I’m trying to write this before the shock wears off, so apologies now for rambling or moebius story-telling.
So, today I got some news from a succession of people at my old job that the guy I spent the last year and a half sitting next to passed away at his home some time after Monday evening. He’d gone home Monday morning complaining of trouble breathing. Maybe his heart gave out, I dunno. He was a big guy, sizewise, but he always was during the five years I worked there, so it’s not like he suddenly took a downturn in his health. Who knows? Maybe when he went to doctors, he was told to lose weight, instead of actually looking at what was going on? That response from hospitals almost killed my mom last summer. But I digress.
I was laid off from that job three weeks back, and the first thing both my wife and my mom said when I told them was (verbatim) “But you loved that job!” It was true, too. I liked the work, mostly, and enjoyed working for the largest studio of the largest gaming company in the world. Mostly though? It was the people. The people I worked with were the best thing about the job, and for the last 18 months, I’d been working a Nerf-dart’s throw from the sort of techie who would spend an hour figuring out how to mess with another tech’s machine and not get caught. Not for snooping purposes, not for bragging rights, but because it was funny.
We used to joke that we had to sit together in our department, because we would drive anyone else crazy if we were placed elsewhere. We were like the kids’ table at your Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner: throwing food, making funny faces, quoting Monty Python and Little Britain at each other. In short, we were two big geeks who would often be amazed that we were paid to do what we loved. Even when we didn’t love it, we could commiserate about how much we hated it, and get the poison out of our system before getting back down into our mental trenches and reconfiguring the Retro Encabulators.
He always had a big stainless steel coffee-can full of jelly beans, and while he might have moaned about having to refill it so often, it gave people an excuse to come talk to him, and see what he was doing, without necessarily feeling like they were interrupting. He also had a big red spinning light, like you’d find above the radiation room, referred to as “The F-O Light.” If it was on, it meant he was busy, so “F-O.”
When we weren’t talking shop, we would mostly talk about comedians and comedy. Things we found funny, and things funny people found funny. We could spend ten minutes trying to remember where we’d heard a joke, or the first time we heard a Bill Cosby record, or just randomly saying “Yeah, I know” in Little Britain accents to each other without breaking our different trains of thought. You know how old married couples can finish sentences? We would speak in half-conscious nerdese: deeply obscure IRC and BBS terminology would get bounced back and forth between us, like a pair of HAL9000s talking in their sleep.
I haven’t worked with anyone who so deeply “got” me as a technician. He understood and could help with what made me livid with rage at the injustices of the job (even if he was arguing the other side, and had already resolved to just get it done), and he also joined in the celebrations and Zulu war-dances of finding solutions that were the vastly dangerous shortcuts and time-crunches we were hired to create. The self-taught techs we were? He had done it all, too, and knew how hard it was to put something down when there was still a problem to be fixed.
There are 2,500+ staff at that location, and damn near 3,000 computers running, and if they were running Windows, he was at least partly responsible for each of those machines running as well as they did. I know how hard his job was, ’cause part of my job description was to be his backup when he was away, and brother, that was one hell of a huge ship to try to captain when he was away.
The day after I was laid off, I started to write an email to the department, as my goodbye. It didn’t go anywhere really, so I put it aside, and tried to write a goodbye just to him first, thinking once I got over the barrier of saying goodbye to the guy I could sit next to for eight hours a day (without wanting to yell “Would you shut UP!” even once at), the rest would be easy.
In writing that letter, I got as far as “It was” before I burst into tears.
I know Han Solo, and I’m no Han Solo, but I sure feel like Chewbacca’s gone.
This past weekend, when I was in Bellingham with the kids getting stamps for Arwen, there was a giant bag of Jelly Belly beans for cheap, so I grabbed ’em, thinking “I’ll bring these with me next time I go out there, or send ’em via courier” or something equally nerdy.Â While frowned upon, sending food in the interoffice mail system was also one of the things that made us giggle like idiots, and I thought he would know it meant I was still thinking about him, and would make him smile.
He was active in the BBS/modem scene way back when, before most of you fair readers knew what a computer was.Â Before a few of you were even alive.Â Before we talked about the Internet, and LONG before the World Wide Web.Â It’ll take me a while to figure out where his online haunts were, but www.b3ta.com won’t have him making obscurely funny animated graphics.Â He won’t be overly harsh with the helpdesk guys any more, ’cause sometimes he would forget that not everybody was seeing the system from his satellite view.
There was one woman he loved, that I know of, and he had wanted to marry her, but she was betrothed to a needle long before he came onto the scene.Â Being young and naive, he didn’t see the signs until it was too late, and didn’t get a chance to pull out of the emotional dive before reality came up fast to meet him.Â When he spoke of her, which was rarely, he always seemed to miss who he thought she was.Â Perhaps he can finally meet that woman again, and this time, they’ll have a chance at something good together.
He was a huge nerd, a good friend, a great technician, and will be missed.
Goodbye Jan, you magnificent bastard.