I went back to my old office today for the first time in months to meet my buddy, Ike, and go out to lunch. It was more than a little weird to be back there.
My old office is in a huge corporate park right across the street from Los Angeles International Airport; we could see the planes hit the tarmac from the 12th floor of the building. Now, compared to the place where Oracle and Sun live in up on Sepulveda, the Kilroy Airport Center is pretty small, but, to me, it was the world. It was like a small mountain of glass and steel rising up from the wherehouses that Northrop and McDonnell Douglas are. For those first months of my gig, I felt like…well, an adult. I was going to work in a big building with mirrors on the outside.
I still go back to that office park every week when I drive down to Orange County with my dad (he works two buildings down from the old office), but I haven’t been in that building, in that suite since September.
This visit was sad. The offices of Realtime Associates look so bleak.
One big team got laid off about two weeks after I left, and more and more people have been jumping ship since. What was once a bustling office suite now looks like a ghost town. One out of every five cubicles is occupied, and no one’s really bothered to clean up after the people who’d either left or been forced to leave. Julie’s cube still had stuff on the walls, and her machine hadn’t moved. Mona, who’d left the week after I did, had left her little Pocahontas and 3DO buttons up on the cloth walls. Hell, even my old cube still had stuff in it: my old keyboard gel-pad, a few random buttons, and the drawer full of ketchup and jelly packages from take-out meals.
It was spooky walking around, looking at the dark half of the office where most of the artists used to work; most of them are gone now. A few of my friends walked up to me and said: “So…come back here to make fun of us, huh?”
That was one of the funny (not funny ha-ha but funny strange) things about Realtime after my first six months there: it was a good place to get away from. We were all overjoyed whenever one of our buddies quit and got a better gig; it was like being in prison and watching one of your friends get paroled. And, yeah, I know that any of us could have left any time we wanted, no one was holding a gun to anyone’s head to make him stay, yadda, yadda, yadda. The thing about a place like Realtime, though, is that, as shitty and mind-blindingly boring as the work was, it was there. It was steady (for the most part). And the people were great. The work environment was casual. Hell, we had donuts and bagels every Friday!
That kind of environment can make you complacent and lazy. People say things like: “I know it sucks here, but I’m too lazy to hunt for another gig.” You fall into a rut and it’s hard to come out, especially if that rut pays pretty well (even though I never saw a lick of the supposed Big Bucks, it was there for some of the senior staff). And you don’t leave something like that until you’re jarred out of place, which is what the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was for me. After that, I knew I had to get the fuck out.
But some people are still there. Ike is, for one thing, even though he’s been hunting as long as I had been before I packed up my Legos and went home. He’s been talking with some companies, and I hope someone picks him up soon. And Dwight is still there, even though he’s on the verge of getting married and he realizes that there is no way he’ll be able to start a family while working in a dead-end gig like this. And Mary’s still there, even though I think she’ll give Realtime the finger soon. And Garry’s still plugging away (and, Garry, if you’re reading this, get the hell out! Hustle like hell for an acting gig! Anything but working on Googol freakin’ 7!).
But I didn’t start this just to tell you about my afternoon (even though lunch was great. Ike and I went to the Ragin’ Cajun in Hermosa, one of our old hangouts. You can’t beat $6 for jambalaya…) visiting the old homestead. It’s about something goofier, of course. Hell, when is it not about something goofier?
See, it’s about The Window. It was right around this time, last year, that The Window was born. And it all happened in this office.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
It’s Election Day, 1996. Or, more precisely, a few days after Election Day, and I’m at work at night, in the cube I shared with Ike for a while, reading the late, lamented, and legible Netizen. And I was feeling down and out and lonely lonely LONELY, when I read something that would, quite literally, give the direction of my life a swift kick in another direction.
Jon Katz wrote a column about how gawdawful bad all the Election Day coverage had been. How it was all bloated, over-hyped, and worthless. Except for one site called the fray (and if you still haven’t gone there, for God’s sake click the heck over). And I followed the link. And I read and read and read and read and stopped and wrote what would become the introduction to what would become the first incarnation of The Window.
Now, while I wouldn’t go and take out the server space on Geocities and start writing code for a few weeks after (I think I really went live on the 20th or something like that), I really like to think of this as the time when The Window first came to life. I can’t even remember what it looked like last year, except that I know I put these words on the front:
|What in God’s name do you think the Web is all about?|
|Why in God’s name do we all put MAIL ME at the bottoms of our pages?|
|Why do you think?|
|We want others to reach back as we reach out the window and make love to the world.|
That was running through my head as I typed away on the night of the 11th of November, 1996. That and the vision of me grabbing my desk chair and smashing open the Plexiglass window and screaming out to the world: “I’m here, dammit! I’m alive! I’m not just part of the machine! Listen to me!”
…which is why I named this place Opening The Window To The World. I was burning to do something, anything than sit in that stuffy office at night, working on those miserable games for Lightspan. There were times when I was really close to grabbing that chair and swinging.
There are times when I still feel like that.
In case you haven’t noticed, the past few entries here have been angrier than usual. I certainly see it when I read back over this stuff (which I do, every now and then). Ever since I quit, I’ve been thrashing around even more than usual, probably in a mad scramble to find a handhold. It used to be that I was fighting against the stifling atmosphere of my old job; now I’m fighting to find something to hold onto in a vacuum.
I used to use The Window as a tool of sorting my head out whenever something happened for better or for worse. It was always comforting to know that I could somehow make sense of the mild confusion I lived and worked in, put it on paper, slap it up on The Window, and get feedback on it. This place was a sanctuary.
So what do I do when this place doesn’t feel comfortable?
I’ve noticed over the past few months that the words haven’t been quite as free-flowing as usual. It’s been tough to put pen to paper, let alone hands to keyboard. And when I do write, it doesn’t seem right, at least, to me. It’s forced, and that leads to more frustration, which leads to more anger, which leads to more forced words, continue ad infinitum.
No, I am not pulling the plug. But I did think about it for a while. This gig is tiring, man, and I could use the time for a lot of other things.
But I’m not pulling the plug, so don’t worry.
I started writing this little anniversary note last Thursday night. It’s now 4.30 on Tuesday morning, and I’ve been up listening to the same CD (The Willard Grant Conspiracy’s 3 am Sunday @ Fortune Otto’s…perfect for sleepless, lonely nights when the world doesn’t make much sense). Today it rained all day in Los Angeles. The air is going to be beautiful today, provided it doesn’t rain some more. I had pizza and beer with Leo and Sben about 9 hours ago. All should be right in the world.
But I’m still up and wondering. And wandering, up around in my head. I’m thinking about all the stuff I’ve wanted to say for the past six days, and I’m nowhere close to getting it all out.
I’m thinking about conversations with my dad about The Window (“How can you put up all this personal stuff for anyone to see? I just don’t get it…”). I’m wondering how personal I’ve gotten. I wonder how well you all know me. I wonder if you can. I wonder if I can.
See, this is the terrifying thing about having an audience. It’s like doing a nightly monologue in a deserted theater for months and months, just standing at the mike and spewing out into space, until, suddenly, someone claps. You realize that, somewhere along the line, people have walked into the theater and have been listening all along.
Well, now what? Do you try and change your material into what you think the audience wants to hear? Or do you keep rolling along, even if the audience doesn’t like or want to hear what you have to say?
What if you’ve really been saying nothing all along?
It’s something that’s best stewed over at 4.30 in the morning, sitting in front of your computer in your pj’s, listening to The Willard Grant Conspiracy.
I’ve been holding myself back for the past few months, too. There are things going on in my life that I haven’t mentioned, either because I don’t have the balls or don’t have the fire. There are failures in relationships that I haven’t brought up, but that’s because I’m too much of a coward to bring them up in real life and not enough of a coward to throw them up here. I still live in The Real World. I was born here, I will die here. The Web is merely my preferred means of communication, my bully pulpit. This is not my home; this is, at best, a home page, but I’ll be damned if I get caught up in some stupid digerati doublespeak. This is simply a medium, albeit an immensely powerful one, and anyone who forgets that is either trying to sell you something or is full of shit or both.
I haven’t told you about what it’s like to stay up all night, talking and making out like a junior high kid. I haven’t told you about what it’s like coming home to a room that you don’t really recognize. I haven’t mentioned how fucking gorgeous the garden in front of my house has become (and the rain has only improved it….grow, you crazy rosemary….grow!). I haven’t mentioned the Sexual Dynamics of Harvey Mudd College, or what it’s like to make omelettes for dear friends who are becoming family.
What have I talked about? Buying a car, going to the circus, going to the doctor, visiting my grandpa, watching my friends get laid off, riding my bike, losing a girlfriend and gaining a family, cleaning my room, turning 23…
What’s so personal about that, Dad? Hell, I wrote about going to New Jersey (well…almost).
I know this all sounds whiny and obnoxious. Sometimes I think it’s built into our culture (and, therefore, inflicted upon all ofus) to concentrate on the negative, on what we don’t have. (After all, if you don’t have something, some marketing dink will be sure to remind you, just to make sure you run out and get it…but that’s another rant for another time that’s been in the works for a long time, believe you me.)
Sometimes the things you get on a quest can be a hindrance. They can hold you down, or, even worse, hold you back. I have my emotional baggage, like it or not. My issues.
But I also have received some beautiful things that have helped me move forward, which is what I still believe is the point of living (but that’s probably something to explore more in the next year). I have met and broken bread with many good people I never would have known existed before. I’ve gotten backrubs and hugs and kisses that have made my life better. I have gotten some beautiful notes from people who simply say: “I get it. Thank you.”
I have this. I have this space to shape in my own small way, to give some life to. I have a voice I know is mine. I have family. I have you, you beautiful people who stop in and see what I have to say, and I humbly thank you for your kind indulgence.
There’s been something at the back of my head for the past few months, something that very quietly took my attention. I read it first back in college, when I had earnestly started out on my spiritual quest into The Real World.
Without going out of your door,
You can know the ways of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The further you go,
The less you know.
Thus, the Sage knows without travelling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado.
I started this off as a way of breaking out of the stifling atmosphere of that office in El Segundo, and it’s turned into something else (as most things are wont to do). It used to be that I stood at the window of my office and shouted out to the world; now, that window is on the outside of me, and I’m looking in and wondering what the heck is going on.
I don’t know where this next year will take me. I don’t know what the words will be like. I don’t know if I’ll actually hang up the jock for good. Who knows? Maybe God, but God doesn’t really let me know what’s going on that often. Maybe I catch a glimmer every now and then; maybe that’s all I’m allowed.
But I do know that it’s late, and I need some sleep. And I know that I’m going to have bagels for breakfast. Maybe that’s the best I can do for now. Who knows?
So…good night. (Or, actually, good morning.) Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing.
Now…go to bed! There’s a big world to live in.