Posts Tagged ‘Work’

Then and Now

When I was a kid, we moved constantly. Dad was in the Air Force, and especially in the early years, we packed up and moved often — sometimes every few months.

The pace slowed as the years went by, but Dad still got reassigned regularly. According to Mom, we changed residences 25 or 30 times before I finished high school.

As you can imagine, the details of those moves — the planning, the execution, most of the actual work — fell to Mom. By the time Dad retired, it was no secret that she had reached her limit, moving-wise.

Dad still relished the adventure. He dreamed of moving to a mountain cabin in Asheville, a beach house in Savannah, or who knows where.

Mom would have none of it. She had done all the moving she intended to do.

After Dad died, and Mom was left alone in a two-story, four-bedroom house, we tried to convince her to move to a smaller place. Not a chance. She wouldn’t budge.

As for me, when I went away to the University of Georgia in the 1960s, living in Athens for four straight years was a personal record — the longest I’d ever stayed in the same place in my life.

Some people spend their entire lives in the same place. My grandfather Frank, for example, was born at home — the Byrd family home in Suwanee, Georgia.

Frank lived in that same house well into adulthood. After he married my grandmother Leila, he built a house for the two of them across the road from the Byrd place. And he lived there contentedly for the rest of his life.

Why am I droning on about houses and moving? The subject came to mind because of the contrast between the awful conditions in the job and housing markets these days and my own employment and house-buying experience in better times.

Consider the following facts from my young adulthood, and ask yourself if anything remotely like this could happen today…

In 1972, I finally had a bellyful of working among the jackals at the Georgia State Capitol, so I resigned my position, and we moved to Fort Lauderdale.

I had no particular job prospects down there. We knew the city because Deanna’s stepdad, Roy Miller, lived there. We simply packed up our apartment in Atlanta, piled the kids in the car, and moved.

For a while, we stayed with Roy. I got busy looking for work, and before long, I was hired as a copywriter at a small advertising agency in nearby Deerfield Beach.

Shortly after that, we bought a house in Sunrise, one of the ‘burbs for non-millionaires. It was our first house.

At the time, my attitude was that a job and a paycheck would materialize soon enough. All I had to do was pound the pavement until it happened. And it did.

That was the bank’s attitude, too. Okay, so I was new to town and new on the job. But we seemed to be upstanding folks, and we had a modest amount of savings. Why NOT give me a mortgage? So they did.

In 1979, seven years later, the process repeated itself.

By then, the ad agency had folded. For a few years, I had been working at a local Chamber of Commerce as the public and governmental affairs guy. It was honest and interesting work, even though the political types I had to deal with were the same variety of jackal I left behind at the Georgia State Capitol.

But the really bad news was my newly-hired boss. Not only was he an utter jerk, but he had just added an old pal to the staff — a fella with a background in public and governmental affairs. It was time for me to move on.

I resigned — politely, in order to depart with a decent recommendation. We sold the house in Sunrise, packed up our stuff, piled the kids in the car again, and moved back to Atlanta.

On arrival, we moved into Mom and Dad’s basement. I got started job-hunting, and we began searching the northern suburbs for a house.

Naturally, we found a house before I found a job.

This particular house had sat empty for almost a year, and it needed attention. The owners were desperate to sell. It was a good deal in a great location. So, in spite of being unemployed, I applied for a mortgage.

Consider the bank’s choice. I was new in town, and I didn’t have a job.

On the other hand, we were upstanding folks, a typical young middle-class family. The sale of our previous home gave us a sizable down payment. I had a history of steady employment.

The bank assumed that I would find work directly, so why NOT give me a mortgage? And they did.

Almost immediately, I did find work. I took a job in the Advertising Department at Lithonia Lighting, where I worked for the next 25 years.

These events occurred 30 years ago. Could someone without a job secure a mortgage today? Not a chance.

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There’s an old saying that a liberal is a conservative who got laid off, and a conservative is a liberal who got mugged.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a liberal clean to the bone. I like to think I wouldn’t switch on account of being mugged, but I’m not anxious to find out.

Years ago, I almost did find out. It happened when I was working at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta in 1970.

