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Friday, April 9, 1999
By Paul Ford
Why the desire to network? Why the desire to shake hands and make connections?
Why the desire to network? Today I went back at the offices of the company I quit three months ago, to take on some freelance work. The person hiring me to write speeches and brochures is the president of that company. I used to work in the same division with her boyfriend, who quit soon after me. I asked her how he was doing. She gave me his cell number.
Then I met a senior salesman and asked him to send me leads on any work he was turning down, work in the 300K-1000K range, the space that my current company finds desirable.
Out on the street, walking back to Rock, Paper, Scissors, I placed a call on my cell to the boyfriend of the president. "We're growing out over here, and I wanted to get in touch," he said. He's general manager for a 30-person interactive shop, and he also told me our mutual friends had started a consulting business of their own. I need to call them.
Back at the office, I sent email to another senior sales person, compatriot of the first, asking him to drop us leads as well.
I don't care about it. It doesn't gain me a penny, all this talk. But sometimes I get the desire to shake the hands, to enter the pit and feel just the distant throbbing of the rhythm that guides the truly connected in their primal business-card dance. It validates me, makes me feel as if I am in the fray, not just hopping around the edge.
So many of these people are rich. One I spoke to today is from an industrial family in India, another has a father worth $200,000,000, another comes from an old New York family, and onward. They see it all as a puzzle, problems to be solved, work to be done, but they don't have that gasping feeling of falling into nothing, of losing all their value as human beings, if the paychecks stop coming.
I am jealous of it, their innate knowledge of which fork to use, and when they talk I keep getting headaches. I can't explain it, but rich people make my head hurt; I can't internalize what they're saying because there is no fear in their voices, and the drive, the passion, is fueled by something else. There motives--to generate more cash, to have big weddings, to enjoy neat stuff--are uttely alien to me. They travel the world, they come from South Africa and Long Island alike.
And now this funeral. My father's brother died last night. I didn't know him. My father can't talk about it--he doesn't feel much, day-to-day. But he did say to my brother and I, "You'll both be there for the wake on Wednesday and the funeral on Thursday." My father has no rank to pull; he didn't raise us that way, but in the last phone conversation of the evening, I said to my brother, "he didn't give you a choice, either, did he?"
"No," said my brother. "He made it clear that we were going to be there with him."
With my boss today, having just learned about my uncle, I said "art is gone; it's all business now." And she disagreed vehemently, a little shocked at my ignorance. But it's how I feel when I'm there, and when I come home the things that speak to me are dead voices, Joseph Conrad and David Hume. I am thinking more and more of a little room--hardly smaller than this one--where I lived a few years ago, and I miss it desparately, the green paint.
I miss one professor, who lived in a house on a pond. She was older, her face wrinkled, and didn't mind that at all. She had the largest collection of journals and autobiographies I had ever seen, leagues of books. It was her specialty as a professor.
I worked with her, but she never was my teacher. She would have me out to swim, and I would sometimes mow, or poison the algea in the pond. Her place was at the end of a short dirt road, a few miles walking from the little green room. Fish would bite you in the pond, and a librarian had his penis bitten, and a very reserved English professor had his nipple torn by a sunny.
She had a dog named Amber, a golden retreiver that would go into the woods, loping exhaustedly, 13 years old, and emerge with the shank of a deer, a maggot-filled section of a corpse already scavenged by less domestic predators, chewing determinedly. Carol met the bloody scene with a mixture of amusement at the savageness of such a sleepy animal, and exasperation at the disgusting flesh dragged into the lawn.
I helped her get her computer working so she could work on her novel. If I was too burnt out, I could go for a walk.
Today, during the day, I networked. It's an application of rhetoric, using as much speech as quickly as possible, before a phone ring or a beeper squeals.
Sometimes you see photocopies of strategic documents, documents someone paid $3000 for from Gartner, or McKinsey. The photocopy today had three circles in the bottom corner. The circles were labeled "content," "community," and "commerce." They overlapped, and at the intersection, there was the word "TRUST" in all capitals. So the idea, to my understanding, is that content, community, commerce, together, generate trust. And there is absolutely no truth in it. Every way you look at it, every rhetorical angle, it's absolute bullshit. You put something in three little circles and it looks great, it seems so real, but it's a total lie.
Maybe I need to go get an MBA, give in, tune in, drop in to the superculture. Let it win me over, the rhythm of cash in, cash out, ATMs breathing all over the world in harmony. The desire to join up is strong, to be part of the whole deal.
But then I think of the little circles on the document, and think of the woods...