Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Things Get Done . . .

. . . or at least how things are occasionally done.

These events occurred in the early 1980's, and the main characters were: Bill, a former mentor mentioned previously in this blog; Bryce, once moderately prominent in health care during the Carter administration, and at the time dealt with here a senior vice-president with Blue Cross Association/National Association of Blue Shield Plans (BCA/NABSP), an organization that was half supportive, half management of the individual Blue plans throughout the country; Otis, a director reporting to Bryce; and yours truly.

I was a vice-president at the Chicago Blue plan when I was asked to have lunch with Bryce, whom I knew of but had never met. I accepted, of course, although I had no idea what he might want. He, Otis, and I met at Le Perroquet in downtown Chicago. The amenities lasted through perhaps the first half of the meal, at which point Bryce spoke of what was on his mind.

Prior to moving to Chicago, I had acquired a good reputation in the field of federal procurement, and had provided services to Blue plans involved in such efforts - the Jacksonville, Little Rock, Seattle, Kansas City, and Chicago plans. Several years prior to this lunch Otis had sought my advice when BCA/NABSP decided to set up a department to provide those same services to Blue plans, which advice I gave him only to see it ignored, whether by Otis or his superiors I don't know. I suspect the latter.

The Blue plans weren't very enthusiastic about the new department and continued to use the consulting services of the division I had left in Boston rather than those of BCA/NABSP.

Bryce was looking for a way to enhance the popularity of his group. He was in the process of forming a steering committee comprising executives from some of the individual plans. He invited me to join the committee, which would oversee and advise the department.

I saw immediately what was up. It must be confessed that I was a little rough around the edges and I replied that "If the steering committee is actually going to be involved, actually do something, I'd be happy to be part of it, but if all you want is the use of my name in order to say that I recommend it, I wouldn't be interested."

The rest of the lunch was cordial, we exchanged "Glad to meetcha's," and I never heard any more about it.

Flash forward several years. I had left the Blues, was making six figures working at my first love, mainframe assembler programming, and had found a fascinating industry in which to work: junk mail. No, really.

Out of a clear Blue sky there came a phone call from Bill, my former mentor, still Executive Vice-President at Blue Shield of Massachusetts. He told me that "the Blues" - BCA/NABSP - were going to form a company to deal with federal procurements on behalf of Blue plans and to provide data processing services to plans that won contracts.

He thought *eye* would be perfect in the role of president of that company, reporting to a Board of Directors consisting of Blue plan presidents, and he wanted me to call Bryce, who would either make the decision or influence the decision substantially.


I would have dipped my arm in boiling oil before leaving what I was doing and going back to the Blues, but I couldn't just say that to Bill. He had been a mentor to me and very helpful over the years. I agreed to call Bryce.

I did so, his secretary put him on the line, and the conversation went exactly like this:

Donnie: "Bill has called me regarding the company you are forming to deal with federal procurements and subsequent processing. He wants me to be president of that company. Now I don't want to be president of that company and you don't want me to be president of that company, but we have to do something to keep Bill happy, so how about this: I'll call Bill and tell him that we talked and that if there's any movement in that direction you will call me."

Bryce: "Fine."

Donnie: "Thank you."

And that script was followed. Not long thereafter Bill died of a heart attack - he was only fiftyish - and I don't know to this day whether that company was ever formed.

Monday, August 29, 2011

South Boston Misses Whitey Bulger

This is my third post about Southie. I really don't mean to pick on its residents, but what can I do? They make it a) almost mandatory, and b) irresistible for someone with as little self-restraint as I have.

It is reported here that a prospective bank robber has failed his apprenticeship. Readers of this blog will recall Broadway, the main drag in Southie, as the street onto which one of the local young men would wander when he'd had a few drinks and desired to go mano a mano with a moving automobile. He had no wins and two losses when last we saw him.

Our latest hero entered a bank on Broadway, walked up to a teller, and handed her a note reading, "Give me all your money." The teller declined, saying that her window was closed.

He then cut into the front of the line at the next window, where he was told by the teller and a customer that he had to get in line and wait his turn. On being told to remove his hoodie, he simply left the bank and was last seen headed toward F Street on his getaway feet.

Whitey would have had him spanked.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Really, They're All Undesirable

Around the end of 1999 I found myself driving from Chicago to New Mexico. My employer had told me I had to use nine vacation days by the end of the year or lose them. On a whim I settled on visiting Anne, a woman I knew only from an eBay chat board, to "take her to dinner."

She was an eBay seller (which I had not yet become), mostly of books, and her house and garage were jam packed with books and other merchandise she was listing for sale online.

I spent several days in Alamogordo and had a great time, then headed home.

Soon thereafter she complained on the chat board that she had a lot of chores she needed to do but just kept putting them off. The conversation turned briefly to husbands and wives and job jars. A thought popped into my mind and I emailed Anne, offering to send her a job jar program. She could just install it on her hard drive and enter a list of chores. She could then run the program daily and it would randomly select one of the jobs, conceptually similar to pulling a slip of paper with a written task out of a jar.

She was quite enthusiastic about it, sure that this would get her off the dime. I wrote a simple program in BASIC and emailed her, attaching a BASIC compiler, the program I had written, and instructions regarding installing the program and entering the list of chores.

She had no problem with the installation, and the next day she ran the program for the first time. Up popped "Clean the garage."

She decided the program hated her and never used it again.