I Think I’ve Become ‘Bad John’

I’ve been at my current employer now for almost 24 years. My first day was September 27, 1999. It started in the HR office where I sat and learned about company policy; attendance, vacation time, sick leave, and just general history of the company. Those in that room were myself, the HR specialist, and one other person who was starting the same day as I was. Not only that, but he was hired into the same dept.

His name was John, just like me.

When we were escorted to our new home -the shipping/receiving dept- our burly and robust new supervisor named Judy said “Oh no, you’re both named John. Do either of you have a nickname you go by?” Neither of us had a nickname, so the other John said he could go by “J.B.” if it would make it easier. “That’s great, J.B.!” said this tank of a woman named Judy, who would be the bane our our existence for the next 6 years until she would be walked out for embezzling nearly $25,000 in credit card purchases.

It became pretty apparent that John and I were very much alike, despite he being 10 years older than me. We both were big music fans(we talked in great length about Steely Dan those first few weeks.) We liked a lot of the same movies, both had the same political leanings, distrusted religion, and both loved quality hi fi equipment. But most importantly we had the same sense of humor, which is mostly politically incorrect and just shy of gallow’s humor.

I think that’s where we bonded the most, our sense of humor.

We both were feeling as if we were in the midst of an existential crisis, both having recently left jobs where we were established and were comfortable. I left my job because my wife was pregnant and I didn’t want to travel anymore. He left because he tried bringing in the union into an automotive parts plant he was at. He was let go and pretty much blacklisted from working in the automotive industry from that point. The other John was forced to sell his house and move his wife and two young daughters out of town. He ended up moving from 30 minutes outside Chicago to the middle of nowhere in Central Indiana, having to start all over.

Within a week or two we both felt we’d made a terrible mistake taking the job. We were making $2 more an hour at our new jobs than we were at our old ones, but the place just felt like chaos. If we hadn’t had each other I imagine neither of us would’ve lasted. Thanks to our like-mindedness and love of “Deacon Blues” we pulled through for those first 6 months.

As time went on and people got to know us we’d started being known as “Good John” and “Bad John”, with me being the good one while the other John was the bad one. I think maybe we won our titles because I was relatively quiet, while the other John was boisterous and loud. Loud not because he talked loudly, but because he had a booming voice. A radio voice(he went to college for a Communications degree.) He was also a much more social guy, never knowing a stranger.

Though, he did earn that bad badge honestly.

John grew up in the Region, which is an area of towns and townships in North West Indiana that is also known as east Chicago. Towns like Gary, Munster, Hammond, Chesterton, Valparaiso, and Michigan City were all part of the region, and John grew up in Chesterton in a big Catholic family. His dad was a history teacher and WWll Marine veteran and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He didn’t suffer fools. John also had two older brothers that enjoyed torturing John growing up. By the time John got to high school he was more than ready to not take shit from anyone.

As the years went on John would tell me stories. Stories that should have been scenes in movies, not in someone’s actual life. Like clubbing some guy’s calves with a ball bat at a college party because the guy drunkenly grabbed John’s girlfriend’s breasts. Or how one morning on his way to work someone passed him and nearly hit him swerving back into the lane because another car was coming in the opposite direction. For some reason or another they both pulled over and John decked the guy and told him to get back in his car if he knew what was best. There was also the large loud mouth at a gas station John practically pulled through his car window after the guy yelled something at him.

In the first ten years of working with John these stories were pretty common.

I think people tended to underestimate John because he wasn’t a big guy. He’s my height, but a lot smaller body-wise. The average person would look at John and think nothing of him, and that average person would find themselves being pulled out of their car through the car window. John is the best friend you could ever have; loyal, thoughtful, funny, and would do anything for you. Just don’t piss him off. I knew what a hair trigger was when it came to tempers as there were a few in my family, but never anything like John. When he Hulk’d out you knew to steer clear.

So yeah, I was the “Good John” and the other John was the “Bad John”.

Over the last decade or so John began to mellow out a bit. Due to health issues you could say he was humbled a bit. When your mortality stares back at you in the mirror you tend to take stock in your life and realize sometimes it’s not worth it to lose your shit on a semi-daily basis. He started having panic attacks which he began taking anti-anxiety meds for. As his girls got older and moved out and he got his financial situation taken care of after well over two decades the hair trigger subsided. John realized how much he didn’t like being so tightly wound. Those moments when I’d look over from my desk and see him go a crimson red in the face were few and far between. Older age suited John.

