CB037953Erie is the last place on this planet I ever expected to run into Former Colleague, but the world being as small as it is, I suppose I should have expected it sooner or later.

Former Colleague and I worked together under terrifically awful circumstances. We both had a boss from Hell within the same company whose sole purposes seemed only to either make us miserable or humiliate us as much as possible. Our jobs required extensive travel and since misery loves company, we were thrown together a lot. We had nearly identical passports.

FC and I are two people who really shouldn’t travel together for the fact that FC was a devil and I would fearlessly go along with anything. On more than one occasion, we would play “Business Spouses At War”, the end result being that we would gain such niceties as free hotel dry cleaning and room upgrades.  Some hotels will do anything to shut a bickering couple up.

Our usual modus operandi revolved gambling. FC and I would bet on anything. The weather, the guy in the airplane seat behind us sneezing, how many times would the guy sneeze, or who make the weirdest faces at the little grandma and get her to laugh first. You get the idea.

Our winnings over such bets wasn’t money but a thing called “Damn Glad to Be Here” status. Whomever lost the bet would, for the duration of the trip, have t0 introduce themselves as “Hi! I’m So-and-So, I’m American, and damn glad to be here!” to every single person they met on the trip. If our respective bosses got wind of this, they would make a point of introducing us to anyone they could find, including the homeless person on the street begging for change.

Needless to say, this sort of exchange does not go over well in most parts of the world. Except Australia. They effin loved that line in Australia. But as ridiculous as this game was, it got me through a lot rough business trips. If I was pissed off, tired, depressed, burnt-out, or just bleh, FC could always goad me into a bet, that resulted in a rousing adventure of “Damn Glad To Be Here”. I probably would have left that job a full year earlier had it not been for that game.

When we both had reached our limit, we left the company. I eventually lost my taste for the Corporate Theocracy that has become American business and changed paths. I did it the day I was called into the office and my boss offered me a promotion. I quit instead. FC left not long after I did. I lost track of FC who became little more than an amusing anecdote I told from time to time.

I was doing a favor for a friend and dropping off a visiting sister at the downtown Sheraton this past week. We were meeting my friend in the bar when I noticed a familiar face down at the other end.

FC. A little older, a little sadder, possibly even angry. He seemed to have lost all sense of humor. He bought me a drink and told me about his life in the 15 years that I last saw him. He left our company for another. Same company really only with a boss who was worse. He managed to stick it out until that boss retired, climbed the corporate ladder, escaped middle management, and carved a place out for himself.

He’s my age but I swear he looks 20 years older.

FC goes on to tell me all about his work which he is beginning to suspect he might actually hate. There is zero talk of a personal life. He hates his coworkers, he despises his staff, he is beginning to think he may even be worse than the two hellish bosses we had all those years ago.

This is too intense a conversation for someone I have not seen in over a decade. I call over my friend’s sister and introduce her to FC. I tell her he’s visiting, he’s from Chicago, and he’s damn glad to be here.

My friend arrives with a few other friends and I begin the old game anew. FC grudgingly and quietly goes along. He’s not into it. He doesn’t look like he’s much into anything anymore , not even this life. I let him slip away after an hour or so of my nonsense. We don’t even exchange email.

Earlier in the evening, FC sighed as he told me how he would put in another 15 years and retire with this company. It has a good retirement package. He seemed resigned to that fact, as if he had no other options left in life.

I wonder if he’ll last that long.