Ten Years Ago Today

On 27th Street, a couple is passionately kissing. Behind them, the sky is filled with white smoke.

Everyone has left work. It’s like the Fourth of July. And then again it’s nothing like the Fourth of July.

At 33rd & Lex, a woman in an electric green dress squats down to take a snapshot of the Chrysler Building, standing tall and unaffected to the north. I catch myself thinking they haven’t bombed that one yet.

Jeffrey Zeldman Presents: My Glamorous Life #54: 11 September, 2001. 12 September, 2001. 13 September, 2001. As my loved ones and I lived it in New York City.

Clear Blue Sky

A STATE of emergency has been declared, but it’s a magical day in New York City. Any grownup who can do so is playing hooky to bask in the perfect sun and gentle breeze. Death, damage, and flooding are expected. We’re preparing for days, maybe weeks without power or water. Any fool could make a fortune selling flashlights today. But while we go through the motions of buying flashlights and stockpiling bottled water, somehow on this blue-sky golden day the threat seems unreal.

You’re a draftee during wartime and it’s your last night before shipping overseas. You’re on the porch, kissing your girl’s neck, but in 48 hours you’ll be smelling blood and gunpowder. The nearness of war makes your girl feel unreal, but your girl’s hair and perfume make the war seem like some strange practical joke.

So today in New York: a glorious Autumn day we glide through without quite seeing, because our minds are in Hollywood disaster movie mode, our carless bodies weighed down with water bottles and flashlights. It’s like that clear blue sky ten years ago, minutes before Hell flew out of it.

Don’t Be Evil (Wink).

Google. Evil.

WHILE VIEWING STATS on TweetMeme, I noticed a banner ad that said, “New York—explore it again like you used to.” Intrigued, I clicked the ad. It took me to the web page shown above. (Click to view full size.) At the top was a message thanking me for subscribing. Ouch! I had not subscribed, I had merely clicked a link. Opt-in subscription without notice or warning is about as dark as a user experience pattern can get and still be legal.

Beneath the notice was an ad for a women’s strip tease class. I don’t think I’m the intended demographic. Facebook would know that. Why doesn’t Google?

The offer had a time limit; the script on the time limit froze my browser, prompting a force-quit and restart.

If “Don’t Be Evil” is still Google’s slogan, I wonder if folks who work there say it with a straight face.

Downtime at Disney World

DAY TWO, mid-day, taking a breather in our hotel room. Listening to my daughter play with her tiny new Disney figurines. In the distance, the gull-like shrieks of children in the hotel pool.

My week on narcotics

THE DREAMS YOU HAVE when you’re withdrawing from narcotics make David Lynch look like an After School Special hack. How I got on narcotics was outpatient, noninvasive surgery on a double hernia. I got the double hernia from a mistake I made in the gym, or maybe I slipped in the bath and caught myself funny and ripped open my abdominal wall in two places without knowing it.

Doctors dump all this useless data on you and tell you nothing you need to know. Before the surgery I was given a 40 page disclaimer about my privacy rights and how hospitals use and share my medical information. I reckon I was given this because someone sued someone else once. Flash to the medical community: I want you to share my info. That’s what databases and XML and the internet are for. If I fall down a staircase in Katmandu, I want the emergency medical team that rescues me to know I’m allergic to penicillin, and I want the doctor who attends me to know what medicines I take. Thank you for the lovely 40 page disclaimer.

And no thank you for what I left the hospital with: a prescription and nothing else. After all that upfront paperwork, the hospital didn’t even bother giving me my surgeon’s name and phone number. (I had to look them up on the web when my painkiller prescription ran out.)

Here’s some information the hospital could have given me: your peas and carrots are going to swell up and look more like eggplants and cauliflower. That’s normal and you don’t need to call in. For at least five days, you’ll feel like someone just cut you open with a street knife. That’s normal and you don’t need to call in. Your sleep will be fitful, with wild dreams. You’ll wake up at 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM, unable to sleep. If you take the prescription pain killers, your sleep will be even more disrupted. The pain killers don’t so much take away the pain as move it slightly off-camera. You’ll want to take more than we give you and your digestive system will resemble that of a hardcore junkie within two days. All of this is normal. After five days, we cut off the pain killers and provide no way for you to get more. But you’ll still be in terrible pain. This is normal.

If they had told me that in the hospital and written it down somewhere, I wouldn’t have worried so much when parts of my body started resembling clubbed baby seals and seemed to be undergoing racial transmutation. While they were at it, they could have left me a card with my surgeon’s phone number and asked me to call in after four days for an evaluation.

They wanted to evaluate me next week, but I’m taking my daughter to Disney World next week, so instead they’ll see me when the surgeon returns from vacation on August 15. Meantime, I guess I muddle through.

I’m not on narcotics today and the pain is bad but manageable with Advil. I haven’t had that shit or any shit in my system for nearly 20 years, and I don’t like how close it brings me to the old days. I can get my prescription refilled by begging the surgeon’s answering service until eventually he calls the pharmacy, but I think maybe I’ll stick with Advil.

