Having People You Can Trust

Do you have a circle of people you trust?

Last Saturday my 8-year-old VW visited the dealership to have them fix a recall problem.  ( The specifics of the recall are not relevant to the story but know that my fear of spontaneous combustion in the car has fallen dramatically.) After awhile the dealer guy who checked me in stopped by to let me know that they found two additional things to repair. $30 for replacing rear brake lights and $700 for repairing something called CV boots. I had them replace the bulbs even though I suspected that if they charged $30 it could be done for $10 but why risk a rear end collision over 20 bucks. The dealer guy was stunned that I would not get the other repair done and iterated how serious of a problem this was. I politely declined.

The mechanic I now use, and trust, looked the car over on Tuesday and said that yes, one but not both CV boots needed repair and it would cost $250. $250 vs. $700!!! What does that say about the dealer.

That got me thinking about who I trust and how that trust came to be… and whether people trust me?

My musings quickly went beyond people who provide a service even though this category of people is vast and they can play important roles in our physical and financial well-being. I refer to doctors, contractors, financial investors, care givers, teachers, counselors, etc. While not dismissing their importance, I view the road to trust as fairly straightforward with this this group. In the old days you would get a referral from someone you know. Now the internet provides dozens of forums for sharing our thoughts and experiences with service providers. Finding something on a website even carries more weight. If it is in “print” it must be true. We assume trust and then only when the evidence proves otherwise do we loose faith and start the process over.

So who do I trust and why?

I trust my friends, my close friends. As I think about it I am having trouble distinguishing between trust and true friendship.  I truly believe that if I really needed something my friends would step up. I am friendly with quite a few people but the number of people I count as close friends is few. With me, there is this deep cavern between someone I know and a friend. But once that cavern has been bridged, I “mate” for life. In fact once a friend, even if you disappoint me now and again I still believe in you.

Some bonds of friendship grew up over years. I accumulated friends at all of the major stages of my life. Yet in some instances the bond came fast. Some shared experience, feeling, moment we both hold dear. All of these people carry me through the tough times and lift me higher during the best of times. I am a better man because of who they are.

I hope people trust me. I know that I have had moments when I have let people down and moments when I stepped up big. I hope the people I think of as friends think of me that way.

This stream of consciousness has taken me  from thoughts of general public trust to feelings about people I care for. What a strange journey.

Do You Know The People You Know?

Dave died in our office this week. A heart attack as far as we know. No one knows why him, why now. He was only 50.

I knew Dave for a long time, over 20 years but casually. My relationship with him was indirect, through other people.

Here is what I thought I knew about Dave. Nice guy. By all accounts 10 out of 10 on the nice scale. Generally quiet but not totally introverted by any stretch. Worked hard. Was in process of taking a half step back in his career to retool. A good consultant (that is the business we are in). Analytical and math oriented, he trained as an actuary though that is not the work he was doing at his death.

Other than that I knew a few facts. His wife is great. (She is the younger sister of a friend of mine I have known since grade school. I have known her since she was ten. Growing up their homes was one of my secondary homes. I have always liked her a lot.) They have three kids, two boys and a girl. Their eldest will be going to college next year. They live in a north Chicago suburb, a nice middle class neighborhood.

Not much else. He joined the company I work for about nine months ago. So Instead of seeing him at my friend’s house maybe once a year I now ran into him a few times a month. He was domiciled  in a different office but sometimes I would work in his and sometimes he in mine. We do similar things but have not worked on anything together. When I saw him we would chat for a few minutes about work and home life. Usual office conversation.

So for a normal casual relationship I guess I knew the basics plus a little. Didn’t really know what made him tick or what he did outside the office other than be a husband and father.

Words of warning. You may want to go deeper. There may be some gems hidden below the surface. Don’t wait for a funeral to find out.

