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Yes, I did work at a place that was still using a mainframe computer with 80-column punch cards in 1988.

Published in The Voice, Bloomsburg University's student newspaper,
on April 11, 1988.

A Fistful of Invoices

Yesterday was a bad day for me. It started bad and got worse.

As soon as I got to work I started the accounts receivables program on the mainframe computer. The first three punch cards in the deck went through the card reader without problems, but the fourth caught on a corner and the “card jam” warning light blinked on.

I cleared the jam with the standard procedure, pulling the top off the reader and slamming the card feeder chute with a crowbar until the culprit card ejected itself.

The program started once again. I braced myself for a second malfunction when another forest fire broke out in the payroll department. I’ve told those people time and time again about that, but does anyone ever listen to me?

I tried to put out the flames by flapping my “dress for success” flannel shirt at them with one hand while clearing the now-thoroughly jammed card punch with the other. Just when it looked as if I was making headway, a band of ninja assassins burst in the door. Apparently they had been hired to kill me by some unknown person who was upset about some article I wrote a few weeks ago. I was able to keep the ninjas at bay by hitting them with blank invoice forms.

Unfortunately this meant I could no longer attend to the fire.

Once I had gotten the card punch going and loaded invoice documents into the printer, I could reassess my priorities and concentrate on the blaze and the ninja team. Things were getting tense and I was running out of invoice forms.

Fortunately, a rival band of ninja assassins burst in. This second group had been hired by someone in the accounting department to terminate me for a small mistake I had made in the gross profits run for the previous cost month. I never did understand the problem there. After all, what’s $40,000 between friends?

The two opposing ninja groups fought amongst themselves for the honor of killing me, so I could concentrate on getting that accounts receivables program going properly. Stepping over the bodies I deftly handled a “file not found” error and decollated some four-ply forms.

Things were starting to look up. The computer hadn’t had a malfunction in over eight minutes and the Accounting Revenge Ninjas seemed to have an edge over the Article Revenge Ninjas. My hopes were dashed when my output queue was destroyed by an incoming 90 millimeter high explosive shell. The National Guard had shown up to combat the two ninja gangs and were moving tanks into the hallway. The fire department had also arrived, judging from the sounds of the sirens, but I couldn’t see them though all the smoke and tear gas.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the explosion of the tape drive that got me angry. I almost expected that. I lost control when the raging battle moved down the hall towards the sandwich machine. My only hope for dinner was in deep peril.

I didn’t want to do it, but I had no choice. I used a fighting technique called Big Blue Kung Fu (invented hundreds of years ago by early Chinese computer operators). I killed 14 ninja, injured 30 National Guardsmen, and bit the fender off of one of the tanks. It was at this point that I realized that three cups of coffee in one day is probably too much for me.

I had a ninja by the throat in one hand and my burning flannel shirt in the other when the phone rang.

“Data processing,” I said, “can I help you?”

The muffled voice on the other end of the phone explained that their desktop computer had a floppy disk stuck in it and could I please come right over and fix it.

“I’m a bit busy right now, can it wait?”

I never heard the reply because the phone melted. The forest fire had worked its way into my computer room. To make matters worse, the printer had run out of paper.

Well, to make a long story slightly less long, the fire department beat both ninja teams and the National Guard. Somebody managed to put out the fire on their way out of the building. I was exhausted, but the sandwich machine was safe. The computer beeped loudly at me. I checked the message queue:

“Accounts Receivable program has completed normally. You are off by $5,345.18. It will be taken out of your paycheck.”

Fortunately, I lifted a cost center code off one of the ninjas, so I’m just going to bill it all directly to them.


Irvania.com webmaster: Dave Ferris
The content on this page was written in 1988
Last updated: June 11, 2016