Graduating from Computer Learning Center in Los Angeles, I
was graduating from one of the best new computer programming
schools in the county. But once again I'd be saying goodbye to
new found friends who had all come to school from somewhere
else. California was like that. Once you moved there you moved
around a lot. Except, this time I didn't have to. I found a job
close to home.
Digital Data was an hour's drive by car in Culver City
where the firm processed all the Master Card and Visa credit
card billing for the Los Angeles area. Located off La Cienaga
Bouvavard in a small business park on Computer Lane, it was just
a half mile walk to the number six bus stop. That for me was an
added perk because I could get a lot of work or sleep done on
a two hour mass transit trip.
Entering the modern brick building with its tinted glass, I
was met by a small Asian girl at the reception desk who had been
instructed to take me on a tour before my interview.
The placement office at the school had told me the
company's head programmer was leaving and since I did so well in
my class standings the owner had agreed to meet with me. I had
really wanted a job programming Cobol instead of the RPG that
they used here. But with the chance to run my own department
just out of school I jumped at the chance.
Past the owner's office across from the cafeteria and next
to the head programmer's office, my guide and I walked. She
pointed to a small computer room where programmers typed out
code onto punch cards and tape using a Univac Version 9 computer
that would upload the instructions to the IBM 360 mainframe in
the adjoining room-the same computer we had used for processing ***163
Next, as we continued to walk, she pointed to the
accounting office with its backdrop of 23 data entry personnel
buzy at computers, before motioning to a rack of sweaters next
to a sliding glass door. I knew what she meant but I shook my
head. I knew inside the mainframe room was cool. I'd visited
the one we had at school.
I greeted the operator as I walked in and started to shiver
in the computer's cool protective air. It was hard not to marvel
at the space. Besides the computer there were rows and rows of
wall to wall tape and disk drives containing trillions of bytes
of information concerning LA consumer buying habits.
My first impression of the owner Guy, tall, short blonde
hair,in his tieless, rolled up, white dress shirt was that he
was a smart-ass, 35 year old, condescending prick. I'd barely
sat down as he came back from peering through the blinds out
the window when before even saying hi or shaking my hand, he
started ribbing me about my car. Something about, well, maybe I
couldn't afford a brand new Cadillac Seville like his but maybe
I needed something newer just the same.
I really didn't care if he didn't like 1975 German Opels.
Biting my lip I just concentrated on trying to get the job.
After all, programmers usually work alone and rarely have to
interact with their bosses. The RPG 1 that he'd been used to
programming in, was a clunker compared to the newer version of
RPG 2 that I had learned in just over a month. I couldn't wait
for him to start kicking those programming tires.
He looked through my 30 programs and documentation. They
were my resume. The first few were easy. But by the time he got
to the fifth one I could see that he was starting to look
"What is this 'Exception with Fetch'?" he asked.
"I have no idea. That's RPG 2. I was actually thinking
about a Cobol job," I said.
He gave me a smirk and a stare as he picked up the phone
and called in his head programmer. Still staring at me, he
pointed and asked his programmer what it meant.
"Guy, I don't know," he said.
Now it was my turn to smirk. Guy couldn't believe that
even he didn't know. ***164
"I'll get the manual," he said as Guy and I continued to
stare at each other.
"It's new. It's legal," his programmer said as he walked
back in holding open a thick green technical manual.
Guy took a few minutes to read the manual checking back
every so often with my program. Finally satisfied he handed
the manual back to his programmer and rubbed his eyes before
leaning over to say,"Can you be at work tomorrow by nine?"
"Depends. How much?" I asked.
"$2,500/month okay?" he asked.
"Only if I'm getting medical," I said.
"Done," he rose up and for the first time shook my hand.
My first impressions of Guy were coming to life. As I
stepped down from the number six bus to the sidewalk on that
first day of work I could see his gold-colored Seville waiting
behind the bus with its turn signal blinking waiting to turn
right. But as I continued walking down the street, he didn't
stop to ask me if I wanted a lift. He just sped by with a honk
on his way to work.
I didn't think too much about it-just a few choice words
under my breath and that was that. But when I got to the office,
Guy called me in and started to complain about why wasn't I
driving my car. Something about company image and what it would
look like to the other tenants if they saw me get off a bus. I
motioned to my watch that I was 45 minutes early and said
something about why should it matter.
He just looked at the ceiling with his hands on his hips
as he shook his head like I was some kind of society idiot.
Finally, he relaxed and informed me that his programmer would
be coming to visit me shortly in his old office to give me the
details of how to get started. Then he abruptly picked up his
phone, turned his back, and proceeded to ignore me.
That wasn't the only taste of reality that went bitter on
my lips that first day. Turns out, "head programmer" is a bit
of a misnomer. I was the only programmer in the entire place.
And just one more thing to make it worse. The old programmer
was going back to night school to update his credentials in
But I didn't have time for conspiracy theories. By the
end of the first week the head programmer had cleared out his ***165
desk and left me to my own devices. Between my desk and the
floor and the two chairs and the couch I had stacks of their
library of RPG 1 programs spread out to update.
For the next two months, I spent more time in a day
running between my office updating code and the Univac computer
room punching cards than I would have spent walking a leisurely
afternoon round of 18-hole golf.
But by now Guy had something else on his mind for me to
do. He was in a hiring mood. Instead of the cute Asian girl at
the reception desk, now it was my job to walk potential
programming candidates through the offices and sit in on
interviews. It wasn't a good job for me to do because when Guy
tried to humiliate or intimidate I just looked at their programs
and replied with a compliment. He didn't like my answer when
after a week of interviewing he had narrowed the list down to
ten and asked me to pick four. I said I liked them all.
Guy picked his four and set them up in the cafeteria
writing code. Was I wrong about Guy; was he building me a team?
I knew them from school and chatted with them when I went in to
grab a coke out of the frig but I never knew what they were
working on. Guy gave them their work. I had mine. But when Guy
called me in his office a month later I was shocked at what he
He asked me what I thought of their work. I said I hadn't
looked just knew that one had a wife who was expecting their
He smirked and said he had been comparing my work against
theirs. He'd given them work that took them a week to complete
that I did in a day. I said great so give me a raise. But he had
other ideas. He said he was going to keep me if I'd fire them.
I just looked at him and said ,"You hired them. You fire them.
You think I'm worried about finding another job?"
Two more months went by and I had almost completed updating
all the programs when I saw Guy's old programmer walk by. And
then the big project came up. It wasn't about processing credit
card billing. It was about combining everything I knew.
It was just a telephone from Guy. There were some people in
his office he wanted me to meet-three suits, a blonde in a red
dress, and a guy with tape between his glasses wearing ruffled ***166
clothes that looked like he forgot how to iron. Next to the
unkept guy I took a seat as one of the suits explained about
how their 140 unit condo needed automatic billing for
electricity and water usage.
As the suit talked, my ruffled new friend layed out the
plans for me to see. An electrical engineer, he explained the
flow like a first year Algebra teacher. We kept talking and
pointing and making notes in the margins while the suits, the
blonde and Guy watched.
Both realising the presentation was over, we looked up.
"Well can you do it?" Guy asked.
"Sure. Do you want the two bills mailed seperate or
combined?" I asked.
Guy looked confused. He looked at the suits.
With hands up shaking their heads I could tell they hadn't
thought about that.
"No problem. I'll write it both ways," I said.
As the suits and the red dress stood up, one asked, "Can
you have it done in a month?"
Guy didn't let me speak,"No problem," he said. "I'll send
you the bill in the mail."
No tact I thought.
"What's your name son?" the one suit said.
"Tom," I replied.
"If you have any questions you can talk to our electrical
engineer Mark here. Or if you need to contact me directly you
can call Suzy," as he passed me his card.
Guy had charged them for a month's work. I called Suzy
within a week.
"Yes Tom. I remember you," she said.
"Can we meet?" I asked.
"Sure. Do you know Century City? We can have lunch," she
I'd never been to an Italian vegie restaurant before. But
I recognised Suzy in her blue silk dress wearing yellow leather
six inch heals in a corner with a glass of Chabli.
