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Again I’d like to thank my favorite editor jo for all the corrections and suggestions that helped to improved this story.
Harold stood at the door and looked around. On the flipchart at the front of the room someone had written ‘Management Skills for the IT Environment,’ so he was in the right place. There were probably twenty other people milling about the room or already seated at one of the tables, some were talking and others just staring into space. Everybody looked so young. Harold felt out of place. He took an empty seat at a table near the back and joined those staring into space.
At the front of the room a woman dressed in a business suit was alternately surveying the room and fiddling with papers on the lectern. She was obviously the instructor for the four day course, not only because of her air of authority, but there was a little white rectangle on her chest that said Janet Mason, Instructor. When she saw Harold at the back of the room a little smile appeared.
“Good morning everybody,” the instructor said looking around the room. An incoherent mumble was the crowd’s weak reply.
“My name is Janet Mason and I’ll be your instructor for the next four days. I’m going to have to assume that the reason each of you are here is because you want to be the best manager you can be. Well, this course will introduce you to the skills necessary to lead and motivate the technical staff of your IT environment. You will practice these skills and behaviors in small groups and learn how to lead with vision, motivate and empower your staff for success, facilitate effective communications both horizontally and vertically, and delegate the decision making process to individuals and teams. By the end of the week you should have a solid foundation for everything you will need as a manager of IT professionals. Now, before I start with this morning’s lecture we need to do a couple things. First, I want each of you to introduce yourselves and tell me a little about you. Second, we need to break up into groups. Each group will have four team members and you will stay with your team for the duration of the course. Okay, we’ll go around the room for introductions.”
Everybody said who they were and where they were from. Harold was last.
“Hi, my name is Harold Carson. I work for Syntex Pharmaceuticals in Philadelphia. I’m an IT project portfolio coordinator and over the last thirty years have done just about every IT related job imaginable, all except actual management that is.”
Janet smiled at the end of his introduction and said, “Mr. Carson it’s good to see you again. Okay, now class we need to break up into groups and while you were introducing yourselves I set up five groups of four and when I call your name and point to a table I want you to move to that table. That will be your group table for the week.”
It took a few minutes for everybody to rearrange themselves. When everybody finally settled down Harold found himself sitting at the same table with two young women and a young man who looked about as old as his oldest grandson. Everybody quickly introduced themselves: Bob was the young man and Natalie and Angel were the two women. The instructor started in on her lecture.
At the ten o’clock break Janet came up to Harold.
“Mr. Carson, it’s good to see you again. What brings you to my class? You aren’t planning on taking over for me and teaching the class next time are you?”
“No, nothing like that Janet. I’m here at the insistence of Bob Szymanski, you remember Bob don’t you? Well, he signed me up for this class I think to get me out of the office for a while. I haven’t been concentrating on things very well for some time now and I think he’s planning on moving me somewhere where I can’t do any harm. The rumor has it he’s going to make me the manager of the systems planning group. If I’m a manager then I’ll have good people to bail me out when I screw up.”
“Aw, that’s not true Harold. You were the best group leader I’ve ever seen. What’s been happening that makes you think you’re not doing a good job?”
“Well, ever since Jane died I just haven’t had any ability to concentrate. I think I’ve lost any ability to care. It’s been a tough few months.”
“God Harold, I’m so sorry, I had no idea. I hadn’t heard much from anybody at Syntex since I left. I hadn’t heard about Jane. She was a good woman. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Yeah, she was everything to me. I feel so lost without her. I think that’s why Bob sent me here, to get me away from work for a while and do something that might rekindle the flame to allow me to focus on my work again. That’s why he chose this class, I think. San Antonio is beautiful and there’s a lot to do on the River Walk after class. And I’m sure he knew that you were the instructor. I think this is company paid R&R actually. But, I promise to do my best and learn everything you have to offer.”
“I’m not worried about that Harold. You could sleep through everything and still do better than anybody casino oyna else. You just do what you want to do and feel free to interject anything into my lectures that could be helpful. Well, I’ve got to get things started again, so just relax and enjoy. We’ll talk more later.”
At noon the class broke for lunch. The hotel’s catered lunch was in an adjacent meeting room where everybody went to eat. It was interesting that each team sat together at lunch just as they did in the class.
They ate quietly, but as they finished the conversation started.
“Harold, I apologize for eavesdropping but I overheard your conversation with Janet at the break,” Natalie said after she finished wiping away the last traces of the lemon meringue pie. “You and Janet worked together?”
“Actually, I hired her straight out of college as a project leader. She was good, so good in fact that I quickly realized she wouldn’t be around very long because we wouldn’t be able to promote her fast enough to keep her interested. She stayed at Syntex for five years and then moved on to a management position with one of our competitors. She stayed with them for a few years and then became the CIO of a Fortune 500 banking conglomerate. And somewhere along the way she got married and had a couple of kids. She’s knowledgeable and a really great person. Oh, and don’t play poker with her, she’s very good and very tricky.”
Bob lifted his head from his dessert and put his napkin over his mouth to stifle a burp. He looked at the two women sitting across from him and gave each a slight grin with one eyebrow crooked upward. He was obviously admiring the two women’s attributes and wasn’t paying close attention to the conversation. What he didn’t know was that he had a little piece of chocolate cake in between his two front teeth. Everybody else noticed but didn’t say anything.
Natalie continued. “Harold, I overheard your response to Janet about why you’re here and I’m sorry about your wife. I understand about losing a spouse and think that concentrating on your work is a good way to get past everything.
Angel sat listening to everything but remained quiet because she hadn’t overheard the conversation between Harold and Janet, so she didn’t understand what it all meant. She was a shy woman anyway so she just listened. Bob on the other hand was looking Natalie up and down. He never even noticed Angel.
After lunch Harold sat back to observe during one of the lectures. His eyes wandered over each of his teammates and his mind made judgments about what he saw.
Bob was probably just out college and hadn’t yet purged all of his college fraternity habits so that meant he hadn’t yet learned manners, communication skills and all the niceties and decorum usually found in an office full of professionals. His little ponytail was neat but not something you’d see on a manager. It didn’t even match his clothes. He slouched and he spent entirely too much time checking out the women in the room. On one occasion Harold could see him move in his chair to get a better look at Natalie’s legs. Harold dismissed him and gave him the nickname of ‘God’s gift’ because that’s what he obviously thought he was for women.
Angel had that deer in headlights look. She sat straight in her chair and took copious notes. Every so often a little frown appeared on her face saying that she was having trouble understanding the topic. When they worked together as a team on an assignment, he noted that she wasn’t stupid, just overwhelmed with the topic. Also, on occasion she would smile for no apparent reason. She had a beautiful smile. It complimented her big brown eyes. Her conservative page boy style haircut looked nice with her brown hair and the bow on one side gave her an air of innocence. But when she smiled her whole face changed. She appeared to be in her twenties but he wasn’t sure. Her one most noticeable characteristic was that she was a large woman. There are many ways to describe her; overweight, big boned, large, fat, but none of these seemed appropriate. She was a beautiful woman and would be beautiful at any size. As Harold looked at her he saw her beauty not her size.
Natalie was in a different league altogether. To say that Natalie was gorgeous was the same as saying that Mozart was a good composer. The first thing you noticed was her hair. It flowed in waves and ripples over her shoulders in long black strands. Her bangs almost covered the tops of her brown eyes but when those eyes peered out from under the hair and looked at you they sparkled like the Milky Way and drilled holes right through your soul. Her smile was quick and electric. Her voice was soft and melodic. Everything from the neck down was gorgeous too. Her legs were those of a dancer, muscular and strong. Her bottom was soft and shapely. Her breasts neither overwhelmed nor disappeared on her chest, they were appropriate and prominent. She might have had a Hispanic background but Harold wasn’t sure. She could have been Italian or Mediterranean but whatever canlı casino she was, she was spectacular.
Harold felt so out of place as he looked at his teammates. He felt so old. Here was a 60 year old man with graying hair and non-descript features. There was nothing spectacular to see, nothing that would make a woman’s head turn and look, nothing like Paul Newman or Harrison Ford who looked better as they aged. Average was the best description for him.
Harold sighed and concentrated on the lecture.
When the class was over Harold suggested that everybody get together and go somewhere nice for dinner.
“Can’t man,” Bob smirked. “I heard of a little bar down the way that has the three most important ingredients in life: good music, good drinks, and good women. I’ve got a date with all three. See you in the morning.” He left in a hurry.
Angel looked tired and confused as she looked from Harold to Natalie and back again. “I don’t think I can. I only understood about half of what we did today and I’d better go back to my room and study. I’ll see you in the morning.” She turned and hesitantly walked away.
“Well I guess that just leaves you and me,” Natalie said with a smile. “Why don’t you pick a good place and we can meet in the lobby in a half hour. By the way, I’m partial to anything fattening.”
Thirty minutes later, after changing into a nice casual shirt, sport coat, and denim pants, Harold met Natalie in the lobby. She looked fantastic in a simple flower print blouse, black slacks, and sandals. Of course, she could probably wear a burlap sack and still look great.
“Hey there, so what have you decided?” Natalie asked.
“There’s a restaurant within walking distance that’s said to be one of the best restaurants in the state. It has steaks and seafood with a Texas accent. How’s that sound?”
“Absolutely wonderful. Lead the way.”
They strolled along the tree lined walkway beside the river and past dozens of small and expensive looking shops. Once in a while Natalie would stop suddenly to look in a window and Harold would slam on the brakes so he didn’t lose her. They talked about nothing important and smiled a lot at everything. Thirty minutes later they came to the restaurant and because it was a weekday got a table right away, without a reservation.
Natalie dug into a large plate of the house specialty beef tenderloin causing Harold to wonder how she stayed so thin if she ate like this all the time. Harold had the bouillabaisse primarily because he loved seafood but also because he had an expense account, so lavish meals were okay. During the entrée their conversation turned to more serious topics.
“Harold, tell me about your wife,” Natalie queried between bites.
Harold’s fork holding a large scallop stopped half way to his mouth. He just sort of froze in space with a blank expression on his face. Natalie worried that she may have taken the conversation where she shouldn’t have.
“I’m sorry,” Natalie said. “I didn’t mean to pry. You don’t have to say anything.”
Harold put down the fork and put his elbows on the table interlacing his fingers over his plate. “It’s okay, you aren’t prying. I don’t talk about her much now but I think about her all the time. I’ve known Jane for almost 40 years. We were married for 37 of them and I’ve got to say we were happy for most of them. I loved her from the very first day we met. My younger sister asked if I would drive her and her friend to the library and since I had nothing better to do I said okay. Her friend didn’t say much, she seemed to be very shy. But I caught her looking into the rear view mirror at me from the back seat a couple times and when our eyes met she quickly looked out the window. I thought she was cute. I sat reading magazines while my sister and Jane worked on whatever project they were working on. A little while later my sister found me and said that her old boyfriend was there too and he wanted to take her home so they could talk and would I mind taking Jane home. When the time came to leave we didn’t go straight home. I suggested that we stop at a little burger joint. We ate and talked for hours and the more we talked the less shy she became. When we finally got home she was laughing at my silly jokes and holding my hand. I think from the moment she took my hand in hers she also had a hold of my heart.
We have a son who’s grown now with a family of his own. He named his oldest daughter Jane and my wife thought that was the nicest thing anybody ever did for her. When he was growing up he had problems in school and was a challenge at times. It frustrated her to no end. But she never gave up on him. For a while there she spent more time helping him and giving him whatever he needed than she did with me. I think I was a little jealous. The day he left for the Army she cried like a baby and she did the same thing four years later when he mustered out. The two of them had a special kind of relationship that only a mother and son can understand.
