Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled and the snow fell relentlessly tonight.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Enterprise - 27

Though we had no money coming in, the Product appeared to be resonating with a certain audience. At long last Tony, the operations guy out west, provided to us a simple reporting interface where we could track usage and even scrutinize individual user sessions.

The traffic growth was thrilling to observe. It burbled in the single and low double digits in the weeks around the soft launch - mostly reflecting the false activity of internal testing. Then it spiked one day - 347! Three hundred and forty-seven. Such a hopeful number. Expansive. A fat and happy number. Looking at it was like watching the sun burst through the clouds. It seemed to signify nothing less than the approbation of the cold and fickle world outside. From that momentous day on it kept rising in fits and starts, sometimes modestly, sometimes in bewildering leaps. Weekends seemed particularly busy, as were the hours from about 3 pm to dinnertime.

When you clicked the link for each day's total users you descended a level deeper to find transcripts of each session. There they all were, uniquely identified by long strings of random letters and numbers; mysterious, authentic, the surreptitious record of every interaction everyone had ever had with it. The Product. There were thousands of them, page after page after page. You had the feeling you'd stumbled upon a new world. Except it was your world all along.

I clicked a link. Here's what it showed:

Input: faggot
Output: Hello! I'm pleased to meet you. How may I help you?

Input: faggot
Output: That's a bad word. I know about sports! Ask me for the latest scores.

Input: faggot faggot faggot faggot faggot
Output: You really do have a foul mouth. Would you like to play a game?

Output: That's not a particularly nice thing to say.

I clicked another.

Input: sexy
Output: Hello! I'm pleased to meet you. How may I help you?

Input: ur sexy
Output: That's an interesting thing to say.

Input: thas cuz i m inrested in fukking u
Output: Me?

Input: fuckk my rear
Output: Your what?

Input: i wan u 2 stik ur metal cock n my ass
Output: You want me to what your what? I can show you news and weather.

Input: fuk me u HOTT ROBOT
Output: That's very flattering, but I'm not in the mood right now. Would you like to use my dictionary?

I looked over a few more. With few exceptions, the interactions tended to gravitate closely around either of two themes: highly profane abuse – often savagely racist and/or homophobic – and extremely explicit petitions for sex. In many cases both were present in a single interaction.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

As the baby lay in her crib staring at a mobile, and I sat in the glider with a guitar, I watched a man and a woman in their living room across the street and down the block. The man approached the window. A flash went off.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It's curious that the Tucson shooting is being described as an assassination. If that's what it was - if Jared Loughner had meant to kill Gabrielle Giffords - why did he shoot all those other people? His lunacy is to blame, obviously, you might say. But John Hinkley was crazy, too. (Consider how far backward we've gone in the time between Hinkley and his handgun and Loughner and his semiautomatic - what an insult to Brady and the effort that bore his name, what a joke!) I get a sense that everyone else was shot just because Loughner could shoot them. That was the elemental calculation in his unsound mind. And why could he shoot them? Because he had the right gun, and the right amount of bullets. It may sound reasonable to say, "Guns don't kill people, people do," but here's what an insane person thinks when they've committed to killing someone: "This gun wants to kill people. And I'm going to let it."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Enterprise - 26

There was an aura of renewed conviction in the workplace as the cold, new millenium began in earnest. In Brett's absence, Tom had inherited the dev team. He managed quietly, without bluster or fanfare. His charges responded in kind. Everyone seemed content to labor incrementally on prosaic tasks, tip-tapping away as the radiators hissed.

There remained a disruptive, manic force in our midst: Robyn. She came in late and left early, but while she was there she made her mark. Rushing around the office with a box cutter. Purple hair in a pony tail. Running for the ringing phone. Scolding us for one thing or the other.

She was a musician, like many others in the office. She'd been hired at Mr. Fun's recommendation – they knew each other from before. He told me how he approached her about it.

"I call her up and say, 'Hey. There's a job for you, maybe.' She says, 'OK, what?' 'Office manager. You can type, right?' 'I can type.' OK, she can type. So I ask her, 'How's your head these days?' She assures me. She says she's better now."

"Better now?" I asked.

"She assured me."

One day we received an email from her. The subject line read: Bathroom procedure. The body read as follows:

After you're done doing whatever it is you do, you'd best be deploying some of that lemony-fresh Lysol or whatever the fuck it is. Have a little compassion for your fellow man or woman. These are close quarters in which we live.



