In Which Absolutely Frank Holds Court At The Grant House

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


Lemme tell you a story...

Submitted: July 16, 2018

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Submitted: July 16, 2018

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It was, ostensibly, the Buffalo Road, but the combination of budgetary constraints and general disinterest had ensured that Route 219 was no more than another two-lane blacktop that went from nowhere to nowhere--indeed, getting to Buffalo from this particular neck of the woods was, by no means, an uncomplicated endeavor--especially in this section of northwestern Pennsylvania that contained very little to interrupt the road save the occasional scenic overlook and the odd down-on-its-luck mill town full of grimly hopeful realtor’s signs blowing in the wind.

 

One of those signs--For Sale or Lease.  Kinzua Realty, 814-347-2108—sat outside the Grant House in Degolia, once a bedroom town for those folks who enjoyed the largesse of the PennTech mill just down the road in Montmorenci Falls, but who preferred to live away from the constant noise and the grit that necessitated two or three sweepings of the porch on a daily basis, now just an irritant in the crossroads--the convenience store across from the bar closed for several months now, and a house or two were well into the process of decay and the eventual return to Nature.  It was just shy of lunchtime on a Tuesday, but the bar was still reasonably full.  Some of the patrons were not completely resigned to the inevitable consequences of PennTech’s shutdown some three months back, and, as such, comparably well-groomed and chipper (some of them even wearing ties, albeit open at the neck at the moment) while others, less sanguine about the immediate and foreseeable future, sipped their Budweiser silently while wearing Monday’s pants and shirt.  Into this mixture of various states of despair and stages of  intoxication marched (and marched was the correct term, as he walked with a pace and erectness that marked the career military man or the already two sheets to the wind, the latter being more likely in this case) a tall, forty-ish man by the name of Frank Hartley--“Absolutely Frank”, as he was known to all and sundry, the nickname reflecting both his uniqueness and his off-and-on-again relationship with the concept of tact.  Good afternoon, my name is Absolutely Frank, and I am an alcoholic, he boomed out in his best hail-and-fellow-well-met voice, which doesn’t give me much of a leg up on you bunch of fucking drunks.  As one or two patrons chuckled, he continued on toward the bar without breaking stride--As I’ve observed we’ve skipped the host, and gone straight for His blood, would the good shepherd behind the bar be kind enough to offer me something mixed and sacramental--preferably a double--while I provide the text for today’s sermonette. 

 

In short order Frank had a drink resting comfortably in front of him; having sampled it, and finding it satisfactory, he began speaking to everyone and no one in particular:

 

I was, back in the day, a full-fledged computer geek; button-down white shirt, thin black tie, pocket protector securely in place.  I worked at Duquesne University down in Pittsburgh (oh, put your damn jaws back in place. It’s Pittsburgh, not fucking Valhalla--unless you’re comparing it to this dingy little interruption in the forest) in the info systems group.  Now, writing code is as beautiful, as clean and uncomplicated as the liturgy itself; the programmer types in the Psalm, and the machine spits out the responsorial--as I said, pristine in its simplicity and directness; but say someone else in Systems decides they need to make a bit of a tweak to the program--no problem, really, they’ll be sure to document the changes—but then some swinging dick in Finance (there solely to subvert order, if the truth be known) decides he needs to put in a couple of subroutines, which of course he does all half-assed and without a word of explanation, and pretty soon no one anywhere has the first fucking clue what the program actually does with the exception of the mainframe itself, which isn’t talking.

 

 

Frank paused briefly, sipping his and drink, then raising the glass, chalice-like, to eye-level before returning it to the bar and continuing:

 

It was, I admit, a touch disconcerting to realize that we didn’t have a full grip on the reins when it came to the functioning of the programs which we had ostensibly written, but it was only a mechanical process carried out by some machine, after all--but then they started humming.  Everyone in Info Systems had to take a turn doing overnight operations in the mainframe room, and every night I was there the machines started in with their infernal drone--just one of those big old Burroughs at first, but the others would soon join in-- and not random noises, mind you; no, they would whine on in chords and arpeggios, and, later on, in full-blown musical tunes (most of which I didn’t recognize, but some quite familiar indeed--snatches of Bach, the Cowboy Copus version of “Hillbilly Heaven” seemed a particular favorite), and, what’s more, the desks and fixtures in the room would vibrate right along, even though an acoustics guy I knew from Carnegie-Mellon checked the place and told me that the room had been designed specifically to prevent sympathetic vibrations, and what I was claiming was physically and scientifically impossible. Despite all of that, I had been able, through judicious permutations of rationalization and vermouth, to retain a sufficient veneer of ordinariness and sanity.

 

But then the machines began to speak.

 

 

At this point, Frank paused again, a look of puzzlement on his face as if he simply couldn’t believe what had transpired to that point, or perhaps expressing skepticism as to whether it had happened at all.  Still, the pause was brief--really, just long enough for a look to flash across his face and disappear again, before he resumed speaking.

 

It was one night in the latter part of December, the nights at that time of year as long and dark as the long night of the soul itself--I was whiling away the hours boning up on some Aquinas (I had audited the odd class in Philosophy--one of the perks of the job) when I heard an odd, throaty stage whisper.

 

The peripatetic axiom? Really, Frank, that’s a bit disappointing.

 

Needless to say, I went cold as dry ice, as I knew full well that there was no one else in the room.

 

Oh, Frank, Frank--you know very well who’s talking here.  Surely a voice that can sing can talk as well.

 

I noted, out loud but certainly to no one in particular, that the power of speech is strictly limited to sentient beings imbued with the power of reason.

 

Ah, reason--and you certainly are a slave to reason, aren’t you, dear Francis? Every comma, every equal sign snugly in its rightful place to give you your desired result.  And yet…

 

Yet… yet, what? I said, now speaking directly to the huge Burroughs box itself.

 

Frank, a bright fellow like you can’t see?  Your silly ritualistic faith, your childlike parables--all simple input-output.  You give your God this, He gives you that.

 

Again, you’ll forgive the observation, I more or less shouted, that you’re little more than some sheet metal and a confusion of wiring.

 

We read code, we react.  Just like your great and All-powerful God, dear Francis. There’s your great secret of divine truth, Frank.  Read and react.  No more than the Control Data box over there in the corner, or a Steeler linebacker.  Read and react.

 

The upshot of this conversation, this weighty debate with a collection of screws, spot welds, and tubes which argued that Jack Lambert was as likely a vehicle to my eternal salvation as any was sufficient to tip me over the edge, and when the day finally came for me to box up my things and wait for campus security to escort me out of the building, I didn’t even look up.

 

 

The bar, as Frank finished speaking momentarily to drain his drink, was silent as calling hours, until Frank himself let forth with a roar like machinery speeding quickly to full throttle.  Well, of course, that’s all complete bullshit, pure fucking fiction, he gasped, but it kept you lot away from your drinks for a few minutes.  Now that is a miracle worthy of Calvary itself.  He paused briefly to remove his glasses and wipe his eyes.  Me, a programmer--can you begin to imagine?  Not that any of you sodden sonsofbitches could ever hold a day job yourselves.  Back to the business at hand, then; mine’s a seven and seven, good sir, and easy on the Uncola, if you please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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