Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Gwen 6: Aftermath

The next day, Ted appeared with Bev and a few geeks from the boards, and soon we were all traipsing around the park in I had the crossbow slung across my back, and Ted had some kind of big sword, while Bev was dressed as some sort of gypsy fortuneteller and the others were dressed as, well, other geeks. Dee was nowhere around. Everyone took care not to mention it.

Ted didn't really have much to say around the others, but eventually he concocted a mission to get away and told me the juicy bits. He'd gone to meet Gwen, who in retrospect was probably already under suspicion from her father, and somehow old Dad had discovered the situation (whether it was in flagrante delicto or not, I never knew). This resulted in Dad making the phone call to Ted's wife, which allowed me to dodge a very serious bullet w/r/t Ted's wife. Which he probably deserved, albeit with some other, similarly guilty person playing the role of cuckolder.

The upshot was that Dee had gone absolutely emotional batshit on him when he slunk in the door at 1am, which isn't surprising or unreasonable. They'd stayed up all night talking and fighting, and at the end they agreed to stay married if he promised never to speak with Gwen again. Thus, he had to make The Phone Call, no doubt with Dee looking on, after no sleep, and with the rest of my sewing still to do.

"But," he said cheerfully, "it's over with now. We can move on!"

"Great," I thought. "you'd have married her first, huh?"

The rest of the day I spent talking to Bev. She was quite a character, and just naturally assumed a mothering role over everyone, Ted included. We talked a lot about my incipient departure from college, and she was quite encouraging about it, which was in direct opposition to everything I'd heard from everyone else. I decided I liked her.

Around sunset, we split up. I promised Ted I'd call, and never did. Upon my arrival in my dorm room, my phone was ringing. It was Gwen, and I wasn't shocked to hear her crying.

The conversation was the first I'd had with her that was unmarred by hangups, hurried whispers, or other discouragements. Unfortunately, it wasn't a happy conversation. Her father was kicking her out of the house, for "destroying the honor of her family." No shit, that's exactly the words she used. Her mother was trying to intervene, Gwen said, but for the time being she was stuck on a pay phone at the Braum's in which we'd met a couple of months before. I did my best to reassure her that things would be OK, and that her father was being unreasonable but would probably calm down.

"If he doesn't," she sniffled, "what am I going to do? I don't have any place to go!"

"You can stay here, in my dorm room," I replied, without a second thought. She brightened up some.


"Yeah, no problem. I can hide you here, and when I leave here, you're welcome to stay wherever I wind up."

" have a girlfriend!"

"True, but she's just going to have to understand the situation," I said, thinking to myself that Mary understanding why I was hiding an incredibly beautiful seventeen year old girl in a dorm room with one bed was about as likely as my mother understanding my reasons for leaving school.

She cried a bit more, but the worst appeared to be over. She seemed mollified that she had some place to go, and between sniffles she began to ask little silly questions about where we'd run off to and how we'd live. I didn't pay too much attention, but in retrospect I realize that what we were doing, despite the gravity of her current situation, was flirting. What the hell, I thought, I hadn't planned on taking Mary with me anyway.

The next day I got a call from Gwen, telling me she was back at home, and while her father wasn't speaking to her, it looked like she was at least going to graduate from high school with her parents in attendance. We chatted amiably for a while, and she extracted a promise from me that I would call her once I got set up in a new apartment.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Gwen 5: The phone rang.

Dee answered it. It was Gwen's father, very angry. I stuck around long enough to hear something that sounded a lot like "why you fuck my daughter?" before I beat a hasty retreat to my dorm room. I put the board up and didn't answer any sysop pages.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Gwen 4: Med Faire

The weeks after finding out about this situation were very hectic ones for me. I was engaged in dropping out of OU, finding a job (not to mention a place to live), and generally preparing for a new life in a new city. I was also juggling a girlfriend, Midian, and the love life of three other people.

On the last bit, I would get this sequence of phone calls about three times a week:

Gwen: "Oh, Jeff, I was with Ted again last night and he was so wonderful! But I feel really bad about Dee, because she's really sweet and I know it would just kill her if she found out! When am I going to see you again?"

Ted: "Dude, Gwen is so fucking hot! You have no IDEA what I did with her last night! She's fucking crazy, man!"

Dee: "Jeff, why is my husband cheating on me [bursts into tears]?"

The first two were pretty stable. The last, from Dee, evolved from "IS my husband" to "WHY IS my husband," then proceeded through the tears to "is it because I'm ugly?" to "he MADE me this way!"

While all this was going on, I was steadily growing more fond of Beverly and her board, Dreamscape. I also began chatting with one of her sons, who is about a year older than me, and who had quite a bit of experience on obsolete BBS systems in the Tulsa area. He was quite a character, and occasionally kept me up for more than an hour in the dead of night, tapping at the keyboard, talking about crazy shit. His name? You can call him "Minuard."

All of this persisted for a period of a month or six weeks--I was so busy it's hard to guess. In early April, though, Ted began to pester me about the Medieval Faire, which takes (took) place at a local park, and was something I had never really considered visiting. That specific park was one we used to play capture the flag in, some nights, and other nights we used it as a destination for walking and quiet talking about how we were going to live our lives. Those nights were almost too sentimental and idealistic for me to write about here, especially now, but suffice to say I wasn't too keen on My Park being overrun by crystal healing hippies and fat dudes with fake swords.

But, as usual, Ted talked me into it. On the afternoon before the Faire began, I cut class and headed up to his place to begin making my costume. This was a big deal, and we spent a lot of the afternoon wandering fabric stores and talking about my impending move into the city. Finally, we returned to his place and began cutting and sewing. Ted already had his costume, which he promptly dressed in so I could see what I would be walking around with, complete with shoulder scabbard for a big-ass sword. I was to wear a crossbow, a real crossbow that meant BUSINESS, and was meaner looking than all of my friends combined. The draw on it was too heavy for me to pull, which was OK because he didn't have any intention of giving me anything to put in it, anyway.

By 9:30, we had most of it hashed out, and Dee was fixing the three of us dinner, humming happily away as her husband sewed in the next room [for what it's worth, I can't sew. I can't even comprehend how a sewing machine works--you know how some people can't balance a checkbook, or can't do fractions? I understand those people a lot more now that I've experienced my own sort of mental blind spot].

We had just finished dinner, and Ted had just made Turkish coffee, when his pager went off. Instantly, Dee's face became closed and unhappy, and Ted practically leaped to the telephone--in the bedroom. A minute later, he returned with a hard look for his wife, a curt "I've got to go fix a printer," and a warning glance at me.

"What about this costume, man? When will you be back?"

"I don't know when I'll be back. I'll finish it for you tomorrow morning, before we come down for the Faire. Just hang around, though, I shouldn't be too long."

So Dee and I sat, and waited. I remember Ted combing his thick brown hair before he left, in the hallway mirror. The whole thing had taken less than 10 minutes. Dee stared at me. I tried to make conversation, but everything I said seemed to make her want to cry even more. I don't do well with women crying, even now--and back then, at age 18, I was substantially less prepared to deal. So we sat. I stared at her, when she wasn't looking, and counted the books in the bookcase when she was. The television babbled in the next room.

An hour passed, and Dee got up to clear the table. I asked carefully if she wanted help, she just looked at me. I moved out of her way. She cleared the table, then went to the living room and lit a cigarette. I followed, and sat on the couch.

After a second, she took a giant drag off of the smoke and turned to face me. I'd never seen a face like that before--full of warring emotions: love, hate, and betrayal. Her eyes vacillated between cold and hard, soft and tragic, and lost and tearful and lonely. She sat on the couch, beside me. I moved, looking around the room for a place to sit. She caught my hand, and wouldn't let me go, even when I said "I should get home." We sat on the couch, with her hand holding mine, as she stared into my eyes. "Don't go," she said, and leaned forward to kiss me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Gwen 3: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Ted and I were getting along famously. I'd met his wife, Dee, who had cooked a rather miserable meal for us, and seemed quite happy to have someone to talk to. She was plainly very lonely, and very, very pregnant.

Ted, for his part, talked endlessly about RPG's and SCA events, and their entire house was decorated in a combination of her gypsy/crystal healing/unicorn stuff and his...axes.

Yes, boys and girls, Ted collected sharp things. Morning stars, flails, 12 or 15 examples of four different types of swords, a crossbow, a couple of compound bows, and all manner of knives, hatchets, and ugly looking pointy things. Most of the house was crammed with this stuff, and if I'd really been into this I'm quite sure I could have spent the rest of the year in there, fiddling happily with crossbow bolts and whetstone and the like. I wasn't that into it, though, but it was hard to keep Ted's enthusiasm for things medieval from exciting you in turn.

I took to visiting them fairly frequently, and making the occasional foray over to Jamie's place to hang with the Rome crowd, which was really more my type (and age) anyway. But I enjoyed being with everyone, even when Dee and Ted would get into arguments while I was hanging around. She seemed like the dishrag type, and I noticed he took to bullying her as I got to know them better. I didn't like that, but I also didn't think it was any of my business.

