Baseball and the Pope
Friday, April 18, 1986
In Los Altos Hills I install track lighting for a woman named Mary. On the wall hangs a gilt-framed photo of Mary and her husband with the Pope.
Mary is tentative, decision-averse. She can't make up her mind exactly where I should install the track. She wants reading light, but she also wants to spotlight some paintings - and the Pope photo - on the wall.
I tell her that track lights, like all ceiling lights, aren't particularly good as reading lights, but they're great for spotlighting art, so she should place the track where it will do the best job of lighting the wall. Or have two separate tracks. Still, she dithers. Finally - and she knows the clock is ticking on my labor charge - she chooses to put the track half way between where it would be best for the wall or for the sofa.
I start to install it.
After an hour her husband strides into the room. He's a little man with a big presence. With one glance at the track, he says, "That was a mistake. Why'd you put it there?"
I explain the issues.
"We should have two tracks," he says, and he marches out.
The man is CEO of a big Silicon Valley company. He controls a room the moment he enters. He makes you want to salute.
In this case he's right. Firm, clear, fast. But is he infallible? He isn't the Pope. What happens when he's wrong? Can you appeal?
Twenty-five years later, I still remember how he could walk into a room and start barking orders.
The company went bankrupt.
He made millions in his failure. Could it ever enter his mind - the tiny seed of self-doubt - thinking all things considered, he should have been a major league umpire?
He would have been great.