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I woke up this morning and I was delighted to think this was my Friday. My job gives me off Good Friday, so I have the first three day weekend in quite some time. Whenever I leave work on a Friday (or the end of the week in today’s case) I’m reminded of an old friend and mentor named Tom.

My first job was at Blockbuster, but after a year and a half I moved onto an IT company that was contracted by the Navy. The job put me in a cubicle on base, working alongside folks ten to thirty years older than me. I’d be remiss to admit that I only got this job because of my father, who was now working with this company pacing veterans into various IT positions.

I was always good with computers, despite having no formal training and it allowed me to excel within an office next to a diverse group of people. My cubicle (pooka buddy) was named Tanya, and she had a Masters in Computer Science. Sadly, all of her knowledge of computers was taught in school and she struggled to apply it to actual computing. This mean she was stuck on the same help desk making $11 hours next to a nineteen year old with no college experience.

The office also contained a burned out x-ray tech turned help desk associate, a former high school football standout still reliving his glory days twenty years later, a bitter woman who must have come from the DMV, and a very sweet, young at heart, religious devout woman named Sue who sat in front of me.

I didn’t fit in. I was young and had no real idea of how an office environment worked. I quickly found myself on the end of office gossip and bullying. I’ll never forget hearing my supervisor mocking me for the socks I was wearing during a staff meeting that I wasn’t apart of, but was within listening distance.

Not too long after I started, the company was “merged” with a bigger company. Similar to the scene in Office Space, they brought in a huge banner and people to tell us how no one was getting laid off and how this was a great thing for everyone involved. I was naive and bought into it. I didn’t realize this was a way to calm the waters and keep people from leaving. A few weeks later, I was brought into a room, sat down and told my position was being eliminated. They, of course, denied it was because of the “merger” but neither myself nor the other person laid off bought it.

Thankfully, one man’s wife was set to be transferred so he left a few weeks early and that allowed me to keep my position. I worked out a few more months before finally finding a job in healthcare.

Now, that you have a history of my time working in the IT field, let’s get back on track, Tom.

Tom, was six or seven years old than me. He was a very large man, who played football, and still looked like he could knock a running back on his butt. When I first started, Tom was tasked with training me and I wasn’t sure if I liked him. He was nice, but he also had a slight jock vibe that I wasn’t sure about. During our time together, our shift changed twice, once when we came in very early in the morning and got off in the early afternoon, and once when he came in late and got off late. In both situations, we were left in an office alone for a couple of hours together and over time this allowed us to bond.

I remember the first day I worked, once the office cleared out he asked if I wanted to borrow a Men’s Health magazine. He had a massive stack of them in his desk, because the calls slowed down so much after 5 PM. I politely declined, as that just did not sound interesting.

Not too long after I began working with Tom, I bought a Miata.

It was a great car, but one that was a little difficult for a big, out of shape guy like myself to get out of. So, I decided to ask Tom for some gym advice. He was wanting to get back to into shape, so we decided to head to the gym on base after work. It was my first real gym experience and Tom was a great teacher. He helped me develop a routine, find what worked for me, and taught me ways to keep myself safe from injury. We had such a good time at the gym, it became a regular thing. So regular, like five days a week thing.

We’d spend our fifteen minute breaks in the office gym or outside throwing a football. Our hour long lunch breaks, were spent at GNC buying supplements. Tom taught me everything I needed to know and the pounds started falling off. My weight loss transformation also coincided with my first romantic relationship that I have to credit Tom with helping me with my confidence.

My favorite memory of Tom was one day when we went into the Navy Exchange. We decided to check out in the garden center in hopes of avoiding the lines. There was a pretty girl working the register and Tom, smooth as anyone I’ve ever seen, asked her if she was seeing anyone. She smiled and said yes, but she was clearly loving the attention. Tom, like the true pimp that he was, responded with, “But are you happy?” The girl giggled and wrote down her number. To this day, I have NEVER seen anything as smooth as that.

Tom introduced me to cars, music, men’s health, and being comfortable being me. He even convinced me to go to college and did so by being a great example of how a working man could manage to attend. I don’t think I ever thought of Tom as a friend, but he was definitely a mentor and he really helped me find my true self in those short couple of years.

I’m telling you this all, because I wanted to share a piece of advice Tom would tell me every Friday as we left work (or the gym). We’d walk to our cars and finish up our stories. Tom would hop in his car and find some positive peppy music (I distinctly remember Beautiful by Snoop Dogg and Ignition (Remix) by R. Kelly) he’d look over at me with a huge smile and say, “Keep your pecker in your pants and the wheel between the lines.”

I’d laugh and well… even now, twenty years later, every Friday when I get off work I walk to my car and figure out what peppy, upbeat song I’m going to put on, and right before I pull out of the parking spot, I remember Tom’s words.

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