Gratification

I have been working a lot. My new boss has been very generous to me and in turn I find myself very willing to go the extra mile for him. I am really excited about working for him, and downright thrilled to be working at all. It’s always been one of my favorite things to cook for people. Making delicious food and watching people enjoy it is a honest and enjoyable way to make a living. When I worked at the Restaurant many, many moons ago I worked long hours often without breaks but I loved what I did. I had pride in my work. It wasn’t until I got married that it was pointed out to me that I was under-performing financially and that I could do better. This is a nice way of saying that my wife and mother-in-law thought that I was in a loser job. I knew that I wasn’t making a lot of money but I didn’t really have a lot of prospects then. When I started there the economy was in a major recession and my first “professional” job offer upon graduation was $18,500/yr. I was making 40k at the restaurant.

It’s sad that the jobs that we want often don’t pay the bills. The hardest working people make the least money in many cases. EMT’s get paid the same as someone flipping Burgers at McDonalds. They save lives, fast food workers do not. I don’t think there are many fast food workers who have PTSD from their vocation. Social workers barely make a living and they have one of the hardest jobs one can have. They do it for the cause, not for the money. My take is that if it makes you feel good it may not pay enough to support you. So many adults are forced to take the soul-sucking corporate jobs that drain our spirit for the sake of financial responsibilities. The takeaway is that you can chase your dreams, but do it after work.

I have always loved making food and at this point in my life I suppose that I can afford to live on what it pays. That makes me lucky. For the first time in 25 years I will again enjoy what I do. I also have for the first time a boss who respects me and wants to do things for me, to invest in me because he believes in me. A boss who wants to know what he can do for me. What a concept!

This opportunity is just one more positive thing that has come down the pike for me lately. I am experiencing an amazing wave of things going my way and I can’t explain it other than to think that the positive energy I try to put out into the world is coming back to me. I live with a grateful heart and I see the good in all situations, no matter how bad. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Pet peeves

Pet peeves, we all have them. Those things that people do and say that just make our skin crawl. We can’t help those things that go against our grain it’s how we’re wired. I probably have more than most, I’ll admit it. Spelling, grammar and punctuation always get a rise out of me when perusing social media. I hate to make it an indictment of intelligence but some people should really proofread their posts. It is very revealing, even more than the often stupid or controversial political nature of the post itself. I try to keep myself in check and worry about my own presence online. I’m spoiled by WordPress, my fellow bloggers actually know how to spell and structure a sentence.

My biggest pet peeve is one that bothers me more than most. I find myself calling people out when they say it. That saying is “to be honest”. When you answer an inquiry with “to be honest” what you’re really saying is, “I may not always tell the truth but this time I am”. It’s one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever heard and it is everywhere! I hate it.

The very least that you can do for anyone is to be honest. That’s why they call it a virtue. It might as well be a virgin because nobody uses it anyway. Honesty is synonymous with the truth and we’d all be better if we told the truth. It’s less painful, it doesn’t require a good memory (see compulsive liars), and it takes a lot less time. Have you noticed that in the process of sugarcoating the shit out of something you take a statement that could be short and to the point and drag it out with filler words and lengthy diatribes just to soften what is the truth because we are so afraid to offend?

It’s painful to watch and as society gets more concerned with feelings and the line between right and wrong becomes blurry and grey this will only get worse.

People admire honesty. They admire the courage that it takes to tell the uncomfortable truth. I made a pretty decent living in sales just by being honest. Of course, my honesty has always been served with a side order of bluntness. I sold luxury cars and Honda for a long time. I was always top dog at every dealership I ever worked. And I was never slick and polished with customers. I just talked straight, knew my product and its competition and I told people the truth. More often than not I said things that could have gone either way but most people left me feeling that the car buying process was the best they ever had and it was just because I was honest. A lot of situations that often derail a sale were avoided by doing it my way, the biggest being when someone explained their budget and being able to keep them on a vehicle that they can afford. Many people don’t understand financing and may really believe that they can afford a vehicle when in actuality they are completely shocked at the numbers when presented and they leave. Time is wasted by both parties and a sale is usually lost. Totally avoidable. Especially when people often tell you in the beginning something that you recognize as not manageable. So when a customer asked. “Can I get this car for 200/month with no money down?” and you know that it will actually take $10,000 it is helpful to say no, not wait an hour to tell them that it isn’t possible. I had a customer thank me for saying no.

