Issue #15: You’re a Loyal Friend, and True.
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Today I’m sharing a few random thoughts and a long chapter from my latest book-in-progress - Library Confidential.
Here we are and it’s Memorial Day weekend, and I’m thinking about my Dad. Although he served in and survived the Vietnam War, I still think of him as a war casualty because of the way it affected his life for forty years afterwards.
When he was still healthy and able, for Memorial Day, he would often get on his Harley-Davidson and ride to Washington DC as part of a Rolling Thunder convoy where he’d pay his respects at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial.
If he couldn’t ride to DC, then he attended the Memorial Day parades and carried flags for fallen veterans in his community of Midland, Michigan. He was a good soldier, and was always there to honor and respect other soldiers.
He died almost ten years ago this July at the age of 62. And so, I dedicate this edition to my Dad, and to all soldiers who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country.
He was lucky - Vietnam didn’t kill him while he was there. He did get to go on and live his life, get married (four times, but who’s counting) and have children. I know he had moments of happiness and joy.
But I also know he lived for forty more years with the addictions, the PTSD, the shame of what happened to him in Vietnam and multiple, ongoing medical issues. He did suffer. Most combat veterans do, even when they look fine.
When he passed, I put up a website with a eulogy and a couple of stories about him, and I heard from many of his friends. Some were long-time neighbors, some had served in the Marine Corps with him, some were just small-town friends who he’d known for decades. Every person who reached out to me with condolences all said the same thing about him:
He was a good and loyal friend. A helpful neighbor. A man always willing to lend a hand, a toolbox, a truck, a fishing pole, or a shoulder to cry on.
And as I sit here and weep a little thinking about all the nice things his friends had to say about him - well, it kind of fits with the theme I’ve been pondering these past few weeks.
He wasn’t the greatest Dad to me, but he was a good friend to many. I miss him in this world and I think of him often.
I wish it could have been different for him. For all of us.
See you in the woods, Dad. I love you.
We recently watched a little documentary called Perfect Bid - the story of an elementary school mathematics teacher who was a superfan of The Price is Right. This guy showed up to countless tapings and memorized pricing schemes, and would help contestants by shouting out the bids if they needed help. He made it to Contestant’s Row once.
He was so well known that Bob Barker acknowledged him during a show after helping another contestant get onstage. Impressed at his dedication and good nature, Bob said to him “You’re a loyal friend, and true.”
For some reason, that phrase charmed me, and has been stuck in my head the past few weeks. So simple and elegant, really.
You're a loyal friend, and true.
I’ve been thinking alot about my friends. Old friends, new friends, friends from high school, friends from LA, friends from college, friends from work. Loyal friends and fair-weather friends and social media friends. And a few friends that have passed away.
Last month, on a Thursday afternoon after school, we drove up to North Phoenix with the kids to The Friends Experience - an interactive traveling “museum” of the show, complete with the orange sofa and the sets and some of the costumes. It was a fun and low-stress family outing.
My daughter has been obsessed with Friends for a few years now, to the point where she knows every episode of every season, every storyline, every guest star, every character quirk.
All of this delights me.
The show is a time capsule of my generation - an era that felt much more normal and sane than what we are currently living through. The era before cell phones and social media, when people could speak and joke more freely without threat of cancellation, financial ruin, or physical assault.
Those were the days, weren’t they?
I think we all had that time in our life when our friends were our surrogate family, where we experienced and explored and did wild things and shared our deepest fears and hopes with friends who accepted who we were, unconditionally.
Friends who were always there for you. Who genuinely cared about your well-being.
I still have a few of those friends - but the circle has gotten smaller as I’ve gotten older, and I can’t say it’s a bad thing.
I think what I need at this stage of my life is a writing friend. A creative collaborator. Someone who understands my writer's brain. A mentor, maybe, someone who might see something in my work that I’m not seeing. And likewise, someone who might want loving feedback and perspective from this old metalhead librarian.
I thought I had one for a little while, a writing friend. I met another writer a few years ago and we hit it off, and for a while it was fun to bounce ideas. I edited about twenty of their pieces of writing, multiple tens of thousands of words - some of it appearing in national publications - and I was happy to do it.
But I realized after I sent ONE thing to them for feedback that our friendship wasn’t what I thought it was. I never heard another word about my draft.
I waited six weeks and I sent them a polite email - “hope you’re OK, nevermind on the draft, it’s published, thanks anyways.”
They replied that they were “super busy” and had forgotten to look at it.
Of course, they continued to reach out when they needed something edited or looked at. I was “the only one they trusted” and “the only one who understood them.”
Gah. I hate when people try to stroke me.
Recently, I had to tell them no to something due to family and health obligations. Summer is when I take care of most of my doctors appointments, wedged in around vacations and kid activities.
I explained it to them and suggested - hey, maybe early August, when kids are back in school and I’ve made it through the gauntlet of these cancer screenings.
Again - nothing. Radio silence.
At this point, I think they’ve lost their AMO privileges. I’m done. I’m not mad, or even hurt. Just…done.
They probably don’t know I’m done. But why would I tell them? They don’t care.
I don’t need their approval to walk away from the friendship. If they ask, I’ll lay it out. Otherwise? I’m all good. Sometimes you just have to move on.
Maybe it’s my hot Sicilian blood. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal dignity. I wish them no harm, and I bid them peace on their journey.
They are not my loyal friend, and true, and never were.
But I’ve got plenty of others who are.
In high school, my creative collaborator was my BFF, Kathy. We wrote stories, we played music, we recorded ourselves singing, and we attempted to write songs. It was all mostly really bad. But it was FUN. Because we trusted each other and we were really good at being silly.
The ironic thing is - I dated musicians for years and all I ever wanted was to find a guitar player that I could jam with. Not one of my boyfriends ever wanted to jam with me. But Kathy did. She was a decent guitar player for the level we were at.
I don’t brag about many things, but I’ve always had a good singing voice. I’ve never done karaoke and I’ve always had stage fright, but at my age I think I’d just need one good margarita - on the rocks, extra salt, thanks - and I’d be able to get up on that stage and let ‘er rip.
Kathy recently left a long and likewise interesting career in law enforcement. How us two rocker chicks ended up in such “traditional” government professions is an irony that we both still marvel at. She’s talked for years about writing a TV show based on her characters and situations she experienced over the years.
And now I’m in a place where this sounds doable, plausible, not so crazy. Maybe it would be the blind leading the blind, but having a trusted friend to work with, like we had with each other when we were teenagers - is the collaborative vibe I’m looking for, and if not her, then someone.
Supportive, loving, fun.
Kathy and I are having lunch in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait to see her. She’s always been one of my favorite people in the whole world. We’ve known each other since middle school. I’m glad she lives close to me.
She’s a loyal friend, and true. Always was, and always will be. FOR SURE.
The Ballad of John Gannon.
When I started at the library in 2003, we had an area on the lower level called the Computer Access Center (CAC) and it’s where the library had - you guessed it! - access to computers and databases for the public to use.
The CAC also contained our enormous periodical collection, complete with all the back issues for a hundred magazines and dozens of newspapers. There was microfilm, microfiche, all of the old Criss-Cross directories, copy machines and two old IBM Selectric typewriters.
This is where my friend John Gannon was working when I met him. John was a Library Specialist who had been with the library for almost two decades at that point.
Turns out that he was the real heart & soul of the library.
John was always super supportive and helpful to me, and just as I became library supervisor in 2006, a few things happened - I got pregnant, I hired my first librarian for my reference staff, and we started the process of remodeling the library which included shutting down CAC.
The budget for the remodel had been approved a couple of years prior, but by the time the funding and vendors were ready to start the actual project - the housing market collapsed, the economy went belly-up, and the City had to reduce staff for the first time in its history.
As a part of the process to draw down the budget, they offered VERY lucrative retirement packages to a whole layer of long-time employees and managers which basically collapsed the chain-of-command infrastructure. We saw our community service director, the library director, the CAC Supervisor, and a dozen other employees all retire in one fiscal year.
John decided to stay on. He wasn’t ready to retire, even at his 25 year mark.
John joined the Adult Services department, and I was his supervisor for a while. He saved my ass big time when he took over the entire CAC shutdown ahead of the remodel - making sure all the periodicals were moved, the equipment and shelving torn down and relocated, the work-flows adjusted. He knew the department way better than I did, and I deferred to his expertise. I was so grateful to him, and told him often. And he was grateful that I didn’t micromanage him or second guess his decisions.
After a couple of months, we had to balance some staffing around, so John transferred down to the Youth library, and he was a natural. Kids loved him, and he LOVED performing for the babies and toddlers. He also ran our Homebound outreach program and managed the volunteers that would take books to shut-in patrons and nursing homes.
I joined him in Youth in 2011 when I resigned my position as supervisor. John was a terrific co-worker, always doing thoughtful things for people. He was super-stoked that I was writing a book at the time, and he’d find little inspirations and quotes and tidbits related to writing that he’d leave on my desk. And chocolate. He’d always leave me chocolate. I loved him for that.
The next year, they finally hired a new Library Director, Roberta.
Roberta decided she needed a Library Manager - a position that had never existed before and a new layer of bureaucracy was added to the chain of command that wasn’t necessary and didn’t make sense, given the budget situation.
And it was Amy, the first librarian I’d hired a few years before, who ended up becoming the Library Manager that reported to Roberta.
Amy and I had a lot of history together, and I considered her a good friend, especially after I wasn’t her supervisor anymore and we could just be normal colleagues. So when she was promoted, I was happy for her, and it seemed almost perfect.
But Roberta the Director was a disaster, and she ended up driving Amy to the brink of her sanity. There were numerous staff complaints. The union was involved. Amy became a person I didn’t know anymore - paranoid, angry, cynical. Bullied.
In early 2015, our beloved Youth Services supervisor was pressured into retiring, and Roberta ended up hiring our worst nightmare: She Who Shall Not Be Named.
She Who Shall Not Be Named steamrolled all of us. She got rid of collections that were well loved and used heavily. Made it harder to find stuff. Destroyed our picture book collection with a ridiculous policy of no more than two copies of any book on the shelf. We protested and tried to negotiate, but she got her way with it all.
The thing about John was that he was ALWAYS an advocate for staff and patrons, and would want to openly discuss issues that made management uncomfortable.
John was a huge teddy bear - he never raised his voice or got angry, but he was always direct and to the point with his observations and suggestions.
Management didn’t like being called out.
So they did what normal ineffectual managers do:
Roberta, Amy, and She Who Shall Not Be Named decided to make a rule by which ONLY degreed, professional librarians could deliver programs to the public.
John was informed that for next season he’d no longer be doing Baby Storytime.
Of course, he was heartbroken. He LOVED doing Storytimes. All of us librarians thought it was a ridiculous policy. It was complete bullshit and we all knew it.
But this is how they pushed people out. Chip away at their duties and responsibilities and confidence.
Things turned to real shit when John sent an email to the entire staff and City leadership outlining a list of issues that hadn’t been addressed by library management. He encouraged people to document their experiences and connect with their union reps.
His reasoning was that management wasn’t being responsive or transparent with issues that affected everyone, and it needed to be documented, because the normal channels weren’t working.
Every city email is a matter of public record. John was no dummy.
When he was called to Amy’s office to be reprimanded, she accused him of yelling and physically intimidating her and called security even though her door was open and numerous other staff heard HER yelling at HIM.
He was shocked at having been accused of such a thing. He was NOT that guy.
To top it off, he hadn’t been feeling great for a while, and had been losing weight and having some strange symptoms that he thought were stress related - fatigue, sweating, a strange rash. He was diagnosed with diabetes and started medication.
By June, though, John was done - he’d had enough of the management BS. He applied to retire after 31 years with the Library.