Back then, I worked in the Governor’s Office as a speechwriter. I was a common working stiff, a galley slave, not a political operative or anyone of the remotest importance. My office was a converted closet, just big enough for me, a desk, and a typewriter.

However, working there had its advantages. One was that, in spite of my status as a peon, I could tell friends and family that I worked for the Governor.

Another was my reserved parking space at the curb of the Capitol building. Today, that perk no longer exists for anybody. Parking at the curb isn’t allowed anymore. Mammoth parking garages have since been constructed, mostly where green space used to be.

But at the time, I had my own luxurious, convenient parking space, and I cherished it greatly.

Hold that thought about the parking space for a moment while I digress.

In those days, downtown Atlanta had a lot of night life in which to participate. Underground Atlanta, the entertainment district, had recently opened, and business was booming. Today, the area is struggling, but it was something to see in its heyday.

In case you aren’t familiar with Underground Atlanta, let me ‘splain it to you.

After the Civil War, Atlanta had to rebuild what Sherman had wrecked and burned, which was pretty much everything, but the city soon thrived anew. Business boomed for the hotels, banks, saloons, and other establishments in the downtown area.

By 1900, the central city had become a maze of railroad tracks, anchored by a new depot that handled 100 trains a day.

Much of the growth, and many of the rail lines, were located in a gulch through the center of town. As the city grew, several bridges were built over the low spot so pedestrians could cross over the railroad tracks. Over time, the bridges were widened and connected, creating a new level above the tracks below.

Soon, merchants began moving their operations to the second floor, abandoning the original storefronts on the ground floor. Those became service entrances and storage areas.

By the end of the 1920s, a five-block area of the central city was completely covered. Downtown Atlanta continued to expand at the new ground level, and the old, gloomy underground was abandoned to the pigeons, rats, delivery trucks, and derelicts.

In the 1960s, a group of shrewd investors rediscovered the original storefronts down below and set about planning a private development — a “city beneath the city” where merrymakers could be entertained and separated from their money.

A massive cleanup and renovation began. In 1969, Underground Atlanta opened with an assortment of restaurants, clubs, bars, and music venues in the old storefronts. The place quickly became the hub of Atlanta nightlife.

One of the most successful businesses in Underground Atlanta was Ruby Red’s Warehouse, an established Atlanta business that moved to the Underground when it opened.

Ruby Red’s was a raucous place that featured mass quantities of cold draft beer, baskets of roasted peanuts, and a Dixieland band that played old favorites as the audience sang along.

The crowd sat on benches at long tables, German beer hall style, and threw their peanut shells on the floor. The band, consisting of banjo, tuba, trombone, trumpet, and drums, played such rousing favorites as Dixie, Alabamy Bound, When the Saints Go Marching In, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Havah Nagila.

My personal favorite was Butterbeans, sung with feeling by Milton “Peanuts” Fitch, the banjo player, to the tune of the gospel favorite Just a Closer Walk With Thee.

But I started out talking about my reserved parking space at the State Capitol and the concept of getting mugged.

Those two topics dove-tailed with Underground Atlanta one Saturday night in 1970, when Deanna and I parked at the Capitol and walked over to Underground for a night of revelry at Ruby Red’s.

Going to Ruby Red’s was a regular occurrence for us. And, rather than pay a parking garage, we parked for free in my reserved spot at the Capitol and walked the few blocks to the Underground.

That Saturday night, we enjoyed our usual festive evening of drinking and singing. When the time came to go home — whether due to hoarseness, fatigue, or overindulgence, I don’t recall — we gathered ourselves together and headed back to the car.

I remember the scene back at the Capitol vividly. I can replay it in my head at will — a series of images recorded by my brain and stored forever in my memory banks.

They are, incidentally, moving images. In color. With sound.

The first image is a view of the Capitol sidewalk, dimly lit by yellow street lamps. On the left is our car, 20 yards ahead. On the right are the marble steps leading up to one of the side entrances to the Capitol. In the center, coming toward us on the sidewalk, are four black males.

The males were young and noisy, sauntering along, chattering and laughing — until they spotted the two of us.

They continued to approach us, but now they were ominously silent. Deanna and I looked at each other. We knew we needed to be somewhere else. The only sensible choice was up the steps.

The second image my brain recorded is the scene as we climbed the steps. As we veered right and started climbing, the four males veered left and started climbing, too.

As we sped up, they sped up.

As we began to sprint, they began to sprint.

It was a crapshoot whether their trajectory would intersect ours before we reached the entrance door.

The third image in my head is the welcome sight, as we reached the top of the steps, of the massive entrance doors swinging open. The Capitol security guards had seen our little drama unfolding and ushered us inside to safety.

When the doors burst open, our pursuers came to a halt, turned, and fled back down the steps, shouting as they went.

They didn’t get far. By the time they reached the sidewalk, they were surrounded by Atlanta police. The Capitol guards had already called them.

The security guards and I knew each other, and we had a “that was close” conversation, punctuated by nervous laughter from me and Deanna.

Minutes later, the police hauled the four guys away in patrol cars. Deanna and I got in our car and drove home.

We never heard anything more about the incident. I assume the police released the men after an appropriate amount of hassling and inconvenience.

That made sense. A judge might frown on a charge of failing to catch us.

Ruby Red’s Warehouse operated in Underground Atlanta from 1969 until 1976, when their building on Lower Alabama Street was demolished to make room for the construction of Atlanta’s new rapid rail system.

MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, doomed Underground Atlanta. The rapid rail lines needed to follow the existing railroad right-of-way, and the old tracks lay only a few yards from many of the Underground’s establishments.

In the end, one-third of the historic buildings and businesses were razed. Underground Atlanta faded away and was abandoned once again.

In 1989, pushed by Mayor Andrew Young, the district reopened, this time primarily as a shopping mall, with a few bars and restaurants thrown in.

But that second rebirth fizzled soon after the Olympics in 1996. The place simply didn’t have the vitality and charm of the Ruby Red days.

Today, Underground Atlanta still has a pulse. Many retail stores and a handful of bars and restaurants are there, but the place chronically loses money.

The City of Atlanta regularly tries to get state funds to expand and promote Underground Atlanta, but it never works. The Republican Governor and conservatives in the General Assembly are always opposed.

Which brings me back to that old saying about Republicans and Democrats.

It sure took a lot of muggings to populate the Georgia General Assembly.

The Georgia State Capitol. Note the steps.

The Georgia State Capitol. Note the steps.

Night shot of the Capitol, which frankly gives me the willies.

Night shot of the Capitol. It frankly gives me the willies.

Ruby Red's-1

Ruby Red's-2


Milton "Peanuts" Fitch on the banjo.

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On Retirement

For years, I kept a “date cube” on my desk at work. It consisted of four little plastic squares, resting like oversized dice in a metal tray, with the months, days of the week, and numbers printed on the sides.

When I got to work each morning, I arranged the cubes so that the correct day, date, and month were facing up.

On the day of my retirement — Friday, May 27, 2005 — I glued the cubes to the tray to lock in the date and thus commemorate the event. Today, the immobile date cubes sit next to my PC at home.

Call me sentimental, but I still keep a number of mementos on hand from my working life.

For example, there’s the name plate that once sat on my desk. There’s a holder full of my old business cards. There’s a glass pencil caddy emblazoned with the company logo and the words Service First. There’s a large 5X magnifying loupe by Carson.

Also, a metal ruler from Sam Flax. A letter opener inscribed Continental Airlines Fort Lauderdale Inaugural. A mechanical Uncle Sam coin bank; Uncle Sam is holding an “out of order” tag from a Caesar’s Palace slot machine.

Sentimental, yes, but not regretful.

Frankly, entering retirement was a bit ominous. After decades of being immersed in the world of work, usually in the employ of some variation of The Man, you abruptly walk away from it all.

You leave behind the life you’ve known — virtually all of it — the familiar, the comfortable, the cherished, and the despised. Gone are long-time rituals, schedules, companions, and tasks.

Retirement looms as an unknown new world, and you enter it cold turkey. No forewarning, no orientation session.