Here are some things I found out about Dave:

  • he was a leader in his synagogue. He was to be appointed President of the congregation four days after he died
  • he was passionate about being Jewish
  • he found time not only to be involved in the synagogue but volunteered and in some cases led other worthy causes
  • he loved music and played several instruments
  • he touched many lives (there were several hundred people at his funeral service)
  • he had a dry and sometimes dark sense of humor
  • he worked tirelessly both in support of these causes but also to be with and help his family
  • his children loved and admired him (his eldest gave a phenomenal speech about his dad)

There was more. Much more. If I had not met Dave but only heard the words spoken about him I would have thought here is a man to be admired, an inspiration, someone I need to get to know. The worst part is that I had the opportunity to get to know this man. I mean really get to know him since I kind of knew him — or so I thought.

How many people around me would enrich my life if I got to know them better? Everyone. No. But what if the number is 5 or 10.  Another several good friends, interesting people who would make my life more interesting. Wow.

Now I am somewhat shy by nature. That is part of the reason I do not go deeper. However I also am very quick to make judgements about people. I decide within moments if I think they worth my precious time.

Maybe I need to not be so quick to judge. Maybe I should check below the surface for that gem.

Maybe you should too.

Like A Good Neighbor…

Technically, the Whites were not “Like” good neighbors. They were good neighbors. Our next door neighbors.

They moved into the house next store to us 26 years ago. That would be 10 years before we arrived. So what did we find when we moved in? Barb and Will greeted us warmly. I especially needed that since I had just entered a very different life which at that moment included a wife, child and home all at once and all for the first time.

That first year in particular I was overwhelmed and we were not doing all the things neighbors do in terms of keeping up their homes. That first summer I admit our lawn was out of control. While some other neighbor left a nasty, anonymous note threatening to report us to the city, Will came by after I had finally cut the lawn to ask “if I would mind” if he trimmed our lawn with his gas trimmer. He did not just offer the trimmer to me but offered to help! I needed that.

Will and Barb were meticulous about their house. They worked hard to keep up a beautiful flower garden in their back yard. Yet, having raised several children they did not go ballistic as our very young son would end up throwing or kicking balls in their yard. The fence was only 18 inches high. We apologized, they smiled. They liked our son a lot. I think they enjoyed have a youngster around.

They gave us one of the greatest gifts possible…their youngest daughter Theresa as our first babysitter in our new home. She was a high school junior at the time. She was the best of all babysitters in so many ways. 1. often available. 2. Great at engaging and entertaining our young and high energy son. 3.Responsible 4. This was the best of all, I did not have to drive her home at the end of the night. I would open the back door and watch as she stepped over the low fence and walked into her back door. (This was such a treat for two years that when our second baby sitter lived down the block it seemed like a “burden” to walk her home.)

Will has an energy and sense of adventure like few people I know. His work had him traveling all over the world and he made sure that he provided opportunities for his family to experience the world and to have a sense that exploring the planet was just another thing that one does.

After he retired he bought a scooter. Not a motorcycle, a scooter. At first this was for local trips but later he took the scooter to Texas and the east coast to visit family. I had visions of Will on the highways pushing that scooter as fast at it could go, a sudden rainstorm not even slowing him down for a moment.

Barb is one of the sweetest people on earth. Dedicated to her family, easy to talk to and someone you wanted to chat with. She is a doer but would also enjoy occasionally sitting on the back porch and reading or just “chatting”.

Over the 16 years we have been Will and Barb’s neighbors most of the conversations occurred “over the fence” while we were in our respective backyards. In addition to discussing family, I would ask questions on how to keep up a garden or do simple household chores. They were always interested in what our son was up to and stories got traded about the local schools or activities in the area. We were not close friends but this is what I had always envisioned as a good neighborly relationship.

Will and Barb are a number of years older than we are. Not actually sure how many. More than 15 probably less than 25. The house had become too much work. Bard has some illness that limits her ability to climb stairs and be as active as she was. A few weeks ago they moved to a condo. They are no longer our next door neighbors. For us this was the end of an era.

Over the years we tried to return the favors. Just the week before they moved I dug their garbage cans out of the six feet of snow that covered theirs and mine. I saw Will as they were putting the very last load of stuff from their house into their car. He thanked me for moving the snow. (Said he would not repeat what another neighbor did. Maybe we are not the only ones getting nasty, anonymous notes.)

They live not far away and I expect that we will keep in touch. I have not met the new neighbors yet but I hope they understand the high standard that the previous owners of the house set. I understand they are a “young” Couple. Perhaps it is my turn to set the example.

Reconnecting With My Kids

I should not refer to Kyle and Amanda as kids. They are well in to their twenties. Yet I have known both of them since they were born and so to me they will forever be kids just as if they were my own.

Amanda was my first. Paul, one of my closest friends — we have known each other since college– and his lovely wife Maureen — they lived across the hall from each other when Paul was in his first apartment, were among the first to marry — I was the best man. They had Amanda not all that much later so she was the first child of one of my friends.

Taking care of Amanda as one of her first baby sitters continues to be one of my favorite memories. We played together on the floor, I got to carry her in my arms and put her in her crib for a nap. One of the best days ever.  She was my first little girl.

All through my single years, which lasted a long time, I became an unofficial uncle to some of my friends kids . More so with Kyle and Amanda than most. (Kyle referred to me as his fake uncle the other day. Kyle, there was nothing fake about it. Blood or no blood. For a number of years I was around much more than your “real ” uncles. Anyways I am officially your godfather.)

For Kyle and Amanda I attended birthday parties, Halloween trick or treat raids in the neighborhood, attended soccer games, plays (though I missed one of their last Shakespeare performances), Irish dancing and brought presents at Christmas. I believe that I am personally responsible for the vast majority of ice skates they received growing up.

Of course that was when they were young. Once college started I was not as good at keeping in touch. Then Amanda moved to Boston and Kyle to L.A. Sure I am aware of phones, email and snail mail. I just became a bad uncle for a while.

Fortunately they were both in town for the holidays and they made time to see me. I was able to spend three hours with these great kids. They are both interesting, articulate, athletic and attractive people. Kyle is in design. He has been on TV and just signed a book deal. Amanda is in process of figuring out the next stage of her life after 5 years in a PR firm. It was great fun to get to know them again and find out a little of what I have been missing for the past few years.

I intend to become a “good” uncle again. I am connected to both on Facebook. I will try to see Amanda since she is now local. I will miss no more birthdays. We will share in each others lives.

I will re-earn the title of Uncle Rick.

Not Your Next American Idol

I work in a fairly buttoned down profession. Many of the people who do what I do are straight-laced. Occasionally you meet some people with flair and talents well outside our line of work. For example, one former co-worker had been a professional dancer of the Lord of the Dance variety.

And then there was Joey.

I am not sure where we found Joey. Rumor was that a gaggle of my co-workers were in a bar one night and they met this strange man-child who asked what we did and whether there were any openings. Next thing I knew there was Joey showing up for work.

JoJo, as I started calling him, was a good employee. I was a seasoned pro when he started and he was one of the new guys. He learned quickly, did not let his lack of prior experience in what we do get in his way and he did good work. But really who cares about Joey as a worker bee.

We care, and you should care, about Joey the singer. Now JoJo was not your next American Idol. He was not a rocker, an R&B guy and not even a little bit country despite his Virginia roots.

Nope. Joey sang Barber Shop. You know, striped pole. Quartet. Music Man.

He had a group of his own but also sang in a large chorale groups. He competed in real competitions. I am ashamed to say that I never got to see JoJo perform in his groups. The closest I came was his last night when a bunch of us went to a karaoke bar (I did my best Elvis imitation. True story.)

Joey left our Chicago office and moved to Atlanta to be marry a woman whose smile could light up a dark room. Good move on his part. But contact slowed to a crawl.

Today Joey called to see how things were going. We caught up. His family is good, beautiful wife and two young children. Work is good. But he has not sung in a group in quite a while. Fortunately for the world, or the three readers of this blog, he was caught on video and stored on YouTube.

