I felt a dreadful foreboding when the secretary told me to go to the conference room instead of the Principal's Office
. We rated the seriousness of a confrontation by the number of grown-ups it took to do the confronting and if they needed a conference room I was in deep.
Principal Larry, his own bad self, was at the inquisition as were both of his Assistants. Matters of discipline were normally handled exclusively by the sadistic minions to shield Larry from actual contact with the students, whom he seemed to fear and despise. If they had to drag Big Larry into this I had gone too far.
I counted the stern faces twice to make sure I had an accurate tally, sixteen all told and at least three were armed. It was an intimidating assortment of parents, teachers, counselors and cops but most distressing was the two menacing suits in the dark corner whom I could not identify. They looked like Hollywood G-men and my little voice was screaming, "Run away, run away!"
I hadn't any idea what I had done to merit this grand theater of angry adults until I noticed the ream of computer paper on the middle of the conference table. I realized at that instant that the two guys in the shadow weren't from Central Casting.
I'd be the first to admit that I had discipline issues in high school. My willingness to engage teachers in argument and my anarchistic nature clashed with their conventional world-view. I had been permanently barred from all of my classes except of course "Discussion and Debate," and spent my days between the library and a computer terminal in the counselor's office.
They invented a job for me in the counselor's office running a computer program to help other students with career counseling. The personal computer had not yet been invented and the dumb terminal connected by modem to a mainframe was a complete mystery to the office staff. They knew it involved something called the ARPANET and that it magically connected them to Universities across the country but none had learned to operate the strange device. Due to my house arrest in the Counselor's Office I had plenty of time on my hands.
The plan seemed obvious to me and beautiful in its symmetry. I would connect through the mainframe to the computer at U.S.C. as I always had, only instead of going to the directory that contained the career counseling program I would breach the University's rudimentary defenses and find the Central Scrutinizer. Once inside I planned to give myself a positive balance at the Bursar's office and perhaps a Masters Degree in computer science.
The password to edit student records required nine characters so I guessed that it was looking for a Social Security number. I wrote a basic program which would call the California computer, insert a random nine-digit number and redial in the event of failure. The program would make the first call at 8:00 p.m. on Friday when the office was empty and continue over the weekend until it completed a connection.
I made one small mistake in forgetting to turn off the printer.
The noisy Teletype chugged on all weekend and created a four hundred and fifty-page account of my every transgression. When the Head Counselor found the evidence on Monday morning he didn't know what I was doing but he knew that it wasn't kosher. He alerted just about everybody who had a telephone.
There wasn't any such thing as computer crime
so the collected authorities were unsure how to proceed. When a Canadian kid hacked into Citibank a couple of years later they wrote laws-a-plenty but it seemed that I was happily ahead of the criminal curve.
As the roomful angrily debated my fate my father stood from his chair, shook his head in derision and said, "he's just a kid," and walked out. The inquisition disintegrated under the truth of his statement. When I told the Head Counselor I was quitting school he warned me against it and said that I should come back for my senior year and "blow the top off the place."
I presume he meant academically.