In March 1998, I was working with a small market research department at Macmillan Publishing in Santa Monica. It was also my second gig working with my friend John Arthur Maynard. (The first was another industry publishing house whose name is lost forever.)
On that fateful day, Macmillan’s parent company (which I believe was Paramount) decided to liquidate our department as part of a larger corporate reorg. The guys in suits considered the writers and researchers superfluous and handed us our severance checks with only terse instructions to clear our desks. While their goons were trolling through our paper files, I took the opportunity to wipe my PC’s root directory (one quick script) and cut my local backup disks in half. Yes, they were floppies.
For some weeks, we had been hearing rumors about layoffs, and John casually asked me if it were possible to leave some sort of boobytrap for our corporate masters in case they screwed us. I told him I’d look into it.
When the marketing team reconvened across the street for Mexican food and a view of the Pacific, I told John what had occurred at my workstation. He bought a round for the table. And I think the waiter brought us extra drinks when he heard we’d all been sacked. It was a terrible day shared with good people.
We even gathered the mob two years later at that same restaurant. We all agreed that it was good to be out of publishing.
John and I had become friends while toiling away at the University of Southern California main library. I was working on my MFA (Writing) and John was finishing up his Ph.D. (History). When he wasn’t working on campus, he was usually hanging out at one of the old-school gyms in Venice Beach, pumping iron with the locals. He was great bear of a man, fond of mugs of decaf espresso and beat poetry.
We went our separate ways after graduation, but both ended up in trade publishing, selling ads and convincing doctors to write free articles for us “to promote their practice.” You did what you had to do to make those student loan payments.
I went into consulting and software training and John eventually found a proper gig teaching American History out at Cal State Bakersfield.
He shared an interest in photography: he was a talented amateur who always carried a small 35mm. He did my wedding pictures. I returned the favor with a borrowed Apple QuickTake. Good times.
While we hadn’t seen each other since his wedding, we kept in touch. I sent him stories. We talked about getting together but I was never in Bakersfield and he didn’t get up to the Bay Area.
He contracted Lewy body dementia some years back. I sent him news and stories, which his wife read to him. She said he enjoyed them.
John died on Monday. I will miss his humor, his intellect, and his unfailing commitment to call me on my shit.