Get a Real Job! or, Thoughts on Pseudo.com

Bring­ing new mean­ing to the phrase “get a real job,” I now learn that my last full-time gig was for a “fake com­pa­ny.” Years after the fact of its demise, Pseudo.com founder Josh Har­ris has pro­nounced to Boing Boing that Pseu­do Pro­grams Inc. was in fact a mas­sive per­for­mance art piece, aid­ed and abet­ted by the since dis­cred­it­ed New York Times jour­nal­ist Jayson Blair.

What is Har­ris up to? Is he, as my for­mer col­league Jac­ki Schech­n­er puts it, “Batsh*t Crazy”? Has he been retroac­tive­ly inspired by the lit­er­al def­i­n­i­tion of the word with which he chose to chris­ten his ven­ture, and now remem­bers things the way he wants to? To give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt, this pro­nounce­ment itself may be the per­for­mance piece. Or, he may indeed just be bat­shit crazy.

pseudo.com logoWhat’s in a name, indeed?

Regard­less, wow! All of this comes as some sur­prise to me, as I drew a reg­u­lar pay­check at the time. I was there, so I can attest that Pseu­do was “real” inso­far that it had reg­u­lar employ­ees, sit­ting behind desks, com­put­ers, cam­eras, and stu­dio mix­ing desks. We report­ed every day for actu­al work, for pay, with ben­e­fits. We pro­duced count­less hours of audio and video pro­gram­ming for exclu­sive broad­cast over the inter­net, years before tech­nol­o­gy and band­width made such things com­mon­place and triv­ial. If I was a pawn in someone’s con­cep­tu­al art piece, well, it’s still a bul­let point on my resume, man. But it may explain why I’m hav­ing trou­ble locat­ing most of my past col­leagues on LinkedIn.

Some of the com­ments on the Boing Boing piece are more amus­ing and insight­ful than any­thing I could attempt here, but I thought it might do the pub­lic record some good for a for­mer employ­ee to con­tribute a few thoughts and mem­o­ries about the tiny cor­ner of Pseu­do I was briefly involved with.

I joined the com­pa­ny in Novem­ber 1999, right at the pre­car­i­ous peak of the infa­mous dot com bub­ble. Count­less star­tups were all try­ing to fig­ure out how to make mon­ey on the inter­net (wake me when some­body fig­ures that one out). Pseu­do was one of the first and most noto­ri­ous, with a rough-and-tum­ble rep­u­ta­tion of hard par­ty­ing and drugs. Worse than all that (at least in the eyes of Wall Street) was how it excelled at its true forte: burn­ing mon­ey in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion (and speed). Old-media exec­u­tive David Bohrman had been recent­ly brought on as CEO in an effort to steer the chaot­ic com­pa­ny into prof­itabil­i­ty. To illus­trate how much old-world think­ing was dri­ving Pseu­do at the time, Pseudo’s dis­parate pro­grams were frac­tured and reor­ga­nized into “chan­nels,” an amus­ing­ly quaint metaphor ill-suit­ed for the inter­net.

The Pseudo.com Quarterback Club logoThe Q.B. Club logo. I don’t know who designed it, but that’s the font Triplex, and it’s got a whole lot­ta Illus­tra­tor action goin’ on

One of these new ven­tures was the Pol­i­tics Chan­nel, still remem­bered now for its ground­break­ing online cov­er­age of the 2000 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion. But I was to be part of anoth­er chan­nel no one, not even Wikipedia, now remem­bers: The Quar­ter­back Club Chan­nel. The Quar­ter­back Club was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture by sev­er­al NFL play­ers (includ­ing War­ren Moon, Kordell Stew­art, and Boomer Esi­a­son) to con­sol­i­date their var­i­ous mon­ey­mak­ing and char­i­ty ven­tures. Yes, that’s cor­rect. This Dork Reporter, who couldn’t pos­si­bly care less about pro­fes­sion­al sports, and in fact often dis­dains them, took a job work­ing for foot­ball celebri­ties. To my fam­i­ly at the time, I was work­ing for the NFL, but to me, I was right where I want­ed to be. To a for­mer film stu­dent also inter­est­ed in web design, mak­ing short ani­mat­ed films for the inter­net looked like the per­fect job.

It was pathet­i­cal­ly easy to get hired with the dot com bub­ble was at its apogee. As is my pol­i­cy, I was utter­ly frank in my inter­view. I had used the then-new and trendy web ani­ma­tion tool Flash for a few projects by then, but was hard­ly an expert. What they had in mind for me was to exe­cute Flash ani­mat­ed car­toons, then a rad­i­cal­ly new thing, from the writ­ing, direct­ing, and art by Kevin Ross (with whom I still have beers). Here’s a rough tran­script of my inter­view:



MY FUTURE BOSS
"Do you know Flash?"

ME
"Well, yes..."

MY FUTURE BOSS
"You're hired!"


That was easy! But the humil­i­a­tions start­ed ear­ly. One of my first tasks was to tote War­ren Moon’s brief­case around after him on a vis­it to the Pseu­do offices. I had nev­er although I had nev­er heard of him, but I was informed he was far too famous to car­ry his own shit. I have clear mem­o­ries of it being made of orange bas­ket­ball rub­ber, which makes no sense but that’s what I recall.

The Q.B. Club, Pol­i­tics, and Com­e­dy teams were housed cat­ty-cor­ner to the main Psue­do build­ing, on the north side of Hous­ton & Broad­way. If Pseudo’s leg­endary par­ty­ing was still going on under the reign of grownup-in-charge David Bohrman, we saw none of it over at our depress­ing digs. The con­fu­sion over the two loca­tions was always a prob­lem. Once, Boomer Esi­a­son mis­tak­en­ly showed up at our place, and was clear­ly unim­pressed as we tried to give him direc­tions to find the main office (I didn’t know who he was, but my meet­ing him real­ly impressed my sports-fan cousin). There was every­thing to be read into our place­ment; the Pseu­do vet­er­ans hat­ed how Bohrman was main­stream­ing the com­pa­ny.

Despite its jus­ti­fied rep­u­ta­tion for prof­li­gate spend­ing, Pseu­do could be pet­ty, cheap, and wracked by turf wars. Our NoHo Pseu­do annex was viewed as intrud­ing on the old skool’s SoHo ter­ri­to­ry, and they let it be known by delay­ing our com­put­er and soft­ware orders for weeks. We were effec­tive­ly crip­pled, but Kevin Ross and I pro­duced the first and part of the sec­ond episodes of Q.B. Toons on my own per­son­al Power­Book G3 (it could han­dle the ani­ma­tion, but didn’t real­ly have the proces­sor oomph for the mul­ti-lay­ered audio tracks we need­ed). The sit­u­a­tion was so dire, and we were so obvi­ous­ly unwant­ed that I know many of us con­sid­ered quit­ting (not a sin­gle one of the Q.B. Club team ever did). Speak­ing for myself, I was con­vinced Pseu­do was the wave of the future, and the best pos­si­ble place for a for­mer film stu­dent to be.

Many of the “new-skool” employ­ees came with lit­tle under­stand­ing of the medi­um in which they were to work: the inter­net. But to be fair, at the time, who did? Our boss was a for­mer Navy Seal, and some of the rest came from tele­vi­sion and video pro­duc­tion. Time and time again we came up against a frus­trat­ing inabil­i­ty to write and com­mu­ni­cate clear­ly. Kevin and I coined the phrase “pur­ple pup­py” to describe the kinds of ran­dom requests we would receive, as in, “Can you put in a pur­ple pup­py?” I still amuse myself with the in-joke to this day.

Kordell Stewart as Activator ManKordell Stew­art was not amused by “Acti­va­tor Man”

All told, I was there for a lit­tle more than half a year. The rest of Pseu­do had some suc­cess pro­mot­ing the film Amer­i­can Psy­cho and sell­ing the Space­Watch Chan­nel to Space.com for a chunk of change. Mean­while, we only able to pro­duce four episodes of Q.B. Toons. The first was lit­tle but a crap­py teas­er, fea­tur­ing a hol­i­day greet­ings from War­ren Moon (what Scrooge would not be moved by that?). The sec­ond episode told the full, fleshed-out tale of li’l Moon in his first-ever game. The third starred Bernie Kosar and was a dis­as­ter, in my opin­ion, tak­ing ages to pro­duce and look­ing the worst. But our fourth, and what turned out to be our last, is our mas­ter­piece. Report­ed­ly our super­vi­sors, and Kordell Stew­art him­self, were not amused and it remained unaired. We were inspired by the cut-out ani­ma­tions of the Mon­ty Python genius Ter­ry Gilliam, but the visu­al allu­sions were lost on every­body.

The Pseudo.com Politics ChannelKlik-a-Kan­di­date: Bush wal­lows in his daddy’s rich­es, and Gore rides the infor­ma­tion super­high­way

We labored under an air of impend­ing doom through­out, and the only ray of light was the dai­ly vis­it by an enter­pris­ing (and very cute!) girl that sold home­made sand­wich­es door-to-door. I still have copies of some of the inter­nal emails that cir­cu­lat­ed after each new arti­cle pre­dict­ed Pseudo’s demise. So with the writ­ing on the wall, we tried to diver­si­fy with two new projects for the Pol­i­tics Chan­nel: Klik-a-Kan­di­date and Cam­paign Dope. We were final­ly put out of our mis­ery dur­ing the first round of lay­offs in June 2000. The day began with an almost com­i­cal omen: as we were all called to assem­ble in the main Pseu­do offices, I scraped my arm against the rusty grille of an old truck while cross­ing the street. There was not a sin­gle Band-Aid to be found in all of Pseu­do, so I clutched a paper tow­el to the stub­born­ly bleed­ing wound for the rest of the day.

About half of the Quar­ter­back Club staff was called into a brief meet­ing with Bohrman (like being picked, or not, for a dodge­ball team). Our bur­den relieved, we dragged our pink-slipped ass­es back to our offices to hur­ried­ly copy our files onto Zip disks (remem­ber those?) in time to grab a few pints at the local pub (which I recall being a real­ly good, authen­tic Irish pub, actu­al­ly… I won­der if it’s still there?). I spent the rest of the night in the emer­gency room for a tetanus shot. The next day I got a call from ABCNews.com, but I declined to com­ment, think­ing I might hurt my chances at find­ing a new job (but I was work­ing again with­in days). A sec­ond round of lay­offs only a few months lat­er put the rest of the com­pa­ny to its defin­i­tive end. The domain Pseudo.com appears to live on as a some kind of patch­work of affil­i­ate music links.

Even if it took some wild pro­nounce­ments by Josh Har­ris for it to hap­pen, it’s nice to see Pseu­do back in the news. It was a great talk­ing point for me in job inter­views right after it implod­ed, but these days it’s hard to find some­one who’s even heard of it. I now work for Warn­er Bros., and I cer­tain­ly hope that the orig­i­nal Warn­ers (Har­ry, Albert, Sam, and Jack) don’t some­day rise from the grave and say “Psy­che! Just kid­ding!”