In January John went on medical leave to deal with cancer. He was diagnosed with head/neck cancer at the beginning of the month. His prognosis was good, 100% survivable, but he was going to be off for nearly three months between the surgery to remove the tumor and the chemo and radiation to make sure it doesn’t come back. I found myself working on my own for the first time in over 23 years. I was worried about my friend. We’d gone through so much together, both at work and outside of work. Over the nearly 24 years of working together we’d become close friends; getting together for cookouts, seeing concerts together, watching our kids go from diapers to driving to graduation. I never realized just how much we laugh at work until he wasn’t there and our area became painfully quiet. If I was stoic and quiet before, I must seem like a statue now. An automaton fulfilling work duties and that’s it.

During these last two months I’ve come to realize something: I’ve realized that I’ve become “Bad John”.

I’m not sure at what point it dawned on me over these last several weeks; maybe how people approach me, gingerly and with what appears to be trepidation. Little things that have been said in phone conversations with people I’ve worked with for two decades like I’m “assertive”, “short and to the point”, and “you’re kind of intimidating”. I would admit that over these last several weeks I haven’t been Mr. Sunshine and avoid conversations longer than a couple sentences. Mainly because I’m one person doing a two-person job and time is of the essence. If I don’t want to work 10 hour days for three months then I need to make the most of my time at work. I was never a fan of overtime. I’ll put my 8 hours in and do the job to the best of my ability, but those other 16 hours need to be out of that building. My wife stayed home with our kids for the first few years of parenthood, so I knew I needed to get the hell out as soon as possible so she wouldn’t go insane.

So sorry if I don’t want to chew the fat with you. I’m busy.

But I’ve been looking back on the last ten years and I think that the metamorphosis from good to bad happened further back. I start remembering points where there’d be interactions between the other John and I with someone neither of us cared for, and while the other John would just shut down and turn to his computer I’d be the one in, while not heated conversations, pretty warm ones. I think the bad John was tired of the crown and just let me take it from him. Maybe it was all the meds he got on that mellowed him out, or years of being at Def Con 1 nearly everyday wore him out and he let nature take its course and allowed me to step into his frustrated, angry shoes.

But then again, I think my “bad” roots go back even further.

In the mid-90s after high school I befriended a guy named Chad. Chad worked at the local radio station and while at work I’d send faxes(yep, faxes) to the radio station requesting songs and Chad would happily play them. I ‘d request Harry Nilsson, the Beatles, old Bee Gees, and even “The Curly Shuffle” for shits and giggles. We started hanging out and having beers, or we’d meet up in the evening and get dinner at Bob Evans sometimes. In getting to know Chad I got to know a couple of his friends, one of which was named Rob.

Chad and Rob were two or three years behind me in high school. I’d remembered Rob as we were in Psychology together. We’d have conversations about guitarists like “Why did Megadeth need Marty Friedman when Dave Mustaine could play just as good of guitar leads?”, and the like. I thought our interactions were pretty pleasant. Well a few years later after I meet Rob with Chad at a local watering hole he proceeds to tell me that he and his friends were scared of me in high school. Apparently I stalked the hallowed halls with a grimace that looked as if I was ready to take someone apart limb by limb. I was shocked. I mean, I was just trying to survive high school. Much like I am at work now, in high school I was just trying to get from point A to point B, do the work, and get out. I wasn’t chatting anybody up. I just wanted to get in and get out.

I was also traumatizing underclassmen with my scowl along the way, as well as surviving.

I’m honestly not a violent or fly off the handle kind of guy. I really am just quiet, rather shy, and want to keep to myself. Even the thought of getting into a physical altercation gives me anxiety. Pulling over on my drive to work and cold cocking some guy who cut me off on the road isn’t even in my vocabulary. Using a ball bat to slam some guy’s legs? No way. And yet, I’m assertive and intimidating.

I guess if I’m the Bad John now I’ll own it. I’ll continue to be quiet, stoic, and an employee of little words. I’ll do my job, and do it in 8 hours. And when the newly crowned “Good John” returns to work after his medical leave I’ll ask him if he wants his crown back. Chances are, probably not. If that’s the case, then let them be afraid of me. Those that know, know. The rest? Walk gingerly.

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