Rituals play an important role in the life of any entity, as well as in our personal lives. Even the simplest of morning tasks, making coffee and reading the paper is a ritual which brings stability and continuity to our lives. Likewise, organizational rituals. Organizational rituals provide a forum for discussion, a welcoming of new employees into the tribe, a safe environment to express oneself, and if the boss is there, a place to establish the "why" and "therefores" to policy.
One of the rituals of our work place was to unwind on Fridays. When I first started at MDH we met after a long week at the Whistletop, a corner bar on Simmons street in G-Burg. A bar is still there but it is no longer called that. I'm not sure what it is called anymore. The owners were Fred and Norma. He was erudite - kind of an old school bar owner who could converse on almost any subject a customer might bring up - a knowing presence. It wasn't a fancy place, but it was dark - an environment to keep the week's dealings with rowdy kids and their parents at bay. The Whistlestop was where baseball great Jimmy Foxx would drink his demons away. Mary Davis in those years was small. We only had two people on a shift - maybe a total of 10-12 employees. If there are any photos of a Friday in this place I am not aware of them and by all means I'd love to see them.
We'd sit at a circular table and discuss things at work, policies we liked, rules we didn't, the kids, approaches to detention, the state of probation and the administration, all while the administrator drank with us. It was where my buddy Mike, husband to Probation's Pat, riffed a tale of my conception on the side of a barn that is mentioned even today in some circles. It is where a local bum/drunk would wander in with only a two word vocabulary, but seemed perfect, "Goddamn right!" We'd ask him all kinds of things, many inappropriate, and always he'd answer "Goddamn right!" Eventually we'd ask him if he wanted a beer, and he'd answer, for his efforts, "goddamn right" and get them for the rest of our stay. Bob M and I whenever we see each other still, crinkle up our faces and in unison say, "Goddamn right!" It was where Becky S., poured a beer in my crotch in protest of something I said. And yeah, I remember what it was.
Left to right: Pat J., Alan A., Robin L., Bob M., Gayla M.
The Whistlestop was my favorite. Back then we were all Counselors, just out of college and starting our careers. We had a camaraderie and an affinity to our jobs, our boss, and to each other. We didn't make any money and the cook drove a Lincoln while the rest of us kept our wheels together with spit and duct tape. But things change. Fred died and that was the end of the Whistlestop. Closed, pending sale of the estate. When it reopened it wasn't the same, they spruced it up.
Our rituals moved around through the years - sometimes the group was smaller - we had kids to raise. Our schedules changed, too. Sometimes we met after our 2nd shifts. The Corral out on Grand was popular for a few beers before they closed down at 1:00.
Shangri-La briefly held our interest but Bigfoots came along and we tended to drift over there. This was where I met Mike J. for the last time. It was this time of year - I was alone, and feeling depressed for some reason. And as we all know, feeding depression with lonely beers just makes it worse. He sidled up next to me and all of a sudden the bad was gone. We talked like guys do, laughed, signed charity shamrocks. There is no medicine like being with a friend. In nine days Mike would die of a heart attack in Chicago. 25 years ago exactly.
We eventually started going to Cherry Street Brewing Company for our Fridays. This was the place to go in G-Burg and we'd run into most of the city's elite, so we had to step our behavior up a notch or two. We weren't just fresh out of college anymore. We were veterans now. Even these weekly beer-fests reflected how things had changed. We now had probation personnel join us, they were now part of our universe. The Mary had expanded, from six counselors to 20. Support personnel. We needed a bigger table. Besides that, we had families now - kids to go home to. We had careers that needed protecting. No longer did we suffer under any illusion we could escape and go elsewhere. It wasn't like it was 25 years earlier at the Whistlestop: if we said or did something stupid on a Friday now, it could haunt us on Monday. And anyway, we were older now. No longer just out of college and still wearing our bubble. We wore our veteran status like chevrons on a sleeve. We were now, in some cases, the administration. Examples to establish, comportment to display. We no longer just kids counseling kids, but rather the embodiment of an organization, an ideal of court officers.
But the ritual was still there from earlier years. The need to belong, to have the power to achieve and be respected, the freedom to make choices, and ability to have fun. Those four items in the last sentence still direct me in some ways. Those are the basic four needs of an individual as postulated by William Glasser, author of Reality Therapy, which was the program used by we counselors to our clients all through my years at The Mary. Just as true today as it was when I first stepped in the place for the first time on Halloween night in 1977.
We all have rituals. Morning rituals. Nighttime rituals. Day off rituals, first day of baseball rituals. One ritual that followed us all those years was to meet on Fridays and have a sense of belonging, of community. I wonder if they still do? I wonder if they think their work is of the highest calling? I wonder if they think they are representing anything bigger than themselves anymore? Man, was I ever lucky.