first performed at Alice Radio's Dotcomarama
I have a confession to make
This is really hard for me
Journalists are supposed to take vows of poverty
Avoid conflicts of interest
I don't know how to say this
Over the course of the last year, I occasionally wrote
under the pseudonym Joe Bank, and
I've been writing for
I can't do this.
Let me back up.
I came home from work one day last September, grabbed
my mail from the cardboard box it falls into, went upstairs for a Diet Coke and a
PowerBar, and opened my mail, which included an eviction notice from the city.
I'd read about this phenomenon but I never really
thought it could happen to me.
The notice said that the city needed every spare body
devoted to the internet revolution, and if I was going to continue to half ass refuse to
actually join up, the city was going to exorcise its power of eminent domain and evict me
from my body, so it could be used to more productive ends by someone else. I had 30 days
to get out. If I wanted to appeal, I would have to go to the Court of Public Opinion, 26
Fell Street, on September 25th.
I took a look at my body. Until that point I considered
my body my own sovereign nation. There were times it failed me, sure, and times it had
betrayed me, and sure--there were times I wished I had a different body--but it was the
only body I had ever known. I loved this body.
So on September 25th I went to the Court of
Public Opinion and I waited for my case to be called. The way this works is, the courtroom
is stocked with tourists to San Francisco who are paid $45 for the day to sit and listen.
And they get a free box lunch. Meanwhile, the would-be dot commer who wants to take my
place in my body sits off to the side, behind a translucent screen, so you can't see his
face. I had to go first. And the judge has a little video screen showing the women's
bathroom. The Women's Bathroom Test is how things are judged in the Court of Public
Opinion. Every female who decides during your argument that its time to go powder her face
or reapply her lipstick is a vote against you.
I began to make my case, by saying that in fact I was
not just me, I was in fact also the writer Joe Bank, my alter ego, who had been writing
and then I stalled. I couldnt get the confession out. And I saw
two women head for the bathroom. Panicking, I paraphrased the words of Third Eye Blind
singer Stephan Jenkins, who paraphrased the words of Charles Bukowski, who said that this
is a city with a long tradition of freaks, a city of chaos, and that this chaos is
essential to its creative edge. Two more women went to the bathroom. I argued that most
dot commers coming to this city didn't have an authentic connection to the medium, that if
they had to forego salaries like others did back in 95 and 96, they wouldn't be here. I
thought I had a point.
When the women came back from the bathroom, the dot
commer stepped out behind the screen. And just my luck, he wasn't some Harvard grad who
would do well no matter where he landed in this world. He was a 24 year old kid from
Indonesia, and he said that there was no opportunity in his country--that only here could
he truly realize his dreams. He needed my body far more than I did.
And as he told his story, he began to hand out black
fleece pullovers, with a zip chest pocket and a hood. And I watched their greedy eyes,
fleece, fleece--slowly he handed them out, and not one person bolted for the can.
I had five days to get out of my body. But how do you
do that? How do you launch your soul from your flesh?
So I went to Hollywood. Not Hollywood, technically,
Burbank. Where the studio lot of LMI Television sits, tucked in behind the LA Hills. It
was pitch season, and I got an appointment with the president of LMI, Peter Leather. Now
Leather is a big hugger, and if he likes your ideas, he'll like you. If he thinks you can
make him money, he'll squeeze you like a bear. I sat down on his white couch and his
assistant got me a Diet Coke and Leather fixed me with his puppy dog listening eyes, bring
So I pitched a television show about this very area, a
show called South of Market. And I knew Peter Leather had, back in his past, created and
produced both Dallas and Dynasty, and that he had very crass commercial instincts--he
loved lots of money being thrown around, lots of backstabbing and ruthlessness. And so I
pitched him what he wanted to hear. There was more money here than anywhere in history,
forget Dallas, forget Beverly Hills. South of Market. Leather jumped up. "I love
it!" he said, and he gave me a big bear hug. And in that moment, swaddled in his
arms, I felt my soul rise up above, and leave. I flew up into the sky.
Two things happened right then. The first thing was, I
had a great, momentary, euphoria. I was high.
Second, everyone who was on their cell phone within a
hundred yards experienced a momentary glitch and fuzziness in their call clarity. That's
just one of the side effects. So whenever your cell cuts out, now you know that the soul
of someone within a hundred yards has just left their body. And as you know, that happens
There's all sorts of souls flying over the city. And
from them I learned that the place they liked to hang out was the Red Carpet Club elite
lounge at the new SFO international terminal. So I landed there and went to the Red Carpet
Club, which was very crowded. It was a popular day, and I even saw Tom Cruise. Apparently,
he was only there one day a month. He had plea bargained to that. I asked him what he was
in for. It was for how he flailed and inconvincingly delivered the line to Renee Zellwiger
near the end of Jerry Maguire, "you complete me."
I don't know how much time passed. I really missed my
body. The euphoria of being apart from it had waned. People told me that had to go to Gate
99. And at Gate 99 there were two subgates, two signs overhead and two lines. To right,
Gate 99A, a sign that said, "those who live in fear of pain," and to the left,
Gate 99B, "those who live in fear of causing others pain." Of course I went to
the left, that described me perfectly. I went down the ramp and there was another sign,
"Be Ready to Forgive." I thought this will be easy, a piece of cake, because I'm
a very nonjudgmental person, and I don't have trouble forgiving other people at all. But
then there was another sign. "Forgive Yourself." Oh god, they had me there. It
was my turn.
I was put in a small room. The self-feedback room. The
way it works is, there's a one-way mirror looking in on the room. And on the other side of
the glass, there's a video camera, taping me. And the feed from this video camera is
broadcast on a TV in the corner of the room. So I could be my own focus group. It's
designed to make you really look inside. And down I went into the spiral of despair.
Forgive! Forgive! But I'm so hard on myself, pushing
myself all the time, this wasn't easy for me. What did I have to forgive myself for? It
could only be one thing. The thing I had been trying to confess. My pseudonym. Joe Bank.
My alter ego. I had been writing copy for a new online company
in fact I was a
silent partner in a new, hot company
a company that had been my idea
had gotten jealous, I had broken down, I had said me too!, me too! I want some! I had
broken my vow of poverty, I had abused the trust imparted in journalists, I had used my
vantage point and secretly put it to work in an attempt to cash out. And I had created a
It has been so obvious, the biggest untapped market,
sitting there, waiting to be claimed. Think of the demographics: every year, people are
getting married later and later in life. Not the biggest demo, but the fastest growing, is
not young & single, but young couples who are in limbo between being single and being
married. Significant others. They wanted to make some form of commitment lite, but society
offered none. Our government offered none. There were no magazines for the commitment
lite. No way to declare, this is who I am and I'm proud of it. Making money off this
untapped market was as easy as taking candy from a baby. So I, or Joe Bank, had founded a
web site for these couple to register their partnerships--significant other.com. The only
rule was there were no rules. Marriage without any promises. No promises made, none
broken. A flexible alliance. At the time, I justified it by telling myself I would reduce
the divorce rate by making sure there were no marriages in the first place. And without
spending a dollar on advertising, riding the roar of word of mouth, couples had been
registering like wildfire. I had programmed my cell phone to beep every time another
hundred couples signed up. Beep! Beep! Beep beep beep beep. Completely commerce enabled.
Robust server architecture. The money rolled in.
A monster! Why get married when you can instead
register with significant other.com?
Because I didn't believe in it. I believed in
commitment, in going whole hog. I believed that no good comes from being a part-timer,
from being a consultant, an advice giver, a watcher, a maybe, a sunny day catholic, a
Significant other.com made being a couple easy, but
some things shouldn't be so easy.
So I sat in that self feedback room and watched myself
on that screen and tried to forgive myself for the monster I had created. Forgive!
But nothing happened. And the other souls began to bang
on the door, saying my turn was up, let them in.
I had failed. I guess I had confessed, but I had failed
to forgive myself. I flew back over the city, drifting, thinking I'll never get back into
my body, when I heard from a window on Portrero Hill a song being played. It was Cat
Stephens' "Morning has broken." You know-- Blackbirds are singing, to greet the
new day--whatever. And this song took me back, took me way back. It was the song that my
Mom used to play on her guitar, after her divorce. She'd sit by the fire and play and cry
and the sound of her terribly sad voice trying to be upbeat echoed through the house,
haunting me, and I knew I had never forgiven myself for not being able to make her happy,
never been able to heal her pain, not to this day, still single, still alone, still
singing. And of course!--that's why I had risked my career for singificant other.com. I
wasn't in it for the money! I was trying to solve my mother's pain! No broken promises, no
pain! And in that moment, I suddenly reappeared in my body.
I was back on the LMI lot, and I was in an office I had
been given, between Drew Carey's and John Wells'. It was a couple months later. I looked
around the room, and the script for the show was there, with my name on it. The director
was to be Doug Lyman, who'd directed Go, and the cast list was almost set--the only role
to be nailed down was whether the lead was to be played by Keifer Sutherland or Dean Cain.
I sat and read the script. And it was terrible. My body had sold out! It was worse than
Dallas. In the pilot episode, a young Harvard-Harvard kid makes a wad on a stock and goes
in to the Porchse dealership to buy a roadster, but he ends up haggling for so long over
the price, days even, that in the meantime his stock loses half his value and he loses the
I ran to Peter Leather. He gave me a big hug and said,
"We're going to make so much money!"
I said "This is terrible! You cant film
this! This isn't what it's about at all! It's not just about the money. It's about
frustrated musicians finding an outlet, it's about frustrated writers finding an outlet,
it's about people avenging their own personal losses, and recreating a world better than
the one they inherited. It's about taking risk! What about those who fail? What about the
dozens of startups you never hear about? Your show's a travesty!"
I realized the only way I could stop this show from
getting on the air was to quit. You can't quit, Leather said. We don't have a show without
you! But I took a stand. I walked out of the room. I walked past the set of ER, an past
the set of West Wing, and I got in my rental car and drove right off the lot. And my cell
phone started to ring. Beep! Beep! I answered it once, but it was just my monster telling
me it was growing even larger. Beep! I answered it again, and this time it was my agent,
who said I couldn't quit. I hung up on him and drove. It rang one more time. This time it
was Peter Leather. He said I could quit. He didn't need me anymore.
"You cant do the show without me!" I
We have someone even better than you, he said.
A writer really on the inside, a guy who's been there.
A writer named Joe Bank.
And then my cell phone cut out.