Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Le Pratt Est Mort, Vive Le Pratt!

Mandy has already posted a wonderful memorial to the lovable Limey, so I won’t tire you with another. Instead, I’m just going to give a history and few accounts of some of the good times we had together.


History

I met Pratt at Quixtar; a giant conglomerate that preys on the weak-minded by offering them a infinitesimal chance at fame and fortune through their convoluted pyramid-scheme, named Quixtar. Both he and I were contracted by another awful company, Manpower, who acts as the world’s leading proprietor of white-collar slavery, to be first-tier technical support people. You know that bitter voice on the other end of the phone? The one that tells you patiently yes, in fact, there is a num-lock key on your keyboard, and that you need to plug your computer into the wall in order to access the website? That’s us. Oh! You want to know why we were bitter when you called with computer problems so simple that a 5-year-old could figure it out? It’s because we hate you. It’s true, we really hate you.

Neither of us were particularly business-minded, we knew full-well what we were getting ourselves into. The first day of our employment, within six hours of being ushered through the endless, gray cube farm to the small, windowless cell they use for training, our trainer and a new employee launched into a verbose discussion about their sex lives and how they were beaten as children. This was to be a common theme at Quixtar; strangers loudly sharing entirely too many details about their private lives. Pratt and I looked at each other, showing both fear and confusion at the exchange we were witnessing. He leaned over and quietly said, “Strangers with this kind of open honesty make me go a big rubbery one.” His first comment to me: A perfectly chosen quote from the amazing film “Fight Club.” I loved the guy immediately.

Within a few weeks of employment, Pratt was chosen to be taken off the phones and placed on the “Testing Team.” We hadn’t spoken a great deal up to this point. He had his cube mate, and I had mine. I inquired as to what happened in the little room Pratt had been moved. The only answer I received was, “I don’t know. They test… and they don’t have to take calls.” He had discovered a way to get out of having to listen to hapless IBOs throw tantrum about how their computers no longer function because they had mistakenly dumped a 5th of whisky in the case. The limey! Always one step ahead! I pursued a testing gig with full vigor.

A few months later, I was promoted to the testing team to work alongside Pratt. I finally discovered what was happening behind the closed and ominously labeled “TESTING” door. Mostly we played games of hearts, threw a rubber ball around the room, and bitched about how much we hated our jobs. I loved it. Every now and again, we would do real work. Testing, it turns out, is a job where you get to break websites, tell people how you broke them, and let them fix the problems. I had discovered a job where my entire task was to use my hacking skills to break websites. The bonus was I was breaking the website of a company that I absolutely despised – which made finding an error all the sweeter.

Pratt absolutely adored the job. His nimble, wiry mind could come up with the strangest possible attack vectors. The webmasters could never keep the testing environment up because he was so damn good at breaking it. For example: When the team wanted to stop working and leave for a smoke break, we’d ask Pratt to break the site so horribly that we would have to stop working. He’d spin in his chair, type with blurring speed, and give a little sarcastic laugh. The site would die a terrible, terrible death and the team could go smoke. One time he broke the site so completely they couldn’t get it up and running for three days.

Under the gifted leadership of Mary T., the testing team continued to grow, acquiring more brilliant, cocky, and unique minds. We collectively poured our bitterness and hatred into the site, causing it to break continuously. The best part? We were paid to perform this task. The company saw value in finding new ways to make the site more stable, and rightly so. Eventually, the team grew to such size and renown that it became its own department, and eventually many were hired on as salaried employees.

Pratt was not hired.

Seeing as he was the brightest and most adept of us all, it makes complete sense why the company wouldn’t hire him (ed: this is sarcasm). Quixtar, it turns out, is in the business of making the worst imaginable decisions based not even on the slightest semblance of logic. You’d have to work there to fully understand how petty and illogical the leadership of the company really is.

Eventually he quit and was not rehired, many employees quickly followed after him. He stood as a kind of nexus that we all revolved around. What was the Quality Assurance Testing Team without Pratt? Shortly after he left, Mary (our boss) was fired in another of Quixtar’s colossally horrible decisions. People started dropping off like flies after that. I quit not more than 6 months later, giving up my comfy, salaried, well-paying position for one much less stable for the simple fact that I could no longer reconcile my conscience and the job I held.

After he left Quixtar, we kept in contact. We would occasionally go out for a beer or see each other at parties. He eventually moved to Florida to get away from the bleak Michigan winters and to start anew. While in Florida, we would communicate only occasionally, so I don’t really know much about the doins’ that transpired down there. When he returned to Michigan, we talked and emailed on occasion, always attempting to find time in our busy schedules to get together and catch up.

Then he died. Suddenly, there was no chance of chatting, drinking a beer, or reminiscing about the Golden Age of Testing. Something had come along and pulled the rug out from under him.

