The Startup Beatdown

Chapter 2: The Next Jeffrey Dahmer

 

I came in for my first day of work, not know­ing what I would be doing, or even where I would be sit­ting. All I knew was that, for the time being, I was to be report­ing to Flo, the company’s office man­ag­er. The prob­lem was that Flo wasn’t in. I didn’t see Sean Etin either, which was strange, con­sid­er­ing we were all work­ing out of his house. I was lost – I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or who to ask.

There were about 10 work­ers stuffed into the crevices and strewn about the hall­ways of the “office area” of Sean’s house, but none of these peo­ple were exact­ly rush­ing to my aid. Nobody intro­duced them­selves to me. Nobody asked who I was or why I was stand­ing around aim­less­ly. All I got was a few furtive glances and a cold ret­i­cence that made me think I was not want­ed. There was some­thing else. Some­thing in the air. I tried to attune my lit­tle-used empath­ic sens­es. Did these peo­ple … hate me?

I final­ly saw a famil­iar face walk­ing down the hall­way – Rita, the HR Direc­tor, who I met dur­ing my marathon inter­view a week ear­li­er. She was a blond, mid­dle-aged, some­what heavy-set woman with gobs of blue mas­cara sur­round­ing her steely eyes. I lat­er found out she was Sean’s lit­tle sis­ter. I wished her a good morn­ing, hop­ing my minor pleas­antry could expand into more seri­ous busi­ness – such as which desk I can sit at so I could at least pre­tend to do work. My greet­ing, how­ev­er, was met with a look of unmasked repug­nance and sheer hos­til­i­ty that I imag­ine would nor­mal­ly be reserved for a butch­er of chil­dren and fans of cer­tain real­i­ty TV shows. She walked on, eye­ing me as if I was a piece of shit under her shoes.

I guessed she would not be the one to go to for ques­tions.

I had decid­ed to set­tle myself at what I hoped to be an unclaimed desk in the hall­way, just so it would look like I wasn’t milling around on my first day (– that would come lat­er). I opened up ‘Indi­go Chil­dren,’ a hip­pie-dip­py book about the auras of mod­ern chil­dren (they’re indi­go!) that Mr. Etin gave me dur­ing my inter­view (and was lat­er para­phrased for me by a fel­low employ­ee as “chil­dren are more spoiled now, and should be reward­ed”), and put on my “I’m-doing-important-work-here” face, hop­ing to fool any­one who looked my way.

After a few min­utes I heard, “You’re not doing any­thing now, are you?”

The ques­tion was asked by Per­ry, a lanky guy, about my age, who was one of the pro­gram­mers for Seashel’s web­sites. He asked me to do some sim­ple inter­net research on children’s web­sites for him, and hap­py to have some­thing to do, I quick­ly oblig­ed. This hour of research would be the last time I did any work that involved me using an iota of brain pow­er for the next sev­er­al months.

Flo arrived at around noon, and start­ed show­ing me my dai­ly tasks. They includ­ed:

  • Print­ing out Sean’s dai­ly horo­scope and adding them to his horo­scope fold­er.
  • Feed­ing the company’s pet chameleon crick­ets.
  • Feed­ing the crick­ets yel­low, booger-like crys­tals because (FUN FACT!) chameleons only eat crea­tures that are alive.
  • Any bitch work nobody else want­ed to do.

She then hand­ed me two tall stacks of glossy papers and a can of aerosol spray glue and brought me into the kitchen, where I was to spray one sheet onto the oth­er. Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the day and I left work with sticky hands and a mas­sive aerosol-induced headache.

*******************************

After two days of “work,” I still wasn’t one-hun­dred per­cent cer­tain if every­body hat­ed me in par­tic­u­lar, or if the place was just unfriend­ly in gen­er­al. All I knew was that, as a for­mer intern and some­one who had over­saw interns at my pre­vi­ous job, I was doing intern’s work. The fact that I was get­ting paid for this strange­ly didn’t make me feel any bet­ter. I was will­ing to do this sort of work for a lim­it­ed amount of time, but only because I was promised by Mr. Etin before I was hired, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to prove myself cre­ative­ly. I didn’t see Mr. Etin at all until the end of my third day, when he bus­tled in as every­one was get­ting ready to leave. He kept every­one there and began going on about how the “pen­du­lum was swing­ing” and impor­tant lit­i­ga­tion news that he couldn’t talk about, spit­tle pop­ping out of his mouth. Nobody looked impressed, and I got the feel­ing they had all heard this sort of speech count­less times before. In fact, I had heard this same speech dur­ing the course of my inter­view. An hour lat­er, when he final­ly ran out of steam and let peo­ple go home, he pulled me and Joel, the head of Mar­ket­ing aside and told us to stick around.

Joel, you’ve met Dan­ny, right?” Sean asked.

Yeah.”

Good. Dan­ny here is a film genius and he’ll be doing cre­ative work for us.”

Before I had time to feel good about that state­ment, Joel exclaimed, “What?!? No, Sean, you can’t just put peo­ple in my depart­ment with­out telling me.”

I felt uncom­fort­able. Sean obvi­ous­ly didn’t tell Joel what­ev­er ill-defined plans he held for me, which I guess was fair, since I didn’t know them either. I was wit­ness­ing the begin­ning of a pow­er strug­gle. For­tu­nate­ly, before they got into it, I was excused and ran off.

The next day, I got called into the kitchen by Joel. Rita was sit­ting next to him, and my resume was on the table. They had me close the door and sit down.

I don’t know what Sean told you,” Joel began, “but you’re not going to work in my depart­ment with­out my okay.”

All right,” I said, not sure what was going on.

Joel, only slight­ly short­er and slight­ly less stocky than Sean, began going down my resume, line by line. “What does it mean to ‘pro­vide cov­er­age for new sub­mis­sions?’” he would ask, want­i­ng an expla­na­tion of every job task, degree, skill and hob­by on my resume. I sat there and answered him.

It says here, that you list­ed ‘draw­ing’ under hob­bies. Are you any good?”

No,” I answered truth­ful­ly. “I like to draw, but I’m real­ly only a doo­dler.”

I pulled a few sketch­es that I hap­pened to have in my back­pack and showed him.

He took a quick look at them and said, “Yeah. You should have put doo­dling on your resume. Not draw­ing.” He then took out his pen and crossed “draw­ing” off my resume, and wrote in “doo­dling.”

Hap­py that he found some­thing to embar­rass me with, he con­tin­ued. “Now, you do real­ize this is a children’s enter­tain­ment com­pa­ny, right?” That was the one aspect of the com­pa­ny that I was sure of, hav­ing read about their cre­ative prop­er­ty, the Googles, dur­ing my inter­view — though I was con­fused on how they were going to enter­tain chil­dren if they would rather busy them­selves with prefer­able activ­i­ties such as rub­bing their faces against the side­walk, and eat­ing paste. “I ask,” he con­tin­ued, “because the movies you made were very dark.”

Things were final­ly begin­ning to make sense.

You saw my movies?” I asked.

Every­body here did. Now, I’m not say­ing they’re bad­ly made, or insult­ing your artis­tic tal­ents, but we thought your movies were extreme­ly dis­turb­ing and not appro­pri­ate for chil­dren. I just want to make sure we’re not hir­ing the next Jef­frey Dah­mer.”

Now I got angry. I may be a mass-mur­der­er and I may keep the bod­ies stored in my fridge, but I do NOT eat them! Per­haps I was over­re­act­ing. Maybe Jef­frey Dah­mer made some movies that I was unaware of, and the com­par­i­son was apt. Nev­er­the­less, I tried to defend myself. “Those films and videos were meant to show­case my expe­ri­ence in direct­ing and edit­ing, and not meant to show­case what I’d be bring­ing to the com­pa­ny con­tent-wise. Those movies are not meant for chil­dren and I only sent them to Sean because he express­ly asked for my reel.”

My reel con­sist­ed of about 10 short films and videos I made either dur­ing or short­ly after col­lege. Every movie was a com­e­dy (usu­al­ly involv­ing me mak­ing an ass of myself), and I nev­er had to defend their “dark­ness” before (though they have been accused of being sex­ist …). In fact, com­pared to most of the stu­dent films I saw and worked on in col­lege, my movies were marsh­mal­low fluff. Out of curios­i­ty, I asked what every­one was offend­ed by.

Where to begin,” Joel said, seem­ing­ly shocked that I would ask such a ques­tion. “There’s that movie about sock pup­pets being mur­dered.”

It took me a moment to real­ize that I was sup­posed to defend myself at this junc­ture. “It’s a slash­er movie star­ring sock pup­pets,” I said, think­ing that was all that need­ed to be said. It obvi­ous­ly wasn’t, since Joel and Rita kept look­ing at me. “It’s a com­e­dy.”

Okay. Then there was a film about a ser­i­al killer.”

This one I real­ly did need to explain. “A ser­i­al killer brings a date home and has to fran­ti­cal­ly hide all the bod­ies he left scat­tered around his apart­ment. I unfor­tu­nate­ly ran out of film while shoot­ing, and I nev­er shot an end­ing. But it was sup­posed to be a dark com­e­dy.”

Well, it just came off as dark,” Joel said, and to his cred­it, I could agree with him on that one.

What about the movie about rape?” Rita asked. This was appar­ent­ly the big issue, which I thought bizarre since I had no idea what they were talk­ing about.

I didn’t make a movie about rape.”

Yes you did,” Joel said. “The movie about some woman being pulled over a bed and pound­ed from behind. This movie was so graph­ic that all of the women in the office had to leave the room.”

I still had no idea what they were talk­ing about. I searched my mem­o­ry and final­ly remem­bered. There was movie of mine with a rape scene. “You mean my doc­u­men­tary on the mak­ing of some­one else’s movie?” I asked.

In col­lege, I taped behind-the-scenes footage of the mak­ing of a friend of mine’s film. His film was a drama­ti­za­tion on how women in abu­sive rela­tion­ships usu­al­ly don’t leave the men that mis­treat them.

There was a moment of preg­nant silence. “How were we sup­posed to know it was a doc­u­men­tary?” Rita final­ly asked.

My answer came quick­ly, with mild exas­per­a­tion in my voice. “Because it said so in the begin­ning of the doc and was filled with talk­ing heads who talked about the mak­ing of the movie.” Any­one who watched it for more than a few sec­onds would be able to see this. Then it came to me.

Did you guys even watch it?” I asked.

There was more silence.

Well,” Joel said sheep­ish­ly, “some of it.”

*******************************

Per­ry and the oth­er young co-work­ers that I even­tu­al­ly befriend­ed lat­er filled me in on what hap­pened. As it turned out, the Fri­day before my first day of work, Sean called every­one in to his office to watch my reel. As is his cus­tom, he called every­one in as they were get­ting ready to leave for the week­end, and prompt­ly left them alone to watch the movies, with no expla­na­tion why, or an apol­o­gy for mak­ing them stay late. My reel is made up of about an hour’s worth of mate­r­i­al, and for many months I believed they did what I would have done in that sit­u­a­tion – skim it and leave as soon as pos­si­ble. I had assumed that they had it on fast-for­ward and pushed play on the most visu­al­ly jar­ring images – the sock pup­pets being mur­dered, the ser­i­al killer, the rape – which helped enforce in them a belief in my sick, twist­ed lust for vio­lence and rough sex.

