When I came home from work today-later than normal-I switched on the TV in the bedroom to watch the news. To my chagrin it was full of nothing but Michael Jackson.
In disgust, I threw the remote control at the TV. Fortunately-I missed. However it did little to assuage my ill humor-or at my disgust with the unfairness of the world.
Perhaps I should back up a bit. This morning at about 6:15 my cell phone went off. It had the Washington DC number of a high placed muckety muck within my company.
"Why is he calling me at this time in the morning?"
He was calling to tell me that he had received sketchy word that a coworker of mine, employed by the same company and hired by this man, had died suddenly of a heart attack. "Could I get a hold of someone and get some more information?"
Down here in Shopping Mall-there are not so many of us from our company. Most of our strings are pulled from up north. So I quickly ran through my list of numbers and hit the "call" button. Yes it was true-he had been taken to the hospital and had not survived. People from his section were already en route to the house-and his church was mobilizing a "food brigade" to make sure his wife was taken care of. Please hurry into work and let the big bosses up north know what’s going on.
Damn! Damn! Damn!
This particular man had been my "sponsor" when I moved here from Japan. He did not have to do it-in fact many companies here in shopping mall do not do such things-but the management of my company feels strongly on the issue. Being quite busy in his own right-showing a "newbie" the ropes of this particular corporate entity was the last thing he needed to be doing.
But don’t tell Al that.
He met me at the front desk bright and early. Got me through the maze that is getting set up here-and then over the next few weeks showed me the ropes.
Al had been a Marine in his former life-and like all Marines he was damned proud of it. In fact damn proud is probably an understatement. An infantry officer back in the day-he had spent some time as an Aerial observer in OV-10 Broncos. Out of that experience he had formed a deep and abiding respect for aviation. Since he knew that I was a former Naval Flight Officer-we used to talk about flying a lot.
Al was also a Ham radio operator-enthusiastic about the hobby. He had his call sign on his car license plate. My father is an Amateur radio operator-and Dad could never coax his miscreant son beyond a novice license. ( The code kicked my ass). It gave us another bit of common ground to talk about.
Politically we were very different. However, unlike what some in the blogosphere seem to think these days-that did not prevent us from having political discussions in a cordial and respectful tone towards each other. Since I work indirectly for the Navy-he never missed an opportunity to hammer home to me something in the news-whenever the Navy had a bad day in the headlines. ( Something that seems to be happening a lot these days). However underneath the pointed barbs was a respect for the naval service-just I have a deep seated respect for the Marine Corps he so dearly loved. We knew we had to hang together in an overly Army saturated environment.
Al was, like me, a generalist. In an organization like the one I work in, full of
geeks engineers, he never had-what he knowingly referred to as: "the right skill set".
What Al did have, and I watched closely, being of a like mind myself, was a PHD in the art of getting things done. The organization we work for prides itself on "process" -so much so that it makes even simple projects a real chore. Al, quite properly held that process in the contempt it richly deserves. All the while however, he knew how to use it, to mold it, to bend it it to his will, in order to get things done.
All the while shaking his head at how hard the ghost of Col Blimp (the patron saint of this particular organization)-had made of the getting there.
In recent months-he was frustrated. Justifiably so, if you ask me-especially given the changes that have transpired in our little place over the past year. We went to lunch from time to time-or had the occasional beer after work-and together we let vent to our frustrations. He talked a couple of times about chucking it all. Letting his wife take a job where they wanted to live and he would work in an electronics store.
Today makes me wonder if he should have.
However, he continued to give 100%-even if his overlords did not properly appreciate it sometimes.
Al was a guy who made some noise-when he was in the room, you knew it. No meek, mild, Casper Milquetoast practitioner of "buzzword bingo" was he. Some people just exist in a given situation. Not Al-he attacked the daily grind-with no loss of enthusiasm along the way. As a another co-worker put it, "Al was the kind of guy that if someone told him that he was tilting at a windmill, he would press on undeterred." He wore the role of Don Quixote with pride. He was also true to the real meaning of the entire title of Cervantes book- as ingenioso means "to be quick with inventiveness".
Al and his wife had been on a holiday back to the place they loved-and I am told they had a big family event where he got to see his kids-and grand kids. He was supposed to have been back to work today-after being on a well earned vacation.
They say that when it happened-it came quite suddenly. Which, as the logic goes, can be a blessing.
And no doubt later in the week I will hear pastors tell me how everything happens for a purpose.
That may be, however for this evening I will soon head to the cupboard for a bottle of Scotch. Through which I will become more than mildly schnockered -the better to curse the unfairness of the world. And give thanks for having been lucky enough to know a great man.
Which, ironically, brings me back to Michael Jackson. There are literally 1000′s of men like Al in this country. They enrich us all in ways we never really understand at the moment. There’s no one on CNN weeping about them. Guys like Al make the rest of us rich-over and over again.
No disrespect-but the only guy Michael Jackson made rich was some record promoter.
Time for the Scotch-it’s just not fair.