In short, don’t say “to be honest” because all it really infers is that you lied to them before. Nobody needs that. Just be honest all the time. It’s so much easier for everybody.

Good things

I really AM the luckiest sonofabitch alive. It’s official.

One exciting thing about getting my transplant is that I may return to work. i always liked to work, in fact I loved some of my jobs. The idea of being needed and valued and making a contribution has always meant the world to me. The problem is that I am afraid of losing my Medicare. Insurance became the deal breaker or deal maker towards the end of my career. When I was forced to change jobs after the finance company closed I found that insurance premiums were through the roof, had additional deductibles and were selective in what they covered. I’m sure that in the time that I have been out of the job market it has only gotten worse. That means that any job I may get may, after health insurance costs, may not be worth it.

Now hear me out. I am not a guy who wants to have anything handed to me. But good insurance is really hard to find and prohibitively expensive and may make the difference between getting by and not. If SSDI decides that I have to go back to work until 67 when my SS kicks in I may be in trouble.

So where does the luckiest sonofabitch in the world thing come in? Last month I met a guy in town that flips houses and does property management in his spare time. I cleaned 3 cars for him and we became friends. He learned my whole story and did his part to help me get some business. When he learned that I had many years experience in the hospitality business his ears perked up. “We need to talk ” he said. He had just bought a closed down convenience store in town and he wants to put in a full kitchen and he wants me to run it. He told me that whatever I want I will get it if I can run it without his supervision. This is an opportunity of a lifetime; cash, flexible hours and it’s less than a mile from my house. See, lucky. Of course it isn’t all luck, if I didn’t put myself out there in the world and make a name, and most important a reputation for myself, I wouldn’t be present and available for the good things to happen. I am very excited.

This will be a great experience for me. I really like Vin and I know that I can work with him. I really like the idea of working in my community and to be part of the gradual revitalization and gentrification of our little town. This is my home now and every day I feel more and more like I belong.

It’s a good feeling.

Stay tuned because I think I want to write about my work history and some of the cool things that I have been a part of. I’m enjoying this positivity thing, I think I’ll keep it up!

under the radar

Yesterday I watched President Trump take a moment to share the podium with America’s Truck Drivers. He put some guys front and center and thanked them for their contribution in this time of National crisis. It was a nice moment, one of many across the country honoring the professions that are on the front line at great personal expense as a unseen enemy ravages our Country. Our President knows that America needs heroes, it sells and makes people feel good.

My Dad would have appreciated it. To a degree.

My Dad drove a truck for 35 years. He was unequivocally the hardest working man I have ever met. I say that without bias. His work ethic was unparalleled. If he was to watch yesterday’s press conference he would have watched with interest for a while, smiled and then turned it off. It wouldn’t have been news to him, he always knew that America moved by truck and that just the slightest disruption in the supply chain would expose just how necessary his profession was. He didn’t consider himself a hero or essential. He just liked being needed.

He didn’t pick his industry by accident. He was a talented guy despite only a High School education. He was skilled at carpentry, electrical and plumbing. He renovated/rebuilt our house as we lived in it. But he chose driving a truck because it was one industry that would never be affected by the economy. I will say it again, America moves by truck. Everything would shut down if not for daily deliveries by trucks. I’ve always known this, many are just now learning.

As we honor the nurses, the grocers, the truck drivers, the mail carriers and other essential workers keep it in the back of your mind that it’s a day late and a dollar short. These are the people that have always kept us in the basics of life. They enable us to eat, to maintain communication, to stay or get healthy, to just function. We don’t urge our kids into these jobs because they don’t make what bankers and stockbrokers do. We want our kids to wear suits.

