Farewell, Joe.

I wrote this when my editor-in-chief retired. I hope it captured the nature of our sometimes-prickly relationship. Anyway, I don’t think he said he liked it, so I assume he took it the way he took most of my work. Ah, well. His retirement party in the cafeteria was one of my favorite episodes, too late and too radioactive to make this column: In his parting remarks he figured out a way to slice the legs out from under the chainsaw-wielding cost-cutter who was pushing him out the door, using a neat bit of corporate jujitsu that I will always admire him for: “I’ve been telling people that if I have one piece of advice for them at the end of my career, the most important thing I’ve learned, it’s to always consider the opinions of others. Because they frequently have great ideas you never would have thought of. When our new publisher came to town, and we had our first meeting, I told her I was getting close to retirement, but I had a number of projects I wanted to finish first. She said, ‘Why don’t you leave now instead?’ And I thought, if I really believe what I just said about considering others’ opinions, I needed to do so. And so I thought, That’s a really good idea…” The look on her face suggested she’d just swallowed a turd. I had to dig my fingernails into my palms to keep from guffawing. Good times, good times.

January 31, 2003

Late in my mother’s life, when she was leaving us behind but hadn’t yet said her final goodbyes, my brother and sister and I noticed a rather alarming phenomenon. “I have to get back,” she’d say after we’d had her out of her room at the nursing home for a while. “My break’s over, and my supervisor will be looking for me.”

How awful, we remarked to one another, that after a life fully lived, one that spanned the Depression and World War II and the moon landing, one with a husband and children and grandchildren and dogs, with ice cream and roast beef and salted peanuts, after all that, when she left us behind, she went to work. At Ohio Bell.

“If I spend my last days on earth talking about Joe Weiler, it will be proof of something,” I told my sister. “Maybe that if there is a God, he has one sick sense of humor.”

Joe Weiler retires today, leaving The News-Sentinel after 20 years. Eighteen of those years I worked in the same newsroom, a distinction only a handful of people here can claim. We’ve worked with Joe through his mustache period, a successful weight loss, three cars, the Halloween party where he wore a purple Mohawk wig, the death of his beloved Dalmatian and the famous story about arguing the paper’s editorial stance on school desegregation with Ian Rolland while both were stark-naked in the YMCA locker room.

I was struck, reading the story about his retirement that sketched out the high points of his tenure here, how much it sounded like an obituary, but that’s what retirements are – a funeral where the corpse stands upright and cuts the cake. Like a funeral, only your good traits are remembered. The worst thing anyone will say about you is you had a bad memory for names or you were always getting your car stuck in the snow.

I hasten to add I’m not here to tell unflattering stories about Joe. (That’s Ian Rolland’s job, snicker snicker.) I only want to talk a little bit about how we know the people we work with, why we remember them, and why, maybe, they haunt us in our last days, the way that ghostly supervisor haunted my mother.

The workplace – an office, anyway – is like a perpetual date. We think we know one another after a few dinners-and-a-movie, but of course we don’t. We leave home behind and step into our workplace persona, which may be Funny Guy, Office Mother, Efficient Robot or Executioner. The only clues to our real life are the ones we willingly offer: family photos on a desk, a bumper sticker on a car in the parking lot, the stories we tell around the coffeepot.

At work, unlike any other area in our lives, we can be almost entirely self-invented. We write the script of an endless movie starring ourselves: The Receptionist No One Appreciated, The Secret Life of Tech Services, and that famous documentary, Payroll: What They Know About You, You Can’t Even Imagine.

Everyone else in the office is watching our movie, perhaps coming away with a message different from the one the director intended. And we’re all one another’s supporting players; in one, we’re the sympathetic friend, in another, the villain. Sometimes both.

Joe and I were both, to each other and to others. There were days I wished he’d go join the Merchant Marine, others – swear, Joe – when I admired him, and I know he feels the same way about me, perhaps without the admiration. Oh, I could tell you some stories, flattering and otherwise, but they wouldn’t mean anything to you. They’re for his colleagues, co-stars of The Joe Weiler Story: The Fort Wayne Years.

