I met Gary, the night-shift security guard, during my second week at the TFP.
In the habit of introducing myself to everyone in the building, I extended my hand to shake his, introduced myself as the newbie, and we made small talk before I went upstairs. Soft-spoken with a smile that rarely leaves his face, I knew I instantly liked him, but we didn’t talk much other than occasional chats at his desk.
A few weeks later, I returned from a basketball game that ran over, burst in the back door, and hauled upstairs to get the photos in before deadline.
“Hey, Gary, Howareyatonight? Basketballgamelastedforever,” I managed. I was already halfway up the stairs when he quietly told me that it was his birthday.
After wishing him a happy birthday, I went upstairs to caption and edit my photos, but I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that he was working downstairs, alone, on his birthday. I didn’t know much about this man, but I knew he was proud of the fact that it was his birthday. So after finishing up in the newsroom, I drove to the nearest Walgreens, bought some chocolates and a birthday card, packaged them up and gave them to Gary. He was so proud of his gift and the mini-celebration we had made his night. And it made my week.
So that’s how our friendship began. Over a box of chocolates, a card, and an out-of-tune version of Happy Birthday sung by yours truly.
Many late-night talks later, I’ve come to know quite a bit about Gary. We look up interesting facts in his Almanac. He’s always got a funny story about his grandchildren. I tell him about my family, and of course, we talk about Aphid. We talk about the awards he’s gotten and he brings in old photos. I always look forward to the night-shift, because I know after all the work is done, I get to go and have a chat with one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.
He was shot by his brother-in-law. He’s an ex-Marine and a Vietnam vet. He has 3 first names, which caused him a lot of grief back in high school. He’s lived in Bel-Air, and was a body-guard for Tori Spelling’s mom. He was born in Alabama and had eleven siblings. His wife died when their daughter was 5. He enjoys spoiling his two grandchildren, a girl and a boy, and can’t resist a stray dog. He buys a new Almanac each year and reads it cover to cover. He also reads celeb magazines each week and knows more about pop culture than Perez Hilton.
Just a few weeks ago, I had a rough couple of days. I was forgetful, really sucking-it-up behind the camera, my mind felt like it wasn’t working, my 70-300 decided to fall apart…causing me to spend $600.00 on a new one. I forgot to turn in some photos, had a series of challenging assignments, and I just felt embarrassed and not good enough. After a particularly horrible day, I walked down the stairs past Gary’s desk, hoping he wouldn’t notice me, because maybe, I might have had just a few tears in my eyes that I really didn’t want anybody to see…..
But, as usual, he noticed. He didn’t ask questions, and I didn’t volunteer any information. But I’ll never, ever forget what he said to me. I don’t know how he knew, but somehow he did.
“It’s hard working up there. But it’s gonna be alright, Ashlee. You’re gonna get through it, and you’ll be better because of it. Tomorrow is another day, and it’s gonna be a better day for you.”
And it was.
And I know I say this all the time, and I know it gets old, but the people I get to meet make even the toughest days worth it.