I was thinking about my initial Apple II origins. Until our family was able to purchase an Apple II, my childhood command center was located in my Uncle’s house. I was thinking about the desk, a beige sheet metal office desk, with a laminated wood desktop. The Apple II sat in the center of the desk, under the green screen monitor, on top of a finely appointed, do it yourself monitor stand. The memories over the years have blended some of the defining qualities of the space. The monophonic cassette recorder and the disk ][ drives always were to the right of the monitor. I imagine this is more a result from being right-handed than any positional practicality, but that may be wrong: A disk drive placed on the left impedes access to the power switch. A smoke colored plastic disk box sat further to the right of the disk drives and contained frequently used games, and utilities. There was always felt tip pens and the equivalent of a pilot razor point pens, and mechanical pencils all in a coffee cup. Early on, to the left of this set up was a teletype, on a stand that functioned as the printer. It was awesome, loud, and slow, and occasionally functioned as an actual teletype for my uncle’s amateur radio trials.
File cabinets stood across the deep, dark green, pile carpet, that acted as a medium to hold in perfect equilibrium, the scent of the room; a damp, cold, mixture of in-window air conditioner, cigarette smoke, and whiskey, a combination that you can sometimes smell in small well-established taverns in military towns. In those file cabinets, resided a pledge I believed in. They contained manuals (both purchased and Xeroxed), and large 3-ring binders holding sleeve after glorious sleeve of 5.25″ archived diskettes, meticulously cataloged and annotated on printed dot-matrix indexes for each disk. In addition the beginning of each volume cataloged the disk title. The information was incalculable to my young mind, and in my years on their machine, I never did explore all of the offerings contained therein. But that was all right, because I knew it would always be there. Forever. Because when you are young, that is the way the world is.
There was a large window that faced out to the back yard. The window was appointed with black, heavy, light blocker curtains and were perpetually closed. When pulled aside, the window would reveal the triangular aluminum framework and guy wires of my uncle’s gigantic radio tower, and beyond the chain link fence, that at this time looked more like a prison dead line, was the abandoned remains of streets, sidewalks and home properties that the Cleveland Hopkins Airport had bought for their own sprawling expansion. Through the desolate, scarred landscape, and through the sparse treeline, in the distance Brookpark Road marked the original boundary of the airport, and just beyond that one could make out the exotic red and blue lights marking the runway indicators. The airport tower, a lone sentinel on the horizon, stood a silent witness to my youth, reserving the judgement of it’s ever present and baleful green/white rotating eye. That black curtain was all the maintained the boundary between the reality of our existence, and the rich 8-bit life that we found inside.
Summer afternoons at my uncle’s house were great, as the endless day allowed complete submersion in whatever activity was primary for my visit, weather it be for extended gaming sessions (I was drawn early on to RPG like DRAGON’S EYE, and the many titles of RPG and Text Adventure), Applesoft BASIC programming sessions, trying out 1 & 2 liners or a weird Beagle Bros. snippet of code, or an extended pirate session to fill my floppies with purloined goodies, 10 disks at a time. The teletype would print theses amazingly Pepto Bismol pink labels for these disks, banging out letter after hammered letter, and advancing the pin feed for the next line.
Some weekends I could sleep over. And occasionally meet other friends of my Uncle. There was Leo from Washington DC, I think, that played guitar, and would program with my uncle and trade software. Sometime there would be folks from my uncles work that would visit, and bring something interesting like a remote control helicopter and demo it in the backyard. We would watch, talk, ask questions. I remember my uncle say the helicopter was unstable to control, like constantly trying to balance an egg on it’s end. I watched knowing I would not get a chance to fly what must have been an incredibly expensive model at the time. An aircraft would approach the airport, unbelievably low to me in my mind as I look back on it, and if we were talking would eventually yell until the speaker realized it was futile. We would wait for the airplane to pass and continue our conversation.
I remember that my uncle had paddles for the Apple II, with small hard red buttons, that left indentations in small fingers after greedy games playing. Eventually he built his own joystick. I thought it was awesome and he built me one. To this day I think the design is one of the best, but I am not an impartial judge as I used the old one when he acquired a new Apple manufactured joystick.
I moved away in 1989. My uncle eventually bought a IBM PC. The airport bought his house and destroyed it. Luckily, he moved away before that last bit. In the end, he had developed lung cancer, eventually stopped taking phone calls and died while I was in service. For me, there’s no telling what became of those sheet metal file cabinets that represented the knowledge my young self once had in the ways of the world.