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   acquisition portrayed as merger
Friday, November 5 1999
The workday was more or less devastated by two things: a dysfunction development database and the mass arrival of every employee from a recently-acquired competitor based in Austin. Since there wasn't much to do about either of these situations, I could only thank the fates that they decided to happen on the same day.
In the mid morning, the employees of the conquered company began arriving. They were about equal in number to the number of people in our company three months ago. They looked like vaguely similar people, though in general (with a few notable exceptions) they seemed like a hipper, more-worldly crowd. This comes as no surprise; the Schteveish resort quality of San Diego makes Austin look like a lone star Paris. (I've never been to Austin, but all the cool people tell me it's ever so cool, and I believe them.)
Most of us who have been in our company for a few months or more were paired with various Austin people. I was paired with a nondescript guy named Matt, with whom I hung out for perhaps only a half hour or so. Me and fellow web developer Jonathan RoguePinoy went around the office with our charges introducing them to our various co-workers in all the departments. Since at least half of our workforce seems to have been hired within the last two months, we found ourselves in the peculiar position of having to introduce ourselves before we could get to the business of introducing the Austin guys.
At around noon there was a catered lunch out in the central second floor courtyard for all the employees of both companies. I looked out over the teaming mass of paired-off information revolution workers, most of them having names I did not know, and I realized that what I was witnessing was something like prophase I of meiosis, with the individual employees behaving something like chromosomes. But it was more sad than the biological analogue; there is no conservation of "chromosomes" in corporate meiosis; any superfluous workers left over won't be conserved. And, despite happy talk to the contrary, this was much more of an acquisition than it was a merger. Picture one gamete devouring another and digesting for fuel all but the least redundant of the chromosomes.
There was a big ra-ra meeting planned for the entire of the afternoon, so I snuck out to attend to some bank business thinking no one would notice my absence. I came back just in time, because (despite the vast crowd of people) my presence was just about to be expected. The company was about to decide on a new "company cheer." Let me backtrack just a little.
If you've been following along, you'll remember me complaining about the fascistic pep-rally quality of our weekly company meetings, all of which end with a cheer led by Karin the overly-involved member support czarina. Among the cheer's many brutish traits was its embarrassing rhyming of "Ra Ra Ree" with "Make some money." I don't know if the cheer's inherent inanity had anything to do with the Grand Pooh Bah's recent decision to have a contest to come up with its replacement, but I don't really care; it was an opening for subversion and I took it.
The first cheer I submitted to the competition had all the qualities of "Gus does corporate sell out," but with my subversive intent neatly driven home in the last two lines:

[Name of Company] DOT com!
[Name of Company] DOT com!
Our tribe has grown so big
It's spilling from the Wigwam!

We've got mail, a phone system,
a greeter program too
And if you're lonely tonight
There's always [Name of our matchmaker application]!

There's money to be made
We'll find a way to make it
If that means fake the funk
Yo baby I will fake it!

I spammed that particular cheer to everyone in the company several weeks ago, and after receiving uniformly positive feedback, I came up with another. This one lauded our company for keeping drunk-driving perverts off the street and had a more obviously subversive intent:

Fee Fi Fo Fum
[Name of Company] and a bottle of rum!
I did drink and drive
And crash my car
But now I know where
The hot chicks are!

Instead of going to
The happy hour
I go to [Name of Company]
And feel the power!

I point my browser
At [Name of Company] DOT com
I fix a drink
And my cares are gone!

I check the boards
I build a page
I sip my booze
And conceal my age.

Those [Name of Company] chicks
Are so friendly and neat
And so much finer
Than those in the street.

It wasn't a complete surprise to find that in today's huge meeting I would, like the other cheer submitters, have to read my two cheers aloud. I actually saw this as a good thing. Within my introspective shell, you see, I'm an egomaniacal showman with a nascent knack for extemporaneous performance. And here was my big break, an opportunity to introduce myself to a whole crowd of new faces mixed in with a substantial entourage of supportive colleagues.
The first several cheers delivered by others were decidedly tepid. Stage fright is a common thing among people, even VPs of Whatever. But when I took the stage, the crowd was little more to me than an animated painted set; I didn't feel like I had anything at stake. I wanted nothing more than to give a powerful, nuanced delivery. And though the style of my delivery was much more like that of a participant in a poetry slam than it was the numb ranting of brainwashed Hitler Youth, it came off extremely well. After the second of my cheers, the crowd was wild with enthusiasm.
It seemed my little show had the effect of raising the bar on subsequent performance quality. Its comic qualities seemed to have the effect of relaxing the apprehension of the later contestants, most of whom went on to give exceptional performances. The content of their cheers, however, were uniformly inane, with the exception of another subversive cheer by Al that ended with something like "We drink our booze and beat our hos!"
The crowd seemed to go craziest for a cheer written by a contingent of Austin folks. This was partly a condescension by us San Diego folks to their vanquished army, though it also reflected their strongly cohesive Austin pride.
The rest of the meeting was pure propaganda. The "union" of our two companies was demonstrated in a clever Powerpoint presentation that showed our clunky old "dot-com-free" logo (circa January 1999) unifying with the swooshy "dot-com-enabled" logo of the acquired company to form the logo our company has been using since March of this year. It almost concealed the fact that nothing about our company has changed while the Austin company's brand is dissolving into nothingness, a fate worse than even that which awaits a maiden name.
The sheer number of people crowded into one room had the effect of raising the temperature into the 90s. if you figure the average person puts out the heat of a 100 watt bulb, the combined thermal output of all the people in the room was something like 18 kilowatts. Halfway through the meeting, the Grand Pooh Bah suggested we relocate outside to the courtyard (where our humid numbers could generate thermals suitable for hang gliders).
Near the end of the Grand Pooh Bah's presentation, as he and the vanquished CEO from the other company each received framed photographs documenting the supposed moment when the two decided to merge their companies, me and Peter (one of the other developers from a company acquired earlier) decided to add some typical spice from traditional company culture into the mix, and we pelted the two CEOs with shredded lettuce left over from the catered lunch. This outrage seemed to shock the Austin crowd, but I could tell our Grand Pooh Bah found this a reassuring display of continued old-school cultural integrity. (He vehemently protested the demise of ritual birthday-mucking of employees when the practice was ended back in January.)
After the Grand Pooh Bah was done with his part of the afternoon, the finalists in the cheer contest were announced. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately) I was not among them. My supporters' votes had been divided between two cheers, and this had pushed both my cheers down to fourth and fifth place, neatly (or, perhaps, conveniently) outside the top-three.
The Austin team's unwieldy cheer ended up winning, the final conceit to this beleaguered former-competitor. Sadly for them, this cheer will probably end up being their single biggest contribution to our corporate culture.

The next thing on the agenda was to head downtown and check out the new facility we'll be moving into sometime in early December. I rode with Don, a 39 year old UNIX developer our company recently hired to deal with the gigabytes of data from our octopusian Accrue tracking system. He had a convertible and it was rush hour. We mostly talked about the alcoholic drug-addicted folks he stayed with in Ocean Beach when he first came to San Diego a year and a half ago.
The new pad in downtown San Diego is on the top two floors of a gild-facaded 7 story building tucked in amongst the sky scrapers. We milled around, looking out the windows, blown away by how cool it all was. Through walls of glass we could see the other towers of San Diego as well as the distant harbor and, farther on, the movie-sized sunset. The sixth floor was completely unfinished and scruffy with broken dry wall, hanging cables, and even some graffiti but it definitely felt like the the sort of place from which someone could rule the world. Since that's the stated objective, the objective itself seemed that much more plausible.
It was a good thing there was a keg of Karl Strauss, because what followed was the single longest ritual of Energy ever recorded. Every one of us stood in a circle, all 180 people, and as our turns came up, we spoke highly of a colleague who had inspired and motivated us over the past week. It was natural, then, for the top executives from our company to give energy to top brass of the vanquished army. If there had been no beer, it would have been difficult to take. But I was drunk, and when my turn came, I gave a little monologue about how inspired I was by the subtle recruiting talents of Paul the technical recruiter. I ended the monologue by saying something positive about the people he hires as well, thereby triggering the "penalty" for those who give energy to more than one person. I was delighted of course, and had it all worked out what I would do as I walked out into the spotlight in the middle of the circle and leapt into the air with energetic joy. Here was another opportunity for shameless showmanship, and this time I was drunk.
The penalty this week was to sing a show tune or perform a lounge act. So, as I paced in the spotlight, I made up a preposterous tale about how the inspirational song "Jesus Loves Me Yes I Know" began its life as an obscure Chinese lounge act, and that I had learned this from my mother, who, I said, spoke with a strong Melrose, Massachusetts accent. I threw in the part about my mother to get around the fact that several people in the crowd knew Chinese. You see, the only times I've ever heard the Chinese translation of "Jesus Loves Me," my mother was the one singing it, and she (as was fellow Bostonian John F. Kennedy) is notoriously bad with foreign accents. I began to sing (using the familiar crooning lounge style:)

Yes-sue I wah-wah
Din Jer
Bing bang wah-wah
Square-root Sir!
A Habalah Ki-wah
Skoo Yet-su!...

As expected, the crowd went wild. Unfortunately, Energy was only half over.

When Energy was finally over with, I rode with Don on a mission back to Ocean Beach. There was a company "integration party" happening up in La Jolla at the posh residence of the most Dixie of the various VPs of Marketing, and I had it in mind to pick up Kim and possibly Lisa.
But when I got home, Kim was infuriated with me because I hadn't called her to arrange any plans for the evening. She'd been aware that I'd been Downtown, so after her shift she'd waited for me at the V!ctoria Rose. But when I never contacted her, she'd returned to Ocean Beach in disgust. I found her hanging out with the neighbor Lisa, who had evidently been stoking Kim's hormonally-intensified fires for the past hour or more.
So there was a big fight between me and Kim in our bedroom while Lisa and Don chatted quietly out in the living room. Kim suspected that I'd been too cozy with some of the hot, hip & happening Austin chicks and went on to imply that success in my company had gone to my head, that I'd become a big corporate man and that I thought I was too good for her. "You've changed; you're not the guy I met back in Ann Arbor!" That sort of thing.
Somehow things stabilized and Kim's rage abated, and for a time it even seemed that Lisa was going to join Kim, Don and me on the convertible ride up to La Jolla. But at the last minute Lisa and her 70s-style bell bottoms bailed, and we left without her. It was cold in the back seat of the convertible until I lay down next to the heat.
Glenn, the most Dixie of our Marketing VPs had a decidedly posh pad. It was a ranch house, I guess you could say, and then some. Out in the back was a large, curved pool, and from around it one had a commanding view of an east La Jolla canyon. Tonight's party was entirely catered by a servile team of people of Mexican and African ancestry.
To the surprise of my colleagues (I would guess), my sobriety had largely returned, so I jumped back into the game with glass after glass of red wine.
Everybody who was anybody from our company was at the party, though very few employees had brought their significant others. In passing, someone told me that the party was officially an employees-only event. This isn't to say that anyone resented Kim's presence; indeed, she seemed to hit it off especially well with the most ossified of the older Marketing guys. She found charming, comic personalities in people I'd written off as stuffed-shirts long ago, including Glenn, host of tonight's party. Admittedly, since meeting Kim I've allowed my social skills to soften and shrink, but she more than made up for my many social oversights with her proactive socializing tonight. She got into a long discussion with Glenn and his wife, warming them up by telling them that their house and decorations had an appealingly southern feel, with a just a trace of Japan. Kim also brought up the decidedly southern fact that she had gone to college in New Orleans, and this launched Glenn into a monologue on the wonders of drinking and dining in New Orleans. It turned out that our host was more of decadent carouser than we had ever suspected.
Glenn later told the people at my table about his days as a marketing manager for Pepsi, when he actually got to meet Michæl Jackson. According to Glenn, Michæl Jackson was weird, peeling, and child-obsessed even back in the day. (This Michæl Jackson story was to top a story told by Adam, another VP of marketing, about his experience meeting Leonardo DiCaprio and his entourage of gorgeous women and old, greying men.)
Eric, the most financially successful of our web developers, had decided to actually wear a tie to work today. To me it seemed like a transparent attempt to come across to the Austin people, particularly the sexy women (one of whom he followed around Glenn's party all night), as a person of authority and power. I tend to think my theatric method of impressing the Austin people was considerably more honourable and accurate.

Kim and I rode back to Ocean Beach with Al. We were joined at our place by a small entourage of fellow co-workers including Kevin the DBA, Peter the Developer and Scott the Sales guy. Not having any of their own, they gleefully smoked almost all of our kind bud. At a certain point in the evening, Kim and I abandoned our guests and went off to our room to do the nookie.

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