This is a story you have to hear about a company named Constant Contact, which a friend of mine named Getty worked at for a couple of years before he went off to one of the big financial firms on Wall Street. Getty's in bad shape now. He lost his job after the big meltdown in 2008 and now he's in a hospital where they have to make sure that he doesn't harm himself. I keep meaning to go up and see him, but I live in Hawthorne and can't exactly afford to go.
I'm not doing so well myself, if one were to look at my situation objectively. I live in a vermin-infested apartment in a bad part of town, and work part-time at a coffee shop in the nicer part of town. I see people in suits come in and place their orders and then head off to nice jobs that earn them money that I can only dream about. I have a neighbour named Hammond who keeps telling me that I must have messed up somewhere in life to end up where I am today. We were both sitting out on the front stoop the other day during a heat wave and he went through the same whole routine with me.
"I don't know what you did, but it must have been bad, " he said to me.
"I've never made any big mistakes that I can think of, " I told him. "We've been through this."
"I know we've been through this, " he said. "But there's something you're hiding from me. I can tell."
"How can you tell?" I asked him.
"You don't say much about yourself, " Hammond said. "I ask you about your life and you give me vague answers if you answer at all."
"I don't think that's true, " I said.
"You went to college, but I don't even know where, " he said.
"It was in Oregon, " I told him.
"That's what I mean, " Hammond said. "Colleges have names. You won't give me the name."
"Linfield College, " I said. "That was the name. Nobody's ever heard of it, so I didn't think there was any point in saying it."
"Linfield College, " Hammond repeated.
"I did fine there, " I said. "It's not the most prestigious place in the world, though. So maybe that's a mistake right there. I should have aimed higher."
"That's not a problem you can't remedy, " Hammond said. "You get yourself trained in something specific. Go to vocational school afterwards. You already have an education."
"I did my four years and left, " I said. "That's all there is to say."
"Listen to yourself, " Hammond said. "Something happened to you up at that place. Maybe that's it."
"You're looking to solve some great mystery that doesn't exist, " I said. "So what happened to me? What do you think? Some girl break my heart? Did I kill a man and cover it up? What's the big secret?"
Hammond looked out at the vacant lot across the road and was silent for a moment. "I'm just saying that something happened to you there, " he said.
Anyway, I should get back to talking about Getty. The thing about Getty is that he did these seminars for Constant Contact, and he was coming to deliver several in Long Beach. I met up with Getty at his hotel shortly after he arrived. We hadn't seen each other in a few years. We went right to the bar at the far end of the lobby.
"I miss living out here, " Getty told me. "I don't like it in Colorado. I thought I would, but I don't."
"Find something out there, then, " I said. "What's stopping you?"
"I'm settled in a way, " Getty said. "I am happy right now. That's the thing. I shouldn't misrepresent myself. I'm seeing someone. We're thinking of moving in together. So there's a life for me there. I just don't like the surroundings as much as I thought. But that's only one aspect of my life. There are more important considerations."
"You sound defensive, " I said.
"That's not it at all, " he told me. "I've talked to Basil, you know. We speak on a semi-regular basis."
"I haven't seen Basil in I don't know how long, " I said.
"He says the place you're living in should be condemned, " Getty told me.
"Basil exaggerates, " I said. "He's always been like that."
"The point is that you can do better, " Getty said.
"You sound like a neighbour of mine, " I told him. "He lectures me all the time."
"You should listen to us, " Getty said. "You look terrible. I should have mentioned that earlier."
"How am I supposed to look?" I asked.
"Your clothes are dirty and you need to shave, " Getty said. "That would be a start. Then maybe you could get back on your feet."
"Who says I need to get back on my feet?" I said. "I didn't realize that I wasn't on them."
"You should get back in touch with Basil, " Getty said. "He could set you up with something where he's working right now. A technical support job."
"That's what you think I'm after?" I said. "A technical support job."
"You move up from there, " Getty said. "You know the deal. Tell me you'll think about it."
"That would be an empty gesture, " I said.
"So then you shouldn't have a problem making it, " he sad.
"Fine, " I said. "I'll think about it. So that's that."
We watched the Dodgers on the television over the bar for a while. It was late in the season and the game was meaningless. "So what's with this seminar you have to give?" I asked Getty.
"We're teaching people how to use our services, " he told me. "It's called 'Everyone Everywhere'."
"Nice, " I said.
"It's catchy enough, " Getty said. "You know how it is. You get a bunch of people in a room and then you give them the hard sell. We've been working on this presentation for a long time. You know, we've thrown out slides that don't work and parts that do work we expand on. There are marketing people that keep track of all of the feedback that we give them. We meet with them once a week. We get together and they give us their thoughts about what we should work on. There are disagreements. There was a shouting match between one of our guys and one of theirs one time. Some people take this stuff a bit too seriously."
"You take it too seriously, " I told him. "You just don't think you do."
"I take it for what it is, " he said. "We're trying to trick people into subscribing to our services. That's not to say that the services are bad. But maybe people don't need them. We're trying to convince them that they do."
"And you're comfortable taking part in this process, " I said.
Getty shook his head. "See, that's what's wrong with you, " he said. "What do you want me to do? Quit as if it were some supposed bold gesture?"
"You don't have to do anything, " I said.
"I quit, and someone else replaces me, " he said. "That's the way it is. Except that I'm making a decent living."
"But you want out of Colorado, " I said.
"I'd be unhappy here if I actually relocated, " Getty said. "I'm never happy anywhere. But everything else in my life is going well, as I said."
"So you said, " I said.
We went back up to Getty's room and he showed me the slideshow he had brought with him for the seminar. I flipped on the Dodgers game and grabbed a drink from the mini-bar. Getty brought out some hardware from his suitcase and projected the slideshow onto a blank wall beside the television. The first side had the title "Everyone Everywhere" in big bold letters. The Constant Contact company logo was in the top-left corner.
"There's even some music that I could play, " Getty said. "Some of the guys use it, but I refuse to. It's typical high-energy stuff. You know, to get people excited. It's cheap if you ask me. But some of the guys say it helps them out a lot. They swear it keeps the audience's attention."
"Smoke and mirrors, " I said.
"It is smoke and mirrors, " he told me, and then he flipped through several of the slides. "There's a video I play here. Watch this."
He clicked a button and, sure enough, a video started playing in the middle of the slide. There were lots of clips of people moving through various cities around the world using time-lapse photography. The sun went up and down and the people and cars rushed past. Then there was a map of the earth, and yellow lines started connecting various points. Eventually the whole map was covered in a big web. Some generic electronic music played in the background.
"So you do use music, " I said.
"The video does, " Getty told me. "They tell me that I have to leave it in. Otherwise the effect is lost. That's what they say."
The video stopped with the Constant Contact logo revolving over a blue background. "That's it, " Getty said.
"I don't know how you do it, " I said, grabbing another bottle out of the fridge.
"It's what I do, " Getty said. "And I get good numbers. So I get to get away with things like not playing the background music."
"Power and influence, " I said.
"Enough to make my life easier, " Getty said.
"I suppose my life is not easy, " I told him. "I'll give you that."
"It could be easier, " Getty said.
"It could be, " I said.
Getty called me a cab to get me home. We made plans to meet again sometime before we left, but we never did. I certainly didn't want to hear more about Basil's offerings. And probably Getty was sick at the sight of me.
Of course now Getty is in bad shape, and I'm more or less the same. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I wouldn't want to be Getty now, but maybe he was onto something about having an easier life. That would be nice, even for a little while.