BY HAYES MOORE
MY SUPER-HUSBAND just sent me an interesting article. I call Paul my Super-Husband because he is both my supervisor and my husband. And because it is poetic.
The email said:
juliet—article below mentions a kid from your high school class. hope the code’s not too ugly? i’ll be looking for it tomorrow early. loves, p.
The article is the interesting part. It’s about Solon’s returning to Cambridge to be an assistant coach for Lesley University’s baseball team (Go Lynx!). I haven’t thought of Solon since 2001, senior year of high school. And that is a dramatic lie. I haven’t thought of Solon often since 2001, senior year of high school. That is closer to the truth. The truth is also that, as a computer programmer, I have never ceased thinking of Solon.
In 1993 my parents splurged for a new PC with the Windows 3.1 operating system, the system that introduced the mouse and that changed the world. That was the same year I met Solon. The two events are so entwined in my mind that, looking back on it now, they seem to have happened on the same day. Surely that can’t be true? Regardless, my life since then has been one expansion pack after another, trying to capitalize on 1993 with varying degrees of success. I was in fifth grade.
Solon was in fifth grade too. My parents’ obsession with the new operating system was infectious; it was like a new baby in the family but without the labor or time to prepare. Wham-bam thank you Mr. Gates. Solon was new to our school and we were both in Ms. Jones’s class. On the first day of class I was day-dreaming about PCs and OSs during roll call when Solon said his name, Solon, and its newness, its perfect symmetry—like the sound of a letter in an artificial alphabet—merged with the fantastic, all-consuming importance of our computer to convince me that Solon was as inextricably linked to our new baby as a plastic mouse. And that he was a robot.
It was not just my imagination, he looked like a robot too. Or, examining the photo embedded in the article Paul sent, at least a robot prototype. Solon’s proportions are the same now as I remember them then. He is big-boned and heavy but not quite fat. His thin, dark blond hair is still dangling long to frame the small features of his chubby face. It is not an unkind face. But it isn’t a kind face either. It is expressionless, like the 27” LCD flat panel monitor I am currently working at—comforting and nonjudgmental.
The last thing I said to Solon was, “I kind of hate you and don’t even like being around you.” That was senior year beside a hotel swimming pool at an after-Prom party. I was deep into irony. What I meant was “I really love you and can’t stand not being near you.” Solon did not understand my ironic code, though. I did not know then that there is a save function for irony misfires. I did not know then that you can shout happily, “Opposite Day!”
I learned this from Paul before we married. Shortly after Paul hired me and my idea for Starside Story, his breakthrough game, we were working long hours tweaking the code for a preview unveiling at the San Francisco Comic-Con. I had worked non-stop all weekend and when I came in on Monday morning Paul told me that everything was wrapping up and I should take the day off.
“Really?” I said.
When Solon got off at my bus stop after the first day of class I was certain that he was coming to my apartment, drawn to his motherboard by some marvel of technology, a signal too subtle for human senses. My parents were graduate students, then and we lived in one of the university apartment complexes for family housing. The apartments were separated into units that looked like rectangular chunks of tofu, pasty beige and about to topple. Each unit had two tiers and two apartments on each tier. I followed Solon off the bus all the way to my unit. I imagined how excited my parents were going to be—did they already know a robot was coming, shipped separately, did they know his name was Solon? But he ended up going to an apartment on the ground floor, while I had to climb the stairs to my apartment on the second floor.
Each morning during the first week of fifth grade I would wait at the top of the stairs, peaking down through the handrail bars until Solon came out. When school let out I would wait for him to board the bus first, then sit behind him, then follow him off the bus and home. I learned that his reading material included comics, baseball cards, and the red marks Ms. Jones made on his spelling quizzes.
Soon Ms. Jones began giving us homework every afternoon. She allowed time at the end of class to start on the homework and ask questions. We were supposed to finish the assignments at home and turn them in all together at the end of the week.
One day shortly after the new homework system began, Solon was doing his homework on the bus and I said to him, “Solon, you are answering the questions wrong.” He turned around to look up at me. I was standing on the seat behind him with my homework, finished in class, in my hand. I held it out for him to take. “These are the correct answers,” I said.
That week when Solon and I reached our block of apartments we would huddle under the stairs and he would copy my homework in secrecy. I did not feel like he was cheating off me. As he filled in his worksheet with the answers I had on my worksheet I felt that he was completing them, making the final touches that would verify them one by one and confirm their correctness. I feel the same way today after I successfully load new software onto my computer. I am uncorrupted, virus-free, all is legible.
Solon felt differently. He said that in return for my help he would teach me how to speak in code.
“Okay,” I said.
“Kay-O,” he said.
“That is how you say ‘Okay’—Kay-O.”
That was my first exposure to computer languages.
On Monday Ms. Jones called Solon and me to her desk and asked us if were copying from one another.
“Yes,” I said trembling.
“On,” Solon said.
Ms. Jones was sadly forced to give us zeros for the week’s assignments. Despite this incident, neither of us flunked fifth grade.
After Paul and I had sex for the first time, in his hotel room after the unveiling of Starside Story at the San Francisco Comic-Con, I said, “I kind of hate you and can’t even stand being around you.” Paul’s default mode is Opposite Day! So what he understood was “I really love you and can’t stand not being near you.” It is remarkable how a single command can take a program in a completely unintended direction, like marriage.
I designed the prototype of Starside Story as my senior project at MIT. The premise is that a robot prince and a human princess are madly in love. In the opening scene they are about to be married. Just as they lean in to kiss, the wedding is interrupted by an intergalactic war between robots and humans. The lovers are separated. Players can choose to be either the robot prince or the human princess. The objective is to find your true love and save the galaxy in the process.
Paul bought both me and my designs for Starside Story right out of college and then put me to work developing the game. The end product was a mix of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for pathos, Kubrick’s Star Trek for setting, Jackson’s Lord of the Ring for epic scope, and Cameron’s Terminator for action. I cannot take credit for it. Paul can though.
In the official version of the game, once the players find their true love and the galaxy is saved, a cut-scene is automatically triggered that shows the robot prince and human princess kissing in front of an audience packed with both robots and humans. A hack quickly surfaced on the internet with an alternative cut-scene: huddled in the ruins of a desolate moon, the lovers consume poison and expire in one another’s arms. Once we made the game playable online with multiple players—numberless robots and princesses from numberless planets risking their mortality to find their loves—as soon as players reunited with their true love it became popular to fight each other to death.
After Ms. Jones questioned us, Solon no longer copied my homework and we no longer hid under the stairs. But unless he had baseball practice after school we would still walk home from the bus stop together. While we walked Solon would teach me code. “Toasty,” he’d say.
“Eats-Oat?” I’d attempt to translate.
“It’s hot,” he’d explain.
“Sey,” I’d agree. “Sey” and “on” were the only two phrases I mastered. Nonetheless, just before summer break I gathered my courage and composed a poem:
Etaerc erom sCP
Os I eht elpoep
It is the only love poem I have ever written.
After I recited the poem to Solon he said, “What are you trying to say?”
“Create more PCs. So that the people. Can live. Carefree,” I said, pausing between line breaks.
“Oh,” he said. Then he said, “That is not a poem. It is a wish or a plea—aelp.”
“Plea?” I said. “I didn’t know you knew so much about poetry.”
This constituted our first and only fight. It also constituted the start of the rapid end of our friendship, which would not survive summer break. Solon went away for the summer, and when he returned his family had moved out of university housing. Sixth grade meant a new school, and we were lost to one another. I spent the summer playing on the computer, learning commands and telling my parents I evoled them.
Paul is in Chicago promoting Like It or Not before unveiling it at Comic-Con there this weekend. I am fixing Like It or Not so that I can zip it to him tomorrow so that he can show it at Comic-Con. Like It or Not is Caitlin’s, the new programmer’s, senior project. Caitlin is with Paul in Chicago.
I kind of hate you and don’t even like being around you.
It was fortunate for Solon that he did not flunk fifth grade. Sixth grade meant not only a new school for Solon but a switch from Peewee League and machine-pitch baseball to Little League and overhand-pitch baseball. Of course Solon had an advantage, he was a robot, and what is a robot if not a complicated machine? But no one else knew this, and he emerged as an exceptionally gifted young pitcher. I did not realize then that this is a significant achievement. And I did not realize until today, after reading the article my Super-Husband sent, how exceptionally promising Solon’s gift was.
According to the article, after grabbing national attention in sixth grade, Solon’s parents moved to Marietta, Georgia, because of the strength of the baseball program there. Freshman year, Solon entered into the starting rotation for the Lassiter Trojans. He pitched for the lowest ERA among starting pitchers in the region. By his junior year he had developed an 80 mph fastball to complement impeccable location. However, during his second start that year his elbow gave out and he was unable to pitch. He moved back to Cambridge senior year for rehabilitation. While never living up to his early potential, he eventually recovered enough to pitch at a Division 2 community college in Altus, Oklahoma.
I had vague knowledge that he had returned senior year, but I was far too preoccupied with test scores and irony to care. When we ran into one another at the after-Prom party I was tipsy from non-alcoholic champagne.
I said, “I was concerned about you, what with Y2K and all.”
He looked at me blankly then said, “Julie?”
“Oh, wow!” His eyes fathomed me. “Congratulations!”
On what? On my humorous and touching portrayal of Principal Patterson in the “A Senior Said It” section of the school paper? Early admission to MIT? Could he possibly know my SAT scores?
He diverted his eyes from me to study the swimming pool and said, “Can you believe we graduated?”
Ah, I thought. I said, “No.” And then I said, “I kind of hate you and can’t even stand being around you.”
Everything Paul says is a wish or a plea for reality to be other than it is. Everything he says is poetry. In the gaming community he is widely regarded as a creative genius.
I reread the article about Solon’s returning to Cambridge to coach on Lesley’s baseball team (Go Lynx!) then hit reply.
Caitlin’s code is beautiful. The article you sent is oddly
formatted. Is Chicago better or worse than San
Francisco? (Pick one, please, you cannot have both.)
All will be perfect re: tomorrow morning.
Opposite Day! is a very useful command. But sometimes I fear the function will loop, Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day! Opposite Day!, each successive entry reversing the previous, with scant hope of reboot.
Hayes Moore used to take care of cats. Now they have taken over his writing. You can find his first cat story in Slush Pile, other stories can be found online at Foliate Oak, A Cappella Zoo, White Whale Review, and H_NGM_N.
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FICTION: HEIST OF THE FROMAGERIE (BY KENT BUCKLEY)