Strange-ers On A Plane

It is late at night. I am on my second consecutive flight after a long day of work. Exhaustion seeps into every fiber of my frame. All I want to do is close my eyes and let the 2 hour flight take me home.

Having done this a thousand times I know that at this hour 90% – 100% of the other inhabitants of this flying metal tube want the same peace that I seek. Unfortunately on this night it is only 90% and I sit within 5 feet of the other 10%… with no possibility of escape.

My frequent flier status allows me to be one of the first on the plane. I settled in, put on my noise reducing headphones and waited for the plane to fill. Everything was great for the first 10 minutes. Then he boarded and sat in the same row just across the aisle. He was wired. From drugs? Adrenaline? Who knows.

He started telling the story of his day and then his life to the guy in the next seat (I think his name was Job). He started before he even sat down and seemingly did not inhale for an hour. No, it was not that it seemed like an hour. I timed it. An hour. It seemed like days. The constancy and length of the monologue were painful enough, but that VOICE.  His loud, deep, gravely voice is seared into my synapses.

I think he was in sales. I think he had some great opportunity that was as of yet unclosed. I got the impression that this man lives in a world of the “almost got it, will get the next one”. Each new opportunity brings excitement. He is not deterred by past experience.  I know this much because it was impossible not to catch some of what he said. I was in the window seat and therefore as far across the aisle as could be. My seatmates in the row started whispering about him but no one, myself included had the guts to ask him to tone it down or better yet to end our misery. But finally it did end, though like one of those car alarms on the street that makes an awful sound and then stops for a minute or two only to start anew, I remained on edge fearing that he would restart. But no, it was over. For him.

Shortly after he concluded the only other person who was not asleep on this flight began telling her story. At least this one had modest entertainment value. Entertainment value in the sense of one of those odd movies that you watch late at night filled with oddball “characters” from the sticks.

This woman was a grandmother from a small town in North Carolina. How small?   As she put it, “…most excitement in town see the dead bodies pile up at funeral home next door “.  She was traveling to the big city of Chicago for the first time to bring her granddaughter to meet the girl’s mother for the first time since she was born. The girl was one of nine grandkids. She had no credit cards, just cash so someone from the 20th century (not even the 21st) had to buy her granddaughter a snack. (No you cannot make this kind of stuff up). She spoke in a drawl that could only be described as small town NC hick. No insult intended [don’t you hate when people say things like no ___intended when that is exactly what they intended].

She went on and on until after the flight had landed. There went my last hope of rest. I staggered to the parking lot, found my car and an hour later crawled into bed. Now I know why rich people like their private planes.

Minor Characters

You know how sometimes in a play or movie there are these characters with minor roles that greatly enhance the show?

On a recent business trip to NY I encountered three people who struck me in an odd way.  I was overcome with this sense that in the movie of my life, or more appropriately the movie that is my life, in a two-day period I happened upon three people who would have made the final credits though towards the bottom of the list.  More than  extras but less than leading or supporting roles.  They all had small speaking parts in scenes that helped the audience, if there had been one, understand me as a person and added more than mere plot.  Let me present them in order of appearance.

The first is “Elevator Man”. As the scene opens I am in my hotel room dressing for dinner with clients at a nice restaurants. Though I am a blue jeans and T Shirt kind of guy I need to be in a suit for this event.  As I wait for the elevator i lament that I need to be dressed in more than business casual attire.  As the elevator door opens I smile and shake my head. The only other passenger is a guy in his 50s (I am guessing) medium height, thinning dark hair, with the air of an executive but the clothes a casual m. He was in a V neck sweatshirt with a deep V and no shirt underneath, a running jacket and blue jeans  (OK the jeans were designer and probably cost more than several pairs of my Levis). I had to say something. “That is how I wish I was dressed.” He glanced over at me and said, “I was dressed like you all day. You must still be on the job. ”  “Yeah. Business dinner.” As the elevator reached the lobby we exchanged, have a good nights and he headed to the door. I met my client in the lobby. The screen goes dark.

Next meet, Young Italian Lawyer.   In order to get into the place we wanted to have dinner that night we needed clout. Clout came in the form of the law firm that hosted my client’s meeting those two days. Three of us walked out of our hotel and headed to the law offices in order to meet Joseph, the young lawyer who was low enough on the totem pole that he got assigned to walk the clients to the restaurant , flash the firm’s special membership card and then leave. We joked that this would be the easiest chargeable hour he had in a long time.

To our pleasant surprise “Joe”, not Joseph, was personable and interesting. He shared stories of how his firm was representing NBA players in the lockout and that in his prior job he had assisted in negotiating the contract of some famous NY Jets player. He was tall, slender, good-looking and dressed like a fashionable young lawyer. He was not the least bit down at having this menial late night task. We had a modestly long walk together and he both entertained and listened.  We offered to at least share a drink if not dinner but he politely excused himself.  His job was done and he would not intrude.  The restaurant was fun, the food good and the wine excellent. Yet Joe was the hit of the night.

On the plane ride home the odds rolled in my favor. Not only did i get on an earlier flight but so did my client and by the longest of odds we found ourselves seated next to each other on the plane. At this point I need to mention that she is one of my favorite clients. Both good at what she does and fun to be with. We were in the window and center seats which left the aisle seat to be filled. Let me introduce Aisle Guy.

This client and I regularly joke back and forth. Aisle guy jumped right in as if we had known him for years. If this had been a serious private conversation that might have been annoying and a bit rude. I suspect Aisle Guy only took the initiative because the conversation was light and barbs were being tossed right and left.  By the end of the flight we knew that he was in sales, the company he worked for, what part of NY he lived in and lots about his twin girls. Pictures were shared.

Over the years i have interacted with hundreds if not thousands of these minor characters. I am not sure why these three brought this theme to my mind. All I can say is that they made the movie better.

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.

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.

Sights Worth Seeing

My wife is traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of Italy this week. i am city and suburb bound. Still there is much to see if you choose to look.

Walking in the park on a sunny day. Coming towards us are two woman. The first is very tall, slim and quite elderly, at least in her late 70s more likely 80s. She is dressed in that “I don’t care how I look and I certainly don’t care about what you think about how I dress” manner that only the elderly can pull off well. She has on a lime green hat with an extra wide brim that is pushing skyward as she walks into the wind. She holds one had to her head to keep the hat from flying away. The other hand holds the hand of her friend. A short, hunched-over woman who looks as old as one can be. She shuffles more than walks. the tall one supporting her companion. As they pass they show the manners that seem to be lost in more recent generations. They smile and greet us warmly as we pass by.

In the locker room at my gym there is a father with his six-year-old son. They are dressing to go swimming. As the boy pulls his suit on he must have scratched himself and he begins to softly cry. Many dads at this point would have told there sons to be tough and not give in to the hurt. This dad bent over, said something softly into the ear of his son, so softly that though I was less than a foot away I could not hear his words. He gave his son a kiss on the cheek. This tenderness, now passed down into the next generation, calmed the boy and his crying ceased.

I landed just outside a small town in Tennessee. After being picked up at the airport by a client that had become a friend over the past years we headed for lunch. Time was short so the options were limited. McDs, Wendy’s or the little place we had eaten at once before. I opted for the latter. A place that still sold Moon pies. It was small but the food was good and fresh. The owner took orders at a counter. you sat at wood tables, not plastic, and they brought the food to you when it was ready. I observed a customer chatting up the owner for quite a while and a few families enjoying a summertime meal together. It seemed like small town country. Better than McDonald’s? silly question.

At the place where you get your driver’s license a newly minted driver was handed his first ever license. He asked the woman if he needed his permit back. No, the woman replied, now you have a license. Oh, was the response. Now I’m scared, said the woman.

Tonight I got off the commuter train. It was 8:30 PM and I was just getting home. I was drooping. Barely able to move. Getting off at the same stop was a woman in her sixties. She was all light and lightness. A big smile on her face and a light step as she bounded past me and headed down the stairs. She was long and slender and had on a pretty summer dress. Far more youthful than I.

So much to see worth seeing.

Say It Again Sam

Real things said by real people and too good not to share.

  1. If today was tomorrow we would be good to go.
  2. I am all about Jack The Ripper
  3. I think people who love each other have to have fights sometimes otherwise they don’t understand each other very well
  4. I have a fat man living inside of me
  5. As long as there is a cold one and a TV out there
  6. Puting on latex gloves and sticking your finger up your ass twice a day is not as much fun as it sounds
  7. Hello, I must be going

I wanted you to first read them straight. Here is where they came from.

  1. If today was tomorrow we would be good to go. I love the pseudo-zen sound of this one. It almost makes enormous sense, sort of.  It was spoken by a male flight attendant. There was a two-thirds full regional plane waiting to go from Charlotte to Tri-Cities in TN. (the tri being  Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol of course). The passengers were wondering why the plane was waiting for people coming from another flight rather than leaving them behind as has become the norm. The FA explained that on Mondays and Tuesdays this was now the last plane to the TriCities for the day. Tomorrow, Wednesday there would be a later flight and this one would have taken off rather than waited. Therefore, …
  2. I am all about Jack The Ripper. A friend and her husband had just spent 5 days in London. In addition to the excitement of seeing Verne Troyer (MiniMe) and damaging their rented Jaguar after driving all the way to Dover and back and being within blocks of their hotel, they did a walking tour of Jack The Ripper sites. When asked why, the response was …
  3. I think people who love each other have to have fights sometimes otherwise they don’t understand each other very well. An 11 year old was being interviewed by her father for a piece that eventually made it to NPR. It was clear from the story that while the father and mother loved each other there were many things that got in the way, finances– or lack there of– being one. I can only imagine an 11-year-old trying to sort things out in her mind. This 11-year-old was very wise. If all couples thought this way then the pain of fights would be less and last not as long.
  4. I have a fat man living inside of me. Click on the link to read the story by the original author. In short, this was spoken by a 16-year-old man-child who had just turned down a second portion of main course for more salad.
  5. As long as there is a cold one and a TV out there. A friend from the west suburbs of Chicago told me that he is traveling to s small town in TN for Thanksgiving. His wife has family in the area. One sibling has a house on many acres in this somewhat remote area.  After he told me how nice it was there I said that I did not see him as such a country boy. His response was…
  6. Puting on latex gloves and sticking your finger up your ass twice a day is not as much fun as it sounds. This one has not actually yet been said out loud. It has been in my head for a couple of months. I have a literal pain in the ass and the choices were surgery or applying an ointment two times a day. I chose the latter and have been waiting for the right time and audience to use the line. Still waiting.
  7. Hello, I must be going. This was not actually said by a real person but by a character played originally by Groucho Marx in the play, and then the movie, Animal Crackers. The Goodman Theatre staged an extremely enjoyable version which we watched a few weeks ago.  The actors playing the roles originated by the Marx brothers were all very good with Joey Slotnick, who played Captain Spalding/Groucho being outstanding. And now, I must be going.

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.