This blog is officially "retired," but my other blog,
"The Lair of the Silver Fox," is still open for business!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Everybody Counts, Everybody Matters

I've devoted a lot of space in these RantZ to celebrity obituaries. Well, not obituaries per se, but little tributes of my own, as it were. And not just any celebrities -- Lord knows, there are plenty of places on the internet which fulfill that particular function! -- but those celebrities for whom I held a particular respect, fondness, and/or admiration. And I've tried to say something with my own personal slant each time.

The man pictured above was Joe Belanger. The vast majority of visitors to this page won't know who he was. He wasn't famous, but he was a man who fulfilled all the qualifications of my stated definitions for "respect, fondness, and/or admiration." And actually, in Joe's case, the word "or" doesn't apply.

For approximately 12 years, beginning in 1988, my so-called "day job" was for a chain of grocery stores in New England. This chain shuttled its full-time employees and managers around on a regular basis. I worked for Joe three times (if memory serves) during my years with the company. He was, at various times in my association with him, either an assistant store manager, or a full-fledged manager. He was competent and personable, a too-often-unseen mix in that particular environment. I used to joke that he was far too down-to-earth to have risen to any position of importance with the chain.

Yep, down-to-earth says it. He was very unpretentious; you never really felt that you were talking to A Manager (except for the implicit, underlying, earned respect I mentioned earlier), but instead, to a real person. He didn't mind listening to my corny jokes, and often had one or two of his own. And they were never delivered with that usual haughty managerial "I'm in charge, so you'd better laugh at this!" attitude. You laughed because the jokes were funny (well, whenever they were), and because Joe was genuinely likable.

Once I had facetiously asked him, "If you plant watermelon seeds to get watermelons, how do you get seedless grapes?" Just one of those observations which makes you think for a split second, unless and until you take it seriously enough to answer it, like Gallagher's "Why is there a mailbox outside the post office?" Joe stood there long enough to give me a full, serious, learned reply. But he wasn't merely answering me because he'd missed the miniscule humor in what I'd said; the twinkle in his eye told me he'd purposely and mischievously "spoiled" my joke instead. The twinkle increased when he saw the look on my face as I said, "You would know the answer to that!"

On another memorable occasion, Joe also caused me to shake my head with chagrin, as in "I can't believe I just fed you a punchline!" I had recently moved to a new apartment, and I needed to know whom I should speak to and what forms to fill out in order to apprise the company of my new residential and mailing addresses. Wanting to be uncharacteristically brief, I walked up to him and asked, simply, "Joe, how do I go about changing my address?" Without missing a beat, he looked at me and matter-of-factly replied, "Move."

Not side-splittingly funny, true, but I was still somewhat mortified that I'd set him up for that.

I hadn't seen him in a couple of years, maybe more. (I left the chain in 2000, but had encountered him once or twice while shopping or visiting former co-workers.) Early yesterday, I chanced upon his obituary in the local newspaper. I was stunned, to say the least. He died "after a long battle with pancreatic cancer," according to the notice. He was 57, not that much older than myself, really. Yet another reminder of my own mortality.

My own extreme reaction to his death surprised me with its unexpected intensity. Yet another example of "you don't know what you've got, till it's gone." So I had to write something on my RantZ page, the only real outlet I have for this sort of thing. And I had to write it even 'though most of my readers never met him. And now, never will.

So in a way, his death is still your loss.

And mine.

Thanks for your time.

1 comment:

Keair Snyder said...

So much death going on so far in this blog. No wonder you retired the damned thing! lol He seemed like a kind man, your friend. Sorry for that loss even if I am 6 years late in delivering it.

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