Category Archives: Flashback
Let’s close out Women’s History Month with a musical group who impacted my most formative time-space moments: Cheryl ‘Salt’ James, Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton, and Deidra ‘DJ Spinderella’ Roper! Collectively, you know them as Salt N Pepa.
I remember my first encounter with Salt N Pepa. “Push It,” came on the radio, and I listened to the lyrics as it played. I had no earthly connection to what they were talking about, but their vocal delivery, their ‘out there’-for-a-tween lyrics, and frankly, their female-ness sent me into an array of emotions: Amazing! Who are they? How cool; they’re rappers…and women! With boom box in tow, I ran into my brother’s room, breathlessly exclaiming, “They’re girls! And they’re rappers!!” in a tone suggesting, “See big brother? Girls are just as good at hip hop as boys!”
He responded, “GET OUT OF MY ROOM!” which, translated, meant, “You are the best sister anyone could ever ask for. You are correct; that is a wonderful discovery and what a historical vault for American womankind.”
During our last art date, Marie and I talked about how “Let’s Talk About Sex,” the seminal Salt N Pepa pop tune that spurred much controversy, saved us from haphazardly jumping into an activity with serious life consequences. The song came out about the same time my classmates were getting physical, yet none of them could answer for me, “Why do you have to have sex?” Here they were, 13, 14, 15 years of age, engaging in mating ritual, without putting much thought to the significance of the act. Then this song came out, and I’m practically stuffing my headphones into my ears. What the hell is this ‘sex’ business about??
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
I set out to talk about it. My mother, when confronted, checked out a copy of “The Joy of Sex” from the library and hid it under my bed, with a simple suggestion to check under there for answers. My best girl friend gave me a copy of Nancy Friday’s “Forbidden Flowers” to peruse. The following summer, I took a job at the local daycare center for Army babies. Oh boy…that’s why everyone’s having sex?? Seems like non-fun.
Salt N Pepa prepped me with life-saving messages in lyrical form. As such, when the guys pushed up, I asked, “We’re friends. Why complicate that with sex?” I had no want for disease or oopsie babies, thanks to my hip hop muses.
I fear today’s young ladies in their formative years aren’t receiving the right empowerment messages. Iggy Azalea prides herself in…what? Guys noticing she has friends and a huge ass (which is how I summate her freshman album)? Nicki Minaj wants to encourage sexual desire, but only on the B side does she refer to its consequences (which is how I summate her sense of accountability)?
Perhaps I’m just a tired old bag who feels the genitals have nothing to do with self-esteem or positive living, but I am glad that, because I listened to my musical mentors and their messages of truth, I own my sexuality. I determined upon my start and still today, when, how, and with whom I engage with sexually. I am a goddess, I only get this one body, and only I am responsible for it!
Thank you, Salt N Pepa, for using Hip Hop to educate, influence, and lift up those within listening range.
If you’re a high-level thinking individual who’s sexy to boot, then you’re already enjoying Aeon Magazine. I appreciate their thought-provoking articles and intuitive content contributors. Recently, I beheld an interesting editorial section, Aeon Ideas, in which they posited: If you could undo one historical event, which would it be? Mr. Haselby responded with the U.S. Government response to the Elian Gonzalez affair. Good one, I thought, as US-Cuban relations are now the hot topic.
Reflecting on the past, I tried to pick an event I would undo. The Holocaust? Pol Pot? Every Kardashian?
It’s so obvious: I’d revisit my SAT exam!!
Let me set the sad story. I moved to Texas from Germany mid-high school. Probably before the end of my first semester in America-American school I realized this country was academically slow. Wherever the America-American curriculum was set at, I’d already completed it before moving to the Western Hemisphere.
Because of this inconvenience, I would cut school, pretty regularly. Kept a decent routine; you know, be present for roll call at the beginning of 2nd period, then throw a few hand signs to a select group of people before excusing myself to the ladies’ room, winding down the stairs to the parking lot, where those who interpreted the signal correctly would be waiting to enter my family’s Ford Aerostar. Lots of coffee and pancakes at Kettle, day trips to Georgetown or Austin. We had a good time!
