Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ten Spot

"How many times do I have to tell you, empty your pockets when you throw your pants in the wash!" Beth plopped my wallet in front of me, or what was left of it. Every seam had come apart, and the plastic that shielded my license was separated and curling outward along the top edge, and the credit card slots looked like shrapnel wounds that healed without proper stitching.

"I just wore them last night, gimme a break," I countered, "You picked them off the floor this morning, so maybe you should have emptied the pockets." Ooops, that got me the look. I won't bother you with the end of that conversation, but once again I was left to wonder why I always think I can win an argument with my wife.

I removed the contents of my wallet onto the bathroom counter; my license and triple-a card, a debit and two credit cards, a laminated phone extension list from work -- more like an obituary of employees past, and a host of business cards from people I can't remember with bleached, runny blue, ink stained phone numbers on back.

Tucked in the deepest pocket, in a section that I never look in, was exactly half of a ten dollar bill. I laid it on the counter to dry. For a moment I considered hiding it from my wife, whose eyes came to rest upon it, but then I remembered I had told her about it before. She looked at me for an instant, and I waited for a jab for being such a sentimental fool, but she didn't comment. She left the room quietly and pulled the door shut behind her, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

I met Jeff in college; he was a teachers assistant in one of my core computer science classes. My first impression of him was that he was laid back and easy going, a good person to get to know. He would lounge in his seat one row up and six desks over, his left arm resting casually on top of the seat back, like a teenager typically does through and open window, driving on a sunny day.

By happy coincidence, I was reunited with him after college, while I was working at TelTech, a subcontractor at IBM East Fishkill that recruited me before I graduated. A close friend of his asked me to present his resume for employment, which I was all too glad to oblige, as my company paid a whopping referral fee of $1500. I only found out that I really knew him after he accepted a position.

TelTech basically harvested new graduates, paid them enough money to eat, pay rent and drive a used car, and managed to retain people for a couple years on average. The employees were mostly from SUNY schools, and were out for a good time. Happy hours and softball, house parties, jam sessions, women and song; real life was yet to come. For now it was all about the party.

Jeff and I were instant friends, and our group was getting larger by the day. Soon we rented a house on Crescent Ave, which was dubbed Crescent Manor. Barry was the owner of the newly opened Blueberry Hill, who introduced us to Sophie and Vanja, two au pairs that had recently come to our country, that basically had the same concept of living as we did. They brought around twenty of their new friends to our first party at Crescent Manor, and it was like that scene in Risky Business when the girls arrive. Every time the door shut the bell rang again, and suddenly, a bunch of computer nerds were entertaining girls from every corner of Europe.

All along, Jeff was the glue that held it all together. He was wonderfully quirky, had a temper that exploded like Yosemite Sam's, his sense of humor had a hard edge, and his laugh was contagious. For a friend, he would do anything; his personality drew us all together. I'll never be as happy as I was in those days. We were free spirits, only living for fun and frivolity, and we didn't have to leave the house for it.

But East Fishkill was a dead end town, and I decided that I had to leave. I had angered my IBM manager, who said some unkind words to my boss, who in turn informed me that advancement at TelTech was premature in my case.

The IBM manager, Larry, approached me in the hallway when I had announced my decision to move west.

"Listen, Scott, I'm real sorry about what happened."

"Don't worry Larry, no harm done."

His eyes were glossed over, his guilt palpable. "I'm not so sure."

It hit me then what he must of said. "Well, I needed an excuse to leave anyway."

He shook my hand, "If you ever need a favor, you can count on me." He made good on that. I was hired at IBM Mountain View without so much as an interview. But remember kids, don't ever show your manager a program that you haven't finished writing yet.

Something snapped in my relationship with Jeff when I told everyone I was leaving. We were never really friends again. He was codependent, and as bright and as great a person he was on his own, he was like a little boy that needed a male father figure to respect and dote on. Some will interpret this as he was gay, but I don't think so. He would eventually move out to California where we would be roommates, but he was bottled rage, and never forgave me for leaving New York. I tried to draw him out, but socially he was stunted. Where once he was willing to try out new people and places, he only wanted to stay home and get stoned. He bought a Harley Davidson Fat Boy and became the lone rider; he polished that bike like Lady Macbeth trying to wash out that imaginary bloodstain. Like so many that lose their hair, he let what was left grow long in back and pulled it into a pony tail. The Jeff that once gave me so much joy had become a crusty old curmudgeon, and it sickened me to look at him anymore. But still I tried, and tried, and tried.

I moved out and got an apartment in San Francisco. We tried to coexist a year or so later, but still the old resentment was there. I got him a job at a gem of a software company that had taught me everything in this business that I hold dear. He started to sabotage my relationships with my friends and my co-workers, until I had no choice but to leave the company and strike out on my own, and for that, I couldn't forgive him. His power to bring people together had a dark and terrible shadow, and it sucked the light from my life.

During this whole drawn out process that spanned ten or so years, everyone that knew me stopped talking to me about the situation that weighed so heavily on my mind. Our common friends didn't want to be in the middle, and eventually I had to remove myself completely, so that today, I am alone, so much worse than before I knew what having such good friends was about.

There is another side to this story, and his is probably quite compelling, and I could even give you the most of it. I was uncomfortable with his unerring attention to the smallest details of my life, and felt squeezed. So I lashed out at him many times. In any fight, there is cause and effect which feeds into the next, such that by the end it's impossible to trace back to the origin. I'm no angel, but I cared for his friendship. But where is that line? When do you say that enough is enough? Some will say never, but there is a line, there has to be, or else you will be abused for the rest of your life.

Jeff walked me to my car when I was packed for my move west. He gave me a state of the art radar detector to keep me out of trouble on the ride.

He pulled out his wallet took out a ten dollar bill, and ripped it in half, then handed me a piece. "The next time we get together, we'll put these back together and have a drink."

I took it without much thought and put it in my wallet. I was getting uncomfortable and it was time to go. He looked at me for a moment and his eyes darkened slightly, then whirled away and started for his car.

"Jeff, wait!"

He didn't stop, and got in his car and drove away with a screech.


jenbeauty said...

We are eerily similar Scott. I have several friends from college that our relationships ended much the same way.

I think back and wonder what I could have changed or where we are now.

So...does this have a happy ending? Do you know how Jeff is?

Scott said...

No, I found the bill in my wallet this weekend. It has been this way for years, five or six at least since I even saw him. I hear through the grapevine that he is doing ok, but I only get a sentence or two, as everybody prefers to avoid the subject.

jenbeauty said...

Yes but it hurts doesn't it? Also, you have kept that half of the ten spot so it definitly means something.

For me I just want to know those that meant something to me at one time are well and have a decent life. Plus I would like a bit of closure to the whole thing.

Scott said...

Yes it does hurt, and I'll never get over it. It's the disintegration of an entire society, the loss of every friend that I had. The more I think about it the madder I get, and how he is doing could be good or bad news depending on the day I'm having. He'll be fine, as all the same people know and care for him.

jenbeauty said...

Big {{HUGS}} to you Scott for the painful reminder.

Mrs.T said...

I'm not sure I understand his bitterness.. but I've experienced something similar before. Gives one pause about the lives we used to lead.

Scott said...

Thanks Jen!

Mrs T - It's like trying to explain why a marriage went bad. Nobody can make another understand completely, not if there wasn't any infidelity or something extreme. When it's a series of small things that build over time...

He wanted to control me. We were like Oscar and Felix, he was neat and I was messy, I was wild and he was reserved. I don't know why he was so obsessed with me, but I didn't like that part of it, and when we were seperated from the larger group, it was more pronounced because I had nowhere to hide. The more I resisted, the madder he got, until he was nothing but bitter hate.

Angelle said...

Interesting....true to some marriage life, esp. the opening with Beth.

Scott said...

Angelle, thanks for dropping by. I could tell a lot of truth about marriage, believe me!

magnetbabe said...

There seems to be a disproportionate amount of people like that in the tech business. I've met some myself. Hopefully Jeff has grown up a little and gotten his own life. In the meatime, cool of you to keep the bill. BTW- It's not Beth's job to empty your pockets before she washes your clothes!! ;)

Scott said...

Like I said on your blog magnetbabe, you and my wife gotta play bingo together. As for Jeff, I hope he loses the chip someday, maybe he has already, I wouldn't know. But I seeeeeriously doubt it.