company retreat - Thursday November 12 1998    

I took the morning off work to help Kim begin moving our stuff from the cabana in Normal Heights down to our new apartment in Ocean Beach, some five or six miles away to the west. We filled the Volvo with as much stuff as we could, we'd take the freeway to the beach, and then we'd take stuff into our new place. There was an indulgent rug layer putting new wall-to-wall carpeting in our new apartment and he didn't seem to upset when we stole his parking spot and carried armloads of our stuff over his unfinished project and stacked it up in the kitchen.
Complicating our move today was a scheduled multi-day Company Retreat to begin tonight after work. Like nearly everyone else at my workplace, I'd agreed to go to this retreat, even though (in my case) it was coming at a bad time.
My main challenge (as they say in my workplace) was getting my blue comforter cleaned before noon, when I was supposed to be at work. The comforter, which I wanted to take to the retreat, was stained and dirty from months of Kappa Mutha Fucka and full of sand after several recent trips to the beach. For some reason the need to wash and then dry the comforter provided most of the stress during today's moving (an inherently stressful activity under the best of circumstances), so much so that at one point Kim started singing, "Chill out, chill out!" as she often does when I seem to be on edge. The stress abated greatly when Kim agreed to drop the comforter off at work sometime this afternoon. We walked down to Newport Street and ate falafel sandwiches at the Greek place.
My principle achievement at work today involved automating the posting of a chat schedule. It involved a mind-boggling complex interaction of date functions, but my knowledge of Active Server Pages has now reached the point where I hardly needed to debug my new creation.
Of course there were other things that needed doing at the last minute, and we in the web implementation team were there in the office attacking them well past the time when we were supposed to have set off for the retreat. Little "challenges" kept rearing up and setting us back. But with just us there working on things in an otherwise empty office (and using plenty of humour), it was wonderful.
The retreat was to be in Idyllwild, a town in the high rocky mountains that separate the coastal region of southern California from the deep below-sea-level valley occupied by such east-California towns as Palm Springs. On the way up I sat in the back seat with Sherms, the web developer guy, while Jay (the other web programmer) drove and Bennett (the web design team leader) rode shotgun. All of us except Jay were eating Tandori Chicken. After several dozen miles Bennett asked me to tell how I'd spent the last year of my life. I hadn't really thought about it until he asked, but a year ago I was working at a failing Internet Service Provider, learning as much as I could, but soon to be jobless, then homeless and certainly devoid of consequential sexual relationships. Now I'm the picture of the American Ideal, making a better-than-average wage, with a sexier/smarter-than-average girlfriend, living on the beach. Bennett had a rather similar story to tell, but for him all the changes happened over a 36 hour period back in 1994. Sherms, on the other hand, has never been out of the region and has never experienced any radical life changes.
Via incredibly curvy roads, we finally climbed into the rugged rocky mountains of Idyllwild and eventually found the scene of our company retreat: a big fancy A-frame house nestled in among western pines and other unfamiliar evergreens. It had been rented by the company specifically for this retreat.
By the time we in the web implementation group arrived, all scheduled activities were over and people were engaged in recreational activities. There was a game of poker going and the pool table had a discouragingly long queue. So we in the content/web teams played some cards at a table of our own, using jigsaw puzzle pieces for chips. I had no idea how to play, of course, and participated entirely for social reasons. There were plenty of beers and other drinks, and most people were indulging. Later on, after Jay and Al started strumming a pair of guitars completely out of tune with respect to one another, I noticed that some in our midst were very drunk indeed.
I had some good and increasingly intoxicated conversations with people, especially Kevin, the database administrator. He was, like me, still on a high from the refreshingly wonderful qualities of our new work environment: the casual atmosphere, the unpretentious, hands-on quality of the managers, and the engrossing nature of the work. I'm still amazed to discover that this place has successfully tapped into my incredible productivity potential. My employers have pulled off a rare feat indeed, and if everything is as good as it seems, then I'll be able to accomplish great things here.
But there are traces of ominous winds that occasionally waft hauntingly from the hairlike cracks in this utopia. There's an artificial aspect to some of the old timers, as if they're holding back some dark secret they don't want me knowing quite so soon, as if they've each built walls of protection against dangerous and as yet unseen forces, drama masks of fake emotion, and, most of the time, weary poker-faces of non-emotion. What is it that drains these people? What is it thats sustains these people? There is mystery here.
Each of us slept where we could in nooks and crannies throughout the house. Upstairs there was a room lined with comfortable cushioned benches, and a large fraction of our some three dozen people ended up sleeping there. I have to admit that when I first saw this room, I was unnerved by how closely it resembled a scene from the aftermath of Heaven's Gate.
I spent the night behind a couch on a linear arrangement of pillows. A group of girls on the balcony above me couldn't contain their fits of giggles and the resulting noise kept me up longer than I would have liked, especially considering how early we'd be getting started tomorrow morning.
There were also a few scuffles and arguments among various drunk individuals, seemingly pointing to that ominous unknown dark thing to which I referred earlier.

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