Nearly twenty-five years ago I was a brand new employee in an office whose next least senior person had been there seven years. That was the downside. The upside was after about six months I knew more than he did. His name was Denny Howell but he had the nickname Den Ho, even though he wasn’t remotely Asian. The guy who ran the office explained to me that Denny meant well and he had a good heart, but intelligence wasn’t his strong suit, and he had a really wicked bad memory. He once forgot why he had driven an hour away to another office and simply drove back, happily oblivious to the parts he was supposed to deliver.
Denny’s biggest problem was he had gotten involved with a woman who was draining his wallet as well as his soul. She was a bar fly he had met while with a friend watching a football game in a bar, and after that she realized she could “borrow” money from Den Ho without ever having to pay it back. She moved in with him, talked him out of the keys to his truck, and he would have to bum a ride to work on this mornings she hadn’t come home yet. Any excuse she offered was good enough by Den Ho. The people at work gave up on it all when she told him she was pregnant and the baby was his. The fact she was still married to someone else kept them from legally being wed, but he signed the birth certificate and so at least by law, Den Ho had a son. And he did love that boy with all his heart.
It did not take long for the mother of the child to return to her wandering ways, and she left the baby with Den Ho, and that was fine. Father and son bonded. After six years of an off again off again relationship she moved out and moved in with another man. And she got a lawyer to take sole possession of the child.
The lawyering stuff happened right after I realized that I was going to get a promotion before Den Ho did, and he had been there for over seven years. Everyone agreed not to mention it around him, but one day someone congratulated me and Den Ho was standing right there. He took the hit like a true champion, and to this very day has never uttered a word against me for it. I could tell it hurt, and it hurt worse that people he had known for a very long time had hid it from him.
Maybe it was that, maybe it was the fact that he really wanted to prove to me that he was okay with me getting promoted over him, and he wanted to share his life with me, to allow me to see it wasn’t a bad person at all, I have no idea, but a couple of days later we were out in the company truck, in my hometown, downtown, at lunch, and the Whitney Houston song, “I will always love you” came on and he pulled over and parked the truck and told me that every time he heard this song it reminded him of that woman and no matter how she acted he would always love her. So he started to sing, loud, off key and horribly, in public, with me sitting in the same truck, and the only thing I could think is, “Oh My Dog, people with think he’s singing to me.” And for the next four minutes and a half, or whatever it is, I felt like getting out of the truck and simply walking away.
Shortly after that, the woman in question went off on a beach trip with a couple of friends and they ran out of beer. So they pretended to have a gun to steal some beer and the guy behind the counter had a real gun. There were drugs found in her purse and she wound up getting sentenced to a couple of years in jail for her part in the deal. For the first time in a very long time, Denny Howell was a free man. He changed jobs, got sole custody of the little boy he always called his own, and one day met a woman who sat him down and told him that he was a wonderful father and he had a beautiful soul, but he was the worst cook on earth. (He was, seriously) They got married and pretty much really did live happily ever after. Den Ho is a grandfather now, and the woman he left behind, well, she never did show up again.
We live in a world where men aren’t supposed to be emotionally supportive of other men, especially when a Whitney Houston song is being played, and sang, and I have always wondered what would have happened if I had just started singing with him.