Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Demon Cobol Programmer Of Brooklyn

I just got a phone call from someone I share a meeting with, who wished to discuss something "person to person" with me.

I was in the middle of doing something complicated concerning my new(ish) job in a Unix Admin department, and so wasn't really in the position or mood to be doing frivolous stuff at the same time, but I sort of like the individual and said, "OK, what's up?".

He wanted to talk to me about my behaviour in the last meeting we shared.

I was puzzled. I used to have a reputation for sometimes being disruptive in long meetings, but I have long ago adopted a different tack of sitting quietly and fidgeting until the damn things are over and I get let out for recess. What on earth could he be talking about?

He said that some people were worried that I was playing with my Swiss Army knife during the meeting.

I had a think back. I had been fiddling with my 30-year old Swiss Army knife, but I was sitting on my own two places from anyone else and hadn't waved it about at all. He had to be opening the conversation with a leg-pull.

"Is this a joke?" I asked, smiling.

It was not, I was assured. "Some People" had become worried when I pulled first one "big red knife" out, then had produced another "Shiny Silver Switchblade".

"You mean my Leatherman tool?" I asked incredulously. "The folding pliers I carry?"

He meant the "straight razor I was stropping on a leather", and "Some People" found that worrying.

I was now getting angry. The people I work for and the people he works for both have hairtrigger reactions to any suggestion of impropriety and misunderstandings at high levels are easy to engineer from such thin fabric. This man was toying with my professional good name. I had another think to convince myself I hadn't had a "strop" in the meeting (I’ve been known to use my belt, but I don’t wear a leather belt to work), and remembered rubbing the blade on a sheet of paper to see if I could break away the "wire edge" I could just see forming on the blade1 to while away the hour of circular nonsense that was passing as a progress meeting that day. He was right in that this was indeed "stropping" the blade, but saying I had brought a leather strop into the room was larding it a bit as was his assertion a few seconds later that it was like having Sweeny Todd in the room. That did it.

"This is ridiculous" I angrily snapped. "I was nowhere near anyone else in the room. I've played in the same fashion with that same device in every single meeting we've had. I made no threatening moves toward anyone, nor did I verbally threaten anyone. Who are these people who found this behaviour so worrying?"

He ummed and ahed, then said, "well, let's say me".

This was clearly prevarication, and I was furious he would call me up with this nonsense then refuse to name names. He tried to put a different face on it. He was "being polite by talking to me". The implication was he could have talked to someone else. That did it.

"Okay. How about I just stop coming to that meeting? Will that calm you?" I said.

"There's no need to be like that" he replied. "I just thought you should know that some people..."

I didn't let him finish. I was busy with real work. I hate that I still have to dick about with the ruddy project that has me in that damned meeting, the result of a single Cobol job I wrote 2 years ago and that a vendor, staffed by a singularly thick collection of people who cannot read, think or communicate at even the most basic levels, has only just begin integrating into a product they wish to get paid for. For this I get called "Sweeny Todd2"?!!! I told him I would just not attend the meeting any more and hung up so I could seethe in private.

Fbleep him and the horse he rode in on. I am out of there. He can tell 'em why.

  1. Not a switchblade of course
  2. True. He said he felt like he was in a room with Sweeny Todd

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