Volume II, Number 3: Winter, 1995

In this issue:
The Divine Comedy: Inferno
The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio
Assorted Sunday Thoughts; PostScripts

The Divine Comedy
Part I

Canto I
Being lately come on hard times, I decide to seek a new way of earning my bread.

Okay, I was close to broke. My job search hadn't been going well at all. So when a job came along, I couldn't afford to not take it. So I did. Hoo boy.

Canto II
How I came to this circumstance

When my job search had already been underway for the better part of a year, something finally happened. Glacier suggested learning the World Wide Web document language named HTML. Rogue Wave Software, his former company, was looking at putting all their documentation online in that format, and I had the time to figure out how. I took him up on the suggestion immediately after returning from the West Coast (see Volume II, Issue 1: Across the Continent!). I taught myself simple HTML from a book, and started looking at how to automate the conversion of their documents to HTML. I got in touch with someone from Rogue Wave and started talking about contracting work.

The project didn't pan out, but that doesn't matter. Learning HTML was what got me my job. I answered an ad for Web work and Visual Basic, and got a call. I told the person I didn't have a place to post the Web pages I'd created, but I could bring them to him on a floppy disk. He said they were using every bell and whistle available. While that was neat, I'd written my demo stuff to the lowest common denominator on purpose, avoiding every bell, whistle, whatsit and gizmo. Oops. Think fast - no, learn fast. That afternoon and evening I wrote a home page for myself that used some advanced features. It wasn't great, but it got me the job.

Canto III
"Trust your feelings, Luke"

I met my boss in person. He was working out of a small room sublet from a lawyer's suite in a warehouse being converted into yuppie offices in downtown Nashville. Things went well. The company was putting together an online service for the Nashville area using a graphic client/server interface. It was technically interesting and our personalities seemed to work well. The second interview was with everyone. The seeds of discord were planted then.

I had no big problems except with the CEO. He came across as an entrepreneur who wanted everyone to be absolutely convinced in the core of their being that this product not only was the best thing of its kind, but it also sliced, diced, AND made Julienne potatoes. It was a bit hard to swallow. Some of the things he talked about, like two day intensive "psych-up" events, definitely were places I didn't want to be. But hey, I was just going to be technical staff, right? No marketing involved. Just keep me in a back room and feed me electricity. Needless to say, he rubbed me the wrong way, but I needed the money.

I really did need the money. I took a major pay cut from what I'd been making in New York. But that was okay, since it was less expensive to live here. I made a budget and everything.

Canto IV
The Health Care Crisis

At the start, I didn't know what the benefits were going to be. So I called Tenncare and asked them how much I'd have to pay if I didn't get health insurance from work. I factored that in to my salary request: $X with, or $X+$Y without. They said there wouldn't, so my salary was agreed to be $X+$Y.

I started work. It was pretty good. I had a direct connection to the Internet, email, and some fancy machines and new software to play with. All was going well, except for the fact that this small room my boss and I were working tended to heat up with 2 people and four computers. The company had purchased space on the floor above, and was having offices built.

By now, I don't even remember what I was doing at first. I do remember being pretty excited. Oh yes, now I remember. My car broke down and I had to borrow Goat's truck to get in the first day. My boss didn't have a pass card for the parking lot for me either. I almost had to ram the gate to get out, but I didn't want to do that to Goat's truck. Then came the bit of foreshadowing.

My first check was late. Not by a day, by a week. I was down to less than $20 in my checking account, with about the same amount of cash on hand. I didn't know at the time that this would happen again. I was more upset that my pay didn't include the additional amount for health care.

Canto V

This pretty summed up the next few months: car problems, late or reduced paychecks, and some interesting work. I learned Photoshop, which I love, and some imaging tools. I slowly took over one of the two PCs and turned it into mine, customizing it to my taste. I ended up doing a bunch of the graphic design work for the online service. It made me wonder if the gay stereotype is true: I found that I was nixing potential designs without even trying them out. I knew they'd suck.

One ongoing source of irritation was the main screen for the service. It presented the user with a dozen different areas, each of which was a different screen. The CEO had one idea for the main menu (round photographic images) which I thought was really appalling. Icons. Use icons. But I was just the employee, so I mentioned it once or twice to my boss and then put it on hold. It did bother me that I had created a bunch of nifty screens that were going to sit behind one that sucked, but hey, I just got paid for my work, right?

