The not quite Charlie and his Definite Chocolatey Factory

charlie 2

“Hi’s, hello’s, how you doins?” Mambo jambo pleasantries for us to connect to people around us. It is guaranteed to spark casual day to day chitchats. A lot of the times when we throw these phrases to people, it stops there and we never get to know them. Then, they get lost in our bin of memories and we live on. Everybody gets their vanilla flavored days.

Ever thought of “Saying hello” as a skill? – A skill that needs practice? Also, how that simple “hello” can go a long, long way. Well, this is where our story begins.

The final hours of the crew’s work week – everybody is excited for the weekend, “Fri-Yaay” as what others call it. All of us are exhausted already and just about ready to jump to our beds except for a single soul – my friend, Gary “The Cleaning Machine” Falcone. He is Mr. Detail and would not stop until the last speck of dust in our work site is obliterated. He is the last one who has enough energy to notice things around us.

Gary then approached me one day and told me, “That guy is working hard!” At this point, being tired and having “Fri-yaay” written on my forehead mode, I just politely brushed his comment off with “Oh yeah he does” without even really looking at what he is pointing at.

Another week has passed and Gary said that again. “That guy is working hard!” as for my response, “Oh yeah he does” with the enthusiasm of a depressed snail.

For the third week, I wore my curious hat and decided to listen intently. “He works hard”, Gary said. Then I (about time) finally paid attention and took note of who he was taking about. He was pointing at this man behind the glass window of Michael’s Bakery, masterfully kneading something and stirring soup and making what looked like a sandwich almost simultaneously – a man on a mission, super impressive! He did look like he was working hard, focused on what he was creating. Perhaps the better term was working passionately.

Gary has always been a hard worker, a passionate worker. I guess something in Mr. Multitasking baker guy resonated in Gary in that, weekly, he would notice him and talk to me about the chef’s work ethic. One day, Gary asked me “Jasper, what is his name?” I honestly answered, “I don’t know, maybe Michael? Since that is the name of the bakery? I am just guessing.”

Gary then responded, “Jasper, go and ask for his name.” I then suggested that since he was curious, then he should be the one asking Mr. Mystery chef’s name. “Can I do that? Is that legal?” Gary anxiously asked. “Of course Gary it is legal (Gary is the guy who will be the last to break any rule / guideline), as long as the chef is not busy and we are done with our job too.”

Gary thought for a moment and said “Nah, You do it Jasper, come on!” I responded otherwise and asked why he won’t ask for his name himself. “How do I do it? Is it illegal?” Gary butted in. At this point, I can see Gary’s genuine interest to meet the chef and, at the same time, his reluctance to connect. Perhaps he was needing support how to start his “Hi’s and Hello’s”. It sank in me too I guess in general, it is kinda embarrassing to ask someone his name out of the blue. It made me think too how to do it, in an age when more acquaintances are made by “Likes, follows and DM’s (direct messages) via social media.” I then had to review how we do it “old school”.

At this point I reiterated enough that “It is legal and I guess it is ok to talk to him, we just have to start somewhere.” I followed up with “Do you want to be friends with him?”

“Yes, can you make him my friend?” Gary bashfully replied.

I said that I can connect them but I feel that it would be better if Gary was the one who will approach Mr. Baker since it is him who is interested. “Gary, I think this is something that you can totally do.”

“Can I? It is not illegal right? Ok, how do I do it? Can you show me?” “Can you help me?”

“Ok Gary, how about we start with a smile, then a wave or a good afternoon?” I suggested. Gary being Gary asked, “In that order?”

So Gary waved at the man a week later and the man waved back. The look in Gary’s face when he reported back to me that Mr. Multitasking baker waved too was priceless. “What’s next Jasper? Let’s practice”

Long story short, we had lots of Fridays role playing this script: “Hi, my name is Gary Falcone and I work with Semiahmoo House may I know your name (cue handshake)”. Gary perfected his lines and waited for the Friday when he mustered enough courage to befriend Mr. Busy Chef.

“Charlie! Charlie is his name!!” Gary excitedly yelled his name to me as hastily ran towards our truck flailing his bucket and broom in the air. (At this point, I have a crew of 5 antsy-borderline upset people, waiting in the truck wanting to go home because it is the end of the work week already.)   We did finish late that day because of Gary’s interaction, but I think it was all worth it. I had to appease the other crew members and explain what was happening, one too many times.

Finally about Charlie,  I thought I could have easily asked Mr. Chef myself for his name but Gary’s eagerness  masked by reluctance was worth the effort to work on and make it a teaching moment and a way to connect to the community.

A year has passed and the 5-minute Charlie visit has been the official way to sign off our week and kick off our weekend.

May 2017 came, Mr. Gary Falcone’s 72nd birthday was fast approaching and we were thinking of a way to celebrate his birthday. The crew schemed to surprise Gary and made a reservation for lunch at Michael’s Bakery.

I finally got a chance to talk to Charlie. I was excited to tell him how much he has become a part of our crew, “The A-Team”. However, before I uttered my first word about what he meant for the group, his crew beat me to it. The ladies and gentlemen who worked for him talked more of how Gary has been very much a part of their Friday. They spoke of how polite and thoughtful Gary was and how he brought them nuggets of happy thoughts like finding a dime or a beer can that we can return to the depot. When I talked to Charlie, he told me about how Gary’s presence was missed when he took time off for his surgery or even a day off or two when he has a cold. Charlie seemed to know who Gary was for us too. My enthusiasm for telling them my side of the story was matched by their version of it. My heart grew bigger as they accurately described the Gary that I know and how much his little joys have touched their lives too. Our Gary is their Gary too.

The Michael’s Bakery team arranged a cozy table for us one Friday after work to surprise Gary and David, as it  was his birthday too. They set us up with the chocolatiest Lamington cake the crew has ever tasted as recommended by one of Charlie’s Angels. We got Gary really good that afternoon as he never expected the treat. Charlie gave Gary’s cake for free and everyone had the biggest selfie smiles.

I also had the chance to meet Charlie’s wife. “We are happy to do things like this especially if it gives people a chance to improve their lives, their confidence and their feeling of being a part of the community”, she added to our short chat.

Before we left Michael’s and said our “Goodbyes and thank you’s”, Charlie came close and whispered to me, “By the way, my name not Charlie, it is Chander, but Gary likes calling me Charlie and I don’t mind. Charlie is a good name too”

By Jasper Macabulos, Semiahmoo House Society

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.

2 thoughts on “The not quite Charlie and his Definite Chocolatey Factory

  1. Thanks Jasper. I love this story ! We know Gary from church & he truly is a wonderful, thoughtful & polite person who goes out of his way to share information & help others. We’ve been to Michael’s bakery several times ~ sounds like a good birthday celebration. Susan & Madeleine Wieczorek

    • Most welcome Susan and Madeleine. He is awesome and even that is an understatement.

      I just wanted to capture these moments give us a peek into the wonderful heart of Gary and a reminder that it is still a wonderful world to live in.

      Thanks for reading too.

      Jasper

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