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Performer Says Life at Amazon Just Didn't Click

Internet: Former employee uses his dot-com experience for laughs, insight and a second career.

April 30, 2001|ALLISON LINN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEATTLE — Mike Daisey was one of countless twentysomething liberal arts majors lured into the dot-com dream. Now he's one of the few whose careers are thriving from the Internet boom gone bust.

Daisey, 28, left life in the New Economy cubicle as an employee at Amazon.com and started a one-man show that recounts his 80-hour workweeks at the online retailer that was once a Wall Street uberdarling.

He says in "21 Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com" that his was a life in the reality-altered world of the Web, where everyone had forgotten that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

"21 Dog Years," which opened days after Amazon.com announced major layoffs to cut costs, has been selling out its small Seattle venue and will likely head to Portland, Ore., next month. Daisey is in talks to take it to San Jose, New York and Boston.

The Free Press, a unit of the publishing house Simon & Schuster, also is scheduled to publish a book based on the show.

"I think the thing people see in it is a little bit of themselves in the past two years," says Jon Staenberg, a Seattle-based venture capitalist who liked the show so much he asked Daisey to perform at a company function in San Mateo, Calif., earlier this month.

Daisey says the show's name was inspired by the seniority-obsessed geeks at Amazon, who found a Web site asserting that, contrary to popular reports, the first year of a dog's life is equal to 14 human life years, and the second to 9 human years. Using that math, Daisey's 22-month tenure works out to about 21 dog years.

He sees his show as part support group, part educational documentary and part entertainment.

"I think it serves a better purpose than endless pink-slip parties," he said.

In his vaguely scripted, stream-of-consciousness performance, the portly, baby-faced Daisey does not resist the temptation to mock dot-com failures.

He pokes fun at Pets.com, which he says failed after the company realized people would not pay lots of money to have large quantities of dog food delivered to their doorsteps because "people are not insane."

But he also tries to explore the mentality of people like himself, who truly believed in their dot-com start-ups. He says he joined Amazon because he wanted to be like the people he saw there--geeky yet hip, and truly dedicated to the company.

"We really believed that sending people books was going to change the world," he explained.

And Daisey admits that he bought into that dream completely, even though he should have seen the warning signs--including an article that appeared the week he started training there that called the company "Amazon.cult."

"A news flash for you: if an article comes out saying that the company you're about to work for is a cult, don't even think about it. Just say no," he says in the show.

Daisey was one of the many highly educated "Amazonians" hired to work in entry-level customer service jobs as part of Jeff Bezos' democratic vision of the New Economy.

He rose in the ranks by vastly improving the time it took him to deal with each caller. He hung up on some to make up for longer time he took with others.

In the corporate offices, he found himself calculating the projected value of his stock options and sorting through business plans.

Through it all, Daisey says he maintained a love affair with the company, and especially Bezos, its charismatic founder and chief executive. He even wrote Bezos fan e-mails that he never sent "because I wanted to keep working there."

In one, he talks about a recurring dream in which he is eating Bezos' hand.

Reading from the letter in his show, he says, "I eat the whole thing, chew through the bones, and now I own part of you, just like you own the best part of me. I wake up so indescribably proud."

Each letter is signed "Love, Mike."

Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith said Bezos hadn't seen the show, but has heard from a number of people that it's rather funny.

Daisey admits he, like many others, also grew infatuated with making millions in the dot-com gold rush. He decided to quit in February after he found a chart detailing the stock option plans for his department and discovered his share was very near the bottom.

But even now, Daisey admits he misses life inside Amazon.com. He talks about former dot-commers going through the seven stages of grief before reaching acceptance.

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