As it turned out, though, the events of that night played off a lot more sin­is­ter. I found out weeks before I left the com­pa­ny that Mar­cus, the (then) Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Seashel, had seen my reel before the pub­lic view­ing and for rea­sons that had noth­ing to do with me, did not want me hired. Mar­cus was in charge of the remote the night my reel was shown, and cher­ry-picked only the scenes that made me out to be a mon­ster (or, if one were to think about it ratio­nal­ly, a guy that made ‘rat­ed R’ movies). In fact, I heard he showed the rape scene three or four times, rewind­ing it before ask­ing the gath­ered staff if they want­ed to work with a rapist (con­fus­ing the author with the speak­er and the speak­er with the actor and the actor with the char­ac­ter – but what­ev­er). One woman who worked there did not, and actu­al­ly quit because I was being hired – though dur­ing the time she worked with me dur­ing her two-weeks notice, she was very nice to my face. Mar­cus, mean­while, went on to show the share­hold­ers my reel, try­ing his hard­est to get me fired behind the scenes. Again, to my face he was very nice.

I knew now why every­one hat­ed me. I was an igno­rant pari­ah, unaware that the scar­let “A” was on my chest and the mark of Cain was on my fore­head. I spent the rest of the week try­ing to repair my image. The first thing I did was write Sean Etin an email. I tried to word it in a way that explains the sit­u­a­tion, address­es the con­cerns of my co-work­ers and clear my name. This is what it said:

Mr. Etin,

I’ve been work­ing here for a week now, and I’m get­ting the idea that per­haps I did not make a great first impres­sion on my co-work­ers. Appar­ent­ly, your staff saw my film/video reel before they met me, and because of this, I feel that a few things need to be clar­i­fied. The first, and most impor­tant thing is this: I am very much aware that this is a children’s pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny ded­i­cat­ed to edu­cat­ing, enter­tain­ing and safe­guard­ing chil­dren, and I am also aware that these tasks take good judg­ment and matu­ri­ty. I feel that my good judg­ment and matu­ri­ty was tak­en into ques­tion by the peo­ple that (unknow­ing­ly by me) saw my reel. I can under­stand why, con­sid­er­ing many of these films are the­mat­i­cal­ly inap­pro­pri­ate for a children’s pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny. If you remem­ber dur­ing our inter­view, I nev­er once men­tioned my videos, nor did I have them list­ed on the orig­i­nal resume I gave to you. I pur­pose­ful­ly did this because I knew they had noth­ing to do with the com­pa­ny and the job I applied for. I used good judg­ment. It wasn’t until I acci­den­tal­ly pulled out anoth­er ver­sion of my resume (which I use when I apply for film/video pro­duc­tion jobs) when I met with She­lia that I let it be known I make videos.

Sean, when you asked for my reel, I hon­est­ly thought it was out of cre­ative curios­i­ty. I am glad that you seem to enjoy my work, and am hon­ored that you would like to see me take more of a cre­ative role in the com­pa­ny, but I need to make sure you and the staff under­stand that my films/videos was made for either school or my own edi­fi­ca­tion and are in no way reflec­tive of my pro­fes­sion­al demeanor or the work I plan to do here.

Best Regards,

Dan­ny”

 

I got a quick, one-sen­tence reply from Mr. Etin, promis­ing he would take care of it. I was expect­ing a staff-wide meet­ing (he seemed to love those), offi­cial­ly intro­duc­ing me to every­one and explain­ing that he had made a mis­take in show­ing them my reel. Or at least an email attest­ing to this idea. As far as I know, he did noth­ing. So, I dealt with the issue myself – by buy­ing snack food for the office. It actu­al­ly worked pret­ty well, and my co-work­ers, regard­less of whether or not they liked me, would at least talk to me for pret­zels and cook­ies. That was enough. Beyond the inter­view with Joel and Rita, nobody ever brought up my movies again, but I could tell that in the back of many of their minds, I would always be “the Rapist.”

Sad­ly, this is not the worst thing I was called dur­ing my time work­ing at Seashel Pro­duc­tions. Not even close.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *