Facing the Firing Squad: Steve Roselius
A life fully lived means changing and evolving. We start one way and end up another. We begin in one place and find ourselves somewhere else. We do one kind of work and then find out there’s something better and more fulfilling. Sometimes, we even change the essence of our own identity.
Steve Roselius has always been a “searcher.” And, he appears to have found what he’s looking for. Thanks to Mr. Roselius for agreeing to share his story and “Face the Firing Squad.”
MEET STEVE ROSELIUS
Steve Roselius was born on November 11, 1963, in Dubuque, Iowa.
“Long before the country was founded, all my ancestors had made their way to the New World,” Roselius said. “One branch of my forebears were Loyalists who defended the Crown against another branch, who fought for American independence. Fortunately for me, they were poor shots.”
Roselius’ parents divorced when he was four. His mother moved her two sons to his adopted hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska where he grew up
“We were poor. Really, really poor,” Roselius remembered. “Mom was raising two growing boys on a secretary’s salary. We never had anything extra, but we never missed a meal. I still shudder when I think of the powdered milk mixed with tap water we used to put on our cereal. It was truly vile.”
Later, the family situation improved. “Mom hit the jackpot. We all did, actually. My mom married Richard Fink, a man with a booming baritone voice; quick to smile; stern when it was needed; and relentlessly affectionate,” Roselius said. “He was a middle-school math teacher, and also taught artillery as a Captain in the Army Reserve. We immediately started calling him Dad, and we never thought of him in any other way. To say life got better would be an understatement.”
“School for me was too easy. I skipped first grade altogether and went straight from kindergarten to second grade. While this made schoolwork a bit more appropriately challenging for me, it was devastating socially. There’s a huge difference between a six-year-old and a seven-year-old. Socially, this manifested in a lack of ability to make friends very easily, a disadvantage I’ve had ever since (although it doesn’t really bother me; whether I’ve come to terms with it or simply don’t consider it important probably isn’t relevant). Folks used to say I was immature. Now they just say I’m dorky. Frankly, I think dorky is cool. I can run with that.
I breezed through high school. College was just as easy,” Roselius said. He earned a B.A. in Accounting and German from Hastings College.
After graduation, I got a job as an accountant. Turns out I was a terrible accountant. Even though I graduated with distinction in Accounting from college, I discovered that living in the real world was substantially different from living in a textbook. If I hadn’t taught myself how to program computers while I was working there, I’m sure they would have fired me within a couple of years.
As it was, I learned how to program in a mainframe language called ‘FOCUS’ and started developing billing programs. The bills my programs generated were sent to thousands of customers and amounted to millions of dollars. We’re not talking about the primary telephone service, but pretty much everything else. Custom listings in the phone book. VOIP service. Lots of business services. I also became active in the FOCUS user groups, giving presentations and sharing (as well as learning) programming tips and techniques.
In 1989, I was hired away by a recruiter, who was looking for programmers and offered to double my salary if I moved to Kansas City and agreed to work for a drug company called Marion Laboratories (now part of Sanofi). Kansas City is unmercifully humid in the summer; unbearably cold in winter; has a huge problem with crime (it’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I’ve been broken into. Twice); and serious race issues. You could practically build a wall down Troost Avenue, decree that Whites stay to the west and Blacks to the east, and no one would need to move an inch. I used to joke that Prospect Avenue goes through neighborhoods that have none.
And I loved it there.
If I were to move from where I’m living now (Seattle), I would seriously consider going back there. Even with all its faults, it’s a really great place to live. And the barbeque? Frankly, the WORST barbeque in Kansas City is still better than the BEST barbeque anywhere else.
A week after I moved to Kansas City, I met the woman who would become my wife of fourteen years. Kathy was beautiful, funny, and smart enough to keep me consistently engaged (she said she knew we were meant for each other when I became one of the very few people ever to defeat her at Trivial Pursuit). Kathy was a nurse, originally from Michigan, and came from a family of Mennonite/Amish background. We married and settled down in Kansas City – white picket fence, dog, and all that.
Kathy had let me know that she wanted to move back to Michigan at some point, and we both had specialized expertise that made finding jobs easy (programming and nursing). So, in 1991 we picked up from Kansas City and moved to suburban Detroit. I was hired by Ford Motor Company. Shortly thereafter I jumped the fence from programming in FOCUS to selling it, as a Sales Engineer with Information Builders (the company which developed and sold the language). This was the start of a lucrative, 25-year career as a software salesman. I spent a lot of time on the road … by now, I’ve been to just about every place that’s worth going to in the US – at least, if you’re selling software.
In 2000, we moved to Kalkaska, Michigan, a tiny little two-stoplight town in the northern part of the state. I was able to live wherever I wanted, so long as I had access to a nearby airport. It was a charming place, straight out of Mayberry RFD. (Somewhere there’s a video of me playing the role of Daddy Warbucks in the musical Annie, which was put on in the elementary school cafeteria. And yes, I shaved my head bald for the role.)