Some retirees find their footing and do fine. Others don’t. The losses outweigh the gains, and they flounder.

But the lucky ones slip into retirement with great relief and a pleasant sigh, as if easing into a warm bath.

For me, retirement was like stepping lightly onto a shimmering rainbow that cradled me lovingly, carried me down, and, with a gentle caress, eased me into the warm bath.

I love retirement. I adore it. Retirement is the bomb. I didn’t christen my new house the Lazy R for nothing.

For the non-retired and unenlightened among you, let me elucidate. Here are a few of the ways my life changed, post-retirement:

I am always fully and completely rested. I go to bed when I please and awaken when I please. Should I grow weary after a hike, a round of yard work, or a grueling trip to the mall, a brief nap will restore me.

Weekends no longer have meaning. No, I haven’t lost the feeling of joy that the weekend brings. In retirement, I inhabit a glorious never-ending weekend.

I have time to tackle the many projects on my to-do list. Looking back, I’m amazed at how much I’ve accomplished — new planting beds, edging, mulch, shrubbery, gutter guards, screen doors, in-ground sprinklers, a proper workshop, a rainwater collection system.

I’ve waded into the project of scanning thousands of old family photos. I’ve organized my prints, negatives, transparencies, digital images, videos, and music files. I’ve done the same to my CDs, DVDs, books, outdoor gear, and personal papers.

I’ve kept up my hiking. I have time to travel with little restriction. No more going to the boss, hat in hand, to get a vacation approved. As long as I don’t miss a birthday or other special event, I can be gone as long as I wish — a day, a week, or a month.

If I want to fritter away a day shopping for a crescent wrench, a hose reel, and a weed popper, that’s okay.

If I want to spend an afternoon visiting the bookstore, the frame shop, and Target, that’s okay.

If I want to spend a morning on the trail and then celebrate with brisket tacos for lunch, that’s okay.

When I arise in the morning, my activities depend on my schedule. If I need to go somewhere or do chores, I adjust accordingly. Otherwise, I have coffee, watch the news, tend to my blog, work a puzzle, listen to music, and/or read.

When I was working, my dog was trapped in the house alone all day. Now, on most days, he can go out and tend to his business like a normal creature.

To be sure, there are occasional days when nothing much is on the agenda. But I always have photos to scan, weeds to pop, or groceries to buy.

Anyway, you get the picture.

In the beginning, I had no idea how I would fare. I suspected I would handle retirement well, but part of me was worried.

I wondered if I would miss my co-workers. I do.

I wondered if I would get bored. I don’t.

I wondered if the lack of structure would leave me discontented. It doesn’t.

As it turned out, retirement is simply a new and more pleasant job. It’s easier and slower-paced. The demands and consequences are fewer. And my new boss is supremely understanding.

On my refrigerator, I keep one other memento of my former life as an employed person: the slip of paper from a fortune cookie that I opened about a month before I retired.

The original fortune is tucked away in a souvenir box, but I made this enlargement to keep on display:


Cherished mementos.

Cherished mementos.

If you are envious of my date cubes and want to build your own, go here.

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A few years before I retired, pads of the routing slip below quietly surfaced at work.

When I realized the form had been tampered with, I confiscated a small supply for my souvenir file.

I suspected that my friend Larry was responsible. But then, Larry was blamed for everything, whether he did it or not.

I have no idea how many of these forms got into circulation, or how many people used them unawares. For all I know, they’re still in use today.

That would be perfect. Worthy of Dilbert.

Routing slip

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Official Notices

A few months ago, someone sent me this form as an email attachment. Pretty funny.

Formal Apology

If you can read the small print, the line in the lower left of the form is, Issued by  BureauOfCommunication.com — Printed by Magnetism in New York, N.Y.

Click here to check ’em out. Magnetism is a website and software developer.
The website has a bunch more forms like the one above, e.g., The Declaration of Romantic Intent.

This kind of gag item has been common as far back as I can remember. Of course, each one used the prevailing media of its time, from mimeographs to photocopiers to image files to viral videos.

More proof that some things never change.

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Keeping It Clean

Back in the 90s when I was working at Lithonia Lighting, one of the higher-ups issued orders to have the warehouse cleaned up. The dirt and dust were pretty bad out there, and it got trashed quickly.

After the clean-up project, someone printed a stack of signs and posted them in the warehouse aisles nearest to the executive offices. This is the sign.


By the next morning, someone had written at the bottom of several signs in longhand, “What are Lets?”

I didn’t do it, but I wish I had.

Home of the Lets.

Home of the Lets.

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It was vintage Larry Flowers: a clever prank on the perfect foil. This one had all the earmarks of legend.

In 1997, I was a copywriter in the Marketing Communications Department at Lithonia Lighting in Conyers, Georgia. Larry, my boss, was a proud and accomplished trickster.

Larry wasn’t merely skilled at perpetrating practical jokes; he was a bona fide genius. An artist.

Which is why, when a co-worker ran into my office and breathlessly announced that a prank was about to go down, I sprang from my chair and followed a parade of other people outside to watch.

It was a few minutes before 5:00 p.m., almost quitting time. On the way out to the parking lot, I learned what was about to happen. The prank, as the best often are, was simple.

Larry’s boss, the late Dick Morse, drove a beat-up, high-mileage Honda Civic. Dick was a well-paid vice president, but it was no secret that he came to the company with financial problems. His constant penniless condition, and the series of decrepit vehicles he owned, hinted at the extent of his troubles.

Dick was a past president of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and as you would expect, given to theatrics. In his role as our boss, he developed a sort of faux gruff demeanor, but it was exceedingly faux. In truth, Dick was good-natured, good-hearted, and undemanding. We knew it, and he knew we knew it.

Which helps explain why he was an ideal foil for Larry’s machinations.

Sometime after lunch that day, Larry had gone out to the parking lot and, using two small axle jacks under the front wheels of Dick’s car, raised the front tires one barely-noticeable inch off the pavement.

The Honda, Larry reported later, sat rock-steady on the jacks, and it looked perfectly normal to any casual observer, including Dick.

By the time Dick emerged from the building at 5:00 p.m., half of the people in Marketing Communications were stationed in and around the cars, waiting for him.

On the surface, it appeared to be the usual afternoon exodus. We were anonymous among the hundreds of company employees leaving for the day.

But our attention was quietly focused on Dick. Some sat in their vehicles, feigning activity. Others stood in small groups, feigning conversation. I watched from the vantage point of my car 20 yards away.

Dick walked out to his parking space carrying his briefcase and a purloined box of K-Dry paper towels. He unlocked the Honda, placed the items on the back seat, and got behind the wheel.

He rolled down the window, poured some stale coffee on the ground, lit a cigarette.

He started the engine, put the vehicle in reverse, and turned to look over his right shoulder, preparing to back out.

The engine roared. The tires spun in mid-air with a mighty whine, but the Honda went nowhere.

Dick eased off the gas, and the engine subsided to an idle.

He turned off the engine, restarted it, and tried again to back out. Same result.

I watched his head bob as he looked left and right, up and down. He leaned out the window and peered at the tire.

Leaving the engine running, he got out of the vehicle and paced back and forth, looking at the grill and hood. Dick knew less about automobiles than the average 10-year-old.

As we relished the scene, trying to keep our snickering inaudible, Dick raised the hood of the Honda and looked for… he knew not what.

As he stood figuratively scratching his head, Larry got out of his car a few spaces away. “Hey, Dick!” he shouted. “What’s up?”

I couldn’t hear Dick’s reply, but I watched gleefully as he explained his plight to Larry, gesturing at the car, shrugging his shoulders, shaking his head.

Then Larry put an arm on Dick’s shoulder and pulled him closer. For a few seconds, Larry talked and Dick listened.

When Dick finally grasped that it was a joke, the moment was unmistakable. He looked skyward, then dropped his head to his chest, then shook it slowly from side to side.

The rest of us emerged from concealment and gathered around the two of them, laughing and chattering. Dick laughed as heartily as anyone.

Soon, the jacks were removed. Dick drove away, and we dispersed. For the umpteenth time, I mentally tipped my hat to the prankmeister himself, Larry Flowers.

For years, that was how I fondly remembered the episode. But as usual, there was more to the story.

Recently, I emailed Larry and asked him to refresh my memory about the car-jacking incident, so I could write this post. His reply was wholly unexpected:

Rocky, I tell you the following with mixed emotions. I set out to have some fun and play a trick on Dick. But once it was done, I felt pretty bad.

Dick came to Lithonia Lighting in poor financial shape. He was just divorced, and the IRS was all over him. His pay was being garnished. He had no money.

Dick knew little about mechanical things. One time, he poured a gallon of windshield washer fluid into the oil filler of his Cabriolet, blowing the head gasket.

When I walked over to his Honda that day, he had a worried look on his face, and it hit me. The man had just borrowed money from the bank so he could have wheels to get to work. That car was  his lifeline to Conyers and what little money he was able to keep. I made him think it was ruined. I felt pretty lousy.

When I explained that it was a joke, I expected him to be angry, but he wasn’t. Not at all. He was just relieved that his car was okay.

He just said, “Larry, get it off the jacks so I can go home.” It made me feel really terrible, and I’ve regretted it every since.

Dick left Lithonia Lighting in 1998. He died in 2002. He said many times that we would miss him when he was gone, and he was right.

As Larry put it:

Dick was a lovable scoundrel, a master of getting by with stuff that still amazes me. But he was a true advertising man. A good writer, a man of impeccable taste.

Wherever Dick is right now, I know he’s got something going on, and he’s surrounded by his precious books and cats. Rest in peace, Dick.

Amen to that.

Richard V. "Dick" Morse

Richard V. "Dick" Morse

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Why I wrote this bit of fluff is a mystery. The meaning is equally elusive.


July 11, 1982.

Legend has it that in the early years of Lithonia Lighting, top management assembled a team of brilliant scientists to conduct highly secret experiments covering issues vital to the corporate mission.

Sworn to secrecy, this crack team labored late at night, delving into technologies at the cutting edge of science. They immersed their considerable intellects in the fine points of heat and light, metal and glass, paper and plastic.

Such matters, and more, consumed the scientists utterly. Yet, only a select few at Lithonia Lighting were even aware of their presence.

Then one day, tragedy struck. Blinded by the siren call of their god-like powers, the team went too far. Their machinations stretched the very fabric of time and space. The laws of physics took a terrible revenge, and chaos reigned.

The brilliant scientists, to the last man and woman, vanished in a blinding flash — consumed in a furious maelstrom of glass shards, ozone, lab coats, and warehouse dust.

Only an eerie silence remained. Company officials said it was a tornado. But perhaps the truth is otherwise.

Today, the ghosts of these ill-fated scientists are rumored to walk the halls of the Main Plant still. They wander here and there, appearing to be ordinary employees, going about their duties in a purposeful manner.

You may see these apparitions hurrying to a meeting, or pushing a mail cart, or delivering bagels to the Display Room.

But ask yourself… How well do you REALLY know that Marketing Trainee? Who exactly IS that woman coming down the stairs from the second floor?  IS there a second floor in this building?

Perhaps that person leaving the restroom is a real Lithonia employee, perhaps not. The truth may never be known.

Some suggest that late a night, the lost Lithonia scientists continue their dark inquiries still, laboring eternally in a bleak and miserable netherworld.

It certainly gives ME the willies.

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In 1986, restless for a creative outlet, I indulged in a modest office prank that I felt was harmless enough to risk. This is what happened.

A common business practice, as you know, is to send out announcements about promotions and new hires. At Lithonia Lighting, printed notices heralding the latest changes were posted daily on every bulletin board in every department.

They were issued by Olin Pickens, our Director of Personnel; this was in the old days, before Human Resources was invented.

Olin had a difficult task. He was required to report the same occurrences over and over, day in and day out, year after year. Inevitably, the bulletins all read alike, following the same familiar formula. Only the names and job assignments changed.

When I stood at the bulletin board and read one, the structure and tone brought to mind a teacher mechanically taking attendance. “Bueller. Bueller.”

In time, I came to see Olin’s announcements as so lampoon-worthy that I was compelled — compelled as a journalist — to compose my own series of bogus personnel changes.

So, every morning for about two weeks, I prepared a counterfeit announcement. These were hand-typed, cut-and-paste jobs; this was in the old days, before we all had computers.

Each day, when no one was looking, I thumb-tacked another announcement to the bulletin board.

Nothing happened. My announcements were not removed, nor did anyone in the office mention them.

Were the fake announcements invisible because nobody read the real ones anyway? Was I the only audience? Had I miscalculated terribly?

Actually, no. Months later, one at a time, a number of my co-workers mentioned, with a chuckle, that they enjoyed the phony bulletins.

Thank God.

Packrat that I am, I still have copies of those bulletins. Here is a sampling.




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Making History

One of the characteristics of a large organization, whether a business, a government agency, or other large entity, is the presence of a formal group history.

Through the years, members of the group solemnly document, and ritually acknowledge, this common heritage. They honor, cherish, and celebrate it with pride.


Sometime in 2004, I was working hard at my desk as usual, when my telephone rang. It was Larry.

“Come over to my office,” he said. The glee in his voice was unmistakable. “This is too good.” He hung up.

Immediately, I went next door and sat down in front of Larry’s desk.

“They want me to design a new display case for this building, next to the front entrance,“ he said with barely controlled delight. “A Lithonia history type of thing. No problem. I have plenty of material left over from that display we built in the Lighting Center.”

He chuckled. I knew this was shaping up to be really good. I always trust Larry on these things.

“I was thinking,” he said. “I have this great photo Loretta gave me, of a relative of hers — a third cousin or something from the 1800s. What if we passed him off as one of the founding fathers of Lithonia Lighting?”

A light bulb went on above my head. Larry was way ahead of me.

“I already have his name,” he snickered. “Lorenzo Luminelli!

“This is good,” I said, rubbing my hands. “This is really good. Lorenzo Luminelli… a scientist… he influenced the founders of Lithonia Lighting to…”

“Lorenzo Luminelli, the Father of Luminescence!” he declared, joyfully pounding the desk.

“I don’t care about the rest,” he said. “Write up something. Do your thing! Just make it believable. I’ll have it typeset, we’ll add the photo, and into the display case it goes.”

“The thing is, they won’t notice this one little element in the display,” he said. ” They want to get the project done, but they don’t care about the details. Trust me, it’s foolproof!”

I stood up. “Larry, you’re a genius,“ I said. “An absolute genius.”

I went back to my office, sat down, and got out a yellow pad. The story of Lorenzo Luminelli came effortlessly. Believable? Oh, yes.

The next day, I took the draft to Larry. He read through it, chuckling ever more as he progressed.

He pounded his desk again. “This is perfect — perfect,“ he said. “But he needs a middle name. A middle name adds, you know, importance.”

“Ah — gravitas,” I said. “Good idea. Hmmm.”

“Garibaldi!” he exclaimed. “Lorenzo Garibaldi Luminelli!

I answered with an emphatic double thumbs-up.

Weeks passed, and the display case project went forward. I had no role at that point, so I turned my attention back to the actual work of the department.

Then one morning, my phone rang, and it was Larry. “Lorenzo goes into the display case today,” he said. “The unveiling is tomorrow. Wanna see how our boy came out?”

Five seconds later, I was sitting in front of his desk.

The result, in my estimation, was superb. A tour de force. For the umpteenth time, I mentally tipped my hat to the master.

In 2004, Lorenzo G. Luminelli assumed his position as one of the fathers of Lithonia Lighting. I retired from the company in 2005. Larry retired in 2008. But the display case still stands, inside the entrance to our old building.

And Lorenzo Luminelli also remains, a giant in the history of that great company, destined to be celebrated with pride by succeeding generations of employees.

Such is their heritage.






Lithonia Lighting, Inc. was founded in 1946 in Lithonia, Georgia, by Samuel P. Freeman, who served for many years as Chairman of the Board. I  have no idea if Mr. Freeman attended the Chicago World’s Fair, which, by the way, was held in 1939, not 1938.


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