A few years ago, during the economic downturn, I’d just begun employment with an accounting firm. Pretty soon after, I met an (eventually) infamous intern (later nicknamed Tavern). Due to the common cut-backs in hiring of this era, most interns were super concerned with proving their worth. But not Tavern. Tavern was living the (new) American dream – life with a huge trust fund in his back pocket, where a day at the office was indistinguishable from a day at the frat house.
Some liked to nickname interns and newer employees. And Tavern’s last name rhymed with “bar”, and he was vocal about his love for alcohol, so his nickname was first “Bar & Grille” before being shortened to “Tavern.”
My fulltime job and his internship involved auditing financial statements for companies. We started in January, busy season for this industry. And after a quick week of training, Tavern and I were thrown to the wolves – sent to a client (with some supervisors) to begin our first audits.
Tavern was hilariously entertaining, doing things unexpected in a conservative field filled with young, competitive, hard-working, over-achieving professionals fighting to avoid becoming the next casualties of the downturn. So I worked hard each day, but I also observed Tavern’s behavior. And Tavern and I couldn’t have been more different. Because I was motivated. And he… wasn’t.
During busy season we were expected to work 50-80 hours per week, depending on specific client demands. Yet on his first real day of work, Tavern rolled in at ~10:00am. He sauntered into the crowded, already bustling audit room, Starbucks cup in hand, and, with the client within earshot, shouted, “Man – sorry I’m late. Traffic was such a bitch!”
Tavern spent more time inviting co-workers and managers and partners for drinks after work and planning intern shin-digs than he did actually working. One Wednesday at ~5:00pm, Tavern asked an audit partner, “Do you want to blow this mother and go get drinks? I have a six pack of beers in my trunk.”
In auditing, employees are responsible for signing off on work papers they audit, as if to give each work paper a stamp of approval. And sometimes, in addition to signing off with initials, auditors will use various Adobe stamps to signify specific approvals or procedures performed. To sign off (stamp) a work paper is to basically say it’s finished – ready for review.
So it quickly became apparent Tavern’s work wasn’t up to snuff as soon as it began entering the review process. Tavern signed off on everything but didn’t actually document anything – he essentially signed off on blank work papers (client documents as is, without making further comments or conclusions). For those who don’t understand – this is REALLY BAD.
So, pretty shortly thereafter, managers started laughing at Tavern, because people get slap-happy when they work until midnight. And it was better to laugh about Tavern creating more work for everyone than it was to cry about it. And I think it was in one of these slap-happy moments when one of the managers created a special Adobe stamp in honor of Tavern.
The Adobe stamp was a picture of a beer can. And it was named the “Tavern stamp.” And it was to be used (not really, but jokingly) by people when they grew sick and tired of working so hard, or when a task just seemed too difficult.
For example, I remember working on something complicated late one night. I leaned over and asked the manager if he could help me. And, instead of helping me, he looked at whatever I was working on and joked, “I don’t know – just Tavern-stamp that mother fucker.”
And the whole room erupted into laughter.
And thus, “Just Tavern-stamp that mother effer,” became a joke for the next three or so years at the firm, until everyone involved eventually moved on. (It’s a high-turnover field.)
But the joke stuck with me. Because I’ve yet to meet another quite like Tavern. And because it was just so freaking funny.
But since losing Matthew, it doesn’t feel much like the joke it once was. Because now, it seems, Tavern and I are essentially one in the same, but for two very different reasons. Because I’m dangerously close to wanting to Tavern-stamp the shit out of (nearly) EVERYTHING. And this sort of apathy is really bad.
Over the phone the other day, I informed the bereavement nurse of my general apathy, to which she explained that many bereaved parents report their losses have made them acutely aware of what is important in life and what isn’t.
So maybe it’s just this. Because never before have certain things felt more important than they do now (e.g. family and close friends and health and physical fitness, among other things). And having been one who’s always had her priorities (close to) straight, I think I knew what was important before. But now I really understand. So much so that many other things feel far less important than they once did.
Like, in the weeks before Matthew died, I remember helping Mark compile and submit ideas for the list of potential family reunion destinations that’d soon be up for vote. And then closely tracking said votes, flipping out each time someone voted for the remote location in Southwest Colorado.
And I remember listening to Mike & Mike on ESPN each morning as they discussed whether or not the Lambs would trade Sam Bradford to the Eagles. And they gave Sam Bradford more credit as a quarterback than what I thought he deserved. And I was furious.
And I remember being so proud that I single-handedly pushed the crazy-complex financial statements to completion prior to the June 30 deadline. And that the auditors identified only one or two small changes to my statements throughout the entire process, proving I’m way smarter than they are. (Just kidding. Maybe.)
But now I find myself almost unable to care about any such things, as well as a whole lot else.
Potentially shitty family reunion destinations and a possible move by the Lambs. Financial statements out of balance by three dollars and shopping trips for stylish new clothes. Weekend scheduling conflicts and Flannel Shirt Fridays at the office. Emails about non-pressing issues and fresh new haircuts. Restaurant selections and budget variances. Celebrity gossip and the Super Bowl. Current events and workplace drama. The weather and new gadgets. And so. Many. Things.
My life is riddled with Tavern-stamps.
And while some may argue my priorities are now, more than ever, as they should be. It’s also difficult, because it’s healthy to care about some of the more trivial things, including jobs that help pay the mortgage.
And so many do care about such things. And I’m constantly jealous of them. Because I wonder how they’ve had an easy enough life to retain the ability to do so. Or I’m confused. Because so many are affected by tragedy. So I wonder if most are acting, and I just don’t yet know how.
Or maybe my apathetic, Tavern-stamp-that-mother-effer feelings are temporary. Maybe they’ll lift if/when life gets a little brighter.
I don’t know. So much is still unknown.
And I’m sorry to any readers who might think, “Tavern-stamp that mother effer” in response to seemingly less important things from now on. (I challenge you not to.)
And I wonder what Tavern’s up to now. If his life’s still so easy – blowing through his trust fund. Or if he’s suffered a tragedy. In which case any resulting apathetic feelings might not seem as foreign to him as they do to me.
I hope I can stop Tavern-stamping my way through life. Because there’s areas in my life where I need some motivation. And I need it now.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed