by Gerd Hartmann

This story is about how lucky I am. Believe it or not, I've been gifted by the fates with amazing luck. It's a kind of wonderful magic that they've brought to me. They've always guided me in the right direction for the past few years, ever since I started living on the streets. But I didn't want to jinx it, so you are the first I've told about it.

The story begins with me sleeping in an alley. I'm wrapped up in a bunch of newspapers trying to stay warm. Now, you might not think that sounds very lucky, but hold your horses and keep on listening. You'll see.

Like I said, I'm sleeping in an alley, covered up with newspapers. It gets light, and here is where the magic begins. Remember I said I was wrapped up in newspapers? My attention is drawn to one of those newspaper, specifically to an ad announcing the opening of an internship program at some big computer company. It says prospective applicants should apply in person, and it gives an address. And guess what? The address of the computer company is hardly more than a stone's throw from the alley I'm in. Of course it is; the fates wouldn't have drawn me to that newspaper ad if the place wasn't within walking distance. And I wouldn't have noticed that ad if the fates hadn't drawn me to it. Such things just seem to jump out at me, and I instantly know it's a sign from them. It's like a secret power I have that no one knows about, except you. Important things just seem to come to me, and when they do, I always follow them. Sometimes they lead me to places I don't really want to be, and I end up . . . you know, sleeping in an alley freezing my ass off. But never mind that; although the purpose of the fates is not always immediately evident, I trust them to lead me to were I need to be. Eventually.

Therefore, I know I must immediately get up, brush myself off, and head straight for the address listed in the ad.

When I get there, there's a line. Bunch of young men, all of 'em wearing suits. I ask one of the guys in the line, "What kinda job is it?"

He says, "programming," and quickly turns away from me.

Now I know I might smell a bit bad, but that's no reason for a caring human being to turn away from a fellow human like that. After all, I'm not really that much older than he is.

But I know there is a problem. That guy's reaction tells me I must smell worse than I thought. Well, of course I smell bad. Wouldn't you if you'd been sleeping in alleys and eating food out of dumpsters?

But being as smart as I am, I have a solution. I head for the thrift store and find my buddy Sammy. I ask him if he could go into the back and find me a suit in the donations pile.

He's curious about why I, of all people, would want a suit, but after I tell him I need it to apply for a job, he shrugs and tells me to go around to the back and wait.

Pretty soon he brings out this pretty nifty lookin' dark suit. I try on the jacket, and by damn, it's just about exactly my size. Good old Sammy. The suit's a little worn, but no matter: that'll just make it look like I'm a hard worker. Sammy even brought me a fairly new-looking white shirt and a pair of black shoes. The shoes are kind of scuffed up, but who notices shoes anyhow?

Next, I head for a gas station I know about. It has an outdoor restroom. I wait for somebody to come out, and I catch the door before it can close and lock. Inside, I take what I call a "bird bath"; that is, I use paper towels and soap from the dispenser to wash under my pits and under my crotch (that's where most of the smell comes from).

I put on the suit, throw my smelly old clothes into the trash barrel, and off I go to take my place at the back of the job-seekers line.

When it's finally my turn. I go in and find a guy sitting behind a big desk. That's good because he's far enough away from me in case I still smell a bit.

The first thing he says is, "Where did you get your computer science degree?"

Thinking fast, the only college I've heard of is Harvard, so I say that.

The guy seems impressed by that, and luckily he doesn't ask any more questions, which is good because all I know about Harvard is that it's a famous college, and it's in Boston. At least I think that's where it is. Never been to Boston myself.

We rap back and forth a bit about how hard I'm willing to work and how much I want to learn new stuff. (I figure I'm about as good as anybody at talkin' the good game. The rough life on the streets'll teach you a lot about fast talkin' and fast thinkin'.)

Of course, the guy says I get the job. He had no choice: the fates led me to him, and they're controlling him as much as they're controlling me. Also, I'm the last guy in line, and it's gettin' late in the day, and the guy looks tired. But none of that matters: there's always an apparent real-world reason why good things happen to me; that's just how the fates work.

But then the guy lays the bad news on me. He says, "Of course, as an intern, you won't get paid until you satisfactorily complete your first two weeks. That's because you must first go through orientation."

I'm about to get up and walk out when he says, "Assuming you do well, we will give you a check as backpay for your orientation period. And by the way, interns are treated like actual employees. You can use certain designated company computers, and you will have access to the exercise equipment in the gym. And of course, you will have access to the free lunch in the cafeteria, like all the regular employees."

I could give a shit about using any computers or lifting any damn weights, but a free lunch every day in the company cafeteria? Count me in. (Didn't I tell you the fates would lead me in the right direction?)

The interviewer guy tells me what room to go to the next day to start my orientation, and then he sends me to get my picture taken and an employee badge made for me. After that, I know I'm supposed to leave, but I have no place to go, so I just wander the halls of the giant building.

All I know is that I have to keep on wandering until the fates lead me to where I need to be. And sure enough, before long, they lead me to a big warehouse way in the back of the plant. It seems to be where computers and other equipment are stored. I wander between the rows, and pretty soon the fates lead me to another room with an unlocked door. Inside, I discover the room is full of broken computers. It looks like nobody ever comes to this room.

I get busy stacking up some of the broken computers in a back corner to make a sort of wall. That done, I carefully take off the dark suit and the white shirt and hang them neatly in the corner. Then, I lie down on the floor to get some sleep. (You don't need to worry about me sleeping on a hard concrete floor; I'm used to it.)

The next morning, I go to the orientation auditorium and take a seat in the back row. As the day goes on, I find out what "orientation" is all about: it's about facility tours and long-winded explanations about employee behavior and about all the different kinds of computer equipment they make here. Us interns mostly just sit in the same auditorium all day while a bunch of different speakers go up onto the stage to explain things. About such things as company goals and company spirit and how to avoid even a hint of racism or sexism or bias on the job or off of it.

The days go by, and it's always the same: tours and talk, tours and demonstrations, more tours and more talk about things like job performance goals and monthly job performance discussions we'll be having with our supervisors. Assuming we get hired, that is.

They say a lot more things, but the truth is, I don't take too much of it in. I sit at the back of the auditorium and mostly think about lunch. Then, at lunch, I keep to myself and eat as much as I can. I also figure out how to slip things like apples and oranges and bananas out of the cafeteria without anybody noticing.

As the days go by, I don't say a word to anybody. Why take a chance on spoiling this opportunity to get out of the cold weather for a while and even get a free meal every day to boot? Then, after the orientation period, I'll get hired, and they'll give me a big fat paycheck, probably more money than I've ever seen in my whole life. I'm willing to keep up the pretext for as long as I can get away with it. I'll trust the fates to take care of me.

During all those hours and hours of boring orientation meetings, I pretend to pay close attention, and so far, nobody seems to have noticed that I'm still wearing the same dark suit I wore at my initial interview. Of course, that's because the fates are watching over me. Most of the interns take off their suit jackets as soon as they walk into the orientation meetings, so I do the same. There are a lot of new interns in that darkened auditorium, and who notices a nondescript young guy in a nondescript white shirt and dark pants? Besides, they all seem to be more interested in themselves, and that's fine with me.

At the end of each day, when all the other employees hurry to leave the building, I wander the halls until I get the chance to slip into my secret little sleeping room. The only problem is, I'm getting worried that wearing the same white shirt all day every day might mean it's getting a little stinky. I don't dare wash my shirt in any of the restrooms because if I got caught, that would be the end of me here. I decide to take a chance and leave the building. I have to trust that the fates will take care of me, and I'll be able to get back in.

I walk around a bit to get up my courage, and then I walk out the front door along with a bunch of other employees that are leaving. Then, I hurry back to that same gas station and take another a quick bird bath. Then I wash out my white shirt in the sink. I put it on and walk around the back streets until it dries.

As soon as my shirt is dry, I hurry back to the plant. It's getting dark, and I wonder what the guard will think of me walking in at this time of the evening. But I've seen other employees working at night.

I should have known the fates would protect me: the guard just glances at my badge and goes back to reading his book.

I hurry to my secret sleeping room, a bit out of breath, probably more from the excitement of actually spending some time outside the building for the first time since I got the intern job. Oddly, I now feel more comfortable inside this big building than outside

Today, a man I don't know pulls me out of the orientation meeting and tells me my orientation period is up. Can it really be two weeks already?

The man leads me to a computer and sits me down in front of it. He tells me this is the final step in my orientation. I'm supposed to find the problem in this computer program. He says if I have a systematic "debugging" method (whatever that is), I should be able to figure it out pretty quickly. Then, he just walks away.

On the computer's screen are a bunch of words and numbers and strange symbols. Some kind of code, I guess. Must be what they mean by "a computer program." I don't have a clue what it all means. He said something was wrong with it, and I'm supposed to "fix it." What the hell does that mean?

The time slips away, and I don't know what to do. I just sit here staring at the screen. The man comes back and asks if I'm done yet. He says he's got to leave. I tell him I think I've found the problem but would like to stay a little longer to "make sure." He shrugs and leaves.

I can't believe how fast the little clock numbers in the lower right part of the computer screen are changing. It's almost morning, and I still don't know what to do. All I can do is continue to stare at the computer screen, hoping something will jump out at me. But no matter how long I look at all those numbers and symbols on the screen, I can't imagine what it all means. It might as well be Greek or some other strange language.

So now, the computer's clock says it's time for the others to start arriving. That means the jig is up. They'll see I haven't done a damn thing, and they'll fire me. The fates aren't willing to help me with this computer problem, and that means I won't even get that one paycheck. I'll be back on the streets again, no further ahead than I was when I first saw that newspaper ad.

But I don't get up and walk away. I keep thinking if I can just figure it out. I know you might think it's crazy for me to think I can learn what all the stuff on the screen means in a few hours—after all, students go to college for years to learn computer programming. But I have something none of them have, magical beings, my "fates," looking after me. If I just try a little harder, maybe all that stuff on the computer screen will start to make sense to me. The solution to the problem will just "jump out at me." I've learned how to use the up and down arrows on the computer keyboard to scroll though all the lines of code. Maybe if I keep on doing that, the fates will lead me to the right place.

But nothing happens. The fates aren't going to come to my rescue. They can be fickle like that sometimes. It might mean I let things get too comfortable for me. Having a place to sleep indoors at night and getting to eat a free meal every day might mean the fates have moved on to somebody who needs them more than I do. I might as well just get up and walk right out the front door. I won't get the paycheck, but if I sneak out now, at least I can spare myself the embarrassment of being escorted out by security.

But I don't get up and leave. I seem to be rooted to the chair. What energy I had when I sat down in this chair yesterday seems to have drained out of me. I stop scrolling through the code. There's no longer any point to it. I'm done. I can't move. I'm without hope, without even the motivation to leave the building.

Finally, the test man shows up. I know I might as well tell him I can't figure it out. Maybe he'll let me keep on working on it until lunch time, so I can at least get one more free meal before they take away my badge and put me back out on the streets.

But before I can speak, he leans over my shoulder and says, "What are you looking at?"

I look at what he's pointing at:

sub parse_form {

     read(STDIN, $buffer, $ENV{'CONTENT_LENGTH'});

     @pairs = split(/&/, $buffer);

     foreach $pair (@pairs) {
            ($name, $value) = split(/&/, $pair);

            $value =~ tr/+/ /;
            $value =~ s/%([a-fA-F0-9][a-fA-F0-9])/pack("C", hex($1))/eg;
            $value =~ s/<!--(.|\n)*-->//g;

            if ($allow_html != 1) {
                   $value =~ s/<([^>]|\n)*>//g;
            else {
                   unless ($name eq 'body') {
                     $value =~ s/<([^>]|\n)*>//g;

            $FORM{$name} = $value;


He points to something in the middle the screen. "Well, well," he says, "you did find the problem. Good going. When you hadn't solved it by yesterday afternoon, I figured you didn't have very good debugging techniques, but in the end, you did find it." He puts his warm hand on my shoulder. "I guess you'll get faster with more practice. You're hired. I'll have them cut you a check, and you can start work immediately."

He leads me to a cubical. He sits me down in front of what I assume is to be my very own computer. He presses some of the keys on the computer keyboard and a whole bunch more of those weird symbols and numbers appear on the screen. He tells me this is a real program that really does need to be "debugged."

He leaves, and I stare at the stuff on the screen. It still looks like gobbledygook to me, but I'm not worried: the fates will soon solve this problem for me just like they've solved all my other problems. From now on, I'll spend my days sitting in front of this computer staring at the screen until the fates point me to the problem. I'll make a lot of money. I'll continue to sleep in the storeroom, and I won't set foot outside the building because now feels it feels like my home, more of a home than any other place I've ever stayed in since my old man kicked me out when I was only twelve. I can live on the one meal a day; it's actually more food than I'm used to anyhow. With the fates watching over me, this will be my new life, and everything will be just fine.

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