One of my decades-long friends is Carl. Our paths crossed first at college. I had gotten my B.S., and was enrolled in grad school, working on an MBA…except that I really wasn’t there for the right reasons. I had enrolled in that because I couldn’t get a job; computer programming jobs were still rare in the 70s. So I worked at the university computer center, and went to classes. My grades were fine, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Carl had gone back to school after a separation from his wife; he owned a home and farm about 35 miles away, which had been passed through generations of his family. He also worked in the computer center, while he worked on his degree. Carl was about 9 years older than me; this was a second (or more) start for him.
We hit it off immediately. Worked together well, shot the shit a lot, would both be dispatched by our boss (Edd, who recently passed) to go organize our forms storeroom.
In the spirit of the 70s, we also liked to smoke grass, and were known to do that and then go midnight shopping at the grocery store due to the munchies. On one occasion, we were both bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have any weed. So I spoke to a friend of mine, and he got back to me. He said “Go to room 303 in this residence hall, knock, and ask for Bubba,” or something to that effect. This residence hall was nearby, so Carl walked over, and after knocking and being checked out by “security”, he was able to sample the goods. He completed the transaction, stuffing the baggie into his sock.
Upon returning to the computer room, he walked in, pulled out the bag of weed, and said: “Scored the dope!” (Damn, Carl, keep it down, will ya?)
Carl’s career turned out to be more prosperous than mine. He started working at one of the other university offices as a programmer and implementer; and he had never imagined he would make a living working with computers. But he was, and is, far smarter than I am, and he grasped things quickly.
My wife and I moved to Winston-Salem, NC; but I kept in touch with Carl, and when work and other irritations got to me, I would go up to his farm for the weekend. Beer, grass, pizza rolls, jelly donuts, and if possible we’d go watch a football or basketball game at the college. Fun. Damn. Weekends.
One day, the personnel manager of my employer called me to ask if I knew of anyone who might be interested in a job as the main I.T. guy for a new division of the company. I called Carl. He was just emerging from a relationship with a woman, and the whole thing had left him eager for change. So he came to W-S, interviewed, was hired, and moved there.
Two years later, I had moved on to a different company, and he ended up moving to Dallas. Perhaps two years went by, and I found myself in need of a change. Stress from work, personal financial stress, and just needing to get the hell out of North Carolina after spending all of my life there. So I called Carl in Dallas, and as it turned out, he was working as the head of I.T. at a small company there. He asked me to fly out there to interview and see the place. Six weeks later, I was working in Dallas.
In the first year, there was some stress. As I’ve already said, Carl picked up new things much more quickly than I did, and it was a frustration for both of us. There was friction, though it seldom flared. What eventually relieved it was the company deciding to manage their investors on an in-house computer system, cutting their ties to a service bureau they had worked with. Carl assigned the data conversion and system maintenance to me. I loved it. I got it. I worked at it, and ultimately we were successful at bringing it in-house.
For the next 2 years, approximately, I was just on cruise mode. Managing the investments system was not difficult, though there were occasionally some late nights, which are just a part of all I.T.
By then, it was the late 80s, and the economy was flattening. I had gone back to NC for a week, and when I returned, Carl let me know that I had been sacked. I know it was hard for him, and the decision had been made from above. Nothing to do but look for a new job, in the next couple of weeks until my last day. Fortunately, I made a good connection, and was working the day after I was laid off. I’m not sure if things happen for a reason, or if they just happen, but it’s all worked out ok.
Carl, in the meantime, was living with a woman who was a complete bitch. He had moved in with her when he was still in NC, and she persuaded him to let her move to TX with him. Huge mistake, but it was his life to live. Over time, things got even worse between them, and Carl decided, at the age of 45, that it was time to leave Dallas, and return to his home in NC.
The Bitch was working for an airline, and was thus able to travel for free back to visit her kids, who had returned to living with their dad. During one such trip, Carl decided: this is the weekend. So he called me, and activated Operation Evac. I went to his home, we got the stuff out of there that he wanted, took it to a storage unit, and he spent the night with us. Then he left the next day, headed back to NC. I think he had some sadness at saying goodbye to us, but he knew he must do this.
The ensuing years have been documented by Carl much better than I could. It seemed that trouble, and prosperity, always found him; owing to his intelligence, and his tendency to live a bit on the edge.
He eventually started working in Atlanta, and met a woman named Ronda at the same company. They soon connected. She was fully 20 years his junior, but the scenario worked for them.
Carl was in a near fatal auto accident in 1992, and Ronda was with him through the worst of it, traveling every night the 50+ miles to the hospital to be with him. He knew he had a wonderful, loyal woman, who wouldn’t be bitchy, but would also call him out on his occasional bullshit.
They stayed together for several years. Ronda eventually contracted cancer, in several parts of her body, and declined quickly. Besides loving her, Carl felt an immense sense of loyalty to her, and wanted to make her last months good ones. Ronda had never owned a home. Carl found a brand new home, that was to be Ronda’s home. He furnished it. Then, the night before they were to move into it, Ronda died. It knocked the wind out of Carl, and I don’t think he really ever recovered. He misses her badly. And, approaching the age of 70 now, he thinks a lot about the people in his life, past and present, who gave him their friendship and love without strings attached. Ronda is the one who was always faithful, always giving.
Carl continued to work in Atlanta, but companies do change, and his tenure there ended. He had an immense amount of knowledge about the industry, though, and was able to obtain a few lucrative contracts after that. He’s not had to work for several years, and is just living out his days in solitude, which is probably the one thing he has always wanted the most.
Update on 4/4/15:
I wanted to add that Carl has become ever more the hermit in the last 10 years, especially in the last 5. It sometimes seems that he is trying to drive all people in his life, out of his life. He’s been a true friend to me, but I’m pretty sure that he and I have different definitions of friendship. They take an effort on both sides, and there seems to be no effort from Carl to maintain a relationship with his son or his daughter and their families. Alienating everyone around him actually seems to be an amusement for him.