It's pronounced "Fuck you," but Phuhque, Eric Baron's computer service company, is a warm, fuzzy place. Baron, who prefers to be called Gailand, the name he uses in the make-believe war games that fill up his time when he's not programming PCs, is a friendly fellow who's out to prove that computer geeks are people, too. And sometimes they're people who write poetry and pretend to slay desert monsters in their off hours.
New Times: How do you answer the phone at work?
Eric "Gailand" Baron: "This is Gailand." But if you get my answering service, it says, "You've reached Gailand at Phuhque.com."
NT: Fuck you dot com. Hee hee! Where'd you get the idea?
Gailand: Have you ever known anyone who's happy that their computer is down, and that they have to pay someone to fix it? With me, you get to start out by saying, "Fuck you!" Phuhque is phonetically correct for "fuck you," but less offensive when people see it in print. People ask me what it means, and I tell them, "It means, If you don't like it, take your business elsewhere.'" And it works both ways. I had one customer turn me away once he figured out how it was pronounced. They told me to change it, and I said, "Phuhque. Hire someone else."
NT: I'll bet you have a company philosophy.
Gailand: "Anyone can move boxes, but very few people provide service these days." If you can get past the company name and my non-corporate appearance, we'll get along great.
NT: Your non-corporate appearance.
Gailand: I don't wear a three-piece suit. I show up in a tee shirt and shorts, and I have a scruffy beard. Corporate America is way too anal. Everybody is too high-strung and in a hurry to get somewhere. In my business, you really have to listen to what your client is saying.
NT: Okay, here's what I really want to know: How come computer techs are so snotty? If I hear "you have to upgrade" one more time, I'm going to murder someone. My computer is five months old!
Gailand: The reason my business is a success is that most computer techs aren't interested in whether the machine is right for the client. There's a prevailing attitude with tech people that everyone needs a computer that will allow them to play a video game at 60 frames per second. I've suggested an upgrade a couple of times, but only when the customer is using technology that's more than five years old.
NT: That's what I mean. Why not just fix the poor slob's equipment and let him alone? Most of us don't care that our stuff is outdated.
Gailand: The average computer tech has a superiority complex. The first thing my client says to me, in every case, is "I'm computer stupid." A lot of technicians will say, "Yes, you're right." I always teach the customer what I'm doing while I do it, so that he's learned something.
NT: I don't want to know that stuff. I'm the guy who just wants you to come fix my laptop and then leave. I don't want to talk about bandwidth and floppies and, for Christ's sake, motherboards.
Gailand: I actually prefer that kind of client, because then we can have a discussion about other things, like cats or sports cars or firearms.
Gailand: Yeah. For some reason, a lot of my clients are former cops. But I can talk to anyone about anything. One thing I like to show people is how to look for pornography on their children's computers.
NT: Speaking of which, how come every day I get 12 e-mails offering to enlarge my penis?
Gailand: Hey, your mom is getting those, too. You don't have to go to porn sites to get linked to that stuff. Someone got hold of your e-mail address and sold it to other companies. There's nothing you can do besides maybe put a filter on your computer. I used to get e-mails every day offering breast enlargement, until I put a firewall on my computer, to see who was pinging me.
NT: Here we go with all the boring computer jargon. What's a firewall? What's a ping?
Gailand: Pinging is someone saying, "Hello, are you out there?" A firewall prevents a response to that. People out there can load a program into your computer from the Internet and turn it into a server for their wares, and you won't even know about it. They can wipe out your hard drive if they want.
NT: Malicious computer nerds!
Gailand: Pretty much. Script Kiddies is what they're called. I'm sort of the antithesis of that. I prefer the personal side of things. If I haven't made my customer smile, I haven't done my job.
NT: What do you do, tickle them?
Gailand: I make them laugh. Because with a company name like mine, you have to show them that you're not a meanie. Having someone come into your home to look at your computer is a very personal thing.
NT: Yeah. When I take my computer in for repair, how do I know you guys aren't peeking at what I've got on my hard drive?
Gailand: You don't. Any of us can copy your hard drive and you'll never know it. Me? I don't need to. I don't want to see where you've been or what you're up to.
NT: But you want us to know all about you. Your company Web site includes a great deal of personal information about you, like your astrological sign and a pile of photographs of your son.
Gailand: To some people, astrological signs make a difference. I don't understand why, but they do.
NT: You mean some people are looking for a computer tech with his sun in Uranus?
Gailand: Not specifically. I put that on there for people who are into astrology because then they can look up on their astrology thingies whether we're going to get along.
NT: The site also includes photographs of your extensive collection of role-playing game books. I'm not sure what that is. Does it involve dressing up?
Gailand: No. It's no different than playing a first-person shooter on your computer. I don't do LARP.
NT: I don't know what you're talking about. Help me out here.
Gailand: Live Action Role Play. I don't do that. I play a game called Vampire, and sometimes I play Shadow Run. Your character does something, and you have to describe what he does, and that comes across in the way I think because it alters the perception of how people see me.
NT: I'm sort of completely lost. What are we talking about?
Gailand: If you've never played, it's hard to understand. I've been playing these games since I was a teenager, and it helps define who I am. Most people start role-playing games when they're about 12 or 13, and unfortunately I never grew out of that. Everyone fantasizes about being someone else, and role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons let you see how it would feel to kill monsters in the desert or whatever.
NT: Or whatever! There's a poem on your company Web site that states your personal philosophy. Part of it goes, "What is Eternity? It is the knowing that I can never truly be happy. It is the realization that I can never truly love. It is the knowledge that I will never die nor will I ever really live." This does not make me want to hire you.
Gailand: I was having a bad day when I wrote that. My opinion has changed now that I have a son. The bright side is that that poem has stopped a lot of people from doing something stupid. I used to work in a bar, and I had that poem laminated on little bitty cards and I gave it to people who looked like they were about to snap.
NT: Your poem saved lives! Does it bother you how we're all married to our machines these days?
Gailand: They've become leashes on life, and it's about to get worse. Pretty soon you'll be able to do everything just using your cell phone, even buy soda from a vending machine.
NT: You're lying.
Gailand: No, I'm not. You'll be able to order fast food with your phone, and all your medical information will be on your phone. So if you have a medical emergency . . .
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NT: Stop. I don't want to know this. But tell me something: It seems like there's a particular personality type working in your industry. Why?
Gailand: A lot of gamers have become computer techs because you have to think beyond the reality of the situation when you're fixing a computer. More intelligent people become computer techs. But you don't have to insult your customer with that intelligence in order to get the job done.
NT: Most computer geeks seem to feel differently.
Gailand: Thin, wiry guys or potbellied guys with tape on their glasses seem to evoke that name for some reason. I guess it's stereotyping. I try hard not to be that. But either way, at the end of the day, when my customers are writing me a check, I always give them a chance to say "Phuhque!"