My hands had sweaters for weeks.
A friend is someone who knows you so well that they can tell what you’re thinking without being told, knows how you’re feeling and how you respond to certain things, and knows all your likes and dislikes. Really, really close friends learn these things so that they can use the information against you in unspeakable and evil ways.
I worked in the college bookstore industry for over 22 years until some lumpy guy with an MBA and no chin from the corporate office downsized me. I got my two month “golden parachute,” a “thanks for 22 years of hard work,” a hardy handshake and the prospect of standing on the street corner for the rest of my life with a “Hungry, please help me” sign clutched between my gaunt, white hands. It all worked out for the best, but at the time, faced with losing my job and not getting to work with the two guys I had come to look at as brothers, life seemed pretty low.
Twenty two years is a long time to do any one thing and it’s amazing the amount of useless information that I had gathered in my head over that period of time. Equally daunting to me was the realization of exactly how useless that information was outside of the college bookstore industry. I guess it’s the same with any industry, but it was a bit of a shock trying to figure out how I was going to feed the family knowing that the only real information I had to offer prospective employers was things like knowing the first six digits of the skus for all the vendors I ordered from or that the Pentel P207 is the finest mechanical pencil every made and that the only stapler worth owning was the Swingline 747 (it comes in red, too).
There were things I wasn’t going to miss about the bookstore, like stacking boxes of books or dealing with helicopter moms, but there were things I would miss terribly, things that I still miss to this day like working with some of my closest friends and the energy generated by kids attending college for the first time and the feeling of knowing that I could probably answer any question they could ask. AND, there was also nothing quite like attending the annual college bookstore trade show.
Not many people get to experience all expense paid trips to big cities, staying in nice hotels and eating food you can’t afford in real life. And the only real cost you had to pay was the pound of flesh you lost by having to weave your way through row after row of seedy-looking vendors who were doing everything they legally could do to get you to buy their junk. I relished it. I placed a lot of orders, but I also did my best to cram as much free vendor swag as possible into my bags. Free stuff meant that I wouldn’t have to think about what to get my kids for Christmas again that year.
Okay, I wasn’t as bad as that, but I did keep their drawers filled for years with everything from floaty fish and Rubik’s Cubes to hacky sacks and pen lights. I have four kids, but vendors were more than happy to let me have four packages of whatever I wanted. If I took them it meant that they didn’t have to pack it up and bring it back home with them. I was so excited to give this stuff to my kids that I would ship my clothes home in a box and stuff my luggage with the trinkets.
I loved going to the trade show and kind of forgot about it as I started my new job. After four years it was completely out of my mind, that is, until I received a trade show gift package in the mail from my bookstore friends Keith and Chuck. I was never so excited to open a package in my life. I carried it around the office, hugging it to my body, showing others, and even opened it in the presence of a few people to let them revel in the gifts that were all mine. I even might have actually laughed out loud and danced a little, held it to my face and called it “My Precious.”
I pulled out trade show T-shirts, fake teeth, mustache tattoos, dollar store flash lights, paper pads and cheap pens. It was a bunch of junk – except for the golf balls – but I loved it. I was just really touched that they cared enough to remember me in their fun.
I immediately texted them to thank them for thinking of me and I told them how much I appreciated their “gift.”
“Thought you would like it,” was the reply I got.
“Thought you would like this, too:” was the second text I received a few minutes later.
Yep. It turned my gift into a box of Ebola. Boy, I love my friends.