dipping a toe in the water

I have been working a bit lately. I missed it. Not being able to work was so challenging on many levels to me. I need to be productive, to feel accomplished at the end of the day. I recently realized, while sitting on the sidelines, that my identity and sense of worth has always been deeply connected to my vocation. Not working was like a partial lobotomy.

It is a good gig for me. It is only a couple of days per week, I pick the days, and it gives me some spending money without affecting my SSDI claim.

After several months up here, with no real routines to adhere to and a lot of time on my derriere it has been surprisingly tiring to perform fairly menial duties. The cramping and spasms that have hindered me throughout my illness have been severe and I am forced to smile through excruciating pain in front of my new co-workers and caused several sleepless, painful nights.

The bigger challenge I face is knowing and minding my place, which is hard for me.

I work for a very nice man that I have known for almost 20 years. Ben now owns 2 finance companies and a lot of real estate, but I knew him when he was just a used car dealer. I walked into his dealership as an auction rep, we briefly talked and he told me he was all set for auctions. As I turned to leave, I noticed a jar on his desk requesting donations for a little girl with Cancer. It was his 3-year old daughter Sophie. I donated a hundred bucks, wished him well and left.

I would get a call later that day. Ben said, “your donation didn’t have anything to do with this, but come by next week and we’ll talk.” We would become associates and friends for many years, culminating in my working for him and a partner in 2016. We never talked about the death of Sophie at 4, of the fundraisers we coordinated to raise money for her, and of his divorce soon after. When his partner laid me off in 2017, he told me to keep my phone on. He called.

I am doing some pretty menial stuff because that’s what he needs. His finance company is growing, his staff is overwhelmed and a lot of people are doing multiple roles. I have already found about 4 different departments to assist. The problem is that these people don’t know who I am or what my background is. If Ben didn’t tell them neither am I. So I was initially viewed skeptically, then looked at funny when I say or do something that reveals my extensive background in this field. So when I mention my challenge in finding and minding my place, I have to constantly check myself and just do what I am asked to do. Which is really difficult for me.

The office is buzzing. They are talking about me. Ben is already asking if I can work more. My prediction https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/24840312/posts/1746149506 is that I will be offered a full-time position soon. Which will be a real dilemma, because I will have to drop my SSDI claim. That is akin to playing Russian Roulette with my future.

I will explain more in my next post…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#what if? installment 1

This is my first installment of what I hope is a series of blogs on the what-ifs of life. Having addressed the topic of “If” in a previous post; “as if”, “if when”, “if only” etc., I realized that there were so many directions I could go.

Once I decided to explore this further, I mulled a bit over where to start. Given my heavy heart today, I will start with

“what if” we never got married?

I saw you yesterday. You look sad. That smile that once lit up a room is nowhere to be seen. Your best friend told me she is worried about you, that you may do something drastic. That’s not your style.

You are stuck on a rough patch. You are largely supporting yourself and our 2 youngest children. Money is tight. I’m not much help. You live with your best friend, the one that you picked over me as your number one many years ago. Despite her generosity in letting you live in her home, and despite your love for her, you have begun to fight with her and you are extremely unhappy. Without the scent of sour grapes on my breath, I ask you; shouldn’t she be the one to talk you off of the ledge? Yet she is calling me to tell me you are not doing well.

This may surprise you, but I never wanted this for you. I hate that you are struggling and I would do anything within my means to make this better for you.

It is bittersweet to think that I actually gave you an out before we began dating. Surely you remember the night we sat in my Mustang, staring at the lights dancing across the pond, just talking. We were about to start dating, openly talking about all of the complexities. I told you that I had personal demons, health issues, and limited earning potential. You didn’t care. You cared so deeply for me, there was so much pressure on me not to hurt you. It was a big step. Simply put, I told you, for your own sake, that I wasn’t good for you. I gave you an out. Do you ever wonder what it would be like if you took it?

Sometimes, when angry at you, I asked myself if anyone else would have married you. That is not to say that it is any great treat to be with me, or that you are not great in many ways. But you are difficult. You have admitted that you are bipolar, yet refuse to seek treatment for it. You are quick to anger, unreasonable and stubborn when you want something, and completely inflexible on some things. It’s fair to wonder how well another man would handle it.