Here he is with his group the Pinstripes. (JoJo is the handsome one in front of the mike. BTW Joey, the music is much better than the comedy. Where did you get your routine? An old Red Skelton show?)

Here he is, my fav barbershop singer, Joey.

Good Friends Are Forever

This week I had the opportunity and the joy of reuniting with former long-term colleagues. I was in NY Monday night for a meeting the next day. Two of these former colleagues were  to be in the same meeting. They and four others just left their long time employer and started up a new company.  I had not seen any of them for close to 5 years which is when I had left the same long time employer but I had known some of them for over 20 years. In many ways we grew up together professionally. So I invited as many as could come to drinks and dinner.

Three came. Peter T showed up first. Peter is one of the top in his field. Most top people in this field have egos the size of football stadiums. Not Peter T. He is a great guy. Passionate about providing excellence to his clients. Has that classy-guy-on-the-street personality.  Great to be with. Hard to get his time or attention if you are not a client or working with him on a client. We have known each other for 29 years but until a few weeks ago when we spoke about our mutual client I had not heard from him in almost 5 years.

For me, once you are “family” you stay that way. I have several friends that I no longer get to see with any kind of regularity. But if we share some History and we were close, we remain close as far as I am concerned.

When Peter T arrived, he was friendly. We shook hands. We had about 30 minutes together before others showed. It was good to have his undivided attention. He continually asked what was going on with me as I probed for information regarding his separation from our former firm. (I actually was hoping for detail and dirt but unfortunately Peter T is too classy to go down that road.) It took awhile for us to get to that ” it was like I had just seen you yesterday” feeling but we got there.

We were eventually joined by Rosie and Dan. Rosie and I also go back over 25 years and we had spoken several times since I left the old firm. Rosie is my favorite New Yorker. First, she sounds exactly like a New Yorker is expected to sound. She can be brash and tough but has a heart of gold and is one of the warmest people I know.

Dan is younger.  I met him maybe two years before I left the old firm. He and I had the chance to bond on a couple of internal projects. He is bright and full of that youthful enthusiasm that is but a dim memory for me. The best thing about Dan, OK not the best but I am excited, is that he recently grew a beard. There are very few people with beards in our profession. It may only be Dan and me for all I know.  We deal with heads of corporations and boards of directors. They tend towards the conservative. I grew mine in the late 1980s when business people wore suits and ties every day. I have been waiting for 25 years for someone to follow my lead. Thanks Dan.

Over a beers and cheeseburgers we caught up on current life and shared memories of old times and people we knew. It was great. It was one of those nights that makes one remember why you liked these people so much in the first place.  I believe they felt that way about me as well.

At the end of the night I got a big hug instead of a handshake from Peter T. Hugs all around.

As an added bonus Peter and Dan were part of my meeting with the client the next morning. Seemed just like old times.

Oh BTW I Have A Brain Tumor

No, no, no, not me.

I was speaking a month ago to a client that I have become friendly with. He is a quietly engaging guy. Bright, good at what he does and one of those people you would describe as “one of the nicest people you ever met”. 

We were discussing the latest work related assignment.  I then asked him about his recent trip to the emergency room. I had heard that he had gotten dizzy and concerned colleagues insisted that he go. That turned out to be an inner ear issue that quickly cleared up.

“Great”, I said as I heard the news. Then in a voice which I will always remember for its calmness touched with a bit of satisfaction– as bizarre as that may sound. He was happy that it was discovered early since it was growing and that it was not malignant. His view was that if he had not had the ear thing and if it had not happened at work and if he had not gone to this emergency room, then the tumor would not have been discovered. I found the calm way he approached this moment in his life to be beyond my comprehension.

If I received this news I would be a basket case. I would be angry and sad and depressed. Not him. I continue to find this beyond amazing.

I am thrilled to say that he has had the surgery, is doing well and resting at home.  I hope to learn from his approach to life. A long and happy one we all hope.