“What’s a bulletin board system?” Colt asked. “Is that what they had on the wall in the computer room in Berkeley? Where Simmonser used to take us when we were in nursery school, and we stole the colored teletype cards?”
“No silly Harry Legs. A bulletin board is like what they have at colleges, on computers. Hackers call into the bulletin board,” I told Colt.
The red lights on the Hayes lighted up, the signal went out, and the handshaking began. Text came across the IBM’s green screen, character by character. Somebody talked to us! No, we saw a lengthy programmed description of how the sysop went to U.C.L.A., but he lived in a cave and possessed a minotaur. Everything on the screen was shitty. The screen was forty columns, and the text was all caps.
The board Colt called was called Mad World. A user could post messages, or chat with the sysop. Over and over again, Colt hit the Control-C feature to chat with the sysop. When he hit Control-C, our screen said, “THE DRAGON IS BREATHING FIRE TO PAGE AND AWAKEN THE MAD HATTER FROM A DEEP SLUMBER WITHIN A CAVERN OF FIRE AND ICE.”
Every loser without a hairstyle had a BBS. To make matters worse, our list of wares exceeded any sysop’s. Notwithstanding our imminent need to get a BBS up, Gershom remained steadfast he would not be part of any system run on store bought BBS software.
“Networx is a piece of paleontological shit. The abomination is too ass fucking of a mother fucker to operate without it fucking some ass and crashing. The crap is in BASIC and I don’t program in BASIC anymore!”
“Could we use GBBS?” I asked.
“The G in GBBS stands for gay BBS software. I said, ‘I DON’T PROGRAM IN BASIC.’”—————————————————————————————
“But if I can sell subscriptions. Imagine how many people subscribe to…What’s something everybody subscribes to? No, not the New York Times because not everybody lives in New York. People buy local newspapers. Magazines, Time. There is also Newsweek.”
“What does everybody do, well almost everybody?” Gershom asked. He hoped his brother had an answer, and would shut up.
“They watch T.V.”
Gershom sunk his teeth into the mash potatoes; they were his favorite part. He momentarily stopped paying attention.
Colt continued, “Imagine selling subscriptions to be able to watch T.V. Not like ON/TV or Selec/TV, or some service you can buy if you feel like it, but a service you have to buy in order to watch T.V. How many households are there?”
He grabbed the Almanac from the shelf in back of the table.
“Ok, this is old. Considering the increased purchases of smaller screen televisions in the last five years, I’d wager on saying there are 83,000,000 television households in the United States as of March of 1983. Why wouldn’t every one of them want to get onto The Lemur Connection?”
“One very simple reason Silly Harry Legs. The Lemur Connection will be running on an Apple II+ with a 300 baud modem. Only one user can call in at a time.”
“I am still going to sell a lot of subscriptions. Nobody has to know what you just said.”
The life of the party was The Tigress. Colt placed her age at eleven, maybe close to twelve. She wore a half black glove, a leotard top, and a sweater in order to conceal her lack of chest development. She tried to flirt her way into the party.
I hit Control-G, only one time, to page the sysop. He popped into chat and said ‘Stop hitting your cock against the keyboard you fucking Lemur.’ I said to him, ‘I hear you keep Vaseline by the computer and your keyboard is all slippery from Vaseline because you spend all day rubbing your cock across the keyboard.’ He became very irate and told me he was twenty-five and had a job at Radio Shack. I said he was a loser and a pervert.
With the noise of his Galaga game in the background, in order to prevent eavesdroppers, he explained the plot.
“The anonymity of the bulletin board system creates an environment ripe for child molesters posing as users,” Colt briefed the task force, in person.
“Many of the users are very young,” Gershom Goodman said from the Tandy speakerphone that sat in front of his suited brother. “They are impressionable. Generally kids who do not have a lot of friends.”
“Consider an essay recently posted on The Lemur Connection by Alpha Synturian,” Colt said. “The essay is on lying for status versus lying to mislead. A bulletin board system exists in a fantasy environment. Sometimes, fantasies express themselves as reality and fantasy becomes reality on a bulletin board system. The BBS is a perfect opportunity for, as they say…Coming out.”—————————————————————————————
For the first time in months, Gershom and Simmonser were on speaking terms. The next evening, the boys discussed their dilemma with Simmonser who lay on the Simmons. He wore a nightgown Mrs. Goodman sewed for him. His hip vents had been ripping for some time. He covered his right hip while he spoke to his sons who stood in front of his legs.