My first official boyfriend was not into school at all. Like this should come as a surprise to you regulars…he was quite involved in gang activity. When not day tripping to the Salado gift shoppes, I was rolling around town with this wonderful-to-me/nightmare-to-society individual. Lapses in judgment and time resulted in several Saturday detentions, which was fine, because my boyfriend would be there too! Aww, young love…
Still an Honors student, I scored high on my course exams and was ranked in the top 10% of my graduating class despite hardly entering the building (save for Band, gotta stick with Band). Used to being told to show up to the gymnasium, I trotted in one Saturday morning blissfully expecting to see BF and his gangsta cohorts. Instead, I saw kids that were in my Honors classes, looking nervous as fuck.
What happened that got all the Honors kids detention? I actually thought. I was yelled to sit down, so I did. I was handed an answer sheet and a pencil. What the…? Am I in the wrong gym?? Slapped down in front of me was the official examination handbook. SHIT.
Didn’t know, so, didn’t study! I scored a dismal 950. However, stroke of friggin’ luck…in Texas, if you are within the 90th percentile of your graduating class, your SAT scores don’t matter if you apply to a state school. Hurrah!
EXCEPT. You’re also automatically enrolled in remedial courses if you score less than average than the graduating class. Fuck fuck FUCK!
Here I am, a proficient writer in and speaker of the English language, enrolled in collegiate remedial English! Our instructor was a frail, wool-chested, chain-smoking idiot who wore his shirts unbuttoned to his naval. My first paper for the course, I misused a word: condone. To condone is to forgive or allow, I knew that, but I intended to use the word condemn, which is to judge as unfit, as I remember it was a position paper and I wasn’t agreeing with the stated position. Either way, simple mistake, especially for a handwritten, in-class assignment.
Chesty McDickerton marks my paper as a Fail. To the right margin, in creamy, red felt ink, he noted, “I understand why you made such a simple error. You haven’t mastered the English language yet.” Such gravitas!
I went from being one of the brightest and gifted students the Department of Defense Dependent Schools system has ever had the glory to educate to a fresh off the boat, English as a Second Language, special needs student in the eyes of Texas.
All because I kept skipping class.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, I am featuring TWO artists! One, a discovery: new to me, doesn’t mean they haven’t been out there for a while and the other, a reflection: I want to introduce you to musical artists whom influenced my wordcrafting, all women.
I do not review, I do not critique, I merely esconce myself in the artistry. But I’d love it if you all, especially if you’re talented at music critiquing, to please use my Comments field to share your aspect of the experience. And by all means, share share share to the moon and back!
(read time 7m22s)
I found Trish and settled in the seat to her right. She scored us an ideal location, perfect line of sight to the podium, a couple rows back. The aisle was two seats away, good. There’s the door. Got my noise cancellers around my neck, check. I’m fully prepped to endure crowd anxiety for this momentous occasion: an evening with my teacher, Chuck D of Public Enemy. I open my Darth Vader notebook and prepare to shorthand whatever lessons I can gather today.
I noted my inflammed joints and stiff hip from a week of unusually low temperatures, and imagined what it’d be like now to kick up into a one-handed handstand from a flattened cardboard box. My seven year old hands clapping along to the beat, sidestepping to the tempo, watching my brother attempt to breakdance. As I entered into the obligatory, “Go ‘head, go ‘head…” with the other block rockers, I thought, yo that kid is WACK! Hours spent in my room, duplicating what I observed on the cardboard then snapping it tight. My brother wouldn’t let me join his crew, but I figured, one day I’ll have my own, so I better be ready.
A group of three slide from the left into the row in front of us, and I see the muscular man in a blue t-shirt intends to take the seat in front of me. As I scrutinize his eyes and nose, I feel certain I know him. Personally? Historically..? Been a lot of places/seen a lot of faces… My mental Rolodex is spinning wild. He sits down, and I’m relieved his sculpted shoulder doesn’t impede my view of the podium.
