Friends, Old and New

Okay. So here’s something.

Facebook, for all its many drawbacks, is a great link to old connections. I met an old childhood friend last week. He pinged me on FB and we met at his hotel near the airport and then walked to a nearby sports tavern and sat outside.

Bill McGrath—we had not seen each other since high school graduation, 38 years ago. Bill and I grew up in the same little community. Chautauqua. We went to the same school and the same church and we played basketball and baseball together. Another interesting thing about our families. Bill and I were same age/grade. My older sister Terri was same age/grade as Jim, and Colleen was same age/grade as my brother Larry. Going the other direction, my littler sister Shannon was same age/grade as Kathy. Our parent’s were acquaintances, if not regular friends.

Bill lived in what we called the North woods, even though it was only 6 blocks from us and there was no woods. We did not live in the south woods for example; There was an important socio-economic gap in those 6 blocks though. My family lived in the older section of our little paradise. What might charitably have been compared to the trailer park section of town. There were more cars on blocks in front yards, less landscaping, and more plastic on windows in winter. You were more likely to see an angry dog chained up in the front yard in my part of town and there were no garages. Cars were parked on the street or maybe a small gravel driveway. The North woods was newer homes. Brick homes with two-car garages and split levels and more than one bathroom.

Bill’s house was right by the big park where we played baseball. In summer, most days of the week, we had pick up games there. Anywhere from 5 or 6 to 20 or more kids might be hanging around. If we were lucky, Mrs. Sneider would be laying out in her bikini in their backyard, which was only a first down or so behind home plate.

3 inning games and then teams were mixed up and we started again. Hard ball. Fast pitch. Call your own strikes and foul with two strikes and you’re out.

We knew we outgrew that field when, in a single season, we put out the window of Bill’s older brother’s VW beetle and banged a home run off of Mrusek’s house. I learned tonight that it was Bill that hit the home run that put out Jim’s car window. I always thought it was Chris Chapman. But I remember the shot. I was standing in the on-deck circle. The ball came off the bat and I instantaneously knew that window was gone. Sometimes, when a ball is hit in the direction of a car or house or small child, it seems for a few seconds like there will be damage. And then, most of the time, there is a near miss. In this instance, that ball shot off like a laser guided missile and hit that car window dead center. And it shattered. Game over.

Bill and I were good friends, but I would say not really best friends. An important distinction in childhood. Bill was a good bit smarter than I was, or at least more applied in school. I was probably a slightly better athlete, which at the time, somehow seemed like I was winning. A few years later, Bill was at Notre Dame and I was in the Navy. I wasn’t winning after all.

We were both semi-adopted by our 5th grade teacher, and even vacationed with her family one summer. Even then, in 5th grade, I could sense the difference between Bill and I. I was physically confident and academically proficient. But I had an intuitive understanding that his journey would be different than mine. That while we had some shared experiences, his path was almost certainly to be more evenly paved than my own. I cannot describe it exactly.

Bill exhibited a trait that I could not have described and did not fully understand in those days, but it was essentially self awareness. He was a big kid, and like I said, smart. And while he wasn’t the best player on the field, he was a student of the games he played. He knew the sport and knew how to be the best he could be. He had confidence that somehow felt like he knew something we didn’t. Bill seemed to know that childhood was a phase and not really that important in the larger picture while the rest of us didn’t really plan beyond Friday nights football game.

Back then, for me, the idea of college never came up. In our school, a handful of kids, like the McGrath’s, were assumed to be headed for college. The rest of, presumably, to the military or steel mill.

College was just not something that was discussed in our family. We had no money for college or even really knew how to apply.

Bill moved away in his junior year. His family moved to Pittsburgh. And I was so self-absorbed that while I was aware of it, I didn’t remember the details. His family was also great. His older brother Jim, was sort of a scholar-athlete star. Football quarterback and destined for Columbia. But as nice of a guy as you would ever meet. Their whole family was like that. Like something out of a movie. All damn nice and smart and gracious. I barely knew their father but I have a memory of playing a game of chess with him. He took the time to play a game with a kid that could probably not have beaten their family cat in chess.

But as these things go, here we were having dinner all these years later and it was very cool to see Bill and catch up. He is still in Pittsburgh, married with 3 kids.

Complicated week at work. Oracle simply is not performing at the level we need and for some reason our executive management seems reluctant to hold them accountable. They don’t seem capable of managing and instead are letting Oracle manage us. We simply are not getting the message across to our lead SI that we need results, not excuses or rationalizations. The head boss lady is coming in this week so we’ll see what kind of chops she has. So far, pretty unimpressive, but I will keep an open mind.

For starters, she only told us she was coming next week on Wednesday of last week. Then on Thursday, her people started scheduling dinners and team-building events completely oblivious to that fact that our folks are fully scheduled out and I am reluctant to re-schedule important workshops given how far behind we are. Apparently we did get her to see more clearly how inept the account executive assigned to us was and he has now been removed from the account. That fact that she did not know what was going on at CCF and did not know how to manage that limp dick is not a good sign for us. But she is the highest we can go, which also does not reflect well on Oracle. But I’ve long known that they don’t typically have the best and brightest in their consulting organization. I’m sure there are some exceptions.

I had a couple of nice dinners this week including a smoking hot curry made with the last of the garam masala that Prachi gave me. I added a bunchy of Thai peppers and it was some spicy-ass shit.

Wednesday morning, a big beautiful buck was standing right outside my kitchen window, eating the corn and bird feed my neighbor puts out. He was magnificent.

Anyway, next week will be interesting.

No other news of note.


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