As for me, I was no prize either and not sure I would have ever married. I was broken when we met. Reeling from a breakup, recovering from an accident, on “hiatus” from college and a functional alcoholic. I was stuck in a nowhere job, my vision extended no further than my next day off. Other than the occasional fling with a waitress, I wasn’t dating at all and didn’t want to. If I hadn’t met you for all I know I would still be there. You pushed me to finish school, supported me as I worked full time and carried a full class load. You saw potential in me. You thought I was smart and you believed in me.

Despite your youth, you were a little broken for your age. You had a contemptuous relationship with your mother. She was toxic in her lack of support for you. Despite claiming to have your best interest at heart she criticized all of your choices and no one in your life was ever good enough for you, and let’s face it, for her as well. I swear you married a pizza cook just to get back at her. You still have the same relationship with her today. It has always been a hard thing for me to watch.

Had you married someone else would you have a bigger house? A nicer car? Non-material things like fidelity, passion, honesty, fun, and laughs? We had all of those things once. Having had and lost is surely better than never having at all.

Had I married someone else would I have gone as far in my career? I pushed myself to the top of the heap out of financial necessity. but I still made it much further than I would have ever expected of myself. Or would I still work in the kitchen, stuck in a nowhere job that I didn’t know was nowhere until you pointed it out to me.

I don’t know if you would have had a better life had you not married me. I promised you that I would do the best that I could, but I was never able to assure you that it would be enough. It is of small comfort that I tried.

“What if’s” aside I do know that without our union, the world would be less 4 great children who are destined to do great things. 4 caring, smart, compassionate kids that, like me, are worried about you and want you to pull out of this. Even in divorce, I will never abandon you. Even though you have asked me for nothing in divorce except a promise to help if needed, I will always be there to give you whatever I have to see that you are provided for. “What if’s” aside, we did get married, I did promise to take care of you, and I will always want the best for you.

Not going gently into that good night

https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/18/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-18th-2018/

I found a part-time job that I can work without affecting my disability claim. It’s manageable, 2 days a week, no stress and it’s something I love.

I got up at 6 today, my new Thursday routine. I leave early and drive down to MA, about 2 1/2 hours of driving, work Thursday and stay at my buddy Jim’s place Thursday night and drive home after work on Friday. It’s been fun so far.

I came down at 6:20 to find my mother in the kitchen. She can’t just sleep in, she needs to see me off with our ritual morning coffee. “You’re looking chipper this morning, don’t tell me you slept well?” (I never do). I admitted that I did feel good. I was tired from a lack of sleep but I was excited. Excited is a look and feel I haven’t worn in a while.

I bid my mom adieu, stepped out into the arctic blast, started the sled, topped off my washer fluid and I was off. I adjusted my seat, charged my phone and adjusted my rear view mirror. I caught a glimpse of my homely mug in the process and instead of my usual grimace, I smiled. I realized at that moment that Mom was right. I was feeling chipper. I’m feeling like the old me. In short,

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For those of you that have read my posts before, you have seen that I have struggled with some significant obstacles. I have openly lamented that I don’t have the fight that I used to. My readers will also know that the “Superman” thing is not a glorified ego or a magnified self-image, it is a character trait. I have always wanted to fix everything, have always acted bulletproof and my refusal to let my illness slow me down was the cape to my illness, aka my Lex Luthor. I have been called Superman as an insult by my wife who thought I was in denial. I have been called Superman by a few lovelies who received a good “Rogering” late in the evening to get another one early in the morning before work (man I wish those days) but most importantly I’ve been called Superman by those who knew I was sick but couldn’t tell. Simply put, I refused to be a sick person.

After this past summer, it’s been harder not to be that sick person. I have been symptomatic in so many ways it became like a game show. “What do we have today behind curtain number 1 Johnny? Ooooh tooo bad it’s swollen legs. No walking for you today!” The next day it’s Gout, Ooooh too bad!” Just one thing after another after another, eventually I hung up my cape.

Even my wife, who I perhaps unfairly, consider to be my ultimate detractor had told me that I had to get the “Old me” back. To get the fight back. It wasn’t there. But lately, I think less about feeling lousy and look forward more to feeling good. I wake up and set goals, I tell my Drs. what I can do, not let them tell me what I can’t. I am thinking about the future, regardless of how long it is, not dwelling on today. I am defining the situation before it defines me. I am not the sick guy until the day after they bury me.

I like this feeling. I’m not just raging against the dying of the light. I’m starting a goddamn revolt.

Every man dies. But not every man lives…

 

 

 

 

 

My Dad, the thief

The following post is my most candid to date. I don’t apologize for my language, my anger or my lack of empathy. It is a story that in large part formed the person I am today but it might not be what you are used to seeing from me.

 

While writing about my cousin Mike yesterday, therapeutic as it was, I triggered myself AGAIN. It seems that whenever I write of family, another incident bubbles to the surface and I have to write about it.

Mike is very important to me, I hope I did him justice in yesterday’s post. He was a major part of my life for many years and I will always have a soft spot for him. He, 1 of my 6 cousins, is the only one I talk to.

Railroad Ave was the street in town that everyone spoke of but rarely walked down. It could have been taken directly out of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. A small dirt road, littered with giant potholes that resembled small ponds after a rainfall, occupied by the poorest residents of my hometown. The street consisted of some people with menial jobs, and some multiple generations of poverty dwellings. It was not uncommon to see barefoot, filthy children playing on the street with makeshift toys as adults who should be working looked on and drank beers from a dirty cooler parked next to a lawn chair. It wasn’t uncommon to see me there either, on that street was the same house my father grew up in. My aunt and cousins now lived there, 8 of them in a small house with dirt floors and plastic on the windows.

I didn’t care if it was poor, I didn’t even know. I was young and just happy to be with family. My father’s sister and her drunk-ass beater of a husband and my 6 cousins were family. I never thought to compare our houses, I was just a child. Mike was the youngest, he was my best friend. I learned how to play baseball, horseshoes, and basketball on that street. I first rode a bike with no trainers on that street, with Mike, wobbly and barely in control as I averted the massive water-filled potholes. It was a magical time for me until my drunk-ass uncle took it all away from me.

I was ten years old. Our family, per tradition, was spending the 4th of July on Railroad Ave. The cousins and I were doing our thing. Lighting off firecrackers, eating hot dogs, sneaking a peek at cousin John’s dirty books while playing Lynyrd Skynyrd records. Soon we heard yelling and we all ran to the picnic area. I was speechless, my uncle was shoving my father, yelling belligerently at him as my 100-pound mother and aunt tried to separate them. My uncle, spitting mad, screamed at my father to get the hell off of his property or he would get his shotgun. Nor knowing what had happened but not wanting to stick around for the shotgun, I ran to the car behind my mother and father. Of all the things I didn’t know at that moment, I definitely didn’t know what a formative moment that would be in my life.

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I would find out that night that my Uncle had accused my father of stealing a rare gold coin from his house. This coin would end up being the focus of much speculation for many years because no one, including his wife, knew of it and it didn’t make sense because he was a nasty drunk who would have sold it for beer money. But all that mattered was that he believed it, and I refused to believe it. My father was an honest man, someone had to believe in him.

My family was reeling from this event. My father, ever the honest man was dumbfounded and, perhaps most importantly, he was hurt. My mother was deeply concerned for him and for me. We would soon find out that my uncle had issued a fatwa of sorts against my Dad. Apparently, his drunk friends swore to kick my father’s ass if they saw him. His family was forbidden to speak with mine and Mike was told specifically that if he and I were seen together he would get a beating. It was so bad at one point that my father had a restraining order against my uncle.

It was a horrible time for me. I lost my best friend, I felt terrible for my father and I worried for our family’s safety. The man was truly unstable. Dark days indeed.

 

 

to be continued…

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

“Hey, I need to talk to you, it’s important. Got a minute?” It was Jay, one of my best customers. Normally a pretty light-hearted guy, he sounded pretty serious.

“Sure, what’s up. Everything OK with the account?” I asked

“Yeah, we’re great. You’re great. Your rep Tracy…not so much.” Tracy, my renegade sales rep from Hell. My Achilles heel, the Red-headed Satan, the turd in my punch bowl. What did she do now? I composed myself and asked what happened with Tracy.

“She just gave me a lengthy seminar on how to beat you out of fees and get a better deal. I feel dirty. You treat me great and my account isn’t in danger. Why did she do that?” He proceeded to tell me how my sales rep, working an account that I brought with me, given to her to maintain it and paid her on it when she didn’t really earn it, had decided to “boost” the account by undermining me and offering him a “better deal” which he didn’t need, didn’t ask for and she wasn’t authorized to offer. I listened intently as he wrapped it up and asked me to see that she never goes into his store again. I agreed and let him get off of the phone. I was beside myself.

Tracy was always a problem. When this auction had recruited me they were interested in my book of business, my proven ability to grow sales and to lead their sales team. What they did not tell me, until my first day, that I was chiefly responsible for reigning in a “renegade” employee who had been dancing on the brink of insubordination for years but they did not have enough to fire her. Tracy. So it was up to me to control her or find a way to cleanly get rid of her. Of course, the Superman in me wanted to save the day so I tried working with her. I was her manager, she would answer to me, but I would give her every opportunity to present her ideas.

For a while, it worked well. She seemed to accept me and followed my direction. As a hands-on manager we would speak several times per day and before long she was calling me with the results of a sales call or for advice. We butted heads a little bit but I was helping her make money. I threw her a few accounts to maintain. They were free money for her. I had brought the accounts with me but I didn’t have time to work on them. It made sense. Then I caught her in her first lie.

After the sale one day she submitted her commission report. I saw that she was submitting to be paid on an account that I knew for a fact she had not earned. This customer had called me the previous Monday asking to do business with me. So I asked her for some backup; notes in the system, the nature of the conversation in which he committed business, his name, and title. She could provide none of it. I drew a line through it on her sheet and warned her to never try that again. She stormed out. It was on. I wrote her up the next day. At this company, three offenses for the same thing and you are out.

I would get her one more time for the same type of infraction. She was so greedy her judgment was compromised. Customers began to complain to me about her, her inability to take no for an answer, her constant visits and phone calls and her poor service. I spent more time with her, to try to help her, to make her see what she was doing wrong. She pushed me away. She was losing customers and the ones she did keep she squeezed for more. Enter Jay, remember Jay?

Jay was the 3rd generation owner of a small Chevy dealer in Central Massachusetts. His family had never used auctions. I visited Jay often, convinced him to try it, took great care of his needs and he became a regular. When I left that auction for another, his business followed me. He was a loyal customer, a solid account, and a friend. What would motivate her, knowing this story because I told her, to take it upon herself and undermine me? Her offer of lower fees was negligible, he was getting a great deal and had no problem with us making a small margin. He was also an old-fashioned guy, he couldn’t understand how my employee would do such a thing. It was a very big deal. It was also the third strike. I wrote her up again.

The next morning I called her to review her game plan but she didn’t answer. When I walked in I saw her in the GM’s office. She made eye contact through the window then looked away. She was in there for a while. I knew something was up but I waited. Not long after, I was summoned to the GM’s office. She was nowhere to be seen. The GM and AGM asked me to sit down.

I was told that Tracy had called corporate HR and filed a harassment claim against mejjj-2018. Professional Harassment. By writing her up, completely by the book I might add, she claimed that I had created a hostile work environment for her. I asked my managers if they read my report. They had. I asked them if they remembered hiring me to do just that…control or get rid of her? They had. I slumped in my chair, exasperated, and asked what is happening.

They were not as committed to the task at hand as I was. I did my job, I cleaned up the department and made everything equitable and honest. And they were bowing down to her. She had demanded that she does not have to interact with me at all, that I was to have no input on her performance. I vehemently objected. I’m her manager, how is that supposed to work? They were firm in their chickenshit resolve, I was given an ultimatum (#JusJoJan)https://lindaghill.com/2017/12/27/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2018-rules/. Accept those terms or resign, turn in my company phone, laptop and car and I will get 6 months salary.

“You mean hush money right?”

“Don’t be like that” said my manager

“You know this is bullshit right?” He tried to keep a stern look, but I knew he agreed.

“We’ll give you an hour to decide.”

“I’ve already decided. Shove your phone, laptop, and car up her ass because I won’t work like that. You may have lost your balls but mine work just fine. I’m going to clean out my office. Which one of you is driving me home?” I walked out.

In many ways, I made a big mistake that day. I would struggle financially for a while and my wife was less than pleased. She didn’t share my righteous indignation and didn’t recognize how hard it is to look wrong in the face every day. It wasn’t about pride. I took a stand. For better or for worse I did what I felt was right.

It took her ten more years, but Tracy was finally caught stealing and was fired. They actually asked me to come back. They even admitted that I was railroaded. I told them that I was not interested in working for people that failed to support me when I needed them the most.

After all, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

 

he’s back

I’ve been away

but now I’m back

doin’ what I do

don’t give me no flack

I may act nice

hell, I really am

but know the difference

between kindness and weakness

A low profile I may keep

A good distance as well

but backed into a corner

I’ll make your life hell

I know what is what

and who knows who

aggravate and abuse me

you will never outlast me

my resolve is steady

my eyes on the prize

heaven forbid

if you underestimate me

https://lindaghill.com/2017/12/27/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2018-rules/

 

 

How to make an old lady cry

But first a joke:

Q: How do you get an 80-year-old lady to say the F-word?

A: Have another 80-year-old lady yell Bingo

All kidding aside, I did it today. I’m a bad man.

When I first moved up here in August I made it a point to get to know as many people in town as I could. It’s a nice community and I didn’t want to be the “new guy” that people stared at for long (in a town this small it could take years). In addition, I needed money so I put it out there to the few that I met that I was available for small jobs. In an aging community such as this, I was sure that I would be utilized. One woman, in particular, was excited at the prospect of some help and invited me over to show me some projects she wanted to be done. She was a sweet lady in her early 80’s, very fit for her age with an 1800’s era farmhouse that was clearly in need of major repairs. She offered me some work in her enormous yard, all manageable stuff, and left it with me that she would call when she was ready for me. She never called.

I saw her at the Community Club meeting in December and I asked her, nicely, why she never called me. She had seemed so eager after all. She dodged the question and I let it go. I would find out later that she is very poor and probably is unable to pay me. We never actually discussed money, but I know that I would be reasonable with her. Anything helps after all. I decided that I would say something to her.

As the meeting wound down and everyone was putting on their coats, I approached her and said “We never actually talked about money, but I assure you it’s not a big deal to me. If you need something just call me I’ll be happy to help.” She looked as though someone had removed 200 pounds from her shoulders, the elephant in the room had left. She thanked me and went home.

She called me Saturday morning. She asked me if I would help her remove some snow from her roof. It was an understandable request, she certainly has at least a foot of it on her house and her roof is old. I told her I would be over to take a look at it Sunday at 11. I went over and when she showed me I wanted to say no. I’m in the middle of a disability claim and falling off a roof would certainly be inadvisable. It looked brutally difficult and time-consuming and I wasn’t sure if I was up to it. We talked for a while and in the course of the conversation, and she wasn’t trying to do this, she painted a picture of how alone she was, how overwhelmed with the maintenance of the old house, and how she was struggling with this brutal winter. I immediately knew that I would help her. As the conversation wound down on its own momentum, I said “I’ll be here Tuesday at 10. It won’t rain between now and then you’ll be fine.” She was so very happy.

I wasn’t. I was dreading it. It would be hard, treacherous work. But the weather would at least be warm.

I showed up this morning dressed in my best waterproof gear. Boots, snow pants, gloves, shovel and snow rake and I was ready to go. I trudged around the back of the house through unbroken snow (harder than it looks), climbed the ladder and immediately knew I had made an enormous mistake. There was more snow than on Keith Richards’ coffee table. But I went to it.

It was brutal work, it was warm enough that my feet went right down to the slippery surface. I almost fell off the roof twice. I had to move all of the snow to the front of the house because the back side was weak and I may fall through. 3 hours later I had managed, after frequent breaks to suck wind, to shovel all of it to the front side of the house. I was exhausted. I slid, no joke, to the ladder on my back and headed down. Once I trudged to the front of the house I realized I had completely filled in her shoveled walkway with the snow from the roof. 45 minutes later that was done. And so was I.

Exhausted, I went into her open barn and sat down on a lawn chair. A few minutes later she pulled in to the driveway and came in the barn. She was pleased with the work and could see that I was wiped out.

“Thank you so much, how much do I owe you?”

I looked up and said, “You owe me nothing.”

She was flustered, insistent that I simply couldn’t do that. I told her I wouldn’t take her money. She started to cry.

I explained to her that I was going for a different reaction. I wanted her to be happy. To have one less thing to worry about. She was so truly grateful I almost got emotional. I knew that I wasn’t going to accept any money from her that previous Sunday. I surmised that she would have to pay a snow removal service hundreds of dollars she didn’t have if I said no. Now that I was done, alive, vertebrae intact and out of cardiac arrest danger, it felt right.

“I have to do something for you, at some point,” she said, more composed. I told her I lost my hat. If it blows off the roof in the spring let me know.

You don’t give to get. You give for the sake of giving. Today I was able to make an old lady cry. And dammit, I’ll do it again. ‘Cause I’m a jerk like that.

Peace

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big boy pants

jjj-2018

Today’s topic for Just Jot in January is pants. Considering I just got back from the wake for my often-discussed recently deceased friend Tony, I can think of no better topic.

The wake was as crowded as I had expected. Tony was a well-known and well-liked guy. The crowd consisted mostly of older people, not surprising given his age. Other than his family was an endless line of people who had worked with Tony at the restaurant over his 40-year tenure.

I had the good fortune to sit with some guys who I had only heard the legends of, from Tony of course, but never met until tonight. All they could do was talk about how miserable of a place it was to work. And I thought of all of the times that Tony, after a couple of Courvoisier’s would show his soft white underbelly and state, not complain, state his unhappiness at the hours of his life spent in that one small room while his kids grew up. He lamented the missed weddings and nights out with friends that occurred while he worked. But he immediately came down to earth, shook it off and convinced me, and himself perhaps a little, that it had to be done.

You see, in 1969, in a bad economy, with a pregnant wife and bills to pay you did what you had to do. Even though they didn’t have this expression then, he “put on his big boy pants” and didn’t look back.

Just one of the many reasons I will miss him.

Even when you’re ready for it

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When you know someone is dying it is like being staked to the ground watching a snowball headed for your face. You can do nothing but wait and let it happen. And it stings like a bitch when it hits you. My friend Tony died today. I was expecting it but a massive ouch just the same.

This won’t be a long post, I already wrote a post about him a couple of weeks ago that nobody read so I wouldn’t want to subject more of you to not read it again. (here is the link if you do)

I am feeling so many things right now. I am sad that the world lost another honest, hard-working, simple and decent man. He had the adoration of his children, the devotion of his wife, and the respect of everyone that had the good fortune to meet him.

I’m upset that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. It’s bad enough when someone goes and you realize that you have unfinished business; or that you are unhappy with the last thing you said to that person; or that you meant to visit them but you just didn’t get around to it. But I made the effort. I reached out to the family, asking to visit Tony, but Tony didn’t want visitors. He just wanted to be alone.

Finally, I am feeling nostalgic. One of the only things about working at that miserable restaurant was working with him. It continues to baffle me how any task, like sweating your ass off while serving hundreds of people in one night, can be fun when around those that you love. And I do love Tony, he was like a second father to me. When I was mad at my own, it was Tony who reminded me to love and honor my father because he only wanted the best for me. This from a guy who worked every weekend and holiday, never seeing his family. to do the best for them that he could.

I don’t know what kind of work ethic I had when I met Tony but I know what it is now. I credit him so much for that. Work meant something to him, it wasn’t a source of “braggadocio”, it instead gave a man his honor. I would come to value the accomplished feeling of a job well done, of contributing, of making a difference.

Losing Tony is like losing a part of me. I take comfort knowing that as recently as a few months ago I saw him. We enjoyed a cocktail and I gave him an envelope that he wasn’t allowed to open until I was gone. Inside was a letter telling him how much I cared for him, thankful for all that he taught me and how grateful I was that he had beat Round 1 of Pancreatic Cancer. I know he read it, but he wouldn’t mention it even if I asked.

At least I don’t have the awful burden of things unsaid. I just wish I could have sat with him and squeezed out of him one more of his trademark laughs.

He always told me to say hi to my Dad for him. I hope he gets to do it in person. I’m sure they are in the same place.

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Goodbye dear friend

 

My Friend Tony

Can I tell you the story of Tony? It would mean a lot if you would let me.

I spent a lot of years working at a restaurant. 17 to be exact. I have some great memories and I have some bad ones but overall it continues to be a formative period in my life. I made some great friends, learned some valuable skills and I met my wife there. The place is still there, as busy as ever, but I don’t go there as often as I used to. The food sucks, speaking as the former kitchen manager, and is too expensive. Additionally, my soon-to-be ex-wife still works there and I don’t want to go in and deal with all of the uncomfortable conversation. You see, we were a big story, a famous Prince (the name of the restaurant) couple. But there is one thing that I will always go there for, and that is to see my friend Tony. He works part time now, doing small chores to keep busy, He’s retired but he can’t sit still. Yesterday I went in to see him but he wasn’t there. He is in a Hospice…dying of Pancreatic Cancer.