Sure, the world needs stockbrokers and bankers and other people in suits. But somehow in the push to make everyone go to college we forgot that our great Country was built by men in overalls with calloused hands and nearly destroyed several times over by men in suits.

Sure, celebrate the working man today as if it’s a new thing. But the grocery clerks, Nurses, Mail carriers and truck drivers and every other essential worker have always, and will continue to be the one who are making our lives as we know it possible.

When this is over, please remember to respect the Blue Collar. They are our real heroes. My dad would politely thank you. And then he would go back to work.

the more things change…

Ever talk to someone and immediately know that they are full of shit?

Having had an eclectic career, I have had the luxury of meeting a lot of people and as much as I hate to say it some people can be put in neat little boxes based on only a first impression.

Most of my career was spent in some incarnation or other in the car business. Between the wholesale auctions and retail sales I accumulated a lot of connections and a lot of knowledge. In addition, and perhaps most important, I acquired a lot of wisdom, particularly in the areas of first impressions and knowing when to speak and when not to. Bottom line, you don’t know what someone knows and someone out there always knows more than you.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the automotive industry.

I was at the top of my profession in every venue of the car business. At the auction I was industry recognized and respected for my remarketing skills. I was regularly recruited to opine about market trends, valuations and often called on to execute the arduous task of changing a powerhouse customer’s expectations about what they think their inventory is worth vs its actual value.

In retail sales I was always at the top of the board in sales and customer satisfaction. I made it my business, while my colleagues were pacing the parking lot looking for victims or smoking cigarettes, to study the competition; learn what my product had/didn’t offer vs similar models; and know my own product inside and out. The guys who didn’t do so remained at the bottom of the board. In addition, I was the guy who was given the toughest of customers. The unruly and hostile or just the aggressive and unreasonable ones were immediately sent my way. One colleague called me “Magic Man”, after he saw me spin around a real hostile customer. I was also called the “anti-salesman” because I never lied, never pushed with cheesy lines and I always stayed calm and focused. The things I always did was learn who I was dealing with, never show my hand and, here is the big one, I never ever talked out of my ass ( for lack of a better term). Even as a senior manager of a auto finance company I never violated that policy. Again, there is always someone smarter. Once you’ve revealed yourself a fool there is absolutely no turning back.

Sadly, few people in the industry learned what I did. In the few times since I was forcibly retired, I have had the displeasure of buying a few cars. In the process of helping my mother buy her Escape, buying my motorcycle and my most recent car I have had only one good experience.

It was a good experience because I told the salesperson up front, as I did with the others, that I’m experienced in the business. ANY salesperson worth his salt who hears this will immediately treat you differently. By differently I mean that they will be more generous in appraising your trade (I know within 100 dollars what any trade is worth), in the first offer of price and in product knowledge. This salesperson simply asked me what I wanted, how much I wanted for my trade and how much I wanted to pay for the trade. Each of my numbers were readily accepted without the dreaded haggling process and it was smooth. Other than that it was mostly terrible in my other experiences.

I recently traded my truck in (I got a fair offer on my trade and the new vehicle) at a local dealership. It is a used vehicle and as shit happens it has an issue with the drive train that needed to be addressed. I told the service manager exactly what the problem was and I was correct. As I waited for my car to be evaluated I struck up a conversation with a bored salesman. He was an older gent, clearly at the end of his career, and I could tell by his desk that he wasn’t very organized. A messy desk tells customers a lot about their salesperson btw.

We got to talking. I asked him how sales were, what was hot and what wasn’t in the product line, etc. It wasn’t long before he recognized that I was an industry insider but instead of bringing his A game and not embarrassing himself he went the other direction and began talking directly out of his ass. I contained myself, not the first person to do this in front of me and I don’t point it out to them, I just pop some popcorn and dig in for the ride. Some of the things he said about the auctions immediately told me that his auction experience consisted of watching Barrett-Jackson on his sofa in his underwear.

Just as it was getting good and I was almost unable to contain my snicker he was called into the Sales Manager’s office where his manager proceeded to dress him down. Completely unrelated to our conversation, the best I can guess is that he had had a conversation with a customer that was laden with multiple errors, errors that the Sales Manager was forced to correct at great embarrassment to himself and the dealership. He gave it to the guy pretty good. I felt bad for the guy but I was hopeful that it may cause him to evaluate his habits and improve so that it never happened again but I suspect that at his age it won’t lead to change. I watched him leave the Sales Manager’s office with his tail between his legs. I felt bad for him and I didn’t. The manager wasn’t wrong in what he said. It was how he did it that bothered me.

The Sales Manager shouldn’t have dressed him down with the door open. I don’t care how small and claustrophobic his shitty little office was, the showroom was even smaller relatively speaking and he should have shut his door. Everyone heard this poor bastard get it. THAT is a major no-no for all involved.

In my many years in the biz, I spent most of them in a management capacity. Employee morale is everything and all positive morale stems from proper communication. Yelling is the biggest offense, tearing someone a new one in front of his colleagues is almost as bad. Every conversation with an employee has to have balance. For every thing you tell them they’re doing wrong you should try to tell them what they are doing right. And always behind closed doors.

This Sales Manager, who I enjoyed working with when I did my paperwork, showed a lot of others how not to do things and the lesson he “taught” his employee is forever overshadowed by the way he carried it out.

It’s not a new thing, the industry hasn’t changed much since I left it and I fear it never will.

Making amends

When I worked at the finance company I was presented with some difficult but wonderful challenges. The company was going through some growing pains and I was immediately tasked with some big issues. Their need was in the “back end” of the business. That is a nice way of saying “repo”.

When I joined the company they were being inundated with cars coming back due to bad loans. My background in appraisals and remarketing proved to be a valuable asset. I had connections with auctions all over the country, offered alternative outlets such as salvage auctions and private sales, and I created a valuable network of tow companies.

One particular tow operator was a local guy named Mike. I essentially inherited him when I joined the company but his role was minimal and I expanded it. I always try to do business with a local guy, it’s just good business.

Mike is a really likable guy, the kind of person I enjoy doing business with. He was a independent with one truck but willing to work all day to earn a living. I gave him a lot of tows. He did a pretty good job for me for a few months and then I began noticing a side of him that didn’t work for me…he “Yes’d” me to death and wasn’t honest about his availability. He was growing his business through AAA tows and had begun to fall behind. He failed to tell me that he hadn’t gotten to previous assignments while gladly accepting new ones, which chaffed my ass greatly. I had to cut him back.

It wasn’t long before Mike came to see me in my office to apologize for his underwhelming performance. We talked at length. I told him how the demands of my job required a more reliable transporter and that I would keep him on but on a more limited basis. He reached across my desk with his big, greasy hand and shook mine, thanking me. He was hard not to like.

Mike continued to work for me for many years and was of great service on the AAA end of things helping me and my family with our five cars.

One Saturday I was getting ready to go out and my car wouldn’t start. I tried jumping it, it was dead. I called Mike and asked him if he could help. He was there in 15 minutes.

He pulled in with his rusty old Ford pickup, his dog and wife in the cab with him. I said hi to his wife, a very unpleasant and morbidly obese woman who I had never seen smile. She grunted in my direction.

Mike somehow got my car started. I asked him if he took credit cards. He didn’t. I was at a loss. I had no cash on me. He said don’t worry about it, remarking that I give him so much work that it more than worked out. I sheepishly thanked him.

His wife scowled at me.

I always felt bad about that day. Yes, I did give him a lot of work but I should have been able to pay him. I lost my job soon after. Mike and I lost touch.

