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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Of all the jobs I've had in my life, the one I loved the most is also the one I hated the most. The fact that I stayed with it for eight years, even after a humiliating demotion, tells you how much I wanted it to work out. If I hadn't been promoted beyond my ability, I might still be there, happy and successful.

I wasn't management material, though. Oddly enough, it wasn't personnel handling that was my downfall. It wasn't even dealing with the public, which I turned out to be somewhat good at, in spite of my social awkwardness. In retail you have to relate to people, whether it comes naturally or not. I was lucky enough to have two mentors, two bosses who helped me find a way to be comfortable with customers.

The first was Mr. L, whom I wrote about when I learned of his death four and a half years ago. He gave me my first real job after college and showed me, mostly by the example of his larger-than-life personality, that a successful sales person is one who's more interested in the customer than in the product. Everyone was his friend, and a little of that rubbed off. Obviously, it didn't change who I was, but it changed the way others saw me, and by extension the way I saw myself.

The other boss who had a major impact on my life was Rick. Rick owned the store where I went to work after Mr. L retired. He recruited me when he was buying store fixtures at the going-out-of-business sale. I always tried to justify his faith in me, and he kept giving me chances. I was assistant manager of the big store, then manager of the new store, and after that manager of an existing store that had a lot of potential but was going downhill due to poor management.

For a while I made that store the star location of the chain. Money was rolling in, and I was given all the credit. I was also given more and more responsibility, way more than I knew what to do with. Inventory control became a problem. Profits started to dry up, and soon Rick was looking for a way to get me out of trouble, more for the sake of his stores than for my own sake.

But I wouldn't let him fire me. I asked if I could stay with the store when the new manager came in, and he agreed. That lasted for about three months, until the new guy found an excuse to get rid of me. I can't say that I blame him, because my heart wasn't really in it any more. I tried, but I failed. It was probably the worst time of my life.

I learned a lot from Rick, but even more than that, I had a lot of fun with him. He could tell a joke or embellish a true story better than anyone I ever knew. I cherished the time I spent with him, because I knew that I'd be laughing a lot and never bored. He was a confirmed cynic, but he enjoyed life. He could sting you with sarcasm, but he loved people, and a little of that rubbed off on me. He had a keen, analytical mind that could find connections and meaning in every detail and every moment of every day.

I've taken something away from every job I ever had, and this one, that was so miserable for me, was also one of the happiest experiences of my life.

28 August 2004

Revmoing the blackberry bramble along the side fence revealed this structure.

Rick's obituary was in the paper today. We've only seen each other one time since I stopped working for him, a week before Christmas in 1985. We were on the same bus to a Giants game at Pac Bell Park a couple of years ago, and the subject of my failure didn't come up. He was still the same wickedly funny, insightful man I spent eight years of my life working with. I've hardly spoken with him for nearly two decades, but somehow tonight I miss him.

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