Thursday, December 12, 2013

Man of Mystery

The other day I subbed in at my pseudo-former part-time job at Harvard Media & Technology Services for one night.  Technically, I have never actually left that job, although I like to take semester-long breaks on occasion.  And yes, I actually started working there in 1998, and in my current incarnation, I have been working there off-and-on since 2006.  Any way you slice it, I'm a veteran.

The reason for my most-recent hiatus was the evening supervisor in the office I was working out of had started to grate on me a little.  His name is Jenci (pronounced "yen-see"), and although he is very smart in general and incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to audio-visual equipment, he is undoubtedly one of the strangest people I ever met.  However, a funny thing happened the other night: upon my triumphant return: I found out Jenci was gone, having moved back to his hometown in Ohio, and the thought struck me that I would probably never see him again.

The quick backstory on Jenci is that he was recruited by Harvard University's football program in the 80's as an undergrad because he was a good high school athlete and also had the grades to excel at their prestigious institution.  Jenci got a work-study job at then-Harvard Audio-Visual Services.  Upon graduating with a degree in one of the sciences, although he was always very mysterious about what it was, he was offered a full-time job at Harvard AV, and there he stayed until just a couple months ago.  On my first day in 1998, he trained me (and several other newbies) on the ins-and-outs of A/V equipment.  I still vividly remember him teaching us about a fictitious numbering system he came up with for measuring audio output, which he affectionately called "Jenci Units."

In the years I knew Jenci, I found him to be a pretty laid back and even kind fellow.  I heard him on more than one occasion offer students money if they needed to buy lunch, or even offer some of his own food (A large man, Jenci and food were never far apart.) He was always helpful when you had any kind of question, with life or audio-visual equipment. He even invited me to his home several times to drink his good craft beer, knowing my affinity for it. I never took him up on it, because I often wondered if he genuinely wanted the pleasure of my company, or simply just anyone's company would do. Looking back now, considering I had known him for over a decade by that point, perhaps he did just want to hang out. 

Still, elements of the bizarre were always at the forefront of his personality.  I remember the evening not very long ago when Jenci patted me on my bald spot, as if pointing out something that I was not aware of (I always find it amazing that the more obese a man is, the more hair he seems to have on his head.).  Jenci himself told me, in great detail, how he would euthanize himself once he got to a point where he could no longer work and was no longer useful. It was this conversation that lead me to believe that he would one day be found in a Men's room at Harvard somewhere, a plastic bag over his head.  It's also why I was so shocked that he would leave a job he had been a mainstay at for decades.

This conversation was also the reason that Jenci disturbed me so.  Not the obviously maudlin How-I-Plan-To-Kill-Myself reason, but because it made me afraid that I could one day become him.  Jenci was a nice guy, like I said, and always good for a story, but a part of me saw myself one day becoming a childless 50-something man who had been working at a university for far too long and who made creepy conversation with young female students far too often.  This, combined with his fastidious office behavior (He would often stay at his desk hours after his shift ended, and not because he was so dedicated, but because he really had nowhere else to go) and his bizarre eating habits, lead me to take my latest break from Harvard.  I even feared going in for that one night, because I would have to make small talk with Jenci.  Still, when I learned of his departure, I was a little sad.

That's the mystery here; Jenci was not someone I would have ever chosen to hang out with, or would have invited over my house for dinner, and yet, when you think about it, he was actually a mentor to me.  Not just because of he taught me about Jenci Units, but also in the way you deal with ornery professors or students, which I do at my full-time job at B.U., which in turn helps me deal with people in general.  And yes, even in that negative reinforcement way, where I dreaded one day becoming him.  Of course, it doesn't take a Psychology degree to see that is probably why I disliked him at all, because really, despite the occasional weirdness, there was inherently nothing wrong with him.  I will definitely miss him a little, and despite all my grumbling, if I ever do see him again, I will be sure to thank him for the memories and the mentoring.