Susan Dennis (susandennis) wrote,
Susan Dennis


As we marched towards the product announcement for the AS/400, there were lots of interesting challenges.

We had a new team player. The marketing people gave us this hot shot named John. I thought, originally, that he was way too full of himself and I actually told Tom that I didn't think he was going to work out. Tom said we were stuck and I needed to make it work. Ugh. Once again, however, it turns out I was wrong. John quickly turned out to be one of my best friends ever and a key reason why I found Seattle, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our particular system of computers had a huge and powerful usergroup called Common and their annual meeting was a really BFD for IBM in general but the winter before the AS/400 announcement was a major deal for all of us. That year it was in Toronto and, as it turned out, also involved a major fire drill to fix an operating system problem. John and I were in Toronto when that operating system news broke and we worked nearly 24 hours a day for 3 days to get the fix 'spun' and announced and help both the users at Common and the IBMers in Toronto (who had actually done the software) not kill each other.

It was dead of winter and we were staying in the middle of town. The underground tunnels saved our bacon that trip. We could get from our hotel to the IBM offices all underground out of the cold and ice. And pick up meals along the way. We felt like moles. But, it was fun.

Tom and John and I ended up traveling quite a bit as we got ready for the product announcement. Part of my job was to make sure Tom always looked and sounded great. I taught him how to tell the difference between white shirts and which ties to wear for which events among other things. He was grateful and I enjoyed it. John always looked very classy. He needed no direction. His flaw was this tacky man bag he always carried on trips. It was an old thing he'd had for years and it looked it. I harassed him about it constantly. It made us all look shabby, I told him.

For my birthday that year, he and Tom gathered a handful of fun folks we worked with and took us all out to dinner. They even had a stack of nice wrapped gifts for me. The last one was a very big box and as I opened it, someone was perfectly positioned to snap one of my most treasured photographs.

It was that FUCKING bag!!

That's John behind me. That picture nails the moment perfectly. The only problem is that the bag does not look nearly as gnarly as it really was. Fun times.

One of the times that was not so fun was the NY Times. I was the press point person for System/36, System/38 and AS/400. 99% of that was article placement and responding to inquiries from trade magazines. But, once in a while, the big boys would call. The Wall Street Journal was easy. The guy was nice and he always got everything correct. But then one day, the NY Times called.

The reporter had a story about something that he wanted a quote for. So I gave him one. Innocuous enough until he started getting the details for attribution. My name and title and then 'Are you married?' 'What??' 'Are you married. I have to reference you as either Miss or Mrs. depending.' NFW. With some fancy footwork, I talked everyone into attributing the quote to John.

And then I started making noise. My manager, who was female, said I should not have done that but should have told him I was divorced or single but not have skirted the issue. NO. Wrong answer. As it happens, I had a meeting with other IBM communications people in New York that next week. The Vice President of Communications for IBM was our guest speaker and after he finished he asked if we had questions. And I stood up and asked why it was OK for the New York Times to require I divulge my marital status.

To his credit, this old white guy, did not bat an eyelash. He asked for specifics and I told him and he said "I think you handled that situation admirably. But, next time, just tell him that it's not information that he has a right to know." I was so impressed. And relieved. And vindicated.

They never called me for a quote again and they removed the requirement for that information shortly thereafter by adding Ms. to the mix and using the title selected by the person quoted. I had apparently caught the tail end of that tacky era.

To Be Continued
Tags: tbc
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