Reader Reactions & Anecdotes


05 July 2008

Working with Jack

Nothing is ever what it seems. And everything changes. Even blogs.

My name is Jonni Anderson. I’m Jack’s Administrative Assistant, webmaster, gofer and — now and again — chauffeur. I took him for a comparatively minor medical test Wednesday, and suddenly he was in the hospital emergency room, wired, poked and prodded, and ultimately scheduled to have a pacemaker implanted — no arguments. It wasn’t quite the way we had planned on spending the day. . .

First, dear readers, not to worry. From everything the doctors say, this is a piece of cake. The procedure takes less than an hour, and they don’t even have to put him under anaesthesia; they just give him a shot of “happy juice” and he never loses consciousness. The wife of one of Jack’s readers has had pacemakers since 1996, and, according to him, Jack would be in a lot more pain having a tooth pulled. A few days or weeks while the incision heals and he won’t even know it’s there.

But Jack is understandably not quite up to pecking away at a laptop; they have him wired for sound (the picture quality is lousy, but the beeps are quite an orchestral production) and the wires keep snagging on his hospital gown and getting fouled in his glasses. So he asked me to tell you who I am and what I do. (He admitted he has ulterior motives: he wants to know what I’m telling people.)

Well, let’s see: what can I admit to without getting arrested?

I’m his bookkeeper, for one thing. Note I said bookkeeper; I am not his keeper. That’s a job I wouldn’t wish on any sane person. In spite of the fact that he turned 87 in June, he’s as mentally alert and full of mischief as he was when he was 22. Honestly, if I didn’t know — if I had only e-mails and telephone conversations to go by — I’d guess his age at about 35.

But he’s also smart enough to know that, fascinating raconteur and mesmerizing writer though he is, he’s simply not interested in balancing boring numbers with other boring numbers. So he hired me.

That was his first mistake, because he found out that I, too, am a writer — and we both discovered to our mutual amazement that I’m a pretty good editor besides. I’ve had the privilege of editing his last three novels, and it has been fascinating to me, as a wannabee novelist, to watch the metamorphosis. He’ll e-mail me the “final” version, and I dot the t’s and cross the i’s and send it back to him, marveling at how he can weave such intricate plots and still crack a joke now and then. We both assume that “final” means just that — but then the old storyteller in him gets to thinking, and suddenly the book is torn to pieces (thank god for cut-and-paste!) and he’s rewriting it. I’m always certain the first version couldn’t possibly be improved upon, but I discover the second version is even better — it’s absolutely perfect!

Not so. A few weeks pass and he gets to thinking, “I can say that better,” and the manuscript gets disintegrated again, to be reborn into a newer, better, more interesting story. I think we’ve had four “final” versions of his latest, The Ace (of which more soon, as publication impends), but I just finished editing the last “final-final” version (and it was only “final” because I threatened to break his fingers if he started rewriting again) and sent it off to the publisher.

Oh — I’m supposed to be writing about what I do! What I do is so intertwined with what he does that it’s hard to separate the two.

As I mentioned, I’m his webmaster, and he has to put up with my constantly revising his website as I learn new designs and techniques. I’m currently studying JavaScript, and hope to be able to make the pages more interactive in the near future. If I can ever get my brain around that arcane code. . .

When I can find the time, I also keep his computer more or less in working order. Artist he may be, but computer geek he ain’t. Technology just about defeats him, but I have to give him credit for doggedly trying to remember again how to open Windows Explorer and find a file he lost — again.

My favorite story happened when he was just finishing The Cure. Late one Sunday evening he called me, and I could hear the controlled panic in his voice: “I just lost my document. . .”

“Lost? What means lost?” My mind raced: what could possibly have gone wrong? On the other hand, he is a master at ineptly making computers do things they’re not supposed to be capable of doing, so the possibilities were infinite and scary.

“I was working on The Cure — the deadline’s next week — and suddenly all I have is a blank document.”

“It’s okay, Jack. You’ve been making regular backups like I showed you, right?”

“Uh, I got involved in writing and forgot. . .”

I suppressed a sigh. “Okay, can you scroll up or down?”

“Yes, but all that’s there is a blank screen!” I could tell he was trying very hard to control incipient hysteria.

I looked at the clock: 10:30 on Sunday evening. “Don’t do anything. Don’t touch your computer. Go take a walk or something. I have to get dressed, but I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“I can’t ask you to come down here as late as it is.”

“Neither one of us is going to be able to get any sleep until we get this solved, so I’ll see you in about an hour.”

I threw on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt and climbed in my car. At that hour there was little traffic and the speed traps, thank god, were elsewhere.

It took me about thirty seconds to “save” his manuscript: he had apparently fallen asleep with his finger on the “Enter” key and added 72 blank pages. I deleted them and returned control of his computer to him.

Sometimes it’s fun to be a hero.

* * *

This just in: update on the medical procedure. I just got a call from Jack (it’s Thursday afternoon), who was out of the recovery room and still drunk on “happy juice,” so the stand-up (well, in this case sit-down) comedian in him was off his leash and out of control. His daughter and granddaughter were with him, and he had them laughing so hard I could hardly understand what he was saying to me. When I finally was able to break through the chaos and ask how he felt, he replied, “I’m drunk, I’ve got a bullet in my shoulder, but I feel great.”

Stay tuned, folks. I think this is gonna be fun.

All my best,

P.S. As of noon on Friday, our intrepid leader is home and doing superbly. Doctors are delighted with the speed of his recuperation and his basic good health. So am I, for that matter: his color is better than I've ever seen it. He'll be back next week, and he says to tell you all hello and happy Independence Day.

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional