They Call Him Mister Tubby

by rthieme on May 19, 1998

Like many young people plugged into the patronage system in Chicago, I exchanged political work in my local precinct and ward for summer jobs. One summer I worked in recreation at a large park. One of my co-workers was called Tubby. In addition to his larger size, Tubby was paler than the rest of the crew. An amateur radio operator, Tubby spent all of his free time in his basement working on his rig.

“See if you can’t get him out more,” our supervisor once suggested. “He needs to be more well-rounded.”

The supervisor’s assumption was that playing baseball was better than working obsessively on his ham gear. Today, conformists who define their middle-of-the-bell-curve hump as the Promised Land criticize not hams but a caricature of computer hackers. Depicted as whacked-out loners hunched over their glowing monitors as they break into our bank accounts, real hackers – if we must place them in a mythology – are more in the lineage of Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield, the Artificial Kid or the cyberspace cowboy Case. They are alienated heroes empowered by their difference to bring to society their special gifts,  even as that society types them in ways that diminish their perceived threat.

I am constantly amazed, listening to middle-aged people like myself rail against “today’s youth.” Don’t they know they’re simply afraid of growing older and slower? Don’t they remember how they took a stance on behalf of the future too, once upon a time?

To know that others will sit in the shade of the trees we plant and to work with them nevertheless in the planting affirms the fact of living and giving itself.  And Tubby? Tubby is still obsessed with radio waves, but now they call him Mister Tubby, and his workshop – high in the sky – has plenty of light.

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