Tuesday, July 13, 2004


(It's okay. You'd have had to have been there.)

Today (actually yesterday -- Monday -- but I'm still up, so it's my "today" even if the calendar denotes otherwise) I swapped e-mails with TMOT and JK for the first time in a while.

Most days, I not only don't miss working in an office setting surrounded by other live bodies, but rather am glad for the solitude. Call it the curse of the only child -- I don't always play well with others. (No man is an island, but I tend to be a pretty narrow isthmus most of the time.) There are people, however, with whom I miss working on a day-to-day basis, and TMOT and JK are two of them. No, I can be more honest than that -- they're the only two. And the funny thing is, my working relationships with both of them originally got off to rocky starts.

I outraged JK her first week in the office -- might even have been her first day -- by saying that something "sucked" during a meeting. She clearly had not yet gotten "the loose cannon speech" about me yet -- the one that went, "You know, we just sort of wind him up and let him do his thing; try to stay out of his way, and don't pay attention to anything he says." (There really was such a speech, I'm told. Call it the curse of the company eccentric.)

It wasn't until we were assigned to the same workgroup that I think JK began to regard me as a functional human being, and as more than the unbalanced idiot savant everyone else in the office took me for. On the other side, I was one of the first people to recognize that there was a genuine person behind the brusque JK battle armor so many of our colleagues found off-putting. It was strange to watch the way people reacted to JK the first...well...year or so. In all my years in the work force, I had never before seen the kind of jealous enmity she attracted. Nor had I ever before found myself so frequently in the position of defending the character and credibility of someone I barely knew and who I, quite frankly, didn't think liked me very much.

Remember that scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where the Rat and Damone get into a scuffle over Stacy Hamilton? The Rat tells Damone about all of the times he's defended Damone to their peers who said, "That Damone's a [bleep]," and the Rat has said, "You just don't know Damone." I had numerous conversations with people about JK that went very much like that. The odd thing was that, at the time, I really didn't know JK either. But I admired her brilliance, and her prodigious talent, and her tornado-like ability to cut through the puffery and say what needed to be said (even when I might not have said it quite the same way). In 42 years, I have met very few people of whom I could admit they were smarter than I am about things I know I'm smart about. I knew that about JK the first day I met her. And, to the extremely limited degree that I've ever idolized anyone for anything, I idolized her for that.

(I was both totally shocked and, in a peculiar way, not at all surprised to learn that JK is engaged. He'd best invest in a Kevlar breastplate and asbestos underwear. If I were going to try and play matchmaker for JK, I'd despair that I'd ever find anyone with the necessary combination of smarts, toughness, and absolute cool.)

While JK and I came relatively quickly to a solid and mutually appreciative working relationship, I didn't think that TMOT and I could ever work together without someone getting hurt. I believed for the longest time that she flat-out despised me. I seemed to have a knack for irritating her without trying, and she seemed to find my quirks and eccentricities grating rather than endearing. (Go figure.) Eventually, I came to realize that I was to some degree guilty of misreading her surface characteristics in the same way others misread JK's. When I refreshed my perspective, I found that I liked TMOT very much, and that she, in her way, had grown to (at least sort of) like me.

I also came to appreciate that we had -- as unlikely as it appeared at first -- a good deal in common, and not just that we both spent some of our childhoods in Hawaii. TMOT is a wonderful parent to her twin boys (I'm trying to be a good dad to KM). We both studied journalism, and are persnickety about written language in all of the same ways. Although I know little about her religion, TMOT impresses me as a person of strong faith. And I suspect she uses the outward facets of herself at times to keep people at arm's length, as I've done all my life (there are few people I've known as long and worked with as closely about whom I know so little as I do of TMOT). Yes, she's wound tighter than Archimedes' screw, but she has -- for all her considerable intellect -- a certain (for lack of a better word) naïvete about her that is both genuine and charming.

I've always had numerous cordial acquaintances at work, at school, and socially, but I use the word "friend" guardedly. I've often said that friends are people you'd see or talk to if you really didn't have to. That I sent TMOT and JK a personal e-mail today, and that both of them responded (more than once), and that one of them is even going to meet me for lunch next week, tells me something. If they're not among the few real friends I have, they're something awfully close.

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