Some Anecdotes:

Pratt was born in England and later moved to the US with his family. To know Pratt, you have to understand his sense of humor which is, needless to say, unique. It was sort of a combination of pissed-off white American male angst and Monty Python. He was intensely sarcastic, to the point of making people break down to tears. When he swore, as he often did, he would usually hold on the second expletive before saying it. This gave the impression that he was so filled with rage, he couldn’t even bring himself to curse. For example, “God damn it.” Would come out as, “God………….. DAMN IT!!!!!!”

As previously stated, he was brilliant. He coded in multiple languages, tested multiple platforms, built his own computers, and read continuously. He customized his cars, cell-phones, gaming systems, and shoes. He told me that one of his favorite things to do at parties was to frustrate people by taking their opinions, switching the word order and subject-verb agreements around, and using it against them. They would get so pissed off, he said, because they didn’t realize he was making the same argument as them, only with different words. If you asked him a question, he would occasionally respond by stating the answer in reverse, so you’d have to decode it to understand. The word smart doesn’t come close.

When I first started working with him, I could never get my PC to print anything correctly. All the printer would yield were pages and pages of gibberish. He collected these print-outs, decorating his corner of the testing lab with the randomly generated printer art. I knew that he knew how to make the printer stop doing it, but he wouldn’t tell me because he loved the “art” function of the printer more.

He often listened to Autechre, Plasticman, or Aphex Twin while working. I’ll try to describe this music for those of you who are unfamiliar. Autechre, for example, is famous for saying that they have never written a note of music. Essentially they write mathematical formulas that drive their musical equipment, creating something that sounds like slightly ordered static. There is no discernable beat, there are no lyrics, and the music never arpegiates. It just crackles, gargles, and flutters like alien wind. He would listen to this “music” for hours and hours while working. He said that it turned off a part of his brain so he could concentrate on the task at hand.

The cafeteria at Quixtar was poisonous. The cooks would handle food with their bare hands after handling money. People would often get stabbing stomach pains from eating their hamburgers. Pratt, however, seemed to love eating the cafeteria food. He would buy one of their cheese-burgers and sit for the rest of the day groaning in pain. I once asked him why he did it and responded with, “So I can sit here and say, “God…….. DAMN IT!!!! I HATE THESE………. FUCKING BURGERS!!!”” Which I still don’t understand, but I thought it was pretty funny at the time.

When the weather was too nasty, Mandy (my wife), Pratt, Kleiner, and myself would often take walks around the interior of the warehouse adjacent to our offices. The warehouse is amazing. It has 200-foot high ceilings, fully-automated conveyer belt systems, and robotic inventory movers that would beep at you if you got too near. Painted along the walls of the warehouse are large, black squares that, as far as we could tell, served no purpose whatsoever. Over the course of our years of walking around the interior of the building, a story concerning the use of these mysterious black squares developed. It turns out that they are doors to another dimension. At night, when all of the machines have quieted down, and the workers have trudged out of their gray cubes and vanished into the slush of Michigan winters, these black squares would slowly open. Little gold and blue midgets would emerge. These “Quidgets”, as they were dubbed, had little, sharp golden teeth. They would giggle, cart-wheeling through the warehouse making bottles of LOC and Double X for Master (the loving name we gave Quixtar). They were animated, Pratt explained, by the branding of the letter ‘Q’ on their blue foreheads. It’s dark power filling the little bodies with a kind of hellish joviality. Pratt had a very active imagination.

Pratt also had a side that we only occasionally saw in single, flashing images. One night, while hosting a party with my roommates at Camelot (my old house), Mandy received a call from Pratt.

“Mandy… it’s Pratt…” He said in a hushed voice. Mandy looked at me then back at the phone.

“Yeah, I know. What’s up? You coming over or what?” She asked.

He whispered back, “Can’t. Hiding.”

“Hiding? From what?”

“Cops. We drove our car into a lake. The cops are looking for us. I’m hiding in some bushes.”

“Oh. Can we help?”

“Ahh!!! Gotta go!” He hangs up. About five minutes later we get another call.

“It’s Pratt.”

“Yes, I know.” Mandy said.

“Never mind now. I’m in the back of a cop car.”

“Limey…” She said.

“I know, I know.” He said.

“Are you going to make to the party.”

“Yeah. You want anything?”

“Pick up some beer.”

“Cool. See you in a few.” He showed up about an hour later with beer. He somehow talked himself out of a ticket.

5 comments:

Mandy said...

Leben lang die Gedächtnisse von Limey!

guile said...

fight club.. what an outrageous movie..

Jesus Hates Quixtar said...

brilliant post! i laughed so hard. sorry to hear about your friend :(

he sounded really cool.

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