ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Alex —

There is nothing sordid here.

When I was a lot younger, probably in my single digits, I befriended a local neighbor, name of Alex. Actually, his name was Alexas. That’s an odd name for a guy to have, but that’s what he had. He had red hair, freckles, and a slightly off-kilter outlook at life. He also had a lot of really cool Atari stuff.

I didn’t have any Atari stuff, and while I did have a Commodore Pet and some other stuff my dad would borrow to bring home, it didn’t match up to Alex’s collection, which came from magic and which was, as far as I was concerned, infinite and incredible.

I would walk the half-mile from my house to Alex’s, and if I was really lucky, like super lucky, Alex would be outside in his treehouse built on poles in the back yard, or hanging out in his garage, or otherwise around where I’d get to see him first and ask if I could see his Atari. Seeing his Atari was basically my way of saying I wanted to try out some of the cool games and programs he had.

I very simply can’t come up with how I knew Alex. I don’t even know if my father knew his parents, or if we had mutual friends, or whatever. I don’t even know how I knew he had a computer; it just sprung up, as memories from childhood often do. This all happened, I just don’t know how.

Alex was smart enough not to tell this 9 year old Jason how he was getting all these programs, or why the software didn’t come in nice packages but handwritten labels, or why some of it was marked to be beta or had names different than the ones on the packages they ultimately came out in. Obviously, in some fashion, Alex was connected, but he didn’t connect me into that. Good for him. Instead, he just let me try out all these great programs… this space game from First Star Software, or the Atari port of Crush Crumble and Chomp. I played them and loved them and was blown away by graphics and sound and the whole deal. Alex was very patient with me.

I recall clearly when we booted up a copy of Caverns of Mars, and the usual message that was printed on the screen was instead a stream of profanity. Alex quickly got embarassed and switched games for me. He’d changed the game somehow! At the time I didn’t know the single first thing about disk sector editing, and so this opened my eyes that these programs, these immutable disks, had the capability to be modified and changed. An important lesson I learned then and there.

As I said, if I was lucky, I could show up and Alex would be outside. Otherwise, I’d have to ring his front doorbell, an absolutely terrifying proposition, because statistically this would mean I’d get his parents answering the door. They spoke english with a strange accent I didn’t understand, and they didn’t seem to think much of me. Looking back, I don’t think this was the case, but at the time it sure seemed so. They’d look at me carefully, and then call Alex from wherever he was in the house, and I’d stand there with nothing to show for why I was bothering them except for my desire to see the Atari again. It taught me well and truly what “awkward” was.

I hung out with Alex on and off, often in the summer, for probably a year or two, when I was visiting my Dad’s house. I got older and he eventually disappeared, although I again don’t know why. Likely he went to college or got a job or joined the army and that was that. I’d also gotten a computer of my own by this point, my IBM PC, so the world stretched out for me in its own fashion and I was no longer in need of the help that Alex provided.

Like I said, there is nothing sordid here. Alex didn’t give me drugs or touch me inappropriately or make me do bad things or take advantage of a kid probably 5 years his junior. He was patient and amused and chatty and occasionally overly quiet as any teenager tends to be. Sometimes he didn’t feel like doing computer stuff and we’d hang out outside and sometimes he’d be at dinner and sometimes he wasn’t home at all, and I’d be standing out there, scared to press the doorbell again, listening to an angry dog barking inside and wondering what else I’d do with that summer day if Alex didn’t open the door. This was my childhood, computers and odd friendships and summers with long forgotten days I can sometimes pull out from my mental archives if I concentrate a bit or see a word or a font of an Atari.

Alex was my friend. He didn’t have to be at all, but he was. Thanks, Alex.

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