The BBS was going pretty well--I was getting ten or fifteen visitors in a night, and people were actually beginning to call me on the phone like normal humans. My old roommate had flunked out of school, and taken Maryann with him. My new roommate had lasted about 2 weeks, then fled, so I was left with the Uhura-dude in the next room. He pretty much kept to himself, so for the spring semester I had the run of my room.

One of the people I met via the BBS was an older woman I instantly liked, and counted as half-friend and half-mother figure. Her name was Beverly, an after a couple of weeks of talking, she decided she enjoyed the BBS scene enough that she wanted to set up one of her own. My first tech support job, I guess. We did it over the phone, or actually over my roommate's phone, so I could help with her machine from mine.

Shit, I can't remember what hers was called, but there was a genuine blossoming of WWIV boards going for several months there. Ted set up House of Ill Repute 2, which never really took off, I had Midian, Beverly had hers (DREAMSCAPE! That's it!), and some other dweeb started something called "Heart of Gold," which never really did much other than get him flamed, which he loved. Anyway, there was, in retrospect, a community being built, and for a couple months, it was great.

I had decided to quit school sometime in early March, and asked Ted to help me get a feel for Oklahoma City. We spent a couple of hours driving around the city in his car, while he spouted off Oklahoma City COC bullshit and I tried to get my mind around what has to be one of the simplest cities in the nation through which to navigate.

It was midafternoon, I remember, when Ted looked over at me with a strange eye, and said "hey, you want to go somewhere?" "Yeah," I said, "what do you mean?"

"To meet someone," he replied. "Someone you haven't met yet."

We drove for a while in silence, me wondering what the holy hell I'd gotten myself into (he was acting WEIRD, and I don't like weird antsy guys with knives), him driving faster and faster, cursing traffic the whole time.

We drove through a rural area and into a sort of suburb of Oklahoma City (Mustang, I think), and parked at a Braum's restaurant. Ted positively bounded from the car, then ran back to grab my elbow to hustle me inside.

Seated in a plastic booth, at the back of the restaurant, was a gorgeous young Asian girl. She saw us, got up, and threw her arms around Ted. They held each other for some time, long enough for me to know that they were a little more than friends...and then she took my hands. She looked at me for a long time, it seemed like, and then pressed her nubile little body against me, and...sighed. I don't know that I've ever heard a sigh convey so much happiness, kids, right there in that beige plastic dining room, with pink ice cream spoons stuck to countertops and the sound of fries being dropped in oil back in the kitchen.

I also didn't have to look at Ted to know he was watching my movements very carefully and counting the milliseconds until she let me go, which I hastened somewhat by asking Ted who she was. I already knew it was Gwen, but my head was spinning and I needed as much time to recover as possible.

We sat and ate icecream, and Gwen bubbled endlessly about how happy she was to finally meet me, and about school, and my school, and books, and everything under the sun but what I was concerned about, ie, the fact that Ted was cheating on his wife with her. This really blew my mind, and I spent the majority of the conversation smiling and nodding and allowing the odd looks and sudden changes in conversation topics of the past few months to fall into place. Dee was lonely, but she also suspected her husband was cheating on her. Their whispered arguments, her immense frustration, all of it clicked. I suddenly liked Ted a lot less.

Ted spent the majority of the short time we had together with one hand on her thigh, staring at me meaningfully. I tried to eat my ice cream.

The ride home was quiet. We make minimal small talk about how "nice" Gwen was, and how "happy" she'd been to see me, but my immediate concern was how to extricate myself from the whole situation. I couldn't stand looking at Dee, knowing what I did, and I knew right away that if I blew the whistle on the whole thing I'd better do it from a payphone on the way out of town. I understood one of the reasons why Ted insisted on showing me every weapon he had, and I had no doubt he'd use one on a human being of he got mad enough.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Gwen 2: Deeper...

Since I'm lazy, I'm going to name this one after the girl who eventually becomes the focus.

Ted and Jamie showed up one Saturday evening to help me install and set up the software for a WWIV system. Since I only had the dorm phone line, I could only run the thing between 11pm and 8am. This bugged me at first, but later I began to enjoy it--the whole thing had sort of an underground feel to me, as I started getting calls.

The board itself was called Midian, after the freak haven in Clive Barker's Night Breed. I kept it up for almost two years, in some form or another, until I got a girlfriend who wasn't into that sort of thing, and my PC died.

But back to the story: Jamie was in his mid to late 20's, bigger and taller than me, with long curly black hair and a moustache. I'd never met anyone under the age of 40 who had a moustache, but it suited him somehow. He ran a Mac board, so he was more or less along for the ride, although I think he talked shop with John about whatever system they were using while Ted and I were dicking around with the XT.

Ted was shorter and walked with a kind of confidence I later realized to be insecurity masquerading as ego--Napoleon syndrome, you might call it. He wore a beard, had a shaggy haircut, and in general reminded me of someone from an early 80's remake of "Grease" or "West Side Story." He was very friendly, and before they left I had a complete board, program for outcalling to his board nightly (WWIV was set up with regional hubs, so everyone didn't have to call every other board to get messages and info transferred), and an invitation for dinner the following weekend. Jamie gave me a big hug and invited me to Rocky Horror Picture Show sometime in the near future.

As you can imagine, the next couple of weeks were pretty sleepless. At first my room was crowded with people watching the new toy in action, but within a week or so it was just me, tweaking the board and waiting for someone to call. Which they did, moderately, but nothing really exciting happened. I began to sleep at night.

Then, sometime in the third week, The Girl logged on. I missed her, but it was enough to keep me staying up late for another week.

The next week, she logged on again, and this time paged me (I'd forgotten about that til just now, remind me to mention this function in context, if this turns out better than I think it will). We typed back and forth on a primitive IM screen for some time, and then she abruptly logged off. I waited for an hour, but at around 1am I logged off. I knew little more about her than that she was a serious flirt, and liked me a lot.

Two or three days later, she sysop-paged me again, and apologized for logging off so abruptly. She seemed nervous, but we chatted for a bit--and then she did it again. Bemused, I went to bed.

The next night she called me, voice.

Her voice was...a normal voice. Nothing special, nothing that comes to mind all these years later, but it was a feminine voice, talking to ME. What's more, she sounded cute. Now, I understand (from difficult experience) that guessing someone's appearance by their phone voice is just plain setting yourself up to fail. But back then, it never occurred to me that she would be anything but gorgeous.

The first thing she told me was that she might hang up suddenly. Her name was Gwen (spelled with a Q, but I'm not about to spend the next week mis-striking "Q" on this keyboard), and she was a senior in high school. She was first-generation Vietnamese-American, and her father absolutely FORBADE her to date (or talk to) non-Vietnamese boys. This served primarily as a challenge to her, so she spent most evenings sneaking off to call round-eyes like me to spite him. Thus, the sudden hangups.

We became something approaching friends--if it's possible to have sexual tension without ever having met, we had it, but we were so remote, and living such different lives, that it never occurred to me. Also, over the Christmas holidays, I fell back in with my old girlfriend from high school, so my time and attentions were turned elsewhere.

Which was probably why it didn't bug me when she started talking to me about the man in her life.

She first mentioned him a few days before Valentine's Day, in one of those off-the-cuff remarks that just begged for me to ask more. I'm perverse--I didn't. She didn't persist, and talk went on about various things until I fell asleep.

Valentine's Day, I got a giddy phone call from her early in the evening, which was very rare. "He said he loves me!" she squealed in my ear, "we spent the whole day at the mall, and he gave me a picture, and we just walked around and shopped and kissed, and he told me he loved me!"

She chattered on for some time, with me making affirmative noises while attempting to debug FORTRAN code (I know now, you cannot debug FORTRAN code, especially not while you're listening to a 17 year old girl yap about her love life on the phone). I wasn't paying full attention, in other words, so I almost dropped the phone when she squeaked "and then he said that if he hadn't married her first, he would already have asked me to marry him!"

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Another One

I don't know what I'm going to call this sucker. I really don't have any business starting anything right now, anyway, but I'm pretty stressed and need to feel like maybe I'm accomplishing something.

And this story's old enough that I probably won't fuck it up too bad if I get interrupted fifty times, which is pretty likely.

Back in the fall of 1990, I was living in a dorm room on the OU campus, with a bunch of other 18 year old dorks who were really into computers and/or Jesus. And when I say dorks, I mean DORKS. One of my roommates was a Mac user, and had pictures of unicorns on his walls. Pink sweaters. A picture of him with Uhura. My other roommate masturbated to a picture of a 486x33 IBM, called his computer Maryann, and left his room only for Bible study.

Both of these people were absolutely petrified of me, as you can imagine. I was still listening to Mercyful Fate/King Diamond, drinking whiskey in bed, and setting fire to Everclear in our communal bathtub. I didn't want to be friends with those guys, and I wanted them to stay as far away from me as possible.

But I got along well with many of the other people on the floor, even if they did use Macs. Or, in one astounding case, a NEXT. Thus, it was one of the other guys on the floor who introduced me to the fascinating world of bulletin boards, and their uses in picking up girls.

Back in 1990, the internet was a gray-on-black labyrinth. Normal people didn't have internet access--hell, normal people didn't even know it existed. I first heard about it when I was given an account so I could access the FORTRAN compiler for my first (and only) computer science course. I fiddled around with usenet stuff, but found that the same was true then: most people have no business writing things in a public forum. Either their grammar and spelling was bad, or their grammar and spelling was bad PLUS their reasoning was bad, or they were just plain ol' annoying. I joined newsgroups for Evil Dead, various bands, LSD, and bomb making, but soon figured out that most of the info was either WAY over my head, false, or just not that interesting. Plus, it was in plain text, which reminded me of my FORTRAN homework, so I just let it slip.

The BBS, however, was a whole 'nother matter. It was mostly text, granted, but BBS communities tended to be much smaller and personal, and contained a wide variety of information and people, instead of one exhaustive thread on one topic. And it was in color. ANSI, yes, but color.

The downfall of these things? One person could log on per phone line, and the phone line stayed busy while that person was on. As I became more and more entangled in the web of local BBS's, I found my modem (2400 baud, kickin' ass and takin' names) would spend much time redialing a number, until the last user had gotten offline, and the next could log on to add their messages to the system. I also noted that after a time, I could actually hear my modem pick up (or cease redialing) from halfway down the hall, in someone else's room.

You can see, then, why it's called a bulletin board. Things just appear there, and you can't ever find anyone doing it. Entire communities were built up, and competing software systems were developed. These were all public domain systems, and all had their own distinct features that allowed a group of BBS geeks to sit around someone's basement and argue for hours about whose was better. Not unlike motorheads or wine aficionados, only we probably had less of a tan.

Even more interesting (this IS interesting, right?), you could actually send someone a private message on another bulletin board system, anywhere in the world. This was accomplished by the actual BBS systems calling each other to transfer messages, and in some cases a message could actually be transferred OVERNIGHT. FOR FREE.

If this sounds a lot like email, you're right. That's exactly what it was, only much, much smaller. Think ham radio meets UNIX nerds.

This was all inexpressibly fascinating to me, but I was merely content to log on to the guy across the hall's lame-o site until he actually got a real, live girl on the other end of the modem.

I couldn't believe it. Neither could anyone else--within fifteen minutes there were ten or fifteen guys in various states of dress, shoving and craning their necks for a glimpse of John's computer screen. If you're picturing the cast of "Meatballs," or "Revenge of the Nerds," you're not far off. We couldn't help it. We were kids--shit, I was barely 18.

John had already blown his chance to play cool by the time I got there, in that he'd actually initiated live conversation with her--once again, primitive instant messaging, but only available between the sysop (system operator) and whichever user was online at the time.

If you remember your Tron, you know that Sysops are fearsome beings, capable of deleting your account, erasing your messages, or actually logging on as you and publicly announcing you liked to stuff Vienna Sausages in your ass. Sysops varied from absolutely inapproachable (Rome, a Mac board) to very engaged and normal (House of Ill Repute, which I'll get to in a sec). Even when your sysop was a member of the board, however, if he didn't know you personally, odds were good you'd never know he was around, reading your messages and watching what you read.

John was about as fearsome as a bowl of Froot Loops, and as soon as a GIRL found her way to his board (something Douglas Adams-esqe, if I remember correctly), he had jumped all in the middle of a conversation with her.

Within an hour, she'd talked to every one of the geeks in the room, and most of us had made fools of ourselves. I was the exception. I didn't talk to her, because I hated pushing people, and the line wasn't so much a line as it was an ever-morphing blob of cowlicks, fat, and sweatpants. Also, I'd read that she frequented another board (because I always got an angle, yo)--a board I knew.

Within a week, I had developed a rapport with the guy from House and the guy from Rome, and convinced them I wanted to set up a BBS. Since I had a PC, Rome's system was right out (which sucked, because it was more fun)--but Ted's BBS was run off the most complex PC software yet, called World War Four, or "dubya dubya eye vee," to the uninitiated. By the weekend, both Ted and Jamie from Rome were knocking on my door with a set of 5 1/4" floppies, ready to set me on the path to BBS stardom.