In 1985, the Oklahoma City modem community was just beginning to enlarge from a handful of techies to a full-fledged subculture. Dozens of local BBS systems were available, running on any platform your heart might desire, from IBM PC to Apple to Commodore to Atari to CP/M. And while it would be wrong to assume that everyone with a dialing directory was some sort of propellerhead, the predominant subspecies was definitely Geekus americanus, 99-point-something percent male.
Into this hotbed of testosterone strode Jessica Stults, thirty-two, single by conviction and strawberry blonde by L'Oreal, and the blossoming geekette wannabe was welcomed by all. She stood out from the crowd; not only was she inclined to post in complete sentences with actual syntax and everything, but she was perfectly capable of dealing with the occasional Rude Dude in her own inimitable style.
As time went on, she contributed articles to local computer 'zines, granted at least one interview I know of, and set up her own Commodore 64-based BBS (the fabled Midnight at the Oasis), which lasted thirteen months and averaged thirty calls a day. As the assistant sysop on MATO, I sought to steal some of her thunder, to no avail; it had become distressingly apparent that I would never make any reputation for myself living in Jessica's shadow. The irony, of course, is that Jessica had no shadow; her postings were my postings, her essays my essays, her image and her voice mercifully somebody else's.
And so it was that in 1988, Jessica was packed off to California, where, according to the official biography, she married Leonard Ashton of Ashton-Tate, the developers of dBase, and they lived happily ever after. No one bothered to ask Ed Tate if there really was anybody named Ashton working there, and that would have been the end of that except that even today, a decade later, people who were part of that modem community still ask me "Whatever became of her?" And it doesn't seem to matter if they were in on the secret or not; somebody like this, you simply can't forget. Certainly I can't.
Addenda: In response to a flood (well, a trickle) of requests, I'm reprinting here one of her essays. And inevitably there's a real-life Jessica, who has nothing whatever to do with this one; if you're looking for her, you should start here.
Posted 7 September 1997; updated 29 August 2010
<> | Writings | Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill