My Dead Gay Mormon

I earn my living as a professional in the field of Information Technology. I have a B.S.E. in Computer Engineering, and a Masters of Computer and Information Science. I take my job very seriously, but everyone has moments of weakness.

Twenty-five years ago, I worked on a project that created a case management solution for a child welfare agency to use. The point of the software was to keep track of children in foster homes to help ensure for the care and well-being of the children. A lofty and admirable goal.

I programmed the part of the system that captured that data and wrote it to a database. One of the fields on that screen was “Reason Why the Child was Removed From the Home.” It’s an important thing to track, but it was one of about twenty such important items on the screen. At the time I created that part of the software, not all of the requirements had been defined, so I did not have a strong list of predefined reasons. This was database driven, so I just had to make up some reasons for the removal. As there were no dependencies on the specific values, they could be corrected later on.

There were probably two dozen such screens in the system, and each of those had a dozen or so data fields. There was a lot of data tossed around a lot of screens. It took us several weeks to pull it all together, but we did, and so a demonstration of the solution was scheduled.

The client was a State government agency. These well-meaning people were Civil Servants, dedicated to the state, and hoping to improve the lives of the children unfortunate enough to be placed in foster care. They wanted this system to work, and to help them all out. During the demonstration, the system worked well, and screens were projected in front of a large audience. It was operational but with a few minor hiccups. People liked what they saw.

During the demonstration, one of these well-meaning Civil Servants asked to see the list of data behind the field “Reason Why the Child was Removed From the Home.” The salesman in charge of the demonstration directed the systems engineer assisting to access the field.

Recall that I had made up those values. If you have read other parts of this blog, you may have a sense of what I find entertaining. When I invented those reasons, I chose the following reasons that a child was removed from the home:

  • Dead
  • Gay
  • Mormon

And that list was projected in front of the room of twenty officials from the State, the officials that were charged with verifying that our work was correct, complete, and appropriate.

So can you imagine my surprise when I stumbled on this web site the other day:

All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay

Now I have told my “Gay Dead Mormon” story repeatedly over the years but mostly as a cautionary tale about the dangers of made-up data for demonstrations. It’s actually told much better than I do by the salesman who presented that day; but for him it’s a cautionary tale about trusting a young smart ass to build something that might be shown to people lacking humor.

The website is out there somewhere between performance art and satire based social activism. I applaud it, and leave it up to you, dear reader, to pass your own judgement. And remember, even if the Almighty does not pass judgment, some wise acre will be sure to do it for Him.

The Door-to-Door Meat Salesman

A few years ago, I was home in the afternoon on a weekday when I noticed a large man in the cul-de-sac. He happened to be black, but I like to think I’m not racist in that regard because I would take note of any stranger in my cul-de-sac regardless of race. For the record, I was raised in a fairly racist home, probably typical for Clevelanders at that time. We lived on the West side, and the troubles with blacks were over on the East side, and never the ‘twain should meet. During my years there, only three or four black kids attended school, and one of those was a black Puerto Rican, which is entirely different.

So this black guy is hanging around the cul-de-sac. He looked a bit older than me so I didn’t feel threatened. I find myself far more nervous about a young man with tattoos and a thugster cap on his head hanging around regardless of their race. It’s not like I’m in an exclusively white subdivision or city. Our street, in fact, probably matches the national “mix” of race, except for Asians. We don’t seem to have any Asians on our street.

I invented an excuse to go get something out of the trunk of my car, and I hailed the man (the black man). He asks me if I want to buy some meat. It turned out he was a door-to-door meat salesman. Apparently, they deep freeze cuts of meat, load up coolers in the back of a truck, and drive around trying to sell it. He promised to give me a deal.

I wasn’t in the market for frozen meat at the time. We didn’t have a chest freezer, and really didn’t cook that much meat from the freezer. For whatever reason, we are bad about that, and things going in the freezer are more likely to go in the trash, so I was not shopping for more stuff to throw away.