There were a few ongoing issues. The biggest one was food. In the entire five story building, the only places to get food were a gallery that sold coffees and biscotti, and a restaurant that would serve champagne with your tofu. Neither was good for lunch.

Down the hall a sub shop was going in. It took a long time.

We were also waiting for the offices upstairs to be done. The official date was September 1. My boss said October 1. I said October 15.

In the meantime I learned and did good stuff. I also found out how bad the financial situation was. The other office (another company that had been started off by the CEO, then sold) threw our company out, and suddenly they were hanging around our room in the middle of the day making phone calls. My boss and I joked that we could get work done before 10 and after 2. In the meantime, we waited.

My car also wasn't doing too well. I knew it needed to have the engine checked, but I put it off. Mistake!

We kept waiting. The big goal was to get our software ready for duplication and then distribution. We contracted some modifications out, and they took much longer than expected. In the meantime we did what we could. Two weeks. We're in the countdown. Two weeks. This lasted for months.

A truly fun moment was the morning before the first demo to the press. The CEO came in with a copy of Windows 95, pointed to the machine we were going to use for the demo, and asked "Can we put Windows 95 on this machine?". Not now, I told him. We want make sure the demo actually runs.

Canto VI
Step Right Down

My birthday was one of the worst. The building had a bomb scare, and I left without my wallet or keys. So I was stuck in the parking lot, hungry and hot. (Did I mention that we went through a 24 day stretch of days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit? A Tennessee specialty!) I eventually got back into the building, only to find that everyone was gone. I went to Applebee's and had a steak at 2:30, all by myself in an empty post-lunch eatery. On the way home, I discovered that two of my tires were dangerously worn. So I spent an hour and a half in a mall, paying over a hundred bucks to have tires put on at Sears. Not a good day.

Not long after that my car died. At the end of September I was moving to a house in Murfreesboro. I had moved most of my things already. Goat and I were going to use his truck to move the rest that Saturday. Friday night, my car died two blocks from work. Thus began the descent into Hell.

I returned to the office and found a new use for bubble wrap: use it as a mattress! The next morning, somewhat sore from sleeping on the floor, I got the car towed two blocks to a repair place. The devils were watching by then, delighting in my agony. After four hours of waiting, I was told that they couldn't fix it until Wednesday. I called Goat, who came and picked me up. He had already moved my things - he's the angel in this story. We had dinner together and I learned once again what a special person he is.

The following week I was told that my car had a blown head gasket, along with some other problems. They couldn't fix it. I had it towed two more blocks to a Toyota dealer. I found out it wasn't worth fixing. I rented a car for three days (with more help from Goat) and stripped my old car and sold it to a mechanic at the dealership, taking a pretty big loss.

That Saturday I bought the cheapest car I could find: a 1979 Datsun 510. It had bad brakes, loose steering, no thermostat, no spare tire, and it smelled bad inside when running. I had to run it with the windows down, for fear of falling asleep from carbon monoxide. But it did run. I put some work into it, and it ran long enough. Except for the one weekend...

Before I get to that, I should mention that I'd been given a check for $400 before the weekend, but I had been told the following day that I shouldn't cash it because it would bounce. I held on to it.

Canto VII
Approaching Zero

On Sunday afternoon, my car wouldn't start. It barely cranked. I replaced the battery and it was fine. My checking account wasn't happy, but it was okay.

On Monday evening, my car wouldn't start. It barely cranked. I tried a jump and it went for two blocks, then died at an intersection. I pulled it over next to a fire hydrant and took the plates and all identifying information off. Then I went back and slept in the office again.

The next morning I had it towed two blocks. (Have you experienced dejá vu yet?) It wasn't as bad as the Toyota: just a dead alternator. They installed a rebuilt one. Then I got the bill, and didn't have enough money in my checking account to cover it. And the check from ACT was still not good.

