His name was Max. He was a 47 year-old single father who would sometimes bring his kids to the office. They would sit in the conference room and watch movies. Max was one of the new guys and I was told to show him the ropes. It didn’t matter that I was 27 and married for less than a month or that I had been with the company about three months longer than he had because I had seniority.
Seniority meant that I technically knew more and that he was obligated to watch, listen and learn from me or so our branch manager told him. I was too green to recognize that he was shoveling a load full of manure over both of us. Maybe Max knew, maybe he recognized that he was being shuffled off to go work with some kid and was smart enough to keep his mouth shut.Â I really don’t know or at least I don’t remember him saying anything to me about that.
What I do remember is that he and climbed into my new Honda Accord and rode off into the wilderness to go sell copiers. It wasn’t what anyone with sense would call a great job. We spent hours walking up and down the street and visiting offices where we would try to convince the people there that they needed to spend a lot of money leasing a piece of equipment that would depreciate by 75% in a month. Ok, that might be an exaggeration but the point is that by the end of the lease the best offer they would get would be from us. At least that was the goal- sell them something that worked really well for a short period of time so that 24-36 months later you could provide them with credit for the new and improved version.
The first day that Max and I went out the thermometer outside the building said that it was 103. I was dressed in a black suit and armed with a twenty pound briefcase. Six hours and 3 miles later I had lost twenty pounds in water weight. We had secured a few leads but not as many as I would have liked. More than a few of the receptionists had taken pity on the sweat covered men and insisted on providing us with glasses of cold water.
Max asked me if it was true that I was going to the Olympics and I nodded my head in affirmation. When he asked for details I said very little and told him that I had won a regional sales contest. He congratulated me and told me that he was jealous. I said that there was no reason to be jealous and he shook his head. “If I was your age I could just start over.”
The words hung in the air. I didn’t know how to respond. So I went with the “you can always start over” and told him that all he had to do was try. He sighed deeply and told me that he wished it was so simple. He had too many responsibilities and that kept him from doing anything. I told him that I thought that he was wrong and he asked me what I would do if my wife stopped putting out, stopped talking to me, had a mortgage and kids. I laughed and told him that he painted a very pleasant picture of the future. He looked at me and said that I didn’t have a clue as to how life could push, pull and yank two people apart. Looked at me and said that I didn’t understand how you could love kids so fiercely that you would be willing to do almost anything to protect them from pain and said that I should call him in 15 years.
I didn’t say anything but my poker face gave betrayed me and he knew what I was thinking. “Jack, you only think you know about life but you don’t know dick yet.”
That was enough to elicit a response from me. I told him that I thought that it was sad that he would just give up without a fight and that I didn’t need to have kids to know about life. He looked at me and smiled, told me to call him again in a few years after friends had died and gotten divorced. I thanked him for being a ray of sunshine and said that while I couldn’t say for certain that all of my friends would stay together statistically speaking it was highly unlikely that any of my friends would die any time soon and really, it would probably be a while before anyone got divorced.
Fifteen years later five couples are no more and there are five fewer friends walking above ground. I guess that Max was right about a few things. In all fairness he wasn’t bitter all the time. He had a presence and personality to him and could tell a great joke. I learned a few tricks from him on how to make a proper presentation and I came to like his kids very much. I sometimes wonder what happened to Max but I really don’t have any way to find out.Â You see, several months after he came on board he had a major heart attack and that was the last we saw of him.
To the best of my knowledge he didn’t die, but while he was recovering I got a new job and left the company. I can’t say that I have thought about him all that much, but I can say that when I have I always remembered that I promised not to be as bitter as he was. Even during the darkest hours I have always figured that they were just moments in time that would one day be nothing but specks in the past.