“Hey, kid! Good to see you! You are gonna love it here…if you have the right guide to things.”
Uncle Jack was many things, but you could not call him a cynic. No, no, he always believed that things were going to get better, for all of us. The first time we met, he was standing in front of the train station, old raincoat but no umbrella on what was one the rainiest days of the year. The hat he had on his head – he told me that it was once called an Anthony Eden, whoever that was – provided him no protection from the water and I thought that there was a slight chance of him drowning in the downpour if I did not bring out my umbrella. He already had my bags in his hands as he smiled and introduced himself.
“Yessirree! You are really going to love it here. You just need the right guide!”
I should probably mention that he was not even my uncle. But everyone knows what the old man was like. He wanted everyone to feel wanted and he thought that the best way to do this was to make us all one happy family. From that first day, I learned that I was part of a very large group of relatives who were going to be a part of my life of, at least for a little while.
The office was much larger than I thought, although I knew that they had moved into a larger building in the last few months. The move made everyone confident that things would get better. Money was not the issue; confidence was.
“You have a very nice ride for your first time in the city! I hope that the company did not break the bank when you got this one!”
We were pulling out of the nearby parking lot as he spoke, the rain slick and heavy on the windshield and the traffic slower than usual, even for an early morning rush. Uncle Jack was staring out into the grey sky and smiling harder than anyone I had ever met before. It could be considered a little intimidating to be facing those teeth and eyes in such a close space, but I was looking past those things and seeing the man he really was.
I am going to sound unkind, but I am doing so for a reason. Our staff, people who had a strong interest in seeing the business grow, were young, younger than me, but not by much. But this man… Dear Uncle Jack…
Hair was thin, but swept over, making the effect of his stained and blotched skin even worse (you cover a spot, and that is all that people notice). He did not have the old man smell that I would have associated with those features, or those clothes, but I did recognize the cologne (something spicy and heavy at the neck; several uncles would have approved). I have already described the hat, but the coat deserved a review. If Columbo or Inspector Clouseau had become even seedier, they could have worn such a thing. A perfect symbol of past glories gone away…
And yet, he was all optimism and hope in that car… It was almost contagious to hear him talk about the city and his life. Most of it I would not remember, but I will never forget the way he made me feel. Almost made me believe in what he said…
We pulled into the traffic and the rain began to taper off.
“You never know with this kind of city. The traffic goes one way and another in the morning and then later, you see everything heading in the other direction. Like watching trout trying to spawn…”
We both laughed at that, but I had to keep an eye on the road. Uncle Jack seemed ready to talk for the whole ride (actually a good thing).
“Don’t think that the weather is always going to be like this. No way, sirree! This is the autumn, things change here and the weather just does what it always does. We have to prepare for things to get darker, colder, a little more uncomfortable for everyone. But that does not mean we should feel depressed, right, sir? No sirree! I think that this is going to be a great year for all of us.”
I still wonder why I remember all of the things he said to me as we drove. Uncle Jack just had that kind of manner that made you want to listen, like he was hypnotizing you with his lines. He was an old man that sounded like an old man, but an old man from a long time ago (always thought that he would have been perfect for my grandmother). He was wearing an old man’s outfit; all those plaids, twill, patches on the sleeves, and that raincoat that I mentioned before. You wanted to take him in hand and make sure that there was nothing that ever harmed or bothered him as he worked with you. The company must have had him on for just that reason. If Uncle Jack was there, they must have had a lot of confidence in him to bring in the work they needed; he must have known things that they wanted to keep under wraps.
That word again: confidence.
When you don’t have it, it is gone forever. I have been told this again and again, all part of our training for the job. We had to have some, and Uncle Jack was just…something else.
The ride to the office was longer than I suspected (Google Maps never accounts for traffic). The rain added a little bit of a chill to the air, but I did not bother to adjust the temperature or shut the windows. Uncle Jack had his down and was staring up at the growing number of office blocks on the route. There was something wistful about his move. I knew that he had a story to tell.
“And here we are!”
I knew what the building looked like, but Uncle Jack was faster than I ever could be at spotting it. It was right around the corner from a nearby park that I noticed had an artificial pond and a gazebo (must be nice in the summer, I thought). I don’t know why that was the main thing on my mind as I drove into the underground garage, most of it empty of vehicles. Maybe I wondered about Uncle Jack and his free time. There could be ducks and carp to feed, and other things for such a man to do when he had little else on. Maybe there was a lot for an old man to do outside of work.
“So, this is it. They are all expecting you up there. Don’t worry; I’ve taken care of paving your way in. Yessirree…”
He was out of the vehicle so quickly that his hat fell on the seat next to me.
It was not a bad looking thing.
I picked it up, right next to my briefcase and the notes I had with me, and I took a quick peek at my folders just as Uncle Jack waved at me from the elevators:
NOTICE OF TERMINATION AND DOWNSIZING
TWO –WEEK NOTICE FOR STAFF
Not really the nicest terms for such things, but what could you do?
“You coming up? You’re the one they’re waiting for. Yessirree!”
I picked up the hat, stepped out of the car and smiled as I got closer and closer to the old man.