As I noted in previous weeks in this blog, 15-20 years ago I wrote a regular series of essays, most intended to be humorous. This one was written in the late 1990s about two incidents occurring in 1983 and 1977 — almost prehistory — with a more recent addition from 2000 as a bonus).
Last week, I wrote about being the Easter Bunny. These three are also about costumes…sort of. I have always been willing to do things for a laugh, and am not (usually) too self-conscious. I realize that I am not God’s Gift to Women (well, maybe the Gag Gift), and so looking my best doesn’t matter much, especially consider my “best.” But if I can make people laugh…well, I’ve accomplished something, I guess.
Without further ado, three stories of things that have happened to me in years past.
Valentine’s Day 1983
I think it was January of 1983 when this story got started. I was single and looking, in between working on my dissertation (sort of) and teaching at Georgia Tech. A few months earlier, at the suggestion of my advisor, I joined the Atlanta chapter of Mensa. Some chapters of Mensa are very refined and intellectual. The Atlanta group (at least at that time) was quite a bit more social. It attracted a lot of singles (and married people who acted single). It also attracted a lot of witty, funny people. I found it a lot of fun. Plus, I got to expand my circle of acquaintances outside of the people at school.
Shortly after I joined and started going to some of the meetings, two roommates joined: Jodi and Kathy. They both had great senses of humor, were attractive, and single. Kathy started dating one of my friends in the group, and I started hanging out with Jodi (we became good friends but quickly realized we weren’t destined for anything more than that). Jodi and Kathy had friends in the arts scene in Atlanta, so whenever there was some group outing, there were some interesting — and often, attractive — people to meet.
Anyhow, one evening, Jodi and I were talking and having some wine. She got the idea that she and her roommate were going to have a Valentine’s Day party. We kicked the idea around some, and as we had more wine, she decided that it would be a costume party — she’d invite her fine arts friends, and there would be some prizes for best costume. She promised she’d invite some of her single friends for me, and told me to be sure to wear a costume that would get me noticed. In fact, to help me be sure to be able to make an impression, she would let me make an award of my choice for “best woman’s costume.” What a pal! She urged me to be outrageous and provocative with my costume. Well, of course!
I also took this as a challenge. What would I do for a costume that would get me noticed in a crowd of theater people? Over the next few weeks, I thought and thought. Then, one day, I was listening to the radio (and almost certainly drinking a bit too much with Dave, my roommate), when they played Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. I dunno why, but I decided that I would create a costume as a flasher. Dave thought this was a great idea, too (which should have been a significant warning). This would be a variation on
a costume I had tried as an undergraduate (as the strange old man (Tyrone F. Horneigh) from Laugh-In who kept asking if the woman wanted to see his Walnetto). I started designing.
I visited a local novelty store and found a pair of oversize boxer shorts with little cupids and hearts on them. Perfect! I had a T-shirt made with a big heart and the words “Even perverts need love too.” I took an old pair of pants and cut the legs off. I found a coonskin cap and cut it up. I found old gloves and cut the fingers off. I found a flashing button that said “Happy VD!” (All of this seemed appropriate at the time, and no, I wasn’t using drugs).
I was set. I talked to Jodi several times in the weeks following our first conversation, and she told me about the food she was setting up, and the number of people she had invited. I did not mention my costume, as I wanted it to be a surprise. I was psyched!
The big evening came. St. Valentine’s Day: the feast day of the patron saint of lovers and of thieves (there is something deeply symbolic about that, I am sure). I had spent a lot of lonely Valentine’s days, so I was looking forward to this one.
I put on the T-shirt and boxer shorts. I put the flashing button on over my heart. I took the cut-off pant legs, and rubber-banded them on my legs just above the knee. I put on the gloves with the fingers cut off. Then, I strategically pinned the raccoon tail from the hat hanging out the fly of the boxer shorts. I donned the overcoat and went downstairs. With the coat closed, I looked like I was dressed up for a slightly chilly night on the town. But when I flashed open the coat, … well… it looked like I was ready for a night on the town. Dave pronounced the effect as “perfect,” which should provide you with some additional insight why we were roommates. Two of our neighbors also pronounced the costume as “gross” and “fitting, somehow.” They were two ditzy students from the design college in town who had resisted all our advances to date, so I took the fact they had even talked to me as encouragwment. Undaunted by their critique, I picked up my secret weapon — a dozen red roses. I was going to give the roses to whichever fair damsel had the best costume at the party. Then I got in my car and left. Thankfully, I was not stopped by the police on the way to the party.
I arrived at Jodi & Kathy’s place right when the party was supposed to start. There were only one or two cars there, so I wasn’t the first to arrive, but I wasn’t far from it. I decided to make a splash. So, I rang the doorbell. Jodi and Kathy both came to the door. Putting on my best leer, I flashed open the coat.
The effect was more incredible than I had anticipated! I cannot possibly describe the look on their faces, or on the faces of the people behind them. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to explain that once the wine had worn off a month earlier, Jodi had totally forgotten that she had decided it was a costume party. Everyone she had invited had been told to come semi-formal. Except me. Everyone was dressed up…but not like I was. I was the only one without pants and a furry item hanging out of my shorts. In fact, I was the only one with anything hanging out of my clothes. Kathy had never been part of the conversation at all, so she was especially … perplexed. Jodi was shocked. I was….well, I’m not sure there is a word for it. Mortified is a little bit too tame.
Rather than head home to change (or dig a hole for myself in the yard), Jodi insisted I be the official “greeter” at the door. She figured that I’d at least get to meet all the women she had invited to meet me and her other friends (true), that I’d make an impression on them (very true), and that it might make the costume seem a little more planned (impossible). So, I spent the next hour at the door, answering the doorbell, sometimes “flashing.” I decided to give a rose to each woman who smiled at this display. I didn’t give a whole lot away, unfortunately. The whole situation was rather disappointing in many ways, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how really stupid the whole idea was and what a total loser I was.
I also spent much of the party drinking, and trying to get away from this one really odd theater guy who kept following me around and asking “What kind of pervert needs love, too?” An apartment full of single women, and I was not only not dressed for success with them, but I was being hit on by a gay guy who couldn’t take a hint. It was even more depressing than most of my Valentine’s Days.
In leaving, I gave the remaining roses to Kathy and thanked her for the party, and for not being part of the “costume” theme (I secretly thought that Jodi had done it to me as a joke — I still wonder about that). I later learned that my aplomb under the circumstances, and my gift of the roses really impressed her. Perhaps that contributed to her marrying me 18 months later. Or maybe it was the racoon tail. Jodi served as maid of honor at the wedding. She didn’t believe me when I told her it was a “costume wedding.”
To this day, Jodi still claims she doesn’t remember telling me it was a costume party. And I can’t help but get somewhat nostalgic whenever I hear Aqualung. At least, I think that feeling is nostalgia…..
Surprises Can Work Two Ways
When I was 19, my father hurt his back in an accident and was out of work so long he lost his job. My sister was finishing up in high school, and I was having a really mediocre time in my first year in college, so I decided to drop out for a while. The job market at the time was a little tight, and I didn’t exactly have a premier skill set at the time, so I ended up taking a job that had less that desirable qualities. However, it paid regularly and helped keep the family fed. So, I ended up as the assistant manager in a carwash, attached to a car repair place. Many odd and funny things happened there that I may write about some other time.
In this position, I got to do all the lousy jobs that the manager didn’t want to do, and that the hourly employees refused to do. One of those was cleaning out the sump pit. Another was talking to irate and irrational customers (which helped me develop skills I use now in faculty meetings). One of the least desirable jobs like this involved fixing any leaks in the hydraulic lines that ran the brushes. It was a particularly noxious job, because not only did it involve fixing the leak and bleeding the lines of air bubbles, but also cleaning up all the oil that may have leaked or sprayed about. This was not only difficult because the oil tended to penetrate everything — including clothing, hair, shoes, and so on — but it had a particularly high sulfur content. Thus, it smelled awful. And, after cleaning some of it up, so did I. It was impossible to do the job without getting covered in oil.
I had been working at this job for nearly a year and here it was — my 20th birthday. My parents had offered to take me out to dinner when I got home from work at 6pm. The manager was away at a dirt bike race in Arizona, but everything appeared to be going normally….until 4:30. At that point, a hydraulic hose driving one of the big brushes burst, coating all the brushes at one end of the wash with thick, smelly oil. I called my parents to explain that I would have to miss dinner — I had to stay and fix the mess.
This was not the first time I had to carry out this noxious job, so I knew what I needed to do. To prepare myself for the coming ordeal, I closed down the wash, went into the locker room, and changed out of my clothes and into a set of cloth overalls. I put my clothes in a bag in the car and set to work.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I had to test the dang thing three times over the next few hours, and the first two times the leak wasn’t completely fixed and it sprayed me with oil. I had to clean the brushes about a half dozen times with heavy-duty detergent, including “combing” the brushes to make sure the oil was out. (Residual oil in the brushes could strip paint from some cars, so they had to be clean.) By the time I finally finished around 8:30pm, I was covered in oil. It was in my hair, in in my beard, down my sleeves, and in my ears. It had gone down the sleeves and neck of the overalls and had thus spread out in a film over almost my entire body. I decided I was so filthy, I wouldn’t even bother to try to clean up and change there — it would only ruin my clothes. I needed a shower with multiple doses of soap, and there was no way to do that at work, barring an episode of streaking through the wash — which I considered, but the water was too cold. So I put a plastic tarp down on my car seat and drove home.
When I got home, the house was dark. I figured my family had gone out to eat or shop. So, I decided I would simply get my clothes into the washer immediately rather than track the oil throughout the house. Thus, I stripped out of the overalls and rolled them into a tight ball, inside out.There was a lot of oil on my underwear and socks too, so (because the house was dark and empty), I took them off and rolled them into the overalls too. The front hall had a tile floor so I could come back later to wipe up any mark, but this way I wouldn’t drip on the rugs. I wiped off whatever oil I could with the rolled-up clothes. I got most of it, and smeared the rest into interesting patterns.
Stark naked, except for a thin film of hydraulic oil, I went down into the family room on my way to the basement where the washing machine was. I didn’t turn on the lights, because I didn’t want to touch the wall with my oily hands.
So, I got to the foot of the stairs, holding the clothes tightly wadded under one arm, when the lights suddenly went on, blinding me. I heard a bunch of people yell “Happy….birth…day….Surprise!” I was exhausted, dirty, blinded, surprised….and naked. So, I’m not certain who got the most surprise. As best as I can remember, my eventual response: “It certainly is! Could someone please open the basement door?”
Needless to say, the assembled group remembered that birthday. I must say, I certainly do too.
To this day, I don’t particularly like surprise parties, and every time I smell hydraulic oil, I want to make a wish and have some cake.
Linux and Danish TV
In 2000, I got an invitation to speak at a couple of events in Europe in March of that year. One of them was the Danish Open Systems Conference. The others were in England and the Netherlands, and all were related to CERIAS. So, I set up the trip, and talked Andra, our Assistant Director into going along, for three reasons:
- They were business-related, and we’d be visiting with some of our consortium partners — and potentially some partner-candidates. Her job was to serve as interface for the consortium;
- She has always had a wacky sense of humor and been a good friend, and thus is a pretty great traveling companion.
- It would continue to foster gossip back on campus, because people still couldn’t seem to grasp that men and women can be professional colleagues and friends without any hanky or panky involved. (This is an ongoing issue for me as I have tried to mentor some younger female colleagues over the years. Sigh. If people would just think — all of those women are smart and all have better taste than that!)
So, Andra and I headed off for our first (and only) trip to Europe together. Many adventures ensued, including a midnight trip to Stonehenge, some odd experiences (for her) with European breakfasts, a tour of the Tower of London and Harrods, her introduction to mushy peas and draft bitter, a long pub crawl in Amsterdam accompanied the next day by food poisoning (for me) and a shopping spree (for her), and several other adventures.
When we got to Copenhagen, it was really cold and rainy. (I’m told this is usual for Copenhagen.) We decided to stay in at the hotel until it warmed up. This was at the end of the trip and we were both getting a bit bored with travel, as well as homesick and missing our daughters. I had a small suite in the hotel, and we decided to meet there to go over notes, and kill time until the weather got a little better, mainly because the hole-in-the-wall hotel where we were staying had no real lobby.
Thus, after breakfast, we convened around the tiny desk, and went through all the business cards and notes we had collected during the business part of the meeting. After about an hour of that, we looked outside and it was still raining. So, we thought we’d see if there was any kind of weather or English language news on the TV.
Apparently, at that hotel (or maybe Denmark in general?) at 11am there is nothing on TV except hard-core porn. Well, to be fair, there were a couple of Danish-language soap operas, but those also featured nudity and porn. It was…. awkward…flipping through channels. Then it got oddly funny, and we started making snarky comments, until it got too silly and then awkward again, and we shut it off. Total elapsed time: about 4 minutes on the clock, but about 4 hours of awkward.
We quickly agreed that we were going to go out sightseeing rather than sit around the hotel, even if it was cold and rainy, because we really didn’t have any options at that point. So, we went out to do the tourist thing in rain that was on the verge of sleet. We went to the harbor to see the statue of the Little Mermaid (she’s nude), we visited a national museum (many paintings of nudes), and went to see about having dinner at a restaurant recommended by a colleague — with a statue of a nude woman in the lobby. There must be some correlation between that and the fact that it was incredibly cold and wet all the time, because if anyone actually was nude, they’d die of exposure in about 5 minutes! Needless to say, it created a very strange vibe for us, although years afterwards any mention could conjure up some good giggles.
Thankfully, the next day was the conference. We got there, met some people, listened to some talks. Near the end of the day, I gave my keynote talk on Why Open Source Software Only Seems More Secure. Giving a talk like that, to that audience in 2000, was an uncertain proposition, to say the least. I was anticipating a hostile crowd. The title had served to draw a large audience. I suggested that Andra take a seat near a door — no sense in both of us getting burned at the stake as heretics, although given the time spent in the freezing rain that might have been welcomed.
Much to my delight, the talk went over well. The examples I gave, and the reasons for what I had to say were easy to follow and not really possible to refute. (Note that 14 years later we would have the Heartbleed flaw in OpenSSL — among others— that exemplified most of the points I raised in my talk, and have been saying since the late 1990s.) I got some good questions from the audience, and a nice round of applause. They then invited us to join the reception that followed.
Unbeknownst to me, Andra had struck up a conversation with someone to convince them that I didn’t hate Linux. This evolved into some form of bet, and from there I am unsure, but it resulted in me donning a Tux outfit so that I could actually get any food and beer. My picture apparently adorned their website for several years thereafter, and I had to plot revenge against Andra for some later time.
The next morning, we got an early flight home to the US. Thankfully, the airline didn’t show porn on the inflight screens, they didn’t serve mushy peas with the meal, and I didn’t get food poisoning for several years to come. Not too long thereafter, Andra married her guy friend and moved to Florida. But every time I see a penguin or a jar of Danish Crisco, I think of her.