Tony, now 80 years old, is the son of a Sicilian immigrant. He moved here when he was a teen, entered school as a senior, and despite a serious language disadvantage, graduated and joined the Army. His father worked on the docks in Boston and his mother dutifully cared for their modest home. Tony’s father never learned a word of English in his 92 years, his co-workers and his son worked around it. When Tony left the Army, he met a lovely young lady named Linda and he married her. Soon after he responded to a help-wanted ad posted on a little Northern Italian eatery in the town in which he lived. The owner was also an Italian immigrant who was glad to hire him. By the time I met Tony he had busted his ass, and I am understating this, for that man for 20 years.

When I first met Tony, I was a young college drop-out, freshly recovered from a motorcycle accident, hired as a “kitchen hand”. A title which entailed anything from prep-work to scrubbing pots. I hated it, the hours were long, the work was brutal and mind-numbing. I didn’t complain about the work because the after work beer was free and I was in the company of some very hard workers, most of them immigrants with limited English, big hands and bad tempers. They also didn’t speak to me. Tony was the first one. He called me a “slow Irish prick” and told me to “hurry the fuck up.” The fact that I was Scottish and going as fast as I could apparently irrelevant.

I didn’t know what “old school” really was until I started working at Prince. I came to understand their version of it as a rite of initiation. You must pay your dues, earn their respect, become worthy of them including you in conversation. If you are really “in” they will speak English in front of you. The golden ticket was a shot at working on the front line. Serving dinners for the laypeople out there. You must be worthy of their training and you had better be good. Sadly, at that time in my life my only goal was to move up to the line. I got my shot after a year of grunt work. I would be working next to Tony.

After my first few months on the line Tony did loosen up some and talked to me. I learned fast and I worked to his liking. It was if one day he realized I was for real (as a worker, maybe as a person). When that day came, and the curtain fell, I instantly liked him a lot. He was genuine and without pretense. And it was all about respect with him. Apparently, I earned it because before long we were laughing as we worked, enjoying the disapproving looks of the others. I became his protégé, although it felt more like “whipping boy” at times. Every shift we worked we were paired up. We would eventually become great friends but it took a while and several obstacles.

I would come to know Tony as a very nice, often obstinate, family-oriented and honest man. He believed in the American values of hard work, family and prosperity. He was respected at work and at home, but he did a tremendous job of keeping the two separated. His family was off-limits. No jokes about his wife were allowed, and no one who worked with him would ever date his beautiful daughter, or he would absolutely snap. If you could respect that Tony was easy. But there was one other thing, he didn’t like to be called stupid. Ever see Marty McFly when someone called him “chicken”? Yeah, something like that. I crossed that line a few times and the fights were awful. He would go days without talking to me. I hated it.

After 16 years of comraderie, hard work, a few fights and many after work drinks, Tony began to slow down. His age, a growing menu, my increasing skills and speed made it necessary that he and I would change places. I would become shift leader and he would assist me. It wasn’t my idea but I offered to be the one to tell him. To my surprise, he wasn’t upset, He was tired and welcomed the break. He would have been mad if I wasn’t the one given the position and he made that clear. We worked together exclusively until he slowed down further and was relegated to other responsibilities. He would retire soon after, not interested in a supporting role and more interested in enjoying time with his wife. He would stay on and do small jobs such as make salad dressings and take care of the hundreds of plants throughout the 700 seat restaurant. Working the line would never be the same, I missed having to repeat myself constantly. I missed listening to him tell the new help jokes that I had heard a hundred times. I missed having him tell me how I “wasn’t shit” compared to him in his day. He was probably right. Soon after, I found a full- time job in the world of business. My restaurant experience had gotten old.

I would visit Tony frequently at home and at work. I would time it so we could have a drink together and talk about the old day. What we did, who he hated, etc. It was always great to see him. I was really looking forward to having that drink, to update him on recent events, to see how he is feeling after he recently beat the odds (15%) with a bout of Pancreatic Cancer. I had sent him a long note about how much I loved him because he couldn’t have visitors. He called me and tearfully thanked me for the note.

When he recovered I was almost as happy as he was. I had recently heard from my wife that he was doing good for a while and that he was back to work. I now know that he isn’t. No one knows where he is, per his request. I want to see him so bad. I want to tell him again, in case he forgot, how much his friendship meant to me. To reflect on the thousands of conversations we had over the years. The world is losing a great man. What he taught me about hard work, being a simple and honest man, and to make the most of your situation will always be etched on my being.

If I don’t get to see him, I am comfortable that he knows how I feel about him. We’ve pretty much said everything to each other. But I will always be able to visualize him shrugging his shoulders, with his goofy self-effacing smile, saying  “After all, It’s just a job.”