It's nature's way of telling you something's wrong.
We are tearing this thing to pieces.
Twelve, fourteen hours at a time. Beers after. Pizza at two AM. We are laughing and my chest hurts, oh so fierce. We are looking out tinted windows at sunshine we don't appreciate.
As one said last night, "who really wants to survive nuclear war?"
I am taking myself apart.
This is about my career, the one that feeds me.
I worked for ten years at one of the companies I survived. That was 25% of my entire life when I quit.
When I quit my grandparents had died, and then my father. Lots of my friends. And I was thinking there had to be something better. I was thinking that life had to mean something I hadn't figured out.
When I quit: "they" offered me a million bucks to stay. A million U.S. dollars, post tax (that's 2 million pre-tax), the 1999 inflation-adjusted version. Before that day, my name and the words "million dollars" had never been used in a sentence without the term "pipe dream".
They wanted to know what it would take for me to stay, so I asked for a million dollars, a Ferrari 355 Maranello, and a dinner date with Gwyneth Paltrow. And they said "yes". They were on the phone to Gwyneth’s agent as we spoke.
That is true. All of it. And this is true too: I have been me for most of my life. So I had to see what it was like.
To me, what's most interesting is not when you can get magic to work, but rather, when you can prove it exists by showing it has been working for your whole life, and you can turn it off at will. To me that's much more interesting than making money appear or driving fast cars.
I had to see what it was like.
My wife said, "are you sure?" but I didn't know. I really didn't know what the hell I was doing when I told them. They'd got me drunk in an Outback restaurant in Campbell, California. You might know it. This is where it happened.
Alcohol made it so much easier.
"The car is on order. Gwyneth’s agent says she doesn't do dinner, but you can go watch her filming her next picture. I have the check for the two mil in my pocket."
You've probably spent time imagining what it woud be like to have a million dollars all your own. The trips. The freedom. The toys. The bigger house. The faster car.
But if you think about it, much more interesting--the bigger adventure is to need it and turn it down anyway.
They said, "Ok, here it is. What you asked for." And I told them, "no," anyway.
I wonder what my life would have been if I hadn't. I certainly wouldn't be here on E2. I would have never gone to the ice.
For all of the things that have happened to me, for all the happiness and sadness that decision has caused me in my life, I will never forget it.
And I still don't know what's going to happen.
There have been priceless things about my career. I own experiences for which no finite sum of wealth is adequate compensation.
One of those things happened in Tokyo in February of 1991.
After 12 hours of brutal meetings in Kawasaki with Toshiba, we were heading back to the Shinjuku Prince hotel. Four of us had just exited the train station, the one right under the Keio Plaza. We were exhausted, hungry, thirsty. Carrying our briefcases. Four of the hundreds of millions of businessmen heading somewhere in the evening rush, shirt collar buttons open, ties hanging loosely around our Adam’s apples, hair in bad need of a comb, dark stains under our arms.
We trudged with the crowd, discussing what we'd done right and wrong the previous hours when we heard music. It floated above the heads of the moving crowd of black haired people like the invisible bird of poetry always explained but never experienced. It takes being in the right frame of mind to hear certain things, and the voices and pipes were so out of place, I couldn't really tell what I was listening to until we reached the band of performers on the sidewalk.
They were Peruvian Indians in native dress. They were playing songs from their homeland on guitar, tambourine, and pan pipes. Their harmonies were impeccable. They sounded like molten silk. They sounded like brilliant sunshine blazing through thin air. They sounded like daytime skies almost black. Places where children were tall enough to touch stars.
We four Americans, we high-tech businessmen stopped dead in front of the display. I really didn't notice my colleagues hadn't just left me, as my feet simply refused to move any further and I was transfixed by a sound I'd never heard before. I couldn't understand the Spanish words.
Because we were American, we were all from different places. And one of us, Bill, was the child of parents who were Chinese diplomats in the government before Mao. His father was the Chinese ambassador to Peru, in fact, and Bill had grown up in homes in both Lima, and small towns in the Andes.
Bill was a genetically Chinese man, but a U.S. citizen. A speaker of English with a Spanish accent that took people off guard. He was often asked, "Which area of China are you from? Mongolia?" by people who knew less about the political map of the world than they did about the chemical composition of tuna salad. And to them he would say, "South America," which they accepted as if Pangaea still existed.
I pulled a couple hundred yen in change from my pocket and tossed it into their open guitar case.
The pan piper nodded in appreciation, and I stepped backward to stand next to my friends, who were still frozen by the sound.
Bill was crying. He was pulling a small wad of thousand-yen notes from his wallet. His hands were trembling so violently he was having trouble. But he managed to get the bills out, and he put them in the guitar case.
His generosity stopped the performers, who immediately burst into supplication and gratitude. They had a short conversation with Bill in Spanish, which inflamed them with glee and familiarity that caused clasping of hands, hugging, and finally some Japanese-style bowing.
When we left them Bill told us those men were from a town he had lived in as a child. Those songs were peculiar to the people in that region of the Andes. He hadn't heard them for nearly forty years.
And so, as the story goes, this American man of Chinese descent, who'd grown up in Peru, was doing business in Japan and ran across people from his home town in the mountains.
It was a place he remembered joyfully. A place where there were llamas and pisco and the women wore hats with tassels and dressed in colorful clothes.