"Testoni's?" I asked.
"Close. Bally's. How'd you know?" she asked.
"My Thai wife. She's a shoe freak," I said.
"You're married? I'd like to meet her sometime," she said. ***167
"I'd be happy to see her sometime, too. But that's another
story. I need to talk to you about this project your bosses
are having me program for them," I said.
"Is there a problem?" she asked as she reached in her bag
and pulled out a cigarette.
"Big time. It's done," I said.
"Done. How?" she asked.
"Blame it on Mark. He explained it to me too well," I said.
"So what's the problem. Getting it done ahead of time has
to be good right?" she said.
"You don't understand. My boss charged your boss for a
month's work. I hate the prick but he'd fire me if I gave it to
you early and he lost money," I said.
"Tom, what are you saying?" she asked.
"You go back to your boss and ask him about a ten percent
commission for my boss for getting it done early. We both look
good and end up with a promotion," I said.
"Tommy, where did this idea come from? " she asked.
"Chinese soap operas...don't ask," I said.
But Guy wasn't happy. He'd somehow felt like he had lost
face and so accused me of drinking at work. He even went so far
as to pull out a breathalizer and asked me to blow in it. I
blew as hard as I could but when it didn't register he pulled
out a bottle of Kentucky bourbon from his desk, took a swig,
and tried it on himself.
I drank wine with Eric over chess games late at night to
help me fall asleep but who could do that programming ten hours
a day? There was no company bar... I never went out for lunch.
This was four in the afternoon.
I said, "Maybe it's you that has a problem. What, you don't
think I know? I know that your old programmer is back. I updated
all your files. Now you're pissed that I finished my work early
and you were worried you might have to give some money back.
You're looking for an excuse to let me go. God, you're such a
He just stared at me.
I just turned and walked away.
The next morning as I walked in Guy called me into his
office with his minister sitting by his side. If Guy thought
the the sight of his minister's face was going to make me drop ***168
to my knees and confess, he had another thing coming. The nerve
of this guy thinking having a priest there would somehow justify
his deceitful behavior and rationalize his guilty conscience. He
said how he had discussed and prayed over the problem with him
but was sorry that he was going to have to let me go.
Wake up Guy. This is the 20th century not the Spanish
Inquisition. Why did this guy suddenly remind me of Ed? "Fine
cut me my check." I said as I walked out to clear my desk.
"Sorry," he called out, "that will come out the end of the
"Then that's how long you'll have to wait to login to your
computer again," I said, as I stuck my face through his door
with a smile.
IBM 360's could run programs that were all ready on the
system but the Univac version nine was the computer that
punched out the cards of the programs as it transferred the
information to tape for instructions to the main computer.
Without a password, Guy couldn't run any new programs.
"What?" Guy asked almost in shock.
"Yeah, Dick. You fuck with me. I fuck with you. I changed
your password before I went home last night. You want to use
and inconvenience me? Then fuck you, too. Now I want cash. And
hurry up I'm tired of the stench of this place. God, I can't
believe you thought you could BS me and get away with it," I
I waited in the kitchen with a cigarette and a coke. The
spineless snake didn't even have the balls to face me and bring
me the money himself. He got someone out of accounting. She gave
me the money. I counted it and put it in my pack. She kept
looking at me waiting for an answer. I told her not to worry.
I'd tell Guy myself.
I walked past Guy's office and stuck my head in one last
time,"Fuck dash you," I said as I walked past reception and
out the door.
I didn't even make it the half mile to the bus stop before
a cop car with spinning red and blue lights pulled up. They had
gotten a report that I had stolen something from a computer
company down the road.
"Really. And what would that be?" I asked.
"We don't know, sir," they said.
"Why don't you call and ask and I'll be happy to show you ***169
that I don't have it," I said.
One reached for his shoulder call button as I sat on the
curb closed my eyes and tanned in the sun.
"Sir? They say you stole a password," the officer said with
a straight face.
"Officer. Do you have a pen and a piece of paper please?"
I asked. I wrote it down for them and folded it up. "Please. Don't
look at what I wrote. Just give it to them. This is what they