We humans are a goofy lot. That's what I like about us.
The stories we relate describing our idiosyncrasies are keepers.
One favorite is told by my friend Mike. Seems he, a true Yank, was visiting a good friend in England. Being the gentleman he is, Mike offered to do errands for his buddy while she was at work. Did she need anything from the store?
"Yes," his friend replied. "Please stop and pick up some loo rolls."
Loo rolls? Hmmm, Mike thought. What the hell is a loo roll? Must be a carbohydrate.
Off he went in search of baked goods. Mike walked down the street and entered a local confectionery. The woman behind the counter offered to wait on him.
"May I help you, dear?" she asked.
"Yes," Mike replied. "I would like a dozen loo rolls."
Attention Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea. The loo is a restroom in Great Britain. And loo rolls are known as toilet paper here in the States.
The lady-in-waiting laughed so hard, she gained the attention of the hard-working baker out the back, who came forward, along with other work mates, curious about the ruckus. Soon they were slapping each other in merriment, wiping tears from eyes.
Mike is a very smart guy. He laughed too.
But Mike shouldn't feel alone. I will tell one on myself.
It has to do with modems.
Back in the mid-80s, desktop publishing was ramping up. No more typesetting the old way. Running galleys of proofs through linotype machines, flipping a coin over who was gonna take on the thankless job of cleaning the darkroom processor of crusty old hypo and fix. Those days were gone. Back then you could actually create a type file on an IBM computer and send it to a service bureau for processing over a telephone line via a little machine called a modem.
A 300-baud modem from a company called Hayes.
Back then it seemed like magic. You could send the job, then drive over to the next town and pick up the fresh clean galleys in the morning. And for someone who now makes her living via technology and programming, it is totally ridiculous that this little mysterious machine terrified me.
The first service bureau I used was run by this very tall geeky fellah named Norman. Poor old Norman has skin tone that looked like he hadn't seen the sun or gotten a decent night's sleep since the Eisenhower Administration. Norman ran his business out of his home, and had written two phone numbers on a piece of paper for me. One was the modem line and the other his home phone number. But he forgot to indicate which phone number was which.
I had a job that had to be processed by noon the next day. It was 3 a.m. I remember sitting for an hour staring at Norman's phone numbers, trying to decide the one to dial. You are being ridiculous, Mary, I told myself. It has to be the bottom number. No, it's the top number. Round and round I went. Finally, I typed the second number into the computer screen and hit the Send button.
The phone rang. And rang. I waited for the scritchy modem connection sound. The phone continued to ring. Finally I was relieved to hear the line connect, then horrified to hear poor old Norman's very sleepy voice say, "Hello."
I froze. I sat there holding my breath. I thought he could hear me through the modem.
"Hello!" Norman demanded. I was turning blue from lack of oxygen. Please hang up, Norman, I thought to myself, before I pass out.
After a few more hellos, Norman disgustedly said, "goodbye" and hung up. Gasping for breath, I was able to grab a pen and mark the top number as the modem line. Then I waited an hour before I transmitted the job. I didn't want geeky Norman to know it was me.
As I tell my students, we all gotta start somewhere.