“A Few Words About Gary,” by Wim Hylen

Apr 20th, 2018 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

When they asked me to say a few words at Gary’s retirement party, I was nervous. I’m not much of a public speaker. But when I started to think of what I’d say, I got nostalgic. Gary and I go way back. We started together at the County in the Payroll Division 26 years ago. We were young men then, in our early thirties. Both of us had left the private sector to take our first government jobs. This was back when government work was still considered honorable, ha, ha. We were itching to show everyone what we knew. We had full heads of hair back then, too, believe it or not. We learned the ropes together. After a few years, Gary got a promotion and transferred to the Benefits Department. We lost touch for a while but a while later I also transferred to Benefits. It was great to work with Gary again; it was like old times except we were a little older and hopefully, a little wiser. Other things had also changed: new County Commissioners and division directors had come in and shook things up. People who we just assumed would be here forever were gone overnight.

But I’m digressing. Here are some great things about Gary: He’s disciplined. He has a steely resolve. I mean, has he ever taken a sick day? Has he ever been late to a meeting? If so, it’s news to me. That’s one heck of a track record. Of course, when it comes to the things he says in meetings, the discipline sometimes goes out the window. Am I right, Gar? Gary says what’s on his mind and good luck trying to predict what that will be. An enigma wrapped in a riddle as they say. But you know why I think he’s like that? Because he cares about the truth. It would be easy to say what people want to hear but it wouldn’t be the truth, would it? And you’re not going to get a lot of feel-good BS, excuse the expression, from Gary. For example, when my daughter was little she did a drawing of a butterfly. It was so cute, the butterfly had a human head with a mustache, and I showed it to Gary. “I don’t think it’s her best work,” he said.

Do I even need to mention that he’s one of the smartest people I know? And his creativity is amazing. So many imaginative solutions from this guy. How many times have I left a meeting thinking, “damn, why didn’t I think of that?” Because I’m not Gary, that’s why.

He’s also generous. One time I was standing in line at Guacamole’s and Gary was ahead of me. When I get to the cashier she tells me that the fellow in front of me paid for my burrito. I’m kind of scratching my head because Gary doesn’t owe me money or anything. So when I sit down I say, “Thanks, buddy. But why’d you pay for me?” He just looks at me and says, “What do you mean ‘why’? Why not?” End of story.

He’s not a guy who talks a lot about his personal life. I think Gary may have a wife and a few kids but that’s just a guess, ha, ha. But at the end of the day isn’t that the sort of person you want to work with? I mean, who wants to deal with someone who on Monday morning gives you the blow by blow of everything they did on the weekend, all the gory and boring details? Not me, that’s for sure.

So I guess what I’m saying is that Gary is the kind of employee the County should be proud to have and hate to see go. Because let’s be honest, County government isn’t always the easiest place to work. Of course, all jobs have office politics and frictions but when you add ideology and Politics with a capital P to the mix, well, things can get rough on people who are just trying to do the best they can. We certainly don’t do it for the money, right? And we don’t do it because we enjoy furloughs, pay freezes, layoff scares and being disparaged as lazy. So I started thinking, why do we do it? I mean aside from Meatloaf Thursday at the Department of Revenue cafeteria, ha, ha. I can’t believe they’re thinking of shutting that down, by the way.  Would it be too idealistic and naive to say we do it because there is something noble in government service? And would it be crazy to say that maybe some of us, including Gary, are here because we’re dedicated to serving the public? I won’t hold my breath that Gary, a man of few words, will reveal why he’s spent his 26 years in government, but it’s food for thought. So, in conclusion, I would say this to my friend and coworker as he retires…

Geez, what the heck was that? Woe, easy there, Gary! What a joker. Well, it’s your cake so I guess you can throw it if you want. Did I call it or what? Unpredictable is Gary’s middle name. Is lobbing cake at coworkers the new trend in retirement parties? Ha, ha. I think you got a little frosting in my hair. Wait, Gary, we have to go back to work after this. Fun is fun but let’s not let it get out of hand.

You are going to clean this up, right? Hey now, let’s leave the chairs where they are. Tossing those around could do some real damage. You may be laughing now but enough is enough! Am I the only one surprised at this? Is this any way to celebrate a retirement? Oh God, don’t encourage him! We’re accomplices in this if we egg him on.

Et tu, Marjorie? I mean, does this make sense to anyone? We’re not retiring, people. Only Gary is. We have our careers to think of. Sure, I can see the attraction. It must be liberating, a rush maybe, to throw things. To release the tension that been building up for years around here. To hurl back some of the abuse that’s been lobbed at us. To say to hell with the fear that rules us. But we’re adults and this is government property.

Ok, maybe I am analyzing it too much, Ed, but I’m just thinking out loud here. All right, all right, Marjorie, I’ll give it a shot. But just once. Help me pick up this table, Todd. Let’s see if this sucker can fly. The important thing is to stay away from the windows. Can we all agree on that? If any windows get broken we’ll known we’ve gone too far.


Wim Hylen’s work has been published in Four Chambers, Café Irreal, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, among other places. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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