I stormed back to the office. I told my startled boss and two other people that my car was being held by a repair shop because I couldn't pay for it. Then I held up two checks, one in each hand: in the one hand, my check to Firestone; in the other, ACT's rubber check that would have covered the other one. I asked them "Which of these checks is good?" and then revealed "It's a trick question - NEITHER is!". I left. [The only reason I didn't slap both checks on the table and slam my skinner's knife down through them to emphasize my point is that I didn't want to damage the knife.]

I spent three and a half hours in the Nashville Greyhound terminal, waiting for a bus back home.

The next day I just relaxed. I knew the check wasn't going to be good, so I didn't call in. On Wednesday I was told the $400 check still wasn't good. On Thursday, my boss promised to have $800 in cash waiting for me on Friday. I went in (thanks again, Goat), got the cash, got my car, and to test it drove to a bookstore.

Before I did that, though, the CEO wanted to lecture me for not coming in. "Imagine what would happen to this organization if I didn't come in for three days." I listened for a few sentences, cut him off, and told him that this was an emergency and I needed the cash. He shut up and paid. I felt good.

Canto VIII
The Point of No Return

In the book shop, I saw two programming books I wanted. I didn't need them for work, but the skills they taught would be very good on a resume. Oh yes, I was looking again by this point. My Web resume had been updated.

The books were expensive: one was $30, the other $48. I really wanted to get at least the cheaper one, but I felt I couldn't. It was horrible. These books could be the key to my getting a real job, and I couldn't afford to get them, but I couldn't afford not to get them. I felt trapped, like I'd fallen below some point of no return, and I would never be able to pull myself up again.

Here's an example: the Toyota had been an '85. Not bad, ten years old. If the money had been there, I would have taken it in before it died, because I knew it needed some work.

My 'new' car was a '79 Datsun, in worse shape.

Older? Worse shape? Shouldn't you be getting better cars the longer you work? It wasn't happening - and I was only looking at the Datsun as a stopgap, but where would I have gone from there? A '68 that leaked oil, coolant and brake fluid?

I returned to work and got on with it. What was going through my head, I don't know. Maybe I was still a little sane though, because that evening I ordered the cheaper book from a bookstore where I knew I could get a discount.

Canto IX
The Last Straw

A few slight misunderstandings occurred with a housemate. They were actually trivial, but they bothered me a lot. They bothered me so much that on the day I was supposed to have Thanksgiving dinner, I went in to the office instead, just to get work done while nobody was around.

"Hunh?" you say. "You'd spend more time there? That doesn't make sense!" No, it doesn't. But we actually were getting close to having the damn product ready, and we might have lost an important piece if I didn't go in, so I made sure I was there. By that point it had taken the company a week to scrape up the $870 to pay for a FedEx C.O.D. package. Lame.

I was already making arrangements to move out to the West Coast. I knew some people not too far from Silicon Valley, and everyone said the consulting jobs were ripe for the plucking. I had a place to stay and a tentative timetable.

The last straw was the way I felt about my housemate. I knew I was reacting all out of proportion to the events themselves, and I recognized the feeling. I'd been there before. It was time to change my life.

Canto X
Get Up, Stand Up

I had been preparing. The Tennessee Labor Board had sent an application for back pay. It's illegal for an employer not to pay you, but you can be fired for asking for your back pay! Workers unite!

On Monday afternoon I told the CEO that I didn't want the small check we'd talked about before the holidays. I wanted all my back pay, and I wanted to be paid in advance in the future. We both did our little song-and-dance routines ("I never lied to you", "You haven't fulfilled your end of the contract", blah blah blah), and Tuesday was supposed to be the day.

No Word.
A bit of parallel narrative here. Tuesday, Glacier called and said that Rogue Wave Software was looking for someone to learn and program Java, the hot new Web language. I told him I'd read up, and I did.
Kevin from Rogue Wave called before I had a chance to, and I had a phone interview. I gave him a significantly better starting salary range than I was making at ACT. The interview went well, and he was going to arrange an interview with the Chief Technology Officer.
Another meeting with the CEO.
"We'll see what we can do."
I had a note on my bedroom door that evening saying that Kevin had called. I was excited.

While driving to work Friday, I made a decision. I wanted to be on the West Coast by Sunday, December 17. It was an arbitrary number, but it was the right one. Glacier had already invited me to share Yule with his family and friends.

