I moved to Dallas after college and after a stay in London for drama training. I lasted only about a year in the Texas
wasteland hardpan, living on the fringes of Southern Methodist University, and that in many ways.
A couple of short-term jobs kept me in shoes, ribs, and monster-movie videos down there, and one of the least tasteful was as a temp “information processor” at Mobil Oil. Mobil had PROFS (Professional Office Systems) installed in its central hubs: this was a drab proprietary non-graphical network system that provided database and email connections to central automated Mobil offices, or would have done if people had known how to use it. We’re talking in B.I.A. years here (Before Internet Access). For some reason our system only liked to talk to New Jersey, and it had a hard time communicating even up or down a floor or two.
PROFS was very good for sending jokes to other users, which got me in no end of trouble (remember that Dallas is in the southern That’s-Not-Funny Born-Again Belt, and if this offends you then either you’ve never lived in Dallas or you live there now). Like most other systems of its time, it was not much good for very much else. I was the only one in my information processing center who could use PROFS except for Carla, who worked a floor below but mostly hung out with us, so the Mobil nabobs swiftly decided that training was in order and sent Carla and me off for introductory classes.
Linus & Carla: But we already know how to use PROFS.
Sue the Ignorant Supervisor: Yes, but I don’t.
Linus & Carla: Boggle.
I’m not going to get into the Morning Problem here, but let’s just note that PROFS training began an hour before regular work, and it lasted for three entire days. So right off I was marked down to be docked pay each day, even though as a temp I was only paid for the hours I was present. Go figure.
The introductory class had excellent donuts, and was more or less designed to take people who could make it as far as J-K-L in the alphabet and show them how to break a work station. Carla and I decided that this counted as vacation, except without the bathing suits, and we set down to amuse ourselves.
Class was run by the sorrowful Mr. Bordellon, and I would change his name to protect the truly innocent – he didn’t deserve a moment of us – but I can’t, and this is why. Our student accounts – Guest101, Guest102, Guest103 and so forth – suggested that names in PROFS were limited to 8 letters, which is how it used to be in the B.I.A. years. Sure enough, poor Mr. Bordellon had been slapped by life in the Computer Age. Leaving 8 characters for the name, trunc(Bordellon) = Bordello.
Linus, waving hand: Excuse me, Mr. Bordello?
Mr. Bordellon: No, it’s Bordellon. BordelLON.
Linus: I’m sorry. Mr. BordelLO, how many letters can there be in an account name?
By Day Three, Mr. Bordello was near collapse. Carla and I were seminar folk heroes, Bonnie and Clyde to the information processors, running goggle-eyed and giddy on bottomless coffee and infinite donuts. The whole class was sending notes back and forth using the instant-message-like Page feature, which Mobil cleverly omitted from the curriculum but not from the documentation (and Clyde unearthed it, yep). With Page, the CPU beeps when you get a message. Lots of things make it go beep, so we hadn’t been busted yet. But Mr. B. had noticed. Beep (pause) Beep. He’d spin around, we’d look innocent. What beeping?
I had been sending Mr. Bordello mail (beep) from an unused Guest account I’d found, kitted out with a funny fake profile; every time a message came in he was disconcerted and concerned. On the last day, which consisted of Advanced Just Like Yesterday, he projected his monitor up on a large screen in front of the class to show us how to do something. Sensing fun to be had, I sent a brief group Page message to Mr. B. plus the whole rest of the class. Logged out of my fake account, logged back into my class account. And after a minute or so – it had to go all the way to Jersey and then find its way back – every machine in the room beeped, one after the next, in no clear pattern. Beep, beep, beep, beepbeep, beep, beepbeepbeep, beep.
Mr. Bordello, who never asked for any of this, stopped and turned to face us. His own computer beeped. He looked down at the screen, and we looked up at the image of the screen. The message said:
Pass the donuts. And I’ll take a jeroboam of coffee. Hey, can I have that one all dripping with chocolate icing?
Best Rank Ever Pulled in Texas: We’re chatting at a Dallas bar. The other gentleman takes exception to some of my views, or perhaps he’s rankled that I sound like I’ve read a book or two in my day. His face flushes red and he shifts around in his chair, dying to waggle a finger in my face.
“I don’t know about you,” he blusters, “but I went to S.M.U., which we call ‘the Harvard of the South.’ ”
“Really,” I reply. “Well, I went to the Harvard of the North, which we just call ‘Harvard.’ ”
Dallas was not my kind of place.