Friday, December 10, 2010

Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out: Part 18

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When we started this story, I was at a scary point of bedraggled exhaustion; not just on the verge of shutting down my baby, Chowhound, but relishing its closure like a starving man imagines a steak dinner. I was broke, bedraggled, and avoiding traffic. I was, to extend the carnivorous metaphor, dead meat. But that apparent rock bottom, was, by this point, months past. And the site was still there, and I was still drowning in it, plus I'd also trudged through the disorienting and, at times, perilous events recounted in this tale.

It's hard to describe my psychological state, but the upshot was that I was living the nightmare where you try to run but your legs feel all rubbery. More than anything, I just wanted to lie down. I so wanted to just lie down and go to sleep. Lie down right now, right here, right in front of everyone, I don't care. Curl up on cold tiled floor and collapse into undreaming oblivion.

But first we had to close the deal, which meant appeasing a business development guy conjured up by Hieronymus Bosch. And I had to steel myself to work for CNET for a full year. The terms were essentially indentured servitude: if I quit, or did anything to get myself fired, I'd be sued. In consideration of Chowhound's loyal users, I'd give my all to protect against anything especially dumb being done to it. It was my role to make sure the site was modernized without sacrificing its all-essential vibe. This would mean, even in the best of scenarios, plenty of wearying friction. Even better: friction with corporate squares. Hey, my favorite!

But at least they were best-of-type corporate squares. The managers I'd met were reflective, respectful, and smart. I could do this, I told myself. The plan was to take a couple weeks off after the deal was signed, recoup a little, and then blast through the year, giving it my all, and finally drag myself to some dark corner of the world to dissolve into a puddle. It seemed doable. Heck, if I liked the new environment, I might even stay on for a couple years. CNET was, after all, offering dental! Can you imagine? Dental!

Meanwhile, with due diligence done and only fine points remaining to work out, and with CNET confident I wasn't going to bolt, I was being treated less like a coddled prospect and more like a corporate soldier. It was at this point that my business development contact (who I'm calling Clay) began revealing his Orwellian attitude toward Truth. He had two modes: 1. earnestly assuring me of this or that, or 2. testily denying he'd ever given any such assurance. I watched in utter fascination as he'd weasel and repudiate...or, as a diversionary tactic, simply rage about some random issue unrelated to the matter at hand. Then he'd quickly recompose his syrupy charm and move on to the next assurance slated for instant evaporation. I noticed, with growing alarm, that he'd never communicate anything solid in email form. It was all phone calls. For a high-tech company's exec, he sure did love him some phone calls.

But the striking thing was the neediness in his voice as he tried to make me really really really believe him
this time. He needed me to appreciate his overarching empathy, because, naturally, we are, at the end of the day, all on the same team here, though we may have, heh, our little arguments and things might get, y'know, a bit heated from time to time. Hey, know what, Jim? I've got an idea! Let's go get a beer! Wouldn't that be great? Let's you and me go out an' grab a beer! Oops, no, wait, you get a beer, Jim, I'm just so sorry, but I just remembered I need to get home. I'll reimburse your beer, though; just bring me the receipt! Really! Seriously!! Just bring me the receipt! What's this you're handing me? Um, Jim, it is not company policy to reimburse your boozing. Please let's be extremely clear on that, bokay? So...what are your plans for the weekend, buddy?

Ad infinitum. But...whatever. Again and again, I kept reminding myself that, come January, I'd never see the dude again.

Read the next installment (#19)

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