ok I have no idea how I got this to work, since I believe I tried this all before but it works now.
I checked 'iwconfig wlan0' which returned a bunch of info including essid=""SMC"" which is weird since I used the command line
# iwconfig wlan0 essid SMC
but then in /etc/network/interfaces I see wireless_essid "SMC" so maybe it's that ifconfig is setting it to "SMC" which is wrong because it doesn't have quotes. Then I tried to ifconfig wlan0 up which failed and started spitting back at me:
No more TX desc, returning 23 of 23
So I did what any self respecting newbie would do, I panicked. I pulled the card out and tried to reinsert it, bing bang boom the computer crashed. On reboot it detected the card just fine, I made sure /etc/network/interfaces wireless_essid "SMC" was commented out and did 'ifconfig wlan0 up; ifup wlan0' and it works now... kill me, please.
I see this simular questions have been asked here and other places with no real answers so who knows, but I did try to reboot and see if that helped before and it didn't, so maybe it needed to crash to work right, for some odd reason. Anyways, hope this might help someone. If there's a pro around here that can make sense of what happened it might help a lot of people, and I will keep track of this thread and upload any information you may want if it will help.