Things I Learned from R. B. (June 28th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4447)

Episode 21

I was invited to have a cup of coffee at O’Charleys by Henry.

I only knew the name because R. B. had mentioned it several months earlier when he got a job and told me who his boss was.

Henry Clevenger. I don’t know why I remember that so well—but for your sake and his sake, I’m glad I do.

Yes, oh, yes—after two solid years of unemployment, R. B. found a job in downtown Nashville, with a company that was large enough that they actually still worked on old machines that were worthy of repair instead of scrapping

R. B. was thrilled. He came to our house and told us in person. You would have thought he had a hand in inventing the world.

We shared chicken wings and pizza that night, and hadn’t seen him since. That was about four months before the invitation from Henry.

I heard through the passing conversations that he was faring pretty well, even though he had returned to some of his Dallas drinking ways.

I also picked up that he’d gone to a local writer’s night, held in the basement of an inner-city church, and sang his songs in front of strangers. Well, worse than strangers. Songwriters. The rumor was, he didn’t fare very well and objected to the criticism.

(Once again, I classify that one as a storyline without a follow-up.)

So after several months of no contact and erroneous information, I was very surprised to get a phone call from Mr. Clevenger—and even more curious about how he got my telephone number.

Upon arriving at O’Charley’s I discovered that he had already procured a booth, not knowing that a man of my size has no affection for a booth (including John Wilkes).

But somehow, I squeezed in (as big fat boys have learned to do).

He was a small man, bespectacled, in his late forties, unassuming but certainly oozing the juices of prosperity.

I picked a profile. It’s one I should have used more in my life: Sit, wait and let somebody else get the ball rolling instead of running up to kick it yourself.

After Henry was sure the waitress had brought all the coffee and he discouraged her from further interruptions, he turned to me and stated the obvious: “I’m here to talk about R. B.”

And talk he did. For the next fifteen minutes, he delivered a testimonial about their initial meeting, the first day of employment and events that had followed.

He punctuated by assuring me that R. B. did know how to repair a computer—but it took an excessive amount of time, leaving Henry to explain to affluent customers why they were being delayed.

But at length, Henry arrived at the main subject—his purpose for coming.

R. B. was always late.

And not just late, but belligerent about being challenged to arrive at a definitive time. Henry explained that R. B. saw no difference between 9:00 A. M. and 9:52. R. B. insisted that as long as he got the work done, what difference did it make if he was a few minutes late?

Henry added that he probably wouldn’t even care—but the disagreements were spilling out in front of other employees, who had already decided they didn’t particularly favor the new computer fixer. They challenged Boss Henry to be more assertive.

So Henry had decided to talk to me, since R. B. had explained that I was a long-time friend.

After thoroughly covering the subject and presenting a case that would impress the Supreme Court, Henry paused and looked hopefully into my eyes. He posed a question. “What do you think I should do?”

The truth of the matter was, I actually was expert enough on the subject of R. B. that I could honestly attest to the fact that I had no idea what to offer.

I chose not to go into my history with our common acquaintance.

The conversation seemed to be stalled when a crazy idea popped into my mind. I said, “It’s obvious to me that you do not want to fire R. B. For that, I salute you for having a heart of gold. But if you’re gonna keep him on the job so that your conscience won’t gnaw at you about firing a man who possibly won’t be employable outside of your present circumstances…”

After I said this, I looked deeply into Henry’s eyes.

He knew.

Henry knew that the business was passing R. B. by, and that nobody else in Music City would find his resume tuneful for their needs.

So I continued, confident that we were on the same wavelength. “Let me ask you a question. Is there a back entrance to your company, near to R. B.’s station, where he wouldn’t have to pop in the front door and expose his tardiness to all your carefully observing employees?”

Henry nodded his head and smiled, realizing where I was going. He put it together himself. He would make an R. B. entrance which only R. B. used, which went only to R. B.’s station. So if R. B. was late, he was late—and as long as the work was done, Henry could leave him alone.

The other employees should keep their noses out of the situation, and if they didn’t, he could call them down for good reason.

Henry was elated.

He had an idea.

He was the kind of man who always wanted to be generous but knew that forsaking common sense steals that privilege from you.

He stood to his feet to leave, then turned and said in a whisper, “Can I help you out with some money? R. B. says you’re always struggling with finance.”

I was infuriated. We were fine. We were always fine. R. B. just felt the need to feel superior and had placed us in a garbage bag of poverty in his brain, which calmed his feelings of inadequacy.

But I chose not to bark back at Henry, or even be catty. I reached up, shook his hand and said, “Doin’ fine, my friend.”

He legitimately seemed glad.

He headed for the door, only stopping to pay for the drinks, and was on his way.

I never saw Henry again.

About four months later, R. B. called, cursing the air about losing his job. I set up a time to talk with him.

As soon as I hung up the phone, it rang again. This time it was Henry. In the most gracious of terms, Henry explained to me, in less than one minute, that the idea to segregate R. B. with a private entrance worked for a month or so, until R. B. realized that nobody was watching—and began coming in after lunch.

Henry was so upset.

Henry was so disappointed.

Henry wanted to do the right thing.

R. B. wouldn’t let him.

Henry wept.

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