This has been very difficult to compose. It’s been almost a month since Brian passed and I don’t know how to go about describing the history between myself and a man whom I considered my friend, brother, father, colleague, peer, mentor, confidant, and advisor. I’m just giving it my best shot, I guess.
In the beginning…
So, I don’t remember when I exactly met Brian, but I know he moved to Fargo for the start of the fall 1996 semester and that we both smoked at that time. Surely, within maybe a few weeks, we would have run into each other outside the IACC. At that time, it would likely have only been a “smoker’s nod” – just make eye contact, nod, and continue on with our smokes. We worked on the same floor of the IACC as well, so we probably did a similar nod in the bathroom at some time.
At that time, we actually looked a bit similar – longer hair and a moustache. I think these pics are from around then.
The oldest, most clear memory that I have of the both of us is around March of 1998. I was just finishing up my bachelor’s degree that semester and I was coming out of the west entrance to the Memorial Union as he was walking in. He said he had a question for me and asked me to join him with a smoke. I actually had quit for a short time just then, but I still joined him off to the side of the entrance for a discussion. I wish i remembered what we talked about.
Since I was just finishing up my bachelor’s degree around the time he got settled in back at NDSU, I didn’t take a class from him as an undergrad. However, in the spring of 1997, since I had donated some time and effort into the “Fargo Flood Page,” I was invited by Don Schwert to the Friday MUD drinking group at the Trader and Trapper in Moorhead. I don’t remember if Brian was there already or not when I joined, but I do remember him there at some point before the T&T closed. Being the 2 “computer” guys, as well as smokers, made us bond right away.
MUD and Don’s Car Watch
In October 2001, Alan White e-mailed the Mud group saying he needed a lift to the MUD meeting. I volunteered and at the end of the day, drove over to Steven’s Hall to pick him up. I expected, and looked for, the Dean’s parking spot, thinking if Alan needed a lift, he wouldn’t be using the spot. To my dismay, there was no such spot. After Alan and I got to MUD, I relayed this fact to the others and Alan explained that Don Schwert, and others in Steven’s Hall, had issues with the previous Dean who would comment on the arrival or availability of various professors by looking for their car in the parking lot, causing a lot of ire. During the conversation, somebody made the correlation between “Watching for Don’s Car” and the local car wash chain, “Don’s Car Wash”. We immediately started coming up with ideas for a “Don’s Car Watch” ticket. I, with the help of the MUD group (minus Don) came up with the design and then had something like 100 printed up on card stock at OfficeMax. The Yogi Berra quote – “You can see a lot, just by watching.” was all Brian’s idea and wit.
Over the course of 7 to 8 months, we would randomly place one of these on Don’s car. To throw Don off, we would give them to each other. I even went so far as to put one on Brian’s blue bike every now and then. This all culminated in the 2002 Pig Pickin’ (May 25th), leading up to which we were plastering Don’s car with these tickets. Justin Helvey and I made up T-Shirts for everybody and near the end of the day, we all slipped away one-by-one, put on our shirts, and came out to surprise Don. He claims he had no idea who was doing it, although he of course suspected Alan with the “Office of The Dean” on the ticket.
We still have some of these “tickets” that we didn’t use and over the years I would be on campus occasionally, usually teaching for Governor’s School. On more than one occasion, I would come out to my car and find a “Don’s Car Watch” ticket written out by Brian on my car. I think I got Brian back once or twice, ticketing his bicycle.
During the same time as we were working on our months-long prank on Dr. Schwert, Brian talked to me in late December of 2001 about a graduate class, CS783, he was teaching the next semester. In his usual roundabout way, he described it as just a bunch of students he’s worked with going over all his papers and publications and to try come up with some sort of book out of all of it. At the time, I was a staff member at the NDSU Library and not enrolled in any classes at NDSU. I said I’d think about it, but he pressured me and said things like “It’ll be easy. No big deal. Just go sign up for it.”
