punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

How I Ended Up in Computerland: Part 2 - Another Computer Camp, a different story

Well, two years later, computers were still about as relevant to my attentive life as UFOs. You hear about them, you see pictures of them, but you never actually see a real one. Around this time, a few rich kids started to get Apple II computers. Maybe a TRS 80. And for reasons that I can't quite figure out, I was sent to computer camp again.

Sadly, this was one of those many "what the heck?" moments with my parents. I wasn't allowed to have a computer at home, yet they were sending me to another round of computer camp. The intervening year of "Around the World in 30 Days" made a little more sense, since geography was a school requirement, but... okay. You want me out of the house. I got it.

This class was held at South Lakes High. That place still boasts the only place I got mugged, and the only time I got beaten up on a school bus. Normally, I got beat up right at the edge of school grounds, and sometimes far away from school, and even a few times IN school, but never on a bus. Bullies usually worked exclusively out of teacher's eyesight. This was one of two factors. First, I was a 6th-grade nerd going to a computer camp held at a school where remedial repeat summer courses were being taught. Very angry, non-scholastic, high school under-achievers shared my bus ride. What made it worse was that my bus ride started off with me being at a stop a mile away from my house (which I had to walk to) at 6am in the frickin' morning. As it made a spiral around the areas of Fairfax county, some of them still rather rural, it picked up kids in clumps of 3-5 for the next 2 hours. Even my commute now from Fairfax to Silver Spring is only 90 minutes. So now I was sharing a bus with very angry, non-scholastic, high school under-achievers that were sleep deprived and bored shitless. I generally sat right behind the bus driver, and even shared the seat where her infant child was in a car seat. The driver was very nice, but rather ineffective at controlling the kids in the back. The day I got beat up we had a substitute driver who, for reasons I cannot fathom, insisted we fill the seats from back to front. I got to sit in the back corner, where I was pounded mercilessly, had my lunch stolen, and the only retribution the driver gave was a loud, "Hey. HEY! Keep it quiet back there!" Summer school back then did not have a clinic, so one of my computer teachers had to take care of my various cuts and bruises. She must have thought my parents did this to me, because she kept asking a lot of questions about how they treated me, and sadly, I had never been questioned like this before, and told her the truth as I saw it.

Not smart. Social workers got involved because my parents were treating me pretty badly, and I didn't know that yet (well, I did, but I didn't know other adults gave a damn). In the end, this was actually a GOOD thing, and may have started seeds that saved my life in high school. But that's another topic.

And, yes, I got mugged. I was beaten to a pulp by some students who jumped me and stuffed into a trash can in such a way I could not get out, so I stayed up-side down in the trash can for possibly 3 hours until a janitor found me and was very relieved I was not dead. He gave me a ride home, too.

This may not seem computer class related, but it was the environment I worked in that summer. South Lakes was fucking hard core. It was also a school that, at the time, had no walls but sliding partitions instead. It also had an electronic bell that went "Booooooop" instead of rang. Very "modern and progressive," like the town Reston that held it. We even had an official computer lab with a kill switch and everything.

We had three teachers, two student assistants from a local college, two classrooms, the lab, and another room that acted as a secondary lab that had... wait for it... ATARI 800 COMPUTERS!! SQUEEE!!! 8-bit graphics, sound, cartridges and everything. Even better, no the 8-bits had no CPM time restrictions, so you could be on them leisurely.


But this camp was harder. We actually had to write several programs a week, and it was mostly over my head. I'd love to say "I found my calling" but I found the whole thing to be abstract and I was failing, and failing hard. I was one of two people my age (12), and everyone else was much older. The programs were "hard," especially because they now involved graphics. Some of the programs were, "Make an interactive restaurant menu that offers suggestions based on what the person has already ordered," and "Make a face with an eye that winks randomly." There were 52 tasks you had to complete, and I felt on my own and lost most of the time.

On top of this, the camp was filled with a lot of socially inept kids with temper problems. One of the student assistants was also temper-challenged. None of the kids took it out on me worth noting, but a few would throw themselves on the floor with absolute toddler rage when they didn't get their way from a teacher. The one exception was one student assistant who nearly beat the shit out of me for reasons I'll never understand.

I had a lab partner in the CRT/LPT room this one day. My partner was the other kid my age. He was okay, but other kids didn't like him because he smelled a little, didn't wear underwear but wore baggy shorts (peekaboo), and talked a lot about his balls and dick a lot. A lot. Real big with the penis jokes. While I just didn't think about him much except for the penis jokes, most of the other kids picked on him and teased him a lot. This one student assistant, whose name I have forgotten so we'll call him Dick, was what would later typify a nerd that jocks really hated. Dress shirt with checkerboard print, thick glasses, badly greased mid-parted hair, and polyester slacks. Oh, and an attitude like everyone around him was sooooo stupid!

This one day, while my partner tried to draw an ASCII cock and balls (with slash/pipe hair), Dick suddenly grabbed my arm so hard, I felt it was close to snapping.


What? Touch what?

He grabbed my hand and slapped some box in the middle of the table with it; beating my hand and arm into the object like a ragdoll. "THIS THIS!! DID YOU TOUCH THIS??"

Um... no! I didn't even know what it was. All I can tell anyone, to this day, was it was a small box the size of a hardback book with some kind of jog dial and some black numbers on that dial on a white dial background. There were a lot of things plugged into it, but I can't recall anything else.

He twiddled the jog dial, and then whimpered in frustration, then quickly ran to the kill switch and hit it hard with the palm of his hand!

The entire room went dark. The lab was encased in glass panes, so we could see the hallway nights stayed on, but the classroom next to us went dark. Then the fire alarm went off. Dick screamed for everyone to get out. As we were filing out the door, one of the teachers ran in to see what the hell was going on. Dick screamed something incompressible which mostly came out his nose. Even the teacher went, "wait, what? YOU hit the kill switch? Or he did?" pointing to me.

I balked I didn't hit the kill switch, but the teacher shushed me. Dick calmed down long enough to scream I had adjusted whatever it was, but I couldn't hear anyone because the fire alarm was so loud. Dick grabbed my shirt and swung me towards him, but the teacher scream at him and forced him to let me go. But I was to stay there. Now the other teachers were in the room, along with some teachers from other classrooms. "It is a real fire? Did the computer lab catch fire? It was always hot in there..."

Long story short, they made me sit in the dark classroom while they sorted everything out. Finally, the lights came back on, and a teacher came in assured me that nothing was damaged or broken. She just wanted to know what I had touched. I told her I touched nothing, and she said she believed me. The place where Dick grabbed me and slapped my arm around was already turning colors, and she wanted to see it. She said it was just a bruise, and then I got an apology from her, and then an apology from another teacher (the guy who stopped Dick in the first place). They had sent Dick home, and said he had completely over-reacted to a relatively minor issue, they were sure I didn't touch anything, nothing was broken, and then they apologized some more.

Even though I probably failed everything that year? Between the social worker intervention and the incident with Dick, I got left alone. Dick did return to work, but he was never in the same room I was and I kind of got the impression he was told to stay far away from me.

Looking back on it, Dick represented some of the first issues I had with extreme "fannish" people. I head never seen a "grownup" act in such a childish manner. He couldn't have been more than 19 at the time, and his tantrums still rang in my ears with all the convention incidents I was to witness years later. There's a special kind of OCD-spawned violence that comes with some of the brightest of people. Intellectual giants yet social midgets.

And I also remember the kindness of adults. I had never had a teacher, let alone two, apologize to me before. One of their own had acted badly, and they admitted to it! These people made a deep impression on me I hope to always remember.

Anyways the issue with the social workers was dismissed by my mother somehow. Everything was fine. Stop calling. Luckily, while they may have stopped calling, my school file was not forgotten.

Then I went into Junior High, and my life went to hell faster that shit through a goose.
Tags: computer, computerhistory, tech
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