Last week I saw on FB that he had a birthday. It caused me to reflect on my past dealings with him and how much I liked him. I decided that it was time to right a wrong. I took out my checkbook and made out a check for $100.00. I grabbed my stationary and wrote a short note.

Mike, I always felt bad about never paying you for the AAA service years ago. You’re a good man and you deserve better. Please accept this check as good will for a good deed.
Take care,
Bill

I mailed it that day. He FB inboxed me 3 days later thanking me. He said I shouldn’t have. I disagree.

My mother likes to tell me that I am determined to spend every penny I have. What she doesn’t get is that I am charitable within my means and I am not afraid to make amends.

Besides, the check to Mike isn’t about money.

It’s about respect.

where were you on that fateful day?

17 years ago to the day
I can’t see the world
quite the same way
disgusted by how far
some will go
to destroy those
they don’t even know
it escapes me
it really does
the hatred and venom
their twisted cause
For some the anger has faded
not me
I’m eternally jaded
where were you?
on that fateful morn
when buildings fell
and hearts were torn
I still look to the sky
I stop and ask myself why
airplanes staying in the air
are no longer a given
our only crime?
our way of living
lives changed forever
innocence was lost
the widows and orphans
such a tremendous cost
if broken spirits were the goal
the bastards failed
Old Glory’s still on her pole
It brought out the best in us
the tables were turned
we rose to the occasion
as the buildings burned
First Responder’s responded
with soldiers and regular Joe
reacted with a fierce resolve
that we had yet to show
for a short, glorious time
we were all brothers
put aside our differences
respected each other
came together as one
hatred can only conquer
if you choose to let it
hang your head today
and always remember
The weight of your heart
on this day in September
mourn for the lost
the brave and the strong
celebrate those that fight for us
all the year long
on this anniversary
of an event so heinous
may faith, hope and charity
always sustain us

Why me? Why NOT me?

“Listen carefully, Billy”, my Grandfather said. He looked me straight in the eye.
I cried because I had no shoes. Then I met a man who had no feet.”
“What does that mean Grandpa?”
“It means, Billy, that you should never complain because there is always someone who has it worse than you. Be happy with what you have.”

I was a young boy when he said that to me. I don’t remember what I was complaining about but after that exchange I learned that men, men like my Grandfather, don’t complain.

Have I complained since then? Of course, it happens. But my brain immediately flashes back to that quote. And shuts me down. It has served me well, in fact it was one of my greatest life lessons and shaped who I am today.

People often told me during the height of my Illness that my positive attitude, and crippling denial, inspired them. I wasn’t waking up with the intention of inspiring others, I was just listening to my Grandpa. I was keeping my kids from worrying about me. I didn’t want to burden anyone.

People tell me now that my jokes and overall positive attitude about my current situation helps them. How else am I supposed to be? Should I complain? It’s not my style. It’s not becoming of a man. And nobody wants to hear it.

Why?

Because someone always has it worse. I know it. I’ve seen it.
I have friends who have lost children at the toddler stage to cancer.
I’ve been to Children’s hospital in Boston and read books to children who would never leave that hospital.
There are families everywhere dealing with dead children, wounded Veterans, mental illness, MIA’s and POW’s, gun violence, terminal illness, no Health Insurance, pending bankruptcies, the list just goes on and on.
They all have it worse than I do.
Most of them wish they, or those that they lost, were only on dialysis.

I’m strapped to a dialysis machine 3 days a week. So what? I’m alive. It may kill me, and then again, I may get a donor. It could be always be worse. One thing I have learned in my 53 years of walking this green earth is that I’m not special, I’m just a cog in a great big wheel. I never say Why me?
Why not me?

I have always said that where I am is where I am suppose to be. That applied wherever I was. Why isn’t it feasible that I am right where I am supposed to be doing what I am supposed to do at this moment?