I was not direct or firm in my response. I said something like, “I’m not sure if we need any steaks right now.” He stepped up closer to respond.

“Do you make the decisions in your house?” he asked.

“No, my wife discuss food purchases.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “Are you a man? Do you wear pants? Are you telling me you can’t decide whether  or not you want to take advantage of this great deal?”

I shrunk back from his approach. “I don’t think I want any meat right now.”

“Oh, I get it,” he said. “You just wanted to know what the big black man was doing on your street. You just wanted to make sure I wasn’t robbing people or selling drugs.”

“No, not at all,” I said.

“Well then do you want to buy some meat?”

“No,” I said.

“Well then forget you.”

But I could not forget him. Was I, in fact, still a racist? Had my family influence been so deeply ingrained, like a German in the 1950s still complaining of Israeli plots? Was I no better than all those white Americans that conveniently think of them as liberal, but are not themselves liberated from the fear that limits their thinking?

Another meat salesman stopped by this weekend. This guy was white, and looked to be the same age as the previous guy was back during that last sales call. It reminded me again of my fear of strangers, white or black, and my distrust of door-to-door salesman in general.

If I had simply bought the frozen flank steak, would I have not questioned my own integrity? I should have hugged him, and every door-to-door salesman, because any one facing the prospect of repeated refusals and constant failure, has far greater intestinal fortitude than I do. I don’t envy any of them that job, white or black, nor any ware they might sell, be it meat, a vacuum, or new windows.

And nowadays, it’s all made in China anyway. The only thing you can reliably sell that isn’t made in China is yourself, unless you happen to be Chinese.

The Art of Commuting

I have been driving into downtown Lansing, on and off, for 24 years. I have come at the problem from all angles. The roads leading into Lansing haven’t changed much in these past two decades. I am very familiar with all of them.

In fact, I’m fairly certain that the roads follow paths that have been in use for over 150 years, just as I-75 was a trail used by native Americans on their way to buy fudge in Mackinac in the 1600s. The past six years, in particular, I have driven the same road each morning to get downtown. I know the pattern of the lights, the pattern of the other cars, and I recognize certain drivers, poor saps like myself that work for a living.

I had a minor accident the other day, and it was all about the routine. One stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard has three lanes, and widens occasionally with extra turn lanes. I was following a pickup truck, and that truck moved to the next lane to the right. This has happened before my very eyes in much the same way damn near every day for six years.

On this one day, however, the truck miscalculated the space available in the next lane and had to stop short before fully leaving the middle lane. So used to passing cars that have merged out of our lane that it didn’t occur to me that something may change abruptly. I did hit the brakes, but not enough to avoid impact. Hitting a big, heavy pickup with a measly Ford Taurus leaves the Taurus at a disadvantage, and it showed. We bumped the trucks bumper, bet we crushed a small section of the Ford.

I was staring right at the truck but my mind could not perceive what it was doing, much like the experience Newt Gingrich’s wife has each night when she sees old Newt strip naked. You realize there is going to be a wreck, but there is nothing you can do to stop it.

The police arrived and issued me a citation. In spite of the other car being a nuisance and failing to clear the lane in a timely manner, it was all my fault. I blame the Native Americans for not building trails with more hairpin turns. The dangerous curves would help keep me awake if they don’t kill me first, much like going on a date with Sarah Palin during caribou season.


Good Deeds

In the movie “Contagion”, the transfer mechanism that spreads the deadly virus is the combination of touching an infected object and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before disinfecting your hands. The deadly little monsters are everywhere, it turns out, and our strange habits of self-soothing lead to our demise. Riding the bus had never seemed the best way to travel, but that movie made it downright scary–and I’ve ridden the bus in downtown Cleveland in the 70s.

I have been painfully self-conscious of this face-touching habit in myself, and thought I had it fixed, but the other day I touched myself in a way that was a problem.

Like most people, I touch quite a few things in the course of a day, but I also wash my hands a lot. In winter my hands are red and raw from their essential oils being scrubbed away. In summer, fungus grows on the north side of my palm due to insufficient drying. In general, I wash enough that I think I do a good job of removing foreign agents from my skin. That, and being particular about how, where, and when I touch myself should have kept me risk free.

My problem is that I’m too nice. My neighbor asked me to feed his cats during the weekend, and I agreed. That’s not the part of me that is too nice. I don’t think helping a neighbor is ever a too nice of a thing to do, short of lending them money or inserting a catheter. While I fed the cats, I took pity on them and petted them.

A few minutes later, my right eye started to itch. It itched and itched and itched, and I scratched. Only after a serious session of eye-gouging did I realize I was touching myself inappropriately. Then I also realized that I must have touched myself prior to that, delivering the allergen that so tormented me directly to one of the three most sensitive parts of my body. It’s like waking up with a rash in your privates and the vague memory of dream you can’t repeat to anyone.

My eye swelled up, and only several hours of a cold compress brought relief. The memory of those few hours of discomfort shall stand as a strong reminder to ignore cats and to keep my hands to myself.

Adventures in Misalignment – The Travel Job

My first job out of college, I thought I was lucky enough to be given a job by my roommate’s father, who was a VP at a computer company. I had gotten a degree in Computer Engineering, and I was sure I’d have great fun writing software. But the guy was a salesman, not a software development manager, and he sold me on taking the job. The job was to join a fly-and-fix team for his region, which at that time was about one-third of the continental U.S. If any of the computers in his territory broke, this team went there until it was fixed. It sounded interesting, and he suggested it would set me up well for my career.

My supervisor was a mainframe expert who was transitioning into fixing problems with mini computers and microcomputers. This was before Personal Computers were all over the place. My supervisor had carved out a niche position as this fly and fix guy because he had developed a knack for troubleshooting problems. It was a little bit like the robot psychologist that Isaac Asimov used as a character in his science fiction stories, but instead of cool and deadly robots, we were working with dull and boring computers. Also, the customers were pissed off by the time we arrived. Once there, we couldn’t leave until it was fixed and the customer was happy, or if the customer threw us out, in which case we’d probably have been fired.

To compensate for that potential misery, the fly-and-fix guy worked out of his basement. I had to work there too. He installed one of every type of computer that the company sold. This was a crappy little bungalow in a down-river suburb of Detroit. The computers threw out so much heat that he had to air condition his basement in winter. We sat back-to-back-to-back (there were three of us) with no room to stand up. The only thing worse than working in a down-river suburb is to work in the basement of a crappy little bungalow in a down-river suburb.

The worst part of working there was the coffee, which was made with a drip-brewer-basket type thing. He then insisted on turning off the warming plate and reheating coffee in the microwave, one cup at a time, until the entire pot had been used. We stole the coffee grounds from the company office, so I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t let us brew fresh when needed.

Lunch most days was at a Long John Silver–fried fish, fried potatoes, and cole slaw. Considering that we were down-river, you’d think we could go to a sleazy strip club on Telegraph Avenue, but he really liked his fish fried. I gained weight so quickly that by the time my suits were back from the tailor, I needed another adjustment. I even gained weight during trips and bought pants in airports and changed in the men’s room. If I’d known about such things, I’d have worried about being mistaken for a pervert.

Probably the absolute worst part was the implied need to sit with him at a bar and drink beer to talk about the computer problem. For the most part it didn’t matter because we were somewhere in America–Jacksonville, Jefferson, or Joliet–with no friends nearby; we only had each other.

Now that I’m writing this, I realize I don’t even have a cute or clever or ending. It’s just a rant about a bad job. The upside is that it cured me of my desire to have an exciting sounding travel job. The downside is that my next job was kind of worse. But I’ll tell you about it next week.