“We are in the middle of the microcomputer revolution,” Simmonser told his sons. He crossed his legs and continued. “I have been saying microcomputers are the future of computing since I first learned how to program, in BASIC, back when I taught a social science statistics computing course during the early 1970s.”
Both boys were teary. Momentarily, they avoided looking into their father’s black horn rimmed glasses.
“In 1977, I said the future was networking together microcomputers. The time is now here! Behold history.”
Colt nodded his head. Gershom raised his chin and said, “Amen!”
Dr. Goodman continued. “I have earned a great deal from my advice and stock in Novell, now AST too. But now I shall tell you where the future of computing is. Give the progression of technology another ten years. Nobody has heard of what I am going to say. It is called the Internet.”
Dr. Goodman rose from the bed. He stood on the side of his bed by the shades Mrs. Goodman had sewn.
“Imagine a day when all computers are connected. Instead of video tapes, you will be able to see a movie on your monitor! Everybody will do business electronically. Here is where it matters for Colt, the businessman born with a M.B.A. You have created a portal. The television networks are portals. You know. Channel 2, CBS, Channel 4, NBC, Channel 7, ABC. Whoever owns the portal to connect through the Internet is the next robber baron. The same as magnesium. You must control magnesium to control the world. Vast fortunes will be made. Even more than the $70,000 or $80,000 a week Colt brags about. The Internet will be bigger than television. Homes and businesses, everything will be connected through the Internet twenty-four hours a day. You wait and see. But do not forget a business man is only as good as his product. Your portal must be the best, or your system will be the Dumont Network of the computing world. Is the Speak Easy the best written software? Can you say the system exceeds anything your competitors might have within the next five years? If the answer is yes, and you have the right man behind the business the portal will be worth more than IBM.”—————————————————————————————
Before Thanksgiving vacation, Colt was in store for a C in English and B in history. Because he refused to learn how to count pica in journalism, and protested any further attendance in that class, he tinkered on failing journalism.
“If you want to amass, that’s your business. You wear the shoes of the oppressor, and you will have to live with that. But if you believe you have a voice, you have to ask yourself, what media is the message?”
Throughout the day, hundreds of people called Gershom’s computers. The users were inside of a program he wrote, out of nowhere. Colt provided a lot of ideas about content and formatting, but he did not write a single code. Gershom pieced everything together, and he created a world the public knocked down the walls to enter. Never before had so many people given Gershom their names, addresses, and phone numbers. The users trusted him and they wanted to be part of his system. He knew sooner or later there had to be an exchange between himself and the users.
Never before had Gershom held a fresh list of pledges. His wide hands cusped the list of potential donors. Name by name, throughout the day, every time a pledge was made Colt added the donor’s name and the amount of their donation. Gershom breathed heavily and tried to comprehend. Even for Gershom, there were too many numbers to add in his head. He released his grasp of the papers, sat down at an IBM keyboard in his bedroom, and punched the 10 Key Punch. His strokes were heavier, slower, and more deliberate than Colt’s.
“$3,978.00,” Gershom said. “Are you fucking making this up? Sitting in your room and talking to Lisa all day?”
In a direct, somewhat choppy fashion he spoke to Lisa. “Cumming, us, maybe not right now. Too many users to validate.”
At 5:30 P.M., the door to the Speak Easy opened. Seconds later, Gershom stood in front of Colt.
“Come in the room,” he told Colt.
Lisa got up to follow Colt.
“No, just you,” Gershom told Colt.
Gershom escorted his brother into the inner sanctum of the Speak Easy. He shut the door behind him, turned the lock inside of the doorknob, locked the dead bolt, and then used a series of chains and latches to secure the paint grade door. Seated behind the massive piece of computer furniture, he typed something into the IBM and then turned up an external speaker that emitted white noise. Beside the color monitor, the only light in the room was a red glow from the ceiling. Unsurprisingly, the shades were drawn. Masking tape held blackout fabric onto the ripped pull down shade. Bullet proof vests, attached by yarn nailed into the wall, were in front of the blackout fabric.
Colt sat in front of a CPU he planned to use to validate new users. The chair he was seated on, Simmonser stole from a non-profit he used to direct. Gershom put on the soundtrack tape of the A Clockwork Orange. On a desk space in front of Colt, his brother stacked the mail containers.
“There’s $24,018 here.”
Colt had to say something.
“Our weekly total is more than Simmonser made when we moved here in 1977.”
Gershom turned the music up, pulled the sword from his favorite sword cane, and to the tempo of the Symphony 9, Op. 125 he thrashed at his mattress.
“I hate this fucking bed!”—————————————————————————————
By late September, computers, modems, and phone lines were added to the original system design. Gershom ordered the hardware by mail. Colt unpacked the goods, occasionally made pickups at freight forwarding locations near airports, and called the phone company to add telephone lines. Gershom configured and modified the system when he was not spying on the users, or in chat. The increased system capacity led to revenue increases, and Colt considered adding a third validation shift.
Each employee was guaranteed thirty square feet of, “Sound proof” work space. The rooms were broken down by partitions held up by aluminum legs. Dense, gray carpet-like material covered the partitions. The work areas were six feet wide and five feet deep. There were two feet in back of each partition so the employees could eventually get out the door, and into the planter area that to Colt’s annoyance smelled like an ash tray. Approximately thirty telemarketers were on shift at any time. Besides the telemarketers, there were three full-time clerical employees. They spent most of their time photocopying donation checks and making files for each user. In addition, there were a few girls aged fourteen to seventeen who actually filed the papers. Another five employees with unspecified duties came in and out of offices connected by clay paths. Finally, there was a white haired woman who wore long acrylic nails. She wore a periwinkle polyester blouse, and used a pen to keep the tape flowing on her adding machine. Colt was so impressed by the noise Grandma Peggy’s adding machine made, he recently raised her pay to $2,500.00 a month.
Head down and several of his digits underneath his chin, Dillon paced between the offices. The sales talk in the rooms widely varied. A good number of the teenaged girls breathed heavily and spoke in raspy voices.
“I am five foot four, have blonde hair, and have to wear front opening bras because I can’t get my hands behind my back,” a Filipina high school senior said into the phone.
Dillon lingered in the area of the Filipina girl. She wore a sweater buttoned only by its top button. The left strap of her pink tank top, underneath, was halfway down her shoulder. Had anybody been paying attention to him, Dillon would have told them he was temporarily leaving the suites to go to the bathroom and would be right back.
I, Gershom Goodman, otherwise known as Moonshine, feel the need to chronicle these events because I am the sysop of the Speak Easy. One day, users of the system who are now teenagers will read this account when they are middle-aged. At that moment in the future, twelve-year-olds who have never seen LP records, cassette tapes, or floppy disks will read this record. I imagine this Wordstar file will be read, or heard online. The delivery of this account will be faster than any now known dedicated line. This recordation of BBS history will not be printed on chemical pulp. My chronicle herein will be delivered simultaneously by sound and character delivery, on an eighty column monitor capable of being divided into multiple screens most likely accessible by a joystick or mouse. Various size versions of the screen will be available, and so will a, “Read to me mode.” I will probably write the, “Read to me mode” software used throughout mankind. Colt Goodman, otherwise known by a variety of handles, will distribute the software no longer referred to as a ware because we will be very old men, maybe forty or more. By this time, in all likelihood, all good men will know how to grow their own teeth and arms thus eliminating the need for showers and dental care.
PROFESSOR GOODMAN: THE RECORDS WILL ALSO SHOW HE WROTE A BULLETIN BOARD SYSTEM USING GRADUATE LEVEL MATHEMATICS AND THE SYSTEM IS NOW THE MAIN PORTAL FOR THE WHOLE WORLD.
HEARING OFFICEER: OK, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT A PORTAL IS. IS YOUR POINT, YOU ARE TRYING TO MAKE A POLITICAL STATEMENT ABOUT A BULLETIN BOARD?
COLT GOODMAN: THE BBS IS THE NEW FORM OF JOURNALISM. IN TWENTY-FIVE YEARS NEWSPAPERS WILL BE IN BANKRUPTCY. NEWSWEEK WILL BE SOLD FOR CHUMP CHANGE. BOOKS WILL ACCESSIBLE BY MODEM.