Can’t really name this a chapter head as I’ve been away for a week and haven’t so much as picked up a pen other than to put down a few notes. Been focussing on life for a bit – though that usually concerns what story I’m working on or, these days, books sales, numbers and reviews – all three things that are pretty deadly to have your focus on. Shouldn’t matter much but can’t say that it doesn’t. Still, thinking about this story non-stop and what to do with it. Pretty deep in. I think the general madness of going around San Francisco in the early 90s is going to work, though taking it so far off the page with the clubs – that’s not going to work as the main focus. On the rewrites, I’ll keep those in there, but I’m going to need to bring those out and insert more of the city in there. Feel very rusty.
I think one of the hardest parts about going away while in the middle of a book is the temptation to start on something new and fresh because of the surroundings you were in. I’m going to have to file that one away for a bit or at least just try to outline it in the spare moments of the day that I have to create in order to get all of these things out from me. Now I can’t say much about patience, but there is something to be said about completion of one before going on to the next. I was thinking much about Alberto back there – and what I’m going to need to do to make him a hero. I think I tapped into something so let’s see how it translates back to the page. Alberto, glad to be with you again. All of you really. These characters of mine who are battling the digital revolution – fighting for all of us because now, you see, we can look back to those times when we were walking around with backpacks holding everything we needed: Marker, spray can, book to write things in, pipe and a little bit of herb. All of those essentials made you king, but it was of a tiny kingdom that was about to be overtaken no matter how hard you tried. I think we are going to have to show a little more about that if we want to keep our heads about us.
I didn’t hesitate when I saw the offer for people to come in and participate in some kind of group testing. They were always running some type of marketing research on people back then – paid pretty decent and most times in cash when you got there. Being in and out of work so much, these tiny jobs kept you going. I guess you could call it a job – though if I was HIV positive or overweight or a smoker or something really harmful, I could have made a consistent living off of these testing groups – because it was these things – the ones that gave you experimental drugs to take and walk around with and then come in and tell people how it was all affecting you – well then, that would have been a big, consistent payday. This one guy, I think I’ve told you about him before, the one who would watch Bee videos with my old roommate and pay him with herb he got from the care centers, he made big time extra cash taking all of those early HIV wonder drugs. The side effects were pretty hairy, but his bank account was stacked afterwards.
Me, there was nothing wrong with me physically or mentally other than not being able to find a job where I could just fit in and work – not after the messenger services closed down. So when I saw the add in the paper, nothing fancy, just a block add with a few lines of copy:
Make Money Telling Us What You Think
A six month study paying 500 dollars a week for young men and women who enjoy reading, watching videos and looking at photography.
Call for an appointment.
Now see, I dialed in right away and showed up for my interview. I didn’t dress up or anything because I felt that when you interview somewhere, it’s best not to be nervous – slide in nice and comfortable and they’ll be comfortable with you. Most jobs – I think these days most people can do most jobs. We’re all the same animal really, it’s all about feeling comfortable with the people you working with. If you’re sweating it out during an interview wearing shoes you never wear and a tight shirt that you can’t wait to take off, that’s going to come through real easy and you don’t want any of that coming through at all. You got to make it easy and make them feel easy.
This interview was in one of those giant old warehouses south of Market street. (NOTE: We’re going to have to remove the first one of these from earlier in the story – this is going to be the first time these characters meet – no problems, jumping around in the first draft happens all of the time). I went in and found a bunch of what appeared to be kids all hanging out around these computers. A few of them were skating on a ramp they had built right in the middle of the room – I guess that means they weren’t all hanging in front of a computer – again, we’ll take care of that in the rewrite later. Short brushes here for the start.
Of the women who was conducting the interview had short straight black hair and held the poster of her back perfectly straight wherever she moved. Next to her was a man in dressed down suit looking not to be so dressed down by not having a tie on. It was the end of ties i think in the early 90s, something that still bothers me today. I’d wear them most everyday if I could because there’s something about taking one off that signifies the end of one day and the start of a next.
They had me sit down on a couch and offered me a drink – not sure if that was part of the test or interview or whatever, but I took it, figuring that being me was the best way to find my place in any situation.
“My names Francis Drake, and this gentlemen here is Eli Gladstone,” she said. “You’re comfortable?”
“Always,” I told her.
That kind of put everything at ease for a minute. Old Eli wasn’t much of a talker and didn’t look much like the kind of person who could sit still for much of anything. His mind was always on to the next situation – which was nice, because I was focussed on Francis. I kept thinking about that story – that children’s book I used to read over and over again called Bedtime for Francis. It was such a think book – these two little bears I think, one of them didn’t want to go to bed. The connection between that name and the book I just couldn’t get out of my head, but it made me feel connected to her right away.
“So, we’re seeing a large group of people for the next few days,” she continued while Eli wrote down what I assumed to be notes on his thick Compaq laptop. “What we’re looking for is a group of people ready to commit to a long study period. You won’t be housed here, but you’ll come in for normal work hours – 8 hours a day – a 9-5 kind of gig. You’ll be paid like that as well. All you’ll need to do is sit in front of the computer – we’ll give you assignments in between, but you won’t be judged on those. We want to see how you navigate something called the internet. Have you heard of it?”
“No,” I said, figuring being honest was key because people giving job interviews can tell a million different ways if you’re lying – which I was never really any good at anyways. “What is it?”
Eli took his giant machine from his lap and laid it on the floor.
“It’s the future,” he said. “And we’re in charge of the future.”
With that – he got up and left to go and give some instructions to the men who were constructing what was turning out to be his office.
“Don’t pay any attention to him,” Francis said, “He like to say dramatic things and walk off. Figures he’s going to get quoted in some big magazine. Thing is, he’s pretty on point and I’d follow him into battle. I am. We’re looking for people to help. So, yes, the internet – I’ll explain all of that later. We are assembling a group of people that we can study how they use the computer, where they like to go, how they react to certain colors, text, buttons, that kind of thing. We figured the best way to get an honest look at this would be to keep the same group together for a 6 month period and see how you navigate through this world. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds like you’re using people for experiments.”
“Does it feel like a commitment you’re ready to make?”
We both sat back for a minute sizing each other up – figuring out what the other’s intentions were. I knew there was more behind what she was telling me, but the money – and I’ll tell you that at that time 500 a week in SF was more than enough to keep you going and going well – was too good to turn down. She handed me a packet and told me to come back on Monday – that everything would be ready to go by then. A new career indeed.