I enjoyed my job with Sedco, despite the commute to downtown. Although I was the newest programmer, I quickly became the lead on our conversion of the Shipboard Inventory Control System (SICS) from the HP1000 computer running the Image hierarchy database to a DEC MicroVax 3100 computer running Ingres Relational Database. And too I got the occasional break, a trip to Nova Scotia or the North Sea to a rig to install the program and train the warehousemen. The more rigs I traveled to, the more I realized the rig hands came in all types – even the roughnecks could be quite educated and cultured. They all coped with being onboard, away from their families, in different ways. My way continued to be – focus on making it as far as the next meal, and each evening I looked forward to the movies in the TV/meeting room.
In the office I got along well; I dressed in my suit every day, and kept my nose down coding. My relationship with my supervisor Dave was a strange one, though. I appreciated his intelligence and air of culture, but at times, on certain days, he acted strange – even swishy. And he could be moody. One day, talking with him in his office, I noticed purple sores on his neck, not hickies but something more sinister. I remembered the newspaper articles about a strange new affliction started in San Francisco and now spreading to Dallas. I looked quickly away, but his eyes had caught me staring.
I’ll never forget what happened the next day. Dave, wearing a turtleneck sweater, called me into his office to discuss an upcoming install. He told me to sit down. I did so. He took a sip from his coke bottle, one hand bouncing nervously on top the desk. His inquisitive eyes studied me, as if he were wondering, “Does he know? Does he know I’m homosexual? Does he know I have AIDS?” He glanced down at his long fingers wrapped around the coke bottle on the top of his mahogany desk, and said nothing.
“I guess I’ll get back to coding,” I told him.
“Wait,” he said as I stood. His eyes nailed me. “You look thirsty. Here, have some of my coke.” He offered me the bottle of coke from which he had been drinking.
I missed a beat, shocked that he would pull this on me. What was he trying to prove? Did he actually want me to drink from his bottle and get his disease?
“No thanks,” I told him, looking into his blue eyes, trying to understand his motivation, knowing that he had the power to fire me or at the least to make my job miserable.
“I insist,” he said, holding it out again.
“No,” I told him, waving him off. “My mom taught me never to drink after someone.” I turned and left his office.
I tried to forget this incident the following day, and concentrate on my work, and all seemed back to normal. Then out of the blue we got the news that our company Sedco, owned by Governor Clements, had been sold to the large French oil services company Schlumberger (a wise sale by Clements as thereafter oil prices fell).
In the Dallas office they called us together to watch a videotape of the president of Schlumberger welcoming us, in English but with a heavy French accent. He told us that Sedco’s semi-submersible rig fleet would be merged with their Forex land rig division to create the largest rig fleet in the world, Sedco Forex. He told us there would be no layoffs – at least I think that is what he said. His French accent made him hard to follow. Being both naïve and gungho, I started French lessons, at night, at the local junior college the following week so I could at least understand my company’s management with their thick French accents.
The layoff rumors started immediately, as old-timers at Sedco had been around the block and knew what a buyout and merger meant.
And sure enough, half way through my first semester of French we got word – the Dallas office was closing with mass layoffs. The good news, my supervisor Dave informed us, was that a few people would be transferred to Houston and a precious few, whose jobs were considered vital to the company, would be offered transfers to Schlumberger headquarters in Paris, France.
A relative new hire, I knew my odds were high of being laid off into the bad economy of the late 80s. The inevitability weighed me down – I had a wife and 4 kids who depended on me, and a house mortgage and a car payment to make. I remember standing in the backyard of our newly purchased home, standing in the dark, asking the old leafless tree in the middle of the yard, Why? Only darkness filled me in reply.
A management team from France came over and had meetings with our management, and dismissal notices started flying. Our department head, a retired colonel, was let go, his secretary Cheryl was let go, Tony (the world’s greatest lover) was let go, Mike (the world’s best rig accountant) was offered a position in Houston but did not want to move so he chose to be let go. I trembled when Dave called me into his office. Two Frenchmen in designer suits, the Schlumberger Sedco dismissal team, were waiting there for me. They introduced themselves, and thanks to my night class I could understand their accented English pretty well. They told me this was a painful action, for all of us. I braced for my execution.
Then they explained to me that they wanted the Shipboard Inventory Control System installed on all the Forex land rigs. They told me they had offered Dave a position in Paris to lead this effort. I looked to Dave and he nodded. And to my surprise, they asked me if I would be interested in going to Paris with my family on a 3 year contract, to be the lead programmer, with a cost of living adjustment and a large bonus if I stayed the full 3 years.
I accepted on the spot and shook their hands gleefully. As I left the office, I caught Dave’s wink. Then it struck me. It was only on Dave’s recommendation that I had been given the opportunity of keeping my job, and going on to Paris. I owed him. And what a great stroke of luck that I had decided to start French lessons! What a great call from the gut!
But then, as I sat back down at my desk, and started dialing wife Frances with the news that we were moving to France, the thought occurred to me – Why had they offered Dave a job in Paris, given his condition? From what I had read about AIDs, Dave probably had less than a year to live. This was a 3 year contract. It didn’t make sense. Unless they didn’t know. Of course – that was it. Schlumberger management didn’t know about Dave. And who was I to tell them?