THE SPAGHETTI CODE CONNECTION
"How I got started in Data Processing"
WILLIAM E. ALLENDORF
I wish I had some stock little phrase like:
"It all began at a little Burroughs shop in
. . .but I don't. It, my career in Data Processing, began over
an eight-year period running through High School and extending
through stints as a free-lance journalist, film producer, and
part-time manic depressive. While all my contemporaries were out
making a a living at maximizing throughput and integrating
databases, I was squeaking by trying to write the great American
novel, and producing the great underground film classic. While
the computer jocks ate quiche, I was on Rice-a-Roni. Something
had to change. I was convinced enough to take a programming
course or two, but deep down inside I kept believing New York or
Hollywood would call tomorrow.
My final break with the real world came when I was canned as a
staff writer for a comedy pilot that had died quietly on the
cutting room floor. The blinking mistress beckoned, and I
answered. After grabbing a quick degree in computers, I went
hunting for a job as an entry-level programmer. Within three
weeks, I had been kidnaped by a band of wildcat job-shoppers and
spirited over the border into the deep woods of Northern Ontario.
McMurdy Boot Company of Qussamakatoba, Ontario had just received
shipment of a new payroll system. The vendor, Jolly Roger
Software, of Detroit, had been unaccustomed to Canadian payroll
practices and had believed that a canned payroll package lifted
out of the data banks of one of the Big-Eight would transport
nicely to a Canadian Customer.
"We t'aught dat we could change "State" to "Province", and jack
the zip codes around a little. . ." said TS manager, Nunzio
Garbalzi, in my first meeting. "And dat's what we need people
like you for. Jus' change a little here and there, and everyone
can go home all safe and cozy. . . and your mother will be proud
So for the next twenty-four months, I and six other programmers
worked in Northern Ontario, trying to make American payroll cut
checks for the Eskimos. It would have been all right except
everything had to be done bi-lingual--as we found out six months
into the project. Kim, the Vietnamese database analyst knew
French better than English, but he killed himself getting high on
the copier toner the next week.
Life was pretty grim. Due to the unorthodox arrangements for our
employment, Jolly Roger had prepared rooms for us in an
abandoned slaughterhouse close by the boot company. We ate all
our meals on-site, and slept and showered in the white-tiled
abatoirs. We were never allowed out--the guards were told we were
white collar criminals on some new work-trustee program, and that
they should shoot us on sight if we tried to escape. An armed
escort brought us to and from the plant.
One day, towards the beginning of my second winter, I was
thumbing through an English-French phrase book. It was slow work,
so I was also eating a humble dinner of pretzels and a Snickers
bar. All of a sudden there was a shuffle at the door to the
programming bay, and one of the third-shift operators came
stumbling in. Normally, he would never have made it past the
guard, but it was snowing hard and the guardpost was across the
parking lot. At first we thought the guard had shot him, for all
the blood there was, but he burbled out something about a bear
and passed out.
That was all we needed. This guy had his chest opened up from his
neck to his belly. Jesus and Ngudu, the guys on EOM, tried to
get the bleeding stopped with some greenbar compresses. The two
Salvadoran girls just huddled in the corner and screamed. That
left me and a Rastafarian tech-writer, named Robertson Butan, to
take care of the mess.
I found the head of operations, Daniel Running Horse, slumped in
a pool of blood by the tape vault. By the amount of what was left
of Mr. Running Horse on the floor, and what had been left of Mr.
Running Horse on the walls, ceiling, and BASF cartons, we both
began to reconsider our situation. The veiled threats of our
Sicilian employers were becoming less and less of an incentive to
We thought about splitting up, but quickly discarded the idea. We
found a phone, but all we could get were inside lines, and most
of them were busy. No one answered. Robertson got the idea that
I should try to make it out to the guard shack. It was cold, and
the wind was picking up and blowing the snow around. I was
afraid that the guards, already spooked from hearing that there
was a bear on the premisis would probably shoot me when I
suddenly appeared out of the blizzard.
I should not have worried though; after braving the below-zero
cold, fifty mile-per-hour winds, and low visibility, I reached
the guard shack at the main gate and found the place deserted.
The parking lot was empty. The gate was locked. There was barbed
wire all around the place, and Robertson, the only other useful
sentient creature in the place was inside praying to Gahnja.
There are few times in a man's journey when his life shall become
as crystallized as mine was when I saw what I had to do.
Looking for bear-sized weapons in a boot factory is an
imaginative task. There are knives of all styles and uses, but
they are all meant to tackle a job no bigger than a man's foot.
Luring the bruin into a stitching machine was ridiculous, but
going up against a bear with a shoe knife after six months of
eating out of vending machines seemed equally absurd. I was
having trouble keeping my breath just walking. I was just about
to give up when I caught a glimpse of American Walnut on pegs in
the shop foreman's office. It was a Remington 700 ADL--nothing
fancy, but it would do. The foreman seemed to be an avid deer
hunter, for several good-sized racks of antlers decorated one
wall. The Remington was chambered for .270 which would be like a
BB gun on bear.
I tore the office apart until I found one lousy round of soft-
point. Somehow that old joke about "Don't shoot, it'll only make
him mad." was haunting me, but getting eaten alive by a bear
seemed more pressing. One flimsy bullet in a pop-gun was going
to be it.
I found the bear down in the computer room, knocking over the
tape drives in search of operators. It was a big old black she-
bear who had come out in search of food and found the boot
factory instead. She must have gone a good 600 pounds, and she
was just tipping over the boxes like there wasn't hoot in 'em.
With all the sparking and smoking, I was surprised she hadn't set
off the Halon fire extinguishers. She smelled me come in, and
lumbered down through the row of card readers pausing only to
snatch a half-eaten Twinkie off the operator's console. There
was a diet pop sitting up there too, and she took a sniff on it
and figured it wasn't food and pawed it over so it leaked down
into the console. It caused an awful shower of sparks.
I got ready for her by hunkering down in the corner of the room.
I could feel her weight on the raised floor as she lumbered down
the aisle between the DASDs. she came right up to my corner and
took a bat at the muzzle of the gun. I poked it at her and sure
enough , she bit on the end of the muzzle.
The bullet didn't go through her brain case--just went in and
bounced around a while. The she-bear looked real surprised,
then caved in and died right there on top of me. I was figuring
I could just lay there and let them find me, but fate still
wanted to take one more shot. I did not have time to languish
under my kill. It wasn't a minute before the fire alarm went
off. I knew I had better clear out before I got gassed with toxic
Halon 1301 extinguisher.
Getting out from under the bear the hard way was going to be
impossible, so I propped myself up enough to get a grip on one of
the floor tiles. It came up easy enough, and I just slipped out
from under the bear and into the crawlspace. I was in a back
corner, so I soon found a loose ventilator and slid out into an
adjoining conference room. I would still get gassed , but the
door beyond led out into the hall. I had that door shut just as
the Halon canisters let go. I wandered down through data entry,
past disembowled keypunch machines until I found the vending
area. I broke into the machines with a chair and ate myself sick.
The Canadians were not so happy about the state of their boot
factory, but Nunzio found some way to make me look good. I was
promoted to systems analyst and was offered a salaried position
with the home office. I refused. All of us ate off the bear for
the rest of the winter. As soon as spring came, I got the new
operations manager to sneak me out of the plant in his pickup
truck. I turned myself over to the American Consulate and came
I have never again given an employer the current address of any
living relatives, and I would suggest the same to all who hear
this story. Jolly Roger, Nunzio and the Spaghetti Code
Connection are all up on slavery charges, thanks to Robertson
getting arrested for possession and spilling everything to the
Mounties. Let him put his life on the line for justice-- I paid