We’ve just finished playing Masters of the Universe and my brother has a swell idea: let’s be DJ s! He orders me, as is his right as the elder, to pick some vinyl records from our parents’ collection. Tina Turner’s Break Every Rule? no… Michael Jackson’s Thriller? no… Commodores..? Hmm. Nah. So I grab Kenny Rogers’ 1983 Greatest Hits. That one’s mom’s. She won’t miss it.
I watch my brother and his friends pull the vinyl back and forth, three fingertips along the grooves, making the now iconic rip rip rawr a la Jam Master Jay of Run DMC. We giggled once the record was left to play, only to interrupt his vocals:
You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille/ rip rip a fine time/ rip a fine time/ rip rip
We didn’t know scratching the record might actually cause scratches to the record, and once mommy told daddy, our DJ days were squashed!
A thought fills my head: what if you get a chance to speak to him? Mr. D..? Mr. Chuck? Can’t just call him Chuck, he’s not your friend. Consummate confusion of mine; how to formally address an emcee. Madame Lyte? Mr. Cool J? I never could come up with a cool MC name. Heck, I wasn’t even a good emcee to begin. Middle school lunch room, two rows decide to enter into freestyle rapping. Me, the closet poet and at the time, theater kid, went up against my best friend. Oh I got her, I was sure, she don’t know about rap! So I busted out something so generic: My name is Vonnie, and I’m here to say… surprised that wasn’t followed by a round of boos. She stands up, smug faced, and I immediately realize I have failed. I still hear the smackdown clear in my ears: C to da A to da R-OL-I-N-E/Sweet/Ahh!/Like caramel candy…
Grimace. Melt. Never battle rhymed again.
The poetic political enemy takes to the podium and I grin big, taking in the fitted cap, the wide stance, then eagerly press pen to paper. Chuck’s voice has a signature resonance, and everytime I hear it, I’m called to listen; I the faithful, he the muezzin. Listening to Public Enemy, these “radicals” telling you to question authority and call out injustices, conflicted with daddy’s job, and the environment we lived in. As hip hop flourished into a global movement, hitting the Armed Forces Network radio airwaves and featured on MTV Europe, daddy was adamant in keeping those sounds and influences out of the home. Disobedience meant repercussions:
Playing Salt ‘N’ Pepa too loud from my little red boom box smack!
Dad home early from work, caught wearing sneakers with no shoelaces twack!
To no affect, of course. I’m still pissing people off with my principles to this day.
— Von Simeon (@VonSimeon) February 27, 2015
My teachers – musicians, storytellers, poetic prophets – provided examples of how to protect my mind, gave me fodder for philosophy, reminded me bruises may break my skin but never my soul. It dawned on me as Chuck D reminded the collegians how valuable intelligence is, Hip Hop saved me from abandoning my wits. The movement, not just the music, fortified in me that my art is just as powerful a weapon as a machine gun, that I could equally call for change or kill a man simply by placing the right set of words together. My teacher lamented that we remain a society too caught up in SocMed to truly understand our reality for what it is: too much individualism, too little discourse, too few moments when information technology doesn’t intercede in decision making. Oh my gosh, I realize, I attack those very issues every day, on this blog, in my prose, and in my freestyle poems. Good job MC Von, you paid attention.
As he entered into the original days of hip hop and the struggle for equal air play, Chuck pointed out, “The Cold Crush Brothers were selling out shows, never blew up, never got their fair share of airplay…” Ah yes, nodding in my seat, I remember the Cold Crush crew, and then Chuck D extends his right arm my direction and says, “Charlie Chase is sitting right there, he can tell you…”
Rolodex stops at Cold Crush Brothers. The DJ. DJ Chase. DJ CHASE IS SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.
“Don’t. Explode,” My inner sargent-at-arms instructs. I shudder with pure excitement, then chuckle a bit. My big bro can suck it!!
I wanted to pull DJ Chase towards me and exult, “You know, I used to DJ my friends’ house parties? I love music! I love youuu!”
Phone is ringin/oh my god Get it together..
