Thursday, October 19, 2006

The wisdom of Tolstoy's opening line?

Last week, while I was stopping at and then proceeding through a four-way stop, I thought about someone I knew in college, thirty years ago.

This person had been a little older than the rest of us undergrads. He'd returned to school for his degree. His wife was a slender, lovely woman with naturally curly hair. She was working to put him through school. She'd come by the Computer Science Lab to see him sometimes, and I'd watch her from the corner of my eye. In retrospect, I guess I had a crush on her.

Her husband, my fellow student, had a gambling problem. He spent a lot of his evenings at the Jai-Alai Fronton, the only legal form of gambling here at that time, and once a month he'd hop over to Freeport to spend a weekend at what was then the Princess Casino. And when I say spend a weekend "at the casino," that was what he did: He'd sleep for a few hours at a time in a chair, grab sandwiches to eat, and spend all the rest of his time, around the clock, at the tables. And for this guy, taking chances went beyond gaming for money. It infused every aspect of his life. For example, he hardly ever stopped at stop signs. Running a stop sign and not getting caught or crashed gave him a thrill.

I guess maybe because he was older than the rest of us, he was on personal terms with some of the faculty. One day he was in the Lab with one of the professors, and he mentioned that his real goal in life was to become a professional gambler. The professor asked what his wife would think of that, and he answered, "Oh, I won't be married to her then." The professor was openly shocked, and I was silently so.

So last week when I was at that stop sign (which I did not run) I thought of him, and I wondered what happened him. Did gambling wreck his life? Did he get help? Did he recover? Is he still married to the slender, lovely woman? Heck, is he selling real estate in Idaho? With the Internet, I have at least a chance of finding the answers to these questions. I can do a search. Except... I don't remember his name. Hey, it's been thirty years! Give me a break.

But it so happens that one of my current coworkers was also my classmate all those years ago (therein lies another story, for another time). Today, he works in a different department and building, so I hiked over, and found him at his workstation in his own cube farm. My coworker remembered the gambler, but he couldn't remember his name, either. My coworker asked me why I wanted to know, and I told him that I was just curious about what had happened to him. My coworker answered that he never thought about the gambler, "But I often wonder what happened to the [NAME REDACTED] brothers."

Ah, the N.R. brothers! I remember them well. There were three, and they all came through the same university, each two years apart. All three were brilliant. Not only were all three at the tops of their classes without even seeming to try, but all three spent their spare time inventing amazing gadgets or conducting research.

"I always expected," said my coworker, "to read about them in the news. You know, starting successful companies, or winning awards. But I've never heard anything about them. I wonder what happened to them?"

I've never heard anything about the N.R. brothers, either, and I'm not likely to, because, myself, I'm not curious about them at all.

It's as I was walking back to my own cube farm that I was struck by the real point of this post (yes, Virginia, this post has a point), which is the difference between my coworker and myself: He's only curious about what happened to the successful and talented members of our class, while I'm only interested in what's become of the troubled and the losers.


nice. :)
But you are a writer. Aren't the troubled and the losers much more interesting subjects than the successful and talented?
=Aren't the troubled and the losers much more interesting subjects than the successful and talented?=

That was sort of the point of the post's title, yeah.
Of course, the reference of the post's opening line went right over my head. Couldn't you reference J.K. Rowling instead?

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