Chapter 1: Leave it to Beaver
I sail through what appears to be an idyllic childhood, oblivious to the fact that my Mom is manic/depressive, my Dad never talks and there isn't a television to be found anywhere in the house. As the child of a scientist, I visit every national park, spend summers in exotic locations, courtesy of NIH grants and your tax dollars, and am the only kid in the third grade designing space ships and trying to read every single Robert Heinlein novel in the Fayetteville public library.
Determined to follow in my taciturn Father's footsteps, I become a science nerd. I have a chemistry set in my bedroom, excel at Geometry and become obsessed with winning the State Science Fair. My nerd friends and I try to discover comets with a telescope I got for Christmas. We watch the Twilight Zone on Friday nights. I never win the State Science Fair, but do win First Prize in the local Junior High Science Fair with a contraption built out of an old refrigerator compressor, an auto distributor coil and a bunch of glass tubing. When it worked, it could make make a spark fly for three feet between two nails.
I discover the guitar and the Rolling Stones at the same time. My grades plummet. My parents are horrified when I get in a band with two fat little gay guys and the only juvenile delinquent at our high school. We play at teen clubs that don't serve alcohol, so the kids take acid instead. I abandon plans of becoming a physicist studying sub-atomic particles and decide that I am destined to become an artist. My sister however, decides to carry on the family tradition and become an academic.
I move away from home for the first time and my grades plummet even further. My first semester GPA is 1.6. I discover drugs, Dostoevsky and the De Stijl movement at the same time. I experiment with every kind of pharmaceutical you can put in your mouth. When this doesn't produce the desired results, I experiment with studying. Eventually, I pull myself out of the gutter and make the Dean's List. I get married way too young. I win many student design awards and am at the top of my class in architecture school, but the freshman year I squandered keeps me out of the good graduate schools. I say to hell with it and we move to Aspen instead.
I don't want to be an architect. What was I thinking of? A friend shows me the secrets of getting grant money and six months later I'm a documentary filmmaker. I'm the producer/director of a little regional series on PBS. I'm faking it. I barely know how to load the Eclair NPR camera I have been graciously loaned to film the show with. I practice loading it again and again on the kitchen table with white leader. I am terrified my show is going to be canceled before it ever begins. I check out every book in the library on filmmaking and editing. By the sixth or seventh show, I finally produce a decent one. One of the last shows gets nominated for some sort of press award, but the grant is not renewed. Somewhere during all this chaos, my wife leaves me for another woman. I pack my bags and move to Oregon.
On the theory that I can succeed in advertising without a portfolio or any useful skills if I can just find a place where people know even less than me, I make Eugene, Oregon my new home. I live in a KOA campground until I find a job. Six months later I am living with the creative director of one of the only agencies in town. I have a job as a producer at the same agency. We do commercials for car dealers. Marsha teaches me everything she knows, and then we both get fired. She tells me everything was fine until I came to the agency, and that I have ruined her life, but she moves to Seattle with me anyway.
Everything clicks. At 25, I am the creative director of a nice little ad agency in Pioneer Square. I have a sofa and a fireplace in my office. I think I'm hot shit. Marsha doesn't get a job and wants to kill me. She meets the man of her dreams, but never acknowledges that it might have been me that brought them together. I move up in the ad world, getting a job at one of the best agencies in town. I buy a Maserati. I soon win lots of awards at Cole & Weber and subsequent agencies, but burn my bridges faster than I can build them. Within four years I've squandered all the good ad agencies in town. When my new girlfriend finishes her Ph.D. at the University of Washington and goes on the job market, I decide to move to Texas with her. I know if I don't, I will soon be run out of town on a rail anyway.
Nothing clicks. Texas ad agencies aren't the same. I realize I've made a big mistake, but forge ahead anyway. I'm bored. My girlfriend falls in love with another professor. I start dating students. I don't win any more advertising awards. Instead, I write dull and predictable commercials for manufacturers of sausage and lunch meat. I'm desperate for a jump start, and I buy a guitar again.
I join a band with some friends of mine at work. We call ourselves The Fabulous Has-Beens. For five years we have the time of our lives pretending to be rock stars. We don't give up our day jobs. We live in the past, playing our favorite songs from college at our favorite watering holes. We even open for Thomas Dolby once. Then the inevitable happens. The lead guitar player divorces his wife and starts dating our lead singer. The drummer, who happens to be my boss, tells me that the company is downsizing and I am going to be laid off. The band does not survive.
I run a personals ad and meet an eminently practical woman who encourages me to start my own business. Since nobody will hire me anyway, I take her advice. I also move in with her. It doesn't take long to discover I am well suited to working on my own. Without the distractions and office politics, I am actually very productive. My new company succeeds beyond my wildest dreams. But since I never had any dreams, wild or otherwise, about being a businessman, I am a bit perplexed. I get busier and busier. We get a dog. Eventually, I do nothing but work 14 hours a day and walk the dog. I'm not having any fun, but I'm wondering if all the chaos that preceded this was that much fun either. Life is simple. I am reasonably content. My bank account is growing and for the first time in ages, I am staying out of trouble. Then I discover the Internet.
I rationalize my new internet account as a business productivity tool. But strangely, I am not becoming more productive. Instead, I am wasting time again, just like I did at the ad agencies. Instead of writing 14 hours a day, I'm downloading files, gossiping with new friends, subscribing to mailing lists, messing around with CU-SeeMe video and generally avoiding anything that looks like work. I might as well be watching Ricki Lake every afternoon. I am just about to get a grip on things, when one evening I am surfing around and discover a post from Joan Pontius in an obscure little newsgroup called alt.bitterness.
In less than four years, my feelings about the Internet shift from euphoric to nostalgic. The golden years are over. An e-mail address becomes as essential and just as irritating as the telephone number it was supposed to replace. Car dealers and carpet cleaning companies have web sites. Spam fills my mailbox. Clients tell me I don't have enough bandwidth. They want to video conference. Perhaps travel to distant lands is the answer. Or maybe the answer is much closer to home. I'm getting older. I am not getting wiser. Nevertheless, I have managed to stay in the game longer than many of my friends and competitors. It's time for something new. In a burst of manic energy I decide to collect my thoughts before I get Alzheimer's. The resulting essays get nominated for Web Site of the Year. Who knows what's next. The fat lady hasn't sung yet.
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