I still dance but I’m afraid if I start popping I won’t be able to push my bones back into their joints! I may not have vinyl to scratch, but I’ve got eclectic playlists out the wazoo, and I share what’s new to me every week on Turn It Up Tuesday. While my spoken word sucks, my written word is vicious, and now, available in book form.
Knowing there are few moments in life when you can credit people who’ve positively influenced you, after the presentation I quickly, timidly tapped Charlie Chase on his shoulder. He was slow to turn then presented a warm smile once he saw me. I fought the tremors to tell him, “I just wanted to shake your hand and let you know because of you I wanted to be a DJ.” He was kind enough to shake my hand tightly, then asked, “What’s your name?”
What’s my muthafuckin’ naame..?
“My name is Von Simeon. I’m a local artist. Thank you for your time.” Zoom! Towards the door.
“You handled that very well,” Trish complimented. I could feel the tremors building up. There’s no way I can approach Chuck D in this state, so I’ll just follow him on Twitter, @MrChuckD.
Oh. So it is the full emcee name after Mister or Madam. Good to know.
Continuing this week’s exploration of the artistic struggle, I thought it’d be fun to dig through the crates, find a composition about “struggling,” and explore the emotions and events which evoked the piece. I shall take the phenomenological approach and react first, then reflect.
How old was I when I composed this? 2006…it’s 2015 now…that puts me at 29 years of age. Ooh! What a particularly conflicting year. End of February-beginning of March-ish, I had received an acceptance letter from The Graduate School at Penn State University. I was absolutely stoked, so stoked that I jumped onto my motorcycle, burned it to the job site, found my co-worker/secret lover, pulled him aside, and whispered, “I’ve got some big news!” expecting him to be proud of what I was about to relay.
Oh gosh, I remember being filled with excitement, wide eyed and eager to announce this achievement. Emotionally, I was still in that phase of thinking guys I’m fucking care about me as a person, so of course, when he interpreted my excitement as something regarding him and his mediocre achievements in the workplace, I was stunned! Clearly it had to do with me, how is he making it about him??
Dumb silly cunt I was.
The acceptance letter meant two things: one, despite being away from academia for seven years, my past academic achievements coupled with my professional achievements validated a Masters candidacy at one of the top three research facilities in the country, possible PhD if I was so emboldened. Second, my professional achievements since high school had risen me to executive leadership qualification, and all I needed was a Master in something to FINALLY break through The Glass Ceiling.
But again… dumb silly cunt I was.
Instead of taking his lack of care as a cue to tell him to fuck off, I collapsed into a depression. I recall taking a day off to make a three day weekend (I would fake physical illnesses because I was too embarrassed to admit my mental disorder then) and I sat there, a pajama pity party in full swing, writing sad, woe-is-me, nobody-loves-me poetry.
Thank the Universe for Penn State! And thanks to Spirit for trumping Ego, because I’m certain if Ego wrote back to Penn State, Ego would’ve said, “Thanks but I need to work on my career/desperate need for male affection right now.”
Spirit wrote an enthusiastic confirmation letter back, and in August 2006, I moved to State College, PA and became a Nittany Lion.
Reflecting on this poem now, I’m glad I kept it. It demonstrates the inner turmoil of the futility of trying to please Society. I did everything right, I followed all the rules, I followed all definitions of “success,” and despite all my sacrifices, I was not worthy of unconditional love.
It’s what comics fondly call “IGDI Girl.” I had Daddy Issues, but not with my father; it was the macro issue of having excelled in traditionally masculine roles as a woman. At the time, I was the only female salaried employee in the entire division. I ran a crew of twelve, all men. They took orders from me, orders I relayed straight from the executive director, whose weekly meetings I attended and contributed to. The acceptance letter was another stroke on the masculine tally board: I was going for a Master of Science in an economics concentration, not the stuff for girls.
I was 29, single, well-paid, no babies, I owned a sedan and a motorcycle, and I lived in an exclusive condominium. I was living the life!
A man’s life.
Critiquing this poem, I realize in bright technicolor the why of the matter…what man would want a woman who’s better at being a man than he is?
No wonder I was lonely…
I spent the last two years of high school with this grueling schedule:
7am – 8am: color guard practice
8am – 4pm: honors courses
4pm – 6pm: marching band practice
7pm – 2am: work at my brother’s store
3am – 6am: homework and maybe sleep
You can imagine how difficult it was for me to have a semblance of a balanced life then!
The nights I was not scheduled for work, I took myself to Red Team Gym, a fitness facility located on Fort Hood. This was my favorite place to pump out the stress of my so-called life.
Red Team was not the family-friendly gym; Red Team was for the serious body sculptors, the gals and guys who, after dismissed from duty, didn’t run straight to the barracks to their game consoles, but instead, to their sweats and back supports.
The gym was my happy place. Women weren’t segregated from men and everyone shared the equipment respectfully. Amongst my kindred I pressed, pushed, and howled through reps until I felt deflated, which meant, I felt good. The entire gymnasium was alive with random shouts and applause of positive affirmations. Gym rats, the lot of us, but we all felt worlds better after a challenging workout.
A year into university, on the first day of Weightlifting class, I simmered in quiet dismay as I absorbed my new free weight comrades: scrawny, nerdish, physically unwell, insecure. All males. No ladies. Not at all what I was used to! Guess SWTSU didn’t have any other warrior women on campus that semester?
Every class day I experienced disappointment. Since the boys wanted to keep it insular, the instructor had to force students to pair with me. The only guy who would throw just a minimal amount of shade my way had a heavy foreign accent and spoke completely indiscernible English. He also suffered from constant workout boners, and his strict adherence to tight pants certainly did not improve our partnering situation!
The scary part was pairing with someone who was so dedicated to his insecurity, he’d overload the bars. I knew deep down in my heart the weight was crippling him, but, as I’d slide my hands under the bar ready to catch, they’d scoff or tell me to back off, while their arms or legs wiggled for mercy!
Most the time, I spent Weightlifting class arms folded, waiting for my turn at the bar or bench, while the fellas chummed it up, curling Gatorade into their faces like dumb bells, using the benches as recliners, the bars as towel holders. I would’ve been completely content to work out on my own, but class rules required pairing. I left every session feeling less accomplished and more frustrated.
I signed up for Weightlifting class naively assuming the camaraderie and support I experienced at Red Team was universal, only to find extremely unmotivated, apprehensive people. That experience brought to light a fitness surety: no matter what weight, no matter what experience level, self-discipline is what begets success in body sculpting. Support comes from equally self-disciplined people.
After making an A in the course, I invested in the campus recreational facility, abandoning the nostalgia of Red Team Gym and focusing on my health, which was and still is the priority.
[NOTE: My last full post for 2014. Happy Holidays and see you in 2015!]
Phew! Finals, amirite? Semester out of the way, kids stay home instead of stinking up your classroom, vacay in full effect! Aaahh…
Now that you’re ensconced in your house coat, fuzzy slippers and baggy sweats (or muu muu, depending on your climate), put Robocop on! “Why, Von?” you are clearly asking.
Let me serve for you in this post (maybe in life?) as your personal techno-philosopher. You guys know how much of a technophile I am, and you know I extol the virtues and sins of technological determinism whenever I’m up for it. Robocop is a very graceful interlace of two Digital Age explorations, technological innovation at the expense of human interaction and a free-willed spirit coming to self-actualization technologically. I’ll explain.
Alex Murphy is another Detroit cop doing his business, but crime prevailed, costing him his physical state. We experience a conversation between minds, Michael Keaton representing Innovation and Gary Oldman representing Reason. (As an aside, you know when Gary Oldman’s in a movie, you really can’t go wrong!)
Beautifully, these two argue the merits of utilizing Alex in this ‘Robocop’ capacity. Reason starts with the surface: Alex is a father and a husband and, with modern technology, can still fulfill these roles which are near and dear to him. Under the surface, Reason argues that Will, particularly, the will to exist, is much stronger than the high-tech body frame Alex inherits. You can literally strip a human being down to his cortex and shooting arm, yet the Spirit remains.
