LTF: With Friends Like These

Steven Bergom

August in Tucson, Arizona tends to be rather warm, with temperatures soaring past one-hundred degrees (thirty-eight degrees for those using the Celsius scale). The fortunate fact is that this is only a 'dry heat', so-called because the humidity levels are relatively low. I was raised in the Midwest USA where it is not uncommon to have a summer day with the same temperatures that exist in the middle of the Sonoran desert, but with the addition of one-hundred percent humidity. I've tried to explain this fact to a few of the locals, but they steadfastly refuse to accept my allegations of humidity readings in central Iowa. Then again, these are the same people that collapse when the local humidity reaches thirty percent.

So why should this bother an Iowa boy like me? Well, it didn't when I moved to southern Arizona after graduation, but as of January 23, 2001, and I became a semi-anthropomorphic Bengal tiger, heat has been a real problem for me.

I know, I know, panthera tigris tigris has evolved so that it can survive in climates from snow-capped mountains to the dense, hot jungles of India, but that doesn't mean that I don't feel the heat. You try wearing a fur coat in the desert and see how well you survive.

Which is one of the reasons that I try to get into work as early as possible in the morning. The other reason is that most software engineers like to work late — and therefore, get up late — and I can get a few hours of quiet work done before having to deal with the morning crowd. As you may have guessed, I am not a morning person and especially on this Monday morning, the fewer people I had to deal with, the better.

Unfortunately, my wants and desires were not included in the way the universe was planned. It began as soon as I walked past my boss' open office door. "bergy!" he called. "Good morning!"

"Good morning, Mike," I replied in kind, standing up to my two-footed stance and leaning against the door-frame. "How're you doing, this morning?"

"Not too bad. Hey, I wanted to just say, 'Good job' on fixing that crash condition Friday night. What was it, anyway?"

I shrugged. "It wasn't too difficult. We were creating threads with the user-mode flag set and so when we tried to install an ISR, the processor threw a machine error. All we had to do was set the supervisor flag on the thread and all was fine-and-dandy." (This is a typical discussion between embedded systems developers. If you don't understand it, don't feel left out; a lot of normal computer developers don't understand what goes on in with the bare machine code that we have to deal with on a regular basis.)

"Good, good," he nodded. He continued with some small talk, inanities like, how'd you sleep, what are you working on now, etc., but I knew it was just an attempt to find the right way to ask me something.

Putting paw to forehead and massaging my brow in preparation for the headache that I knew I'd have before day's end, I said, "If you want to ask, ask."

Even with my permission, Mike was tentative in speaking. "Is that… I mean, are you wearing a, um, flea collar?"

"Yes," I nodded. "It is." At his unspoken question — probably because he was stifling his laughter — I continued. "You remember how Marie and I are living together and that she sometimes brings home an exotic cat or two? Well, last week she brought home a serval that was rescued from a drug lord who didn't quite keep good care of his charges. Sara — the serval — had been beaten and was infested with fleas. Unfortunately the vet who originally cared for her didn't get all the fleas removed which I happened to discover since Sara likes to sleep with me."

"And so you got fleas." I nodded. "Forgive me for asking, but wouldn't a flea bath…" he trailed off, barely able to contain spasms of laughter.

"We did that, too," I sighed, "but the collar is a preventative measure until we're sure all of the fleas are out of the house."

"Well," he said finally, somewhat in control of the amusement that threatened to overwhelm him earlier. "I know that you're 'itching' to get back to work so I won't delay you any longer."

I sighed — again — at his thinly veiled pun and left for my own quiet office to hopefully work uninterrupted for the rest of the day.

As can be guessed I was visited by an inordinate number of co-workers, wishing me a pleasant morning, though not one made overt mention of the pink band of plastic about my throat. There were a few more puns — mostly on my skills at debugging — worked into their conversations, but, for the most part, I was left alone.

Sometime in the afternoon I became fed up with a rather stubborn piece of code and left to take a walk around the neighborhood to stretch and knock loose a few brain cells. Yes, I remember at the start of this story I talked about the heat and the fact that I have fur, but every problem cannot be solved by staring endlessly at a computer monitor. I was only gone for about fifteen minutes, but that was more than enough time for my acquaintances to do their work.

When I returned I found my desk inundated with the limited imaginations of a couple of dozen engineers, secretaries and executives. There were cans of Raid, boxes of tick powder and a plethora of flea collars. Someone even had the bright idea of including tartar-control kitty treats! While several people met this development with surprise, no one knew who exactly was responsible for the practical joke.

Yeah, right.

Of course, every cloud is not without its silver lining. I've discovered several very important facts today and I will reveal them here for the enlightenment of all.

A friend will laugh with you and make you feel good about just being yourself.

A real friend will forego a Saturday morning to give your car a jump-start and then follow you into town to buy a battery just to make sure that you car doesn't stop along the way.

A true friend will make fun of you even after you've turned into a 500 pound carnivore capable of tearing them limb from limb without even breaking a sweat.

Looking at the pile of Raid, flea collars and flea and tick powder I can only conclude that I have way too many true friends.