Breakfast With Ben

pats t 0319This week, three people who previously worked at Pat’s Screen Printing stopped by to say “hi,” one of them twice, and I was not at work any of those times.

Of course, among time mismanagement, blogging, house-ing and on-the-street socializing, that doesn’t leave much time in my day for work, so I suppose it stands to reason that I am “out to lunch” when people stop by.

One of the three who made the effort lives in Gunnison, so I’ll see him sooner or later. Another is in Lake City, so perhaps she will stop by on a different trip to Gunnison. And the third was Ben.

Not the Ben currently working at Pat’s — I see him nearly every day. At work, even. Current Ben is one of three Bens to put in time at the shop. Original Ben started at Pat’s when he was 13 and wanting a summer job. All told, I think he ultimately put in eight summers. Along the way I taught his mother and sister to drive, and then Ben. His family served as my doggie daycare for several years.

But Ben grew up, as Bens do. While in college he bonked his noggin pretty good, good enough to get airlifted from New Mexico to Denver, and since then he has undergone the never-ending process of recovering from a traumatic brain injury. He’s fared better than many in similar situations, but it’s been a long process that probably won’t ever really be “complete.”

He found his way into a field I didn’t know existed: patent law. He’s not a lawyer, so I suppose his title is paralegal, although I’ve never asked for a business card. He started in Chicago, but eventually relocated to Austin, Texas, where his older sister was teaching school. Eventually their younger sister took up her nursing career in the Austin area as well, so all of them are still close in proximity as well as emotionally.

Patent law firms appear to be giant places, and it turns out that coming back to see his parents for Christmas is not usually an option, because the patent industry gets very busy at the end of each year. I still don’t know much about it, but Ben reports he enjoys his job, and it sounds like it brings him into contact with lots of interesting people from a variety of countries. Because his firm has offices in Canada, where marijuana was recently legalized, he’s in a place to watch a burgeoning industry get taken over by Big Business.

I learned all this despite not being at work when he popped by during a non-holiday visit to his parents, who are still here but possibly contemplating becoming Texans themselves, to be closer to all three of their kids. I learned it thanks to Kara, my business partner, who told Ben I would be very sad to have missed him and arranged for the three of us to go to breakfast yesterday.

Ben has always been a phlegmatic fellow, even more so after his injury, so one might not have been able to tell unless one had known him quite some time, but he is very excited about the big news in his life: he and Amy, wife of two (?) years, are expecting a baby in early August. And they learned just prior to his trip to Gunnison that they’ll be welcoming a boy.

I offered to name him (“Ubaldus” came immediately to mind), but Ben assured me they have a name, which for now is a Closely Guarded Secret. (Looking at the progression of syllables and letters of the alphabet for Ben and his siblings, I told his parents once that if they had a fourth child, it would need a five-syllable name starting with G. Maybe I need to revisit that concept for Ben’s son. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the input.)

So many people who have worked for Pat’s in the TL Years did so as youngsters, some in high school and some in college. We are much more of a year-round business now than when I started, but it’s still a truism that we are much busier June through August than the rest of the year. And the people who come looking for summer jobs are frequently students.

So I’ve interacted with a lot of people who go away as kids and come back to visit as adults, and it’s fun to watch the progression. Many of them have moved on to marriage, but so far — of the folks who stay in touch — we don’t have many who have become parents. Of everyone I can think of this morning, Ben will be the third.

I probably won’t get to see his son much, particularly if Ben’s parents join the rest of the family in Texas. Whether his folks are here or not, though, I think Ben will come back from time to time. My favorite thing about him is his solitary roamings through the streets of Gunnison at night.

At breakfast he said he had done that just the night before, wandering down the middle of empty dark streets, looking up at the stars sprawled across the clear sky, inspecting all the new construction of Van Tuyl Village in the black. I used to like to do that myself, and I still go out in the middle of each night, not for very long and not far at all, with Oz, and it provides a kinship in solitude with friends like Ben.

I think, or want to think anyway, that these quiet dark streets will always exert a pull on Ben, and hope that we might see him and his family from time to time. He did say he is expecting me to teach his son to drive (poor kid: I’ll probably be a much crabbier teacher 16 years from now than I was 16 years ago), so it sounds like we’ll be in touch.

And in the meantime there was breakfast, a chance to reconnect with someone who was far more than employee in my life. He is no longer 13, but an about-to-be family man in his 30s, and I’m very glad he stopped by — and even gladder that Kara snagged him for breakfast. Since if I’m not out for breakfast, I always seem to be out to lunch.

Photo: a reputable photojournalist would have thought to take Ben’s picture — or more correctly, would have had that thought while near Ben, not a day later during blogging. So here’s the Pat’s logo for you instead. If I ever want to get it patented, I know who to talk to.

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