Nostalgia for the Nineties

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I had a really weird dream a few nights ago. I was wandering aimlessly through the streets of downtown San Francisco circa 1999 on an out-of-town trip. As I walked, I thought about how the writing thing wasn’t doing it for me anymore (really, the whole working-for-money arrangement was anathema to me), and wondered what I should do with my life. Just then—as if by fate—I happened to pass by an office building with a sign in front that simply said “The Internet.” That’s funny, I thought to myself. I never realized the Web had a corporate headquarters.


I figured I’d check it out. I walked right in the front door and through the lobby—no security, for some reason—and approached the receptionist. “Can I help you?” she asked.


“Yeah, uh, Katie,” I replied after reading the nametag on the lapel of her business suit. “I wanted to know if you guys might have any openings.”


“Well,” she said, pausing to think for a couple of seconds before rattling off a list of jobs, “we have Annoying Pop-Up Ad Designer, Nonsensical Spam Mailer, Dot-Com Millionaire…”


“Whoa, what was that last one?” I interjected.


“Dot-Com Millionaire?”


“Yeah, that one sounds interesting. I think I’d like to apply for it.”


Katie didn’t respond immediately. Instead, she stared at me without expression for what seemed like a few minutes as she chewed on the end of a pen, then picked up her phone. “Marc?” she said. “I’ve got someone here you should meet. Says he’s interested in the Dot-Com Millionaire job.”


After hanging up the phone, Katie handed me a short application and sent me up to Marc’s office on the top floor. I waited outside his door for a short time and filled out the form; after a while, he called me in. “Hey there, I’m Marc,” he said in a weird, nasally voice as we shook hands. He was wearing dark, thick-rimmed glasses, a sport coat, T-shirt, faded jeans and a pair of beat-up Roman sandals—like some kind of caricature of a Gen-X hipster.


“Hi, Mark, I’m Brian,” I replied.


“No, no, that’s Marc with a ‘c’,” he said.


“Oh, sorry Marc. Nice to meet you.”


“Likewise. What brings you to my office today, Brian?”


“Well, Marc, I have to be honest with you. I really like getting paychecks—the bigger, the better—but I don’t want to put in a lot of time or effort. I figured being a Dot-Com Millionaire would help me realize my dream of getting rich without working.”


“Hmmm…sounds good. But before we bring you on board, we have to make sure you understand what we’re all about here at The Internet. First of all, this job requires applicants to be familiar with all kinds of meaningless platitudes and tech industry jargon. This means motivating your cube drones with warmed-over sports adages about giving 110 percent, going the extra mile and taking the company to the next level. Also, you’ll have to schmooze investors with asinine catchphrases like ‘shifting paradigms’ and ‘eyeballs.’ In other words, you’ll have to get by on hype. Can you do that?”


“Are you kidding?” I responded. “I’m a journalist. Nobody can hype up nothing like we can. Except politicians, perhaps.”


“Good, good,” Marc said as he nodded slowly. “Now, what would your company offer consumers?”


I strained to think of all of kitschy sites out on the Internet. “Hmmm,” I thought aloud. “Preferably, it would be something of little consequence that caters to the conspicuous consumption crowd.”


“Uh-huh,” Marc said in assent.


After just a few seconds, it came to me. “I’ve got it! How about a site that sells designer sweaters for pets?”


“Excellent!” he exclaimed. “Now, what’s the business plan?”


“Well, I figure we can buy all of our merchandise for exorbitant prices, then resell those goods to our customers at a much lower cost than what we originally paid. We’ll market all of this by purchasing 10 30-second spots during the Super Bowl, featuring some ironic D-list celebrity. That or a sock puppet.”


“Mmmm hmmm. And what about profits?”


“Profits?!?!” I retorted. “Dude, this is the New Economy—investors pony up money for our worthless shares, which we then spend on stress balls with the company logo, vintage Pac Man arcade games for the office break room and our own inflated salaries.”


“Well, I’m very impressed,” Marc said. “You really seem to have a handle on how The Internet works. When can you start?”


“Oh, right away. I’m…”


I awoke in my bed, and groggily began to grasp the fact that I was back in 2005. The “Roaring ‘90s” of my dream were long gone, nothing more than an amalgam of hazy memories. My feelings about the whole thing were not unlike the sentiments I might have after some rowdy collegiate kegger. It had been a good time, and I was happy to have been there for it. But I sure was glad it was over.

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