www: A Spider’s Memoir

"The Highwayman" is by Alfred Noyes. It's a lovely poem, full of rhythms and sounds that beg to be read aloud, and more than one young reader's tastes have been influenced by the title character's lace and leather attire. It's been set to music a couple of times, most recently (and most popularly) by Loreena McKennitt, who—despite creating a haunting tune for it—didn't pay a lot of attention to the natural rhythms of the poem. (She also left out a pivotal verse, about Tim the ostler.) And then along came Benjamin Newman, who created this lovely pastiche of the song.


by Benjamin Newman

The Web was a spider's memoir, woven of silk and dreams.
The packets fell like raindrops, overflowing their swollen streams.
His session an open window, floating over his G.U.I.,
The highwayman sat typing... typing... typing...
The highwayman sat typing, into his TTY.

He'd a baseball cap on his forehead, a clipped goatee on his chin,
A UFO on his T-shirt, and his arms were pale and thin.
And he typed by fluorescent lamplight, with a pizza stain on his vest,
Leaned back in his chair and smiled, his eyes remote and wild,
As his cable modem dialed, into the BBS.

He logged himself in to the server, and he stopped to check his mail.
He WHO-(pipe)-GREP'd and FINGER'd, but it seemed he had lost the trail.
Then he IRC'd to the chat-room, and who should he find logged-in,
But the SysOp's newbie daughter, Jess, the SysOp's daughter,
Her bright eyes a semicolon, o'er her parenthetical grin.

"Not a byte, my bright-eyed newbie, there's a system I'm itching to crack,
But we'll both have accounts on the mainframe, as soon as I finish this hack.
Yet, if the feds should trace me, and my system they should trash,
Then look for me on the server, FINGER me on the server,
I'll email thee on the server, though all the Net should crash."

He typed not a word for a moment, and she typed not a word in reply,
'Til the silence exhausted his patience, and he said "Now I really must fly."
Then she asked "Could you do one small favor, for the newbie who loves you the most?"
So he hacked into root on the server, and he made her root on the server,
then he logged himself off of the server, and logged in to another host.

He didn't log in at midnight, and he didn't at 3 AM,
But she stayed awake until breakfast, to study for AP chem,
And just at the stroke of seven, with a purr like a great black cat,
A black sedan came driving... driving... driving...
The FBI came driving, up to the SysOp's flat.

They said not a word to the SysOp, they merely unplugged his TV,
But they cornered his teenage daughter at the console of her PC.
One agent looked hard at the desktop, with his hand on his cellular phone.
There was data in every window, and danger in one small window,
For that was the telnet window, where the hacker's return would be shown.

They awakened the girl with their shouting, and with many a sniggering jest,
They read her her rights and they frisked her, and they shredded her chemistry test.
"Would you kindly log in to the server?" Her face was as pale as ash.
I'll look for thee on the server, I'll FINGER thee on the server...
"THERE'S NOTHING TO SEE ON THE SERVER!" Though all the Net should crash.

She twiddled her hands on the keyboard while the agents watched on like hawks.
She writhed her hands at the keyboard, but the keys were as stiff as rocks.
They noted her every keystroke, not a finger she twitched got past,
'Til the agents went out for coffee (they had to go out for coffee)—
She entered her father's password—the system was hers at last!

BREEP! BREEP! Had they heard it? The modem was ringing clear!
BREEP! BREEP! From the server room! Were they deaf that they did not hear?
But the server refused to answer, the modem went ringing on,
And the hacker sat somewhere waiting, at his desk impatiently waiting,
For the sound was extremely grating, and his pizza was almost gone.

BREEP! In the SysOp's apartment! BREEP! In the misty morn!
"Will you answer the fucking modem! " Her fingers were cramped and worn.
Her eyes drew tight for a moment, she cracked a studious frown,
Then her finger moved on the keyboard, moved clickety-clack on the keyboard,
Typed one command at the keyboard, and brought the server down.

He hung up, and shut down his PC, assuming the line was dead,
Not knowing his girlfriend had crashed it, and turned herself in to the feds.
Not until school did he hear it, in the gossip of fellow geeks,
How Jess, the SysOp's daughter, the SysOp's newbie daughter,
Had crashed the Net from her bedroom, with an agent's breath on her cheeks.

He called from the phone in the hallway, a curse on the tip of his tongue,
Demanding to speak to his girlfriend, and he screamed at the top of his lungs,
"It's me you want, not that newbie—I'm the hacker, and I'm the best!"
While they traced his call to the payphone, tracked him down by the hallway payphone,
Read him his rights by the payphone, with a pizza stain on his vest.

Still, of a CS class, they say, when the Web is a tangle of dreams,
When the packets fall down like raindrops, overflowing their swollen streams,
When the session's an open window, floating over the G.U.I.,
A highwayman sits typing... typing... typing...
A highwayman sits typing, into his TTY.

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