Great birthday yesterday, all things considered. Calls and texts from friends and family across the US. Some nice owl boxes as gifts from K – a box for barn owls, and another for great horned owls. Watch out, you rodents. And a superb meal (if I say so myself) shared with two of our best and oldest friends. Yet during the day I found myself constantly drawn to thoughts of my old friend who died last week, who won’t be celebrating any more birthdays on this plane of existence – John Wiseman. I’ve already written about John on BLTN, but I feel compelled to do so again. With a bit more detail.
John was my best friend during my 20s. Then I moved away to CA and we couldn’t be as close as we were – I left for a separate journey. But in our 20s we did everything together. Work, play, hobbies, parties – our lives were very intertwined.
Looking back, I wonder what John must have thought of me. He came from an accomplished family – educated, wealthy (in comparison), well-traveled and somewhat worldly. I was naive, to say the least.
I now realize the biggest difference in us at the time was confidence. John was confident in himself, in his choices, in his place in life. I was not. I admired that quality, though I didn’t understand it at all. In those years I was a hot mess of uncertainty and confusion. The life I found myself living was wholly unfamiliar to me, and I was constantly trying to figure out who I wanted to be. Not John. He was as emotionally mature in his 20s as anyone I’ve ever met.
John and I both shared a passion for music and audio systems. He introduced me to the exotic realm of high-end audio gear, where a combination of real engineering and marketing snake oil produced some fun and wild audio components.
Both of us were engineers, so we shared a fascination with computers and all things digital. After all, we both joined a weird little team of geeks in Akron building some of the world’s fastest custom computers of the era. Our customers were NASA, the NSA, the Navy and the AF. So price wasn’t really a constraint – they wanted extreme speed. So that’s what we built.
I have so many great stories about John and those days. John and I led the office rebels, a half dozen young engineers who brought our toaster Macintosh computers to work every day and formed a rogue local area network. We liked our toy Macs better than the DEC terminals everyone else used, and our bosses didn’t know how to stop us or if they should.
We were young enough to have horrible, awful bosses and just laugh about it. In one month I had one boss recruit me to come to his church because he was worried about my soul, and another boss host a bachelor’s party for one of our co-workers, complete with hookers upstairs (John and I didn’t partake; I was horrified).
We played basketball a couple of evenings a week at the Goodyear gym downtown. We played golf on weekends. We hung out and listened to music on John’s mongo audio system. And we frequented The Bucket Shop, a tiny beer-soaked Animal House of a bar in Highland Square whose owner had a stereo system that could be heard from blocks away. You didn’t listen to music in The Bucket, you felt it deep in your gut. We packed into The Bucket shoulder to shoulder most weekends and swayed to ungodly loud 80s music. We were young and carefree.
The more I trudge down memory lane, the more I miss John. He was a unique, wonderful character, and someone who had a lot to do with me ultimately figuring out who I was. I’ll never forget John, and this first week without him in the world just seems wrong.
John sent me the old photo above just last month. That’s John on the left with a beer held up, ever the observer/thinker of our gang. Emily’s mom and I are on the right. In the center are some mutual friends, Doug and Sherri Mosely, wonderful people. Dorothy must have taken the picture.