Archive of 'True Tales' Posts
From 1990 through about 1994 I attended Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC for short) trying to earn a two-year degree in Data Processing. In my defense, let me say that they expected me to learn arcane system calls on antique mainframes at 8:00am three days a week. Those who know me well know that the only time I’m awake at 8:00am is if I’m still up from the previous night.
In addition to learning IBM 370 Assembler Language and an OS called DOS/VSE/SP that was considered thoroughly horrendous even in 1968, I was also learning COBOL. No self-respecting programmer will ever admit to knowing COBOL, but I have no self-respect, so what the hell. I didn’t like COBOL, but a programming job, any programming job, sounded better than being a cook, and COBOL was the only thing they really taught locally. I was a great programmer, having already written code (just for fun, mind you) for 10 years prior to that. Me and two other guys, one of whom would later become my brother-in-law, were the best in the class, and there was a pretty good gap in talent between us and the next guy on the list. Despite this, not one of us graduated.
I can’t speak for the other two-thirds of we who called ourselves Foobar Hacking, but the reasons for my dropping out were varied. Mostly it was because I saw COBOL and mainframes as being a dying branch of computer evolution. “Everybody knows this is nowhere” was a phrase often in my head. I knew that a job doing COBOL would take me through fixing the Y2K bug and then pretty much dump me. No new code was being written in COBOL, and therefore the bulk of my work would be maintaining code somebody else had written. Having seen the code that the majority of my classmates shit out, I knew what I was in for wasn’t pretty. I had also taught myself C++, which I considered to be a real language. Right about the time I dropped out, I discovered the internet, and I thought that was probably going to be something big. Of course there was nowhere official to learn that stuff, especially not on what a 24-year-old fry cook could pay.
And despite my loathing of COBOL and DOS/VSE/SP, none of the teachers in the DMACC Data Processing program were stupid fucking teachers. One of them I truly respected, and I showed this by being a constant pain in his ass. He didn’t care for my rowdy friends and I, but he did respect my programming skills.
Anyway in 1994, I dropped out of the Data Processing program and decided to study something with a future. The immediate future, I decided, was PC networking. At the time Microsoft still didn’t have its networking shit together, so I studied Novell Netware, again at DMACC.
Towards the beginning of the first semester, the teacher handed out a sheet with a flow chart showing the various Novell “tracks” one could take. You could choose to be a Certified Netware Associate, a Certified Netware Engineer and a few other things I don’t remember. But one of them was for something called UnixWare. I had been screwing around with the internet in all my free time, and for a geek like me who likes to get his hands good and dirty, that meant screwing around with Unix. I thought then, as I do now, that Unix was cool. The teacher went over the flow charts and explained what the various Novell tracks entailed and what classes you needed for each certification. But he never said a thing about UnixWare.
So I approached him after class. Our conversation went like this.
Me: You didn’t mention this UnixWare thing, what’s that?
SFT: That’s Novell’s version of Unix.
Me: Well, what do I have to do to get that certification?
SFT: You don’t want that certification.
Me: But…the internet runs on Unix.
SFT: The internet is a toy.
Now this was a long time ago, so I can’t say that the conversation was word-for-word like I have it above, but the last two lines are, I swear, exactly as they were spoken. Let me say that last one again: “The internet is a toy.”
Now it’s true that in 1994 the internet pretty much was a toy, an electronic playground for geeks. There are times I wish it still was that way. However, every one of those geeks saw the potential. We knew what the internet was destined to become, and in fact, we were instrumental in helping it fulfill that destiny.
But my Novell teacher didn’t see it coming. Novell didn’t see it coming either. It wasn’t long after I’d dropped the Novell classes (which wasn’t long after the “toy” comment) that I heard they had sold UnixWare to a company that would become The Santa Cruz Operation, which then released SCO UnixWare.
Five years later I got myself a job as a web developer, and I was unfortunate enough to have to work with SCO Unix. In a way, the stupid fucking teacher was right. If this was any indication of what Novell UnixWare had been like, I really didn’t want that certification.
|Posted in Series, True Tales||04:23:00|
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These days I’m more partial to “The Walrus and the Carpenter“, but for a long long time, from the first time my maternal grandmother read it to me when I was a child, my favorite poem was Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky“. I grew up in one of those houses that always had, like all good houses should, at least one copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass kicking around. So by the time I was 10 or 11, I had pretty much memorized Jabberwocky.
