In February of 1997, Phil and I left AT&T wireless on less than okay terms.

When we had started working the internal help desk there, the average turn-around for an on-site trouble ticket was three to five days. Phil and I had it down to two or three hours. Phil was on the phone while I was running to-and-fro between four floors. I’d go to someone’s machine, fix the problem, then log onto the box with my ID and password and close the ticket in the Access database. If need be, I’d call down to see what was next on the plate. I could be gone from the I.T. room for hours and still get plenty done.

Our direct supervisor was a guy named Dave Dedman. For the first three weeks, Dave wasn’t there because he was getting back surgery. Mr. Dedman was a big guy and had torqued his back playing with his kids on a trampoline.

When I started, it was myself, a guy named Ivan, a chick named Monica, and some older guy who was getting ready to leave. I think I was supposed to replace the older guy, but that was sort of in the air with Dave being absent. Monica decided I was to answer phones while she went from desk to desk. Ivan quit or was fired a week later and that’s when Phil joined me at the site. Monica was trying to lay down the law and decided Phil and I were to answer phones. She was going to be the only desktop support person available.

That all changed when Dave got back.

Now, just for a moment, let me tell you what exactly all this was about. This was the AT&T Wireless regional headquarters. We took phone calls from as far north as Kansas, west into Arizona, and east to Mississippi. This is a huge region (but I don’t have to tell you that).

Eventually, Phil was the only person on the phone (Dave had “promoted” me to desktop support and asked Monica to answer the phones—she would disappear for long periods of time). The strange thing was, we had gone from two people on the phone to one and callers were surprised to hear a human voice (what the hell had Monica and Ivan been doing?).

Maybe a week or so after Phil joined the group, Dave hired another guy named Ted. I liked Ted, he was a good guy, he knew his shit, and he wasn’t interested in politics (unlike that little back-stabber, Monica). This now meant we had three desktop support personnel (because Monica just refused to take phone-calls—she felt she had been there long enough to get off the phones—it’s a pity she wasn’t a very good tech).

Right before the Christmas season, we started a migration from Novell to NT. For whatever reason, this involved going to each machine individually and resetting the network properties. Our little group came in for the weekend and each took a floor. Ted took the Unix Floor, Monica took a floor, and Phil and I took floors nine and ten because there was a staircase that linked them (which also allowed for a certain act in a certain boardroom on a certain conference table…) and we were still able to get everything done in record time.

The Laroux virus came out at about the same time. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a macro virus that re-writes all *.dot files on your machine. Setting the properties on those files to “read-only” is a very simple way to prevent the virus from spreading. It’s not particularly destructive, it just replicates itself and tries as hard as a little virus can to survive out in the big bad world of networked machines. The Laroux virus is a set of macros for Microsoft Excel that attach themselves to Excel spreadsheets in much the same way as the Concept virus infects MS Word documents. The virus is spread by merely opening an infected spreadsheet with Excel. Then, whenever Excel loads, Laroux will be become active and transfer itself to any spreadsheets as they are created or opened. So, you can imagine what was happening down in accounting when this virus came out.

Monica and I had to share a machine. She wiped that thing three times while we were working there and I slowly grew to hate her. She never warned me when she was going to wipe the box, she’d just do it. I’d come in to work and have to reset my mail and figure out where the hell my PAB and PST files are (I moved them to the network after the first wipe). And she’d install weird things, games mostly, that didn’t need to be on the machine.

And one day I found the Excel spreadsheet. It was blank, had a name like “untitled.xls”, but checking the properties revealed it had been written before the most recent wipe of the box (so someone had put it there) and its author shared last names with Monica. She had mentioned several times that her husband was a programmer and a little partial to Apple computers. The Laroux virus will not spread in the Mac version of Excel, only the PC version. No actual accusations were made, but I did ask Dave to come take a look at the machine and tell me what he thought that might be.

Dave removed the floppy drive from the machine and that was that. We never had a problem with Laroux again.

Now, Dave’s boss was named Darren, and Darren didn’t like me and he didn’t like Phil for whatever reason (someone told me Darren was a “trophy-husband”). He had a nefew or someone he was trying to bring into the company, but the kid didn’t want to work for less than $17 and hour.

There had also been talk about misappropriation of funds for the I.T. budget. I already know it was being spent on expensive company lunches—I went to one once. (The company lunch was really creepy. We went to this Mexican place in Addison and I had noticed there were cameras in the girders of the ceiling. I asked the waitress about it and she said she didn’t see them. The guy from Oklahoma next to me said he saw them, and that we probably weren’t supposed to notice them. Later on during the lunch, the waitress sent the restaurant manager over to talk to me. “Is there a problem, Miss?” “No, no problem at all.”  I think the joint was run by the mob.)

So, one day, Phil and I were fired. No, fired is the wrong word. Our contract ended prematurely. Phil and I were temps through Addecco Technical and our contact-guy was waiting for me in a little room one morning. He said that there had been complaints about my viewing “occult” websites (I actually thought about suing for religious persecution at this point—I should of). I thought this was kind of odd considering my cube was in a corner, so no-one was ever going to look over my shoulder to see an “occult” website. He took my badge and escorted me to the door. I wasn’t even allowed to go to my desk and get my coat.

Phil was on a call when they came to let him go. They sent Ted (a Marine) over to walk next to Phil as they took him down to meet with our Addecco representative. At one point, Ted said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but it ain’t right.” The Addecco rep told Phil he was being let go because of numerous complaints. Phil asked to see the complaints. He said they didn’t have a record of them because we were temps, so we had no personnel file. “Well then, how do you know there were complaints if there’s no record of them?”  We never got a straight answer on that one.

Months later, when Phil and I started at Software Spectrum, we ran into an old AT&T employee. I explained the whole thing about Darren trying to get his nephew in and how everyone thought it was wrong that we were being let go. “We knew it was going to happen, like, the Monday before. We tried to get word to you through Monica.”

Just for the record, three months later, Darren was no longer with the company.

Monica lives in Allen now, with her husband Stephen. The dream house they were building wasn’t in Allen.


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