What Gary Taught Me

I never thought I was going to write a second post with Gary in it.  But he was killed two weeks ago in a tragic boat accident, aged 64.  When I went to his funeral yesterday, I saw that the latest entry in the guest book was, ‘so young!’  Overwhelmed, I didn’t know what to write after that, so I didn’t.

I also didn’t stay for the celebration of life part, where everyone gets together and talks about the recently deceased.  I just didn’t know what to say.  But now I think I do.

I met Gary during what was probably the roughest time during the last 20 years of his life.  He was going through an acrimonious divorce and everyone who worked with him, the 9 of us, stuffed in that two bedroom apartment off Manhattan Beach Blvd, knew it.

Sometimes his soon-to-be-ex-wife would drive up, shower us with abuses, and drive off.  One time we had a counterintelligence expert show up and do a thorough sweep of the apartment for bugs.  For whatever reason, this ‘expert’ thought I was working with the enemy, and kept turning away from me when I tried to listen.

They tried to sabotage each other, they maligned each other, they were each lawyered up to the gills, and part of my unofficial job description was to sort through his bank statements and files from the last decade in an effort to make the lawyers’ lives easier, because they were high-priced idiots who couldn’t see the outlines of the case.  I just remember the attorneys sitting there in the conference room, clearly exposing their ignorance about basic details, as the paralegals chimed in with what the paid-by-the-hour idiots should have known.  I don’t remember the firm’s name, but they were based out of Torrance.

Anyway.  Throughout this, Gary worked like a fiend.  I joined in 2010; in 2008 and 2009 he saw his net worth get destroyed by half, and the combination of this and the divorce made him feel like he was up against a wall.

Every morning he did 5 am yoga.  Then at noon he went out again for a spin class.  Then sometimes he did another yoga session in the evening, calling all the rest of us lazy wusses[not this exactly but something similar] for not being able – or unwilling – to keep up with him, who was twice our age.

He was working with a manic, crazy energy.  You could sometimes see his eyes go vapid from the exhaustion and anxiety.  Files were strewn all over his room as if TNT had exploded in it, but he knew where every single thing was.  Sometimes while he was talking, he would drift off, his mind wanting to be somewhere else.

Gary was my single ‘professional’ mentor.  Actually, he was more of a life mentor.  During that time, Gary was going through a period of intense reflection.  Mixed in with a simmering bitterness about the divorce, and intense anxiety about…everything, he rambled on about events in his life, thinking out loud about what had happened, and the majority of it revolved around the theme of Not Trusting the System.

He railed against everything – his ex-wife, against bankers, against people who spent too much on their cars and houses, against all the people in Manhattan Beach trying to be big fish in small ponds, against county assessors, against dishonorable clients who didn’t pay, against people who had full time jobs they didn’t enjoy.  The IRS.  The federal government.  Lawyers.  Accountants (he was formerly one).  Mostly against people who he thought spent too much on anything, and people who ‘bought’ into the system, the (former) American Dream, who tried to be like other people.  Son of a mailman, a boy from Hawthorne, Gary had a huge chip on his shoulder even while from the outside, you would see him as a millionaire and as part of the establishment.

Of course, a lot of it went too far.  Walking into hotel lobbies to enjoy their free continental breakfasts.  Withholding our checks while trying to convince us it was better for tax purposes.  Driving thirty minutes out of the way because gas was cheaper somewhere else.  Not wanting to go to lunch anywhere unless it had a lunch special that was at least a double-digit percentage cheaper than regular price.  Taking his son to LA Kings games but arriving purposely late, and then ‘teaching’ him about the bargaining advantage against scalpers when one arrives after the game has started.  Spending more time trying to rack up miles than on the details of his divorce (which we had to handle).

And the combination of his own personality and his circumstances made him bitter.  He did spend a lot of time badmouthing his ex-wife.  This spilled over into a judgmental attitude about other people too.  His neighbors who tried to keep up appearances.  County assessors and their work ethic.  And his relationship with his brother was not the greatest either.

But despite it all, he walked the walk.  He was frugal to a fault, even though he had become a millionaire many times over.  He said what he thought.  And I absorbed it all.  Because in most ways, he was right.  And for that, I was always grateful.

And that’s what I thought I knew about Gary.  Based on his cynicism and sometimes-pettiness, I didn’t expect to see the entire hall-full of people come to pay their respects.  I saw how much he was loved by his children.  I even saw his ex-wife sitting in the first row, and who read a poem about forgiveness, which had layers upon layers of meaning on it, since the boat accident was another’s fault.

One of his friends gave a moving speech full of fondness and affection.  More than once I heard him described as fun-loving, generous, big-hearted, friendly.

And then it got me thinking, as I stood there in the back of the room.  I thought I had known Gary.  But it seemed like actually, there was another side to him that I had never known.

Perhaps, just maybe, who I had seen was a man at his worst.

And that man at his worst, had still never raised his voice, was ready to greet us with a smile, and lived every day through that dark period with desperate, almost superhuman energy.  And come to think of it, I hadn’t made much of it at the time, but I do remember he had talked incessantly about his kids – about their nature, about their accomplishments, even when I hadn’t thought they were so great – with exceeding pride and love.  That man at his worst, was still better than many people at their best.

Rest in peace Gary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s