Now, for those who may not be familiar with this brilliant little bit of poetry, it’s beauty comes from the fact that it is filled with nonsensical words, yet meaning can be derived for most of them via context. Others are combinations of other words, whereby “triumphantly galloping” can be succinctly expressed as “galumphing”. Just read the fucking thing if you’re unfortunate enough to have never read it previously.
Jabberwocky first turned up in school in about 7th grade. It was in one of our English textbooks. My teacher, Josie Martinez (who was not a stupid fucking teacher and is, in fact, the single best teacher I ever had) chose a student seemingly at random to stand before the class and read the poem. He made it past the first word, “‘Twas”, then choked hard trying to sound out the alien “brillig”. He gave up, sat down, at which point Mrs. Martinez asked for volunteers. My hand shot up, which was very unusual indeed. It should be noted though that this class was pretty tight, and intelligence was actually respected in this school, so these other kids would actually think it was cool that I could nail this. So she called on me, I carried the book up and pretended to read from it (hey, I didn’t want to seem like too much of a geek). I delivered Jabberwocky flawlessly. She said, “You’ve read this before then, huh?” Had it happened today I’d probably have said “no, never heard of it before today” just to fuck with her.
So flash forward a couple years, and I’m a freshman at Herbert Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa.
Wait a minute. Brief digression while I slag Hoover High School.
This was a school of fucking retards. It was filled with mindless, soulless preppy fuckwads, and I despised nearly every fucking last one of the Wham-listening-Guess-wearing-Daddy-bought-me-a-Camaro pukes. Now Hoover always looks good on paper because their students get good grades, but trust me, the bar there is set astoundingly low, or at least it was in 1984. Despite my lifelong underachievement (in all my years of education, grade school though college, I can count the times I did homework on one hand) the year I spent at Hoover was the first time I ever got mostly A’s (algebra being the exception, I’ve always sucked hard at math).
So my English teacher in this lovely institutional learning facility was not the shaprest stick in the bunch. I wanna say her name was Mrs. Morgenstern, or Morgenton, or something like that. Maybe it was just Morgan. Anyway, whatever her name was, she taught 9th grade English at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1984/1985 school year if you want to track her down and tell her I think she was a stupid fucking teacher.
So one of our early assignments was to memorize a poem. We had a week to do this and then we had to stand before the class and recite our poem. I thought this was pretty fucking easy for high school, I remembered doing that in 4th grade, but whatever. Always one to take the path of least resistance, I chose Jabberwocky, which of course I already knew by heart.
So the day comes where we have to recite our poems. I don’t remember what the other kids chose to learn, but suffice it to say that nobody did “Casey at the Bat“. So, my turn comes, and I already know it was a mistake to have picked a poem that was three times as long and infinitely more complex than the ones my classmates chose. So I go up there and recite the poem to a bunch of clueless preppy fucks with their mouths gaping open.
And when I’m done, Mrs. Morganheimer says, “Wow, that was a really difficult poem, especially with all those old words we don’t use anymore.”
I gave her a very quizzical “are you fucking kidding me?” look and sat down. Bitch thought that “frumious” and “uffish” were Old English. And she was supposed to be teaching me?
Thankfully, that was the only year I spent at Hoover. After that I got a car and used Dr. Bill‘s address (behind his mother’s back) on all my official forms so I could go out of my district to Lincoln High, which despite being violent and full of metalheads actually made an effort to teach its students something. My grades immediately fell back to their usual pattern of straight C’s.
|Posted in Series, True Tales||03:49:00|
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In the early spring of 1987, two candidates were battling to be the next mayor of Des Moines Iowa. These men were George Flagg and John “Pat” Dorrian, and it was a special election to replace the recently-deceased Mayor Pete Crivaro. Dorrian was way ahead in the polls, but all over town were enormous yellow signs that read “FLAGG MAYOR” in big black letters. Nothing else, just a yellow background with a gigantic “FLAGG” in a sans-serif font and a smaller “MAYOR” centered below it.
Now I try to keep this non-blog non-political, so I’m not going to mention which political party Mr. Flagg belonged too. Besides, for the events I’m about to describe, our motivation was not particularly political. It was far more humor motiviated. But Flagg was an asshole, and that certainly didn’t hurt.
I think I was the ringleader on this caper, but it’s been 18 years and my memory is foggy. Other participants may believe it was all their idea. If so, they can get their own blog and write up their version of the events.
I’m going to use first names only to protect the guilty. There was me (that is Dave), Bill, Harry, Rob, and Joel. I think Kathy may have been there too, but that seems like a lot for one car. We were all around 17 years old, it was spring break and, as I’ve said before, there was never anything to do in Des Moines. We decided that those yellow and black signs were just begging for some creative modifications.
The first stop was a hardware store (may have been Menard’s) where we picked up 6 or 7 cans of spray paint. Apparently it was nothing unusual for 5 teenagers to be buying spray paint in quantity, late at night. Other adventures had us buying 10 dozen eggs or carts full of toilet paper. Never seemed to be a problem.
Again, some details are fuzzy, but I think Rob was behind the wheel of his bitchin’ Camaro on this night. Bill had somehow aquired (stole it from the dealership) a magnetic dealer plate, which was probably stuck over Rob’s real license plate. I know we used it a few times, this was probably one of them, but I can’t say for certain.
It wasn’t long until we found our first FLAGG MAYOR sign. They were fucking everywhere. We crept up to it, armed with our paint cans, and sprayed over the L and the first G, leaving a sign that quite clearly said “F A G MAYOR”. It was a thing of beauty. The spacing of the letters worked out very nicely and the paint color was a near-perfect match.
Five people turned out to be the perfect number. The signs were double-sided, so four people could spray (two per side, one on L, one on G) while the fifth played lookout. Somebody was spraying somewhat haphazardly, which prompted Harry to say “no, no, nice…even…strokes.” He demonstrated, slowly down one side of the letter, back to the top, and down again until it was very professionally covered.
I’m not sure how many signs we hit before we were done. The newspaper article said “at least 12″ but I think we got far more than that. We covered every corner of town. The sun was coming up when we got back to Bill’s house, which was nearly always home base because his single mom worked the graveyard shift.
Now, if this were the end of the story, I probably wouldn’t have written about it. Just some teenage vandals out having fun one night. But one of the candidates (can you guess which one?) took it to a whole new level.
We hadn’t been back home but a few minutes when Bill got a call from another friend telling him to turn on the channel 8 news. There was mayoral candidate George Flagg looking pissed. He wasn’t blaming teenage hoodlums like a rational man would. He was blaming his opponent, John “Pat” Dorrian, and demanding that he fix his signs. Apparently he thought that Dorrian’s master campaign strategy was to deface his signs. While I can’t remember Dorrian’s exact response, I believe the gist of it was “whatever.”
The Des Moines Register ran an article the next day, complete with a very large and very nice photograph of one of our altered (I like to think of them as improved) signs. We made the front page. A witness the reporter interviewed said it was “very neatly done”. Harry was especially proud of this.
Anyway, we thought Flagg was being a real dumbshit, so we drafted a letter to the Register claiming responsibility. The phrase “no political motivation” was used, which was mostly true. Bill came up with a brilliant paragraph that included something along the lines of “while we realize that what we did was immature, that’s no excuse for the candidates to act like children”. We typed it up in AppleWorks on Bill’s bad-ass Apple //e, signed it with our initials and sent it off. They didn’t print the letter, but Flagg shut the fuck up about his precious signs the next day, so I have a feeling they forwarded it to his people.
Eighteen years later I still look back fondly on this night, even though I’ve lost touch with most of the people involved. The one exception is Bill, who I still email regularly though I haven’t seen him in person for years. He helped me to recall a lot of the details of this story.
As an intersting side note, a few years later we learned that Rob, our faithful driver and co-painter that night, was gay. That made sense, given that every girl we knew wanted to totally fuck him silly. At any rate, he thought making the signs say “fag” was just as funny as any of us did.
|Posted in True Tales||20:18:00|
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