By 2003, it was clear that my marriage to Kathy was nearing its natural end. As is pretty much always the case with divorce, there’s never a single cause. I loaded up a U-Haul and moved across the continent to Seattle, where I decided to settle. Most of my customers at that point were on the West Coast, and I’d gotten to know the region well, so when it was time to go that ended up being my destination.
I love Seattle, even more so than Kansas City. Around the time I moved here (by this time working for InterSystems Corporation), I met the person who would become my second (and current) spouse. Paul Fadoul was a teacher, originally from Westchester County, New York. He’s lived his entire life on either one coast or the other – Boston, New York, DC, LA, San Francisco, Seattle. The two of us are definitely Country Mouse and City Mouse.
This was also about the time I started to become seriously interested in poker.
The job of a Sales Engineer is a tough one. Technology is always changing, and effective SE will keep current with it. Then, there is the evolving specific product expertise you need to maintain; after all, there won’t be very many people who (should) know the product better than the SE. Moreover, there are the sales skills you have to develop, particularly in terms of ‘speaking the language’ that your audience speaks, so that your message can be delivered effectively in a manner that’s clear to them. Now, I was good at this, and I enjoyed it. I had great customers, great co-workers, and great bosses. But one day in 2015, I decided I was done. So I quit. You could even get away with saying I changed careers and became a ‘professional poker player.’ whatever that is. But the days of 9-to-5 (or, more accurately 7-to-8 or -9) were done for me. At least in terms of working for ‘the Man.’
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What is your current state of mind?
There are some people in the world who suffer from clinical depression. They have a chemical imbalance in their head which predisposes them to sadness.
I think have the opposite. I believe that I have a chemical imbalance which makes me happy all the time. This makes it hard to carry a grudge or form lasting enemies. So, my current (and lasting) state of mind is, generally speaking — happiness.
What are some of the things you stand for?
Equality and Freedom. The framers of the Constitution had an interesting perspective when it came to basic rights (Press, Worship, Speech): They felt that these rights are essentially a part of the human existence at birth; that they weren’t something bestowed by a government but could only be restricted by it. Hence, the Bill of Rights, which attempted to prevent the government from taking those rights away from us.
What are some of the things you stand against?
Being part of a recognized minority (a member of the LGBTQ community), I am probably more aware than many of Social Justice issues, and hopefully quicker than most to stand up and defend, or fight back, against injustice when I see it occurring.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Two-dimensional characters, middle school-level dialogue, a laughable plot filled with holes, and a deus ex machina resolution so frustrating it makes you want to toss the entire work out the window. What’s not to love?
Yet buried deep within this turgid, overwrought manifesto is an attractive (to me) gem of a philosophy: Libertarianism (or, in Rand’s terms, Objectivism). It’s the idea that government should, for the most part, just leave people alone and let them do whatever the hell they want.
The well-known downside to this philosophy is how to protect the neediest in our society. Some, for whatever reason, simply lack the resources to succeed, and always will. Do we ignore these folks altogether? Or do we build some sort of support network for them? And if the latter, who should administer this – churches? Some other charity? Government? Rand would scoff at the entire idea, but basic humanity demands an ethical response. If we could somehow lick this problem, I’d be completely onboard with this ideology.
I recall hearing someone say once, “If anybody ever asks you what your favorite movie is, just tell them The Godfather. Nobody is going to second-guess that answer. They will instead nod gravely and admire your perceptivity and taste.”
The truth is, I don’t watch very many movies. And I do like The Godfather. It never touched me in any sort of personal way like some movies do some people, but one can admire it the way one admires great art. You could say The Godfather is the Mona Lisa of motion pictures.
In terms of a movie that had a personal impact on me, I guess I’ll go with A Single Man. Story by Christopher Isherwood; brilliantly directed (and costumed) by Tom Ford; and starring Colin Firth. There’s a scene where George (Firth) is spending the evening with his best friend Charley (Julianne Moore) while he’s still mourning the death of Jim, his partner of sixteen years. At some point, Charley says to George something along the lines of, “Well, it wasn’t a real marriage though,” completely dismissing the pain George is still feeling and failing to understand what the relationship was like. It’s a realistic reminder of how even our closest friends and staunchest allies can still spectacularly fail at understanding the LGBTQ experience.
I’m also going to hesitantly mention Brokeback Mountain, which I know seems cliched; but it actually does a decent job of showing the challenges we face having relationships in this society. There’s a haunting scene where Ennis (Heath Ledger) calls Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and learns how Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) has died. The camera is tight on Lureen as she speaks flatly over the phone to Ennis – face and eyes caked with far too much makeup; blood-red press-on nails on the hand gripping the receiver. As she relates Jack’s cause of death (an auto mishap), the screen cuts back and forth between their conversation and the image of Jack actually being beaten to death by gay-bashing thugs. Lureen’s voice is emotionless, almost robotic. What is she feeling? Sadness? Disgust? Relief? We’ll never know. What immediately follows this is an agonizingly painful visit by Ennis to the house of Jack’s parents. The entire development is excruciating to watch.