So, I go to the registrar’s office and say I want to sign up for this class. They say I need to talk to the graduate school. So I go upstairs in Ceres hall and talk to the grad school. They tell me to fill out a form, pay $20, and then in a few days I can go *back* to the registrar and sign up for the class. No big deal. I do that and think I’m all set. Little do I know, I’ve just signed up for a *FULL* graduate degree and Dr. Slator and Dr. Ngaard suddenly write letters of recommendation for me and all of the sudden – I’m a grad student. So, what started out as “just sit in on this class” turned into a Master’s of Science in Computer Science (6 years later).
One note about that class… Brian had a mini-competition to see who could find the most errors in all of his papers. Well, I’m a stickler for details, so every alignment issue, every space, every little detail was scrutinized and I won. The prize: a green Batman cap. Usually only given out to his graduate students. I would like earn a *second* cap when I got my degree. I still have both. I’m wearing one right now as I type this.
In December 2005, we were hanging out in the Turf, both on our laptops doing whatever we were doing, when the thought struck me … what if I wanted to get married and I’m an atheist? How does one go about that? Do you have to go the courthouse? Will they even let you in a church? So, I hit the search engines and came across the “Universal Life Chuch.” For those unfamiliar, the ULC church will ordain anybody, even online, and have been doing so for decades, originally via mail. So, I type in my name, click “Ordain Me” and I was ordained. I started to explain this to Brian (after blessing him, since it was in my sudden power to do so) and we researched further and found that yes, this is completely legal. He made me button up my shirt, tore up a napkin, and for years and years would call me “Reverend Schlecht”. Since then, I have officiated four weddings.
On a rare occasion, Brian actually came to Duffy’s. One Saturday night, and I got this shot of the both of us.
There are many, many, pics from the various Pig Pickin’s. Enough that I’ll work up an album of just pics from those events. However, here’s one of the both of us, also from 2005 (actually, this would have been only one *week* after the above photo).
In 2006, the Turf started having a trivia night, when he, Paul Jarsky, and I would compete as the “BNP” team. It was short-lived at the Turf, but those were great times. I blogged Brian’s e-mail at the end of the run, so I still have his summary:
In what was announced as the last Bison Turf trivia contest, BNP again made a good early showing but faded down the stretch.
When the final question came around we were in 6th place (out of 9), 15 points back of the leader. We bet the full 20 points, got the question wrong, and went down in flames. The question: in what order did these appear, Wonder Bread, Ragu Sauce, Kraft Cheese Singles, Sweet and Low. That is the correct order. We had the last two reversed. The winner was 15 points ahead of us, got it right, and beat us by 55 points on the 40 point swing.
And thus we conclude the brief and sometimes glorious run of BNP at the Turf. Total swag: 6 beer glasses, some 2-for-1 movie rentals, some pitchers of beer, and quite a few Bison Bucks. One first place finish, one third place, some near misses. Not bad.
I salute you, comrades.
Thesis and Clubhouse
In the summer of 2006, I had taken a year off from graduate school (having completed my coursework and passed the comprehensive exam) and was having great difficulty finding a thesis advisor. I won’t go into all the politics, but there were politics, something I didn’t want to have to deal with on top of coming up with a thesis topic and working on it. We discussed this and he reluctantly agreed to be my thesis advisor. Keep in mind that we hung out at MUD and at the Turf quite often. However, with the goal in mind of getting my degree done, he agreed. We also came up with a short system to clarify roles. When the Batman hat came off, he was “Dr. Slator”. When it went back on, he would be Brian again. We did brainstorm an idea that summer, but after a few months of thinking and research, decided it was too difficult of a project (would have taken years to implement). In the meantime, he had bought the “clubhouse” and myself, as well as Dan Reetz and others were spending a lot of time hanging out with Brian – and ripping up floor boards, installing doors, and whatever else needed working on.
On February 13th, 2007, Brian e-mailed me the following:
I have been thinking about your thesis, and I think there is a better idea.
McClean, P., Johnson, C., Rogers, R., Daniels, L., Reber, J., Slator,
B., Terpstra, J., and White, A. (2005). “Molecular and Cellular
Biology Animations: Development and Impact on Student Learning”, Cell
Biology Education, 4(2), 169-179.
This is an e-journal, so you should be able to find it online.
Take a look at this paper, and imagine the online system it would
take to implement the testing described there.
This is a solid project, and more in your wheel-house than the other thing.
Kellie Erickson has a start, but her new job precludes her doing much more.
Below is a message from her, from last September
I am not saying you must do this, I am saying you probably want to do this.
We will discuss (tuesday night, after 9:30, in the Turf, right?)
This did, indeed, turn into my thesis topic, “Factorial Experiment Testing System”. I would tinker with the planning and design of the system for about half a year, until August 2007 when I left the NDSU Library and took 2 weeks off before starting my next job. I got a good start during those 2 weeks, but then for the next 5 months, almost every evening and weekend I would be working on this project and paper, until it was completed and defended.
As a part of that thesis, immediately after the table of contents and abstract, is my “Acknowledgements” page, which starts with this paragraph:
I would like to thank my advisor and friend, Dr. Brian Slator, for his constant encouragement, knowledge and patience. These many years he has been a guide, an inspiration, a mentor, and a confidant. I couldn’t have done it without him.
In April 2008, after successfully defending my thesis, we headed to the Turf for a celebratory drink. The somber look is because we were both very tired after a long day.
Official celebrations (post-commencement) were at the Old Chicago. I remember that clearly, because the next day (in May) it snowed about an inch.
The Mighty Blue Ranger
In the fall of 2006, my parents decided to give me my dad’s old blue Ford Ranger pickup truck. However, it had been in a shed on our farm for a few years and mice had infested it. It REAKED of mouse urine. Regardless, my dad cleaned it up as much as possible, hung about a dozen “pine tree” air fresheners on it and gave it to me. The engine ran fine, even though it had 100K+ miles. However, I had no place to put it. At the time, I was living in an apartment with a single parking space. Luckily, my sister lived in town and agreed to store it in her unused 3rd stall at her house, with the caveat she could use it when she wanted.
In May of 2008, Brian asked if he could borrow the truck for Clubhouse purposes. I still have the e-mail when we went to go pick it up:
We’ll need to swing by West Acres to pick up a key from my sister,
but its waiting at the front desk, so whenever we go is cool.
She confirmed that the Nem-truck-mobile needs a new battery, so I’m
guessing we have to grab the old one, find an auto-parts place, swap
it for a new one, and we should be good to go.
So, we went drove to south Fargo, confirmed the battery was dead, swung over to Fleet Farm where Brian bought a new battery for the truck as payment for borrowing the truck (we argued about this, but I eventually relented).
I don’t think my sister ever saw that truck again.
I know I borrowed it *back* from Brian in July of that same year, but the transmission was so bad on it, I couldn’t get it above 45 MPH. Shortly after this, Brian just went and got the transmission replaced. Spending $500+ dollars on a truck he didn’t own. After he told me about this, I suggested that the truck was now basically his and I think he cut me a check for $125 for the rest of the truck (assuming he owned the transmission still).
He drove that truck for years and years afterwards.
I love you, man.
In the winter of 2011, I left one job and started another the following January, taking me across town, making it much harder for me to make MUD meetings. I did, briefly, come back to NDSU in 2013 and attended MUD for a few months at that time, but that fall went back to my previous job. In 2015, I changed jobs yet again and by then, had really lost interest in MUD. It was always a great group of people, but they’re all NDSU folks and interested in NDSU doings and goings-on, which didn’t interest me much. I would still drop in on rare occasion.
In the fall of 2017, just to hang out with me and discuss some things, Brian shot me note and asked if I could meet up with him at Sidestreet downtown. We had a few such meetings after that over the next couple years, usually just the 2 of us, but sometimes we got Don Schwert to join us (he lives just a couple blocks away, when he’s in town). I loved those visits. Just the “old crew”, talking about work and life. On the last such visit, the last time I saw him it turns out, he and I walked across the street to the north where we were both parked. He asked me how my new car was working out. I asked how the “Blue Power Ranger” was running. Those that know me, know I’m a hugger, so as we were about to part ways, I gave him a “come here” motion, gave him a big hug and as we pulled away, said to him “I love you, man.” He stood there for a second, gave me a little smile, pointed at me and slightly chockingly just said “You know.”
And yes, I knew.