I was given a brutal reminder of this tonight when I got a call from my friend Steve. I met Steve when I lived in an apartment complex as my family tried to bounce back from the foreclosure. We were instant friends. We hung out often and had a lot in common, in particular crumbling marriages and the love of our children. When he got divorced and moved, we stayed in touch.

Steve became very ill after he moved. His diabetes, once under control, had destroyed his liver. He needed a transplant. When I had mine, he was the first friend to visit. He had questions of course, but he was there as a friend.

Flash forward a few years. Steve was deteriorating. It was affecting his job as a Teacher. He was missing work and couldn’t find a balance in his meds, the side effects were destroying him. Soon after, a group of Teachers that praised him to his face went on to stab him in the back. He was forced to defend his ability to enlighten young minds to a committee of people who wanted him gone. After suing the Teacher’s Union he claimed a meager, insulting settlement and he walked away with his dignity in his pocket. No accolades or thanks for his 20 years of service or retirement party.

Steve lost most of his friends. Or they lost him. He is now pending disability. He just sold his car because he can’t make payments. His ex-wife is taking him to court over child-support he can’t pay. She knows he’s trying without income but wants to punish him. He can barely talk, an hour after he takes his meds he loses control of his voice. He is on a list for a cadaver transplant, it’s his only hope. Unlike a kidney, a Liver cannot be given by the living.

Tonight, I asked if he would drive up and spend a couple of days with me. He can’t because he has to be nearby in case there is a fatal car accident that will produce a proper tissue match. Plus, he has court tomorrow because his ex-wife is not done ripping his testicles from his scrotum.

Steve would love to be me. Right now, I love being me. I have friends and family who support me. My wife acted with dignity and compassion in our divorce. My children love me and will never be a pawn in a big game. I won’t die if I don’t get an organ donation in the next few months.

I worry about Steve right now, he has been a good and loyal friend. I am not worried about me right now at all.
Why?
As sick as he is, he was the one to call me to see how I was doing. How about that?

Were you to ever utter the words “what else can go wrong?” the universe very well may take it as a challenge.

Flopping like a carp…a Mike Valentine tale

This post is the 3rd installment in a series.You can catch up here and here

Mike had just collapsed on the conference room floor.

His co-workers swarmed around him anxiously barking questions. Are you alright? Where does it hurt? Can I get you anything? Can you talk? Mike Valentine wanted to answer all of them but the pain in his side was crippling and he couldn’t get the words out. The muscles below his rib cage seized, failed to relinquish their grip. He couldn’t breathe. He clenched his teeth and tried to draw breath. His GM reached down and sat him in an upright position against the wall and handed him a glass of water. Mike leaned forward, grabbing his ankles, trying to stretch the spasm away. Finally, the pain subsided. Mike sat against the wall, sipping the water and tried to regain his composure. He looked up, the entire room was staring at him.
“It’s all over.” Mike said. “Let’s continue.”
“Are you nuts?” his GM said. “You’re going to the hospital.”
Someone in the background offered to call an Ambulance. Mike resisted, insisting that it was over and he was fine.
“Have you had that happen before?” the controller asked.
“Not like that.” He lied. The truth was that he had. Not as bad but similar. He had mentioned them to his Doctor and they could find no explanation. Just one more thing to deal with.

“Well, we’re driving you to the hospital then. I’m not giving you a choice.”
Mike dropped his shoulders in defeat as he was pulled upright. He allowed his coworkers to take his arms as they ascended the stairs, walked outside and got him into a waiting van.

By the time they had reached the local hospital Mike felt fine. He didn’t want to go in. He had been the local hospital route before. It was always the same thing, they would run some tests and send them to his own doctor. Nothing would be accomplished except the waste of a lot of time. A doctor would come out and ask if he knew that he had Kidney issues.

There was a bigger picture here shaping up. Mike’s GM was going in with him. When the words “Kidney Disease” are spoken, it will be the first time his company knew that he was sick. Two hours before, he was bulletproof. That façade was about to crumble.

As they entered the building entrance, he tried to get his manager to leave him. He wasn’t changing his mind.

