Bert Glanstron, Greg thought to himself, why does that name sound so familiar? Bert… Glanstron… did I work with him? Did he go to my high school?
Saying the name a few more times didn’t help jog Greg’s memory, so he shrugged his shoulders and double-clicked on the résumé. It was the eleventh in a row he had reviewed for a programmer analyst position, and it somehow was even less impressive than the previous.
“DOS? ZMODEM? WWIV!?” Greg exclaimed, drawing a quizzical look from a fellow subway passenger. Ten years ago, Bert Glanstron’s listed skills were considered to be long outdated. Today, they’d be about as relevant as a telegraph apparatus repairman. As Greg went to hit the delete key, his peripheral caught one more outdated keyword: FIDONet.
Normally, FIDONet wouldn’t have even given him pause, but seeing that word on the résumé of one Bert Glanstron did a whole lot more. It brought back a long-lost memory of computer days past. More specifically, the memory of one Bert Glanstron.
It was July of 1988 and Greg had a bit of a lawn problem. No matter how much he watered or fertilized, he couldn’t get rid of a dead spot on his grass. Being the computer-savvy guy that he was, he fired up Telix, dialed into his local BBS, and posted a message to a FIDONet lawn care feed.
Among other things, FIDONet served as a dial-up based, distributed message board and was a precursor to internet forums. Users would dial-in to their local BBS’s and, a few times a day, the BBS would dial out and synch messages with FIDONet nodes. Like today, maintaining civil and productive discussions was a challenge, and as a result, many FIDONet feed moderators required that subscribers to their feed use real names instead of handles.
The day following his lawn care question, Greg logged back into FidoNET to see if anyone replied. Instead of advice, he found a mouthful from the lawn care feed’s moderator, one Bert Glanstron. It read something like this.
Dear SARUMANATEE, In case you can’t tell, this is a grown-up place. The fact that you insist on using your ridiculous handle clearly shows that you’re too young and too stupid to be using FIDONet. Go away and grow up. Sincerely, Bert Glanstron
Shocked, Greg apologized and explained that he had no idea why his handle was showing up in the messages. The feed clearly indicated that no handles were allowed, and Greg didn’t have a choice as to what name was displayed on the posted messages.
Apparently dissatisfied, Bert responded with “you are an idiot and should be banned from your mommy and daddy’s modem.” He then sent a note to the sysop of Greg’s BBS expecting that SARUMANATEE be banned for committing such a grave offense. Of course, seeing that it’s the sysop’s responsibility for ensuring the appropriate name is sent to FIDONet, the sysop apologized to Bert and said it was his fault for not synching properly, and advised that it wouldn’t happen again.
Still dissatisfied, Bert went on a tirade and posted a campaign of messages that demanded justice. “This BBS is exactly what’s wrong with FIDONet,” he’d rant, “they are dragging down the whole system with their idiocy! I insist that they are cut from FIDONet completely!”
Greg didn’t care enough about his lawn problem to battle it out, so he simply unsubscribed from the lawn care feed and left it at that. The local nursery helped him fix his grass, and both FIDONet and Bert Glanstron faded into unremarkable memories.
Bringing Him on In
“Oh. My. God.” Greg unintentionally muttered aloud, drawing another look from a commuter. Terrible résumé notwithstanding, he absolutely had to meet Bert Glanstron. The following day, he asked HR to bring the candidate in for an interview. He wasn’t sure what he’d say, but there was just something... well, just about him being in a position to interview Bert.
When the day finally came, one of Greg’s colleagues – a manager of another development group – had the pleasure of interviewing him first. “I know you selected this guy,” he told Greg, “but he’s definitely not worth your time. Trust me. Want me to boot him out?”
There was no way that Greg would miss the opportunity to meet the man himself, so he politely declined the offer and inquired as to why it was a bad interview.
“So you know how I get my boys donuts for the Monday meetings?” the manger rhetorically asked, “I had the box of donuts on my desk for later, and as I was going through his résumé, he popped the tape seal and helped himself to a donut. I mean, there was a whole stack of papers on the box of donuts, and he moved them to the side.”
Greg’s eyes lit up. Bert Glanstron was already turning out to be more than he could have ever imagined. As the development manager told the story, Greg pictured exactly what Bert must look like: a short Al Pacino wearing a tracksuit and a couple large gold chains.
“And this was all without even asking! I told him, ‘um... those are for a meeting… later’, so he put the donut back in the box. After taking a huge bite out of it. Really! Now who does that? I mean… what do you even say after that!?”
Greg was stunned. He absolutely, positively had to meet Bert Glanstron. He wasn’t sure what was going to come out of it, but he knew it’d be exciting.
When Bert Glanstron was finally brought to Greg’s office, he was a bit taken back by his appearance. Bert wasn’t anything like the New Jersey stereotype he had pictured.
Bert Glanstron was an older fellow, possibly in his late 50’s. He wore brown shoes, white socks, and brown polyester slacks that were a good three-inches too short. His button-down, short sleeve shirt was ledger yellow with thin blue, lines in a graph paper pattern and opal buttons trimmed in silver. As for the blazer, it was tweed and sported elbow patches. And it too was about three sizes too small for his portly belly. He also had a long, wispy beard, a bald head, and wore black, horn-rimmed glasses. All told, he was straight out of a 1962 yearbook photo of a math professor… with a little powdered sugar from the last interview in his beard.
The interview started with a standard course of questions, and Bert’s answers were as expected. He didn’t know a lot about modern technology, whether it was TCP/IP, port assignments, or even HTML.
Greg’s mind turned towards the sinister and, as if he were toying with his prey, Greg asked about his experience on FIDONet. And boy-oh-boy, Bert lit up like no one had ever asked him that question.
For twenty straight minutes, Bert babbled on and on about WWIV, the glory of the BBS days, and how the World Wide Web was a ruination of all that was good and text based. He knew ANSI codes, VT100 escape codes, and all manner of telnet MUDs and such. Bert was the guy and was proud of all of his sweeping – and probably exaggerated – accomplishments in the FIDONet and PODnet realms.
Of course, Greg didn’t need a single one of those skills. But that didn’t stop him from prodding.
“Very interesting,” he wryly smiled, “changing subjects here… did you ever have a conflict with someone that turned ugly? And how did you resolve it?”
Without even a hint of sarcasm, Greg said ever-so-sweetly, “actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conflict with anyone.”
An Ugly Conflict
Shocked and insulted by Bert Glanstron’s blatant disregard for his past offenses, Greg hastily stood up, knocking his chair back. He diabolically snarled, “what’s wrong Bert Glanstron, don’t you remember me?”
Greg depressed a button he had built just for that occasion, causing the lights in his office to dim and the dark and dangerous sweeping crescendo of a Danny Elfman soundtrack to start playing. He continued on his rant and tirade.
“It’s me, SARUMANATEE from the FIDONet of yore! My ire will cast dispersion on you and your puny, buster brown loafers. Now it is I who shall ban you. Mwa ha ha ha ha! Where’s your FIDONet kingdom now, Bert Glanstron? ”
At least, that was one response that Greg considered. Instead, he amicably said “well, you do seem like an easy-going guy,” and ended the interview shortly thereafter.
Unsurprisingly, the interview was a waste of time for all parties involved. Yet, Greg was still vastly satisfied in a guilty sort of way: he finally got to meet Bert Glanstron.