Apples, Kids, & Attitude
Martians in the Manholes
I remember visiting my grandfather years ago at what can only be described as his little urban plantation. He grew everything from watermelons to potatoes to hand-grafted fruit trees on a little plot of land just a stone’s throw from a freeway. The chicken coop lay behind the garage that housed his farming tools and blue Ford Falcon. Whenever I’d visit overnight, I’d wake to the sound of my grandfather’s rooster announcing the dawn of the new day and the aroma of fresh eggs on the stovetop.
To my grandfather, every morning in America was a new and splendid day. He emigrated from Lisbon as a teenager to escape the revolution in his country. He delighted in the freedom and opportunity available to residents of the United States. Fifty years after arriving in the US, he still marveled at the things so many of us take for granted.
Some of the things that amazed my grandfather were due as much to the era of his birth as to the comparative prosperity of the nation of his naturalized citizenship. Born around the turn of the century, he never lost interest in TV, nor tired of short trips to the local municipal airport to watch the small planes take off and land. His was a simple life of innocent pleasures and wholesome hard work.
One of the last times I was at my grandfather’s house was during the summer of 1968. He let me stay up late so that we could both watch the Democratic convention. I knew little of the assassination of RFK, the Vietnam War, or the violent protests in Chicago that summer. He wanted me to see the balloons fill the convention floor, and I suppose he wanted to see democracy in action. We were both enthralled by what we witnessed.
Not all TV programming at that time (or now for that matter) had serious political or cultural importance. I remember sitting in his living room and watching Superman, too. I recall an episode in which Superman had an encounter with a pair of Martians who lived in some kind of subterranean world and entered our civilization through manhole covers.
In retrospect, short actors with really bad makeup and haircuts probably portrayed the Martians. But to a little boy, the concern was for world safety and what might come popping up from beneath the streets the next time I ventured more than a few feet from the safety of my grandfather’s yard. I didn’t think Superman lived in my grandfather’s neighborhood, so if I was confronted by subterranean-dwelling Martians I figured I was pretty much on my own.
Only later did I realize that in the Superman episodes, whether the Man of Steel was flying during the day or at night, the same footage was used to depict the superhero moving swiftly through the air on his way to fight evil. This was one of my first discoveries of what is meant by fiction, and I realized that subterranean-dwelling Martians only appeared on TV. It was safe to walk the streets without fear of encountering creatures from another planet popping out of round disks in the road.
Discerning fact from fiction can often be difficult for people of any age, let alone a young child. What we see on TV or the Internet and what we hear from others isn’t always an accurate reflection of reality. I don’t suppose my grandfather gave Superman or Martians popping out of manholes much thought. But the fact that he was able to grow fruit trees and vegetables, raise chickens and have a somewhat agrarian orientation to life in the middle of an old New England mill town still astounds me.
My grandfather was from a farming family, but farming was not his trade. Although for a time he earned a living grafting trees for others, he spent most of his years working in the mills. His decision to leave Lisbon wasn’t an easy one. Family members and family friends warned him about all the “Martians in the manholes” he might encounter on the journey and when arriving at his new, adopted home. Knowing in his heart he would never return, he surrendered the rights of his land inheritance to the relatives he left behind. He chose a more simple life of personal and religious freedom in America over an existence with a secure livelihood but political and religious oppression.
In my grandfather’s day, there was no Superman on TV to safeguard the world from evil. But he had faith in God and a determination to live free. As a teenager he chose wisely to separate fact from fiction and move forward with his dream even at the risk of great personal cost.
Sixteen years almost to the day that I sat in my grandfather’s living room watching the balloons fill the convention center, I better understood the reasons for his decision to leave the familiarity of Lisbon for the opportunity for freedom in America. It was the day his son and grandson stood side-by-side on the floor of the Republican convention in Dallas to witness a sitting president accept his party’s nomination for a second term in office. The decisions my grandfather made were more for the benefit of the generations of family to come than for his own comfort.
Of all the speeches I heard in Dallas during the several days of that convention, the one delivered by Dr. E.V. Hill, a civil rights crusader, was the most memorable. Dr. Hill began his speech by recalling the last time he had been in Dallas—it was as a small boy attending a country fair. Born into poverty, he slept in a small pen with his pig. As Dr. Hill recounted, it was a long way from that fair to the podium of the Republican National Convention. And, it was a long way from my immigrant grandfather’s living room in 1968 to the floor of the Republican convention in 1984.
Both my father and my grandfather are no longer on earth. But the decisions each of them made will impact the generations of family members to come. If my grandfather had chosen to busy himself by figuratively watching for Martians in the manholes, rather than pursuing his dream with steadfast determination and faith, he never would have left Lisbon. The lives of his children and grandchildren would be vastly different than what they are today.
I admire Dr. Hill and others who have stood against racial prejudice and intolerance. I admire the courage of early American settlers who worked hard to tame a newly discovered continent. And I admire the countless number of people like my grandfather who chose to emigrate to the US, often times sacrificing a familiar way of life in order to give their children and their children’s children the opportunity for self-determination and personal freedom.
Collectively and individually Mac users have chosen a different way of doing things in order to meet our computer needs. As a community of users, should the naysayers and PC pundits who continuously see subterranean-dwelling Martians lurking behind every Mac distract us? Or should we remain steadfast in our resolve to separate fact from fiction and continue to support our platform of choice?
Since the introduction of the Apple II, rumors and prognostications of Apple’s imminent demise have filled the papers, the airwaves and now the Internet. Whether the figurative “Martians in the manholes” were IBM, Microsoft, concerns about MHz speeds, software availability, market share, or even product price, Apple Computer has survived and in most years the company has thrived. Bad fiction can never mirror reality.
I hope that few of us are ever called to put ourselves in harm’s way in order to end racial prejudice, suffer the humiliation of sharing sleeping space with a pig, or feel compelled to leave behind all we know and own in order to find political and religious freedom. But the decisions that we make today are as important to the well being of our children and grandchildren as the decisions made by the generations that preceded us. Individually and collectively we are shaping the face of the world for years to come.
I suppose maintaining a backyard farm was my grandfather’s way of keeping his hands busy while he mentally worked through the day’s challenges and sorted fact from fiction. He left no time in his day for second-guessing his decisions or worrying about subterranean-dwelling Martians in whatever figurative form they might appear. But his journey, like Dr. Hill’s journey and the journey of millions of others who have toiled long and hard to shape the face of our nation, was not without tough times or difficult decisions. Had the pioneers, immigrants, and civil rights leaders who shaped our nation listened to their generation’s naysayers, where would our country and our world be today?
It was sixteen years from my grandfather’s living room to the floor of the Republican National Convention. It was also about sixteen years from the Dallas convention in 1984 to the morning of Christmas 2000. That’s the day I had the pleasure of witnessing my own children opening the box to their new iMac. Had my grandfather listened to the naysayers, he never would have embarked on a marvelous, life-changing journey. Had I listened to the naysayers, Christmas morning would have been filled with puzzlement as to what to do with yet another bland, beige box.
Prior to January’s Macworld Expo, the PC pundits and Apple naysayers were at it again. Newspapers and the Internet carried stories of Apple’s imminent demise. It’s funny. One Titanium PowerBook later and the subterranean-dwelling Martians appear to be safely below the manhole covers and bad fiction once again has failed to mirror reality.
Discerning fact from fiction can be a difficult task. But since the dawn of the PC era only one computer company has consistently proven to be a true product innovator and technology leader. Being a Mac user in a Windows-dominated world isn’t always the easiest of challenges. But the rewards are more than worth the effort.
No great task is without its moments. I’m mindful that the rooster that would wake me to the aroma of fresh eggs on the stove is the same rooster that would chase me around the chicken house and peck at my ankles whenever I ventured inside the boundaries of the chicken wire fence. For that and a few other reasons I may never have a coop. Thankfully, my challenges are different than my grandfather’s. To him the reward of seeing his children and grandchildren live free was more than worth the effort to leave his native home and journey to a new nation.
As members of the greater Mac community we share in monumental challenges. We are the émigrés from the status quo. We are the advocates for digital diversity. We must ensure that our children and our children’s children continue to have a choice, and thus a voice in shaping the digital world of tomorrow. The rewards will be more than worth the effort.
This is ATPM’s second issue of the new millennium and the last issue in which Apples, Kids & Attitude will appear. I’ve enjoyed the run. I’d like to leave our readers with just a few words of advice:
If you want farm fresh eggs, get them at a small local farm. But please do your ankles a favor: let the farmer enter the coop. If you see Martians lurking under manhole covers, please do the world a favor: put down the PC magazines and call Superman. If you want a supercomputer, do yourself and your children a favor: buy a Mac.
Also in This Series
- Good Morning America, How Are You? · October 2003
- Martians in the Manholes · February 2001
- The Golden Touch · May 2000
- Three Kids and an iMac · February 2000
- How? · November 1999
- Apples, Kids, & Attitude · August 1999
- Play Ball! · May 1999
- A Time For Change · February 1999
- New Year, New Times · January 1999
- Complete Archive
Reader Comments (6)
This column is insightful, heartfelt and instructive. While I do not necessarily share the author's political views, I can very readily resonate with his affective experience. His perspectives are sensitive and creative. This and past columns have been an unexpected delight as well as a resource that I can share with others. I look forward to being able to access his work in the future.
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