Innovation argues, quite rightly, that less human lives are lost when technologies are engaged to combat crime. Without letting hubris get in the way of his decision making, Innovation asserts that the human component cannot be manipulated or imitated; there has to be a human factor in combating crime. This position tells me this guy wouldn’t be a proponent of drone technology used in the battlefield.
Innovation upholds the caveat that, if we are engaging in human activity, technologies are purposeful only when they enhance, not replace, the human experience. Giving a hug, slapping a face, these are forms of communicating that are more efficacious than receiving a carbon-fiber hug or robot arm slap to the face.
Obviously, this is an action film, so they can’t spend too much time waxing over the merits of hybrid human-robot technology, but damn, in those carved out moments, they sure got the message out right. Watch for the combat simulation scene after Alex’s dopamine levels are lowered to non-existent. What Michael Keaton’s character says to the woman as they discuss the human component of this new tool is gonna give you goose bumps!
While this reboot retains the authenticity of the original, it’s more relevant to the world we live in now. Whereas the first Robocop was a futuristic look at things-to-come, here we’re examining things-that-totally-are-happening.
Of course, yes, Robocop is not an actual thing, but we do currently have military service men and women working with cyberkinetic teams to enhance their serviceability. It’s crazy to think someone would get their leg blown off, replace it with a robotic one, and still want to engage in combat after such trauma, but, yeah, that’s technological sophistication merging with free will in full affect!
And finally, Joel Kinnaman is not hard to admire. I fell off on “The Killing” but that’s where I first remember meeting that Scandinavian devil, and man, for a Swede, he sure pulls off Detroit well! The accent, the mannerisms, is pure D, and guys from the D, well…they hold a special place in my heart. :)
While you earn your respite, please check out this hilarious interview Joel Kinnaman did to promo the movie when it first came out. You’ll never unknow his Uncle Scotty story after you watch it! Daily Show with Jon Stewart Interview with Joel Kinnaman
Happy vegging out!
What happens to the machine when the human abandons it?
Behold, the personal computer. A Packard Bell desktop, to be precise, with all the whiz-bangs the end of the 20th century allotted: 100 megahertz Intel processor, 1 gigabyte SCSI drive, a floppy and a CD drive, and, the creme-de-la-creme, a 28.8 bits per second dial up modem!
The programmer who owned this box passed away in 2011, and it, like many of his material things, just sat where he last left it. Now the CPU, keyboard, and start-up flops are in my house, and I’m attaching my 50″ flat screen to serve as its monitor.
Quite the whimsical juxtaposition of What Once Was with What Now Is.
Back in the IT days, we referred to an abandoned system as a ‘dead man’s locker.’ The typical service call was someone not information technology inclined asking me to figure out what Billy Bob did to make the pooter run before he croaked. The task at the user level was difficult; every system administrator has peculiar habits – a certain naming convention that doesn’t make literal sense, the redirect of master files from the default directory to a special access directory (and the guys who do this still: STOP IT YOU’RE BEING A DOUCHEBAG) and the lovely discriminate limitations to certain users to start business-specific applications.
Every ‘box’, including the one you’re using to read this, has its required components but all are completely customizeable to the whim of the box’s owner/operator. We all have a certain signature applied to every program we run, and, for us of the IT world, we go so far as to change the way the machine thinks, encouraging dominion.
So how did this fellow exact dominion over machine? He was a COBOL programmer, so was I. If his operating system was DOS-based, then he ran MicroFocus COBOL, which means, he likely signed all his subroutines a certain way.
Yes, all programmers sign their subroutines. :)
The task was made simple: see if you can boot it up and if so, see if there’s any files worth saving.
Geez. I gotta make that call? It’s good I’m the neutral party in this arrangement!
The box came up and went through its basic start sequence. I listened for the tell-tale spin of the hard disk and the immediate hunt of the arms. I didn’t hear the distinct song.
The Jumbotron displayed ‘i/o error remove disk then hit <Enter> to continue’. With nothing in the other drives, the i/o error had to be anything along the SCSI controller.
Tool bag out, cover is off.
