I was never much of a dancer, but the redhead in my arms insisted, so I found myself out on the dance floor. It was my first company Christmas party and the company had paid for a great get-together.
My dance partner was a new friend from work, new because I was still a new guy on the manufacturing floor. I was a PC board tech, a scope guy, so called because we used oscilloscopes to find and correct problems on PC boards. She was a QC auditor, or some such and her various Quality Control tasks brought her to our team to validate that our boards worked as required before moving them over to the next area for final assembly. She was spunky, very friendly, very helpful (which is important to us newbies) and very much a flirt – kinda like me at the time, so we got on wonderfully.
She snagged me as I arrived and dragged me onto the dance floor. The floor was packed with couples, most of whom had already spent too much time at the bar and their dancing showed it. Because my 21st birthday was still months away, I had to stay sober but agreed to let the company president buy me one drink. I’ll never forget how he paid for my two dollar drink with a fifty dollar bill – and that was in 1975 dollars mind you – gracious!
So we danced – well – at least she did until suddenly, a guy from a nearby couple, disengaged and turned to yell something at my partner. Between the loud music, the moving mass of well-alcoholed humanity around us, I didn’t understand a thing he said, but he was clearly angry; and, yes, drunk. With his back to me, arms flawing, a fist appeared at the end of his right hand and this got the attention of two larger guys nearby and, with no more warning that you would get from a action-movie scene, I was in the middle of a fight.
Seriously? A fight? Here? Is this what happens when you mix technology professionals with booze?
I noticed that his wrath was focused on my dance partner, which (Great! Just great!) meant that I was involved. For the moment, she was technically in my care so it was time to man-up and do something to protect her. I awkwardly grabbed both his arms from behind to try and pin them down while pulling back to put space between him and Redhead, who now had a look of panic.
He was more than angry. He had to be running on adrenalin. He had way more strength than his small-man body could have normally produced, so I tried to kick his knees forward to drop him to the floor. It partially worked and he struggled to regain an upright posture but I was about to lose him when a couple of guys who knew what they were doing grabbed him, got him under their firm control and dragged him away.
Shortly, we were back at the table with our teams and she was directly across from me – looking almost as rattled as I felt. “Who was that guy?” I asked.
“He’s my husband. . . ”
My first real job provided me with all kinds of “firsts”. I had to move from Petaluma to San Jose, so viola – my first apartment, and suddenly I owned my first batch of kitchen utensils, bath towels and (mostly passed down) furniture. As my first real job, I had to parse my first HR benefits package. I had my own power bill and phone.
As my first real move and job I got the chance to collect a lot of new friends, which seems to have also put me in line to flirt with my first married woman and all the good that came with it. Come on! I thought, I haven’t even gotten all my books unpacked yet!
Note to self for the future – check for a ring. . .
You may have read elsewhere how I transitioned from trade school to this company making computers – my dream job, with my best friend. He really kept me sane as we shared notes on how life was working out, but in the matter of this married woman, good friend that he was, he could only laugh at me – without ceasing – except to use the bathroom.
I was really enjoying her attention. One day, I found myself with an empty container of Quaker Oats, one of those big cardboard tubes and thought to have some fun with it. At work, there was a gal who did the mail delivery with a small push cart. Normally, it was full of those big multi-use yellow envelops where you crossed off your name and added a new one when you wanted to send something to someone else. I thought it would be funny to anonymously address the Quaker Oats cylinder to Red Head with a note inside that read, “Nothing is better for thee than me.” And I signed it, “The Quaker”. She’ll never track it back to me and we could enjoy her confusion searching for the sender.
My best friend was standing there with me, when I saw Mail-gal, running across the floor well before her normal arrival time, with my cylinder in hand. I paused our conversation and told him to watch. He had no idea what was going on, “Just watch.” I said. Mail-gal found Redhead and gave her the package. From across the large room we watched as she opened it and the two of them burst out laughing, then paused as Mail-gal shrugged and shook her head. Redhead lowered the package and yelled out, for the whole floor to hear, “GARY WILSON – WHERE ARE YOU?”
My friend turned and asked, “what did you do?”
