Don’t Step on the Rabbit

June 19, 2008

Before I begin my bloodthirsty series of posts, I will tell a gentle bunny tale. I now realize that Muddy lives in England and not Australia, but one never knows who is listening to a conversation, and I want to give Muddy time to hide out of sight. Once, in the earliest days of personal computers, when all the documents they produced were created in Courier and looked like they had come out of a typewriter, I was hired by a new company that was trying to invent desktop publishing.
Paul Brainerd actually started such a company, which he called Aldus. Paul also coined the term “desktop publishing,” created a program called PageMaker which let you typeset your own documents in fancy fonts on an Apple LaserWriter, using a printing language developed by Adobe, called PostScript, and became a millionaire. After he sold his business to Adobe, he used most of his money to do good deeds. I met Paul Brainerd once at a desktop publishing conference. (Pointless name dropping.) 

Unfortunately, although the new company that hired me was also started by a man named Paul, this Paul was a bit of a jerk and the company is long gone and completely forgotten by everyone but me. The company had a round of venture capital funding, but never came up with a viable product. In the meantime, as I had experience in losing money running my own typesetting business, Paul the unsuccessful entrepreneur ordered me to run a typesetting department, so we could lose money on a larger scale while we were waiting for our cargo to come in.

We rented space from a suburban newspaper and rented time on their huge typesetting machine. I hired half a dozen experienced typesetting operators. One of the rooms we rented was a huge empty office space  (that begged to be divided into a hundred cubicles) but at that time only had a carpet and bare walls. We plopped a few tables on the carpet, placed a few dumb terminals on the tables, ran cables through the walls to the typesetting machine down in the newspaper’s basement, and embarked on my second great experience with losing money.

On about the fourth or fifth day of my running the department, I arrived at work one morning, and one of the operators warned me, “Be careful. Don’t step on the rabbit.”

Not believing my ears, I said, “What?!”

The operator pointed her finger at one of the walls. Crouched next to the wall, sitting very still, was a large white rabbit. The operator explained that she was moving to a new apartment, and while she was in the process of moving, she had no place to keep her pet rabbit, so she had brought it to work. She assured me that the bunny was a very well-behaved bunny and would cause no harm or trouble. She looked at me beseechingly and begged me to allow the bunny to spend the day in our nascent operation.

I went over, petted the bunny’s head cautiously, and said, “OK, you can stay, but let’s not make a habit of it, unless you can learn to enter type into a VDT terminal.” The bunny did no work that day, but caused no trouble either.

I think in forty years of working at various jobs, hearing “Don’t step on the rabbit” was one of the strangest beginnings to a work day I ever had.  It ties with the day (described in an earlier blog posting) when as a high school teacher I was teaching my first class of the day and saw a white rat peering out at me between a couple of unbuttoned buttons of a student’s shirt. In third place comes the day in the same high school when one of my students, walking down the hallway, asked me, “Do you want to hold my tarantula?”

I held out my hand and the student placed a large tarantula (are there any other kinds?) on my palm. The tarantula looked at me and I looked at it. At least to my eyes, tarantulas tend to have an inscrutable expression.

We live in a strange world. Probably the tarantula was thinking the same thing.





8 Responses to “Don’t Step on the Rabbit”

  1. spectrum2 Says:

    OK, I don’t know if you were around when I introduced the blogging community to Snoball, my Himalayan rabbit. He is a sweet bunny, so I’m not sure if I want to hear about you killing rabbits. As, I allow a family of bunnies to live in the honeysuckle thicket beside the house. The baby bunnies make the trips to my mailbox quite enjoyable, and in return, I don’t get too bent out of shape when they eat my variegated monkey grass. As for working with one, I find that fun, but if he had stayed, he would have chewed on your cords (ask me how I know).

  2. modestypress Says:

    Spectrum, that is why I posted a gentle post to give Snoball and Muddy and any other bunnies in the neighborhood fair warning. Before I actually start doing in the bunnies and the squirrels (and the chipmunks are not very safe either), I will post a tale of a well-armed marriage.

  3. truce Says:

    I once had to kill a rabbit – a wild one – which had myxamitosis and was sitting, shivering and bleeding from its eyes, in the middle of the lawn at work. I didn’t want to kill it, but I knew I couldn’t make it better either and I didn’t want it to continue to suffer just to save my squeamish notions of ‘animal-loving’. So I hit it hard over the head with a spade.

    I am extremely glad that the typesetting rabbit escaped such a fate.

    I would have to draw the line at a tarantula, though. I have worked on illustrations of them, and believe me, they are pretty ruddy evil-looking close up.

  4. pandemonic Says:

    Tarantulas have loads of eyes. That would be kind of creepy.

    As for the rabbit, I take it that the creature was well behaved. A lot of them chew furniture and carpeting and aren’t litter trainable. Those are the ones we should have for dinner.

    Can you say, “Tastes like chicken?”


  5. David R Says:

    that is indeed a strange beginning to a work day, but at least it makes for an entertaining anecdote.

  6. modestypress Says:

    The funny thing about the tarantula is that when I saw pictures of tarantulas and scenes with real tarantulas in nature movies, they creeped me out. However, when a high school student walked up to me with a tarantula in her hand and asked if I wanted to hold it, my something–not exactly manhood–status as a cool high school teacher (which I was not and every adolescent in the high school knew I was a dork)–was challenged, so I said, “Yes.” And oddly enough, an actual tarantula face to face, was not that bad. I could see how a person could grow fond of it as a pet. However, I did not. After a few minutes (long enough to prove my bonifides as “reasonably cool,” I handed her/him/it back and I have never felt an urge to engage a tarantula as closely ever again.

  7. Suggested title: “Don’t Step on the Rabbit, or How Random was almost a Millionaire save for an unfortunate Mistaking of Pauls.”

  8. modestypress Says:


    Oddly enough:

    1) About the same time as my next story (about the great white hunters) Microsoft went public. At that time in my life a) I have never purchased a stock and b) I had no money (and in fact was deeply in debt) but I remember thinking about Microsoft: This might be a good stock to purchase a few shares.

    Needless to say, I did not make any such purchase.

    On top of that, a few years ago I worked with a person who had worked for Microsoft. He told me that at one time he was a “Microsoft millionaire.”

    However, he also told me that he had lost most of the money in a disastrous divorce.

    Furthermore, he later went crazy. As I mentioned in my secret blog, he is still around and gives some indication he might “go postal” as the charming idiom describes it.

    So I am poor but married and except for the occasional bunny or squirrel, relatively harmless.

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