Eavesdropping: Retirement Party, c. 1978


Jack: So, I was a young guy working there, and there was this other guy, what the hell was his name? Nowak. He was a Nowak. And why the hell can’t I remember his last name (takes a sip of Bailey’s on the rocks). Norby! He was Norby Nowak. He was a nice guy, older guy, didn’t get around much because something was wrong with his leg. A knee? Something. Anyway, he used to make me get him coffee. He’d say, “Jack. Black.” That’s how he took his coffee, so I’d bring it to him, “Here you go, Norby,” you know, it was no big deal and I liked him. Anyway, he wore this toupee. It was … wow, it was really bad. It was just … you could tell. Everybody knew but I don’t think anybody said anything about it. But he had this toupee. And sometimes he’d go out and see clients, but he did most of his work over the phone, and sometimes he’d tell me to go and see somebody for him, and I’d do it. I liked him. So one day, he takes me aside and says, “Jackie, I just wanted to let you know that I was leaving. I’m retiring.”

And I says, “Oh, well, congratulations. When’s the party?” And he says, “No, no! I don’t want a party I just want to slip out the door, but I wanted to let you know what I was up to,” And I said, “Ok, thanks, Norby, good luck.”

So a few days later,

Mel Pauly comes to me and says, “Did you hear Norby’s leaving? Shit, he’s been here 40 years, we got to do something,” and I says, “He says he doesn’t want a party,” and Mel Pauly, he was the national sales manager, he says, “Yeah, but we’re doing something.”

So the day comes when it’s Norby’s last day…And, a few days before, we get a note. Not an email, of course, I guess a memo, and it’s on our desks and it says, “Please arrange your schedules so you will be in the office at 9 a.m., so we can give Norby a modest send off with some coffee and cake.” I mean, it was early, they didn’t want us in the office for too long, we had to get out there.

So the day comes when it’s Norby’s last day. And he didn’t want a party but he’s not unhappy about it or anything, and he’s being a good sport and we’re having our coffee and cake, and singing a song, and I guess we’re singing, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and then in walks this guy that I guess Mel Pauly hired, and he’s a gorilla. Well, he’s a guy in a gorilla suit, anyway, and, I don’t know, he’s there, and we laugh.

And after we sing, the guy in the gorilla suit takes off his mask, and he puts it on Norby’s head and then puts his arm around Norby for some pictures. And we take some pictures and it’s time to get the gorilla mask off.

So Norby’s a big guy, and he’s older, and he’s struggling with this gorilla mask. And it’s taking him a long time to get it off his head, and then…I saw this coming. I said, “Uh-oh, here it comes.”

And, yes. He pulls the mask off and his toupee comes right off with it, and there he is, bald as a cucumber.

Me: How did he react?

Jack: He was a good sport about it. He laughed. It took him awhile to get his toupee out of the gorilla head.

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