This is like asking me which is my favorite child. Ever since college (where my nickname was “Devo”), I’ve had a collection of music so vast that I could run my own radio station from it. I’m constantly listening to music from a wide variety of genres – Hip Hop, Classical, Blues, Death Metal, Christian Contemporary. Not so much Country, for whatever reason.
However, if I was to examine which artist I’ve listened to the most hours, I’m guessing it would be either Elton John, Nine Inch Nails, or Eminem.
I find Harold Pinter spellbinding. Also, Shakespeare, of course. That guy sure had a way with words!
On which occasions do you lie?
On those occasions when I’m asked on which occasions I lie.
What living person do you admire the most, and why?
As we hurdle inescapably toward a privacy-free future, it will become more and more challenging to find a hero whom can safely be admired. Even the brightest, shiniest knight will be discovered to have difficult-to-forgive faults that will serve to discredit his (or her) hero–worthiness.
Nevertheless, there is one person I unfailingly admire: my husband, Paul Fadoul. He’s perhaps the most honest and ethical person I’ve ever met. He’s smart; has an engaging sense of humor; is refreshingly frank (sometimes painfully so); and – obviously – boundlessly long–suffering. Every morning I wake up next to him, I realize I’ve managed to undeservedly luck out one more day.
What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?
My stepfather, Richard Fink.
It’s odd to refer to him as my stepfather; Mike and I only called him “Dad” and thought of him that way. When I was a kid, he was my hero. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. I still do. After I left for college, our relationship immediately and measurably changed; we became best friends. We’d call each other on the phone and talk about nothing at all for an hour or more. As I started to succeed in the professional world, he was my biggest fan. I was 34 years old when he passed, and I still miss him.
Dad was the one who taught me poker. When I was seven and Mike was five, he went down to Family Drug and bought some cheap plastic poker chips. After first seeking permission from Mom (I can still remember her saying “I don’t care”), he taught us the mechanics of five-card single draw, and both five- and seven-card stud. He’d be thrilled beyond expression with what I’ve been able to achieve in the game since those days.
What living person do you despise?
There are so many candidates. The world is filled with low-hanging fruit when it comes to loathing. So, let me instead describe a characteristic, shared by far too many, which I despise: Hypocrisy. When someone advocates one course of action and then lives his or her life in a completely different way, I find that despicable. You can see this trait across all political persuasions, religions, ethnicities, and social strata.
If money were not an object, what profession would you choose?
Professional poker player. Hey wait a minute; that’s what I am!
What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?
I’m more Forrest Gump than Leonard Zelig; but unlike either of those folks, while I’ve been to interesting places it’s never coincided with relevant interesting times. I’ve been to Machu Picchu and Cape Town which I found particularly fascinating destinations. I’ve also been to Dachau and Anne Frank’s hideaway attic in Amsterdam. Squeezing behind the bookshelf that led to the upward staircase sent a chill through my spine.
Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.
At this point, I’ve been pretty much everywhere I’ve ever wanted to go. I guess I’d like to visit Macau sometime. Maybe Australia. There’s plenty of poker both of those places, and I’m willing to bet that I’ll get there at some point.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
Oddly enough, I think playing the World Series Main Event – just playing in it – was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. So many poker players, for whatever reason, never take that shot. Finishing in the money, and above a min-cash, was just the icing on the cake.
What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?
I think when all is said and done, I would hope that people would be willing to say that I was fundamentally a good person. I’ve tried not to make enemies and to help others along the way. I hope I leave my corner of the world just a little better off than I found it.
What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?
I’ve long had a frustrating habit of starting a project, either big or small, and then not finishing it. I wish I had more consistency and follow-through than I do – or at least sufficient foresight to not waste time on something I’m not going to complete.
Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?
I do. I think there’s something that animates this body, avatar-like, which isn’t extinguished at death. “I’m not a body that temporarily has a soul; I’m a soul that temporarily has a body.” I don’t recall who said that … C.S. Lewis maybe? It sounds like something he’d say.
Having been steeped in generations of fervent Presbyterianism, it’d be difficult for me to answer any other way. However, I think what we’ll end up finding on the other side will be quite a bit different than anyone expects. I suspect that the God we find will be far more forgiving and loving than She’s been given credit for.
Like any good Calvinist, I don’t fear death; although I’m not looking to experience it anytime soon. I’d bet I’ll find whatever happens next to be … interesting. Or, as my beloved Dad wrote in a journal shortly before his own demise, “Death will be the most exciting adventure that I will ever take.”