Simon Goitre Remembers Atari

Laser Time, Atari, Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney

History tends to forget some its most important figures — figures like the great Simon Goitre. This is his story, as told by himself.

Simon Goitre Remembers Atari

All of you young’uns should be aware of the wildly successful company Atari, makers of computer games and affordable home PCs (I’m writing this on one right now).  What you probably don’t know is the story of how they came to be.  Well luckily, I, Simon Goitre, was involved with the earliest days of Atari and will guide you through the trials and tribulations of the company that brought you the hugely popular and successful Atari Jaguar.

Our story should begin with the creation of the company in something like 1972 with the two best buddies Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, and no, those are not joke names.

Laser Time, Atari, Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney

The jokers were responsible for this.

I’ll start with the first time I met Ted.  The year was 1942, and I was waiting in my shallow foxhole on a beach just West of Algiers, ready for combat.  Morale was already low, but when the Americans stormed our beach, we broke completely.  We all surrendered, except one idiot who bayoneted himself.  Made a right mess of it too.  Generally, we were treated pretty well because we were Vichy French and not Nazis, being allowed to smoke, chat, cavort with the guards, and listen to our music til the early hours of the morning, but it was different for me, seeing as I was an American citizen.  “Traitor” and “treasonous slimeball” were just some of the taunts that my fellow POW’s pelted me with.

I was chosen for interrogation due to my conspicuousness and taken to the office of some hotshot lieutenant whose job it was to “extract” information from me.  This man’s name…was Ted Dabney.  His office was furnished spartanly.  Two chairs, a table and gas lamp, a single door and window.  My eyes were drawn to a large mass in the corner covered with a blanket, letting off a low, warm hum.

Dabney started to work his magic on me. We started with the usual questions. “Who are you?” “Why are you fighting with the Vichys?” “I’m well, how are you?”  Then we moved on to some gentle tapping of the nose and putting my big toe in a vice, through which I managed to somehow keep my mouth closed.  Ted used all the power he had to then hire a GI, who he had shout obscenities into my lower back, which makes you go all tingly and uncomfortable.  Yet still I did not talk.  “Is that all you’ve got!” I yelled through clenched teeth and pursed lips, still keeping my mouth firmly shut.

Laser Time, Atari, Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney

Artist rendition.

With his half hour of torture time used up for the week, he had me sent back out to the yard with the rest of the prisoners. “Mamma Mia!” exclaimed George, a proud Frenchman from Madrid, and my only friend in the whole of darned North Africa.  He said that the use of such obscene tortures constituted a war crime. How naive George was. He had been a barrista before the war, and was sheltered from the way the world really worked. I didn’t have any time to go into any depth with him though, as two soldiers approached me and said that it had been a week and that Lieutenant Dabney was ready to see me again.

My skin ached at the thought of having to spend another half hour with Dabney, but I had no time to protest when the two burly men picked me up and carried me to his office.  Was it really an office though?  An artist has a studio, and a sculptor has a workshop, but Dabney was truly some kind of artist at making us human sculptures talk in his office/studio/workshop. His craft was the inefficient extraction of unreliable information, not something that spoke to the essence of the human condition.

As soon as I was pushed inside, I was confronted with a mass of wires, dials, vacuum tubes, and screens, almost as big as the room itself.  The mystery from beneath the sheet had revealed itself.  Dabney turned to me, grinning, and told me it was a new super computer he had developed off of stolen Nazi secret technology. Crude sounds emerged from the speakers, and primitive graphics flashed across its screens. He explained that he wasn’t really sure what it did, and that he was just going to use it to electrocute me for a bit. My mind began to scream, and it muttered only one thing: you must break out! Soldiers with machine guns stood at the door, and he had closed the latch on the window, so that was no use either. As he approached me with the alligator clips sparking in his hands, he began to ask the usual questions. But the moment he touched me with the sparking wires of his super computer, a miraculous thing occurred: it blew up in a great big puff of smoke — a puff of smoke I used to obscure my getaway. I dashed out of the room in the confusion, and then I dashed out of the POW camp and into the desert. I’m not really sure how I made it back to my blessed US of A, but I did, and I’m sure it would be a real interesting story.

Laser Time, Atari, Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney

Or song.

But anyway, back to Atari.  It was now the mid-to-late 70’s, and I was at a party.  Everyone was having some traditional good, clean fun, when I heard a voice that froze me in my tracks. The voice belonged to Nolan Bushnell, who I did not know, but he said, rather clumsily, “Come on, Ted Dabney, you are making a fool of yourself.”

It was the name I recognized. I was certain that he would not recognize me through the goofy face paint, big red nose, and silly clothes I was wearing, so I moved closer to investigate. A man who I correctly identified as Ted was holding court whilst metronomically taking swigs from a large glass vase filled with Midori and prawns, talking about how one day computers would replace mankind. Everyone nodded in sage agreement, enraptured by his presence.  I was trying to remain calm, trying to not do anything rash, and was doing a great job at hiding the burning rage in my heart.

Then his business partner, Nolan, came up to me. He asked if I was feeling okay. I confessed to him the truth about Ted, about how he had tortured me repeatedly in Algeria during the Second World War. Nolan’s response was incredulous. “He wasn’t born until 1943, you dimwit! And everyone knows that the Allied invasion of North Africa took place in 1942, you daft old bugger!” And so he left me. He was probably trying to force himself to not believe the awful truth I had just revealed to him.

Laser Time, Atari, Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney

The awful, monochrome truth.

Ted had been able to convince everyone that he was much younger than he really was through extensive plastic surgery.  He was tall, handsome, and blond, with well defined facial features and a strong chin last I saw of him, but now he was shorter, dumpier, and had a great big black handlebar mustache across his face. His chin was also less impressive. “Such a shame about the chin,” I whispered to myself. That same unmistakable gleam was in his eyes though — the eyes of a mad torturer. Ted had now plugged a little brown box into the television, and everyone was standing around waiting to see what would happen.

“You are about to witness the future of entertainment, everyone!” Ted proclaimed, as Nolan joined him by his side. The ooh-ing and aah-ing of the guests almost drowned out those unmistakable sounds — the sounds of my torture! The screen flashed those same crude images — the pictures of doom! Ted had figured out what the stolen Nazi technology did and had miniaturized and monetized it.

A switch in my mind was flicked in some kind of Pavlovian dog reaction, and I went berserk, running at Ted, tackling him, pouring his prawn cocktail all over his head. I then proceeded to poke him violently in the face until somebody grabbed a brass punch bowl and used in on me, making all the lights go out in the house and striking a great big bell as well. Whilst I listened to the bell resonate, I lost a few minutes in tranquil reflection.

Laser Time, Atari, Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney

The monster itself.

When the lights came back on and the bell stopped ringing, I found myself bundled in the back of a police car. I spotted Ted explaining to a police officer that he didn’t know who I was or why I had done this. “I didn’t even hire a clown!” I heard him explain. As they parted ways, my eyes met Ted’s, and as he wiped the stinging melon liqueur out of his eyes, he winked at me.

A few years later, and in a different city, I heard about a game released on the Atari called “Breakout,” obviously referencing my spectacular escape from the Algerian camp. Was it an apology, or a way for Ted to continue mocking me? I’m not sure; I have no intention of ever playing it, though I did hear it was programmed by the guys who went on to make those Apple-shaped computers. But one thing has continued to bother me to this very day: when Ted went through all that trouble of changing his appearance and creating a new identity, why did he neglect to change his name?

Article by contributor Lawrence Heath.

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