It was decided by She Who Shall Not Be Named that I’d be the one taking over the Baby Storytimes when we started programs up again in August, after summer reading and John’s retirement.
John gave me ALL of his materials, notes, playlists, EVERYTHING. He made sure I was good to go and well prepared before I left for my July vacation, because we knew we’d only have a few days together at the end of the month before he retired.
We hugged and said our goodbyes at the staff meeting on July 14, and he handed me a small goodie bag for the trip, along with this lovely note. He also asked me to bring him some real buckeyes (not the chocolate and peanut butter kind) from Ohio - his home state as well. We had his retirement party planned out, coinciding with his last day on July 31.
A couple of days later, while sitting in the family lake house in Ohio, my coworker Susan called me with alarming news.
John had collapsed in his home and was in the hospital.
He’d been diagnosed with leukemia. He was in a coma.
He died two weeks later on his planned retirement day: July 31, 2015.
I was just GUTTED. We were all gutted.
Honestly, I’m still gutted.
And we had these awful bosses who made us tear up his cube right away and box up his things and none of us were ready. Management treated the situation with such harsh indifference it was shocking. John deserved better - we all deserved better.
Of course, I got on the boss's bad side when I insisted that we throw him a retirement party, anyways.
I planned his celebration of life in a program room in the library and management refused to even donate a pot of coffee. Staff pooled our resources and had a proper party and buffet anyway, along with a slide show, a playlist, and lots of decorations, just as John would have done for any one of us.
A 125 people showed up from across City departments to share their stories about John, and to offer condolences.
One year and five days after John’s death I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
A 7cm tumor of grief and stress and disappointment that manifested in my little left boobie, sitting right on top of my broken heart.
It was at that point that I knew that writing my book was a matter of survival.
When I went back and added up all the coworkers that had been diagnosed with cancer - I knew I had to get out. There were 11 of us in 8 years who were diagnosed.
I’d be damned if I was going to let the library kill me, too.
I was gone for 18 months on disability. What went on during that time is a whole story in itself.
The short version is that She Who Shall Not Be Named transferred me out of Youth, spied on my Facebook posts, kept a ‘dossier’ on me (my coworker found it at the desk one day and was shocked) and then turned me in to HR for “working” while on disability because I’d had one exchange on Facebook with a coworker where I expressed interest in helping her with a future program.
Getting that phone call from HR in which my disability and insurance were threatened - WHILE ON CHEMO AND FIGHTING FOR MY LIFE - was one of the cruelest, most heartless things I’ve ever personally experienced.
Unfortunately, I had to suck it up and return to the library in early 2018. I made too much money and the benefits of seniority were too good to start over with another library system. I didn’t want a longer commute, less vacation time, and the 30% pay cut that would come with finding a new job. Especially since I was bald, weak, and immunocompromised when I went back. I was in no shape for a job search.
So, besides finishing my book, I had only one goal in mind: survive three more years at the library until I could make my pension.
And I did survive, but just barely. The last three years were even worse than the prior three, other than losing John. A complete shit-show with COVID and another awful boss. I know I’ve linked to it before, but if you’re new here and want a taste for what went on in our library, you can read this article about my former workplace from the Phoenix New Times.
One year ago this week I quit my job. THANK GOD. Halle-fuckin’ luyah.
In some ways, I knew John was looking after me, still covering my ass, cheering me on so that I could make it out alive.
And, although I try to deny it, I do miss my former co-workers terribly, I miss the books, the patrons, and yes, the paycheck. But I don’t miss the stress or the schedule or the bullshit. It’s been a whole year and I finally feel like I’m detoxed.
John Gannon was a loyal friend, and true. I wish it could have been different for him, for all of us.
I miss him in this world, and I think of him often.
Thank you for reading, friends, I know this was a long one and it was harder to write than I expected because I kept getting weepy. :-) But it’s getting written, and I appreciate your support as I birth this book.
As usual, I always love hearing from you. Have a safe Memorial Day and I’ll see you in a few weeks.