A ‘Thank You’ to the ‘grunts’ at the Mothership

This iBrotha article was originally published at MacAddict.com by Rodney O. Lain. In honor of Rodney’s death, a good friend and contributor, we are reposting here with the permission of MacAddict. We would like to thank them for their generosity in allowing us to remember Rodney by keeping this archive of his work.


A ‘Thank You’ to the ‘grunts’ at the Mothership

mon jan.31

Momma, momma, can’t you see?
what the Army’s done for me?

They took away away my faded jeans;
now I’m wearin’ Army green…

—popular “cadence” sung by Army soldiers
“Beta [male] is now alpha [male].”

—”Descent,” The Outer Limits

Well over 30 of us entered frantically and huddled uncomfortably in a tractor trailer known affectionately as a “cattle car.” We rode for a few minutes, having no idea how much time had passed before we reached our destination. The truck stopped. “Anybody in here religious?” a gravelly voice up front broke the silence, speaking to no one in particular.

Some guy behind me raised his hand. You fool, I thought to myself. That was a rhetorical question!

“Well, that’s a [blasphemous expletive deleted] shame!” the drill sergeant screamed.

Forrest Gump could have predicted that response.

“Now, get your [a long string of expletives deleted] off my [expletive deleted] cattle car!” Drill Sergeant continued. “You have 10 [expletive deleted] seconds to get out of here and get in [expletive deleted] formation! Nine [expletive deleted] seconds are already gone! Move, move, MOVE!”

Thus began the nine-week-long hell called Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, an army installation several miles south/southeast of Waynesville, several miles northeast of Mark Twain National Forest.

Mentally, physically and emotionally, we were each taken to the limits of human endurance, only to be pushed further. I remember how pleased I was to be able to run a six-minute mile. I remember how we once were awakened at 2 a.m., because our drill sergeant discovered someone had slept on top of his bed covering, instead of sleeping underneath. Drill Sergeant made us all rip the covers off our beds, remake them, and, after spending an excruciatingly long time doing push-ups, go back to sleep — under the covers.

Each day was a lesson in humiliation. Awake at 5 a.m. Exercise. Army drills. Class. Drills. More Class. More Drills. To bed at 9 p.m. Constantly, we were told that we were nothing, that we were being torn down and rebuilt into a well-oiled machine that would do this nation proud.

Our only conversation — not counting intragroup communication — was with Drill Sergeant, whose language was peppered with liberal use of the Eff-word. Eff this, eff that, eff everything. I was amazed at his verbal virtuosity: he managed to use the Eff-word as noun, as a verb, as an adjective, an adverb — he even dangled a participle or two.
As an individual, it was a humiliating experience. As a group, it was a bonding experience. After it was all over, I felt like the B. S. and short-term ignominy were worth it.

Not too different from being an Apple employee, according to what I’ve been told.

The few. The proud?

I had the pleasure of talking with several Apple employees while at Macworld San Francisco. There was the young lady who took me through a demo of Appleworks 6. There was the helpful, nameless employee who helped us get our frickin’ AirPort connection to work as advertised. There were those employees who wouldn’t agree to score me some Apple freebies — what’s a free iMac between friends? — and still managed to remain civil with me.

The really interesting conversations revolved around my asking them how did it feel to work at the “new” Apple.

One person I talked to was hired during the Dark Days, right before Steve Jobs came back. I wanted to know how did it feel to see that company transform relatively overnight. I also asked if everyone at Apple supported the company’s current focus and direction. This person didn’t say, but I got the distinct impression those who don’t really and truly Think Different have either quit or have been fired.

But no one dared answer the question I really wanted answered: has Steve really changed? Has anyone taken the infamous elevator ride down with His iNess, only to find themselves fired by the time the car reached its destination?

No response.

Does Steve really throw “athletic fits” on a regular basis?

No response.

Sigh. Okay, did he really say, at one time, some variation of the following:

“Eff you and the horse you came in on. Eff also the following: anyone who looks like you. Anyone related to you. Anyone associated with you. Any of your progeny. Ditto for your horse.”

No response.

Lights. End of tunnel. Employment nirvana.

I didn’t talk to that many Apple employees. But to some of those that I did meet, I mentioned that they should be proud of their company. In many ways, it’s got to be one of the most exciting employment opportunities around.

I told them, for me, Apple Computer is one of the few places at which I’d be thrilled to work: a place at which things are being done that I could truly believe in.

Oh, I’m sure that if I were an actual employee the realities of work would jade me somewhat.

For example, would I have stayed around during 1997-1998? I imagine many started to believe the hype that called Apple a loser, as far as corporate success went. After all, not many good things were happening. Gil Amelio didn’t seem to do too much for public opinion. There wasn’t really anything being shipped out of Cupertino that the Mac faithful could point to as the epitome of all things Macintosh.

That familiar feeling of esprit des corps wasn’t as esprit as they used to be.

What a dim memory that appears to be now.

Many give the credit to the iCEO; they’re right. He supplied the vision, the spark, the rallying point around which the new Apple coalesced as it “found itself.”

We can’t dismiss those who carried out the vision: the rank-and-file employee, the good little soldier — the grunts, if you will.

Steve Jobs has his celebrity to shield him from the insults. Hell, no one would dare call him a loser to his face. He’s Steven frickin’ Jobs! But for the average employee, what was to stop people from coming up to them and asking them why do they even get up each morning and drive to the Apple campus — after all, Apple was “dead” during that time?

Those who endured it all deserve commendation. Staying around wasn’t easy to do — at least, it didn’t appear easy from my perspective.

That’s why I’d like to say thank you to those people whose names have never graced the covers of magazines like Time and Fortune. Steve Jobs has thanked you guys publicly recently. I’m sure that means a lot.

I’d like to thank you, too. I’m sure this doesn’t mean much. But I’d like to say it, nevertheless. I’d like to think that I am representing the millions of customers who stood and watched helplessly as Apple hovered over the brink of oblivion.

We are forever in gratitude for the sweat, blood and tears you expended collectively to make that great computer company what it is today. Again.

Apple stands tall once more. You all deserve our hearty applause. And so does that Steve Jobs guy who did a few good things, too.


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