delays with lippy.

I was starting to think that Lippy was never going to come out.

First, the band went into the studio and recorded it, and it seemed to take forever.  I actually went down one day while they were recording, some place in the middle of nowhere, NJ, in a small studio behind a house.  I walked into the lobby while the band was warming up, playing a rocking version of Green Day’s “Longview,” which had just recently been released at that point.  I felt like Footstone played it better than Green Day, that day in the studio.

Footstone were just a fantastic band.

When they finally had the rough mixes done, they didn’t like them.  They thought some of the songs were too fast, they didn’t like the drums.  Mark didn’t like the way the bass sounded.  Ralph didn’t like his vocals (Ralph never liked his vocals, no matter how good they were).  So they decided to go back and re-record a bunch of it, in hopes that they could fix the things they didn’t like.

Then there was a personal issue with one of the guys in the band.  That sort of threw a wrench into everything, and delayed things even further.

While nurture and Flying Suit were taking off, they were occupying most of my time.  I didn’t really have the time or inclination to think much about Footstone, or Gapeseed or Toast for that matter.  I was too busy, and I’d already spent the Lippy money re-pressing Flying Suit.  So I couldn’t afford to put it out anyway, even if it was done.

On top of all that, work was insane.  I had become sort of a prick in the office, mostly because I was so overworked and had no help.  My boss had allowed me to hire an assistant, but no sooner did she start working than he began monopolizing all her time.  “Type a memo!  Make my flight arrangements!  Get so-and-so on the phone!”  

Meanwhile, I sat in my office, chugging along, trying to get things done at twice the pace, all the while pissed at my tiny salary.

I think my boss felt my disillusionment, so he pulled me aside one day and told me that we needed to find a real high-tech product, to differentiate us from our competition.  Mostly, all we sold was aftermarket accessories for cell phones.  We had something special with a battery charger that operated with negative pulse technology; we were able to sell the thing for $79.99 and make a killing all day because we had an exclusive deal with the manufacturer.  We looked at that as a hit, and decided we were having some luck with the high-tech market, particularly in specialty retail stores and electronics retailers.

So he hooked me up with a company that had invented what was called “tip and ring” technology.  Basically, it was a device that simulated a dial tone.

Cellphones have no dial tone.  Conventional telephone equipment, like fax machines and PCMCIA modems, needed a dial tone to trigger their functionality.  This new technology enabled a cellphone to be used with a piece of telephone equipment.

This might sound useless today, but in 1994 there was really no technology out there that enabled the transmission of data over a cellular network.  If you wanted to use a notebook computer over the internet, you had to be plugged into a wall jack.  “Tip and ring” technology enabled you to hook a notebook computer up to your cellphone, and transmit data at a blazing-fast 2400 bits per second.

I then had a meeting with some engineers at a world-renowned research lab.  They had invented a new kind of ceramic that could withstand considerably more heat than most ceramic.  This enabled them to create multi-function PCMCIA cards (prior to that, most PCMCIA cards only had a single function – a modem, perhaps, or additional memory).

SO I began working on a product that would take the form of a PCMCIA card, but would contain a modem and a tip-and-ring device, that you could then attach to your cellphone with an external cable.

World-beating, I know.

I also worked on a portable tip-and-ring device that basically hooked between your laptop and your cellphone, enabling a simpler (and cheaper) data-over-cellular connection.

And lastly, I worked on a larger tip-and-ring device that you would mount your cellphone on, which enabled you to charge your cellphone battery while transmitting data wirelessly, over the internet.

At 2400 BPS.

I had packaging all designed, and names trademarked for the products.  I had plans to build prototypes.  And one day Steve, the sales manager, was in my office.

“Nobody’s going to buy that piece of shit, you know,” he said.

“Fuck you,” I told him.  “There’s nothing else like it.”

“I’m sure you’re right, for you and the ten other people who need the product.”

“Shows what you know,” I said.  “There are tens of millions of cellphone users, tens of millions of internet users.  You don’t think there’s a point where both sets of people converge?”

“Sure.  Definitely.  Someday.  But not today,” he said.  “Today, the technology just isn’t there.”

“Right,” I said.  “But somebody needs to be first to market.  The guy who establishes a leadership position in the market will dominate the market going forward.”

With that, my boss came into the room and looked at Steve.  “Oh, are you talking to the Data God?” 

Steve laughed.  “The National Director of Wireless Data.”

He looked at me and said “Vice President of Useless Products.”

I sat there in silence, looking back and forth between them both.  Finally, I managed to sputter out a “Fuck you.”

Steve said “How about you give me a ten-dollar leather case for the new Motorola phone?”

“It’s in production,” I said. “We’ll have it in 30 days.”

“Great.  So for the next 30 days, you can fuck around with wireless data products while my competitors put their leather cases in every retailer in the country.”

“Bullshit,” I said.  “Nobody has that product yet.  I’m first to market with every product.”

“Sorry, Shit-For-Brains,” Steve said, using his nickname for me.  “Our competitors are already shipping it.”

“What?!” my boss screamed.  “Is that true?”

“NO!” I yelled.  “He’s full of shit!”

“Oh, you are so.  Fucking.  Fired.” Steve said, shaking his head.

“Maybe you should spend a little less time working on data over cellular, and a little more time working on doing your job,” my boss said.  

“Wireless data is the future of this business,” I said.

“Wireless data is the future of this business,” my boss said, mocking me.  “That’s why you won’t last two weeks in this business without me.  Nobody gives a shit about the future of this business.  I give a shit about the now of this business.  I give a shit about what products I can ship to retail stores today.

I felt like an ass.  My boss gave me this project, to develop this wireless data product, and then they made fun of me for it and implied that I was slacking off in my job responsibilities by working on it.  But it was the jabs that bugged me the most.  They were all in their 40s and I was just 25 – where I felt like they should have treated me with respect for what I did – or at the very least, professional courtesy – instead, they took jabs whenever they could.  

Steve would poke fun of the Mommyheads.  Somehow, he got it in his head that they were some sort of punk band, as opposed to the pop band that they were.  I think that he thought they were like the Undead or something.

When Flying Suit came out, I gave him a copy, figuring he’d pop it into his CD player and finally shut the fuck up.  He took it and was very gracious about it, but he never stopped making fun of the Mommyheads – which made it clear to me that he never took the time to listen to it.

They also made fun of my lifestyle.  My boss and Steve were both fairly wealthy and well-paid; I made about 10% of Steve’s base salary and less than that percentage of my boss’.  They lived like kings – Armani suits, five-star restaurants, expensive cars.  I wore $100 suits from Today’s Man.  I ate lunch at McDonald’s, or I brought lunch from home.  I drove a used Ford Probe that cost $11,000.

When we went on the road, I just didn’t know how to live like they did.  When I was alone, I’d order up a pizza and a couple cans of Coke from room service.  They’d go out to the most expensive restaurant in town.  I’d pack all my dirty clothes in one section of my suitcase and wash them when I got home.  They had the hotel clean all their clothes, so that when they unpacked, everything was clean.  I’d carry everything onto the airplane with me.  They shipped everything ahead.

One night in Las Vegas, I was having dinner with Steve and we were talking about what alcoholic beverages we liked to drink.  I told him I loved beer, and was acquiring a taste for microbrews, thanks largely to Footstone and American Standard.  

“Do you drink wine?” he asked.

“No, I don’t really like wine.  Sandy likes white zinfandel.”

“White zinfandel is not wine,” he responded.

“Whatever,” I said.  “We drink what we like.”

“Do you like hard alcohol?” he asked.

“When I want to get really loaded, I’ll drink a bottle of Southern Comfort,” I replied.  “At family parties, I’ll guzzle a glass of frozen sambuca.  I drink a shot of sambuca in my coffee.  That’s really it.”

“You don’t drink Scotch?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “It all tastes like turpentine.”

He then went on to tell me how unsophisticated I was, and how Scotch was such a gentleman’s drink, with so many varying flavors and textures.  

“Still, it tastes like turpentine to me.”

He frowned.  “Okay,” he said.  “I’m going to order you some Scotch.  I’ll educate you.”  He looked at the menu, which had an extensive list of single malts.  The waitress came over, and he placed an order.  

Eventually, the waitress came back with four shotglasses, each filled to the rim.  She put two in front of me, and two in front of Steve.

“Now,” he explained.  “One of these glasses is filled with a Scotch that has an oaky flavor.  The other has more of a smoky flavor.  You drink them both, and tell me which is which.”

“Oaky and smoky,” I said.

“Oaky and smoky.”

“Okie dokie,” I said, took one shotglass in each hand, and threw both of them down my throat like a drunken sailor.

“NO!” Steve yelled.  But I had already thrown both shots back.

“What?!” I asked.

“You’re not supposed to drink Scotch like that!” he yelled.  “You’re supposed to sip it!”

“Sip it?!  If I’m supposed to sip it, why did they serve it to me in a shotglass?”

“Those are not shotglasses,” he said.  “They’re Scotch glasses.  Each of those two glasses of Scotch you just drank were $40.  You’re supposed to savor them.”

I had just drank $80 worth of Scotch in less than five seconds.

So maybe, in a way, they were right.  I was kind of a knucklehead.  

But at the same time, I wasn’t about to spend $80 for two shots of Scotch when I could get a whole bottle of Southern Comfort for $15.

~ by Al on June 21, 2009.

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