The pacifiers were sold one to a package. I asked for a dozen—maybe $20 worth back then. “That's a lot,” the clerk said. “You don't know this baby,” I told her.
Bill H. was one of our senior engineers, and a good one. It was his name on the original patent for SMDC (Shielded Mild Detonating Cord), now used in virtually all military aircraft for emergency egress, among other things. He was part of the reason I ended up working for Explosive Technology (ET). We went clear back to the early 60s, shortly after ET had been founded by three people from the Stanford Research Institute. He was one of my customers at Wyle Labs, the hazardous test facility where I worked previously. Besides being a competent engineer, Bill was something of a character. Between marriages, in his Middle Aged Crazy Years, he turned into a pretty good double of another Bill—Buffalo Bill during his later years when he was doing his road show. Flowing gray hair down to his shoulders, full white beard, boots, jeans, over-sized Western belt buckle. But I thought the leather vest, complete with fringes, was a bit over the top. He spoke with a wry drawl and seasoned his speech with country colloquialisms. Once, when ET was competing for a coveted contract against bigger companies with name recognition. he described our position as “sucking hind tit.”
I liked Bill. But he had at least one annoying habit, at least in my eyes. He liked to bitch—about everything. Kvetching. Is that the Yiddish word? He would stroll into my office in the early morning, cup of coffee in hand, and plunk himself down, uninvited, at my small conference table. I might be in the middle of something. It didn't matter if Bill wanted to unburden himself. This was a too-regular occurrence.
Back to the pacifiers. I removed them all from their individual bubble-packs and tossed them into a shallow tray. I put the tray in the drawer of my conference table—at the ready. It was only two days before he dropped by. He had a fresh complaint about something or somebody in the company. I let him get warmed up before I opened the drawer and took out the shallow cardboard box. I extended it across the table, saying “Here, have one of these, maybe it will help… No, take two!” Bill looked down, blinked, looked again. A slightly pained expression came over his face and he slowly got up. He left without a word—and without a pacifier.
I had hoped for a rueful smile or a half-chuckle. I felt a little bad, but not toobad. Our friendship survived, but he stopped dropping in every other morning.