While in college, I worked for a few years framing pictures. Various coworkers would come and go, but another guy a little older named Kevin was also working towards a degree. We were the ones who did most of the work putting the frames together, cutting mats, and stretching canvases—the Workhorses.
Kevin and I liked working together. We would give each other shit, tell stories, or frame in silence. Occasionally, one of us would help whoever came to the frame counter.
Our shifts usually overlap, one working in the morning around 9 a.m., leaving at 5 p.m., and the other coming in from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Most weekends, we would both come in to open and stay until close. Getting more hours was cool, but there was work to be done.
Plus, we started drinking at work.
We would take shots in the afternoon after each frame we put together. He would usually bring Red Hot, and since I had recently turned 21 and fancied myself a little gentleman, I would supply us with Goldschläger.
Around closing time, we would usually have sobered up enough to drive home.
The framing department was in a large warehouse with a restroom on the other side of the building. Instead of stumbling across the cash registers, we would bring a gallon of water to drink and fill the empties with our pee.
It was efficient.
Sometimes, Kevin would smoke pot and blow it through a paper towel roll with a series of air fresheners and dryer sheets. He thought it masked the smell, but I wasn’t so sure. I was content to drink a few shots and thought that was a tad excessive. I had not dabbled in pot at that time, so I steered clear.
Sometime later, we had a new manager who started working with us. One day, she called me and said, “Sam, I found IT!” accusingly towards me. I started stammering that she might ask Kevin about that; I had nothing to do with it. She was horrified to have stumbled across a gallon full of urine.
“Oh! Yeah, never mind, that’s both of ours.” I was so relieved.
Eventually, Kevin graduated, but we kept framing together like old times.
I wound up with a second job and started spending less time at the first. At some point, Kevin said he might as well get a real job, and he gave me the impression that he was hanging around to hang around with me.
I could tell his feelings were a bit hurt.
After I graduated, I quit the framing biz, and my second job morphed into my first REAL job—a good starting salary. I was dressing up for work. Dry cleaning!
There were a handful of people at the company, and most days, I would go to lunch with my coworkers. After work, a few of us would hit the bar down the street for happy hour. It was great. I had never considered getting a tattoo before and suggested getting our logo as a tattoo to my coworkers. This company was my life. My friend/mentor/boss advised me not to. “You never know what the future holds.”
I started dating the woman who became my wife, and sure enough, we decided to get into real estate, and I felt compelled to quit working at this job I held so dear.
My boss tried to talk me out of it, but I saw an opportunity and wanted to go for it. So I did.
But I had never considered that the work friends I had spent so much time with wouldn’t be in my life anymore—no more lunches with the gang, no calls for happy hour.
When I started working for SUCCESS magazine a month in, I was asked to be part of the lunch bunch. It was the two cool, funny guys at the office, and things were great. Pretty soon, though, one of them was let go. This time, I had no illusions that we would see each other again.
When his replacement had a replacement, I joked early on, “When we stop working together, you are dead to me.”
The idea of the work friend is a little sad. You spend the majority of your waking hours with a group of people working towards goals. There are all these shared stories and experiences. How, at the Christmas party, so and so did such and such. When mass layoffs happen, you cloister together for some sense of protection.
But when you move on from the company, you lose that shared sense of unity. Some or most of what you thought you shared was wrapped up in a struggle that is no longer there.
When I took a year’s sabbatical and kicked around Hawaii, I was surprised at how few calls I received. In the few I had hearing some of the complaints, everything seemed far removed.
Upon returning, everything was back in technicolor.
That is why I base my friendships on a shared love of dirty jokes.