Last night, while frittering away my sleep hours in another bout with insomnia – an affliction I never had until very recently – I was thinking about how crazy shit has happened to me in Februaries going back 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years ago from this week. Thus, as I fling myself bodily into a golden shower of boiling indulgence, I’m going to use this week to go back into time those specific number of years, and as always, you’re free to do the same.
Exactly Five Years Ago: February 2001
If you loved “Back to the Future” when it came out in 1985 as much as I did, you might have been looking forward to the two sequels a few years later. Those later movies were Crispin Glover-less and therefore cruddy, but another problem was that Michael J. Fox’s “present” was stuck at 1985, and the third movie was released in 1990.
So there we were watching the movie in 1990, and I had gone from being seventeen (like Marty McFly) to being twenty-two, and thus 1985 felt like an entire geological epoch ago.
I could say the same about early 2001. At that time, I was working at That Internet Job in way-downtown Manhattan, eating two or three lunches a week at the World Trade Center salad bar in the foot of the North Tower. In fact, about five years ago this week, Lindsay, Jon and I went up to the Windows of the World and got a seven-dollar Coke. The maitre-d wouldn’t let me in unless I had “good shoes,” so I went down to the mall in the basement beneath the towers and bought black leather shoes at the Banana Republic.
Whenever I look at those shoes in my closet, I feel like I rescued them. It’s very odd to own shoes that ought to have perished. But I digress.
That Internet Job was a curious beast: we were the last true speculative dot-com from the halcyon days, the last one afloat, the only spaceship in orbit that still had oxygen. We noted other companies falling around us, but we were still flush, still had an incredible pool table, still rolled around in Aeron chairs.
I started that job as I did all such endeavors (more on that tomorrow), with boundless energy, high hopes and working very hard at making the company look flawless to the outside. I was the senior editor, meaning every word on the site would be mine, and even though I had been crippled with a debilitating back injury that made “sitting” a living hell, I “generated content” like nobody’s business.
There comes a moment when you find yourself and your co-workers talking a fair amount of shit, then a lot of shit, and imperceptibly, your entire feeling towards the job changes into an us-versus-them dynamic. Feeling adrift, I began to look for things to do, and not finding them, began to slack horribly and engage in office shenanigans of the rudest, moderately shameful and most myopic variety.
By February, almost all of the big dot-coms had imploded; our site wasn’t done yet, and I got the feeling that I was going to be fired every day I walked in. Surely they were noticing that there was nothing for me to do but re-arrange deck chairs, and I’d be found out. My stomach lining began to wear away, and my entire department became populated with fatalists, sure that they would be yanked before the stock options came into play.
By the time the ax fell on us, it was almost June, and the HR people led us into a room one by one. It was bloody intense. There was a “heavy” in there to make sure nobody went postal, and another to watch each of us clean out our desks. When the main HR woman asked me “how I felt” about being let go, I was proud of my response: “Frankly, I was wondering why it took you so long.” I remember how they all smiled, and the whole room relaxed. Needless to say it did not go that well for everybody.
Side note: two days after the towers came down, I was at Union Square with Tessa, in a crowd, welling with tears at the memorials, candles, pictures and brotherhood that had overcome the city. I looked next to me, and there was the HR woman, crying next to me. She had just been fired herself, and we hugged, all pretense gone.
But back to February for a brief second. Because Brendan Haywood sank those two free throws to beat Dook at Dook, Tessa got me in a good mood and made me agree to go visit her dad in Houston for the weekend. I’m forever glad I did, because it meant I actually interacted with her inimitable father. For his part, they say I might be the last person he ever met and remembered. I played the piano for him, and he was still clapping and nodding as I left his house for the plane. I peeked back at him knowing it would be the only time I ever saw him alive.
Remember Tessa and I were only dating at the time, and our future had yet to be divined. But I remember thinking that if we did happen to end up together, it was an incredible stroke of happenstance that I met the man himself. Hell, I didn’t even see Five Wives until a month later at the Academy screening, but at least I went in knowing the major players.
with Blakey, Feb. 2001
Five years ago marked the beginning and end of a few things: for one, I’d fully released myself of what Tom Waits called “these old tom-cat feelings you don’t understand” by contemplating an actual future with Tessa, something that I wouldn’t have thought possible even three months before, believing I was so romantically damaged as to be unsalvageable.
The other was the beginning of the end of my unmanaged and thoughtless hubris (meaning, of course, my present hubris is managed and nicely scheduled). Some of the things I did during That Internet Job truly boggle my present-day mind, such petty and asinine bullshit. There are two things in particular that make me white with shame, and all I can cull from the experience is that it ended.
That month set a spiral that culminated in my job termination, the disastrous shoot of the Pink House movie, losing all the money I’d saved, enduring a clench-throated PTSD following the 9/11 attacks, and suddenly realizing that I probably wasn’t going to live forever. Man, as soon as you get a bunch of niggling stuff like that out of the way, it’s easier to breathe, huh?