It all started quite well, thank you.
After four years of Internet-surfing,
I decided that it was time to maybe think of making money with that arcane
knowledge and cyber-experience. France being a country where the stamped
and accredited diploma is king, I registered at a "multimedia school" and
went for the "Webmaster" course. Two months, too short; I already
knew about 75% of what we learned, and ultimately wasted a lot of time.
Even the languid brunette in the next row played hard to get the whole
two months and, in the end, remained ungotten! But it got me all scrolled
up, diplomated, certified, and... interviewed.
First visit to the school job counselor a month after the course ended.
She hands me her cell phone:
-"Michel, how would you like to talk
to this new amateur soccer dotcom? They need a webmaster."
-"Absolument, ma chère"
And the next day I'm in their offices, talking to the brothers Khaled and
Nooredine (the names have been altered to protect the guilty), development
director Gerard, and my future direct supervisor and content director (And
former soccer pro), Serge.
The idea was to have a web site dedicated to
soccer in general, and focusing on the amateur competitions in particular.
The site would have everything and more. We would be all things soccer
to all people!
Now, you know me. I laid on the charm, told them trans-Atlantic stories,
and duly impressed them with my tech expertise and twenty-plus bilingual
years in America. Especially the twenty years in America! "Because
we plan to go international within a year and we can use someone who speaks
English" Serge said.
-"We're associated with TF1 (largest TV network
in Europe) and France-Inter (State radio) for web exposure and advertising
revenues. We're developing a Manager's kit that'll help amateur managers
run their team and organize their schedule on a daily basis. There are
upwards of 12O,OO teams in France and I have a big address book, so we'll
sell a lot of these. We also have a boutique selling sportswear and sports
items of all types, and that one should be a doozy. We provide, through
an associate, complete soccer player insurance coverage at very competitive
prices. It goes along with legal professional services and career training
and improvement courses. We're developing in JSP (Java Server Pages) a
huge search engine and picture galleries of hundreds of teams and thousands
of players, and we'll have a daily compilation of all the results of all
matches in every one of the dozens of regional leagues and sub leagues
in France, then other European countries as we expand. Within six months
we'll have profit sharing and stock options for the employees. Ultimately,
we'd like to sell the site for millions within two years and retire. What
do you think?"
-" Did I tell you how much I looove soccer??
And I just happen to have a pen right here..."
So I joined the "team" as Webmaster in name; html-integrator
That month of September was all bliss and enchantment, I'll say!
was I off into a new life in just one interview, with some decent Francs
to boot, but it meant having to come into a swell part of town every
morning. And I mean SWELL!
Picture this if you can: getting off the metro at Palais Royal, I step
into the rue de Rivoli 18 inches from the wall of the Louvre, so it's
4OO yards of Louvre to the left, and 4OO yards to the right. Crossing
I get a right side view of the Palais Royal, while the grand vistas of
the avenue de l'Opera, leading to the Palais Garnier, march out to the
left. Another 10 minute walk in rue Richelieu and its four-century old
townhouses, and I'm at the office. Huge offices at that, thousands of
square feet on two levels, lots of space for everybody...
And that's everyday. I know, you feel bad for me. I don't get to enjoy
all that luscious Jersey vegetation riding the speed line before getting
Well, then it was all work and no play. Looking at Dreamweaver and
Photoshop and Fireworks all day (no Flash for me, thanks!), integrating
all the soccer stories and trivia the three or four writers
concocted, and optimizing the action photographs this photo service e-mailed
us from matches in the deep boondocks.
There were five of us, and we were
in charge of the Press department and football content. Three of the
four writers had played football (I'll call it that, from now on, but
I mean soccer, OK?) professionally in the 1980s; one of them making it
to the First Division for one season and playing against some of the
mythical stars of the period—much to the envy of the other two
who had to grovel in Second Division or worse, sometimes at the edge
of losing their
But they worked well in this new cyber career and wrote many good stories.
Of course, the site couldn't afford to send any of them on location to
cover this or that match, nor could we hire locals to send in stuff regularly.
So it was all rewrites of wire dispatches and sport publications, or copy-pastes
from local newspapers with an Internet existence. Imagine running a web
dedicated to Minor League Baseball, and having to wait for the next day
issue of the Butte Montana Standard to get final scores and a recap on
Class AA non-conference American Legion double header between the Helena
Senators and the Butte Miners, so your "journalists" can rewrite
some other guy's story as if they had been there all along...
We did that every day, several times a day.
And it was a piece of cake. Nobody was the wiser, and after a while we
were indeed getting local fans to email in their own private impressions
week's match, complete with the referee's name and the pitch condition.
the hallway from us content boys were the computer guys (and gal) who liked
to think of themselves as inventors and cutting edge developers. The bright
future the Internet aimed for.
Oh, how they scoffed at good ol' HTML, how
they swore tomorrow would belong to Flash animation and Java beans and
servlets and Jrun Servers. The daily reality was, of course, far more prosaic.
Jrun server kept crashing and JSP pages not coming up, and the Flash animations
were ugly, top and bottom heavy, and essentially did little else but "animate" some
mighty big pixels floating about on the page, (which might have looked
like a moving rendition of a football if you looked at the screen squinting
3O feet away.) Real swell stuff!
I took all my lunches with the computer genies, however. The football types
were just too, er... rustic to spend my lunch breaks with. The tech crew
was at least able to handle conversation past the immediate concerns of
their daily grind, (namely how to get a Flash movie to "get-URL and tell-target" so
as to open this or that browser window into one or more frameset.) Meaning
they could also rave about yet another reggae-pop-soul tune they'd downloaded
earlier courtesy of uncle Napster, or rant about the perceived racist potential
in some offhand remark someone may have made somehow somewhere...
But still I lunched and laughed with them.
The little fuckers were half my age, but still I thought I'd managed to
get myself a membership in their posse. Of course, it can be difficult
interest in a non-descript, ragamuffin hip-hop soul number a la Mary J.
Blige or Lisa Stanfield, or some "soul" ditty dripping some of
that cavity inducing R. Kelly sweetener.
Seek ye not another musical style in their bill
o' fare, for they neither knew nor cared about it at all.
Unfortunately, this amiable era was soon to end, with the first fall quickly
upon us. After a mere month, we had to vacate the premises described above,
and one of the partners offered the use of one of the classrooms in the
management training school he operated.
Fair enough, except it meant a daily trek to
Aubervilliers, a horrid suburb on the north side of town. No more Louvre
and assorted royal palaces; the end to Renaissance townhouses and baroque
mansions beckoning me every morning. Instead, it was “Bonjour” to
dilapidated industrial tracts, bombed out factories, burnt out shells of
unidentifiable origins and concrete block pedigrees.
We will not mention
the one subway, two suburban trains, and occasional bus it took me to get
These new dread and dire surroundings quickly had a bearing on morale,
my own first and foremost. It became uncomfortable, an odd feeling suffusing
the whole affair, barely discernible at first, then blatant and out in
the open. Some of the partners stopped showing up every day, the old-time
stars who used to drop by and hang with us simply disappeared. I noticed
that less and less work was being done, especially after content chief
Serge cut his attendance in half. Now, what would you expect a gang of
do when the boss is out, and supervision drops out of existence? Why, NOTHING
of course and let me tell you, they were real good at it!
Being the only one working and making an effort, while your alleged tech
colleagues loaf, laugh and slack can be exceedingly frustrating and demoralizing.
After throwing the Napster habit into the mix, it can get downright disturbing.
When we were in Paris proper, our ISP/host was across the courtyard from
our offices. We had a coax cable going from our intranet server straight
through the wall and into the ISP's quasi backbone Internet link-up. Talk
about fast and furious: plain surfing the web was usually faster than running
an app on your local hard drive. So nobody noticed when Napsterization
went on full swing, from all hands on deck at that moment.
But now, in suburban
hell, with a puny 128K ISDN connection and five fools downloading yet another
Marley tune or hunting bimbos on IRC whilst
the writers surfed for info on yesterday's matches and another did his
Hotmail... well, my feeble and out-of-place attempts at working and transferring
via FTP onto the site crawled and ground to a halt pretty quick. And so
it turned out that I had to sit next to a colleague who did NO work for
on end, I kid you not, but developed an impressive set of skills with Napster,
Nero, and the burning of countless music compilations for his (delectable)
wife and assorted cronies, on the company's CD-R drive.
Nicely, softly, diplomatically, I made ever so subtle comments to him about
maybe helping me out instead with this graphic process or that animation's
lack of fluidity, but to no avail. I could have talked for ever and a day,
and I would have seen nothing but a bemused look on his face, with a hint
of baffled annoyance at my preposterous implications that maybe something
work related should be performed here!
Two months later, by mid-December, things were going nowhere fast and in
all directions at once.
The partners engaged in a furious battle to get more
money from investors (without having to give any control to those same
smile, pay up, and keep quiet" was the way they wanted it), and get
more individual private power for themselves. The crew was by now clearly
divided, with the techies and the football types at each other's throats,
and salaried employees doing what should never be done—taking obvious
sides in the war between partners. If you're going to pick one boss against
another while they fight over control of what makes your rent and grocery
money, you'd better make sure you pick the right one. As you may imagine,
my dopey colleagues picked the wrong horse. When one of the erstwhile silent
partners decided he wanted to speak out on behalf of his sizable investment,
and quickly won that battle of words, the workforce went overnight from
a twelve to a four head-count, with yours truly the sole technical operator
left in place.
By then I had been totally ostracized by the tech crew. It was fairly subtle
at first, and only suspicion and paranoia told me something was amiss.
But when full-fledged dinner parties for ten were organized out loud right
front of me, when restaurant reservations were made and car pick-ups organized,
all of it without me, I think I got the message.
But it bothered me not. By then I knew their days were numbered, and it
was a perverse delight counting those days, their days, all the way to
conclusion. Unfortunately, I had to go into the hospital to get operated
for a hernia, so I missed all the dismissal fun, but best of all, I didn't
have to pretend and say good-bye.
And then, there were four.
The following six weeks proved to be quite pleasant indeed. I got to redo
the entire site, jettisoning all the bad Flash animation and ugly graphics,
going for a strange earth-tone-meets-psychedelic look, which was a bit
of a surprise for a football site!! We learned to accept that the Jrun
who compiled all scores, rankings, and schedules for all the different
leagues, would conk out one out of every six starts. We were left to our
with no boss or supervisor around for days on end. But we worked, and the
four of us got more done in a month than a crew of twelve achieved in six!
Needless to say, not having to cringe through hours of bad commercial music
(or a daily thick cloud of cigarette smoke) helped a lot with feeling good
about coming to work. And without a Napster fool in sight to clutter the
connection, we had so much bandwidth we could bathe in the stuff!
But all good things (figure of speech) must come to an end. The head
developer, the fellow who wrote and set-up all the JSP/Jrun stuff, claimed
to have been owed a lot of money for writing questionable code and allegedly
maintaining the sorry results. The money-people denied the claim, and the
whole recrimination went on for weeks.
One day, after a particularly heated
exchange between them, the site simply disappeared from the server. I noticed
that all the Java .class and JSP files had been tampered with during the
night, so it took me little time to understand what had happened. In seconds
I jumped into action. It was beautiful, you should have been there. Never
had a web site been turned from a technological hybrid oil refinery type
and trim as could be, in such a short time. After another hacking overnight
attempt, and another quick parade from OMIP, we got an unexpected visit
from our obviously frazzled former tech chief, who had by then realized
not do anything to stop us from a distance, and had only one option left:
turn off our local intranet server (a nice big Compaq pro server running
on NT4, with three HDs, 5OO+ megs of ram, a Pentium III with a nifty 8OO
Mhz clock speed), and change the password.
So he did just that and we ground to the expected halt. Good things coming
in pairs, one of the shady partners (the one who let us use some of his
space) had to move his operation very quickly, having run into a mysterious
of disagreement with his landlord. So without an accessible server, nor
a space to spread our wares and do our thing, the decision making money
with the mostest decided this was his cue to stop everything, pull the
plug, plug the leaks, and lock his wallet.
And it was my cue to join former dotcom employees in that new international
business practice of the hi-tech world: collecting unemployment!