Lynn Gold (figmo) wrote,
Lynn Gold
figmo

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Paul Metz: 12/21/1961-8/27/2011

My dear friend Paul killed himself this past Saturday. I knew he was in bad shape mentally, but I hoped he'd pull out of it.

Paul was the kind of guy legends are made of.

Paul and I met when we were both students at Columbia University. I remember his first words to me online: "Do you play chess or backgammon?" Out of anyone else that would have been a pickup line. Out of Paul, it meant "Do you play chess or backgammon?"

I still remember the way he used to play chess and backgammon. He'd be there at a table in the SSIO (Self-Service Input Output center), jumping up and down and yelling at the board. It was quite entertaining to watch. I'd never seen someone get so excited over a board game.

As a classmate, he was also memorable. To this day, I'm sure all 144 folks in our Discrete Math class remember him well. We used to call the class "Discrete Mob" because there were only 127 seats for all 144 of us. You had to show up half an hour early to be guaranteed a seat, otherwise you'd be sitting in the aisle or standing in the back of the room. This class was so big, instead of just one "class clown" or "heckler," we had three. Paul was the "alpha" heckler, our friend Mike Rubin (yes, the one who wrote "The Programmer and the Elves") was the "beta" heckler, and I was "gamma." Dr. Gross, our teacher, would come up with new things to throw at Paul every class, which made what would otherwise have been a horribly dry subject very entertaining. Paul was self-confident enough that he wasn't afraid to go head-to-head with a brilliant teacher, and Dr. Gross liked having the three of us to bounce off of -- especially Paul.

Paul was part of our "Hacker's Club" back when "hacking" was "recreational programming" and not "computer vandalism." He especially liked writing computer games. He'd tutor students taking the intro CS class in return for getting to use their disk space when they were done with the class. He'd then fill it up with games he wrote. Using a structured language called Simula, Paul wrote a tty-based version of Pac-Man one summer. That fall, in Programming Languages and Theory, the teacher announced that the final project would be "a version of Pac-Man written in Simula." The only variants I heard on the rest of the story was how far up in the air Paul flew from his seat. He yelped "Woooo!" and flew up somewhere between one and three feet as every head in the class turned towards him because everyone knew about Paul's Pac-Man game.

Throughout his academic career, the guy in charge of the Columbia Univeristy Center for Computing Activity, aka "CUCCA," would make disparaging remarks about Paul's love of writing computer games, saying "Nobody's going to pay you to write computer games." We all laughed our butts off when Paul got hired straight out of school by Atari -- yes, to write computer games.

The legend of Paul continued in California. Paul wanted to buy a condo. He could afford the downpayment, but he made too much to qualify for the loan, so he asked his boss at Atari for a pay cut. I don't know of anyone else who's ever done that, but he did. As I understand it, his pay was restored after he got the condo.

After he got layed off from Atari, he went to work elsewhere. As part of his job, Paul was sent to Japan for several months. This is where he took up -- I am not making this up -- square dancing. He showed us pictures of him and the rest of the folks there. The men were wearing kimonos; the women -- all Japanese -- were wearing traditional puffy, frilly square dance tops and skirts.

He was always into science fiction, too. I knew he was in California and living near me, but because my then-husband had a hissyfit every time I got together with one of my old (male) classmates or science fiction club cronies, I couldn't reach out to welcome him. We heard about each other's goings on through mutual friends. Eventually we ran into each other at a BayCon. Paul was standing in a hallway with a gaggle of babettes around him, all looking enraptured. He looked up, saw me, and said, "Excuse me, but there's someone very important that I need to talk to." He then excused himself from the gaggle, who parted like the Red Sea did for Moses, and walked over to me. This floored me; here he was, surrounded by eligible females, and he instead wanted to talk with a married woman (before you think of alterior motives, there weren't any; Paul was monogamous)! The innocent kid from the SSIO had grown into a gentleman and a class act.

Paul was also someone you could go to in a pinch. On several occasions he loaned me money. The most memorable time was when I bought my second Mac. My first one was on its last legs, and I'd been saving up for a new one. I was one paycheck away from being able to afford it when I came across one where the price was mismarked $1,000 off. The salesguy agreed to let me have it if I could come up with the money by the time the store closed -- 9pm. At 7:30pm I called Paul. "Could I get you the check tomorrow?" he asked. I explained the situation. "Come on over!" he exclaimed. I did, we swapped checks -- I gave him a post-dated one for the amount plus interest -- and I got myself a $2800 computer for $1800 dollars.

More recently, he was pushed out of his job at PayPal. His boss had him convinced he couldn't program his way out of a brown paper sack. When I saw him at Renovation, he looked like someone had sucked his soul out. I tried giving him a pep talk. "People don't get pushed out because they're incompetent, especially when they've been at a company as long as you have," I explained. "People get pushed out because someone gets a bug up their ass and decides they don't like them for whatever reason." Paul had never been pushed out of a job. It was pretty obvious to everyone around him that his last boss at PayPal had done a real head-job on him. I mentioned my concern about him to several mutual friends. I wanted to say something to his wife, Stephanie, but I never saw her alone without him. (I later learned that this was because she did know what was going through his head and was trying to prevent it.) I tried forwarding him job listings that came my way. Last Friday I forwarded three from my employer, teasing him with "I sure could use that free iPad."

Less than 24 hours later, he was gone. Forever.

The world was a better place because he was in it. I miss you, my virtual kid brother.
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