Tales from Adolescence: New Year’s at Jewel with Stoner Kelly

You know you’re in the Chicago suburbs when you’re at Jewel.

I don’t remember when I met Stoner Kelly. Jewel was full of colorful characters and I recall there were some silly nicknames, but nobody had a name like Stoner Kelly.

My first recollection of him was as I walked to the break room one day and saw this tall, hirsute, mouth breathing man, with large bags under his eyes, wearing a butcher’s apron and staring into space behind the meat counter. In other words, he looked stoned. All the time.

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The Little Things

I build a lot of demos for customers. To keep things interesting for myself and also for the customer’s keen eyes, I like sprinkling in little Easter Eggs. In this case, for a customer in England, I couldn’t help but create a New Order / Madchester reference on the account hierarchy.

The Year of Susan

I was once eating lunch at a financial services client, with whom I’m a customer. The entire customer and consulting team shared a table. The client bragged about how their lunches are free. And there were right to brag; there was an impressive spread of food: a salad bar, sushi bar, pizza bar, sandwich station, and more. It was one of the best stocked cafeterias I’ve seen in my career and also had some of the best natural light I’ve experienced in a cafeteria. But I soon had the realization that I, as a customer, made this lunch possible. I did everything to control myself to not retort, “My policy holder dollars paid for that pizza and Diet Coke – you’re welcome.”

But the food spread and my jealousy of said spread were not the most interesting part of the conversation.

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An Anecdote Without a Punchline

I’ve told this story several times and it always lands with a thud. It goes like this.

I went to a work conference a few years ago. My coworker, Lisa, got drunk and lost her backpack containing her work laptop. Another coworker, Rose, found her backpack and gave me possession of the backpack and indicated this would be a problem. HR calls me in the morning and asks me to go through the backpack. I return the backpack to Rose. I’m told by HR that if Lisa asks where the backpack is, say Rose has it.

Rose flies home to Denver with Lisa’s backpack. I run into Lisa and she’s incredibly apologetic. I tell her that Rose has her laptop.

At some point that day, Lisa is fired. I don’t see her until the following day at the airport’s security line. I give her a somber wave. She looked sad. Her fiancé looked furious.

What I later learned was Lisa was an alcoholic, and had other incidents like this during her tenure. Her behavior at the conference was the last straw.

Everyone has a conference story. You would think my Thunderdome-esque tale – two employees enter, one leaves – would make a great conference story, but its weak. It lacks anything profound. It’s elicits more of a “huh” response than a “woah.” It’s certainly a crazy conference story, but it’s a little underwhelming.

I’ve wondered what the lesson of the story is for several years now, and I just can’t come to peace with how ambiguous this event is.

I’ve tried changing how I tell the story – adding and omitting details – but the response from the audience is still “huh.” After telling the story again today, I think I’m going to retire it.