Jane kaçak casino was a beautiful woman. She may not have been as outwardly beautiful as someone like you but she had an aura about her that made people see beyond her physical appearance and look at the woman inside. She had the most beautiful green eyes I’d ever seen, a triangular shaped face with the cutest little crooked nose, and when she was younger her hair was the color of chocolate. In later years it was pure white and she wore it proudly that way.
The one thing that stands out in my mind more than anything else was her smile. She always had a silly little smile on her face. People would often comment on it and ask her why she was smiling all the time. Her standard reply was ‘because I’m happy’ but I felt that there was more to it than that. I can remember waking up in the morning and seeing her stretching out the kinks from the night and there was that silly little smile. She would say goodbye to me in the morning with that smile. Even as she was drying her hair after her shower the smile was there. Only a few times were the events of our lives bad enough to make her lose that smile. One of her friends said she looked foolish and another said she looked like she was up to something. I think she looked beautiful.
She died last January after a long fight against breast cancer just a few weeks shy of her 60th birthday. Up until the end she still had that silly little smile. It faded away as death took her.”
Harold became silent and tilted his head to look down at the remnants of his meal. He didn’t want his companion for the evening to see the tears in his eyes.
Natalie had stopped eating and had been listening to his story with rapt attention. When he stopped she realized that she hadn’t eaten a bite since he started describing his wife. She too had a tear in her eye. She did the only thing she could think of. She reached over and placed her hand on top of his, and waited.
The quiet, tender moment was rudely interrupted when the waitress appeared and asked how the meal was. Each took their napkin and wiped their eyes. Harold was able to mumble and nod that their food was good and the waitress left them to pick up the pieces of their conversation. There was a long silence as they continued eating.
After a few minutes of awkward silence Natalie looked up and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Your description of her was beautiful. She must have been a wonderful woman.”
Neither said another word until both plates were empty. Harold was again in control of his emotions enough to talk.
“It seems like I’ve been the one talking all night,” Harold admitted a bit sheepishly. “Tell me a little more about yourself, more than the class introductions this morning.”
Before she could start the waitress took away their plates and left the dessert menu to ponder over. When they had ordered the richest, most fattening, chocolate desserts on the menu she started.
“Well, let’s see. I’m 32 years old. I live not too far from here just outside Dallas with my two kids and two cats. My mother lives across the street. I’m divorced. I work 60 hours a week just to keep our heads above water and the cats fed. I’m here this week to strengthen my resume so that when a management position opens up I’ll be a bit better qualified.”
Their desserts arrived and each took their first bite. Their eyes rolled to the ceiling with the first mouthful and almost in unison they said, “You’ve got to try this.” Harold took a small fork full of his chocolate mousse and fed it to Natalie and then she fed him a bite of her German chocolate cake in a cup. After that they both were taking bites of both desserts as they wished. They were so focused on the chocolate and sugar before them that they were lost to the world. They both sat back stuffed with an obscene amount of calories and sipped their coffee.
Harold spoke over his cup. “Your description wasn’t much more than in class. You’ve got two children? What are their names?”
“My daughter Lorena is ten and my son Ernesto is eight. Lorena is the intellectual of the family. I think she’s going to be a doctor or a lawyer or something big and important. She studies all the time and brings home report cards any parent would proud of. Now Ernesto is a bit of a puzzle. I don’t know what his future is going to be. He kicks a soccer ball around quite well and can outrun just about everybody else in the neighborhood, so maybe he’ll be the athlete in the family. It’s too early to really tell but I have hope for both of them.”
“You said that you’re divorced,” Harold asked when she stopped again. “Can you talk about what happened?”
“It’s been two years now so I’m over the pain and all the crap of the divorce. My story is simple. He had a girlfriend that he preferred and left me for her. It was out of the blue. I never saw it coming. One day I’m happily married and the next day he’s gone and I’m sitting in the kitchen crying and wondering what I did wrong. It was a hard time but I survived and I think it made me stronger, at least that’s what I tell everybody. Being a single parent can be tough at times, but I manage. I work hard and don’t think about my problems.”
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