Was it just yesterday morning I realized I passed my 20-year anniversary at Pat’s Screen Printing without fanfare? It was some recent morning, as I was lying here among cat(s), mulling over topics of my life with which to regale you, and I realized I started work at Pat’s Screen Printing in October 1998. That’s almost twice as long as I worked at the newspaper.
This has been a very inadvertent career. Pat was a friend whom I met over the newspaper copier. Her building was directly behind the newspaper, across the alley, and in the early days of screen printing, without computers, she would pay the newspaper to use the copier to resize artwork. Then we both ended up in the Holy Order of Qapla (different story for a different day), and after I left the bookstore (post-newspaper), Pat’s Screen Printing became the epicenter of the HOQ.
So I was in there a lot, dropping off Star Trek: Voyager videos and dispensing my newsletter, G-Force, and there was a running joke: Pat would lament that her son and her employee didn’t want to take over her business, and I would say, completely in jest, “I’ll take it over for you, Pat.” Funny joke, eh?
After the bookstore I went to airport security (for three entire months), which was a job (back then) with a lot of free time. When Pat needed someone to come in and answer phones so Tina could print while Pat was having her gallbladder removed, I said I’d be happy to help out.
And then the “gallstones” turned out to be cancer, so I kept coming back to help out, and that’s how I ended up as a captain of industry.
It was important to Pat that her business succeed her, and it has been important to me that it continue to operate in a manner that Pat would approve of. I think we’ve done okay in that regard. We’re still here, at least, and that ought to count for something.
I’m forever reading business advice articles and columns, and one aspect of these is the need for a succession plan. I put one of those into place several years ago when Kara was brought on as my business partner, which was the best decision I’ve made while at Pat’s Screen Printing.
This year Kara and I decided to add Ben as a (very small) shareholder. Ben is our graphic designer. He came to Gunnison about six years ago after he graduated college, planning to ski for a year, but he saw our screens through our front window and came in, right as we were desperately casting about for a graphic designer.
I remember him telling someone early in his tenure that he really couldn’t see himself spending the rest of his life in a place like Gunnison, and yet — another funny joke, eh? — here he is, six years down the road, married and a homeowner, and thinking he might like to make his career as an owner of Pat’s.
I am 56 now, and eating breakfast every Sunday with a group of people who have all retired or are making plans to do so. The two most recent additions to our group are a couple who moved here from Golden after retiring in their late 50s.
There’s a commercial out there for some financial company where a client tells his advisor he doesn’t want to make a retirement plan, because he likes working. And that was always me. I’m bad about taking vacations, and I used to get really irritated, especially Thanksgiving through New Year’s, at how much holidays disrupted the work schedule. (Someone while leaving last night noted that it had been awhile since we’d all had to work a full week.)
But watching everyone around me retire has perhaps shifted my paradigm a bit. And not managing my time well isn’t helping. I miss a lot of work, an hour here, two hours there. There are chiropractors and naturopaths to see, animal appointments, contractors to meet with, and blogs to write. None of this wins us any bread around here, but I can’t seem to make it through a single workday without a non-work interruption.
Plus, screen printing is hard on a body, and while medical people keep assuring me I don’t have arthritis, most of my joints ache. A lot. I was the main screen printer at Pat’s for at least 10 years, which was a job I enjoyed. You can see your success (or not) as printed shirts pile up, so it’s not nearly as nebulous as spending a day spinning to answer whichever employee has the next question, and wondering at the end of the day if you really got anything done.
But I couldn’t print all day now even if I wanted to. Depending on the ink, there are jobs I can’t print at all anymore. Ben, whose degree is in print-making rather than graphic design, would like to spend more of his time at least supervising production. It is a good time to turn that aspect over to him, and I can fall back and focus more on the bookwork and all the filing/organization that often gets neglected in the face of production needs.
Yesterday was still difficult for me, however. Ben, with nothing heavy on his graphic plate, went into the production area and cleaned house. Not employee-wise, but object-wise. I didn’t know he was going to do this, but in yet another joke of the cosmos, I had, sometime before I went to work, held a discussion with myself about how I was going to have to let Ben do things his way and figure things out.
I like to think I can be an institutional resource, and Kara has always deferred to that. But Ben is far less inclined to seek out advice, or sometimes even permission. So he didn’t tell me his plan, or ask if that would be okay: he has been tasked to take charge of the production area, and that’s what he was doing.
Giving up control is hard, and not being consulted on anything turns out to be harder. I mean, I have 20 years of experience, and 20 years of reasons for doing things the way I did them. Sometimes more than 20 years, because many of the things I do the way I do is because that’s how I learned them from Pat.
And as I watched him rearrange, much of it consisted of moving everything one turn to the left, which strikes me as moving things just to move them. With everything still raw, I think he will come to find out there was a solid reason for items being where they were — and I imagine I will discover that it’s easier to locate some things when they’re not in a jumbled, years-old heap.
If I work to full retirement age, that’s more than 11 years away — a smidge over the time I spent at the newspaper, a year over half the time already spent at Pat’s. Up until a year or two ago, I just assumed that’s how things would go — although I had watched medical issues force my landlord’s retirement before he planned it.
Now, because I hang out with people who are older than me, and probably because someone younger than me is clearly eager to take on a mantle of responsibility (and in a manner different than mine), that path no longer seems as inevitable as it always did.
As long as Lynn refuses to support me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed, I still have to work. Only now my job is going to include learning to give up some control. This could be the hardest job I’ve ever had.
Finding a song about t-shirts is difficult. Here’s a band named for them, with one of my favorite music videos.