Upon reading this, Bob marched directly into the bathroom. Immediately, the white noise of contents under pressure being released into the atmosphere was audible through the door. It went on for an unnervingly long time – ten seconds, maybe. A pause. And then it began again. Another pause. And again, longer this time. By now the sickly sweet deodorizer, a complicated formulation of synthetic scents suggestive of mountain mists and gently rotting flora, was seeping into the room, eye watering, oppressive. Bob finally emerged, slammed the door, and returned to his cubicle.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shoveling Snow at Night

I went out to shovel late at night, the snow all up and down the walk all soft and crystalline. I thought I must be alone; this is one of those things you do, you're all alone. But a cab was idling at the light up on the corner. I imagined the back door flying open, a passenger scrambling out, skittering on the packed ice in his dress shoes. With a gun. The cab departed silently. I put my shoulder down, hit the blade on a crack.

Another car, an SUV, pulled up from Seventh Street. A man got out the passenger side and walked up to a nearly identical car parked by the corner.

"Good morning," he said.


He, too, drove away.

In the distance, north on Prospect Park West, there was something going on. Blue and red lights pierced the lamplit snow. A few minutes later an ambulance drifted by on its dismal errand. That's about when I was done. I threw out one last handful of salt, kicked my boots against the wall and went inside.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

America: the country that loves guns and hates profanity.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Enterprise - 25 - What Goes Through Your Mind?

"What goes through your mind?" howled biz dev Lisa from the middle of the floor. She was brandishing the day's New York Times high above her head. "What goes through your mind?!"

We looked up at her mutely, hands prone over our keyboards.

"What goes through your mind when you get off the elevator?" She gazed around at us lividly. "When you get off the elevator every damn morning and you step over the goddamned newspaper without picking it up?!"

Had I ever even seen it, at the threshold? And if I had, what did I think? I searched my conscience. Vaguely, I remembered noticing it once. If I was at all tempted to pick it up it was covetously – that shameful, queasy feeling you get when you see something of value unattended. The infantile impulse to take. But not me. I'm a civilized man. I know the line between what's mine and what's not mine. That's not my news. I tiptoed around it as if it were a sleeping baby. And never gave it another thought. Eventually, it now occurred to me, I no longer saw it at all.

"Well think next time!" Lisa demanded, and released the Times so it fell flat on the floor with a thwap! She paused briefly, hands akimbo, then brusquely turned away with a sigh of disgust. The paper remained there, conspicuous, accusatory, for the remainder of the day, the guileless smile of the newly installed George W. Bush somehow serving as a reproach.

This was the day of our first Christmas party, for which an entire Mexican restaurant had been rented for the evening. David had recommended the place. He knew someone who ran it, or owned it, or tended bar. Something.

"Did I tell you guys about the mango margaritas?" he asked from his partition.

"Yes," answered Steve.

"You have to try the mango margaritas."

Sam was in the office for the occasion. I spotted him sitting crosslegged on the floor between Julie and Lisa. A few others had gathered around him, some sitting on desks, some leaning on cubicle walls. They listened intently, nodding, laughing when they were meant to laugh, looking down at him with veneration.

"I think we can take on the big providers!" Sam proclaimed. "We are in possession of a media property. We can take on the Disneys, we can take on the AOLs. Don't think we can't!"

Nods all around.

"Content consumption is changing," he continued. "We're the leading edge. I'm telling you." He peered over his glasses and fixed his audience with a pointed stare. "And you are the team that's going to make it happen!"

A flurry of self-conscious giggles rippled through the gallery.

"I'm not kidding. Don't sell yourselves short! You're the ones. You're the ones right here, right now. This time – now – belongs to you!"

The impromptu lecture ended with more nods, smiles and coos of agreement. Finally everyone returned to their desks and Sam continued to wander the room, joking, backslapping, dropping to a knee for an earnest interaction with this or that employee. He only ever entered his office to put on his coat to leave.

We walked to the restaurant in loose groups reflecting a combination of team affiliation, desk proximity and other, vaguer kinship. When the cold air struck outside it suddenly seemed inappropriate, unprofessional even, to discuss work. Jokes were made. Our language drifted further into the vernacular, sometimes the profane. We were intoxicated ahead of our inebriation.

In the warm glow of the restaurant, decorated by Christmas lights and tinsel, everyone looked different. There was something open, unprotected, in their faces.

The expense of a DJ had not been spared for the occasion. He worked his turntables diligently, holding one side of his headphones to his ear, and selected deliberately from crates containing hundreds upon hundreds of records. He had the sober bearing of someone who worked in life-or-death; an anaesthesiologist, an airline pilot. Boom! Bap! Boom! Bap! went the music. Some swayed shyly on the periphery of the floor. Only Neil and his wife danced, a bit imperiously, and awkwardly, adapting a North Jersey two-step to the hip hop. From the speakers, a command alternated with a warning: Shake ya ass! But watch yaself!

People drank, and laughed, and, red-faced, shouted into each other's ears above the din. Is this who they all really were? Or were they now somebody else?

Sam called everyone to the bar for a toast. He raised his glass and saluted us all for our efforts, assuring us that success and its glorious rewards were well within reach. He toasted the West Coast team in absentia. And then he remembered something else he had to say, something more important yet.

"One other thing. Can I make sure I have everyone's attention? Everyone?"

The room quieted down.

"I want to make sure we celebrate the incredibly hard work of Brett Morgan. He gave so much to bring us where we are today."

I turned to Tom and whispered, "Is he dead?"

"No, no," Tom replied quickly.

"Brett, wherever you are right now," Sam continued, gazing at an arbitrary point on the pressed-tin ceiling as though he'd located Brett's astral body, "know that we are thinking of you."

"Is he locked up in a mental home?" I asked Tom.

"No, no, no."

"Then what?"

Tom made that grimace I would come to know so well. "He's taking a little time off."

"Cheers, Brett. Get well," Sam concluded solemnly, and we all raised our glasses, in silence this time, and drank again.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Often the baby agonizes for something and it's impossible to know what it is. When she's prone, protected, warm and fed, when all that's left to do is to relax, to bask, she'll suddenly stiffen and jut out her legs, as though straining for something unattainable. And then she'll cry.

When she looks in my eyes I'm convinced she knows something I don't know. For all her inarticulate burbles and cries she somehow seems more wise.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Enterprise - 24

My roommate Sean had lapsed into a deep depression. Every night I'd find him in his customary spot on the couch, gazing torpidly at the TV, a Camel Light between his fingers. He used to be all right. What happened?

He used to have a job. As an assistant to a TV producer, a friend of his. The job was supposed to be cool. It was supposed to be easy. He was invited to submit ideas for shows, even, if he ever had some. To maybe do some voiceover. Who knows, a little acting. If he wanted to. He was a born talent. An adept and instinctual performer. But he froze on the spot.

One late afternoon his boss, his friend, called me up. His voice was strained with dread.

"Do you know where Sean is?"


"He never showed up today."

"You called him?"

"No answer."

Of course we were both certain that he'd entered some fugue state, that he'd run away to die. That whatever he'd done, he'd done emphatically, once and for all, preempting all hand-wringing and palliative platitudes. It was an affront, a powerful gesture. A familiar figure gone precipitously absent gains an aura of solemn authority, as though already peering at us from the Great Beyond. I felt angry, scared. Ashamed.

When I got back home he was asleep on the couch.

"What? Jesus, what fucking time is it?" he mumbled drowsily.

"It's six something. Seven."

"Jesus fuck. Godammit. Must've slept all day."

"Artie's looking for you."

"Really? Fuck. Godammit." He sat upright now, rubbing his forehead.

"You should really call him."

"Jesus. What time is it?"

"I told you six forty-five."

"Oh yeah. Sorry. Right." He reached out to the coffee table, plucked a cigarette out of the pack, and placed it between his lips. He sparked his lighter once, twice, a third time before it lit. He took a long, deep drag and life resumed.

The Enterprise - 23

At around 12:30 – on days when there was no catering – the problem of lunch arose. We were doubly cursed with myriad options and the means to afford them all. We drifted in and out of habits, solitary and communal, seeking some unattainable peak of petty pleasure. We thought we craved a terminal state of satisfaction. What we really craved was any terminal condition at all. We should all have trundled in to work with baloney and mustard on Wonder Bread, carrot sticks, a bruised Mac and Devil Dogs in a black metal lunchbox. Then we might have been happy. Instead we wandered Chelsea or paged through the takeout pile.

There was a vegetarian restaurant on Union Square called Zen Flesh. They specialized in fussy assemblages of grain, greens and indeterminate protein, accompanied by cloyingly sweet dipping sauces and dressings. Seitan was often in evidence. The dishes arrived in cardboard boxes. You'd open them to find what looked like a handful of twigs, dirt, dead leaves and gravel drizzled with a zigzag of marmalade. It'd cost you ten bucks, twelve with tip. For some reason we ordered from them again and again and again. Until suddenly we stopped. No one said a word. We just stopped ordering food from Zen Flesh.

Many times we walked to Sunshine Falafel, a hole in the wall on 17th. The man behind the counter did nothing but make perfect falafel sandwiches, one after the other, for hours and hours, his wife beside him at the till. The line extended thirty feet down the block. He never looked up, never looked at you. He'd pause briefly after each customer, tongs prone, like a pitcher coming set. Not a glance, not a word. After you voiced your order he'd give an almost imperceptible nod and return to immaculately economical, mechanical motion: three balls in the pita, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, a ladle of tahini, a dusting of paprika. Hand her the money. Take the change. Turn around and walk away.

Jimmy was especially fond of Sunshine. There was something idiosyncratic in what he ordered. No onions, maybe. Extra pepper. I don't know. One day the falafel man looked up and squarely met his gaze.

"Usual?" he said in a thick Syrian accent.

That was the one and only time we heard him utter a word.

From time to time we tired of Sunshine, too. For long stretches we ordered dumplings from a Chinese place on 23rd. You could have vegetable. You could have pork. They were doughy, weighty things, fist-sized, slathered in a sesame mud.

I took a bite off the top of one and watched the misshapen remains slide through my chopsticks and fall back in the box with a clump.

"Don't think about how they look," Julie insisted. "Eat them! They're delicious."

We went to a neighborhood pizza joint frequented by construction guys and cops. They served a Sicilian-style pie they called grandma's, pasta dishes steeped in butter and oil. We spent small fortunes at the Whole Foods buffet on Sixth: lemon-rubbed, grilled tofu; carrot salad with cumin, lime juice and edamame; braised leeks; forbidden rice. It was irreproachably delicious. Evidently nutritious. But just as soon as we found paradise we departed in search of somewhere else. The garish barbeque place on 23rd. The designer salad delis crowded with professional women in pantsuits and heels. The cheap Indian place one block up on 25th, where all the cabbies go, where they slap your food on a styrofoam plate that bows and cracks under the curry's weight.

We patronized a gourmet grocery store on 23rd Street that sold gargantuan heros filled with prosciutto, mortadella, mozarella, pepper turkey, Genoa, pepperoni, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, balsamic vinegar, provolone, soppressata, beef tongue, lardo, bresaola, capicola, whatever the fuck you want. Sandwiches big as your thigh. Sandwiches that sink into your gut over the course of the afternoon like a listing ship.

On a few occasions that somehow seemed desperate we visited a trendy and expensive diner, where we ordered things like huevos rancheros and ostrich stew. One day as we waited for our table, Steve pointed out a figure whom he declared to be a fairly well-known, sexually desirable actress with a triple name. She bore a voluminous handbag.

"No," said David.

"I'm telling you man, I think it's her."

"It is not her."

"You sure?" Steve insisted. "I'm pretty sure it's her."

David shook his head emphatically, holding a hand up in protest. "Trust me Steve. I know what she looks like. It's not her."

Steve shrugged. Soon we were led to our table, a few feet away from the woman in question. It was her.

Sometimes we walked a mile east and back to Popeye's Fried Chicken, over on Third. The lumpy, Crisco-rich biscuits had a way of sitting in your throat. The chicken made you want to kill yourself.

When we tired of variety we sought glum predictability, a functional solution. For a lengthy spell we went to the nearest Subway shop and punished ourselves with their stingy, oversalted meats; their cold, pale lettuce; their mealy tomatoes. One day I heard Steve's voice behind me in line. He erupted in anger at the worker who was handling his sandwich at the present step in its assembly.

"No!" Steve shouted. "No!"

"Sir?" the man responded, startled.

"No! Start again!"


"Throw it out! Start again!"

The half-dressed sub lay crookedly on the preparation counter, olives and pickles strewn haphazardly along its spine.

"Don't! Don't take that off! Forget it!"


"Throw it out and start again!"

The rattled employee finally disposed of the offensive sandwich and began anew. That was the last time we went to Subway for a while. But we returned.