all." In October, after Cohen sent the company a demand letter and copies of medical bills, Dougherty did get a $2,000 offer from an insurance adjuster; he refused the deal, and Cohen filed the suit. And suddenly Dougherty was in the center ring of the media circus.
"Bottom line," Borovay told him, "people are going to laugh at you. Just laugh with them."
But Dougherty may have the last laugh: a $10,000 donation just showed up in his legal trust account, forwarded by Borovay from a Japanese businessman who'd found his story on gotglued. "I feel so pity to Bob," the man wrote. "He is luck to be alive."
A Heck of a Job
Flash back to January 2004. Leaks suddenly spring at the University of Colorado, with tales of sexual assaults connected to football-recruiting parties. Soon the state's flagship educational institution will be awash in bad press as revelations keep pouring out; eventually, the torrent will sweep away athletic director Dick Tharp, CU chancellor Dick Bynny, president Betsy Hoffman and, finally, football coach Gary Barnett.
Now, just think what would have happened if, at the first hint of rough weather ahead, Hoffman had picked up the phone and dialed disaster-management consultant Michael D. Brown.
Boulder might have been wiped off the map altogether.
Timing is everything. Michael Brown's learned that the hard way.
Five years ago, Brown was thrown from his cushy post as commissioner of judges and stewards at the Colorado-based International Arabian Horse Association and fell upward to a job as legal counsel with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then headed by Joe Allbaugh, a Brown buddy who'd been President George W. Bush's 2000 campaign manager. By August 2005, Brown himself was director of FEMA. And then Katrina hit. While Brown fiddled around with what to wear on TV -- "I am a fashion god," he said in one e-mail -- New Orleans flooded, then burned.
"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," Bush told his appointee on September 2. Ten days later, Brown went under. He got to stay on as a FEMA consultant for more than a month after his resignation, though, and apparently enjoyed the consulting gig so much that now he's starting a disaster-management consulting firm. Based conveniently close to Boulder.
"If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses -- because that goes straight to the bottom line -- then I hope I can help the country in some way," he told Rocky Mountain News reporter M.E. Sprengelmeyer, in an interview published the same day CNN named Brown a "political turkey of the year."
The ironies piled up higher than the trash at the New Orleans Superdome. People who make their living at crisis consulting -- including a few who've been called on in the past by CU -- wondered how much lower their profession could go. Another round of Brownie jokes hit the late-night shows. And New York-based blogger Evan Derkacz posted a contest to create a slogan for Brown's new consulting firm, "unleashing unprecedented levels of toxic sludge into the political discourse," he noted. "Thanks."
The top fifteen:
1. Michael Brown, Disaster Consultant: "It Takes One to Know One!"
2. "You've tried all the rest, now try the worst."
3. Michael Brown: "Getting It Right the Second Time Around!"
4. "Been there, didn't do that!"
5. Brown Disaster Consulting: "Showing up was the least we could do."
6. "Don't let amateurs mess things up for you. Get a pro."
7. "When you need help really bad, we have really bad help."
8. "From the same people who brought you Iraq!"
9. "We fuck up so you don't have to."
10. "Anyone can plan for a disaster; we make it happen!"
11. "There's no 'ME' in emergency."
12. "When the going gets tough, we will hire a consulting agency to study the demographics, then take a survey to determine if an actual disaster has taken place."
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13. "When the day-after-tomorrow is too soon, use Mike Brown."
14. Brownwater Security: "Leaving the Seat Up for Safety."
15. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the Brown stuff."
Michael Brown's house in D.C. is up for sale, and he's headed back to Colorado. Let's just hope he doesn't have Hank Brown's number.