Thursday, September 23, 2004

Oh, no, the return to work is creeping ineffably closer.

Nutmeg and I met up with Kay, Keith and little Eliot in Dolores Park today. I think that Nutmeg gave me a hug while we were there. Call me crazy, but she reached out her two little arms. I grabbed her hands and tried playing "Pea's Porridge Hot" with her, but she resisted. When I let go of her hands, she stretched her open arms toward my neck. I leaned in and hugged back, and when I grinned and laughed in gratitude, she laughed right back. She was in high spirits today. She rode in the baby swing, and she had a good old time playing on her blanket. She checked out all the dogs running around and she was just so happy to be out in the park. We're going to have to go to a play group next week. Yesterday we went to Yerba Buena Gardens after lunch with Beegs and a grandma with a 1-year-old stopped by. Nutmeg reached out to touch the one-year-old and seemed to get a kick out of her. She would have touched little Eliot too if we had let her.

Today was another level-up day. Besides the possible hug, she also figured out she could move herself across the floor by rolling over several times. This is trouble. She quickly got herself off the blanket I had spread on our new shag carpet today and onto the carpet. One more roll would have landed her on the hard tile floor or crashed her into the door to the entertainment center. And, while I was cooking dinner and she was playing in her crib with an empty raisin cannister, I heard a little pop, she had gotten the lid off. There were a few plastic links inside, and when I came to check on her she was triumphantly sucking on the links, pleased as punch. We've got to get going on our babyproofing.

Oh, I suppose you want me to tell you all about Nutmeg's last Dr.'s appointment and why I love Oprah, just because I promised. But that appointment is old news now. Suffice to say that she's 14 pounds, the 50th percentile, that she had so much fun wiggling around on the examination table and tearing up the paper, and that other crazy parents let their children play with the toys in the pediatrician's waiting room. I'm really not at all a paranoid mom, but there's no way my baby is touching germy Dr.'s office toys.

Anyway, Daddy is working late again tonight, Nutmeg has given in to sleep after crying a bit because (I think) she just got overstimulated today, and I'm going to go clean up after my solitary steak dinner. So no Oprah talk tonight, sorry. Instead, I'll entertain you with this unpublished piece i wrote in 1999:

I Could Have Been an Internet Thousandaire

We work in editorial, and know nothing about money. We weren't supposed to have any - all our English professors assured us of that. Every morning, I drop the Business section on the train's floor with its brother, Sports, while I read the news and Dear Abby.
We didn't come to work at a San Francisco Internet startup in search of a hot IPO. More like the promise of three months work. We called our moms after we got hired, and said "Guess what? I got a job writing, well sort of." We produced Internet content.
For many of the employees, the Friday beer bashes were the benefit plan. Our financial decisions were in the consumption vein: Drink office coffee or buy Starbucks? I kept a cup of office swill by my keyboard.
Stock options were doled out to permanent hires, but spoken of disparagingly over the kegs on Friday nights. No one had ever heard of our company. Why should it ever be worth anything?
May 28
A new disco ball is hoisted in the hallway to celebrate a successful round of venture capital collecting. Apparently our venture is so popular that some would-be investors were turned away. The press release says that an IPO is coming “later this year.” The editorial masses chat about this news over cups of office swill, until the subject is supplanted by a chain email listing 100 funny band names, including JFKFC and Scrotum Pole.
June 5, morning
The CEO walks in beside a woman wearing a tailored shirt with French cuffs. He introduces her to all 160 of us as a representative from our investment bank. They pass out reams of paperwork and begin explaining that we, as valued employees, are about to get The Opportunity of a Lifetime. We get to buy into an IPO at the opening price. Hands go up.
Q: What will the offering price be?
A: We don't know.
Q: What's the catch?
A: Aha. To make it “simple,” employees have to buy a fixed number of shares or none at all. So nobody gets to buy $5 worth just to feel like they're a part of things.
Q: Can we buy the shares on margin?
The meeting stalls while the banker gently explains to the bulk of us that buying on margin means borrowing from the bank to buy the shares, then paying them back out of the profit.
A: No.
June 5, afternoon
We browse the Net while we're supposed to be working and find that other Internet IPOs have debuted at $10-14 a share. We do the math slowly, having no calculators in the editorial office and realize that we are talking about a buttload of money.
June 6
Some of us eat lunch in South Park and joke about how we're going to come up with more than $10 grand each. Prostitution and drug running come up a lot. But for people like us, there's only one realistic source of that kind of extra-serious capital. All afternoon, the phone system is jammed with calls to parents.
June 20
We are each allocated at least one package of shares to buy for ourselves. If we don't want to invest, we can nominate someone else to do it in our place.
An email circulates: "Please contact me if you do not plan to use your allocation. My family would like to invest, and I would appreciate it if you passed on your unused allocations to me."
June 21
An email from the vice president: "Unused allocations will be offered to our clients. Therefore your request for additional shares is misplaced."
No one can remember an email this stern before. Usually, messages run to: "Free pizza in the conference room if you hurry." It begins to sink in that the chance to buy these shares is actually a Big Opportunity.
July 1
Ask Jeeves opens at $14 and closes at $64.
July 2
Another meeting, and now we all have the same question:
Can we sell on the first day?
The answer is yes. I begin to wonder if anyone's going to come to work on the IPO day. Maybe I should rent a cellular phone. I can just see myself when the stock hits $65, standing 18th in line for one of the three telephones on the warehouse floor that we call an editorial office.
They can't tell us the exact date the IPO is expected. I worry that I'll be on vacation when it happens. I see myself shouting "Sell! Sell!" into the receiver of an airplane phone. My anxiety dreams about returning to high school to retake all my finals, naked, turn into anxiety dreams about arriving at the stock exchange without my checkbook - and naked.
July 3
I work the phones as hard as the guys in Glengarry Glen Ross, but without the bad language. I introduce a get-rich-quick scheme to my parents, grandparents and in-laws. If they lend me half the money, they get to invest the other half for themselves. I send them clippings about Ask Jeeves and, and they’re in like Flynn. Soon Grandpa is calling me himself to report that he's seen another documentary on cable about a Web IPO that tripled on Day 1. My parents borrow money from their bank to lend to me.
I promise them all that I'm going to sell on the first day, deduct a chunk for taxes, and deliver to them their original investment plus well, maybe plus half. Maybe doubled. Maybe tripled.
"But do any of these ever lose money?" Dad wants to know. He and Mom have only ventured into the stock market once: To put $5,000 into the American Motors Company in the early 1980s. AMC went into a tailspin and within a year was purchased by Chrysler Corp. My parents sold their Chrysler shares within the year, thousands of dollars poorer and with the resolve to leave the stock market to the moneyed classes. Only for me are they willing to be pulled back in.
"Only actually lost money on the first day, Mom. And everyone said they were going to fail beforehand," I tell her.
August 3
Meltdown! 'Pop Goes the Bubble' replaces 'Will Internet Stocks Expand Forever?' on magazine covers. I shuttle from to The Motley Fool to Wired to TheStreet, stopping occasionally to glance at my work. Four Internet IPOs debut, and they all close below the offering price. The day closes with headlines reading "Net sector drags down Dow." I have already filled out my stock purchase form. I let it sit in my bag another day. Tomorrow is the deadline.
August 4
Today's headlines are even worse. The next two weeks are jam-packed with Net IPOs in a last-minute pre-Labor Day rush. The pundits say that most of them are doomed to postponment or failure.
"When will I ever win?" the girl across from me cries.
I experience a crisis in confidence. The press warns that "me-too" start-ups are glutting the market. Some people might define our company as a copycat enterprise.
When I get home, I call Grandma and tell her I think we should withdraw. She's been following the news with the eagle eye of the retired, and had hopes that my company would postpone the IPO. With no news of that, we decide that I'll send back their check. I tell my parents the same thing, and we all breathe a sigh of relief at crisis averted.
August 5
It's like a natural disaster -- every day more victims are reported. The pundits who have been issuing grim warnings about the runaway Internet sector all year are on a gloat marathon.
August 8
The IPO, expected to happen today, has been postponed until next week due to a mysterious paperwork delay. Market conditions are not cited.
August 11
Now the IPOs are a mixed bag. Red Hat triumphs, others slump. I remain taciturn. I'm not actually hoping we'll crash and burn, because I still have my stock options.
"I just hope they don't go up too much on the first day," I tell Mom on the phone.
Almost There
A midday email from the CEO tells us that the moment we've anticpated and feared has arrived. Our stock has been priced in the middle of its expected range and we will go public tomorrow. Champagne is hastily purchased and popped, but the celebration is subdued. Ears are perked to the office's three telephones, which keep ringing. One by one, the bank is informing us of our account numbers so we can send in our checks.
"I got my account number. Did you get yours yet?" people keep asking me. Most are surprised to hear I didn't buy in. Some are indignant. I go home feeling like everyone's invited to a party except me.
Nothing in the Business section of the Merc or the Chronicle, even on this holy of holy days. But by the time I arrive at the office, the East Coast has been caffeinated for hours and the stock has already almost doubled. No work is occurring, and many seats are empty. The only email circulating points to the URLs with the best real-time stock tickers.
I had promised myself I wouldn't despair in my company's success, but I feel like I've been socked in the stomach. I would have sold right this minute. I know it's peaking. I calculate the money I would have made, and put on my headphones so I don't have to hear my giddy coworkers shouting to each other when the share price goes up or down a point.
Before I turn on the music, a phone rings on the other side of the room. Someone's family has called. "Sell now?" our coworker asks loudly into the phone, and we all crack up. She sells, and is set upon by a pack of editors who want to know what the transaction fee was.
I was right; it was peaking when I arrived at 9. We watch it slip about a point an hour until the markets close in early afternoon. Most of the employees are holding their stock for the long term. Some people call the day disappointing, but the rest feel pretty good about it.
Our bosses have been consumed with the road show and other pressing IPO work and didn't have time to rent out a hall for a party -- now an obvious necessity. It's Friday night. By four o'clock a party room is secured at Hotel W, and we all start drinking at 6:30. There's no food, but plenty of wine, and by the time the CEO, a new millionaire, makes his celebratory speech, the editorial staff is unruly and won't listen quietly. Before the evening is over, several editors will be banned from this hotel for life.
We may be at Hotel W, but we haven't forgotten where we came from -- the Friday night kegger. Only now, we're not just a drunken mob, we're a drunken public corporation. And the quiet period's over, so we make as much noise as possible.

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