Saturday, March 07, 2009

Silent key

A couple of years ago I finally got around to signing up for my university's alumni association. Not that I really care about them, but just in case one of my former classmates wants to track me down, they'll be able to do so through the alumni association. At the same time I noticed that an old friend was still employed by the university, and sent him some email. He responded. Turns out he was coming up on 30 years of employment, and looking forward to his retirement at the end of the summer. Going to do some fishing. Design some circuit boards for digital ham radio. Other stuff of that sort. Maybe travel some, he'd been tied to a desk at the university for thirty years, rising from a lowly sysadmin to head of Information and Communications Services, on call most of that time in case a disaster struck such as both air conditioning units for the mainframe blowing up at the same time. In his spare time, he'd maintained one of the ham packet BBS packages and contributed to various Linux and amateur radio related software projects. He had lots of friends around the country because of that. It'd be nice to visit some of them in person, instead of just talk to them via email or HF radio.

He was happy to be retiring, actually. Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina not only destroyed major swathes of South Louisiana, but they destroyed Louisiana's budget too. He had been required to lay off long-time workers who'd been with the university for decades, and was doing their job as well as his own job. The stress was killing him, and as a nice guy he was heartbroken about having to fire people who'd given their entire careers to the university and had no hope of employment elsewhere unless they moved far away from their families and friends. But it was only three months until retirement, and then he could go fishing. Or travel. Or something.

I sent him one last email offering my futon if he was traveling this direction, and got no reply back. I assumed that he'd just gotten busy. Getting ready to retire. Training his successor. Packing his boxes. Planning that fishing trip. I thought nothing of it, and moved on with life, he'd get back to me when he got back to me, and eventually I forgot all about it. If I thought of him at all, it was as a happily retired man, doing some fishing, doing some traveling, finally getting to meet in person all those call letters that he'd talked to over his ham radio or via email over the years.

A couple of days ago I got an email from another friend from that era. We swapped emails. While reminiscing, he noted that N5KNX had died some time back, of a heart attack he thought. I checked the obituaries and found that yes, he had died... at around the same time that I sent my last email to him, at age 56.

I guess he never got to take that fishing trip. Damn.

- Badtux the Saddened Penguin


  1. Reinforces why it's good to take time NOW to enjoy life, instead of always waiting until the golden day beyond the far horizon. Mrs. Bukk is a big one for "Let's take that holiday trip THIS YEAR." It took a few years for me to stop grumbling about spending $15K galllivanting around Europe, but I came over to her way of thinking. ou can't have fun if you're unexpectedly dead, and like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects a visit from Mr. Death. I hope your friend got to have some enjoyment in spite of his on-call life.

    It amazes me when I hear about people still in touch with their high school and university mates. I didn't talk to anyone I went to H.S. with after I had been to college for three years, and that was just because I ran into my two former best buds by chance. Similarly, I lost touch with all but one of my college pals within seven years of graduation. And the last guy, I haven't even e-mailed him since I emigrated.

    It's not that I DIS-like these people; it's just that I don't like to hang onto past associations. I realise that makes ME the odd Buck. But it also means I'm not torn with longing when I move on in life, unlike Mrs. Bukko, who mourns constantly about the distance from her S.F. friends. I know that means I'm going to die alone and unlamented, but that's what I expect. The thought of not having to get all clingy comforts me.

  2. I don't care about anybody I knew in high school, but at college, there was a very small group of us who were the "uber-geeks" who lived and breathed technology, and some sympathetic people in the university -- both professors and staff -- who were happy to let us explore our inner geek (as long as we did not break the computing systems, we were expected to be responsible in exchange for being given access to computing resources beyond the minimum needed for classwork!). In hindsight it seems that the staff were exploiting us to fix bugs that they didn't have time to fix, and the professors were exploiting us to get programming services for their pet projects that they wouldn't otherwise be able to do because they didn't have the funding to put a grad student onto said projects, but we didn't care. We got to play with all the cool shit that other students didn't know even existed.

    That said, we drifted apart like pretty much everybody does who do not happen to live in a small geographic area doing the same general thing. I might ping some of them every three or four years when I think about it, but a lot of folks, I just don't know where they are anymore and have to hope they contact me if they want to contact me (since I've had the same email address for ten years now). And from time to time I find that one of the old gang has died, like there was a kid that I was envious of, who committed suicide by driving his sports car at high speed into a bridge pylon because he didn't feel worthy of being part of the same family as his older brother, a football hero... so much for envy, huh? He's dead, and I'm still waddling around.

    Ah yes, too much reminiscing. But you have indeed hit upon why I take some time now to go on expeditions to the desert or to other places I'm interested in going, or enjoying various hobby activities. Life's too short to do nothing but work, or to always be sitting around griping about things.

    - Badtux the Maudlin Penguin

  3. We were at an estate sale this weekend, talking to the eldest of five sons. We bought the 1966 Ford Ranchero his dad had been fixing up to be his retirement "ride"....he was just getting it all "just so" when he had a stroke. I promised his son we were going to love that vehicle up just for his dad.

  4. i am sorry to hear about your friend - we do hear too often about people who plan for that retirement and then just 'dont' make it -

    i actually have a whole group of friends from high school (and that is over 30 years) - and less from college/ dont know why

  5. Damn. That sucks. I got hit with a similar thunderbolt a couple of months ago. I got the paper from our little podunk county seat, and his name was listed at the end of the C-ville news column. Not only was he my first squeeze, his sister was my husbands (this is a really, really small town).

    That was bad enough - then the next week, when his obituary was in the paper, we found out that his sister was gone too. That knocked us both for a loop.

  6. Life is uncertain, eat dessert first. Go camping, go fishing, fuck lots of money, what has it gotten you?

  7. Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.

    Go camping!

    go fishing!

    fuck lots!

    Of money, what has it gotten you?

    fixed it fer charge...


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