A Big Goodbye From Lots Of Us

There comes a time in every man’s life when he must choose the more difficult path of change for the sake of his own well-being. I made this choice last November, and though there have been consequences, I am satisfied that I made the right decision. There are times when the work is no longer as appealing as it once may have been, or perhaps the people at the top have changed (or haven’t, depending on how well one is able to tolerate one’s superiors). Whatever the reason, there comes a day when enough is finally enough, and, for the sake of health or sanity (or both), one must walk away from place of employment to seek out his fortune somewhere else. And for those people who are left behind, it is rarely easy to say goodbye. It seems that the people who would gladly be missed by their coworkers and subordinates never seem to leave, and the friends and inspirational managers we work for are always on the move, half burned out, and looking for vistas which won’t scar and maim them anymore. I’m not going to pretend that I am truly missed at my last job: The stress was eating me alive, and though I did my best to keep the best of my employees happy, I learned long ago that most of them were only nice to me as a form of self-defense. And so it goes…

Before I go any further, let me just say that I have not quit my latest job (though I have begun the search for something else). Despite its drawbacks (excruciating physicality on my artist’s form, pittance of compensation combined with less than full-time hours, and a sense of malaise which has recently fallen upon the merry lot of us), it is a paying gig, and right now, that’s more important than ethics. God, my younger self will never let me live this down. I know, I know, times like these are precisely when one needs to abide by his ethics, but then, is it ethical to make my son discover the joys of outside living and dumpster diving. No child of mine will become Freegan! But the fact is that if I am to leave this place, I have to have something else lined up to fall immediately into. I’ve played with the notion of putting out feelers toward the end of returning to the last place I worked (but with some firm conditions), though that may have more to do with it being the devil I know. For right now, I will just say that I’m staying put, though I’m now looking forward to it far less than I was when I was getting ready for my first day at four a.m.

You see, the entire point of this was to say goodbye to a manager of mine. You may remember him from previous entries where I was describing the battles for the fundamental paradigm of how the store was to be run. Yesterday was his last day with us. As I looked into the warehouse today, and counted the days down until the next truck would be arriving, I realized just how integral to that place he truly had been. He’d been stuck running with less than half of the staff he needed, based upon volume, and it was finally catching up. He told me that he still liked the job, but it came down to not being able to work for the Man Who Would Not Leave. In that way, it reminded me of when I left McDonald’s for the last time: They were just about to roll out the new drinks (which meant expensive new equipment that would lock in the owner for more years than he was willing), and so the owner decided to retire and sell his stores. The new owner we wound up working for was a real piece of work, valuing lapdog loyalty and a ruthless lack of humanity. I could have survived that, I think, were it not for the fact that, despite assurances from both the former and current owners that my compensation would not change, it did. I lost my health insurance and my scheduled overtime. One or the other would have been manageable, but together, they were the straws which broke Tex Batmart’s back.

It seems that I have drifted off-topic once again.

I only knew Joe (not his real name, obviously) for about a month, and though I though highly of him, I don’t know that I knew him well enough to call him my friend. Given time (and a possible promotion on my part, so that he wouldn’t have had to deal with the awkward nature of befriending a lowly part-timer), I think that I would have liked to have known him as one. Like all good managers, he led by example, setting the tone for his entire crew. He understood the necessity of levity to break up what would otherwise have been mind-numbing and back-breaking labor. He never asked us to do something that he himself was incapable of doing, and was always willing to spend a little extra time to make sure that we understood what he was asking of us. He had standards, and wasn’t afraid to cut someone loose who wasn’t willing to work, but he also believed in building people up, and giving them the chances and the tools they needed to succeed. You see, it wasn’t just a job to him. He actually drank the Kool-Aid (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). He understood the job, the store,  and the industry on a fundamental level. Watching him work, even short-handed and harried upon all sides, it was like watching master at his craft (like that time I got to see Robby Krieger play at the Ballard Firehouse), a blur of intentional motion, fluid and with purpose, almost hypnotic in its grace. It was both inspiring and a source of shame, in that one could only hope to achieve that competence someday, and no matter how good we were, we still didn’t measure up to him.

So now the store feels empty (though the warehouse is quite full). The mutters of discontent among the workers are growing, much like a restaurant transitioning from early afternoon to dinnertime. I don’t know what will become of us, here at this place we work, but I do know that it will not be the same. So it is with a heavy heart, filled almost entirely with trepidation toward my future, that I say goodbye. Thank you for spending the time with me to help me understand it. Thank you for the connection. Thank you for making what would otherwise have been unbearable, something approaching tolerable. I will miss our talks during breaks, and those conversations we had about everything and nothing, and the subtle art of management. I wish you nothing but the best (well, maybe a minor inconvenience for leaving us- leaving me- in the lurch), and just want you to know that you will be missed, and that, to at least some of us, you mattered here.

And remember: “You know that’s bad for you, right?”

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