The check-in process was fairly quick. It was early afternoon, the ER wasn’t busy. Being in an affluent community didn’t hurt as well, Mike’s home hospital was often flooded with drunks and victims of violent crimes. There wasn’t a lot of that in this sleepy Massachusetts town Mike mused. Within 15 minutes Mike was seen by the ER physician. He was asked a bunch of questions about his health history. They did a run-up of blood work. The ER doctor was clueless regarding the episode. Mike was not surprised, no one else had ever figured out why he had these attacks either. The Doctor scribbled on his board, muttered something to his attending Nurse and went on to another patient. Mike was left to make small talk with his GM until someone came back.

To his encouragement, his manager didn’t talk about the events of the previous hours. He instead shifted gears to talking about some of the business matters that he wanted to review in the now cancelled meeting. It was a relaxed conversation and they actually accomplished something. Before long the ER Doctor poked his head in.
“Are you aware…” time stopped for Mike, he knew exactly what was coming…3,2,1 BOOM
“that you have serious kidney failure?” Mike high-fived himself mentally, he  had called it.
“Yes, I am aware” he replied as he looked over at the furrowed brow of his boss.
“Are you being actively treated for it”? the doctor asked.
“Not as actively as I should, perhaps” Mike replied. “But here’s the thing, is it related to why I’m here?”
“Not that I know of” he replied.
“Then we’re done here unless you have some suggestions.”
“See your Nephrologist. If you have his contact information I’ll have your labs forwarded.”
Mike gave him what he asked for and they left.

It was a quiet car ride back to the office. Mike decided to just get it over with.
“I have Kidney Disease” he offered. “Now you know.”
“Well something has to be wrong with you, you were flopping around on the conference room floor like an epileptic Carp.”
They shared a laugh. Then Mike asked “Does it change anything?”
“Like what, you mean your employment status?”
“No.” Mike rephrased his question. “Is this something that I should have told you when you hired me?”
His manager didn’t flinch. “That’s why we have health insurance, you dumbass. How long have you had it?”
“Since I was a teenager. It’s unpredictable in its progression. I think it’s getting worse.”
“Do you think you should have told me on the interview?”
Mike stroked his goatee, stalling.
“Yes and no. It really hasn’t affected my work that I know of. I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t think about the what-if’s”. When I met you, I wanted you to see the man for the job, not some sick guy. Does that make sense?”
His manager nodded. “So now we know” he said.

They drove the rest of the way in relative silence. They drove through the security gate and as a courtesy he was dropped off at the door. It was 4:30. Mike was thankful and he got out with the intention of going in, grabbing his bag and calling it a day. As he nodded a thank you for the ride Mike was asked
“Where does stress fit into all of this, you know, with the kidneys?”
“I don’t think it helps, I know that much. Why?”
“Because you’re wrapped tighter than a convenience store sandwich. You try to do too much. You’re the first one in, last one out. I’m not asking for that. Take it easy on yourself. You’re getting the job done.”
“Thanks. It’s how I’m wired.”
“No, that’s how Superman is wired. Your name is Mike, not Clark. Smarten up.” With that, he put the car in gear and drove to his reserved spot.

Mike went directly home for the first time in weeks. He had some things to think about.

My special purpose

On Thursday I entered the dialysis clinic with my bag containing a blanket, books, my laptop, headphones and half of the trepidation I had felt on my first visit. I was greeted by an entirely different Nursing Staff, which gave me the opportunity to drop my “oil change” joke 💀. It was fairly well received. I’m going to ask for a tire rotation next time to test the waters.

I already know the routine. I weighed in and sat down while 2 nurses, 2 potentially new sounding boards for my repertoire of Dad jokes, went through an impressive routine of programming the machine and unwrapping needles and fastening clamps and god knows what else. It really is something to watch, it must have taken a hell of a lot of training. When they were done and I was hooked up, they went on to other patients and I settled in for 3 boring hours.

I wasn’t in the mood for TV and not ready to read so I looked around the room. There are 12 stations in the room and every chair was full. I recognized most of the patients in the room from my first visit. The staff was all new to me. In particular I noticed a thin, older woman with a buzz cut making the rounds of the patients. I figured her to be the Nurse Manager. She was making her way towards me. After spending a few minutes with the gentleman next to me she came over and introduced herself as Kim, the clinic’s Social Worker. She knew who I was, had researched my case and apparently was looking forward to meeting me. Part of me wishes I could say the same. I respect social workers and what they do, but their goal is to get me talking about myself and my condition and how it has affected me and everything else that I don’t want to talk about. I deal well by not talking about “it”. Social workers chew away at my armor.

Kim sat down next to me and asked me a few questions about my overall reaction to the dialysis process, was I feeling better? Did I have any issues or complaints? Standard stuff. I immediately found her east to talk to. I had been anticipating an interview and instead found myself in a conversation. I certainly had time so I decided to drop my guard a bit and see where it goes.

The questions flowed easily from her and although it was standard fare; how long have I been sick; my marital status and my living situation. I answered all of them honestly and in some detail. She was taken back by my story, especially at the saga of my marriage collapsing. She kept asking, in different ways, if there was a chance at reconciliation and I continued to say no. She was surprised at my acceptance of the situation but dropped the subject. She then asked me if I was working, would I be able to or plan to in the future. I explained my situation with SSDI and that seemed to satisfy her. She then asked me what I used to do for work.

I found myself telling her all about my most recent position at the finance company and of all of the things I loved about it. I don’t know how long I spoke of it but when I was done and looked at her she looked captivated.
“If you could see the look in your eyes as you talk about that job” she said.
I had actually teared up as I had told her my tale.
“It meant a lot to me, Kim. You will never hear me utter a word of hubris, but when it came to that job I was damn good at it. I miss it.”
“I can tell.”

The conversation eventually wound down and she moved on to another patient. The emotional reaction to talking of my career lingered on. I explored it deeper and had an epiphany of sorts. Of all of the things I hate about my current situation is that I am no longer needed by people in my life. My family no longer seeks or expects support from me. I no longer go to work each day and try, in some small way. to make a difference in someone’s life. See, I had no throttle control before this happened. I was “all in” on life with family and career. I was active as possible as a parent and a husband, Teaching, mentoring and loving my kids while giving what remained of my ass to my job was what I lived for. I was a doer, a guy that made shit happen. A guy people came to. I was a great father, husband, friend and co-worker. I rode bikes and walked miles in the name of charity. I donated money I didn’t have and didn’t care.

Now I have none of it. Maybe the pace proved too much for my body.

I have beaten to death my family life on this blog and it is well documented that I love my family with all of my earthly strength. But I haven’t discussed work often and it was a big part of who I was. Men have often been accused of strongly tying their self-worth to their profession. I was guilty of this. I vowed never to be the guy who called in sick and no one noticed. My job, to quote Steve Martin in ” The Jerk”, I had found my special purpose.

The days when people came to me for advice; when calls were transferred to me because no one else knew enough or how to talk to an irate customer; having the owner boast that you are the “best in the business”; being given a seemingly impossible situation and finding a way to fix it. I have such fond memories of talking to people where the conversation started as a confrontation and ended with a “thank you.” It wasn’t that I was particularly skilled at everything, I just knew how to talk to people and I really, genuinely cared about them. I was proud to go home many days of the week with the knowledge that I actually may have helped someone through a tough day. I don’t have that anymore.

I have tried to be as useful as possible since the collapse. I volunteer at the food bank, I help some of the older people in town with basic chores. I don’t charge them, they don’t have the money. I am kind to my fellow man and I put out zero negative energy into the universe. I hope to become healthy enough to volunteer at a camp for the families of terminally ill children next summer. I am being the best person I can be.

But I don’t feel needed. I can’t believe how much I miss that feeling.