Cameron Diaz and Me

THE FIRST PART has long been known:

Saw Cameron Diaz on her way to the gym. I was wearing the shirt I’d slept in, walking my dog, holding a bag of shit.

Now, here’s the rest of the story:

My dog, a mangy old rescue Shih Tzu named Emile, had finished his business and was investigating a sidewalk gum wad. He loved sniffing filthy things on the street, and Midtown Manhattan was always happy to oblige. As was my routine, I monitored his activities closely, partly out of horrified fascination, and mainly to make sure he didn’t choke or poison himself.

Typically this activity required my full attention, or at least that part of my attention that wasn’t lost contemplating family and business anxieties, petty resentments, and the recollected snippets of imagery, music, and dialogue that pass for thought. But today, for some reason, I looked away as Emile tackled an apparently sumptuous abandoned cigarette filter. As if spellbound, my eyes crossed two streets to hone in on a couple that was briskly heading my way.

The man in the couple wore gym clothes, and seemed to be speaking quickly, with huge animated arm gestures. But it wasn’t the man who had made me look up from my dog’s debauchery.

At least a head taller than her companion, wearing skimpy gym clothes, the woman appeared athletic and radiant, even from this distance—too far away to see faces. Instead of moving on to discourage Emile from his sidewalk shenanigans, I stood rooted to the spot, waiting as the couple came closer and closer. A fancy gym was nearby, I knew—not from going there myself, but because a friend did, and it was a magnet for activity on this block.

As the couple came closer, the woman lost none of her allure, and I became self-conscious about staring. Not because I felt fat, old, dirty, and tired—a middle-aged man holding a bag of shit, walking an ailing Shih Tzu with a penchant for street turds and candy wrappers—but because it’s rude to stare. It’s rude to stare at the unfortunate: their hand-me-downs, their hopeless haunted eyes. It’s also rude to stare at the genetically blessed, the gorgeous, the toned, the fertile, famous, and wealthy. I still had not recognized Cameron Diaz, but she radiated fabulousness.

So I did what any eldest son raised by my late mother would do: as the couple came closer and closer, I focused my attention on the man. So as not to make the lady uncomfortable, you see. (From this fragment of mental DNA, you should be able to reconstruct me completely.)

So here they were, now on my block, now halfway up the block to me, now almost within arm’s reach.

And there I was, with my dog and my shit bag and my eyes firmly trained on the male half of the couple.

Who was either a gym buddy or personal trainer but definitely not a boyfriend, I gathered from their body language with respect to each other, and especially from his smiling quick speech and big sweeping arm gestures, which vibed “consultant meeting an important client” and perhaps Italian-American and maybe also gay. If I was right about that last bit, my staring at him for the past five minutes didn’t worry me, but it might be freaking him out. At any rate, that was my cover story to myself for what I did next.

For the couple was now an arm’s length away, about to pass out of my sight forever. And while I had been working hard to respect the lady by not telegraphing waves of hopeless lust, if I didn’t steal one more glance right now, I would never see her again, never even know what she really looked like up close.

My eyes slid toward her of their own accord, and as they landed, I saw that her smiling, knowing, superior but also playfully flirtatious eyes were locked on mine. She had been watching me studiously avoid looking at her, waiting for the inevitable collapse of my will, the moment when I could no longer resist. “Busted,” her eyes said. “You didn’t fool me for one minute. Yes, it’s me. Nice meeting you. Bye.”

And then, with a taunting but also pleasing smirk, she was gone. And two things hit me:

  1. That was Cameron Diaz.
  2. And she can read minds.

An Event Apart Atlanta 2011

YOU FIND ME ENSCONCED in the fabulous Buckhead, Atlanta Intercontinental Hotel, preparing to unleash An Event Apart Atlanta 2011, three days of design, code, and content strategy for people who make websites. Eric Meyer and I co-founded our traveling web conference in December, 2005; in 2006 we chose Atlanta for our second event, and it was the worst show we’ve ever done. We hosted at Turner Field, not realizing that half the audience would be forced to crane their necks around pillars if they wanted to see our speakers or the screen on which slides were projected.

Also not realizing that Turner Field’s promised contractual ability to deliver Wi-Fi was more theoretical than factual: the venue’s A/V guy spent the entire show trying to get an internet connection going. You could watch audience members twitchily check their laptops for email every fourteen seconds, then make the “no internet” face that is not unlike the face addicts make when the crack dealer is late, then check their laptops again.

The food was good, our speakers (including local hero Todd Dominey) had wise lessons to impart, and most attendees had a pretty good time, but Eric and I still shudder to remember everything that went wrong with that gig.

Not to jinx anything, but times have changed. We are now a major three-day event, thanks to a kick-ass staff and the wonderful community that has made this show its home. We thank you from the bottoms of our big grateful hearts.

I will see several hundred of you for the next three days. Those not attending may follow along: