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Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me

San Francisco and I are on Speaking Terms Again

A Bone to Pick

I had a bone to pick with San Francisco. The entire damned seven-by-seven miles of the city from the yuppie ghetto of the Marina to the no-man’s land known as South San Francisco. (Don’t get me started on the Valley — especially San Jose.)

It’s not any one thing that brought about the rift between me and what I like to call “The Richest city in the Third World”, but a combination of its many annoyances:

And let me tell you, even the lowest of the low in the shantytowns surrounding Manila do not take a dump in the middle of the sidewalk the way San Francisco homeless do.

It’s all that, along with what happened to me during my abruptly terminated stay in the city.

Westward ho!

Like most of my stories, it starts with an accordion. One of its many powers is to attract job offers, and in 2000, it got me promoted from programmer to programmer-and-developer-relations-guy. In a fit of needing to be where the action is, the company decided to open a San Francisco office and send its best or loudest spokespeople — namely Cory, me and our white-guy-who-drops-a-lot-of-black-urban-lingo-for-street-cred Chief Strategist — down there to shill our not-yet-existent and often-changing product. There was a short period, maybe a day or two, where I was leaning towards turning down the transfer when my then-girlfriend sagely pointed out this important fact: if I didn’t at least give it a try, I would regret it later.

I moved to San Francisco on December 28th, 2000. I was put in charge of taking care of the corporate apartment, a two-bedroom townhouse in a complex right by Alamo Square Park, whose Victorian houses you’ve probably seen in San Francisco pictures and postcards, as well as the opening shot for the intro to the TV series Full House (brr). The company was constantly sending people from Toronto to San Francisco, and the bean-counters figured that it would be cheaper to maintain a corporate apartment than to book them into hotels. My caretaker role meant that I lived rent-free in a new place equidistant from Soma, the Haight, the Marina and downtown. It was an arrangement not unlike the way Higgins looked after Robin Masters’ estate in Magnum, P.I., the differences being that I was not a stuffy Englishman and my Hawaiian shirt collection puts me in the Magnum fashion camp. (I suppose that Cory was my Robin Masters.)

By February, we had moved to the best damned office I’d ever worked in, made a big splash at a major conference and were being courted by the Beast of Redmond. It was all going accordion to plan.

The E! True Hollywood Story Turning Point, or: It All Goes Wrong

My girlfriend at the time and I were maintaining a long-distance relationship and had decided to shorten that distance considerably. She moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco in early March. About a week and a half later, horrified at everything about the city that makes Cory refer to it as “San Fran-scarcity”, she told me how much she hated the place and that she suddenly had some very serious doubts about the relationship. I asked her to think it over. After all, she hadn’t been there two weeks and it may just be a case of homesickness. I tried to tell her that although it’s not New York — no city is — it wasn’t as if she were suddenly moving to a cardboard box in downtown Calcutta. However, after a couple of hours of talking it over with her, it seemed that she was determined to flake out and I was resigned to the fact that she was going to move back. She booked a flight home for the following Monday.

That weekend could’ve been a miserable one, but it wasn’t. I “officially” broke up with her on Thursday, thereby demoting my status back to “um friend“, a role that made her considerably more comfortable. We spent a very debauched St. Patrick’s Day weekend weekend painting the town red. The bars were serving Irish whiskey, Guinness and green beer, the street parties were great raucous affairs, and playing The Wild Rover on the accordion got us a lot of free drinks. It was one of my better turn-lemons-into-lemonade moments.

Monday was difficult, to say the least. I took her to the airport, said goodbye to her and watched her plane disappear, A few hours shy of two weeks after she’d arrived in San Francisco, she was gone. It was the lowest I’d felt in a very long time.

I didn’t even get the chance to take a couple of days off to cry in my beer; the company had scheduled a series of very important meetings with to-die-for clients: an on-line auction company of some repute and a portal whose name is an expression of glee. I’d written some user interface prototypes that I would be demonstrating at these meetings, as well as talking tech with their developers. I spent the rest of the week putting on my happy face and burying my woes with demos and work.

At the end of that week, it was decided that I should fly back to Toronto for a couple of weeks to meet with the rest of the team that would be developing the 1.0 version of our software. About a week into my visit to Toronto, the company laid off a dozen people in Toronto, cancelled the lease on our San Francisco office, and downsized the San Francsico team to just me and Cory, who would work out of an office at our VC’s headquarters in Palo Alto.

I saw which way the wind was blowing and decided it would be better for me (and even earn me some points with management) if I volunteered to move back to Toronto. They thought it was a good idea, but said that they couldn’t spare me for enough time for me to fly back and pack my stuff. They dispatched our office manager Amy to pack up the office and my apartment and ship it back. About five weeks after I had come to Toronto for a visit, an moving truck packed with all the evidence that I’d ever lived in San Francisco brought my stuff to Toronto. Within the span of four months, I had moved from Toronto to San Francisco and back again.

I spent a week in an “I’m not supposed to be here!” daze. Having lost a girlfriend and then being involuntarily displaced, I felt as if I’d been harshly dumped by San Francisco too. The bitch!

From that point on, I associated San Francisco with unpleasant memories and heartbreak, as if I’d been through some kind of neo-Pavlovian negative reinforcement experiment in which the city was the gerbil cage (whose liner needs changing very badly).

The Return

Just over a week ago, I made my first trip to San Francisco since my abrupt move back to Toronto. I was there to present Peekabooty at CodeCon, do some developer relations with the various hackers who would be attending, and maybe even make my peace with the city.

(Yes, I realize I’m anthropomorphizing a seven-by-seven mile clump of hilly land, its people and its human urine- and feces-stained sidewalks. Don’t tell me you haven’t done something similar.)

Cory gave me the keys to his apartment, where I dropped off all my stuff save the accordion. I had plenty of time to kill before meeting Jillzilla for dinner, so I decided to spent the afternoon walking about the city that was supposed to be my home.

I stopped by Brain Wash, and old hangout of mine located across the street from the old office. Its back half is a laundromat and its front half is a cafe. I’ve eaten just about everything on their menu, spent many afternoons writing prototype software at their tables and even did a couple of accordion-assisted stand-up routines at their regular amateur comedy nights. (For the brave or the shameless, performing in front of an audience is a great way to meet people if you’re new in town.)

The place was silent. Normally, the sounds of the kitchen, stereo and washing machines fill the place. Something wrong happened with the power grid, leaving the entire block without electricity.

Amy, one of the cute punkish staff, was talking to a co-worker. I used to fantasize about her, wearing nothing but Doc Martens, softly kicking me in the head. But I digress.

“It’s too quiet here. If I don’t hear some music soon, I’m going to go crazy,” she complained as I walked in the door.

That was my cue. I switched the accordion from backpack mode to ready-to-rock mode, unstrapped the bellows and said “Did someone say music?”

“You! Free cookies and drinks if you play!”

That’s when I knew that San Francisco was about to make it up to me in many weird and wonderful ways.

San Francisco, you are forgiven. (Now, if you can do something about your personal hygiene…)

Next: The bustling metropolis known as downtown Mountain View, CodeCon, children trust me, matter and panty-matter and entertaining a room full of naked women.

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Praise from an A-List Blogger!

Jason Kottke, one of the pantheon of A-List webloggers, has posted an excerpt from and link to the Stagette story. Thanks!

In anticipation of the number of people who would click on the link, I made this graphic.

After all, they deserve to be warned.

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Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me

Stagette

Setting the scene

The second day of CodeCon was followed by a dinner at Don Ramon’s, a Mexican restaurant two blocks from the DNA Lounge.

After dinner, those of us who hung out on the #infoanarchy IRC channel decided to have our own little gathering.

Lisa did the legwork and found a place: Butter, which is across the street from the DNA Lounge. Butter is a cute little space with a “trailer park” theme with decor you’d expect, and the bar snacks are tater tots, TV dinners and marshmallows that you can roast yourself over canned heat.

That night, they projected the H.R. Pufnstuf movie, a couple of Land of the Lost episodes and National Lampoon’s Vacation onto the walls.

We went to Butter straight after dinner, so by the time 10:30 had rolled around, we’d already been there for three hours. Our party was winding down and people were making various plans to go elsewhere.

I didn’t know my evening had only just begun.

Note: The names of people who weren’t at CodeCon — namely the names of the stagette girls and the fratboys — have been changed.

“Can you play that thing?”

Even for me, this was kind of unusual.

“Can you play that thing?” she asked.

“Sure,” I replied. Oh mighty accordion, I thank you for sending me yet another victim. And so cute, too!

“Is it your birthday?” It was a reasonable guess. ” Can I play Happy Birthday for you?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s my stagette!”

Duuuuuh. I should’ve guessed that, judging from the outfit.

I played the first verse of Billy Idol’s White Wedding in response. She sang along, waving the dildo as if it were a conductor’s baton.

“You have to meet my friends!” she exclaimed, pulling me towards the other side of the room, where eight attractive and tipsy women were greedily downing blue Jello shots from a tray. They took turns posing with me for pictures and a couple even tried the accordion on.

Brandon walked up to me and said “My God, Joey, you weren’t lying about the accordion.”

“It has powers that science cannot yet explain,” I replied.

Invited

The bride-to-be took me by the arm and said “Hey, Accordion Guy, we’ve got a limo coming to pick us up and take us to a few more bars. There’s lots of free booze and I have cute friends as you can see. Wanna come along?”

Lisa overheard this and whispered in my ear: “I think you should go.”

Duh.

The stagette’s timing was perfect. Our #infoanarchy party was winding down, with many people deciding to go home. Most of us were already standing outside Butter’s front door when the limo pulled up. I waved a triumphant goodbye to my friends and climbed into the limo.

All aboard!

Eight or nine girls, along with three other guys they’d picked up at Butter climbed aboard. Both girls and guys were cast from the same mold — the girls were skinny blondes and brunettes in party dresses and the guys were fratboys with brush cuts wearing Gap clothes. They could’ve easily been extras from the American Pie movies.

One of the girls had the last name Stiffler, which she was never referred to as until that movie had come out. I couldn’t resist the obvious joke: “This one time? At band camp? I took my accordion…”

It’s just like one of those old Tom Vu commercials!

The limo had a bar stocked with some terribly sour sparkling wine that the girls didn’t seem to mind. After a glass of that rotgut, I switched to the only other option: ice-cold cans of Bud, which was what the Frat Boys — my mental name for them — had also chosen.

“Dude,” asked Fratboy One, the tallest of them, “where’d you learn to play accordion like that?”

“I learned by playing for beer money and fun on the street.”

“Dude. That’s so sweet. I can tell it’s a real chick magnet. Dude, I gotta get me an accordion! That would so rule! The ladies love musicians. Look at fuckin’ Durst from Limp Bizkit; he’s like dating porno actresses an’ strippers an’ shit!”

“I’m soooo there, bro,” I answered, as I did a little conversational impedance-matching.

As the limo zigzagged through SoMa, we took turns sticking our heads out the sunroof in pairs and yelling incoherently. Some of the girls were drinking the low-grade champagne out of the fittest guy’s navel.

I should hit the gym more often, I thought.

Oh. My. God.

After my turn at the sunroof, I found a seat and seconds later, Lisa, the bride to be, sat in my lap, put an arm around me and asked what I was doing at Butter and where I got into accordion playing.

“I’m down here from Toronto to speak at a hacker conference,” I replied. I chose the phrase “hacker conference” deliberately; it has that certain bad-boy cachet that “programming conference” lacks.

“Whoo!” she exclaimed as she both arms around me and looked me straight in the eye. “You’re not dangerous or anything, are you?”

Suddenly the popular myth that all hackers are criminals didn’t seem like such a bad thing.

The bride-to-be bows out

The limo pulled up to the south side of the Metreon building and came to a halt. We left the limo and entered a bar with a packed dance floor playing Top 40 dance hits. We didn’t stay longer than half an hour, after which we piled into the limo and went to Asia SF, where we toasted Lisa with Jagermeister shots.

Forty-five minutes after that, we boarded the limo for the last time and ended up a a place whose name I believe was Cloud Eight. Lisa was looking a little rough.

“Water,” she croaked, while a friend supported her. She and two of her friends went towards the washrooms at the back of the club.

With the bride-to-be about to throw up and the limo’s contract over, it looked as though the party was going to break up even though it was only one o’clock.

“Dude,” Fratboy One said. “Lisa’s ’bout to call it a night, but some of these girls are still ready to go. I think Sara really likes you, dude. I’d be entering the dragon if I were you, bro.”

Thanks for the props for my mackin’ Asian style, dude.

After going to the back to check up on Lisa and hearing violent retching coming from behind the women’s washroom door, we decided to gather those who still wanted to party and go elsewhere. It was down to me, the three fratboys and three of the women — Stiffler, Cheryl and Max. The girls and one of the fratboys got into one cab, while I got into another with Fratboy One and Fratboy Three.

“Dude!” said Fratboy Three. “This rocks! A limo full of chicks!”

“Fuck yeah!” said Fratboy One, “And we got the Accordion Guy rockin’ the box! You made the evening, dude!”

“Sweeeeeeeeet.” I replied.

Fratboy One’s cell phone rang. It was the fratboy in the other car.

“Dude! Dude? No, dude. Aw dude, that’s like out of town. Aw, dude. Talk to them.”

He turned to the cabbie. “One-oh-one, dude! One-oh-one!”

“Where you want me to go?” asked the cabbie.

“Just one-oh-one! We’ll tell you. Just get us to one-oh-one!” Fratboy One turned his attention back to the phone. “Dude. Put her on. Dude. Just put her on. Hello? Who is this? Cheryl? Hey, forget there. Let’s just go back to my place. It’s in Nob Hill, we got a lot of booze, we can turn the music real loud. It’ll be great.”

Fratboy One tuned to the cabbie. “Dude! Change of plans. Washington and Leavenworth!”

Those round-eyes, they’re crazy

As we approached Nob Hill, Fratboy One told the cab driver to pull over at an all-night grocery.

He and Fratboy Three ran out of the cab to buy some beer.

The cabbie turned around to talk to me.

“Those boys crazy. You seem like nice Asian boy, not like them. You are Filipino?”

“Yes.”

“I have many Filipino friends,” said the cabbie, who was Chinese. “They all musicians, like you. But that not your real job?”

“No, I’m a computer programmer.”

“That nice job, even in hard time like now,” he said, nodding. “You friend with these crazy gwei lo?”

“No, I met them tonight.”

Duuuuuuude!” Fratboy One yelled, coming from the store holding a 24-pack of Sam Adams over his head. “Let’s roll!”

“And gwei lo say we can’t hold liquor,” muttered the cabbie.

Nerds 1, Jocks 0

Fratboy One’s apartment was exactly the way I had envisioned it. Nice Nob Hill building with hardwood floors, hand-me-down furniture from the parental units, framed posters of beer and that cliched black-and-white poster of Grand Central Station, the one with light streaming through the cathedral windows. The entertainment altar was in the centre of the room and was probably the most expensive piece of furniture. The only reading material that could be seen anywhere was ESPN magazine and Maxim.

Fratboy Two made a beeline for the stereo and started flipping through the collection.

“Put on the Oakenfold, dude!” said Fratboy One, who motioned for the rest of us to join him in the kitchen. He started pouring tequila into wine glasses. “I’m all out of shot glasses, dude.”

Max and fratboy three danced to Oakenfold for a while and then disappeared into his room. The rest of us moved over to Fratboy Two’s room, which had a computer stuffed with MP3’s and a nice sound system.

The only other furniture was a snowboard and a bed.

Stiffler and Fratboy Two snuggled up on his computer chair, with her on his lap facing him, her leather-pantsed legs wrapped around him. That left Cheryl, me and Fratboy One, which meant that the math wasn’t going to work out for one of us.

“My feet are killing me,” said Cheryl, as she leaned back on the bed.

“That’s too bad,” said Fratboy One.

Fratboy One was a good-looking guy with your standard all-American features; he probably wasn’t used to having to put in some effort towards getting the ladies’ attention. My own geekdom was about to pay off.

“Hey,” I said, unzipping Cheryl’s boots. I can fix that. “One foot massage, coming up.”

“Sorry if my feet stink. I’ve been dancing all night.”

“Awww, feet. Keep them away from me,” Fratboy One said. Strike two.

“That feels nice,” she said, as I kneaded her feet. They didn’t stink at all.

“So tell me, how’d you get into playing the accordion?”

I told her, during which time Fratboy One grumbled and wandered off into his room.

Nerds 1, Jocks 0.

“Thank you, Accordion Boy”

Stiffler and Fratboy Two were teasing each other in the chair while Cheryl and I lay back and I told her about how the accordion had saved me from a mugging in Prague and she told me about how she and her friends were ripped off by scam artists in Rome. We snuggled for a while until she started to fade.

Stiffler and Fratboy two looked like they were about to use the bed, so I carried her out to the couch, tucked her in and kissed her good night.

“Thank you…Accordion Boy,” she said.

“You’re welcome, Drunk Girl.”

Farewell

The door to Fratboy Two’s room was still open and the couple were still (mostly) decent. I gave Fratboy Two a high-five goodbye and leaned down to whisper in Stiffler’s ear.

“Give him one for me,” I said.

“I will,” she answered, smiling.

I walked out into the streets of Nob Hill and began looking for a cab.

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Back in Business!

I’ve been so busy putting the finishing touches on my part of Peekabooty (a small contribution compared to Paul’s efforts — let’s give him a really big wet smoochie) and with preparations for CodeCon that I haven’t had a chance to make a blog entry, nor even to renew the kode-fu.com domain! That’s why the site’s been silent and unreachable for the past week. However, The Adventures of AccordionGuy In The 21st Century is back in business. Better yet, I have some high-larious stories from San Francisco coming up!

In the meantime, I have to do some horn-tooting about Peekabooty. I’m feeling great about the project and very thankful for the opportunity to work on it. It’s also great getting back to travelling and doing developer relations work; it feels like the salad days back when I worked for the company. Even better, it’s so much easier to do developer relations when you have working code!

Bootylicious links

The Register has two stories about us: Censor-buster Peek-A-Booty goes public and Peek-A-Booty – The First Screenshots. We’d like to thank Reg reporter Andrew Orlowski for interviewing us and being very kind (after all, you read The Register for their charmingly nasty put-downs, don’t you?).

c|net’s news.com also has two stories. The first, Human rights application not finished, is about Peekabooty. The second, Dot-com dropouts share open-source love is more about the fact that most of the applications shown at CodeCon were made by unemployed geeks such as myself.

I was picked up by a limo full of women the night before (story to be told in an upcoming posting), so I was on a natural high when during our presentation. Wesley Felter caught the audio stream of the show and noted what I said in this entry of his blog, Hack The Planet. Thanks, Wes!

Much love to Cory Doctorow for providing us with a place to stay and being the best damned agent I ever had. He’s been saying very nice things about us over at Boing Boing. Thanks, bro!

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Peekabooty

The Peekabooty icon. Ain't he cute?  After a couple of late nights, a series of debugging sessions and some very hurried cartooning and scanning, Peekabooty is good to go for a demonstration this Sunday at the CodeCon conference in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, it means that I haven’t had much of a chance to add to the blog. I’m going to try to do so tonight, otherwise, I’ll work on it tomorrow during my long CalTrain ride to Mountain View where I’m meeting my friend Jillzilla for dinner.

In the meantime, enjoy this “Stop Internet Censorship” cartoon below. It’s the background image for the Peekabooty installer, featuring Joey-drawn Peekabears. (By the way, the smiley bear face at the start of this posting is the icon for the Peekabooty app).

No uncensored web for you!

Awww….wook at the sad wittle bear who’s not allowed to freely surf…

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Hard at work…

…so I can’t post anything substantial until later today. In the meantime, please enjoy this self-portrait (actually a graphic for the Peekabooty Project that I drew) of me hard at work.

I wish I had an LCD monitor like this bear's!

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Oh, Camel Poo

None of us in our happy little alliance — this blog, Nick Mark’s Naked Pope: The Movie and Steve Jenson’s Salad With Steve — won an Anti-Bloggie.

However, congratulations are in order. A fellow Torontonian weblogger and member of the gtabloggers, Kelly of Marmalade Maermaid won “Most Obsessed with ‘Which X Are You?’ Tests (the blog also has a very cute photo). Congrats, Kelly, and when I finish coding my “Which Three’s Company Landlord Are You?” test, you’ll be the first person I notify.

(Credit goes to gigglechick for coming up with that test.)