The Workplace

 

It is there, but I barely hear it: background music designed to put the shopper at this pet store at ease.

“It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the usual crowd shuffles in …”

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The crew is working hard, some stocking shelves, a few at the registers, two grooming dogs and cats and a manager in the office. An assistant manager is cleaning the aquariums, lost in thought until the roar of thunder shakes the building. The manager runs to him and gives him a hug.

“He hates thunder,” says the girl at the register, smiling. “Especially thundersnow.”

We’re making small talk as she feeds cans of cat food through the scanner, strangers brought together because my cats are hungry, and she has bills to pay.

“Now Paul is a real estate novelist, who never had time for a wife …”

I hear one of the people who work at the store singing along, and soon another voice joins in, and then another. I’m tempted to join, but my presence here is fleeting, and the crew has been together for months, maybe years. This is their moment, not mine. Mine was decades ago, and the memories come flooding back, nearly overwhelming.

It was a different time, a different place and different people joined together by a common denominator: work. The same song played on a little radio in the kitchen.

Forty years ago, when I was 15 and washing dishes at Bassett’s Restaurant, we listened to that radio all night long as buckets full of dishes came in dirty and went out clean. Little did I know that not only would I remember the songs that played as we worked, but the people who sang those songs along with me would be permanently etched in my mind, waiting to be summoned every time a memory is stirred through the airwaves.

There was Ronny, the charismatic cook who taught me how to meditate and appreciate “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Gary, the assistant chef, taught me patience and appreciation of the little things, like being on time and being kind to the goofy dishwasher who never really fit in until he showed up at the back door looking for a job. Mal, (short for Malnutrition, he was that skinny) who scrubbed pots and pans while I washed dishes, never complained, listened to The Who as much as he could and made me laugh until my belly hurt. Richard worked alongside us, making side salads, one of the most honest people I ever knew.

I’ll never forget the waitress, Lynn, who was a University of Rhode Island student and my first love. I’ll also never forget how she didn’t laugh out loud when I asked her to the homecoming dance.

“He’s talking with Davy, who’s still in the navy, and probably will be for life …”

Life is an accumulation of memories I guess, each moment having the potential to be one that will keep. We can’t remember everything, or every moment, or song, or even the people that we share this existence with, but we do remember the ones that matter.

When an old song is played, and a different crew of people is living a similar moment, decades fade and those memories kick in. For a blissful moment, we can go back in time to when everything was crystal clear, when friendships were formed, work ethic established and lifelong philosophy created.

Camaraderie that is unlike what we know at home or learn at school exists in the workplace. People forced together with the common goal of making money don’t have to get along, or even like each other, but more often than not, they do.

Long hours spent doing mundane tasks are made more bearable when done with friends. Those seemingly casual acquaintances carry far more significance than we realize, until a moment in time a lifetime later when memories of times never forgotten and the people who helped make those moments so special come flooding back.

I swiped my card, bundled up and walked into the snowstorm, the sweet sound of “Piano Man” being sung by a different generation sweet music to my ears.

“To forget about life for a while …”

MichaelMorse(mmorsepfd@aol.com), a former Providence Fire Department captain, is a monthly contributor and the author of four books.

http://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/20170325/michael-morse-sweet-music-reminds-us-of-who-we-were

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