I said, 'I wonder what's the shoes for?'
I have a friend who made a couple million dollars. Thirty or forty, I think. As you get older, this sort of thing happens. A lot of people I knew as "normal people" are moderately or even super rich now.
This particular guy - when I met him, we were just two guys working in Silicon Valley with mortgages the size of Montana. I came here from New Jersey and found that everything in this place costs wheelbarrows of cash. You could buy an entire county where I came from for the price of a three bedroom ranch in Palo Alto.
We both lived in East San Jose, which is where you live when your cash supply doesn't fill even a big coffee can, much less a wheelbarrow.
He was my boss. I was a trusted worker. We traveled all over the world together. We were engineers who built interesting products. And then later when we got jobs coming up with interesting things to say about the products that were built.
We had a falling out at one point. One of us thought that certain promises were made and reneged on. That would be me. Others of us had his hands tied by the powers-that-be and couldn't make good on things that would have been good only months before. That would be him.
But I didn't really care. In those days I had a lot of self-righteousness. I felt my loyalty was misused.
We drifted apart. Or rather, I got tossed out of his office when I quit.
Except I couldn't really quit because the world was much crueler than I would have liked. And he couldn't really fire me, probably because in truth I had been a good and loyal worker.
But we are both very moral and emotional men. So that was that, and then twenty years went by.
There is music in my head, all the time. Whether I'm thinking about it or not.
This is not some kind of diffuse ethereal perception, though it is also not the same as hearing with the ears. It is not a hallucination. It is a "knowledge" of music that is recurring, much like how you'd remember what you did yesterday. My mind reacts as if music is playing. As if I am hearing the music even if I'm not, which is usually the case.
Right now lyrics and tune to Frank Zappa's Camarillo Brillo are looping in my head.
She had that Camarillo brillo
Flamin out along her head.
I mean her Mendocino beano,
By where some bugs had made it red.
It can be awkward sometimes. Like when I'm sitting in a meeting and my right brain starts autonomously bopping to Love Removal Machine or Jellyman Kelly. I don't seem to have a choice of music. Whatever is playing that day is what I hear.
It can be annoying if its a song I don't like.
I like to think it's some kind of communication with the muses of creativity, because if I'm working on a construction project in silence I get all sorts of useful accompaniment and by simply going along with the tune, things come together more quickly.
For most of 2010 I've been hearing Frank Zappa. All sorts of selections. For the holiday season Sirius/XM radio has a Christmas channel and I was listening to Christmas tunes non stop from the day after Thanksgiving. But my ears would be hearing Bing Crosby singing Let it Snow, and my brain would be blissfully crooning,
I wanna be dead,
In bed please kill me
Cuz that would thrill me
Be clear about this - I firmly believe it is not suicidal to sing the verse to Tryin to Grow a Chin. It's a toe tapping infectious tune. When you sing along you find yourself saying asinine things, but the tune is motivating.
Eventually I just turned off the Johnny Mathis and Andre Kostelanetz orchestra and put on the Zappa. Sometimes listening to the song that's looping in my head will make the song go away or quiet it down.
It only made things worse.
One of the axioms of business is that the good ones always see it coming.
Getting fired was a total surprise to me. I had shut down a couple startup companies in my life. Those were depressing situations because I had put nearly three years into each of them. The products were cool, yet we went bankrupt anyway. So we'd done something wrong, and figured we deserved what we got. But I never saw this one. After it happened, I could understand a lot of odd behavior on behalf of the executive staff toward me. Though at the time I thought we were all swell pals. I wrote it off.
Then one day, wham. It's pretty much a Biblical rule of life itself that you should never ever put your trust in people where large sums of money are involved. Stupid me.
I found myself wallowing in depression and self-loathing. I cried a lot. It was a pretty rotten time.
And my rich friend found me and invited me to dinner. We sat down, me not entirely sure I was good company. He was his old self. He'd been playing in a band he started. The latest of many.
He was also buying and selling companies that were doing well even in the economic downturn.
I was hopeful for the dinner - that maybe somehow his riches would rub off on me. Maybe he had a job for me. Because I needed a job to afford my blood pressure meds and the mortgage. Without any kind of income I'd eventually lose the house and god knows how the kids would be able to stay in school. I could see that day coming. I had a big "X" on the calendar - the day the money runs out. Every minute/second/hour brought me closer to having less money than I did when I was thirteen and working as a caddie, carrying golf bags for surgeons at Olympia Fields Country Club.
He said, "People say to me, 'I want to be like you. I want to do what you do.' But they're not willing to suffer. Do you know how broke I got? Do you know what I went through with the wife, the divorce, trying to care for the kids when the money ran out?"
I didn't say it, but I probably dropped my chin as much as a, "Yes, I do," as staring at my hands on the table.
"You have to keep going. You have to believe it can be done. You can't quit. You understand me?"
"No - you have to get it," he said. "Seriously. Don't quit. Nobody can help you, but you."
"I don't really have any choice," I said. "No quitting here."
"That's not what I mean. You have to feel it. Don't quit." He tapped his fingers to his chest. He tried to look me in the eye. He said, "Don't quit."
I was thinking really hard, "Well, you could give me a job at one of your companies."
He just said, "Don't quit," for what seemed the billionth time.
I said,"Ok," to get off the subject. Because honestly, after giving my all three times in a row resulting in two dead startups with great products, and a major publicly held company with another great product they were making millions on - and I get the boot - I felt a lot like quitting. Like a salmon who's swimming upstream but instead of upstream winds up back in the ocean. Like the stupid thing to do was to not quit.
And the cold hard fact of nature is that after all that work those upstream salmon just die, anyway.
Frank Zappa was a genius. Didn't do mood altering substances. Only the most talented, accomplished musicians in the band.
Just try to play The Black Page on any known western instrument of sound production.
My wife: "If he was so much of a genius, then why did he write songs about women having oral sex with Poodles?"
Me: "Oh good god."
When the right thing to do is to not quit, the easiest thing to do is quit. Life puts a greased chute in front of you that leads to quitting. It would be so fast and smooth to get on board and slide away to the molten infernal core of planet earth. It's lusciously tempting.
And to justify the loathing you feel for considering the coward's way out, you spew self pity to anyone who will listen.
"It's no use," I said.
"Shut up," she said.
"The whole world economy has collapsed. There's no hope for me. I am not special."
"Go for a mountain bike ride. Go build something."
"Go build a tesla coil."
"Ok, I will. But it will be a disaster. You'll see."
"When the garage burns down, don't blame me."
While I was building my coil Frank was singing.
They don't fix your brakes,
You ask 'um, 'Where's my motor?'
'Well it was eaten by snakes.'
You can stab and shoot and spit,
but they won't be fixin' it
I'd be hearing it when I wired up my tank capacitors. When I wound my 6" secondary, and then my 8" secondary, and then my mammoth 12" monster coil.
I ate a hotdog,
It tasted real good.
Then I saw a movie,
I was still putting out feelers, working my network, having endless lunches, beers, dinners, cocktails, evenings with my silicon valley friends. Somebody had to want a guy like me - I prayed.
On the way home from every meeting the thought would invade my skull, "Give it up. Nobody wants a guy like me. Especially one with two failed startups and who got fired after doing one of the best jobs the company had ever seen. Too stupid to stay employed when things are going great. Who wants a guy like that?"
Maybe you should stay with yo mama.
She could do your laundry and cook for you.
Maybe you should stay with yo mama.
You're really kind of stupid and ugly, too.
"How's the new coil comin'?" asked the blond haired girl.
"I wound 500 feet of 10 gauge THHN wire around a 2 inch slice of white PVC conduit to make a ballast for my pole pig. This might be the ticket to higher efficiency."
"Don't burn down the garage."
"It it catches fire, I'm going to stay in it. The headlines will read, 'Local tesla coiler dies by his own flaming electric stupidity.'"
"'When asked what caused the tragedy, his wife replied, ''He wanted to dispel the myth that his underwear was conductive.'' '"
When the call came from another friend I was in a haze of despair and increasingly futile attempts at self motivation.
...stupid and ugly, too.
Would I be interested to come work with their company? They'd pay a lot less than my former job, but I could be useful to them and the job would be less stressful to boot.
I was tempted to say, "No, I can't take your job because I'm busy becoming one with the electric universe." But I stopped that voice.
I took the job.
I have never in my life more looked forward to a Monday morning commute than June 7th, 2010.
Zappa accompanied me on that first day.
We could jam in Joe's Garage.
His mom would scream, 'Turn it down,'
But we'd play it all night long.
2010 was the most professionally disastrous year of my life. I should add, it was personally one of the best years of my life, as I got married to the girl of my (literal) dreams. Best of times. Worst of times.
Even professionally I anticipate things will be rosy in retrospect. By 2013, I'll be saying to myself, "Well, if I had never gotten fired, this great XYZ stuff would never have happened."
It's only now a matter of precipitating "The Great XYZ."
I am a truly fortunate person. Even though it could have happened, I did not descend into total fiscal decay. I had my wife prompting me to action and pulling me out of my pits of emotional despair.
The most important lesson I learned in 2010 is that when all the artifice is stripped away a man has only his inescapable reputation and the friends he has because of it. My friends and business acquaintances stuck with me when I was down. Even though I thought I had a scarlet letter on my shirt, they weren't embarrassed to be seen lunching with me. They didn't disassociate themselves from me.
I am massively thankful and fortunate for that.
For all the non-drug taking, non-drinking Zappa's band was noted for - they were also first class musicians. It was a badge of musical accomplishment to be with the Zappa band. He wasn't an easy guy to work for (I am much nicer), but if you could survive it, you knew you were one of the best.
I wish I could be a leader like that.
With the Zappa tunes intensifying in my mind, I read a thousand or so pages on his life. There must be some message I should be getting. In the hope I can put an end to it, I am going to write what that message is.
Here we go:
Work hard. Be true to your own talent. Do your best. Be a virtuoso. Inspire the same behavior from everyone around you.
It's never going to be easy. You will wind up fighting the "powers that be" forever. That never stops.
Remember to laugh.
Never quit doing whatever it is you do. All that hard work might pay off and look at all the good you will have done for yourself and your band. (Besides, what else do you have to do if you're unemployed?)
And maybe all that hard work won't pay off and the jealous suckers fighting you will win.
Fuck um. They can't change that you were one true thing they once knew.