April 21, 2015

Mad Tony

Mad Tony

My godfather died on Sunday.

My family called him Mad Tony, in the "mad scientist" sense—picture Steve Wozniak. Very much like Paul Ford's Tom, Mad was a pivotal character in my life. He and my aunt had 7 children, so their house was a natural place for my parents to occasionally kennel me.

Mad was an electrical engineer for a defense contractor. One of my favorite family stories involved him and coworkers repurposing a radar antenna to disable the speed detector used by a police officer* to target their morning commute. He was also a source of of the many amazing magnets so important to a young wannabe scientist, and responsible for my family's early adoption of technology such as VCRs and camcorders.

After I attended a summer camp that exposed me to BASIC programming, he let me visit his secret geek room, which was a large closet that he'd whimsically (and quite effectively) hidden behind a bookshelf. I don't believe I spent a large amount of time there, but my memories of being 11 years old are dominated by sessions left alone in an autodidactic trance with his Apple II+ and BYTE magazines, learning how to PEEK and POKE my way into assembly programming on its 6502. I was difficult to extract from that room, except for meals of Italian-American comfort food, which eventually helped convince my parents to invest in a top-of-the-line Apple IIe.

I believe it was for my 12th birthday that he gave me the most world-changing gift of my childhood: an Applied Engineering DataLink modem for that Apple IIe. It was capable of connecting to local BBSes at 1200 baud, faster than I could read!

Mad Tony was not someone I spent a lot of time talking to, and we barely kept in touch. Until I left town, I did occasionally attend his TubaChristmas concerts and the theatre company that he spent decades helping off-, on-, and back-stage. But my memories of Mad are an important part of my identity, and I hope my character benefits from a fraction of his curiosity and humility.

* Said officer was from one of the little municipalities of North St. Louis Country now infamous for their fines-based business models.