“How did she guess it was me?” I replied – deciding to postpone the answer to his question. Suddenly I was known to the whole floor. Mail-gal then ran over to me and laughed as she described what a great joke that had been, how no one have ever mailed a Quaker Oats tube before and how Redhead knew immediately that it had to be me. That epic Christmas Party was only about 4 months away. I would have been wise to take vacation and go backpacking instead. My best friend resolutely proclaimed, “You deserve any fallout from this stunt.”
That floor provided me with lots of more normal friendships. One great guy taught me how to melt styrofoam with isopropyl alcohol and various colorants and then hung-dry to produce the most convincing non-real boogers imaginable.
There were also some rather spooky folk running about. One short pudgy guy was given a rolling desk so he could move to where ever he needed to be. It was never clear to me what he did because he mostly studied his Jehovah’s Witness bible. He was friendly enough, but kinda creepy because, while I expected him to vigilantly try to convert me, he preferred to always guide any discussion to women’s breasts. I recall one afternoon when he was completely taken with some movie he AND his wife had watched where a well-endowed female character took an arrow with her left boob. He went on and on and on about how realistically it had been filmed. Okay – time to get back to work pal. . .
There was another gal, a peer to Redhead and kind of a nut. One day she brought brownies to share and several of them made too big of a deal to get me to enjoy one with them. I’m not a big fan of brownies, but took one to be polite. As they wandered back to their area, I downed the brownie to be done with it, and wondered what the big deal was. They seemed to have singled me out for this gracious sharing rather than offering brownies to everyone. Probably nothing. Need to get back to work because I’m really stumped by this dysfunctional board. Finally one honest soul stopped by and asked if that gal had indeed given me a brownie. “Yes, why?”
“They were laced with marijuana.”
“Ulp! You’re kidding right?” I had, and other than this assault, never consumed a recreational drug. Who does something like this?” Another first. . .
After several months I began to fit right in with the ebb and flow of work and fun. I learned from someone else’s mistake about hard boiled eggs in the microwave oven and how to almost get thrown out of the party by accidentally disrespecting the guard gal who stood watch over the employee-only entrance. Back in these days, our badges were simple clear plastic sleeves into which a hard company card with our photo was inserted and sealed in. I noticed how easy it might be to open up that sleeve with an Exacto-knife and replace the photo. I can’t recall why I thought this a fun idea, but the whole security thing had not really become common sense yet because I cut out a near match head shot of a young deer and placed it over my own picture. Then I ran around with my badge on my collar for at least two months. We were always friendly with the guard gal. She had, I thought, a great sense of humor until one day I tired of waiting for her to notice my doctored badge and made up some excuse to wave it in her face and – wow – you should have seen her eyes double, nae – triple in size. Our friendly guard gal turned mean and angry. I promised to undo my deed and reported back to her within the hour with a fully restored badge. Surely, I thought she would get the implied joke of what a “dear” I was. Thus that was both the first and last time I tried that trick.
By far, the friendships I enjoyed at that job were some of the best. Changes in the market brought changes to the floor and many of us began to wander off. One of my final stunts still brings back warm memories that underline what friends are for, was one day when my buddy, who smoked at the time left his cigarette burning while he walked off to do something. I’ve never been fond of smoking and was always on him to quit.
Well, by the time he returned I had disassembled the computer he was charged with testing and set that still-burning cigarette beneath the open PC card rack and rebooted the system. By the time my friend returned, there was a barely-noticeable trail of white smoke rising from his system. We chatted and progressed our work quietly until I heard him explode with a loud, “Holy Sh**!”
I turned to watch, and enjoy his scramble to power down the system and begin the search for whatever had caught fire. There were several PC boards in use that used a type of capacitor which, if installed backwards, would explode and fragment themselves all over the place. They were not too dangerous, but the protocol on the test floor was, if you didn’t catch the problem before one exploded, then you got to clean up the mess. So my friend had good reasons to find what was happening quickly. He began yanking boards from the quiescent system, but the smoke kept coming and (now that the fans had stopped) was coming up in earnest. He finally all but stripped that system to bare metal and finally got down to discover that someone had duped him with his own cigarette. By that time he was pretty worked up and sweating with concern – illustrating once again the value of a good friend.
I may well have been the first to try that stunt at our company. It sorta made him famous for a while and got me out of the spotlight.