Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Enterprise - 17

My friend Mike from back in Connecticut had a big idea of his own. I went down to his apartment, a creaky industrial loft in Chinatown, after work one Tuesday. The space was spare, with splintering floors, a computer, a hammock strung from wall to wall. Several sixteen-millimeter Russian windup cameras were stacked in a corner. He had an angle on them from some ex-pat named Boris. He bought them cheap, fiddled with the insides so they'd work a little better, sell them to NYU film students. This wasn't the big idea.

There were four of us in at first, besides Mike. There was Adam, from back home too. There was Jim, one of our circle in the city. There was Evan, a bleary-eyed doctor friend of Mike's. We gathered in folding chairs in a circle around nothing. As Mike began his pitch, a dull, rapid pounding emanated from beyond the ceiling. Though it was rhythmic it was not musical. It was relentless and oppressive, the beating heart of a great mechanical beast.

"What is that?" I interrupted.

"That's the sweatshop. The sewing machines."

"When does it stop?"

"Never. Well, sometimes. But mostly never."

Gradually, haltingly, Mike outlined his plan. It seemed sensible. He wanted to build an online interface too – a video player, specifically, tricked up with features and controls – through which people might learn languages. We asked him what we imagined to be wise and diligent questions: What's the business model? What's the exit strategy? He offered few answers.

"I'm going to need some money," he declared.

We each pledged thousands of dollars in exchange for shares in this vaporous endeavor. We did it automatically, dutifully. Not one of us considered not buying in. Certainly not if the next guy was. It would have seemed contrary to the spirit of the gathering. It would have seemed rude.

I was certain the enterprise was doomed.

We made plans to meet again and parted under the robotic throbbing of the machines.