As for whether I’d watch it again in 2039, ask me then. I’m hoping there’ll be something better on cable.

Posted at 12:05 am in Ancient archives |

28 responses to “Farewell, Joe.”

  1. alex said on August 16, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Now that’s a rollicking good column that I missed when it was in print.

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  2. coozledad said on August 16, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I like the preface, too. It’s damn scary to think we might wind up thinking we’re at work in our dotage. If I think I’m at the Post Office, I just might be that guy at the rest home who unaccountably yells “Fuck off!” every five minutes.

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  3. Dorothy said on August 16, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Mighty, mighty fine work Ms. Nall. I often think to myself when I read your especially good pieces “Now why can’t I express myself like that?” I think sort of like that but I’ve never tried to put it down on paper (or screen) for others to read it. A very satisfying entry for today!

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  4. Deggjr said on August 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

    “We write the script of an endless movie starring ourselves”, just like high school, I was the star of my movie and don’t know what else happened.

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  5. Suzanne said on August 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

    What happened to Joe? I know he worked at a cooking store in Fort Wayne for a time (kind of my dream job), but I haven’t seen him in there for a while. And he was on the local NPR station, too, but is no longer.

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  6. Deborah said on August 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Nice work Nancy, I love that you’re giving the pieces a set up. Speaking of retirement I have a little less than 14 months until mine. The day of my 62nd birthday I’m outta here. No more large architecture firms for me. I hope to continue to have projects though, just won’t be working for the man. But haven’t figured out what were going to do for healthcare yet.

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  7. Carolyn said on August 16, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I knew Joe almost as well as you did, and I would bet he liked and appreciated the column.
    And as for that new boss of his, I don’t recall it ending well for her…

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  8. alex said on August 16, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Joe’s working for Williams-Sonoma and relocated to somewhere in New Jersey.

    After laying ruin to the News-Sentinel, Joe’s boss at the paper got deployed by Knight-Ridder to go destroy the Boston Globe but she died before finishing the job.

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  9. Dorothy said on August 16, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Alex I wanted to just mention I appreciated your long write-up about Lexie the other day. When Mike and I moved here, we lived for a short time (one month for me, two months for him) on the 2nd floor of the ex-husband of our real estate agent. John had a beautiful brick home that had been restored to it’s glory, but we weren’t really happy there. He did not allow dogs inside, so we had to keep our Augie with our son an hour away. John owned a Doberman named Bullet who wore a shock collar, and had some space around a barn and a bit of the yard to run free. He slept in a pile of dirt and hay inside the barn. I was down there every evening playing with him and just loved being with a dog since I missed Augie so much. The guy would grumble at me “You’re gonna spoil that dog…” as he walked out to do chores in the evening. I just ignored him. Bullet was craving attention and I never saw it given to him by John or his new Russian wife. I heard her talking rudely to the dog so of course I re-doubled my visits to him after I heard the way she spoke to him. We moved out as soon as I found an apartment in town that allowed dogs Augie’s size. I still miss Bullet and hope he’s doing all right.

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  10. adrianne said on August 16, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Very nice column, Nance. I, too, had my ups and downs with Joe, but ended up liking him as a boss. And this is my favorite line describing a retirement party: “A funeral where the corpse stands upright and cuts the cake.”

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  11. Dave said on August 16, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I retired in January and find the line about the corpse a little discomforting, it hurts to read the truth. Good line, Nancy, but still discomforting.

    The worst thing is the recurring dream I’ve had four or five times now where my employer is coming to get me and make me go back to work. Retirement is better, I don’t want to go back.

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  12. Connie said on August 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    I am both working full time and retired. Working full time in Michigan and about to draw a pension from Indiana Public Employees Retirement. The hit for drawing it several years before 65 was so small I went for it. Actually just did. First draw with six months back pay is supposed to come December 1st. Hubby will be 62 about the same time so we will check that out as well.

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  13. Dexter said on August 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    My old army pal Greg from Connecticut is retiring in two weeks, driven out to Social Security by an unrelenting supervisor. I told him just yesterday that I figured I had reported directly to over 200 different supervisors in my thirty years on my final job, including the bosses of the overtime shifts I was working, and including guys who donned a white shirt for a couple weeks to cover vacations.
    As I put my thoughts together, it appears of the 200, about 20 were outright pricks or nasty bitches, and 190 or so were A-OK with me. Not a bad ratio, but for the first few years of retirement I still held resentments against the evil ten per centers. Assholes anyway.

    Dave, I quit cigarettes, beer, and work, in ten year intervals as it worked out, and I had dreams about each.
    Work dreams faded away quickly, beer dreams lasted seven years, and cigarette and pipe tobacco dreams, the first demons I kicked out of my conscious life, continue to haunt me after thirty years.

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  14. Bitter Scribe said on August 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Oh what I would say at my retirement party. If I ever get to retire.

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  15. Jolene said on August 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Had pretty much the same experience w/ my dad as Nancy had w/ her mom. Waking up after a short nap, he said, “I’d better get out to the field and see if everything’s going OK,” referring to the need to oversee the work of other people who worked on the farm.

    Can’t quite imagine what the equivalent would be for me. Hate to think I’d be spending my dotage thinking about grading papers.

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  16. davidk said on August 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Great column Nancy. I, like alex missed it the first time around. As a friend of Joe’s and a long time admirer of your writing the piece was a joy to read.

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  17. Chris in Iowa said on August 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    This is way off the topic, but in Nancy’s absence, I thought I’d offer some bloggage http://bachmanneyezed.tumblr.com/

    In my 23 years in various newsrooms, I’ve really only had one or two bosses for whom I just couldn’t work. And as I get older, that’s easier to admit. The first time it happened, I was floored by it. In fact, I stayed at least a year longer than I should have, trying to make the best of a bad situation.

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  18. paddyo' said on August 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    As the years unravel, I look forward to some eventual form of retirement, semi- or otherwise. Although I’m nearly 59, it won’t be soon. I sure hope 70 is the new 60.

    What I don’t look forward to is any sort of retirement party — especially not after reading Nancy’s graceful and bittersweet column about this Joe guy. The upright-corpse-cutting-cake image speaks volumes.

    Besides, I already feel a bit like a ballplayer who was with one team forever (newspapering) but got traded late in his career to something else (government public affairs). The present team is OK, but the memories are in the other dugout, the other clubhouse. Not many keeper moments when you’re playing out your string.

    Sorry, my musings today are colored by a note just now from a fellow ex-newsie, updating me on the latest round of non-retirement departures from our last paper: So-and-so off to a newsmagazine that’s mostly online now . . . such-and-such to a wire service . . . someone else to freelance for a TV network’s webpages, another to an NGO, still another to “recover” — meaning, from the paper. Couldn’t take anymore.

    And one more with one foot out the door.

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  19. Bryan said on August 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Wasn’t the NS publisher the woman who had the blonde helmet hair? Or was that the previous one?

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  20. alex said on August 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Dorothy at 9—

    Poor Bullet. I think a humanitarian dognapping would be perfectly well in order.

    It’s unfortunate that popular culture depicts Dobermans as vicious dogs, and what’s more, as the sort of dog kept outside on guard detail. Those who know about the breed know that they’re very gentle and highly sensitive animals and that they need more human contact than the average dog, not less.

    Again, thanks to all for your condolences.

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  21. Jolene said on August 16, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    BBC America is launching a new mini-series this evening starring Dominic West, of The Wire fame. (Did you know he’s English?)

    The NYT has, not one, but two articles about it. Sounds very good.



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  22. moe99 said on August 16, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Well, we can all go seasteading if we prefer to live in a libertarian utopia:

    “…It goes like this: Friedman wants to establish new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters—free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country. They’d be small city-states at first, although the aim is to have tens of millions of seasteading residents by 2050. Architectural plans for a prototype involve a movable, diesel-powered, 12,000-ton structure with room for 270 residents, with the idea that dozens—perhaps even hundreds—of these could be linked together. Friedman hopes to launch a flotilla of offices off the San Francisco coast next year; full-time settlement, he predicts, will follow in about seven years; and full diplomatic recognition by the United Nations, well, that’ll take some lawyers and time.

    “The ultimate goal,” Friedman says, “is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government.” This translates into the founding of ideologically oriented micro-states on the high seas, a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.

    It’s a vivid, wild-eyed dream—think Burning Man as reimagined by Ayn Rand’s John Galt and steered out to sea by Captain Nemo—but Friedman and Thiel, aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias, believe that entrepreneurial zeal sets this scheme apart. One potential model is something Friedman calls Appletopia: A corporation, such as Apple, “starts a country as a business. The more desirable the country, the more valuable the real estate,” Friedman says. When I ask if this wouldn’t amount to a shareholder dictatorship, he doesn’t flinch. “The way most dictatorships work now, they’re enforced on people who aren’t allowed to leave.” Appletopia, or any seasteading colony, would entail a more benevolent variety of dictatorship, similar to your cell-phone contract: You don’t like it, you leave. Citizenship as free agency, you might say. Or as Ken Howery, one of Thiel’s partners at the Founders Fund, puts it, “It’s almost like there’s a cartel of governments, and this is a way to force governments to compete in a free-market way.”

    Read More http://www.details.com/culture-trends/critical-eye/201109/peter-thiel-billionaire-paypal-facebook-internet-success#ixzz1VEps8nky

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  23. Julie Robinson said on August 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Bryan, the blonde helmet-head was earlier than the Jacobite. And it was a wig.

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  24. coozledad said on August 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Friedman is an idiot if he thinks long term life on the sea can be anything other than an autocratic hell. It’s been done before. They called it whaling. It was no accident that most of the crewmen had to be kids, because most adults couldn’t take the stress or being browbeaten by the one fucker on the boat who had the vaguest idea of how to get back to port at the end of three years.

    There are plenty of isolated places where he can conduct his experiment on land: Guyana has a long growing season.

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  25. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 16, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Nope, Guyana’s been done before, too.

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  26. brian stouder said on August 16, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    This passage still has me chuckling (darkly)

    (with emphasis added by me)

    The ultimate goal,” Friedman says, “is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government.” This translates into the founding of ideologically oriented micro-states on the high seas, a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.

    So now, let’s see. Investers will invest in a “floating” structure intended for the high-seas, and which adheres to “looser building codes”? And the people aboard can all be packing (or not, as the secessionist sack of shit Governor of Texas* hastens to tell us), and may just shoot the first hapless nimrod who irritates him, and then transform the remains into fish-food?

    An interesting book about the World Trade Center Towers, called City in the Sky, addresses some of the “looser building codes” (or at least, the looser enforcement of those codes) that might have contributed to those towers’ collapse, 9 years 11 months and 3 weeks ago; specifically the fire-proofing provided for the steel structure, which failed so spectacularly.

    Come to think of it, I suppose if these structures were “seasteading colonies”, and pirates or terrorists hit them – too bad!; better luck next time! We wouldn’t be obligated to go to war over such an affront.

    You know, even if one tries to assign even 1% seriousness to these people’s idea, it simply collapses (so to speak). The United States claims – what? – a 200 mile zone out from our coasts? Other nations do, too; so how far out do they go?

    These people are genuinely (or disingenuously?) at sea

    *funniest line I’ve heard about Governor Perry of Texas: ‘He puts the “goober” in gubernatorial’ – by Jim Hightower!

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  27. Jolene said on August 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    ‘He puts the “goober” in gubernatorial’

    Heard this tonight too. I got the feeling that Hightower really enjoyed having the chance to say it on national TV. After all, he’s been pissed at Perry for more than 20 years. That said, perry does seem like a colossal asshole. It’s too much to hope, I suppose that he will crash and burn, but I hope it nonetheless.

    By the way, I erred in saying the new BBC America was on tonight. It starts tomorrow. Plenty of time to set the DVR.

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  28. Bryan said on August 17, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Julie — thanks for setting me straight. I was at the JG from ’89-’94, so the memory isn’t as sharp as it once was.

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