I also decided to leave for the day at three o'clock that afternoon. Either I'd have a check for the amount I'd requested, which I would then cash, or I would file with the Labor Board in person.

Luck was with me! Another person's hard drive crash gave me the perfect reason to stay out of Big Powwow With All Peoples. In the meantime, after I'd done what I could to the hard drive short of shooting the poor thing, I did some real work.

I photocopied the phone list of most of the businesses we dealt with. I gathered phone numbers of potential investors. I updated my tables of owed pay, and printed those out. I was prepared.

I also called Kevin and he arranged an interview for later that day.

The meeting took a break before three. Just as it was about to start back up, I poked my head in the door and asked if there would be a check for me. I was told to wait five minutes.

Ten minutes later, everyone except the CEO left the meeting room and I was called in. He handed me a check for less than a third of what was owed. I took it and walked out, telling him that that amount would be deducted from the amount I submitted to the Labor Board. Then I realized I'd made a mistake, so I went back in. I gave him the opportunity to write a new check for the full amount.

At that point, he called in the (in-name-only) owner of the company, I suspect to keep him from exploding. I got both of their songs ("I never once lied, I take care of my people", "This company has been stiffed by its creditors, and I've lost face"). They got my song back ("You're not serious about paying your people, or you would have done so"). The owner told me that she has nothing left but her credibility and integrity, which I found pretty hilarious. I asked for my full salary and that I be paid in advance.

[By that point the only way I would have continued working there is if they had paid all my back wages, a $1000+ bonus, and my next two weeks' wages - all in cash. I don't trust their credit.]

In the end, I pissed off the CEO so much that he wrote a check for the full amount and then wrote "final pay" in the memo line. I was fired! I was also told that the check would be payable on Tuesday, as they were waiting for a check to be overnighted to them. Have we heard that one before?

I called in my boss, told him to change all the passwords and remove my accounts. I handed over the office keys, which was a mistake in retrospect. The CEO demanded any company documents, so I gave him the documents, but kept the copies.

The Divine Comedy
Part II

Canto XI
Ascent from the Pit

I drove home. Shock and to a lesser extent relief were the emotions of the moment. Part way home I suddenly thought "Step 1's done.".

I couldn't get my mind off the day. There was no one home, so I went on a calling spree. Then I settled in to watch some TV in the hope of distracting myself. Oh, yes - I called the CTO of Rogue Wave. He had never gotten back to me.

Somewhen in there he called me back and we had a good interview. I liked what he said. He was going to be traveling until Wednesday, so we'd have a more technical interview then. It gave me time to prepare, so I was relieved.

Sometime later the Kevin called back. He made me a job offer, for a substantial increase in pay that brought me more than back to the pay I'd made in New York. I accepted, but I made my acceptance contingent upon the next interview with the CTO. That was not a problem; they had already talked and decided that I was it. So I accepted and gave them a tentative start date of December 11.

Canto XII
The Clock Strikes

I'm trying to arrange my life! It's Sunday the 3rd of December, and I'll be flying to Oregon sometime within a week. Whoa - time to hop to make arrangements. I have a place to stay for a while, but no transportation once I'm there. I might learn how to ride a bike just in case. Then there's a car to get rid of, shipping my stuff, et cetera.

One thing I'm going ahead with is filing for my back wages with the Labor Board. If the check becomes good, that's fine, and I'll cancel the process. If it doesn't, then I've started the paperwork early. I might call a potential investor or two if it doesn't clear on Tuesday. I can be just as nasty as anyone else.

You will have to wait for rest of this work to be completed. I must be doing the things that require my attention. I also have no idea how it will turn out!

But just imagine it: fired to hired (for a MUCH better job) in six hours! I think that sets a record.

The problem, of course, is that to do this I have to leave the person I love. Tears have been shed, and more are coming. I'm not looking forward to the airport. I'm starting to tear up just thinking about it.

I know Goat doesn't want to leave his land, and I won't ask that of him. Maybe I can just hope that I helped make his dreams of building his home start coming true.

I love him. It's hard to leave.


I've left a lot out of this narrative: the chauvinistic males; the "fag" references to people they didn't like; the assumption that we were all willing to work fifteen hour days; how Goat and I dealt with each other; and the references to TBN.

Yes, it's true. The VP of Marketing's father is a preacher on TBN. I even met the guy (before I knew his sordid profession). The VP had spent an afternoon with Jan Crouch, TBN's anorexic version of Tammy Faye Baker. There was a demo version of our system which had been "TBN-ized". Once I was told that the CEO was considering approaching TBN to setup a system through which people could contribute to them online - with a small percentage going to our company. Talk about your thirty pieces of silver! I decided that I would resign before I worked on anything to do with them.

I'll give credit to my boss and co-worker Paul, though. He's been professional from the start, which is more than I can say for anyone else there. I wish him well. The sad part is that I left him in a great position to negotiate a salary increase - but I don't think he'd do it. He's been sucked down too far financially.

Maybe that's what pissed the CEO off... I refused to be sucked down his little power whirlpool. That makes me feel even better.

Assorted Sunday thoughts

The Grateful Dead is the ultimate consumer product. Think about it. The perfect consumer product is one that the consumer enjoys, craves more of, and will pay for. By these standards, the Dead is it.

Thinking about the computer language C++ too much leads to solipsism. The basis of C++ is objects. Every object has an interface (the way the world interacts with it) and implementation (how it functions on the inside). The implementation is hidden from everything but the object itself. For example, your television set's interface is its buttons, knobs, and the picture it produces. You don't care how it creates the image you see and sound you hear (the implementation). All you interact with is the interface.

It's dangerous to start thinking of people this way. All we see are people's interfaces: their faces, voices, et cetera. Freud had a theory of what the implementation is (id-ego-superego), but if people are objects, then we cannot know "the insides". The next step is the conclusion that we can never be sure that anyone else is conscious, since we can't see inside them. Behaviorism and solipsism are the result.

So how do you folks feel about this? Write me.

So what are the responses of all you objects to this? Feel free to interact with my interface on the subject.

The trees around here don't celebrate autumn. I saw only one tree, a maple by trade, that dared to display its autumn finery to its fullest.

When you get right down to it, the seasons down here are different from the ones in New York and New England. It's an October night here, but it's chronologically December. The leaves just don't seem to get that it's autumn, and they should be brilliant. Instead they just turned dingy brown and fell off.

As a matter of fact, the seasons are for the most part so different that I can't use the same names for them that we all know. Here are the seasons I've discovered down here:

Grum Late chill, when the world's been gray for so long that it's all just grum. Photos taken in Grum have little contrast, and it's all greyish. No snow, just stillness and the wind through the bare trees at night. And the stars.
Spring The dogwoods are in bloom. It's beautiful. It's a few weeks at most.
Prug Green gone riot. The photos taken in Prug look like they were painted by Impressionists with a wild brush and a green fixation.
Buzzer The insects are out. It's hot.
The Stretch Day after day after week after week of temperatures over 90F, sun, humidity, and no clouds or rain.
Dyof Cooler period when plants die.
Merr Fear of icy roads closes schools. It might snow, but never sticks.

I just made those up, but it's about right. The only season that even roughly corresponds is Spring.

For a while I thought I'd figured out what made people so relaxed about time. Time seemed so weird down here because people were waiting for the winter, and it never came. Winter has never come here. So no wonder they're all confused and aimless.

It was a great theory until someone pointed out that most people have lived their whole lives here and had never been through Winter, only Merr and Grum. Another theory shot to hell. Maybe it's a racial memory thing.

I had a wonderful experience yesterday that I want to share with everyone. Yesterday I was in Kinko's, when I suddenly realized that I didn't have to get copies of my resume printed! It might seem like a little thing to most of you, but it was wonderful. After a year and a half, I don't have to go through it again. I extend my sympathy and best wishes to those who do.

The only advice I can give is to put in the effort. Zook's doing that right now, and I think it's a great step.

My Web page is still up, if you care (who knows for how long?):


The darn thing is out of my hands now, so don't expect any changes. When I have a new URL, I'll make sure every knows. It will probably look different.

No one noticed the subliminal image, anyway. Or... at least not consciously.

Speaking of subliminal images, I'm proud to say that the online service I used to work for has a sub-subliminal image in its News screen. I very very very lightly highlighted a big equilateral triangle, point down, across the thing. No one will ever notice, but I know it's there. "Queer was here."

