Can’t Share It If You Don’t Have It.

Riddle me this:

If you have it, you want to share it.  If you share it, you don’t have it.  What is it?

If I had been alive in the 1940s, there would have been a lot of ships sunk.  “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, a famous slogan from World War II.  Someone tells you something, they tell you not to tell anyone, or specifically a certain individual, and you do it anyway, for whatever reason, maybe an abbreviated version of the something leaving out key identifying source information, and it invariably gets back to the source, who told you not to tell, that you did.  The interesting point of all that, is the person that told you the something in the first place, was probably told the same thing, not to tell anyone.

The impact to me of these leaks has been loss of friends, loss of jobs even, and loss of being trusted with “sensitive” information.  The worst thing the teller of the something can say to you is “I guess I can’t trust you anymore.”  Trust me to do what, not do what they just did, or when did they actually decide they trusted me with information they were entrusted with?  That’s right, don’t tell me, I can’t keep a secret.  I don’t think you should tell most anybody for that matter, anything you don’t want repeated, because it will probably be repeated.  In my experience, it runs about 90% of the time that you tell someone not to say anything, they do it anyway, and to someone they promise not to tell.  I’ve kept secrets, but they weren’t told to me.  In those cases I was the originator of what became the secret and I didn’t disclose it to anyone.

When I think about these “secrets” I no longer have,  I flash back immediately to the feeling I had the day Glenn Holm called me into the break room first thing on a Monday morning in 1973 to tell me we were no longer friends.  It was an absolutely horrible feeling and it’s stayed with me to this day.  It wasn’t a secret, per se, it was that situation where you tell someone you “trust,” something, and you trust they won’t repeat it to the person you said it about, because you don’t want the person you’re talking about to know what you said about them, and the person you told knows that right up front.  But they tell anyway, and in this case, they told the minute I left Garcia’s.  I guess the information was just too good.

Glenn and I started at Mountain Bell in Laramie, Wyoming, at almost the same time.  He was hired as a Commercial Representative and I transferred to Laramie from Santa Fe, NM, as a Service Representative.  Similar jobs, but one paid twice as much as the other, and it wasn’t my job title.  When I first checked into the job openings available in the Laramie office I talked with Office Manager Charles (Chuck) Holt, and he told me that he did indeed have a Service Rep opening, but said nothing about the Commercial Rep opening that was also available.  Now this was right around the time that AT&T had signed a consent decree with the Government to put more emphasis on non-traditional jobs, putting women outside hanging from the poles, and putting men inside sitting at the desks and switchboards. (Yeah, they still had switchboards then.)  Chuck having me as a Service Representative in his office of six women was perfect for him to meet his quotas.  The Commercial Rep job was traditionally a male job because one of the responsibilities, besides acting as an Assistant Manager, was collecting the pay phones, a job which required lifting hundreds of pounds of coins from the car to the airport freight terminal.  Glenn was his man for that job.

So I show up with my family, wife and infant daughter, find an apartment, and go to work a few months after that first conversation.  Glenn had already been working for a few weeks, remember, in an office full of women, and gladly took me under his wing when I started.  We immediately hit it off, taking coffee breaks together, talking football, wives, women, the usual stuff.  Hanging out after work at a happy hour now and then, or watching “Monday Night Football” at his house, going to the Wyoming Cowboys’ games, and even going to get a “Dream Steak for Four” in Bosler, WY, after the game once, with our wives.  The thing was, Glenn was paying for everything; the drinks, the game tickets, the dinner tabs, and the beer on Monday night.  I wasn’t making enough money to pick up a tab at the time, let alone afford to go out and have drinks, but I truly looked forward to the day when I actually could reciprocate.  I’ve bought a lot of dinners, drinks, tickets and beer since those days, but I never got to pay Glenn back for any of it, and I’ve always felt bad about that.

The breach of trust incident occurred at one of those after work, Friday night “Happy Hours.” The ones where you get home at 1:00 am but you promised your wife you would only be going out for an hour or so.   After a few drinks too many, sitting with Glenn, myself, and three other guys from work, all in outside plant jobs, I said the something to Tim next to me, when Glenn went to pee.  I probably don’t need to add that Glenn was buying for everybody.

Tim said to me something like “Glenn’s sure a nice guy, isn’t he?”  We were almost at that “love ya man” point in our drinking that evening. 

I said something like “Yeah, but I should have had his job.”  I went on to describe how that damn Chuck Holt hadn’t even told me about the opening and I was certainly qualified and that it was all about this damn Equal Employment Opportunity shit, and I think I finished right about the time Glenn got back to the table.  That’s what I said and that’s how I remember it.

True to form, as most often is the case, what I said, got embellished a bit in the retelling by none other than Tim, whom I expected, drunk or not, not to repeat to Glenn, the things I had said.  Was it a secret?  Well it should have been, but I never said the prescribed “Don’t tell Glenn I said that!”  I left shortly after he returned, because I had made the mistake of calling home and telling my wife I would be home in an hour, three hours ago, and well, it was just time for me to go home.  I thanked Glenn profusely for buying yet again and headed out the door.

That following Monday morning, Glenn walked up to me the minute I arrived and said he needed to talk to me.  We went to the break room and I got my coffee.  Glenn was sitting back from the table arms folded in front of him, waiting for me to sit down.  I had no idea what was up, but it didn’t look good.

And that’s how I started the conversation, “Man, what’s the matter?”

“Look,” he started, “I don’t mind picking up the tab for people, I like doing it, but I don’t like it when somebody talks behind my back.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”  I stammered back.

“You know.”  He paused, staring at me with disgust.  “I pay for your drinks, I’ve paid for you and your wife to go out to dinner, I’ve picked up the tab a lot, and then you go and tell people that you should have had my job?  I don’t get it?”  Another awkward pause.  “But it’s over.  I’m not doing it anymore.”

I sat there literally stunned.  I couldn’t talk.  This feeling of incredible sadness came over me and it seemed like all the other emotions were being sucked out, not knowing if I was feeling sorry for myself or what I had done.  I remembered saying it though.  Those exact words.

“Glenn, that’s not what I meant.  I just meant I should have had a chance at the job, not that you shouldn’t have gotten it.”

“That’s not what I heard you said.  Tim says to me, ‘What’s that guy have it out for you or something?  He told me he deserved the Commercial Rep job, not you.  Kind of biting the hand that feeds him isn’t it?’”  A lot of people knew that Glenn was picking up that tab for my after hours entertainment, and he was probably the one that told most of them.

“I don’t let people do that to me.  That’s it, he said, consider us done.”

The words stung and I just sat there.  No argument was going to change this.  I had said it after all.  He got up from the table and walked out, back to his desk at the back of the office.  I sat there, alone.  After a few minutes, I got up and went to my desk in the front.  There were two rows of three desks, no cubicles in this office, and the Commercial Rep desk in the back.  Chuck sat in an office in the back corner.  The two cashiers at the counter in the front.  True to his word, Glenn never invited me anywhere again.

Not too long after that, Glenn quit Mountain Bell and bought the Sears Outlet franchise in Cody, Wyoming.  I offered to come over the Saturday morning they were moving and help them load up the U-Haul truck.  He told me to come by around 10:00.  When I drove up to his house that morning, the U-Haul truck was driving off.  He couldn’t have timed it better.  Man, you can believe how that felt.  The Commercial Rep position was never filled.  I was just given the additional responsibility of collecting the pay phone routes once a week, without any increase in pay.

My wife and I were traveling through Cody on our way to Yellowstone Park a few summers later, and I drove down Main Street to find Glenn and Nancy Holm’s “Sears Outlet” store.  I found it easy enough.  Right there on Main Street.  Glenn was outside sweeping the sidewalk when I drove up and he recognized me right away.  He ran up to the car window and asked how we were doing.  What we were doing in Cody.  The usual stuff.  He wanted us to come on in and get caught up.  I told him we couldn’t; we had to get going to make the park by dark. We had reservations.  He understood.

“Good to see you,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Have a good time in Yellowstone.”

That was the last time I saw him, but I think about him a lot.  Every time I’m in one of those “breach of trust” situations.  The feeling is always the same.  I wish people wouldn’t tell me things.  Maybe someday I’ll learn to tell them I don’t want to know.  Can’t share a secret if you don’t have it.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Can’t Share It If You Don’t Have It.

  1. I’m not comfortable knowing things that aren’t public knowledge. I’ll keep them to myself, but mostly because I tend to forget what I’ve been told not to tell. Thank goodness I’m an airhead.

    • That’s what I strive to do now if told something I’m not supposed to repeat. I just forget I ever heard it. Then there’s that backlash from people if you say something like, “Yeah, I knew that a long time ago.” LOL

  2. Tough situation. I’ve been in several that left me with the same feeling. The way you began this story was intriguing. You are a master story-teller. Just don’t tell any secrets!

    • Wow, thanks for the compliment. And, sorry, too late. Secrets flow out of me like sweat on a hot day. Secrets bounce off me like a ping pong ball off a paddle. If you want it spread around, tell me.

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