By the time I graduated from high school I was certain of two things: I had difficulty thinking around girls; and I had no idea of what I wanted to do. Skeptical that a normal life-path could offer me happiness, I sought answers in zany adventures and superfluous gestures of discontent. I was awarded a treasure of memories.
I enrolled at the U. of A. where I played bridge, chess and ping-pong for four years until given a degree in mathematics. During my undergraduate years I finally learned to socialize with women away from the bridge table. Consequently in 1963, with a pregnant wife and insufficient income, I left graduate school and applied for a job at IBM. I was hired to work on their NASA project in Houston—why, is a mystery — I’d never seen a computer and had a questionable academic record.
IBM successfully trained me as a systems programmer, but failed to fit me to their norm. I was considered a “Wild Duck” — productively creative and unmanageable. Serendipity had smiled though, now I could earn a living. In 1967 a chance meeting with a recruiter resulted in a move to Sunnyvale, California, which anchored my career in “Silicon Valley” and the technology boom. For a quarter of a century my interest in computer systems oscillated between passionate devotion and occasional burnout. I worked on systems to put men in space, deliver ice cream in war zones, find meaning in noise, optimize delivery systems, manage warehouses, save energy, compute faster and faster and faster, etc. Travel for system installations and conferences led to improved social skills and an increased appreciation of different cultures. I was most fortunate in establishing lasting friendships.
Chess and Backgammon
While living in Houston, I started playing chess frequently, as much as fifteen hours per week and even longer when there were local weekend tournaments. I was also working fifty to sixty hours a week and still playing tennis regularly — neglecting my wife and two children. We separated, temporarily in 1967 and permanently in 1969 in Hawaii. I remained active in chess until the late 1970’s, playing, directing tournaments, teaching, composing problems and doing a few exhibitions. In 1979 I transferred my passion for games to backgammon. My second wife and I published a book written by two friends of a collection of annotated games. We enjoyed playing in tournaments for several years until a new son arrived in 1983 and our interest in board games was put aside.
Back to Reality
The 1980’s were a reality check — hospital emergencies, critical operations, career crises, deaths of close friends and family, and a 7.1 earthquake. The cross-country trip to Arkansas in 1988 and our 30th class reunion was a welcome catharsis. Two weeks after the big earthquake in 1989, my employer entered its death throes—indigestion from swallowing a smaller company that had taken a “poison pill”. After a quick consultation with my wife, I opted for the “RIF”, she returned to full-time work and I looked forward to several months of close father-son bonding while coaching my son’s soccer team before resuming work.
Basketball season follows soccer and then tee-ball; they all need coaches, managers and administrators. Seasons became years, the nineties boom eliminated our family’s need for a second income. I “officially” retired and became a full-time “soccer dad”. What fun! I coached, “commished”, kept score, organized team parties, sold snacks and bought uniforms as my son played soccer, basketball, baseball and roller hockey. I helped bus teams to games and tournaments throughout Northern California. I lived vicariously through his sports successes and disappointments. Alas, towards the end of the decade I was no longer needed — upper classmen drive or take the varsity bus to games, and the coaches are professional. But in addition to great memories, my wife and I had found a wide variety of new friends among fellow parents.
I did find happiness following a normal life-path. I was just slow to learn that “normal lives” do not follow the standard plans — life should be explored, not engineered. Branded a maverick, I rarely found trails in the direction I was headed. Though obsessive game playing was initially an escape, this helped refine my thought processes and provide a life goal. I’ve played backgammon in Monte Carlo and gomoku on sidewalks in Saigon, and enjoyed various successes in chess. The common thread was an undying interest in the mysteries of human thought. My current interest is philosophy of mind, epistemology and all the attendant biological, philosophical, psychological and sociological issues.
Though I’m less socially challenged, I still revert to a shy, awkward teen in the company of the girls of ’58. Additionally since I have a penchant for boring prattle concerning my current interests, I won’t test the patience of my classmates by attending our 45th union. Perhaps I’ll mature sufficiently in five years. In the meantime, I’m comfortable at the keyboard and welcome email from old schoolmates.
Bill Jones - 2003