Before I'm gone from these parts, I'd like to share some information on them.

  • Woodbury is a town that has a subtle fascination with death. The evidence: (A) The hospital has a graveyard in a front corner of its property; (B) There is a funeral home on the main street with a neon sign (blue and white - it's tasteful neon); and (C) the radio station, WBRY (We BuRY?), is located in the middle of a cemetery.

  • There is a historical marker on the way into town from the east, which we see whenever we go into town. "Forrest rested here". That's Nathan Bedford Forrest, who rescued some rebel soldiers from captivity by union troops in Murfreesboro. He was a hero. He also went on to found the Klu Klux Klan. And Woodbury remembers him.

  • The Arts & Entertainment channel recently showed a biography of Joseph Pulitzer. In it, there was an article from one of his papers: a report of a combined lynching and barbecue. It happened in the nineteenth century in Murfreesboro, where I've lived for the past two months.

As Roger Debris would say, the whole area is just drenched in historical goodies.

I don't know where I'm going to be folks, so I can't give you an address yet. Mail sent to Woodbury will reach me, but slowly. More will follow! Take care! Best of luck! Bon Voyage on the sea of life! I'll be in touch!


Mark and Hope were the only ones to return an answer to the "Analogy" section in Volume II, Issue 1. Shame on the rest of you!

You might have noticed that there was no print version of Volume II, Number 2. It was (and might still be) up on the Web. It was a very short issue, one sction of about three or four sentences, that stated that I was tired of all the things in my life that disappointed me. The section was called "Tired".

I can't fill up all the dead space for this issue. I'd like to try to keep writing, but I'm having a really massive visual disturbance which, if I hadn't just taken acetaminophen, would surely lead to a migraine. As it is, I'm just getting a headache. This disturbance is really something, though. Very extensive. [I'm imagining myself found slumped over the computer tomorrow morning, dead. And on the screen was the word "Aaaaugggghhhhhhhh". So I better end now.]


It's Tuesday the 5th and I still have a column to fill. I already nixed the idea of a curmudgeon's corner for this issue, because I'm already surrounded by too many negative events to write about the physics of the JFK head wound or the concept of honor or horoscopes. I could write CD reviews (Joe Jackson's "Body & Soul", the Residents' "Gingerbread Man", a few others), but that's going to have to be in the next one. I'm not in the mood.

Plans are proceeding for the move, and tomorrow I pack and ship the essential things. Some stuff has already been moved to temporary storage. Tomorrow I fax my acceptance of the job back to Rogue Wave. Transportation in Oregon seems to have worked itself out for the first week.

As I sit here writing, Goat is playing a number of piano rolls on a Chickering parlor grand with an Ampico reproducing mechanism. This is while he's taping ZBS' radio serials Ruby 3 and Saratoga Springs.

The situation where I live has deteriorated. My housemate doesn't like having people he doesn't know call. He's already changed the phone number once (without informing me) in the two months I've been there. Things came to a head today over placing a "car for sale" ad in the local classified rag. He didn't want me to list our number. This afternoon was the deadline, and I told him that I was going to do it for lack of an alternative. He became upset and refused to talk about it. I left to get things done. When I came back he was gone, along with the phone and the answering machine in the kitchen. I waited for him to come back so we could discuss it, but he didn't. I ended up missing the deadline, so I don't know what I'm going to do about getting rid of the darn thing. I'd like him to sell it and give me the money.

My other housemate, a vegetarian, becomes nauseated by the smell of meat. I learned as I was making a beef stew last night.

Great... trying to be considerate is going to make me into a vegetarian person who lives in a cold, dark house that no one contacts. (The cold and dark part comes from the expense of leaving heat and lights on - not easy to do on his lack of finances. Plus the light hurts his eyes.)

Thanks to Ryland for some good words on the subject.

It just seems funny to me that after extricating myself from financial blackmail, someone is trying to use emotional blackmail on me.

I guess I'll pack the rest of the stuff and go live with Goat for the last few days.

But the good news is that I'm getting on with my life.


Last updated 2 June 2000
All contents ©1996-2002 Mark L. Irons

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