Everything looked…OLD. Even when I was supporting systems eons ago, this was considered an old box! Checked the bands, the relays, the connection…looks like he never touched it. I did attempt to open the case fully, but alas, the final screws were smaller than the heads I have in my toolkit.
This is the point of system analysis when you gotta ask: is it worth pursuing further?
I thought back to the original request. This was HIS computer; no one else even knows how to code. The only auxiliary access was via fax machine, which they didn’t own anymore. They already have a current-century box working fine in the household. Even if I was to get the arms moving and the drive spun up, the only person who would understand his codes was gonna be me, the neutral party, and nobody in the world is looking for home-spun programs written in MicroFocus COBOL.
Then I think to myself, this would be a fun short story to write. :)
I go about trying to find anything that could fit these screws, but I’m just shearing the heads at this point. While I wanted to resolve this and discover he was indeed a talented programmer in his heydey, my curiosity was quelled by limited access to the technology.
In plain words…the needle-nose screwdriver I require costs more than this entire box, code included.
Turn on any information communication device, and you will know, for a fact, undeniably, you are dying from Ebola TODAY.
Helluva job these media folks are doing scaring the bejeezus out of the simple minded. I did help myself to a chuckle, as the first U.S. case was in jolly Dallas, Texas! I spoke to a former work colleague the same week the Ebola case was unfolding, someone who still resides in Texas, and I told her, “You can have it! If any state is better qualified to re-enact Contagion, Texas is it!” followed closely with a, “Glad I left when I did!” Then I asked my former co-worker, “Do you remember anthrax…?” To which she offered a begrudged, “Ohhh…”
Allow me to elucidate.
After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, every single industry set out to fortify its defenses; physically, numerically, and gigabyte-ly. IBM was flooded with anxious IT administrators and company executives seeking whatever adaptation necessary to keep their servers online. During that time, I worked for the team which specialized in disaster recovery – we created customized fail-over servers, we employed network migration to re-build fried servers, we developed off site data storage solutions, along with many many other skillful tactics to preserve data integrity – and the September 11 attacks had us on overtime, literally. There were no such moments as a call-free pager duty. Everyone on my team was working minute by minute to deliver.
Then the envelope thing happened.
IBM’s focus shifted from fortifying its clients to protecting its own. As these emergency situations go, objectives were laid out by the Big Bluers, trickled down to the middle range, and then (mis)interpreted by the floor managers. Our team manager, bless her heart, was already a skiddish woman for a WWF Raw fan. The added responsibility of training us snarky bastards on identifying and reporting anthrax gave her hives.
I recall us sitting in the conference room, at that ubiquitous parabola surrounded by squeaky chairs, wondering why they put the assorted breakfast danishes way on the opposite side of the table and not in front of me, as would be convenient. The manager had us listen to a recording, and from that recording, determine if we were experiencing a possible threat to the office. A round of comical roasts and burns of each other in an emergency situation derailed the manager’s attempt to bring us back to line. We could not take this serious even if she paid us to!
From same recording, we needed to identify key noises in the background that would help us, if in danger, to identify the person on the other line making the threat. I may have heard a passing train, but the growls from my stomach overshadowed her attempt to engage me. I dunno, after more than two bomb threat evacuations in my life, I’m just not a good scare tactic reactor.
The division I worked involved four camps: Research Triangle Park, NC; Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; Austin, TX. I was in Austin at the time. We snarky ones had found out over the grapevine that someone at RTP called in sick, claiming anthrax exposure. IBM, I imagine to protect the staff, made it mandatory for the person to stay home more than two days.
We snarky ones liked the sound of that.
Slowly, like a large-faced daisy losing its petals, the most rebellious of our team employed the anthrax cough and subsequent call-ins to get out of work. Yes, I know, it’s terrible to monopolize on a serious infection, especially when so many people were harmed or died, but frankly, we didn’t give a damn. We just wanted a few days off, and if saying the A word was going to get middle management to sign off on sick leave, why the hell not? You would’ve done it too, don’t even try to be pious right now!!
I played the A card. But I only took one day off. ;)